A-Z Challenge – schooldays

No autobiography, even a mini A-Z blogged one, could ignore schooldays. I have always been amazed by those who say schooldays, in retrospect, were the best days of their lives. I passionately hated nearly everything about being a schoolgirl and yet – and yet – when I looked up the web link for this autobiographical blog, (originally intending to use it) (changed my mind) I did nostalgically watch a few of the pics flicking by. Oh!  The Quad!  The pool!  The dear (!) old playing fields!  The girls still wore the same uniform (sprigged blue dresses in summer, red pleated skirts and tie in winter)  and the creme de la creme still clumped together with cheesy grins in their honours blazers for annual photos.  There are lots of photos on the school site, and they brought back a flickering montage of memories, too quick to distinguish. Including a photo I scrolled back to, with deep disbelief – Miss Nathan!   She is STILL THERE.

She was going grey – granted, steel-grey – when I was a sullen spotty herberta doing detention every Saturday.  When I became a boarder, she was one of the house mistresses. In fact when I was caught returning from bunking out to a party, with beer fumes and cigarettes still heavy on my breath, it was Miss Nathan and two prefects who were waiting for me. (Tip off from another boarder. Another story.)  It was Miss Nathan who had to tell my father I was gated, when he came to collect me for the every-other-Sunday exeant, and I expect she was one of the teachers  who voted enthusiastically for my expulsion back into the day school.

And there she is. Although the steel grey hair is now pure white she is otherwise unchanged. Suddenly I don’t feel quite so old. Can you really be considered old if a teacher you had in your teens is still teaching?

A-Z Challenge – Queer eye for the straight guy

There are deviants of every sexuality, and they are deeply repugnant, but to call someone automatically perverted because they prefer the company of someone of their own sex is to call everyone living on benefits a Mick Philpott.  Or every father a Josef Fritzl.

The closet door creaked open very slowly – who remembers Elton John coming out as bisexual, and saying twice as many people waved at him? That was the late 70s, and society was cautiously accepting there were homosexual people, but still hoping a gay man could be cured by the love of a good woman (just as a gay woman was only waiting for the right man). Since then attitudes have changed and when even my mother changed direction completely on her attitude to gay men I assumed the whole world was now okay with alternative sexuality.

Anyway, this is my autobiographical A-Z, so you’re probably wondering when I’ll get to the point.  Actually, it’s my book, again. My characters have different interests, different lifestyles. Donald, who appears late in the first book, is not, how can I put this, overwhelmingly masculine. I was taken aback to be violently criticized by a reader for including ‘disgusting’ elements in my first book without, he said indignantly, any warning.

I’d already made the friends twenty years younger.  I didn’t want them pairing off and turning the books into sloppy romantic whodunits, hence building in anti-romance from the start. Maybe I should scrap the whole grown-up thing and recreate them as pre-teens, I don’t remember Enid Blyton having any of these problems.

And frankly one of the tenets of the whodunit is that it must portray its time frame accurately (see the R post). The character in question is now just a man who never married, can be a bit bitchy, and is suspected, without hostility, of being ‘a bit of a poofter’. Enough?

A-Z Challenge – Polocrosse

A-Z Challenge – Polocrosse

Polocrosse is sometimes, accurately but a little unfairly, called poor man’s polo.  The field is quarter the size of a polo field, so you can play with only one horse – in fact at tournaments you are only allowed one horse – and instead of a hard and potentially lethal ball being hammered along at terrifying speeds, it is played with a soft spongy ball which is flicked from stick to stick.  The sticks themselves are netted, slightly like lacrosse sticks, hence the name.

There are only three players to a section (two sections to a team), and the game is played in 8 minute chukkas as it is in polo.  The main difference is that the 4 polo players making up a team change horses every chukka, whereas polocrosse sections  play alternate chukkas, so can  rest between.  It isn’t as fast as polo, simply because there isn’t as much ground to cover, but we insist that it is far more skilled.

It is also the most fun you can have on a horse, and I’ve been riding since I could first close my chubby fists around a hank of mane.  Gymkhana, pony club, show-jumping, dressage, cross country, drag hunting, been there, loved that, but nothing matches the champagne high of a fast game of polocrosse when the ball smacks into your net, your horse swivels smoothly and gallops towards the far goal, the crowd is shrieking hysterically and coming up at a hard gallop is your scorer, calling for the ball …

Well of course there are the times youpolocrosse cartoon 002 dropped the catch, or fumbled the pass, or your knees have been crushed to a throbbing paste by constant impact after the third game of the tournament.  The dust is blinding, or it is raining, or freezing, the other team is just so much better that you never get to touch the ball – that’s all forgotten in the lure of the next tournament.

I was lucky to learn the game on a horse that took to it like a duck to water.  He wasn’t very fast, but he was fearless and threw his whole heart into the game, watching the ball with an eagle eye, throwing himself so enthusiastically into the pushes, shoulder to shoulder, that if the other horse had stepped away he would have fallen over.  More than once he braked in the galloping melee and turned back in the clouds of dust, the only one to notice the ball had fallen to the ground.  He’d drop his shoulder as I leaned in for the pickup and if I missed, his ears would snap back against his head in irritation at my absolute uselessness.  Humbly apologizing to your horse as well as your team is very depressing, I learned to pick the ball up. We started with a minus 2 handicap and he got me to a plus 2 before he retired (extremely reluctantly) at the age of 20. The new horse pushed my handicap higher and we went on to represent  Gauteng  three times at the National Championships but when I remember polocrosse now, or look at the trophies forever prominent on my shelves, it is those early days I remember, and the fun.   Such fun.

(The drawing is a cheeky adaptation of a Nicholas Courtney polo cartoon) (apologies to NC)

A-Z Challenge – One Two Buckle My Shoe

I’m subdued. I’ve been wrangling on LinkedIn with a stubborn and opinionated published author who says all ebooks are rubbish and the relentless marketing of them is offensive and while I’ve been arguing re general ebook success stories  and not at all tooting my own tiny horn, I’m now faced with putting out today’s blog and it’s just that – a toot, a plug, yet another offensive marketing irritation. Still. Busy busy busy, don’t have time to prepare another blog so move along folks, nothing to see here.   This is the A to Z challenge and I have to find an O.

This was the book that started out being about octogenarians (check out the Mother entry) and has been rewritten, gee, about twenty times?  Feels like, anyway.  I’ve reached the point where I have read it now more often than I’ve read Pride & Prejudice, and Jane Austen I’m not.  But the reviews on Amazon.co.uk have been okay, and if enough people like it, and look out for the next, he can – in the local parlance – awa and bile his heid.  Pick a windae, mate, yer leavin.  (I do love Scots, it is the most heavenly language when you want to be rude to someone)

Long story short – an unpopular resident at a retirement village gets murdered, but not before phoning the police to say she wants to report a murder.  Whodunit?  And that of course is the whole point.  It’s a whodunit.  Police never turn down inside information and in this particular case they’ve got Sergeant Kirsty Cameron’s slightly eccentric aunt right on the spot.  It’s the foundation book for the series so it lays a bit of groundwork, and feedback has been good.  It’s a holiday read, novella length, (40K words) and you will love it and become addicted to my breezy style.

I can only hope, eh?

One Two Buckle My Shoe – http://viewBook.at/B00AVQDKXC

A-Z challenge – N is for No Regrets

Through a lucky set of circumstances I found myself, last October, without a job and with a lump sum in cash that would support me for up to a year, if I was carefuI.  Decision time – leap back into the job market immediately?  Or give myself six months to do everything I had wistfully put aside as dreams that could never be realised – a ‘no regrets’ sabbatical?

Out came the dreams. Too late for some, that was inevitable.  Some were totally unrealistic, and a few  turned out to be less fun in reality than they were in potential.   Seven months down the line,  I’ve picked up four new clients and a blogging contract, published two books, half-written the third, and taken in a dog which is ruling me with a paw of iron.  I now know that I will never be a stand-up comedian and that I don’t after all want to do desktop publishing.  It doesn’t seem much to show for six months where never a day has passed when I haven’t learned at least two new things.

Should I have done it – of course not.  Would I advise anyone to give up their day job – of course not.  Any regrets?  Of course not!


A-Z challenge – M is for mother, and muse

My indomitable mother stubbornly clung to independence until her early eighties when an illness scare made her finally feel vulnerable. She sold her house to move into a retirement village in Johannesburg which – to her surprise – she loved.  Always gregarious, she had lived quietly and alone for too long and blossomed in the village.  Sadly the illness was more serious than anyone had realised and she died early in 2008.  Everyone copes with things in their own way – I wrote a private book giving her a proper shot at her new l2010-12-28 16.52.20ife.  The story supplied a generic female friend, a lovely big Scottish flirt safely behind a zimmer, a bitchy gay man from her own opera background for fun (she adored gay men, and they her) and, as a friendship accelerator, a couple of murders to solve.   It was soothing for me to place her somewhere she could be telling her hilarious stories and enjoying herself – well, forever.

About a year later I re-read the book and liked it enough (I’m a great fan of my own work) to re-work it a bit and send it to my agent for her opinion.  She suggested a script instead – make it a bit more Rosemary & Thyme, she said – but as I knew nothing about scriptwriting I shelved it again.  In 2012 – as part of my No Regrets sabbatical – I wrote a version in which the friend is the protagonist and all the characters twenty years younger, and moved it to Scotland, the home of her heart, and where I myself now live.  I published on Kindle on 1st January 2013 – one New Year resolution swiftly completed – and found, as all writers do, that publishing isn’t the end of the journey, just the beginning.  The learning curve since then has pretty much looped the loop and continues to do so.

I have no idea how many writers write for specific readers. I have a few volunteer readers (a cheer for our long-suffering readers) and find it really helps my perspective to edit it ready for them – one gets a bit lost in plot, have I been clear? One gets enthusiastic about current references, have I included some of those?  And so on. First reader, in my head, is my mother, and I have before now blushed and amended something after suddenly realising what her pithy input would have been.

If that has you wondering when I’m going to be locked up, forget I ever said it. Slightly bizarre family project it may be, but I enjoy it very much.

A-Z challenge – L is for lionesses

My A-Z autobiography … Lions – and life in Africa – the photos are from a public domain website.

The ocheetah cubnly thing I really clearly remember about this day – I was four – was that  I got to hold a tame cheetah cub and have been hopelessly addicted to cheetahs ever since, but the story has been told so often, and by so many different family friends, I re-tell it with confidence.

This was a wonderful, and special, day out at a private game park – special, because the park had been given two young lionesses which would be ceremoniously released into the park after the guests had enjoyed a braai (what the rest of you might call a barbecue).

The lionesses were admired through the fence of their pen, the cheetah cub was detached from me with some difficulty, and the dozen guests were taken for a viewing drive in open land-rovers.  A spectacular buffet, with fires already dying down to hot coals ready for the braai, greeted us on our return.  The spot was well chosen, in clear veld out in the open miles from anywhere so as to have the best possible view for the highlight of the day.

Game viewing is hot and thirsty work so the guests were crowded round the temporary bar but I, bored and a bit hungry, wandered over to investigate the buffet tables. It was at that point that the young lionesses, bored with waiting for their moment in the spotlight, escaped from the back of their pen and padded over tlionesseso join the party.  The guests promptly attempted to get behind the little bar, climb one of the few spindly thorn trees, sprint in the direction taken by the rangers in the land rovers, or cram themselves into the small catering truck which represented the only other refuge.  My mother looked round anxiously – to see me, on my own, completely unaware of the new arrivals, and raptly contemplating the desserts buffet.  She darted across, swung me up onto the buffet, climbed up herself,  grabbed a tray of raw steak and started flipping prime sirloins towards the advancing lionesses. Apparently they entered into the spirit of things with grateful enthusiasm and she had nearly emptied the tray by the time the hastily-summoned rangers hurried up to herd them away, now completely without ceremony, to their new lives. I had made nearly as many inroads on the chocolate eclairs and was completely unaware of any drama.

My father had to be helped down from a thorn tree, having painfully punctured his hands and thighs, and used to get quite irritated when she told the story, which, it has to be admitted, she did a lot. But then I told the elephant story of being abandoned on my honeymoon quite a lot, too. Just proves, girls do tend to marry their fathers.