It’s never too late!

As I’ve got older I have a few regrets, most of them are about opening my mouth at the wrong time, and not opening it at others. I could go on and on but why depress myself. Life’s too short to dwell on the things you can’t change – I prefer to use my energy to think of all the fun I can have and all the fun I can share.

However, there are two things I regret giving up when I was a child: Piano lessons and tap dancing.

Well, you know what they say – it’s never too late. I’m hanging fire on the piano lessons for a while. I spend a lot of my day on my bottom, although I have now got a standing desk – which is making a difference to my productivity if not the size of my rear end. But tap dancing is another matter entirely.

I have no idea where the urge to start tapping again came from – maybe it’s 50% due to my current work in progress ( a novel), maybe 50% a desire to get fit and have fun at the same time. I used to go to dance classes when I was around 8 or 9 but gave it up when I felt I should have made more progress. I wasn’t one of those girls that started lessons as a three year old, I didn’t take into account that the other kids in the class may have had hours and hours more practise than I did. I thought that because I was older I should have learned quicker and know what to do straight away to catch up. So when someone younger and cleverer than I was came along, I felt a failure and quit.

It’s the same with writing – the same with many things really. We only see the finished product when we read a book – not the hours of edits and revision that went into it – all the rejections and failures that preceded it. We don’t see the hours that a golfer, tennis player or athlete put in before they perform. Or the musician or artist. We just wish we could do that. In a way we can – if we want to put in the hours, the passion and the dedication.

I didn’t want to do that with tap dancing this time around. I want to have fun.

I went to a class last week and it was brilliant – I couldn’t sleep for a week afterwards. The class was about twenty in number – many younger than me, a few older. Some had been going a while, many had not. But it didn’t matter and I didn’t feel the need to measure myself against anyone else but my own reflection in the mirror that ran the length of one wall. Gosh, that was an eye opener – I hope I lose weight. Otherwise, I’m just going to keep my eyes shut and hope for the best!

I’m tapping for pure pleasure. It’ll never go any further than the kitchen but I feel so much joy when I’m tap, tap, tapping my troubles away.

It was the best fun: a little bit of warm up and then straight into learning steps and putting them into a routine. Nothing like the hours of repetition long ago. I wasn’t perfect. I was trying and failing but I WAS making progress, and I WAS having fun. I wish I’d known that it was all about the fun when I was a kid.

In time I may very well seek out a piano teacher and go for the Liberace experience. Watch this space!

And by the way. Those shoes are six and a half, not nine!

Hope on the Waterways – Milly Adams

And so we have the final instalment of the Waterway Girls Trilogy. I have to say that I have looked forward to reading it with bitter sweet anticipation – wanting to know what happens to Polly, Verity and Sylvia but not wanting to lose them from my life. They have become old friends.

It is 1945 and the girls are still working on the canals, squashed in the cramp quarters of the Marigold  and Horizon, and have become a beloved part of the boater community. This time around the focus is on Sylvia and the choices she must make for the future. Sylvia was brought up in a Catholic orphanage and we learn of her childhood and a promise she made to her friend. Could she ever go back on her word when circumstances force her to think again?

The three girls are a family, working together, supporting each other,  facing danger from the V1 and V2 rockets and trying to keep those they love safe on land as well as on the canals. The description and characterisation is so finely wrought that I was frequently stunned when I stopped reading to find myself on my sofa instead of hovering on the counter of the Marigold, watching as the girls lives unfolded.

Although Hope on the Waterways revisits the events of the two previous books – The Waterway Girls and Love on the Waterways  Milly Adams is masterful at weaving in the back story for new readers without slowing the pace for  those who have read the other two books.

More new characters are introduced to complement those that are already so well loved. Will they all survive the war? Will they get their happy endings?

   

I shall miss Polly, Sylvia and Verity and the world of the Inland Waterways – and the Idle Woman who took on such gruelling work. It wasn’t glamorous in any shape or form; I had never heard of the important role these women played and their contribution to the war effort before I was introduced to this series. What an insight Milly Adams gives to the reader with her deft description of the harshness of daily life aboard the barges. These girls will live in my mind forever.

And I salute the women that took on this vital work delivering coal, steel and other cargoes in cramped and difficult circumstances. If they weren’t tough to begin with they certainly would be at the end of their journey.

Milly Adams lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, dog and cat. Her children live nearby. Her grandchildren are fun, and lead her astray. She insists that it is that way round. 

Milly Adams is also the author of Above Us The Sky and Sisters At War.

Happy Endings

The very first short story I ever wrote I sent to Woman’s Weekly. Not long after I received a lovely rejection letter from the Fiction Editor, Gaynor Davies saying that I hadn’t quite made it with this one but encouraging me to send more stories. One of her comments was ‘Not a very happy ending’. I thought it was. The girl had a horrible boyfriend and in the end she dumped him. But it didn’t fit the market and that’s what I had to learn.

I wailed to my mum. ‘I can’t write happy endings.’

‘Of course you can,’ she said. ‘In the war we needed to know there would be happy endings. We went to the cinema to escape reality and feel there were good things to come. You can do it. Keep at it.’

I got back to work, always with these words in my head. I learned to study the market and make my work fit what editors were looking for. It taught me to write for the reader. It also taught me discipline, editing, characterisation, brevity and all those other skills a writer needs to learn to shape a story worth reading . In time, I did get used to writing happy endings.

Except that I didn’t so much think of them as happy – more as upbeat or uplifting. It helped me find a way to come up with my own version of  ‘happy endings’ by thinking about it in this way. I’ve sold many short stories since, always with a ‘happy ending’ to suit what the editors were looking for.

Today the ink is barely dry on my own happy ending and I can celebrate the fact that I have a two book deal with a well-known publishing house.

Will my books have happy endings? What do you think?

Wedding Anniversaries – some are better than others

 

It’s our anniversary today, not that we ever make a note of it. We never exchange cards, flowers, or go out. I’ve always been of the mind that we should treat each other kindly every day and not just one. Well, in theory anyway, and mostly it works.

We’ve been together a long time now so don’t tend to do anything unless it’s  special – like 25 or 30 years. I only remembered it’s our anniversary today because we’d been out for lunch yesterday and I was sitting on the sofa when we got home thinking, we could use it as an anniversary lunch. I’m very practical like that!

We’d gone to Prezzo. The lovely young waitress came over with our drinks. She placed the prosecco in front of me and the cranberry juice in front of him, smiling delightfully at both of us as she did so. Happens every time. We swapped drinks. He smiled back.

‘What did she say’?’ he asked, after she’d left.

What he heard: You are the most handsome man I have ever seen.

What I heard: prosecco and cranberry juice.

He makes me laugh so much and that’s what works for us – that and hiding the sharp knives.

One year we were in Spain with the kids, looking around a toy shop in Marbella old town. We weren’t speaking – we’d fallen out over something or other. Something so important that I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. He found me in one of the aisles and walked towards me holding out his mobile phone (not a euphemism, naughty, naughty!).

‘It’s my dad, he wants to speak to you.’

I’m wondering what the hell my father-in-law wants to talk to me about. Then I put the phone to my ear and all becomes clear.

‘We thought we’d ring and wish you Happy Anniversary,’ he said.

‘How lovely,’ I replied, trying to be as gracious as possible. We exchanged a few niceties and I passed the phone back, gritting my teeth and scowling. We had both completely forgotten.

We obviously made up – we’re still together – but that ‘s what marriage is, isn’t it?  It’s not all roses and rainbows. It can be rows and silences. It can be drudgery and boredom but boy it can be fun and laughter if you can stick it through the bad times.

Today he’s  playing golf then going out for dinner with two of his friends.

I’ll at home, writing, and dinner will be beans on toast.

And we’ll both be happy about it.

Love on the Waterways by Milly Adams

The second in the series featuring the Waterway Girls by Milly Adams

 

March 1944, West London
It’s been five months since Verity Clement fled home for a life on Britain’s canals and she could never have imagined how tough it would get. Yet hauling cargo between London and Birmingham is far easier to face than the turbulence she’s left behind. 

When Verity’s sweetheart returns unexpectedly from the front line, she dares to dream of a brighter future. But life aboard the Marigold is never smooth sailing. New recruit Sylvia is struggling with demons from her past while crewmate Polly must carry on in the wake of devastating news. Verity does her best to help, but a shocking discovery is about to turn her own life upside-down.

As the realities of war begin to take their toll, the waterway girls will have to pull together if they are to survive the uncertain times ahead…”

I love The Waterway Girls. I am absolutely fascinated by the way that young women from differing backgrounds came to live and work on the waterways of Britain as their contribution to the war effort. There was not one little thing that was glamorous about it, no smart uniform, no chance of staying the slightest bit clean and groomed; they were usually too dirty and grimy to attend parties and dances that those living on the land could escape to. Conditions were  spartan, the work filthy and physically demanding, yet Milly Adams makes you want to hop on and join the girls on their slow  journey from London to Birmingham, and all places in between.

Sometimes when they’d run out of things to wear, they’d wash their clothes in their boiler on the bank, but although cleanliness might be next to godliness in the real world, it was not on the canal, or not for these particular ‘Idle Women’, as they were called – with fingers pointing to their Inland Waterway badges. Things weren’t helped by the absence of a bathroom on the boats, with just a bucket for the necessities, unless they used the pub’s toilets. Her parents would faint;

The book is prefaced with a map of the London to Birmingham Grand Union Canal which was useful, and a glossary of boating terms which landlubbers can refer to. It wasn’t needed however, as Milly Adams gently weaves the information throughout the story so that the reader knows what’s what.

New characters are introduced and through them we learn again the ways of the Boaters, whose way of life is fast diminishing.

Verity pointed above them to the arched bricks, worn where the boaters would lie on the cabin roofs and walk their boats through, while the runabout took the horse over the top. Tom murmured. “I never realised how hard any of it was. And I mean any of it.

Neither had I, and it made me wonder how many young people would want to sign up for that sort of life and also endure it – but in wartime, they did. However, the work may be hard but the girls are plucky and strong, and as the story progresses they form a unique bond that lifts them through the dark realities of war and keeps them positive.  The characters have such depth and warmth which allows the reader to emphasise with their problems and tribulations, and as we read on, to understand why they behave the way they do.

The events of book 1 (The Waterway Girls) are woven seamlessly into this book so that the reader isn’t left wondering what has happened before –  but why deny yourself the pleasure of falling into the world of Polly, Verity and Sylvia.

I tried to ration reading the last few pages, but hopefully there’ll be another Waterway Girls passing by real soon.

Love on the Waterways is published by Arrow at £5.99 RRP and available in all good bookshops, supermarkets and Amazon.

For more about Love on the Waterways follow the blog tour. Next stop  Mixing Reality With Fiction

 

Paisley Shirt- Gail Aldwin


I’d like to give a warm welcome to Gail Aldwin whose latest book of Flash Fiction Paisley Shirt is launched today. 

How did you get started with Flash Fiction? It seems to me that it is a relatively new phenomenon.

I have read various ideas about the origins of flash fiction. Some say it arose from the need to have a story short enough to fill the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. Others say flash fiction became popular because a complete story fits onto a screen. With hectic lives, flash fiction offers the opportunity to enjoy a complete story in moments snatched from a busy schedule. The concise form is one of the reasons I started to write flash fiction.  It seemed do-able when finding time to produce other work was difficult. Not that writing flash fiction is easy – it can be very challenging!

What do you like most about the discipline of flash fiction?

Every word has to earn its place in flash fiction and this helps to develop editing skills. These skills can be transferred to other writing projects so nothing is wasted.  

There is an eclectic mix of stories in Paisley Shirt and although they are all flash fiction some are longer than others. How do you decide on the length it takes to tell your story? 

I usually write long and then pare the story back to its appropriate length. Sometimes the length of a story is determined by a competition entry or anthology submission. It seems to me most stories dictate their own length. When a story isn’t working, I always play around with the structure and this can impact on how long or short the story becomes.

Your writing is included in many anthologies the writing of which must keep you very busy but I am curious to know if you are working on a longer project?

I’m now working as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth. This change from permanent employment allows time for me to juggle several projects at once. There’s usually a novel that needs attention and when that’s on the back burner, there a poems and scripts to keep me busy. I also like working collaboratively with other writers and I’m currently involved with a screenwriting collective and a comedy sketch writing group.

You previously won a competition at Winchester Writers Conference (2012). Did that you give the impetus to concentrate on flash fiction further?  How important do you think awards are to getting your writing out there?

I’m always entering competitions particularly ones that are free but I don’t tend to submit for the big prizes as the chance of winning is remote. There’s nothing like a competition deadline to focus the mind and I credit competition entries for enabling me to have produced sufficient material for a collection of flash fiction. There are sometimes lovely unforeseen outcomes to entering a competition. I once entered a novel writing competition and although I didn’t win and wasn’t placed one of the judges was a literary agent who liked my work so much she offered to represent me. So yes, awards and competitions are important in gaining recognition for writing.

 

If you want to learn more about flash fiction Gail will be tutoring a workshop next month for Dorset Writers Network . 

Tickets available from www.Dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

www. gailaldwin.wordpress.com

Paisley Shirt https://www.bookdepository.com/Paisley-Shirt-Gail-Aldwin/9781910542293