Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year

Usually at this time we reflect on the passing year. Our achievements, our failures and what we want to achieve for the coming new year.

I've been involved in various campaigns over the years; Friern Barnet Library, Every Child Leaving Care Matters and others along the way.
I will of course continue to support libraries and care leavers - they are part of my heart. I am like everyone else throughout the UK disgusted at this governments treatment of libraries and library staff.

We musn't forget that hundreds of librarians have also lost their jobs. I am sickened at the way this government have treated the mentally incapacitated, the jobless, the homeless, the children in care; in effect the most vulnerable people in this country of ours that was once Great. Now we have to hang our heads in shame. All we can do is vote these evil people out of power this coming May and begin the road to achieving greatness once again.

I was about to say, I'm taking a break from campaigns! In 2015, I want to pursue my PhD Hiraeth - Finding a Fictional Home. I am under no illusion that somebody like me who didn't do very well at school, and moved around a lot as a child, and didn't achieve a 1st or even a 2:1 has very little chance of getting funded. But it doesn't matter, the journey so far has been so interesting, and one of my 2014 highlights was presenting the research to date at the Brathay Trust up in the Lake District. A truly inspiring setting where I met some fabulously kind people working with care leavers to improve their lives. So it doesn't matter if I don't get funded. My little pot Help Fund my PhD (thanks to friends, family and people inspired by a chance to help change outcomes for those in care) is growing little by little and I will get there eventually.
I met a very kind potential supervisor Rebecca Smith, at Southampton University. I want to record my thanks as she has supported me continuously over the last year. Whatever happens as Rebecca and Dr Josie Pearse (another supporter) said, you are already doing the PhD. I will continue. I've just discovered a brand new book which may possibly have the root cause as to why Care Leavers are stereotyped and am looking forward to my next trip to that wonderful establishment, The British Library. 

2015 for me will be about getting back to my roots, writing, painting and generally leading a more creative life. I miss me! I will be doing a lot less social media, although I will still post blogs and occasionally be a Twit-to-Tweet.

So, all that is left for me to do is wish you all a very Healthy, Happy, and 
Creative New Year.


Monday, 1 December 2014

An Interview with Alex Wheatle

I was lucky enough recently to win a proof copy of Alex Wheatle's new novel Liccle Bit. I've read other novels by Alex and enjoyed them all. This book is aimed at the YA market. I was intrigued to see how he would write for teenagers. Almost from the very first sentence, I found myself hooked. The more I read, the more I cared about what happened to Lemar called Liccle Bit because of his height. The whole time I was reading, I felt like a mother does for her child, worry, worry, worry, and hoped I wasn't headed for an unhappy ending. It wasn't all edge of the seat reading though, the young  characters have their own language and boy is it funny, the humour is relentless and had me falling off my chair. No spoilers from me, you will have to read it yourself. What I will say is that this is possibly Alex's best book yet (though I am a bit biased), and it is a masterpiece of emotion, comedy and language.

Bookblurb: What's worse than hiding a secret? Liccle Bit's about to find out...Venetia King is the hottest girl at school. Too bad Lemar is the second shortest guy in his year. Everyone calls him Liccle Bit, and his two best friends, McKay and Jonah, never tire of telling him he has no chance with girls. Things aren't much better at home. His mum is permanently hassled, his sister a frustrated single mum and his dad moved out years ago. Liccle Bit wishes he could do something - anything! - to make life better. A new phone would be a start...When Venetia starts paying Liccle Bit attention, he secretly hopes he's on a fast track to a first date. Unfortunately, as a new gang war breaks out, he finds himself on a fast track to something much more sinister. South Crongton's notorious gang leader has taken an interest in Liccle Bit. Before he knows what's happening, he finds himself running errands. But when he hears about a killing on the estate, Liccle Bit is forced to question his choices. How can he possibly put things right?

Alex kindly agreed to be interrogated by me and here is what he said:

Can you sum up the novel in one sentence?

One line to describe the novel?  Gosh!  That's difficult.
Hope, friendship, adventurous, funny, dangerous, family, friends, loyalty, thrilling and readable!

Was it difficult writing a novel for the YA market? How did you manage the switch from adult to teenager?


I think the main difference from adult fiction to Y/A teen fiction is that the plot has to keep on rattling along - something is always happening.

Do you have children? Have they read the Liccle Bit yet?
No, my children haven't read LICCLE BIT yet but I'm sure they will do when it is officially published.

South Crongton where Lemar lives, is a fabulous dingy name; is it based on a real place?


I guess South Crongton was inspired by many places I have visited in my work as a writer including Portsmouth, Manchester, Birminham, Leicester and of course Brixton.

At the heart of the novel is the real life problem of gangs, knife and gun culture. What made you choose this subject?

Yes, the story is about the issues living on an inner-city estate but the spine of the narrative is about the dynamics within a family under strain, first love and friendship - and for me those themes are universal.

The language used by Lemar and his friends is very, very funny in places. Did you eavesdrop on real teenagers?
I did eavesdrop on teenagers a bit but also I invented some terms and new phrases.

Did you have an alternative ending?

I think most writers have alternative endings and I can reveal I had a number of discussions about the ending with my brilliant editor.

What advice do you have for would-be-novelists?
Advice?  Never be satisfied with a first draft - always look to improve a chapter, a paragraph and a sentence.  If you have thought of a good metaphor, try and think of a better one.  Be bold, be creative, be daring.  Try not to write like your favourite writer or another writer who you admire.  Develop your own style.  If you can, try and get someone professional to look over your manuscript before submitting it to a literary agent or publisher.  Write the book you would like to buy.  Make those first 10 pages compelling.  Never say in your synopsis, 'the action really gets going in the middle of the story.'

As part of the Finchley Literary Festival, Alex Wheatle talks about his acclaimed new YA novel Liccle Bit. He is joined by local authors Savita Kalhan and Ellie Daines. Turn up to meet the authors and hear some extracts from their books.

Waterstones hosts the 'Meet the Young Adult writers'
Waterstones, 782 High Road, Finchley N12 8JY
Saturday 23rd May at 12.30 - 1.30pm

Liccle Bit is due for release 5th March 2015. You can pre-order here
You can follow Alex on Twitter @BrixtonBard

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ning Nang Nong

Yesterday, the Greenacre Writers held a walk with a difference - The Walking Writer Workshop. Organised by myself on a donation basis to fund my PhD.


Writers at Finchley Golf Club for refreshments
A walk from West Finchley along Dollis Brook and up to Swan Lane Open Open Space. Along the way we stopped for readings and writing, advice and reflection. We turned off mobile phones and had periods of silence where we listened to the breeze in the trees and concentrated on the senses. Luckily there was no sound of rain. (I packed two umbrella's just in case) Mike, our walking guide and local knowledge guru organised a short break at the splendid Nether Court House, home of Finchley Golf Club, for refreshments and writing.


After our break we continued along the brook. There is a new cycle path that has been laid running alongside the Finchley Lawn Tennis Club (although the lawn disappeared years ago), and some of us continued the walk along here. Unfortunately the path isn't quite finished yet. The bridge to the other side has not been built yet so we crossed the brook via stepping stones across the water. 
We continued (a little late after our detour) stopping opposite where Spike Milligan used to live. Zaahiri, delightful daughter of Murni, one of the Greenacre Writers, read one of Spike's poems.

On the Ning Nang Nong

Where the Cows go Bong! 
and the monkeys all say BOO! 
There's a Nong Nang Ning 
Where the trees go Ping! 
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo. 
On the Nong Ning Nang 
All the mice go Clang 
And you just can't catch 'em when they do! 
So its Ning Nang Nong 
Cows go Bong! 
Nong Nang Ning 
Trees go ping 
Nong Ning Nang 
The mice go Clang 
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

Lunch was at the lovely Redwood Cafe in the Swan Lane Open Space where delights such as venison stew or beetroot and goat's cheese toasted sandwiches were followed by delicious courgette and lime cake or healthy portions of carrot cake.
Mark, Irving, Zaahiri, Mike, Zaki, Murni & Charlotte

After lunch we had another treat when Zaki, Murni's son, read what he had written earlier at the golf club:
"I flew to the peak of the evergreen tree, the tree that waved to me every day. Whilst the tree waved the wind would whistle the tube larks liked to sing. The reflections in the water would dance like the humans did: soft, smooth and steady.

The mellow sound of the wilderness and the crunching of gravel by other forest animals made music in my ears. Rhythmic tapping of my woodpecker friends and vibrant colours of humming birds seemed to create a harmony amongst the animals."

What an amazing piece of writing at such a young age. 

Mike organises walks for the Finchley Society. If you fancy joining us, you can find the details  of the latest walk here. We're hoping that some writers will come along and produce some poems or prose on the walk and read the results at Oakhill Park, the final destination where we finish for tea and cake.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Walking Writer

The Walking Writer workshop is all about nature and writing. Many writers including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank O'Hara used walking as a way of stimulating their writing. Walking is not just good for the physical body; it is good for the mind too. For William Blake and William Wordsworth, walking was a way to leave the outside world behind.

We will be retreating from the busy everyday into our own particular creative worlds with an emphasis on sight, sound, smell, touch and hearing and there will be some readings.We will be writing and walking in the wooded areas of Finchley. We will meet at West Finchley and make our way down to the beautiful Dollis Brook where we will write among the trees. You will have a chance to discuss your latest writing project, make new writing friends or meet old ones. We will stop for lunch at The Redwood Café in Swan Lane Open Space.

Where and when:
18th October, 10.30am West Finchley Station, London N3

The Walking Writer Workshop: 

 As a way to fund her PhD; Rosie Canning is offering this workshop on a donation basis. Rosie is hoping her PhD will contribute to changing the outcomes for Care Leavers by challenging stereotypes and the public consciousness.  

Click here to reserve your place:
               Eventbrite - The Walking Writer






Photo © Mike Gee

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A Letter to my Father from a Child of the State*

Dear Father,

I realise we've not had contact for many years, thirty-eight to be precise. Though I did see you twice after I left home at sixteen, so it's more like forty years really. 

Do you remember my eighteenth birthday?
(Of course, I understand, you've dealt with thousands and thousands of 18th birthdays, yes okay, you're right, I understand. No! I'm not upset.)
You gave me a cheque for 15/- (that's 75p in new money) and a tea set.
(No, I don't know what happened to the tea set. I moved around too much)

I thought you might at least write and ask how I was doing. 
Well, I'll tell you:

I've always worked apart from the odd occasion when I was homeless. I regret to say I was on benefits for a while but to be honest, I saw this as you supporting me from a distance, even though you never signed any of the letters yourself.

There was one in particular, the one where all my benefits were stopped and that week the children really did starve. It was signed by somebody called Harry something-or-other. I've racked my brains going through all the aunts and uncles I met during my 16 years in your care but cannot remember him. Was that really you? Using a pseudonym?

(I certainly don't hold you responsible for me being homeless and pregnant at seventeen.)
I guess it was about six months after I left Blueberry Road, I'd been living in a bedsit, well that's what it was called. I got behind with my rent and was asked to leave. I stayed on a friend's sofa for a few nights but after a while, I just felt awkward.

I did phone but you were busy decorating my old bedroom for somebody new. 
I have managed, not always very well, and I do remember people commenting on how skinny I'd become. It's not as if I didn't know how to cook but I couldn't afford to buy the food, so I ate custard creams instead.

I don't want you to feel sorry for me, I'm just trying to explain how difficult life was. It's not difficult now. I'm a successful member of society. In fact, I'm notorius. I have become a campaigner for children in your care and care leavers like myself. I'm not sure if you're proud of me or not. In fact, I'm going to parliament this Thursday; to visit the home of your father, my grandfather. I imagine he won't be able to hear what I say because of course, he never invested in a hearing aid. Whatever is said, will probably fall on death, I mean deaf ears.

I imagine you read about my antics in the local newspaper. (Yes you do read the papers. I remember seeing piles of them on your desk when I visited you at the Town Hall. Remember, we sat in silence for hours. You wouldn't speak to me because you thought it would force me to talk about my feelings.) 

I'm still here. If I had moved away, I would have missed you more than I already do. Have you missed me?

We could meet for tea like we used to. In the Wimpy Bar in Muswell Hill. Remember? You never had anything to eat. It was a game we played. I always had the same thing, bender, beans and egg. (No, I never had the tomato)

I suppose you're wondering why I'm writing to you after all this time. It's not easy you know, writing this letter. But I have nobody else to ask. My real parents (yes, I found out), my real parents are dead.

Anyway I will just finish this letter very quickly by...it's such a difficult thing to do - to ask for help. I want to go back to university. I want to investigate what happens when children leave your care and how that is portrayed in fiction. I’m also going to write an autobiographical novel, like the social novels of Charlotte Brontë or Charles Dickens, possibly challenge your ‘state’ quo. I want to illuminate the voiceless, the marginalized children of society. The research has a literary purpose, a social purpose, which will comment on what happened to us in the seventies and is still happening in society now; it is an important story that needs to be told.

(You say that changes things, if I'm writing autobiographical stuff?)

Well, I just thought I'd drop you a line.

If you do want to help, even at this late stage, you can find out more about my research here.

Yours sincerely,
A child of the state


*A child of the state was first mentioned by Lemn Sissay at the event TedxHousesofParliament.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Versatile Blogger

Thank you to Lindsay Bamfield for nominating me as a versatile blogger. I always enjoy reading Lindsay’s blog because she writes about writing in an informative, interesting and intelligent way.  

I've heard that to be a really popular blogger, it is better to concentrate on one subject. This has always been a problem for me as one of my blog articles explores: Writer? Activist? Writer? Activist?

I did not have a clue what I was doing when I first started writing a blog as you’ll see if you have a hunt through my old posts. I know I am supposed to concentrate on writing, and only writing, but my activism occasionally takes over. Why not have two blogs? Yes this would be the answer. But then that would take more time!

So as I’m not a number one blogger, or the Queen of Bloggers, like my first nominee Emily Benet, I feel I can get away with a bit of a mishmash or versatility! 

At the heart of my mishmash is passion. I often write when I feel passionate about something. This can include:
  • ·         Libraries - I’m a Senior Library Assistant and books have always been very important in my life.
  • ·         Books – A writer must read a lot to be a good reader. It is about learning the craft.
  • ·         Care Leavers - I’m the Social Media Coordinator for Every Child Leaving Care Matters (ECLCM)
  • ·         And of course Cats – lots of writers have cats. I have two, Muffin, who has a pathetic squeak and Waffle who is a killer; they occasionally get a mention.

My next task as a versatile blogger is to tell you seven random things about myself and then nominate another fifteen versatile bloggers, who are invited to do the same. The idea is of course to introduce our readers to blogs they may not have visited.

Now seven random facts...

1) I have a pink china cat that I won in a race when I was ten. It has a chipped ear where a friend dropped it on some stairs and a chipped foot where another friend dropped it on some grass – both times I was moving house.

2) I have a grandaughter who is twelve and grandson who is two.

3) I have my morning Jasmine tea in the same cup everyday. It has a picture of Queen Victoria and used to belong to my daughter, also Victoria.

4) I have written an autobiography and am now writing an autobiographical novel.

5) Reading fiction saved my life when I was growing up in the care system.

6) I have been with my current partner for 14 years the same amount of time I was married.

7) I’ve accepted a place at Southampton University to do a PhD in Creative Writing even thought I don’t have funding. I do however, have a lovely supervisor: Rebecca Smith.

Here is a list of writerly, and readerly blogs that I enjoy who I have nominated:

Lisa Cherry website and passionate ramblings
Angel Strand sexy writer
Dovegreyreader Avid reader
Emily Benet Queen of Bloggers (I think Emily was nominated a couple of years ago)
The Literary Pig Fiction writer (Nominated by Lindsay too!)
Jenni Fagan Writer and Care Leaver
Alice Elliot Writer
Joanna Penn Writes thrillers and non-fiction for authors
DaisyYellow A slightly different blog

Fellow Greenacre Writers:

Katie Alford Newly published author
Anna Meryt Memoir writer and poet
Helen Barbour Almost ‘perfect’ blog
Mumpuni Murniati A mystery reader

A very active blog from the famous Finchley fishwife Mrs Angry, who lives in the Tory run London Borough of Broken Barnet

Last but not least, a campaign blog from Every Child Leaving Care Matters who are persuading Government to let those young people in residential care stay until 21 the same as their foster counterparts.

Happy Reading!


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Press Release from Education Committee

Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options 
Publication of the Committee’s Second Report of Session 2014–14.

Ban the use of B&Bs for looked after young people and regulate all ‘other arrangements’, say MPs.

Young adults should not be forced to leave care before they turn 21, should only be provided with regulated accommodation and should not be placed in a bed and breakfast, argues the Education Committee in a report about 16 plus care options.

Launching the report, the Chair of the Education Committee, Mr Graham Stuart, said today:

“Looked after young people moving towards adulthood deserve a well-supported transition to independence rather than an abrupt push out of care.

“We launched this inquiry because we were concerned about the level of care and quality of support provided for older adolescents. We have now been persuaded of just how serious the problems are in this area and our report sets out the steps that must be taken to improve 16 plus care options”.

“For too many looked after young people, their ambition to move to semi-independent or independent living at the age of 16 or 17 results in them being placed in accommodation that is neither safe nor suitable.

“The lack of regulation and inspection for the range of accommodation used is shocking. We urge the DfE to consult on the introduction of a regulatory framework for all accommodation that falls within the catch-all term ‘other arrangements’.

“The DfE asserts that B&Bs are not considered to be suitable. Far from being merely unsuitable, this kind of housing is frequently both threatening and frightening to a young person. Their continued use shows that the current guidance is clearly inadequate.

“The DfE should consult urgently with local authorities to determine a reasonable timeframe for the outright ban on the use of B&Bs for looked after young people. In the meantime, the message is plain: B&Bs are not suitable and should only be used in extreme, emergency situations and even then, never for more than a few days”.

“While we strongly endorse the current Staying Put policy, it applies only to looked after young people living in foster care.  Yet those in residential children’s homes are often the most vulnerable and in need of extended support. We recommend that Staying Put be extended to residential children’s homes so that all looked after young people can benefit from the much needed stability this policy brings”.

The report also calls for:

·         The DfE to ensure that looked after young people approaching independence are fully and effectively informed of their rights and entitlements and that they are given a genuine choice of accommodation.

·         Clearer and stronger guidance to the effect that local authorities consider, as a first option, carers and professionals with whom a young person has an established relationships as a Personal Adviser.

·         Changes to guidance on ‘pathway planning’ specifically to include relationships with siblings.

·         Local authorities to report to the DfE on their use of B&B accommodation for looked after young people.

·         Leaving care services to be extended to the age of 25, without exception.

·         The DfE to remind all local authorities of their statutory duty to postpone any unnecessary and disruptive placement change during Key Stage 4.

·         A duty upon local authorities to ensure that a young person’s transition out of care is postponed until after the end of an academic year following their 18th birthday.

·         The DfE to issue explicit guidance on young people’s right to stay in ‘other arrangements’ until they are 21.

·         The DfE to examine models of Staying Close and, if they are shown to improve young people’s outcomes, issue best practice guidance on such models for situations in which a young person’s preference is to Stay Close rather than Stay Put.

The report  is available here: www.parliament.uk/education-committee 

Committee Membership is as follows: 
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair), Conservative, Beverley and Holderness
Neil Carmichael, Conservative, Stroud
Alex Cunningham, Labour, Stockton North
Bill Esterson, Labour, Sefton Central
Pat Glass, Labour, North West Durham
Siobhain McDonagh, LabourMitcham and Morden
Ian Mearns, Labour, Gateshead
Caroline Nokes, Romsey and Southampton North
Mr Dominic Raab, Esher and Walton
Mr David Ward, Liberal Democrat, Bradford East
Craig Whittaker, Conservative, Calder Valley

Specific Committee Information:  educom@parliament.uk / 020 7219 1333
Media Information: Hannah Pearce: pearcehm@parliament.uk / 020 7219 8430 / 07917488162
Twitter: @commonsEd  
Watch committees and parliamentary debates online:  www.parliamentlive.tv 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

WW1 Centenary

There are lots of events this year for the WW1 Centenary. And oddly enough, I'm involved in two of them. The first event takes place in the medical library where I work, the North Middlesex University Hospital, where I will be curating a WW1 exhibition. 

Coleridge East Ward - Notice the flowers!
During WW1, in 1915 the Infirmary, its equipment and its staff were requisitioned by the War Office. The patients were relocated to the workhouse and the Infirmary became the Edmonton Military Hospital. The operating theatre, being new, was quite adequate but a larger steriliser was installed and an X-ray Department added. Large huts were built in the grounds to house even more patients, increasing the bed complement to over 1,000. The kitchen was well-ordered to cope with preparing meals for this number, and even had a sausage-making machine to make some 900-1000 sausages a day, and a motorised potato-peeling machine (it was made by the Imperial Machine Co. of Cricklewood Lane and had cost £29, although the 'eyes' of the potatoes had to be removed by hand). In August 1917 Princess Louise visited the Hospital and officially opened a Y.M.C.A. Recreation Hut, painted in blue and fawn. During the Spanish 'flu epidemic in 1918 five nurses died of it in the course of their duties. The Hospital was decommissioned in 1920 and reorganised for civilian use as the North Middlesex Hospital. The exhibition will include photographs, letters, and medical reports.

The second event takes place at Stephens House & Gardens WW1 Centenary celebrations where some of the Greenacre/Finchley Literary Festival participants are involved, Tuesday August 5th

12-1pm A.L. Michael is running a creative writing workshop for kids, centred around WW1. Write stories, poems and letters inspired by life at that time, and the perspectives of those at home and on the front lines. An interactive and educational creative workshop. 
1.30-3pm Rosie Canning (ME!) is running a creative writing workshop using World War One letters, photos and artefacts as inspiration. Rosie will spark your creativity and imagination, using creative writing exercises to take you back in time to WW1 from the safety of the bunker. 

3-4pm Come and have afternoon tea in the lovely drawing room at Stephens House and listen to Sarah Harrison read from her bestselling WW1 novel, The Flowers of the Field and hear how she got the idea to write the book and all about the WW1 research.

Oddly enough, the purpose of this week is for Stephens House & Gardens to provide a focus to remember those that served and the many that suffered especially those treated within Avenue House when it was seconded as a hospital. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Finchley Literary Festival: Day 5 and 6

Diary of a festival organiser: Day 5

The afternoon began with a real treat. The Reader Organisation had organised two sessions to take place at North Finchley Library organised by Ruth Cohen and Paul Higgins.
Ruth and Paul are old friends of mine – Ruth because she is a Greenacre Writer member in the Short Story group and Paul because I met him when I trained as a Shared Reading Facilitator back in Autumn 2011. For this event, I had decided I would be a participant. The session began with us introducing ourselves and Paul told us a little bit about The Reader Organisation which you can find out about here.

Paul then began reading a short story, it was about two people that meet in an unfamiliar airport and how through questions and answers they get to know each other and maybe even fall in love a little. We read a little, spoke a little and laughed a lot. Then we shared a poem, which was very moving all about another world when people would have time to stop and stare.

It was such a lovely respite for me as I had been rushing around all week, in fact weeks with the organisation of the festival and I left the library feeling totally refreshed.

Meanwhile, Mike was attending Maggie Butt’s ‘How to get your poetry published’, at East Finchley Library which he said was an eye opener and he even read his poem, Death of a Seaside, a lovely piece about a run down hotel by the sea.

After a quick rest, it was all hands to the deck again for Maggie Butt’s ‘Ally Pally Prison Camp’ presentation and Mick Crick's 'Private John Parr' talk.

Did you know Ally Pally was once a prison camp? Maggie has written a book, you can find out more here

Day 6

I have to confess I missed Paul Baker’s literary walk, it just was not possible to attend every single event. You can find out more about Paul’s walks here

As Paul’s walk was coming to an end, we were setting up a small cave for Finchley’s Dragon’s Pen. Church End Library who have provided such excellent support for the festival, gave us a room which we prepared for Gillian Stern, Cari Rosen and Mary Musker. It was quite an odd experience for me because I had put myself down for a slot to present my writing and at the same time, I was meeting and greeting and introducing other victim writers for the lovely beasts. It was an interesting experience, pitching my writing, selling myself, and one that I enjoyed once I got used the dragons’ fiery breath.

As the event finished, the very professional Allen Ashley was up the High Road in North Finchley library preparing for his creative writing family workshop which was also well attended.

Allen then did a quick turnaround and headed toward Friern Barnet Community Library where he was hosting the ‘Spoken Word’ showcase.

As well as local writers and poets, we were joined by Theresa Villiers MP, who came especially to support the Finchley Literary Festival. Theresa used to support the Greenacre Bicycle Rally, so it was very nice to see her and you can find out here whether she enjoyed the evening.

The highlight of the evening for me was Allen's poem, 'The Mill Hill Boys', all about what it is like to come from Finchley and be in a band with the Mill Hill Boys. I hope to hear it one day set to music.


Finchley Literary Festival: Day 3 and 4

Diary of a Festival organiser: Day 3

I had a lay in this morning but not for long as the phone was soon ringing with enquiries:
'Do I have to book to attend the 'Meet the Authors', event at Waterstones?
or
'Is 'How to Kill Your Darlings', a workshop or a talk?'
and many more.

On arriving at Waterstones, a laid-back Miriam Halahmy and Lindsay were blowing up balloons. I marvelled at both her and Lil Chase's calm exterior thinking back to the anthology launch when I'd been rushing around. It seemed these published, stalwart authors had something to teach me. 'It's not like a reading,' said Gina Blaxill, 'then I would be nervous. We're here and if they come, they come, and if they don't, well, it's still been fun!'

I grabbed a handful of Finchley Literary Festival leaflets and stood outside encouraging passer-by children and parents to come and 'Meet the Authors'.

Soon it was time for Lindsay and I to say farewell and jump on a bus to Finchley Central Library, we are after all Greenacre Project peeps and believers in sustainability and less car use. We arrived just in time for Bettina von Cossel's excellent 'How to Kill Your Darlings' Murder, Mystery, talk. To be a really good murderer, on paper only, one has to attend crime workshops to meet pathologists and detectives, or wear really high heels so one can trip at the top of the escalator and accidentally push our darling down the stairs. Bettina, a rather leggy brunette, donned sparkly high-heels and showed us just how to do it, using her son as a willing victim. She also told us how she once thought of using The Queen as a character in one of her novels and wrote for permission, the response from the palace included, 'Her majesty was pleased to be made aware of your project'.

As you can see the equipment worked!
I didn't rush home for a break after the murder workshop as it was straight to the library in North Finchley for the next event, 'A Way Forward through Publishing'. Carol Sampson and I were setting up the equipment which was a hoot because I have a memory that very rarely works and couldn't remember which plug went where or which buttons to press. Still with a bit of help from Carol, we managed fine and felt quite chuffed, especially as it was a full house. Self-publishing is a very popular subject. Writers are fed up of waiting for a contract, and nowadays there are so many options from e-publishing, to On-Demand printing to a full package that includes advertising and a several thousand print run.

Day 4 - Highlights

Thankfully, Murni and Carol went to A.L. Michael's 'Write Here, Write Now', workshop held at Friern Barnet Community Library, so I really did get a lie in! The workshop was well attended and you can read a bit more about it from Murni here.


Lucy, our lovely photographer picked me up after lunch and we went to Mike's house to pick up equipment, but when we got to the library it seemed we had forgotten the projector! Mike to the rescue, and just as well because he knows exactly how to set up the library for a film show having set up many for his secret green spaces slide shows. There is a knack and unfortunately being equipment-setting-up-illiterate, I do not have it. Panic over, Theresa Musgrove, alias Mrs Angry, infamous Bloggadeer, arrived from behind the glass screen where she usually sits presiding over the Borough of Barnet keeping an eye on the naughty antics of councillors and privateers, looking very bright and cheerful.


Although she writes about local politics, she finds it increasingly difficult to prevent irrelevant references to local history seeping into her work: this talk explored one of those themes, the associations of Charles Dickens with many locations in the borough, including some newly discovered material which probably raises more questions than it answers ... the story of a bootmaker, a mortgage, the Sultan of Hendon, bodysnatching - and a tale of two workhouses' ... It was fascinating and the library was absolutely chock-a-block!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Greenacre Writers Anthology Launch

Diary of a festival organiser: Day 2 - Sunday 25th May 2014
Sal reading her winning story 'Flapjack'

Setting up Cafe Buzz for the anthology launch was relatively easy because we'd left most of the equipment the night before after the Poetry Palooza. By the time I arrived, Sal Page, the Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition winner was already there. I know I'm not the only one that has that 'weird' double-take when you meet somebody in 'real life' that you have been either communicating with via Twitter or Facebook or both. You get to know each other via words and usually one photo that is flat and static. So meeting Sal was strange and familiar all at the same time. I was so pleased she had travelled all the way from Morecombe via Coventry to be with us. Firstly because Sal is a very talented writer, with a wicked sense of humour, and secondly because it is so nice to have the competition winners to present their newly published anthology in person. Unfortunately for poor Sal, she had to put up with a bit of behind the scenes usual Greenacre confusion, still at least we didn't get her to shift a grand piano!
Greenacre Writers reading from the anthology Vol 3
Our other guest reader was Andy Byrne, who was a Greenacre Writer Short Story 2013 Competition runner-up with his very clever story, 'Authors in Residence', literary characters come to life in this story!

Our event coordinator was getting a bit impatient with readers as they stood behind the microphone either too near or too far and at one point he got up and gave us a demonstration of how to use it. I thought everybody coped really well with the 'moving' microphone and it was another Greenacre Writers success. 




Cafe Buzz wouldn't be the buzzy place it is without Helen Michael and her staff who served us all afternoon with delicious home-made lunches, snacks and scrummy cakes. Chocolate Cake, Earl Grey Bluestar and Greenacre Writers Anthology, Volume 3 - what more could anybody wish for?

Usually it is the organisers that organise surprises but we were caught unawares when presented with a beautifully arranged basket of flowers. For a moment I thought it was the end of the festival, and then Lindsay reminded me, only another 18 events to go!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Finchley Literary Festival: Day 1 continued



Diary of a festival organiser: Day 1 continued Saturday 24th May - Poetry and Music Palooza

I imagined that after the CliFi event Mike (events coordinator) and I would nip home and have a rest, which we did, for 10 minutes well actually it turned into half an hour after tea and cake by which time we were late and people were texting: 
Where are you?
A wee bit embarassing as we'd told everybody to be early!
As we drove past I said, 'OMG, the place is packed'.
Good for Helen Michael, proprietor of Cafe Buzz, but slightly awkward for us as we had to organise space for the performers.
Once inside it didn't seem to matter, Mike ordered us around, get this, do that, move this, plug that in. And once again we put up posters, bunting and moved furniture around.


People started to arrive and Anna Meryt welcomed us all and got the Poetry & Music Palooza underway. 


Greg Mayston has been a Blues guitarist/singer for many years. He plays authentic 1920s, 1930s and contemporary sounds from the Mississippi Delta to the Thames Valley.

Peter Sellars on violin and Chris Harper on rhythm guitar, played lively and warm-hearted jazz in the style of the 'Gypsy Jazz' sound of Paris in the 1930s and 40s.


Miriam Halahmy 
My favourite moment:
Listening to Miriam Halahmy's poem about her daughter who went travelling and hearing how her fears never subsided until she was finally back home. It doesn't seem to matter how old your children are, mothers never stop worrying! 

To listen to some more poetry from the evening click here

*Thanks to Lucy Nowell for the photos