I Swear I Didn’t Mean It… (with a Free New Short Story!)

A quick post to share the article I’ve just written for the ALLi Author Advice Centre on the use of bad language in fiction

Photo of Debbie reading in the Quaker Meeting House
Already committed… (Thanks to fellow author Jacci Gooding for the photo)

Do you give a damn whether there is swearing in the stories you read?

Personally, I’m not keen on hearing the same bad language over and over again supposedly for the sake of realism, whether on television, in films or in books, and I don’t use it much either.

In fact, I’d always thought the language in my own fiction was pretty blameless. That is, until I started reading a new story, as yet unpublished, in the Quaker Meeting House as part of the Evesham Festival of Words last month. Eager to give a brand new, unpublished story, Drunk in Charge, an airing and get some feedback, I hadn’t really thought through the implications of the setting before I got there.

Today I’ve shared the experience over on the ALLi Authors Advice Centre blog, where every Monday is our “Opinion” day, on the basis that it’s good to start the week with a rousing debate. If you’d like to read my piece in full, you can hop over to the blog here.

Cover of Repent at Leisure
One of my works-in-progress, which will include the short story “Drunk in Charge”

Or if you prefer to cut to the chase, you can read Drunk in Charge hereA more polished version will appear in my next collection of short stories, Repent at Leisure, to be published, er, at my leisure… Join my mailing list here if you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, and you’ll also get a free download of Quick Change to read while you’re waiting.

Now back to writing the rest of the stories…



Old-fashioned Cameras vs the Smartphone – or Why Less is More with Holiday Snaps

In my column for the July/August edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I ponder the dilemma of taking too many summer holiday snaps in the age of the smartphone and am nostalgic about the rarity value of photographs taken with the old-fashioned cameras of my childhood

Laura and Grandpa on the beach writing in the sand
Possibly my favourite holiday snap of all time: Laura with my dad on the beach at Mousehole

Lights – Camera – Inaction

Passport – check. Tickets – check. Currency – check. Camera – er, no, actually. These days, I don’t even possess a camera, having transferred my photographic loyalties to my smartphone, for several reasons. Firstly, it means one thing less to carry. Secondly, it means one thing less to remember. (Always good news once you get to a certain age.) Thirdly, as if by magic, the photos from my smartphone are automatically uploaded to cloud storage, so I don’t even have to do anything to get them onto my computer.

The downside is that I now have a vast number of photos up there in the ether that I’ve completely lost track of. Even so, I still snap everything in sight when I’m on holiday, because it’s free and easy to do.

Scarcity Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Photo of Instamatic camera gift set
(Photo by Carsten Corleis – Own Work. Photographed with a ‘Praktica Luxmedia 4008’ digital camera, CC BY-SA 3.0)

What a change from my childhood, when I had one of those new-fangled Instamatic cameras. Remember them? The film came in an easy-to-load drop-in cartridge, so you no longer had to feed it into a spool inside your camera in a darkened room. It was the most democratising development (if you’ll excuse the pun) since the introduction of the Box Brownie, making photography more accessible and affordable for the untechnical masses. If you needed a flash, you popped a little cube on the top of the camera containing four bulbs, burning your fingers when you removed it after use. Well, one must suffer for art.


Latter-Day Rationing

The only big decisions were whether to choose film for slides or for prints – slides were a big thing in those days, and I had a small battery-lit box on which to view them – and whether to opt for twelve pictures, twenty-four, or, if you were feeling flush, because processing costs were in proportion to the number of pictures, an extravagant thirty-six picture film. On a pocket-money budget, I’d eke out one film for a holiday, rationing myself to a picture or two a day. Occasionally I’d have spare pictures to take when I got home. Films came with use-by dates, after which they’d start to degrade, so sometimes there’d be a mad rush to take the last few shots before a film expired.

The Unavoidable Lens of Digital Cameras

To my daughter, such limitations seem laughably quaint, but I wouldn’t mind returning to that style of photography. These days, it’s too easy to end up viewing half your holiday through your smartphone screen, self-imposing tunnel vision, and missing out on the third dimension.

Pictures Are Better in Your Head

So this summer, while I’ll still be taking my smartphone on holiday to send texts instead of postcards (sob! how I mourn for that endangered species!), I’ll be making a conscious effort not to spend so much time snapping holiday shots. After all, just as the pictures on the radio are better than on TV, the memories stored in your head will always be superior to your holiday snaps.

Wherever you’re spending your summer holiday this year, I wish you a wonderful three-dimensional time.


If this post has whetted your appetite for more on the theme of summer holidays, you might enjoy:

Cover of Young by Name
Collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser

If you’d like to read more of my monthly “Young By Name” columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, you can buy them in a single volume as an ebook (£2.99) or in paperback (£6.99) – dare I suggest these short, light-hearted whimsical pieces might make good holiday reading? 

Order Young by Name from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223030 or buy from Amazon here

(IMHO, it’s worth buying in paperback to get the beautiful watercolour cover image provided by my talented father!)



Sombre for the Somme Centenary

A post about the Somme centenary service in Hawkesbury Upton and Simon Bendry’s new book commemorating Hawkesbury’s war dead and war veterans

Panoramic photo of hills around Hawkesbury
The Somerset Monument, commemorating a local officer in the Napoleonic Wars, towers above my village, Hawkesbury Upton

Sometimes looking around our village, nestling comfortably on the last of the Cotswolds before the landscape tumbles down into the Severn Vale, it’s easy to believe that this is a safe and privileged place, untouched by human conflict.

That is, until you notice the village war memorial, marked by a simple cross on the Plain, as our small village green is known. Surrounded by historic houses and the traditional pound, where stray livestock would be impounded for the collection, the war memorial is a daily reminder that during both World Wars many members of our community served their country in HM Armed Forces, a substantial number never to return. Some of these were lost while serving in the Somme.

Continue reading “Sombre for the Somme Centenary”

How to Review Books, and Why You Should – Guest Post for “The Artist Unleashed”

Artist Unleashed logo
(Not Jessica, in case you’re wondering!)

Today my guest post about my philosophy of book reviewing features on the excellent Artist Unleashed blog, which is curated by the multi-talented Jessica Bell, author, poet, musician, publisher and book cover designer. Continue reading “How to Review Books, and Why You Should – Guest Post for “The Artist Unleashed””

Creative Memory and Creative Amnesia and Why They Matter

photo of a colander
I’ve a memory like a kitchen colander (Photo: Morguefile.com)

Three times in the last couple of days I’ve been struck by a phenomenon that never fails to surprise me:

while blessed with total recall for insignificant events as far back as my childhood, I also have a prodigious power to forget things

Continue reading “Creative Memory and Creative Amnesia and Why They Matter”

Straight from the Lexicographer’s Mouth: An Enjoyable Talk about the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)

A  report about a fascinating talk about the Oxford English Dictionary by Edmund Weiner

Cover of OED
The paperback edition is just the tip of the iceberg with a mere 120K words and 1k pages

Anyone who loves words would have been as rapt as we were at the Oxford Authors’ Alliance last night, when Edmund Weiner, Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, came to talk to us about his work preparing version 2.0 of the OED. This mammoth task employs sixty people, and though it began in 1993, they’re still only 30% of the way through the task. They are effectively detectives, examining everything ever written in English to come up with comprehensive definitions of how every word has been used through the ages. Continue reading “Straight from the Lexicographer’s Mouth: An Enjoyable Talk about the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)”

Three Historic Moments

Panoramic photo of hills around Hawkesbury
The Somerset Monument that towers above my village, Hawkesbury Upton

This article was originally written for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, and the deadline was a week before the EU Referendum. What a world away that time seems now…

As I write this post, we’re poised on the brink of three historic milestones: Continue reading “Three Historic Moments”