Monday, 31 December 2012

No large knickers for me!

I was thinking of reflecting on 2012 before deciding that I would make no resolutions this year. Resolutions it seems are set up to fail. No large knickers for me!

As briefly as possible, 2012 has been a difficult year. Health has been an issue. My marbles are looser than ever and all I see ahead is a baggier future. Oh, how those old people used to annoy me when I was young. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have the speed of youth and all your marbles, wait until you get to my age and then see how you feel.’ Didn’t they go on and on and on and of course they were right. I remember an old aunty who said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you are warm, I’d wear a tea cosy on my head if it kept the cold out.’ I remember thinking, I will never be like that. And now? I wear the occasional tea cosy.

Some good writerley things about 2012:

I judged a short story competition for the Chris Evans Breakfast Show 500 WORDS competition. Having entered competitions myself, I know how important it can be to be objective when reading stories. I also discovered this when judging the Greenacre Writers competition entries, there were stories that I personally did not enjoy but the language and composition far outweighed my limited interests.

As co-host and tutor for the Greenacre Writers, this year I both ran and co-ran writing groups and workshops. I attended the NAWG festival where the Greenacre Writers Anthology had been shortlised for the anthology competition. We came third in the National Association of Writers Groups (NAWG), Denise Robertson Group Anthology competition. Quite an achievement as it was our first anthology. I met some interesting people including Linda Lewis, Pam Fish and Edyth Ward (who was 85 years young). Edyth was full of fun and said, 'Whenever you're feeling a bit down in the dumps, look for a white feather, and you know that everything will be okay.'

And of course not forgetting our Literary Festival, the first to be held in the borough of Barnet. The Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival was held in May and attended by some lovely writerly types: Alex Wheatle, Emily Benet, Andrew Bradford, Lane Ashfeldt and Paolo Hewitt. As well as our own Greenacre writers and co-host Lindsay Bamfield.

Don’t ask me how, inbetween all the various activities, including being involved with the Occupied Friern Barnet Library, I found time to enter some competitions. Of the five I entered, I was either long or shortlisted.

And so to 2013. My non-resolutions:

This is what I will do:

Be kind.
Read a book a week.
Write every day.
Enter competitions.
Support Kiva.
Support Water Aid.
Support Save the Children.
Try and count to ten before I scream.

That's all folks. Wishing you all what you would wish yourselves plus peace on earth. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Home Alone for Christmas

I didn’t choose to spend Christmas day alone. Sometimes things happen or other people make decisions that affect our choices. It can be something upsetting, like the end of a relationship or perhaps somebody suddenly gets taken ill, or it could be related to a surprise and somebody else's happiness. Happiness, we are told, means spending Christmas with friends and family. There is a definite taboo around spending Christmas on your own. The little voices inside your head have a whale of a time and get great pleasure from this scenario: ‘Spending Christmas alone? Aint you got no friends? What about your family, don’t they like you either? Loser. Wierdo.’ And many more besides. I feel slightly embarassed spending Christmas day on my own, in fact, I can’t even bring myself to go to the local shop. Why? Because then I’d have to speak to people, wish them ‘Merry Christmas’, and I can’t do it. One, because I have sprained my ankle and can’t walk very far, and two, I don’t feel like being very sociable.

I found a student website where somebody was spending Christmas on their own and was asking for help. Although some responses offered help, others used the pages as a way to either pay back old debts or brush aside the student’s unhappiness: ‘So do you spend most days alone? Are you an introvert? Do you like being with people? If you answered yes, yes, no – there you go then, problem solved.’

In fact, there is all sorts of advice on the Internet for those alone at what is supposed to be, ‘a time for family and friends’. Personally I prefer Grinch’s sentiment, ‘I must find a way to keep Chrsitmas from coming!’

Here are a few ideas:

·         Look for opportunities to spend time with people in your community.

·         Fill your time with productive tasks.

·         Go for a walk. Get some exercise

·         Use it as time to stay home, treat yourself to a beauty treatment, play some music and sing out loud, watch a series on netflix,

·         go to sleep early and think positive

·         Allow yourself to be sad if you need to. You don't have to force yourself to be positive all the time.

·         Go to church.

·         Get drunk.

·         Flee the country!

·         Do good works at a homeless shelter

·         Stock up on food and drink treats, and cook your perfect lunch, whether it's turkey with all the trimmings or an Indian ready-meal. (Provided you can walk to the shopsand get the food!)

·         Buy yourself a lovely present to open - something you've wanted for ages.

Or my favourite, except I don’t have a car:

·    Bundle up, get in the car and take off. When you are out on Christmas Day, people think you are either on your way to or from some family event! People wave at each other more often. People are very friendly on Christmas Day. And then you come home, and appreciate the peace and quiet of your solitary life, with no family to argue with, no dishes to wash....and no one to hog the couch or snore.

There are those who want to be home alone for Christmas. The idea that anyone might actively seek to spend the day on their own can make others feel uncomfortable - even those who freely admit they don't get on with their family and find the day pure hell. But for many people there's a world of difference between solitude and loneliness. For example, one woman at work, told me that she no longer told colleagues she spends Christmas alone. "I can't bear the way they treat me like a tragic victim and offer to have me round for lunch to 'cheer me up'. They fail to grasp that I spend the day alone through choice and I've grown tired of having to explain myself."

Sometimes spending Christmas alone can help alleviate the pressure of living by someone else’s rules, customs and traditions especially if you are not in the right frame of mind to do so. However, doing ths year in year out might not be so enjoyable as it sounds.
There are those who would tell you: I’d love to spend Christmas Day on my own, I would eat a bit, drink a bit, watch a bit of tell and generally try to enjoy myself. I don’t need other people around me at Christmas, and certainly not my family. I hate them.

Because of course families are an important part of Christmas and of course there is all the difficulties that go with having one. I have a family that I created. This year, unfortunately, they thought I already had plans and so made their own. I’m happy with that and I would never put pressure on them just so I could have company on this over-inflated one day of the year, and I’m lucky, we’ll get together for Boxing Day.

The amount of money that is being made out of Christmas, a time that celebrates the birth of God’s son, Jesus, is grotesque. How do those glossy adverts make people feel who spend this day on their own, perhaps not through their own choice? Inadequate? Depressed? Again I’m lucky because I don’t get taken in by the false worlds that are created by the powerful medium of television. However, when I was younger and inexperienced, I did believe that the chintzy people in adverts really did love each other and spent their time partying, from noon until the early hours of the morning.

The Women's Royal Volunteer Service estimates that around a million elderly people will spend this Christmas alone. It's no coincidence that the Samaritans receive more calls over the festive period (one every six seconds) than at any other time of the year. After all, it can be hard to reconcile an empty home with all the chocolate-box portrayals of family togetherness in the media. "There's a huge pressure on people to conform at Christmas, and that can cause heartache for those who don't have a traditional family circle," says social psychologist Arthur Cassidy.

This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent on my own. When I was younger, I did spend a couple of Christmasses with my birth family, but mostly I spent Christmas in care. The last time I was alone on Christmas Day, was in 1974, when I was 16 and had just left the Children’s home where I spent my childhood. In some ways that was much more difficult than today. I was used to being with seven other children, it was noisy, it was bright, there lights and lovely food. Christmas dinner with crackers and silly jokes and hats, my mouth is watering at the thought. Many people like me, still find Christmas difficult, whether alone or with friends and family. This could be because for some kids who have been in care, they will have experienced some of the worst abuses imaginable at this time of year and not necessarily by their families. Christmas can bring out the beast in some people. And the inheritance of our pasts can mean, there is something about the emotion of this particular season that can make togetherness, whether with friends or family, almost unbearable.

The point here is that whether we are with family, friends, or alone, Christmas can be difficult. Some mothers, get themselves into debt. They exhaust themselves through shopping, cleaning and cooking leading up to Christmas and they don’t enjoy the day because often after the initial excitement and enthusiasm, it is mothers that are left to clear up, while others get drunk, argue or play with their new toys. And then there are those who are homeless, they see the glitz and tinsel in shop windows and who knows what memories that triggers for them or how isolated and alone they must feel in their shop doorway homes. And what about those that are in war situations right now, the men, women, mothers and children suffering abominable injuries - surely we are so fortunate in this country whether alone at Christmas or not.

Maybe for some, this is the way to cope? Think of others who are so much worse off than ourselves? I don’t think it is, but helping others is a way to give our lives some meaning. Christmas Day has become a product of our imaginations, the original meaning for millions has now been lost. Many of us are riding in a fast car, grabbing bits of Christmas as we speed through December and ending up on the day, exhausted, disappointed and skint.

Decisions we take affect others, and we often forget to take responsibility for our actions. One year I decided not to have a Christmas tree and went down the woods to get some twigs, that I then decorated with baubles and lights. That was the year that mum went mad, said my children! Our relationship with excess effects others. This year I thought about telling friends and family that I didn’t want any presents, and that I would prefer money donated to Save the Children or Water Aid because there are still millions of children without water, food and shelter. I did tell some friends and family but I still wanted to have some presents! Next year I will try harder, I don't want to live a life of excess. Perhaps I'll just do more throughtout the year. One friend has suggested Kiva. 

With Kiva, you make a loan. All Kiva loans are made possible by their Field Partners, who vet, administer, and disburse each loan. Throughout the life of the loan, you will see progress updates from Kiva through your email, and if you come back to the site. As the borrower repays the loan, the money becomes available in your account. This is called your Kiva Credit. You can now use it to fund another loan, donate it to Kiva, or withdraw it to spend on something else. Isn't this amazing, the amount you donated can be used over and over again to help not just one person but many.

As this day draws to close I realise that I haven't really been alone. I spent a lot of the time communicating with friends and family, starting in the morning with telephone calls to long-term partner, close friends, children, and other family members. And then on to the Internet where I saw Twitter messages from various friends in the community and finally Facebook where I wished and was wished a very, very happy Christmas.

Monday, 17 December 2012

And the winner is......

Here are the winners of the second Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition.

Congratulations to you all.

1st prize: A Perfect World by Veronica Bright

2nd prize: God the Homeless by Simon Farnham

3rd prize: The Art of Being Late by Julie Swan

Runners up (in no particular order)

The Veteran by Elliot Mayhew

Up to the Ankles by Amy Flinders

An Accident Waiting to Happen by Marie Campbell

Many thanks to judge Paolo Hewitt

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ever dreamed of writing a novel?

 Now you can with Greenacre Writers
Start That Novel Course
 This 6-week course will help with planning your novel, developing plot, characterisation, dialogue, point of view, first chapter, as well as giving you feedback on your writing. Plus there will be guest speakers.

First Guest Speaker confirmed: Josie O Pearse (Josie has written two sexy romantic novels and is currently working on her PhD)
 Where and when:
Chislehurst Avenue, London N12 0HU
6 sessions Mondays 7-9pm:
Jan 14th, 28th, Feb 4th, 11th, 25th, Mar 4th
About Course Tutor:
Rosie Canning is a co-founder of Greenacre Writers. She studied MA Writing at Middlesex University. She has written a novel, short stories, and is currently re-writing her autobiography, ‘Bibliotherapy: Stories that Saved my Life’.
For further details or to reserve a place, please contact
Rosie Canning (MA Writing)                      
Tel: 020 8346 9449

6-week 'Start That Novel' Course - £65 (including refreshments)
Deposit bookable online via Paypal:

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The importance of an interesting title.

Our Greenacre Writers second short story competition has now closed. And the task of reading the stories and compiling a long list has begun. It's an enjoyable task, one from which I always learn so much about how to write a short story. Already I am seeing the benefit of choosing a really catchy title helps, not just to catch a readers eye but also as an overview of the whole story. I know about titles because I have written a few short stories myself and I know that most of them have had boring titles: 'The Locket', for one. I mean, what does that tell a reader about the story? What image comes to mind? It's not very exciting is it. I was lucky, my story was shortlisted a couple of times. That tells me it was a good story. I wonder what would have happened if it had a different title.

Here are a couple of example titles from winners of the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize:
The Space Between Louis and Me, by Mary O’Donnell
Honeysuckle and Cat's Piss, by Ewan Gault, Japan

And another couple from The Word Hut, Short Story Writing Competition:
Jo Derrick, Camels In A Field
Steven Dacre, The Lost Second

Do these titles grab your attention? Make you want to know more? Well they certainly intrigued me and having read the stories can see they added something to the recipe. They do indeed stir the readers imagination and curiosity and thus inspire a reader to read the whole story. Sometimes a title will hint at the authors purpose.However a really, really, really, good title also adds something to the story, it not only binds it together, it also represents the whole.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Notes from the library

Tonight we had our usual Monday night meeting at Friern Barnet Peoples Community Library.

We talked about the court case Wednesday 10th October, 10am, St Mary's Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3 1BQ.

I heard how a local resident had lost his house at the weekend due to a fire. This was not all. He is seriously ill and has not got long left to live. Apparently when the library used to be open, he was a regular user and was well-known by staff. They would have most definitely have seen his health was deteriorating and would have alerted neighbours or friends. This shows just what a 'community library' is all about. This man could have been saved - the persistent cuts imposed by Roger Rams have put this man's life in jeopardy.

If you care about libraries come and support us at court on Wednesday and in the evening let's hope that we will be celebrating at 8.30pm with Andre Espeut and Didjitalis - a vision in sound! The band that takes dance music to new heights with its powerful blend of live organic and electronic grooves.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Friern Barnet Library Rising

Some time ago I wrote an article, 'Book People', for the Greenacre Times which looked at a very brief history of libraries. The story ended with more than 5,000 Barnet residents who had signed petitions against local library closures. In fact, 73% of residents that responded to the Library Strategy, did not want Friern Barnet or North Finchley to close and they certainly didn't and don't want £1.5million spent on a 'Landmark' library (whatever that is). Since then Friern Barnet Library has closed…or has it.

This is the story of a library that will not close. There has been a small nucleus of protesters with hundreds of supporters who have continued to try to save Friern Barnet Library from closure. Since it was closed prematurely by Barnet Council last April, the Save Friern Barnet Library Group (SFBLG) have been campaigning to get it re-opened.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead

When I wrote the article back in July 2011, I would never have envisioned the recent events. A couple of weeks ago I was in Swan Lane Open Space with partner, Mike Gee, and grandson Alfie. The sun was shining and Mike made Alfie a hat out of a hankie, to keep the sun off his head.

I received a phone call from Tirza Waisel, a local activist, and BAPS Coordinator. She wanted to know if I knew anything about the people in the library.

'What People?'

She didn't know. I suggested she phoned somebody from the SFBLG who would probably know. I then continued with our afternoon and promptly forgot all about it. When I did remember, I phoned Tirza back, and asked her if she had found anything out.

'Yes,' she said. There are squatters in the building.'

'Squatters!!' I imagined scruffy looking individuals with attitude, but inside, I was excited. What did this mean? What were they doing there? Whose side were they on?

I didn't have long to wait because the following evening there was a SFBLG meeting. Even though I work late on a Thursday and usually I'm too tired to do anything except go home and put my feet up, I decided to make the effort and attend the meeting. Except I didn't go straight into the meeting, I went to find Mike, who I had been told was in the library.

It was a very strange feeling walking in the back door of the library towards the issue desk, that was usually reserved for library staff. The thing that struck me first were the empty shelves, they looked so sad. The dark brown wood set against the blue carpet tiles. It was strangely hollow and spooky. But something was happening. Mike was chatting to some well-spoken, pleasant, young/ish men. One in particular with blond dreadlocks, was smiling and telling me they were here to re-open the library. I looked at the empty shelves and laughed. But, the earth was shifting on its axis and the impact was beginning to be felt all over Barnet.

We went to the meeting, and so did Phoenix. As his name suggested he brought with him a warmth and energy. The Phoenix is said to be reborn from its own ashes and that it is immortal. In very few stories they are able to change into people. Our Phoenix told us he had a history of turning disused buildings into community centres. He was here to help us reclaim the library for the community.

Now here in Barnet, there are a few local activists although on the whole we're a law-abiding passive bunch. Except Mike, who immediately grasped what this could mean. And was most indignant that SFBLG didn't embrace Phoenix and his friends immediately.

'We have to support them,' he said.

I was keeping quiet, most unlike me, but I didn't know what I felt at that moment. It felt surreal. Squatters in the library? Somebody was having a lark.

That Saturday, SFBLG, held their pop-up library on the green, while the occupiers, as they had become, 'library occupiers', opened the back gate and a few interested locals timidly went inside.

By now I had realised this was an opportunity too good to miss. I announced I was holding a Greenacre Writers Creative Writing Workshop inside the library, and Mike set up his slide show, Secret Green Spaces of Finchley.

That first Saturday, there were more people outside than in. More occupiers arrived. One of them, Daniel told me this was how it was. 'People will come', he said. 'It is always like this to begin with.'

He annoyed me, just a little, with his laid back positive attitude. Barnet is not a positive place to live. It feels as if we have been living in a war zone for many years. We don't use bullets, words are our ammunition.

I asked him what he did, 'Oh, start revolution. We started in Hungary, and now they are okay. So we come here.'

A revolution!

I was to be part of a revolution? In some ways it feels that I have been waiting for this to happen all of my life. Ever since I was at secondary school. It was the 70s and there was a lot of social unrest. One day, we all walked out of our classrooms and went on strike. It was a time when we only had electricity three days a week and had to live by candlelight at night. They were exciting times.

Articles about the library, began to appear in local papers, and rumours that SFBLG had asked the squatters to occupy the building. If you've ever met the Chair, Maureen Ivens, you'll know this could not be further from the truth. Maureen is the sort of person that gets legal advice before doing anything. There were other rumours: they must have broken in, they didn't, having found an open window, they climbed in and once inside, found keys in the back door! Plus the heating on full blast. Let's hope they don't get schlapped with that bill. And then the nationals got involved, first the Guardian, then BBC and finally earlier this week, ITV. Barnet had hit the big time. We were all famous. Even I had my few seconds of fame, when I appeared in the Big Issue. My head was spinning.
Meanwhile the luke-warm reception from the community, was, as Daniel had predicted, heating up. Slowly at first, but as the local groups and people began to stream through the now-open front doors, the shelves were beginning to fill up. Even more surprising was Barnet Council themselves, who almost immeditely entered into negotiations with the occupiers. Absolutely amazing! Two days after they arrived, the occupiers were offered, Friary House, as a venue for a community library. The negotiations continued and suddenly, we were having a Monday morning meeting with council officials. All of us, sitting in a circle, some on chairs, some on baby chairs and some on the floor. And Phoenix, rose to the occasion (scuse the pun), having managed what nobody in this borough has managed to do. (Although individuals, such as Mike, Keith Martin or Ollie Natelson, have had negotiations with various leaders). Civil negotiations with council officials. Councillor Richard Cornelius, Leader of the Council, at the moment, told newspapers:

“We have been trying to encourage community libraries in the borough for some time. If this group would genuinely like to open one in Friary House half a mile away we would happily give them the book stock." [Times Series: 5/9/12]

I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt torn in two by this statement. For a number of reasons. I work in a library as a Senior Library Assistant. I do not believe in volunteers running a public library. In fact, when I think of the highly paid executives in this borough expecting library staff to become volunteers and work for nothing. I see red, purple and blue all at the same time and the expletives that escape from my mouth would make a hardened criminal blush. There can now be no doubt that this government wants to end public services, the national health, and everything in between. Not just that, it wants to re-create a new order, one of slavery but without feeding or housing its slaves, a sort of feudal system but without the rewards of land or food. Oh, hang on, I tell a poky-pie. These volunteers will get an award, a certificate or badge of honour. Sixty people in Enfield, volunteers in the library service, have just received these nonsensical decorations. And I imagine our borough officials will soon be doing the same thing.

We've just heard that Barnet council will be reducing library staff: an incredible, unbelievable, insane, 24.5 posts will be reduced to 6. (At the end of October these staff are to receive letters of their jobs being 'at risk') None of these posts are held by the managers (which also means those with the largest salaries) their jobs are NOT at risk. This is the front line professional librarians, who are losing their jobs. The intention is to create a library service with a small number of qualified staff plus a large brigade of volunteers.

I don't believe that the government needs to make such drastic cuts, I think it is an excuse to end public buildings, local services and National health. It was about a week ago, as the shelves in the library were filling up with books and the occupiers were like our liberators, our heroes, that I wondered if it might all turn sour. A sort of Playboy of the Western World scenario but with lots of playboys being driven out by the community. I don't think that will happen now. The community will support them to the bitter end.

We musn't be too downhearted. What has happened here in Barnet could happen elsewhere too. The local community of Friern Barnet are over the moon to have their library reclaimed and reopened. I have heard many stories over the last couple of weeks, some too personal to repeat here. The library is a meeting place, a community hub, somewhere to escape the perhaps not so manageable situations elsewhere, a place for children, a place for the less able-bodied who can easily get in, a place to keep warm, or just a place to read the newspaper. The community is gathering, there are some amazing things happening, people are donating books, food, furniture, computers, printers. There are some wonderful people out there who just want to keep their library where it has been since 1934. It's like people used to be in the war - a joining together to fight a common enemy. All over the UK people have been devastated by the loss of their public services and their libraries. We are now representing the heart of the nation that has been transplanted back into the community. As with all transplants it will be touch and go for a while and the patient-library needs our love, care and support. The nation wants our library to survive.

Vive la Library!

+++++++Friern Barnet Community Library+++++++

There will be a Monday organisational meeting 6pm in the library to discuss the various options. Monday’s 10am meeting with council officials has been rescheduled with a change of venue to: Tuesday 25th September 3.30pm. North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South, London N11 1NP

Daily   11am – 1.00pm Coffee and chat mornings
Tues 5.30pm – 6.30pm New Author Readings
          6.30pm - 7.30pm Pilates
Wed 11.00am - 1.00pm Make Friends With A Book         
Thur11.30am -12.15pm Teddy Bears’ Picnic – stories and activities
           7.00pm - 9.00pm Music night – open mic
Fri      4.00pm - 5.00pm French – beginners and advanced
Sat      10.00am-12noon Chemistry Lesson – GCSE/A Level
           1.00pm - 2.00pm Mel Strickland on the Community Bill of Rights
          2.30pm – 4.00pm Public Assembly “Strategy and the Future”  
           4.30pm – 5.30pm Ruth London on Fuel Poverty

Get involved!
We need your help to save the library: Bring more books: We need more books, especially for older children. We are also collecting toys, DVDs and CDs. Sign up to the rota: the library will only be able to stay open if we have enough people to staff it. We need people to volunteer for two hour slots to check books in and out, accept donations, etc. If you can spare the time, please stop in at the library and sign up to the rota. Make yourself heard: phone, email, text, tweet and visit Barnet Council and the media explaining why the library is important. Spread the word: tell friends and neighbours about us. Come and meet us: we have organising meetings each Monday at 6.00pm - 7.00pm

Sign the petition:

Monday, 13 August 2012

Plot Workshop

** One place left **

Plot Workshop: Saturday 25th August 2012

Who dunnit? Why? And what happens next? Learn how to sequence events that take place within the narrative.

Do you get a bit muddled when trying to remember who does what, when and how? If so, this workshop will help. For beginners as well as the more advanced writer. We will design our own plot chart as well as work on creative writing exercises.
Where and when:
Saturday 25th August
25 Chislehurst Avenue, N12 0HU

About me:
I am a co-founder of Greenacre Writers. I studied MA Writing at Middlesex University. I’ve recently started submitting stories for competitions – all of which have been either short or longlisted. I’ve written a novel, short stories, and am currently re-writing my autobiography, ‘Bibliotherapy: Stories that Saved my Life’.

Greenacre Writer Members £5; Non-members £10

Feedback from previous workshops:

'As always, really enjoyable, learnt a lot, good to mix with like-minded people'

'Every exercise as helpful and enjoyable as each other'
For further details or to reserve a place, please contact:
Rosie Canning (MA Writing) 020 8346 9449

Thursday, 2 August 2012

What a lark! What a Fiasco!

In April of this year, I was outside Friern Barnet Library on the afternoon the council closed and locked the doors for the last time. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there were some library users still inside. They staged a sit-in for 5 hours.
Outside Friern Barnet Library in April 2012 during the sit-in.
The fight to save Friern Barnet Library had been going on for some time, the decision to close the library was made in July 2011. Thousands of local residents supported a petition to keep the library open. It was a much needed resource and community meeting point not just for residents but for teachers and local schools, local authors, history groups, mothers and pre-school children, voluntary services, as well as for disabled and elderly people. The purpose-built library had a ramp leading to its doors, and did not need any alteration or refurbishment. When I was a teenager, I used the library along with many of my friends. It had a nostalgic value not just for me but for many other users. Over the years, I would visit this lovely snug library that had a feel of a home from home. Sometimes to listen to local authors, or return a book on my way to work or to visit friends.

On the day the council closed the library, without any alternative service in place, I felt so frustrated on behalf of the campaigners that I decided to start another petition. One to RE-OPEN the library: ‘We the residents, students and workers of Friern Barnet, are petitioning Barnet Council to RE-OPEN our local library. Friern Barnet Library in its present place and shape is an integral part of community life in the surrounding area. We want a cheerful Local library. This is a chance for Barnet Council to show they ARE listening to local residents and reverse the bad feeling caused by the closure of this lovely library.’
Sign the petition here:

At the last count, there were 2,578 signatures, both online and on paper. Because it totalled more than 2,000 this meant that: ‘Petitions of over 2000 signatures will be considered at the Business Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee, where an officer will be called to give account. The lead Petitioner will have the right to address the Committee for five minutes.’
So I was invited to make a speech Tuesday 31st July, 7pm, in Hendon Town Hall, at the Business Management Overview and Scrutiny Committee. After the usual thanks and introductions, I began:

It is now over three months since the Library closed. We can report that the new artsdepot service has not been a success and the closure of Friern Barnet Library has been a major blow to the people of Friern Barnet. The temporary library in the Artsdepot has an average footfall of only three people per day and on some days, no-one comes at all. This shows that the people who used to use Friern Barnet library are not using the Artsdepot.
The artsdepot space is costing £34,200 in rent alone, and is only open for 12 hours per week. The Landmark Library will need more space so the council will have even more rent to pay. We believe that this rent has not been factored into calculations and will make the landmark library seriously over budget. Surely using an existing purpose-built library that we already own, is a much more efficient way to spend the money.

We can also report that the library closure has affected Friern Barnet town centre. Local shopkeepers report that their sales are down and they have been hit very hard since the closure.

The Rose Mini Market said they are now losing £1,500 a week.
Plaza Pizza - indicated their takings are down by over £700.00 per month.
And Anika News, reported that their turnover had fallen by between 35-40%.

As with the parking policies - the closure of Friern Barnet Library is a policy decision that is having a disastrous financial effect on the surrounding area.

What people want for Friern Barnet has been expressed through the Library Strategy Consultation.- 91% of the users of Friern Barnet library, strongly disagreed with the proposed closure. Further to this, two petitions have been submitted, protests staged, many letters written. Despite all this, the closure went ahead and it is this determination to proceed against the expressed wishes of the people that has caused such ill-will and resentment. People want their libraries to be local. People have been telling the council this since 2007:

I believe the financial case put to council so far has been unsound and needs to be looked into further. The total running costs for Friern Barnet Library for the last financial year, were £117,650 and I believe that although represents good value for money in providing an essential service for the people of Friern Barnet. The running costs could be substantially reduced by cooperating with the local community as has already happened in the case of Hampstead Garden Suburb library.
We ask that the library is re-opened in the existing building in Friern Barnet Road which is a purpose-built library, of considerable architectural merit and an important local landmark.

We want to work with Barnet Council to maintain a comprehensive and effective library service. There are local community groups that have all sorts of ideas to make the maximum use of the Friern Barnet Library Building including long-term commitment from local businesses, schools, and resident groups.

Over the years, Friern Barnet’s losses have included its Town Hall, its Ward Name, its Day Centre in the Old Fire Station - it must not now lose its Library.

The Library has provided a valuable local service and community focus as well as providing for the increased local population arising from the Friern Hospital Development. 

Further, because of the distances involved the service cannot be satisfactorily and safely replicated and accessed at North Finchley.

We appreciate the Council’s difficult financial position but in accordance with the Council’s 2012-13 Corportate Plan”, believe that a re-opened library can provide:

  • Better services with less money
  • Sharing opportunities, sharing responsibilities and
  • A successful London Suburb
We believe that now is an appropriate time to review the closure and ask that, in accordance with the Council’s Constitution, your Committee recommend that the Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships reverse the decision to close Friern Barnet Library.

            Thank you.

I received a huge round of applause. But, the speech, although delivered by me was in fact a fantastic collaboration by the local community. This included, Robert Newton, Chairman of the Greenacre Project, Joanna Fryer, Maureen Ivens, Shari Darby, and Fiona Brickwood from the Save Friern Barnet Library Group, and Mike Gee, founder of the Greenacre Movement and Secretary for the Finchley Society Transport and Environment Committee.

(Keith Martin)

Keith Martin described how Kate Salinger 'tore into her Tory colleagues and their stupid decisions. She described her former visits with her children to Friern Barnet library after school and contrasted it with a bus trip in the current century with children from Friern Barnet to Tally Ho. The interim library is a PALTRY SOP, and not a patch on what is offered by North Finchley library round the corner. It is a complete waste of money.'
Pauline Coakley Webb (Labour Councillor) made the point that Hampstead Garden Suburb Library run by volunteers and said to cost the council, 'low or no cost', had in fact cost £25,000 in funding, the cost of the lease, utility bills, the supply of new books, IT equipment including computers and library software and they can reserve books from Barnet Council library stock!

Labour's Barry Rawlings was impassioned: 'For God’s sake, to close the library during the run-up to school exams…!'
A vote was then taken. It was almost unanimous that the petition should be referred back to Cabinet. We were overjoyed!

(Photo taken by: Cllr. Arjun K Mittra)

Suddenly there was confusion. The committee 'seemed' not to know what they were doing and how the petition should be sent back to cabinet. Cllr. Brian Salinger said it should go to committee, Cllr. Hugh Rayner (Chair) said it should go to the cabinet member and the Barnet Council legal adviser said it shouldn't go anywhere. What a lark, what a fiasco. One ex-Tory councillor told me he was embarassed by the Committee's incompetence. Eventually it was decided that the committee's recommendation that the matter should in fact go to the cabinet, was in fact going to be thrown in the wastepaper bin by the:
Cabinet Member for Customer Access and Partnerships (Cllr. Robert Rams) 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Greenacre Writers Anthology - Vol 1 - Shortlisted

Very pleased and proud that our anthology has been shortlisted in the National Association of Writers Groups annual anthology competition.
If you have ever produced a collection of writing you will know about the labour of love that goes into getting it published.

If you would like the opportunity of being selected for our next anthology, enter our short story competition....

Friday, 29 June 2012

How to run a Literary Festival on a shoestring

I recently answered a questionnaire sent to me by The Word Hut for their 'Meet the Writer' section. I feel very priviledged to have been asked. They will also showcase one of my short stories, 'Tree Love'. I mention this because one of the questions, asked about the proudest moment to do with my writing and it got me thinking. When I first started the questionnaire I thought it was reading an excerpt of my novel at the Middlesex University Literary Festival. That has since changed and my proudest moment was reading my short story, 'The Swimmer', at our very own Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival on the 26th May 2012.

After Lindsay and I had the initial brainstorming meeting, we contacted different writers to invite them to read at the festival. This included Paolo Hewitt, who's autobiography, The Looked After Kid, had moved me to tears. Emily Benet, whose article I had come across while compiling a recent creative writing workshop. We googled local writers in North London and found Lane Ashfeldt. And we invited the lovely, Alex Wheatle MBE, who like Paolo had spent his childhood in care. Lindsay had read Andrew Bradford's interesting biography about his parents and so we invited him as well. Plus we had nine of our own Greenacre Writers including ourselves.

We had very little money, so whatever we did had to be done on a shoestring. I tend to be quite good at designing, so put together a poster and printed copies of this at home to distribute. I also designed a banner, I did this by using publisher, it was very tricky but you can see the results - not bad for a first attempt.

Leading up to the day there were various emails to be sent, the schedule, public transport and car parking details. Then there were the biographies of all the writers to put together - not more than four sentences each (a few more for our guest writers). The hire of the room had been donated as part of the Trinity in May Festival, organised by Chris Herwitz Bremner. (Our thanks to Chris who did a great job organising the whole festival.) We just had to make sure that we had enough chairs. We asked people to pre-book their tickets, which as part of the festival were free. The idea was that people would donate to the Greenacre Bicycle Rally and the Stroke Group - this didn't work as well as we had hoped. And we would advise either passing the bucket round or at least somebody standing at the entrance to encourage donations, if you don't want to charge for tickets.

We arranged that the festival would be in one room and tables for the authors in another, so that they could sign books in the break. This worked really well, as it gave the authors a chance to have a few minutes breather and time for a drink and a snack. We asked the Greenacre Writers to donate food and drink, one member made some tasty strawberry cup cakes that were delicious.

On the day, Lindsay and I arrived a few hours early to decorate the room, set up the chairs, and test the microphone and speaker (this was organised by Mike Gee who is an experienced musician).
Mike Gee reading his poem 'Death of a Seaside'

Robert Newton, the chairman of our umbrella organisation, Greenacre Project, came very smartly dressed to help with organising furniture and the meeting and greeting of guests and audience.

Robert Newton, Chairman of the Greenacre Project

I collected some wild flowers, cow parsley, buttercups and borage - except the cow parsley turned out to be flowering ground elder but it looked very similar. Lindsay bought some flowers as well, and we arranged them in vases.

We managed to create a warm and intimate environment. There were a few other expenses, for example we made sure our guest authors, Paolo Hewitt, Alex Wheatle, Emily Benet, Andrew Bradford and Lane Ashfeldt, had luxury chocolates, wine, and a copy of the Greenacre Writers anthology, as a thank you for supporting the festival. And what support they gave us, professional, engaging, emotive, funny, interesting and inspiring. Many thanks to them, without whom the festival would not have been possible.

We were almost ready when the guests started to arrive! Lindsay and I dashed to the changing room (the ladies changing room) and did a quick makeover.

We were ready. Deep breaths, calm. 'Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen'.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Busy Bee

I’ve been very busy lately, too busy to write which is not good. In fact, too busy to even answer emails. What does that mean? My life is too full? I’m doing too much? I need to make drastic cuts?

So exactly what have I been doing?
Some time ago, I voluteered to be a judge for the Chris Evans Breakfast Show 500 WORDS competition. I spent some time reading through children’s competition entries. I’m used to reading stories written by adults, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover the high quality of writing including originality, plot, characterisation, and language. I was constantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Over 74,000 stories were received from children all over the UK. After the volunteer judges had chosen their shortlisted entries, the Literacy Trust helped to whittle it down to a Top 50 shortlist! The winners will be announced Friday June 1st 2012 from 0630 live on Radio 2. You can have a look at the shortlisted entries here:

What else have I been doing?
I’ve been practising what I preach by getting myself a reputation and raising my writing profile! I’ve entered a few competitions, this also takes enormous amounts of time. First I had to find a finished story, one that was appropriate for the particular theme or style of the competition. Then I had to read, re-read and read (out loud) again and again. But, there does come a time when a story feels finished. Something happens, it’s an interesting process, and then all of sudden, I can let it go, fend for itself in the world. One story that I recently entered for a well known competition, had taken nine years to finish. I’m pleased to report that five of my stories have either been short or longlisted.

The short story, The Locket, with the new Writer
The Swimmer, with Flash 500 (flash fiction)
The Tree, by Spilling Ink Flash Fiction Competition
I’ve only just started sending work off to competitions. They have hundreds and hundreds of entrants, so I’m very pleased to have been longlisted. I now need to re-edit and re-read to see how I can improve the writing.