Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Coventry - UK City of Culture 2021 by Ann Evans

Coventry's Lady Godiva, Pru Poretta at the Heritage
weekend. Photo by Rob Tysall.
As most people will know, Coventry, which is my home city, is to be the UK City of Culture 2021. Naturally, everyone is delighted and hoping that the new status is going to bring more prosperity into the city, as it has done for Hull, the current UK City of Culture.

There was competition for the title from Paisley, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Swansea. And actually, if Sunderland had won it, that would have been my second choice as my parents and past ancestors all hail from there.

The title is awarded every four years and Coventry will be the third UK City of Culture. Londonderry being the first in 2013, followed by Hull.

Our city has so much going for it despite no longer having the motor and machine tools industries that it once had. During the 1950s  and 60s Coventry was the second largest car manufacturing city in the world. It also led the way with machine tools. Alfred Herbert Ltd was once the largest machine tools manufacturing business in the world. And while that’s no longer there, the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum is named after him.

Sir Frank Whittle, the inventor of the jet engine was born in Coventry. There’s a centre in honour of his work at the Midlands Air Museum, Baginton, which is just on the city boundaries. And there’s a statue of him alongside the futuristic-looking Whittle Arch in Millennium Place in the city centre.

The Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate.
Photo by Rob Tysall.
Earlier in the city’s history, Coventry pioneered many industries – bicycles, clocks and watches, ribbons. In early Medieval times it was a thriving market town. Today, the city’s museums, buildings and monuments remind people of its industrious past. And today, businesses are flourishing, as are its Universities.

The city’s most famous monuments of course, are our two cathedrals: the ruins of the old Cathedral of St Michael's, so badly destroyed in the Coventry Blitz of 1940; and the awesome New Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and consecrated in 1962.
Not forgetting also, the City’s most famous woman, Lady Godiva. For the last 30 years or so, Pru Poretta has been an ambassador for Coventry as our modern day Lady Godiva.

On the literature scene, Coventry, writer and poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) was born in the city and later became a university librarian in Hull. The Philip Larkin Society which was founded ten years after his death, point out that it’s fitting that Coventry should be taking on the mantle from Hull, which is the place where Larkin spent most of his adult life, and which shares many historical and cultural similarities.

Another famous writer born here in Coventry is Lee Child. Best known for his Jack Reacher novels, Lee, who was born in 1954, spent his early years in Coventry before moving to Birmingham. I was so fortunate to meet him at the Harrogate Crime Writers festival this summer, where he chatted to me about the things he remembered about Coventry.

Lee  Child and Ann Evans at the
Harrogate Crime Writer's Festival.
Another famous early writer was Angela Brazil (1868 – 1947), who was born in Preston, Lancashire but moved to Coventry in 1911. She was one of the first British writers of modern schoolgirl stories, publishing nearly 50 books of girls’ fiction, many set in boarding schools. Her stories remained popular until the 1960s; and her collection is now in Coventry Library.

From my own point of view, Coventry has inspired my writing, with the illustrated Children’s History of Coventry, which many of the city’s schools have in their libraries. And my YA novel, Celeste, a time slip thriller set in Coventry, with the cathedrals as the backdrop.

How about you, how inspirational is your city to you and your writing?

My trailer for Celeste features the old and new cathedrals, and you can view it here:


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Hell, No, I Won't Go!--Reb MacRath

Some cities are expensive to start with: New York, San Francisco, L.A...Others have high-rentness thrust upon them: in Atlanta, for example, after the 1996 Olympics rents simply went through the roof overnight. I've lived in both classes of city and found myself priced out again and again. And I've moseyed along with my head down.


Now, at a certain age, I  face more wrecking balls that build while they destroy dreams like Shiva.

Three years ago, when I moved from Charlotte to Seattle, this was a happening city.. And it still is, in a different way.. With a booming economy driven by Amazon, Microsoft and Google, Seattle has risen to fifth rank in the nation's least affordable cities.

An estimated 68 buildings are under construction or waiting to begin in midtown. Seattle has three times as many cranes as New York City, though a mere fraction of its size. And most of these buildings are either for apartments or offices for the Big Three. One bedroom apartments, in Seattle proper, rent for an average of $1953  month. And the cost of living comfortably here is $72, 092 a year.

Welcome to Dream City. I'm nowhere near that ballpark figure. And my dream of moving from a studio to a one bedroom apartment in a better part of town are, shall we say, challenged. As a writer, though, this city works for me. It keeps me young and productive. So, faced with the wrecking ball of rising rent, here is where I take my stand and refuse to be moved on.

And how do I, with a job I like but which is far from that ballpark. rise into the comfort zone and protect my place?

I start with the one thing I do have--my talent--and start to work like a man possessed. In the past two days off work, I've logged more than twenty hours on the fifth draft of my work in progress. Tomorrow I'll log in another ten or twelve. On work days I'll log in a minimum of four hours. And I'll keep at this pace relentlessly, producing more and more books.

I won't let go of Dream City.

No. Not this time. This is war, time to beat the wrecking balls by erecting superior houses of art.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas Food :Misha Herwin

No, not the traditional turkey, goose, chicken, beef or pork. A pot full of golabki is one of the dishes we will be eating this Christmas Eve.
Because of my Polish family, my children were brought up celebrating both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Which meant cooking two different meals.
On the night before Christmas we laid the table, putting wisps of hay, or straw under the cloth to remind us of Jesus in the manger. Then the youngest was set to look out for the first star, or that at least was the theory and it did give the kids something to do.
Once the star was sighted then Christmas could begin. First the baby Jesus was put in our homemade crib, then came the distribution of the oplatek. The thin wafer, like communion bread, that in those days was sent to us by our family in Poland. Each person took a piece and shared it with all the others, kissing them and wishing them a happy Christmas.
After that it was presents under the Christmas tree and finally when all the wrapping paper had been cleared up, the food.
Twelve different dishes, one for each of the disciples was the tradition. Some were British, like salad, or cooked chicken, others Polish like the pot full of cabbage wrapped parcels above.
Like a lot of traditional food much of this cooking is very time consuming. For golombki the cabbage leaves must first be blanched, filling the kitchen with steam while I am frying onions and mixing them together with cooked rice, minced pork, seasoning and herbs.
When the leave are soft enough, they are removed and laid out on a board to be filled and folded, a process which requires asbestos fingers. Then the golombki are layered into a casserole and I pour over a mixture of Heinz tomato soup, water, stock and tomato puree. Not quite what my grandmother would have done, but over the years we have evolved a truly fusion cuisine.
Everything goes into the oven for about an hour, or so while I tidy up and remember all those long gone Christmases and speculate whether my grandchildren will in years to come be wrapping cabbage leaves around handfuls of pork mixture and thinking back to their childhood.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Christmas treats - Karen Bush

Coming up to Christmas I have a couple of books that I return to year after year. Like mince pies, mulled wine, and those seasonal TV repeats of Its A Wonderful Life, The Grinch, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and White Christmas, I am irresistibly drawn back to them ... No matter that I know them inside out, I still enjoy them just as much as the first time round. And if you are going to re-visit them, the run-up to Christmas is of course, the perfect time ...

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - although I prefer listening to this one as an audiobook, and it makes a nice change from carols. And sometimes our local open air museum presents a wonderful reading by Mr Dickens himself ...

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis - a time travel piece set around Christmas and involving the Black Death ... sounds grim, but it's gripping stuff.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper - my favourite of Cooper's books, as well as the first one of hers I ever read. Captures perfectly for me those noisy, bustling family Christmases of my youth - plus it's a fabulous story!

And as a follow-up - as for some inexplicable reason it is never repeated - I watch a DVD of The Box of Delights: a much loved childhood book, and I fell in love with this series when it first aired on the BBC.

So what are your Christmas treats?

Written by us.
Its good stuff!
Click here ...

(And here's one you might like to add to your Christmas reading lists ...)

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Forgive me, friends, I'm all wrote out... by Julia Jones

Thank you Claudia Myatt
for designing our logo
It was on this day, three years ago, that I published my first John's Campaign blog: John's Campaign and June's and 800,000 more.  I can't, this evening, find the words to describe all that has happened since. I am tempted to cheat and to refer you at once (here it is) to Nicci's anniversary evocation (published in the Observer) of the place we find ourselves now.  She sees us dancing in an open field, lonely at first, but soon joined by one brave soul and then another. It's not long before the whole field, the fair field full of folk, is alive with movement and that glorious release of creativity that comes from being an individual in a crowd when it's not you that matters, nor the other dancers, but the music that lifts and controls you all. I don't mean the Pied Piper of Hamelin or sirens luring sailors to their doom, this is a dance that transforms the place where you are. John's Campaign has unexpectedly become a movement. It's something people can use to do things that they already wanted to do.

I also wrote an anniversary article last week. Mine was necessarily different (I can't write like Nicci anyway) because its audience was different. My article was for the Health Service Journal, read, I am told by Chief Executives and Policy Makers. The HSJ editor has been kind to us (I think perhaps a relative of his was in an older person's ward earlier this year?) but one of the more unexpected lessons we have learned since 2014 is the relative impotence of CEOs, policymakers and other people with apparent power. 

The wisest of them know this. I remember our shock when Nicci and I first went to see England's Chief Nurse and the NHS England Patient Experience team -- truly good people. They saw our point and understood what we wanted but declined to wave their magic wands of Power. They told us that they'd had enough of ordering people to stand up and dance to a particular tune. It had so often led to trouble -- the law of unintended consequences. Try a policy of protecting mealtimes so that patients are not disturbed by medics wanting to come and stick needles in them - and what happens? inadvertently you have created a situation where Mrs Jones's anxious daughter, who has travelled miles to visit her ailing Mum, is not "allowed" to remain by the bedside while lunch is being served, despite the fact that her mother then spends the "protected" period spitting her food in well-directed arcs around the cubicle because she's convinced the healthcare assistant is trying to poison her. If our campaign was to succeed, said these sadly-experienced policy-makers, people had to want to stand up and dance with us.

And they have. In all four countries of the UK there has been one single nurse, perhaps with a team supporting her, who has stepped forward, pointed their toes, stretched out their arms and (as my children would say) begun to "throw shapes". 

Jo is second from right, next to Nicci
Thank you, Jo James, lead dementia nurse at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London, for committing yourself and your team to take as long as was needed to stick CARERS WELCOME posters on every single ward door in your immense metropolitan hospitals. 

Thank you, Karen Wilson, senior charge nurse of Ward 12 Wishaw General Hospital in Lanarkshire, for getting in touch via facebook to say that you and your colleagues always welcomed carers but you had decided to formalise your welcome, so you too would be sticking up a poster.  (And thank you, Andy Pender, in the Emergency Admissions Unit of the same hospital, for emailing a week later to say that you hadn't been routinely keeping people together with their family members but you'd seen this was causing distress and you were going to use our campaign to change your ways of working.)

Delyth, in blue, holds a "pasport gofalwr"
Diolch, Delyth Fon Thomas, acute dementia nurse specialist and prevention of delirium facilitator, in Glaslyn ward, Ysbyty Gwynedd for welcoming our campaign to Wales and acclimatising it as Ymgyrch John. 

Thank you, Paula Thompson of Downe dementia ward, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland for using John's Campaign as part of a variety of measures to ensure that patients on your mental health ward (several of whom are detained compulsorily) have the best quality of life, physically and emotionally, until the end of their days, if they reach that moment while in your care. 

There are so many others -- Dr Natasha Lord, the first clinical psychologist to pledge support in her mental health wards, Dr David Oliver, practicing geriatrician and eminent member of societies, Sharon Thomson, manager of the Moat House in Essex, who was persuaded to be the first English Care Home manager to join us.  Truly the list could go on as ward managers and directors of nursing, charity chiefs and carer liaison workers began linking arms and twirling to the tune. Not our tune, you understand, but the tune that we began hearing together, a human tune that was in our hearts all along. All that Nicci and I did, three years ago, was give it a name. 

We didn't ask people to paint birds on their ceilings so people lying on trolleys would have something to look at "for John's Campaign". We didn't insist that they sit in their offices every Monday evening offering carers support "for John's Campaign". Neither did we ask for comfort packs to be supplied, camp-beds purchased, family rooms re-decorated, car-parking fees reduced "for John's Campaign". Yet all these things have happened in many different places.

When I began writing this post this evening I felt I had no more words to offer. Currently we are making another effort to persuade the people with power that they do want to affirm the actions that have already been taken by others. This is for the obvious reasons of equality and continuity -- and retirement. We want to be able to go off and rub our blisters (or return to different forms of writing) knowing that it is safe for others to carry on, encouraged and applauded. So, today, I'd spent most of my time writing "persuasive" letters (as they teach you in GCSE Eng lang). It felt pointless and sterile but I'd set myself to do it.

Then I went for my regular tragi-comedy evening session with Mum and her fellow-residents and staff in their advanced dementia "suite". It's not a ward and it's not (however hard it tries) a home but it is the most extraordinary, indefinable community. Words work differently in Willow. They're quite troublesome often and actions (behaviours) are frequently more eloquent. A bit like John's Campaign? Perhaps. I was inarticulate when I returned and couldn't explain at all to Francis what had made the evening's interactions so touching, so exhausting, so... sui generis. That would take a different level of language altogether. 

This three year period has been one of kaleidoscopic and fleetingly intense relationships -- as you have when you are caught up in a dance (or a movement). So I'm giving up on words now and leaving you with three photographs that were taken last week in Ireland. 

This is Theresa, a former nurse, living with dementia, who wrote a brilliant article in our Observer series and then flew -- on her own -- from Belfast to London last autumn to speak passionately and eloquently at our conference.  Theresa doesn't find life easy, she describes her brain as "like mud" but she is infuriated by people who talk about people with dementia and arrange things for them without having the basic courtesy and good sense to consult them. I am uneasy about this picture because it shows a potential gap of misunderstanding.  I could be about to be patronising; Theresa could be about to be suspicious.
As it happened Theresa and I were so truly glad to see one another -- neither had expected that the other would be at the event -- that once we had the good sense to give each other a big hug, everything was unequivocally okay.

This might be one of the weirdest photos ever -- I'm wriggling and gibbering like someone in a Harry Potter enchantment. Yet the person I'm with is Deirdre and I'd never met her before but we'd emailed one another as she signed up first one ward, then another and another in different hospitals in the South Eastern health and care trust. Deirdre was one of the nurses who met me with a gorgeous smile and simply took me under her wing. I could wriggle and gibber as much as I liked, with Deirdre I knew I was okay. 

Three years meeting and working with people like Deirdre and Theresa have been three unforgettable years.
I choose that word advisedly.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Writers Retreat • Lynne Garner

For a couple of years myself and better half have been talking off and on about what would make me a more productive writer. My reply (most of the time tongue in cheek) has been a house with no distractions and a very nice view.

Therefore, for the last few outings/holidays I've taken photographs of houses/properties I think may meet my criteria. As we live in hopes my premium bonds will win enough to purchase my ideal 'writing pad.'

So, these are just a few that have made it to the list so far.

I started think big! St Elizabeth's Castle, Jersey might do the trick. I'd have to put up with visitors part of the day but I would think when it's closed I'd get a lot of writing done.

Perhaps the house in line with the boat looks like it may be isolated enough (taken from a vantage point in Padstow).

Or maybe the large white house tucked away on it's own (on the right hand side of the photo) near Lulworth Cove would make me more productive. 

With this bay I'm not being fussy either of the two houses tucked away in the top right hand corner would defiantly, possibly, maybe make me a more productive writer. 

It's possible purchasing one of the holiday rooms at this country house (in the New Forest) would enable me to get my next WIP completed in record time. 

Although I'd have to keep away from the pond as the fish may see me. They have this ability to make you feel very guilty once you've run out of fish food! Making me less productive.

Now I've shared mine what would your ultimate writing pad look like?


Blatant plug time - Check out my latest two books (ebooks just 99p)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Santa’s Clauses by Bill Kirton

To counterbalance my seasonal ‘Bah humbug’ stance, I’ve resurrected and updated a piece I wrote nearly 50 years ago. (I even got paid for it when it was used in an educational anthology of some sort.)

 Dear sirs,

I am writing to you to make certain points about my conditions of employment which I feel are due for renegotiation.

1. Transport
Most representatives of my acquaintance drive a company car. I appreciate that an open sleigh has the charm of tradition but, in the northern hemisphere, it is hardly the ideal form of locomotion for late December. Also, while having it propelled by reindeer rather than fossil fuels significantly enhances our environmental credentials, the PR department's campaign to promote the image of my lead reindeer has resulted in unrest amongst the others. He now considers himself to be a superstar, holds an Equity card, and flaunts his celebrity status to such an extent that the others have developed militant tendencies which have led to some perilous arbitration disputes in the sky over Barnsley, Southampton and other densely populated areas.

2 Uniform
If you agree on the inappropriateness of the means of transport, it will follow that the big red coat and Wellington boots are also superfluous. Given the lack of chimneys and the ubiquity of small bore central heating systems, it has become increasingly difficult to gain access to some premises in order to place display material. A sleeker, foam-lined, skin diver’s outfit in Lycra would be much more appropriate. And I would like permission to shave. Again, I acknowledge the traditional value of the long white beard; but it effectively prohibits any active social life and is probably the main reason why I am still a bachelor.

3 Area
My conversations with other representatives have confirmed what I have always suspected, i.e. that my area is much too large. No other employer expects one representative to cover the whole world in a single night. I suggest, therefore, that we discontinue the practice of leaving courtesy cards at the homes of those who do not share the Christian faith, and that you employ a second representative for the southern hemisphere. Also, given that the Factories Act requires employees to record a statutory 90 days before they are entitled to a holiday, I would bring to your attention the fact that at this rate, working one night a year, I shall be 114 before I qualify.

4 Changing markets
I do not have exact figures but it is common knowledge that the world population is increasing exponentially at an alarming rate. And the new citizens are all children. Also, current socio-political conditions and the utterances and actions of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have devalued notions of benevolence, bonhomie and charity, and fostered increased cynicism, amongst parents and children alike, to such an extent that belief in Father Christmas has been significantly eroded. I am secure enough in myself not to allow this to pose any existential problem, however, many children, thanks to their familiarity with games such as Grand Theft Auto, now seek to obtain evidence of my existence, or otherwise, by setting big steel traps in the fireplace. I think my salary should reflect this added hazard.

5 Factory
I have never understood why our manufacturing division’s premises were built at the strategically inconvenient North Pole, nor why recruitment policies favour elves. In terms of basic economics, if in any one year the vagaries of fashion promote a particularly large or heavy must-have toy, productivity invariably slows to critical levels.

To sum up: I would propose that the factory be resited in Monte Carlo, that height restrictions on employees be discarded, that Christmas be staggered, and that Rudolph be sold to the makers of Pedigree Chum.

Yours faithfully,

S. Claus