Archive for August, 2011


I’ve decided my brain is atrophying.

I am sleeping in a small hayloft usually occupied by a daughter when she is at home, and there by my pillow I find James Joyce’s hefty tome.

Surely a writer worth her salt should be able to open this and read it like any other novel?

I’ve been trying for a week.

I think it will defeat me. I am on page 80 and cannot say I am enjoying it.

There doesn’t seem to be a protagonist – except perhaps, the understood subject of the title, the ballad of which I know well.

Is Finnegan dead or merely shamming?

And what’s with the interminable lists?

And why is there no recognisable human emotion in the text so far?

A couple of times I have laughed out loud, or lollarded, lulled, toralooralaid in marmelatory concupiscent cornutopias….

Aha. Maybe this kind of stuff is more fun to write than to read.

I’m looking at the Faber Book of Parodies, too, which has a JJ spoof that almost makes me think I understand the original.

Maybe my brain is shrinking, shrunk-scrimshanking from thought-skimming, mind-skating, stout Cortex multiplex logorrhoea induced by too frequent visits to newspapers, Facebook, Radio 4.

Should I try the ‘Artist’s Way’ cold turkey for a week to see if my brain cells become more vigorous? Able to digest and assimilate the weighty fatfulness of the 800+ pages?

Anyone out there managed to read this book not for an exam or for other reasons than pleasure?

I am ready to be swayed.

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I’ve read about half of this book, which has certainly provoked some thoughts, but the author wrote it as a private joke and so cannot be blamed for the pressure subsequently put on him to go public. Clearly, it fills a sincere need.

The idea isn’t new, as anyone who has sung ‘Hush a bye Baby’ at three in the morning knows – ‘When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all’  – does the singer ‘rock’ the baby with gritted teeth more and more energetically as s/he sings and the child fails to sleep?

Bedtime stories used to have their fair share of horror, from Grimm’s fairy tales to Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary verses for children who had distasteful social habits – some worse than others – chewing little bits of string attracts the same grisly fate as playing with matches, i.e. untimely death.

The one-trick joke of the new book is the juxtaposition of swear words with pictures and verses suitable for tiny children.

Has anyone read this to their child?

Are swear words really that shocking?



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From my mother, who played one of Oedipus’ two daughters, Electra, in the Olivier production, Old Vic Theatre, 1946:

‘We both had to run on near the end of the play, sobbing. We clung to him as he made his final speech. One night I wriggled and sobbed too much and Olivier’s hand clamped down on my shoulder so hard all through that speech, that afterwards I had a bruise that lasted for a week.’

From my father, who was a behind the scenes theatre carpenter –  a job description that is not about carpentry:

‘We were working in the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, doing a tech run and all the actors were in the theatre. One of the actresses sat in the stalls watching the play, and the theatre cat jumped up on her lap. She stroked it until the lights came up at the end of the second act. On her lap, stretched out luxuriously, was a large RAT. ‘

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My recent posts have been on the serious side, so today I’m going for a more fun approach with this

Epic Yoof Quiz – check it out!



Tick your choice or chazzy – a,b,or c to find out how you would cope.


1. The world has been destroyed by a massive nuclear explosion/meltdown. As the fallout travels to your ‘hood, do you:

a/cover yourself in bling and go out with your bezzies for one last crazy party?

b/phone David Cameron and shout obscenities at him until you stop breathing?

c/become a scientist and discover a cure for radiation sickness?


2. You arrive in London to discover that civilisation as we know it has ended and there are riots and looting everywhere. Do you:

a/ Find a fit boy/girl and help them carry off as many flatscreens as poss?

b/ Quietly go and eliminate the royal family and declare yourself Queen/King?

c/ Take control of the airports, internet, TV stations and whole food shops and start up a new and more wholesome type of society?


3. You find a cute newborn baby on your doorstep. Do you:

a/ Apply to be on reality tv show ‘I found a Newbie on my Dewbie’?

b/ Leave it there after checking it out for valuables?

c/ Tweet the world that you are the virgin parent of the new saviour of the universe?


4. You are off-piste skiing with Kylie Minogue. A huge rock looms up just as she is telling you that if anything was to happen to her you would have to do all her shows, wear her clothes and inherit her bank balance. Do you:

a/ Scream ‘Kylie! Watch out! There’s a massive rock arrrrghhhhh splat!’

b/ Quietly ski away down the hill to stardom?

c/ Use your laser pen to cut the rock in half and earn Kylie’s temporary gratitude?


5. You are marooned on a desert island. Another person suddenly washes up on the beach. Do you:

a/ Take off all your clothes and shout ‘I don’t care what sex you are, I LOVE YOU!’

b/ Tell them that you own the whole island but if they agree to be your abject slave you will let them occupy a small and unattractive corner of it, otherwise they are lunch for your pet shark.

c/ Lull them into a coma with your potent coconut wine, then use their unconscious body as a raft and paddle to safety.


6. The boyf has offered to buy you a pet. Do you choose:

a/ A black panther with a jewelled collar.

b/ A black mamba and a sharp stick to poke it with.

c/You don’t believe that animals were born to bondage and at the zoo you have a big row and end up feeding him to the lions.


7. You have unexpectedly died. How do your friends react?

a/ ‘OMG that is like so gross!’

b/ You don’t have any friends.

c/ They all write a totally epic speech for your funeral.



MOSTLY As: Wow! You are one cool party animal. What a shame that your life is going to be so short, as you have zilch sense of self-preservation.

MOSTLY Bs: Ooh, you are a bit of a meanie. Lighten up, smile more, and start noticing how much people dislike you.

MOSTLY Cs: You are a right smartypants and I hate you already. Unfortunately you are destined for fab success in whatever you do.




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It was too much to resist. A free app for my pc – all I had to do was a/exercise will power or b/click to download. So I did.

It came in with three free books and it could be the slippery slope. Or it could just be another useful way of reading.

Did I pay to download my own novel? What do you think?

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I’m a Londoner.

Grew up poor. Went to a sink school with outside toilets.

Education – free, right through to university with a full grant – helped me to escape.

In the playground and the street I was bullied by louder, bigger, angrier kids.

I’ve spent my adult life working with exactly those kids – they are still here after fifty years.

I wish I could believe that in these riots there is a wish expressed for a better life, a dream realised, or a voice that has something to say. There are plenty of us, working, teaching, writing, listening; waiting to hear what that something is.

My take on it is that, thanks to media of all kinds, we live in a world where you are snorkelling through reality, gazing down into the ocean depths, and because you are a spectator, you don’t have to have any moral or emotional attachment to what you see, nor do you believe that the people you see are real  – hurting, burning or suffering. You’re not part of it. You’re not responsible. And if you are lucky, you’ll only take off that snorkel to become, briefly, a celebrity – and there is no moral dimension attached to that either.

Capitalism must be rubbing its hands and chuckling with fat glee that the looted objects are those most promoted, made desirable and publicized by itself. Capitalism – who said it was ‘the festive consumer consumed at the feast’ ?



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I’ve always wanted to make up a word that would enter the language. Inspired by the  – possibly mythical – invention of the word ‘quiz’ :

In 18th century Dublin, a theatre owner named James Daly made a bet that he could invent a new word that would be on everyone’s lips within twenty-four hours. He  hired some  – evidently literate – vagrants and urchins to write the word “quiz”, on walls everywhere around the city. Within a day, the word was common currency and had acquired a meaning

A simple and brilliant idea that caught my imagination at the age of fourteen. A year later, my best friend Jude and myself were amusing ourselves writing made-up words on the blackboard at school. She was the one who coined the word ‘fzoob’ which I then used as the surname of my heroine in the first novel I ever completed, ‘Susie and the Nasty Fourth Form.’ Alas, it was never published so ‘fzoob’ remained uncelebrated…

Fast forward to 1995 and I am the script editor on an Irish TV programme for pre-schoolers. We have to find a name for our new creatures –  body puppets with big eyes, floppy ears and lots of fur. By happy chance. I’d just been listening to Nico Brown playing an Irish tune called ‘She beag, she mor’ [Little Fairy and Big Fairy] and so the name MORBEGS  was born.

For a few years the word was indeed on everyone’s lips, and everyone knew what a Morbeg was.  Until the programme was dropped from the schedules in the great financial crash of 2007.

I guess that was my ambition realised. For now.

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Two authors I’ve recently been gripped by – Suzanne Collins and Rosemary Sutcliffe. Decades apart in their lifetimes, I’m rejoicing in their similarities; apart from a wealth of material that results in luxurious trilogies that make perfect long holiday reading, both have an intense imaginative identification with their entire created worlds -their rules, their codes, their savageries and courtesies, trusts and betrayals, and their day to day engagement with struggles for life and death against overwhelming odds.

And deep in the middle of these worlds, it is unimportant whether you are a young adult, a gifted child reader, or simply an adult who loves two writers of passion with extraordinary descriptive powers that pull you into the middle of a scene, its smells, tastes, sights and emotions, and hold you there by the force of a sensual connection. Nothing is simplified, no easy solutions, no achievement that does not require some sacrifice.

This is writing at its finest, and I rejoice that it is laid at the feet of young adults. Writing for children and young adults is a vocation that demands humility, imaginative recollection, willingness to listen, and a pragmatism that understands how quality in this field is so often not matched by any financial reward. In her lifetime, Rosemary Sutcliffe, who spent much of her childhood and adult life as an invalid in a wheelchair, was recognised with prizes and awards and a loyal, slowly growing readership. Suzanne Collins has already attracted notice from reviewers and adults who, like me, read books because they are good, not because they are written for a group I fall into [not sure how that group would be categorised, anyway].

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