Making blog-friends with the Liebster Award

This week I’ve been tagged.  Jean Lee has challenged me to take part in the Liebster Award.  She’s answered 11 questions about her writing life with honesty and imagination, and has come up with 11 new questions for us, the 11 bloggers she’s tagged, to answer.

It seems to me that there’s more than one benefit to taking part.  First, it provides me with a ready-made subject for my weekly post.  Second, Jean’s links have provided me with new sites to visit, consequently I’ve made new connections.

It’s a long, long time since I’ve played tag, and this version has a few more rules than the play-ground variety, but at least it shouldn’t involve grazed knees. The rules are:

  1. Link to Global Aussie’s Award blog post. And put the official Liebster Award stamp on your blog.  (Done!)

blog award

  1. Acknowledge and link to the blogger who nominated you. (Thank you, Jean Lee!)
  2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator asked. (Tick)
  3. Nominate 5 – 11 more bloggers and spread the ‘new blogger’ love. (Tick)
  4. Ask them 11 fun questions of your own. (Tick)
  5. Let them know on their blogs that you have nominated them.

Optional Rules

  1. Write a paragraph about what makes you passionate about blogging
  2. List ten random facts about yourself

So, here are Jean’s 11 questions with my answers:

What would you consider to be your earliest creative work that foreshadowed the passion to come? Be it taken on a disposable camera, doodled in a school book, or tooted on a kazoo, those school-day scribbles count for something!

A cowboy story I wrote at school, when I was about nine years old.  It had three chapters and was heavily influenced by The Virginian which used to be on tv on Saturday nights.  The teacher read it out to our class, and they thought she was reading from a published book.  I cannot express what a buzz that was.

If you could gain your favorite living artist’s permission to create an homage of their work (for example, writing a fan fic story with your favorite character), who would you approach and what character would you write with?

The witch, Serafina Pekkala, in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy.

I’m always looking for strategies to fight back the distractions. How do you focus yourself in the sea of Life’s Noise to create?

I use music.  My current favourite is Leo P at the BBC Proms, 2017, playing Moanin’ on the sax, with Christian Scott on the trumpet – though I sometimes spend too much time watching when I should be writing.leo p

What are the three most inspirational places you’ve ever visited?

  • Helen’s at Much Marcle, in Herefordshire.  It’s now a venue, but I had a tour round it at a time when it was pretty much in mothballs – Wow.
  • Liverpool city centre, at around 10.30pm one snowy February, after we’d seen a performance of Salman Rushdie’s, Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Walking home was surreal.
  • The Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. Just sitting in the empty auditorium has me reaching for my notebook – I once saw a matinee performance of a restoration comedy which must have been on at the wrong time of year, there were only about a dozen people in the audience.  I felt like royalty.

Time for the dead artists now! If you could sit down for a cuppa or a pint with any dead artist, who would it be and why?

Aaah, does it have to be only one?

breugel-wedding-dance-in-the-open-airIn that case, I’m going to be literal, and say Pieter Brueghel, the elder (1525 – 1569).  His paintings are full of stories.  I’m presuming you’ll provide a translator, as I don’t speak Flemish.  But could I just watch him work?

What’s one stereotype people always apply to you because of who you are/where you’re from? Just for an example—I grew like a corn stalk when I was a kid, so EVERYONE assumed I was really good at sports like basketball. Guess what I suck at? ALL SPORTS. Because I live in Wisconsin, people around me just assume I’m a fellow Green Bay Packers fan. Guess what I hate watching? FOOTBALL.

Because I grew up on a farm, people expect me to write rural, and cosy. I rarely read it, and don’t write it.

If there’s one book on craft in your passion you’d recommend to every fellow artist in your field, what would it be?

Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

Favorite grilled food? The answer should be bratwursts, but because you’re friends, I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Sorry, but the real answer is halloumi.

Okay, I’m not, I repeat, NOT, a huge Disney fan, but even I’ve got a few favorite Disney films, like Something Wicked This Way Comes. What’s your favorite Disney film? No, Pixar doesn’t count.

Pirates of the Caribbean.

And speaking of films, what’s one movie you’re kind of embarrassed to admit you like, but you just can’t help yourself? (Krull, since we’re sharing.)

Miss Congeniality.

Share your current endeavors! C’mon, you deserve a chance to plug your work.

This week I’m working on a short story, in between preparing classes for the autumn, ‘womaning’ the bookstall at the village fete, and wrestling with my weed-infested garden.

Step 3: I’m nominating five bloggers who I think might like to take part, and leaving the other six places open for anyone who thinks, ‘Why not?’  Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re tempted.

Personal and Lifestyle


Migrant Thoughts Blog


Hannah Gaudette

My 11 questions are all bookish:

  1. Hard-back, paper-back or e-book?
  2. If all fiction was banned, and kindles and books were to be confiscated, and you had a special hiding place for just one traditional paper novel, which title would you keep safe for the future?
  3. What story do you wish you had never read?
  4. What was the last book you couldn’t finish reading?
  5. What book do you wish you had already read?
  6. Is there a story you wish you could write a sequel to?
  7. If you could invite four characters from four different fictions to dinner, who would you choose, and what would you feed them?
  8. Is there a novel, or a section of a novel, that you cannot forget?  If so, why?
  9. Which writer would you most like to be seated next to on a train?
  10. Is there a book that you’ve returned to, with fond memories, only to find it’s not at all the way you remembered – in either a good or bad way?
  11. If you could, would you rather be transported into a fictional world, or have fictional characters transported into your world?

There are two optional questions left, and I’d like to answer them, but this post is already much longer than I usually write, so I think I might make next week a ‘part two’.

Behind the scenes in the bookshop.

bookshop Ruth & AnnieI’m unpacking books with Annie.  Can this really be work?  Feels like Christmas to me.  I breath in that special massed-book atmosphere and can’t wipe the grin off my face.

Make no mistake, this is my summer holiday.  We’ve already had a swim in the Moray Firth, and a ramble with our dogs along the marshy shoreline.  Those were good, very good, especially that dip in the invigorating North Sea.

The highlight though, is my book day.  I’m a little old for work-experience, but offering to help gets me close. One of my not-so-secret fantasy-occupations has always been bookseller.  If there’s one thing more tantalising than browsing shelves, it’s got to be glimpses of well-stocked store-cupboards behind the counter.  Who knows what treasures wait there. Can this be bettered?

Oh yes, when a box, or bag, comes in for unpacking.  Stories spill out.  ‘No one,’ says Ruth, ‘offers to sell books to the bookshop without telling us why.’  I think of the boxes I’ve delivered to charity shops over this last year, and how I’ve carefully explained about my neighbour moving house, or my aunt, clearing space.

Ruth is deftly sorting a box.  She turns each book over and flicks through the pages, looking for damage, not quality of story or writing. She knows what’s popular, I don’t, and there are shelves and shelves of books on the other side of the counter.  I’m drawn to the spines on the vintage shelves.  As I’m dealing in alternative-me scenarios, I should say that in that world, these are what my walls would be lined with instead of wallpaper.

book shelves

I’m tempted, but resist them as too much responsibility.  It’s not that I don’t look after my books, exactly.  But I don’t take care of them the way Ruth and Annie do the Logie Steading Bookshop, which has no trace of spider-webs in the corners, or dust.  When I return home and notice how unkempt my shelves are, I spend an hour improving them.  It won’t last, though for a few days it’s good for my soul to see them all gleaming.

bookshopMeanwhile, will you just look at all those books?  I wasn’t looking for Narnia, but there’s something about an open door that demands I step through.  It’s no wonder that by the time I drifted back to the desk I’d gathered a heap of books.  How long did it take? I’ve no idea, time lost all meaning.  Which is just how it should be, isn’t it?

This is all so unlikely for my alternative-bookseller-self, who I can’t help feeling a little worried about. I suspect she’s liable to spend a lot of time reading her stock when she should be concentrating on customers.




Reading poetry: Jane Wier’s, ‘Brushing The Back of Your Hand’

Alice by jane weirWith only twenty poems on twenty-six pages, I hesitate over whether to call Jane Wier’s, Alice, a modest book or a generous pamphlet, and really, is that important?  What matters is the content.  There is one poem in particular, ‘Brushing The Back of Your Hand’, that catches me.

It describes a moment in a cinema, as the film starts.  The narrator and her companion take their seats, and in the darkness, their hands touch.  Reduced to a bare description this sounds like nothing.

Take the line breaks out, and it is made up of two sentences. The truth is though, that good writing adds up to more, much more.  These few words are carefully chosen. ‘All I remember’ she says, and I remember too.

as the picture rolled and figures

flickered, and your skin, your skin

felt scuffed going against its pile,

Poems remind me of the power words have not just to describe, but to evoke a response in their audience.  So when I read those lines, what struck me first was the surprise implied by that repetition of ‘your skin’.  What caught me, was the image of skin, ‘scuffed going against its pile’. Then, the ending is a moment that was both long ago, and is also getting closer and closer.

and I remember thinking,

one day soon, soon

that kind of hand would be mine.

What’s important to me, is that this tells a truth I had forgotten seeing for the first time.

Time_exploding salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali



Six degrees of literary separation: from Atonement to Demon Lover.

This week I’m joining in with a reading meme run by Kate, on the booksaremyfavouriteandbest blog. What is a meme? The dictionary says:

an image, video, piece of text, etc, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.

I’ll let Kate explain:

The meme was inspired by Hungarian writer and poet Frigyes Karinthy. In his 1929 short story, Chains, Karinthy coined the phrase ‘six degrees of separation’. The phrase was popularised by a 1990 play written by John Guare, which was later made into a film starring Stockard Channing. Since then, the idea that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by just six links has been explored in many ways… And now it’s a meme for readers.

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

Here are the rules:

6degrees-rulesThis month’s starter-title is, Atonement, by Ian McEwan.  I’m adapting the rules, and creating my chain from short stories.

borden-600x445My first link, is ‘Blind‘, by Mary Borden. I came across it in The Penguin Book of First World War Stories, but it was originally published in 1929.  Blind draws from Borden’s behind-the-lines nursing experiences.  In it, the nurse narrator treats a soldier with a serious head wound.  It reminded me of Atonement so strongly, that I had to skim through the novel again.  Sure enough, Briony Tallis experiences a similar situation, though with contrasting outcome and intention.

Bayswater Omnibus, George William Joy 1895Mary Borden had been a suffragette, so too was Evelyn Sharp.  Link two is her story, ‘In Dull Brown’, written in 1896.  It describes a flirtation between a ‘modern’ working girl, and a professional gentleman.  Imagine yourself into the historical context, and it is a subversive and involving argument about the obstacles faced by respectable women who wished to have a career.

On first glance though, ‘In Dull Brown’ is tame stuff (hence the title), just like, ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel‘, by Katherine Mansfield.  I remember reading it when I was about fifteen. I’d heard Mansfield was an amazing writer, but I couldn’t understand the story. Why did it end like that?  What was it saying about the death of their father? Years later I tried again, and found an old, and previously undervalued friend, waiting for me to catch up.

Thinking of loss, and friendship, takes me to ‘Friend of My Youth’ by Alice Munro. The anonymous narrator tells the story of her mother’s relationship with Flora, using letters, dreams and memories.  It pushes us to consider how far we can ever know anyone.

As does, the penultimate title in my chain, Elizabeth Taylor’s, ‘The Letter Writers’. Can a man and a woman be friends without becoming lovers?  Read this one too fast and you’re liable to miss the layers.  It’s subtle, and wry.

My final link involves letters and a former lover, or rather fiancé.  Elizabeth Bowen’s, Demon Lover sends a shiver down my spine every time I return to it.  To say more, would give too much away, you need to read it.  Coincidentally, like a large part of Atonement, it’s set in London, during the second World War.

Six degrees from Atonement and I’m close to the place I started from, where, I wonder would you be?