27th January 2022 Decisions, decisions! I’ve been trying frantically to think of what to write about for this week’s blog that might be interesting enough for you all to enjoy. As usual, my nostalgic memories have come up trumps!
At Risedale, my old school, we had a pretty good all-round education – certainly in the first two years before having to select the subjects you wanted for a possible future career. Risedale was a secondary modern, and was one of only two or three schools that taught Shorthand and Typewriting, which fit in nicely with my long ago decision to be a secretary! My first job on leaving school was as a junior District Clerk, for a chain of butchers – you may remember Dewhurst’s? There were three of their shops in Dalton Road at the time, but our ‘District’ actually comprised thirteen shops in the County which covered as far as Kendal and Penrith. My job was mainly compiling sales figures and stock levels, and I left after only a year or so to get married and have my daughter, so I never did become a secretary. The typing has come in useful all my life, but I’ve never used shorthand since leaving school in 1974!
At Risedale the pupils were divided into three houses, Langdale, Wasdale and Eskdale, and we used to have inter-house competitions of all sorts – especially Sports Day, of course. But we also had Drama, Music, and Art among other things, which were the competitions I used to enter; being overweight, sports were definitely not my thing! I joined the Wasdale Drama group just about every year and played various roles such as Henry Hobson, in ‘Hobson’s Choice’ (there were very few boys who used to do Drama); another role was as Mrs Beeton, the famous victorian cook, and curiously, a boy called Septimus Wind in a play called ‘An Ill Wind’ – I can’t remember the plot, just the character’s name!
I sang too, in the school choir, often performing solos and duets with my lovely friend Lynn Bushell. She was soprano and I was alto, so we made some lovely harmonies together. One year I even won the singing competition with my rendition of ‘Eleanor Rigby’! We were also lucky enough to have a great music teacher, Mr Lord, who encouraged us as a class right from the first year to present shows and perform all sorts of music. Our first performance as a class was our version of the musical ‘Oliver!’ which had recently been released at the cinema. Later, in the third year, one of the options I chose was music. There were only about half a dozen of us in the class, and Mr Lord used to take us on trips to classical concerts and even – most exciting for me as a huge fan – to see David Cassidy in Manchester! In our last year, Mr Lord entered Lynn and I (singing separately this time) into the Morecambe Music Festival. I sang ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’,unfortunately nothing like Kathleen Ferrier who made the song famous in about 1949, but I did get an ‘Honours’ certificate for my performance. I think Lynn did somewhat better than that, but almost 50 years later I can’t remember the details. I’ll have to ask her next time I see her…
I wonder how many people get nervous at the thought of public speaking? I know that I do! Do you remember back in your English lessons at school when you had to stand up and read to the class, either from a book or your own essay? It was absolute torture, wasn’t it? I well remember being laughed at when I was reading aloud – I can’t remember what the book was, but I know that I pronounced the word ‘mishap’ with a ‘sh’ in the middle instead of ‘mis-hap’ and the whole class fell about laughing. I also used to get names wrong quite a lot, like ‘Her-me-own’ instead of Hermione and ‘Penny-lope’ instead of Penelope.
The thing is, standing up and reading and speaking aloud to an audience is something that I’m going to have to get used to, as a writer. I confess, I had no idea how much effort went into being an author – I thought, as I’m sure many people do, that it was just a case of having an idea, and making time to get it down on paper (or onto a digital document as is mostly the case nowadays), being reasonably good at spelling and grammar and that’s that! Far from it, as I’m now finding out first hand. Not only do you have to write the thing, you also have to have at least a hand in designing it, promoting and marketing it if you intend to sell it to more than just your family and friends. Though please don’t get the idea that I’m complaining – I’m certainly not. Becoming a writer has changed my life in the last almost twelve months; it’s keeping me occupied and interested, and teaching me so very much about all sorts of things that I never knew were possible.
Being with my beloved, the late, great Glyn Hughes, I went to many public events with him. Not only his own book launches, but those of fellow writers too. There were exhibitions of art by friends of ours, and having been a friend of the late poet laureate Ted Hughes, Glyn was often invited to events organised by the Ted Hughes Society, sometimes to speak, othertimes as a guest. And of course, he took me along with him. He knew such a rich variety of people: writers, painters, sculptors, playwrights, poets, actors, producers. It was a whole new world to me and I loved just about every minute of it. Of course, Glyn’s readings and openings were the best – I could get involved in those – but I don’t think I realised how much work he put into each one until now!
Of course, I’ve spoken in public before, most notably, and sadly, at the funerals of both Glyn and my mother, but to tell the truth, on both of those occasions I actually read, rather than spoke ‘off the cuff’ as it were. I didn’t trust myself not to break down in tears if I’d tried to just speak from notes – so each time, I wrote a eulogy and read it verbatim from the copy in front of me. I got a lovely response from people each time. But reading is a big no-no when it comes to entertaining an audience, so I’m told. I suppose it helps if you are writing your own speech; you can practise it out loud, record and listen to yourself, and then condense it into notes to spark your memory.
But a couple of days ago I had an interview with a lovely young woman called Andrea Williams, who is a presenter on local radio station Cando FM which covers the Furness area of Cumbria. We did the interview via Zoom, and she was very pleasant. We had a little warm up when she told me what would happen, but I didn’t know what questions would be specifically asked, so I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Anyway, it was over before I knew it – I think it went quite well, but I was curious to know how I would come across. They say that no one likes their own recorded voice, and I guess that’s true, but when it was broadcast on Andrea’s afternoon show today, I listened in and was quite pleased! I don’t know how many listeners tune into CandoFM, but I’ll be happy if just a few of them enjoyed the interview – and better still, might turn up at my book launch on 9th April! And even better than that – if they actually buy my books, it will be well worth it!
Speaking of the launch, I’m obviously going to have to speak at that too! I haven’t thought about it in detail yet, but it’s something I have to think about very soon so I can rehearse and practice beforehand, and I’ll also have to select a couple of excerpts from the book to read too – and again, hopefully people might enjoy those enough to want to buy.
I’ve been quite fascinated with the prospect of making my work into audiobooks too. It’s something that was covered in Michael Heppell’s WriteThatBook Masterclass in a webinar quite recently and it seems a fairly easy thing to do, so as soon as I’ve finished all the writing and editing and sent the first of the trilogy off to the printers, I’m going to have a go at that too. I think there’s nothing better (except actually reading it) than listening to a book read by the author. I mean, yes of course, it’s lovely if it’s read by a famous actor who can do accents and voices, but I think the author knows precisely how he wants each character to be understood. For example in dialogue, the author can read it the way he wants the characters to experience the dialogue, what emphasis to put on each word and phrase, sometimes even more so than an actor.
I do read my own writing out loud a lot. At the end of each chapter, actually. It’s invaluable in many ways; the correction of spellings and punctuation and the editing process. You can hear if it makes sense, or if it becomes boring, so much more than just reading it over to yourself. I also read aloud sometimes from the books I’m reading, more from the point of view of practising than anything, but also to get used to the sound of my own voice – which doesn’t sound at all like I think it does!
So, there are lots of new things on the horizon – including audiobooks and readings. I hope perhaps you might come along to some of these events – it would be lovely to meet you in person. Oh, and don’t forget any comments or views you might want to express about your own experiences. Post them in the box provided – I’d love to read them!
Until next week,