Albert Camus: November is Absurd

Albert Camus
Albert Camus

November has sneaked up and closed the curtains. The clocks have changed, but the evenings are still drawing in. Halloween has been and gone and bonfire night too and that’s just in the first week. All a bit spooky and dark and fitting then that 7 November is the birth date of Albert Camus (1913-1960) philosopher, journalist and writer of L’Étranger, often translated as The Outsider (1942). He also wrote other novels, short stories and non-fiction. He was famous for his theories on the Absurdist School of Thought and stated that ‘individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning’. More on Camus here:

The Outsider (Penguin)
The Outsider (Penguin)

As most writers will know, November is also National Novel Writing Month or ‘NaNoWrimo’. I always forget the acronym, which isn’t a good start if you’re hoping to actually do the challenge, and it is a challenge! The idea is that you write around 50,000 words in the month of November, which translates as writing quite a lot of words every day (almost a couple of thousand). Or doing what I would do, which would be prevaricating for the first three weeks and then trying to catch up. But that’s just me, LOTS of people love nanowrimo and say that even if the final result is a massive editing challenge, it makes you focus on just writing, which is what every writer should try to do. So good luck to all you nanowrimoers (made up word?). If anyone wants to know more look at the official website:


Recognising that I will not be doing the Nanowrimo challenge this year, I am focussing instead on sending out short stories, finding fun little competitions like ‘Less than 100 words’ which is online at, doing research for my novel and connecting with local writers, like those at the wonderful Norwich Writers’ Circle

I also received today the latest issue of ‘Short fiction journal’ This is a high quality publication in association with Plymouth University. Full of short stories, translations and art and published every autumn. Submissions are open now until December 31st, details on their website.

Short Fiction 9
Short Fiction 9

If you have also decided not to do nanowrimo but still want to get that novel written you could turn any  month into an ‘every day is a writing day’ month (absurdist acronym still to be decided) and there are website communities available that fit this need. Personally, I am quite tempted by this one: It’s online and private, so not open to the general public, but it still allows you to track how well you’re doing with your word counts.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield

October is the birth month of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) a modernist short story writer born to a socially prominent family in New Zealand. Her real name was Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp and it is telling that she chose to change her name and rid herself of some of the upper class trappings of the family to which she was born when she moved away from home and went about getting her stories published.

She travelled around continental Europe and lived for long periods of time in London, being part of the bohemian set there. She was friends with D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf and Woolf wrote in her diary: “I was jealous of her writing—the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

Throughout all this she followed the ‘modern’ path of living her life as she saw fit. Like many artists and creative people in the new century, she wanted to lose the oppressive old Victorian rules about sex and had numerous affairs with both men and women (scandalising her mother back in New Zealand) and used the experiences in some of her stories. She also had two marriages, the first was a mistake and the second was to John Middleton Murry, an Oxford graduate, writer and editor of literary magazines.

Katherine Mansfield with John Middleton Murray
Katherine Mansfield with John Middleton Murray

Her greatest loss was the death of her much-loved brother, Leslie Heron “Chummie” Beauchamp in the First World War. It was for him that she wanted to write about their happy childhood together in New Zealand. She suffered from ongoing illnesses and as her health was so precarious she tried to write as much as she could in the years before she succumbed to tuberculosis when 34.

This is a short, scrappy run-down of Mansfield’s rich but all too brief life. The reality was far more complicated, interesting and, at times, contentious. The most important thing to know about Mansfield is that she wrote exceptional short stories! And if you don’t know her work then go and find one of her story collections. Middleton Murry ensured her work, fiction and non-fiction, was published after her death.

The Garden Party by Katherie Mansfield

If you want to know more about Mansfield’s life check out Claire Tomalin’s biography of Katherine:


And these two websites are worth a look too:

Of course nothing really beats reading her work, her short stories or her very revealing and at times heart-rending journal.

Journal of Katherine Mansfield


A new edition of this journal is available from Persephone Books





150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

John Tenniel's picture of Alice with flamingo
John Tenniel’s picture of Alice with an annoyed flamingo.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  is 150 years old this year. Published in 1865 by Macmillan, the author was Charles L. Dodgson (1832-1898).

Charles L. Dodgson, 1857
Charles L. Dodgson, 1857

Dodgson was allowed to use his pen name of Lewis Carroll and alternative names for the book like ‘Alice Among the Fairies, and ‘Alice’s Golden Hour’ were binned. In its 150 years Alice has been reimagined many times in plays, musicals, films and simplified picture books. Part of the story’s appeal must be down to not just the wonderful writing by Carroll, but the glorious pictures.

John Tenniel, Self-portrait
John Tenniel, Self-portrait

The artist was John Tenniel (1820-1914). He was already well known in his time for his illustrations for Punch, a political magazine. Carroll had admired his pictures of animals in a version of Aesop’s fables and with the high animal count in Alice Tenniel was an obvious choice of artist.

For Alice all Tenniel’s paper drawings had to be carved into woodblocks by engravers, which were then used as masters to create electrotype copies in metal. This was a new process, but it transformed how things could were printed. Electrotype ensured printing of the books was quicker and more precise and this was a good thing as the book was very popular right from the start and the entire first print run sold out.

The White Rabbit
The White Rabbit

The book was and still is popular with both children and adults (Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria were fans) because of its humour, fantasy and clever wordplay. It marked a change in children’s books by allowing fun and silliness rather than just teaching reading or moral instruction.

A new stage adaption this year is the musical where the story is based in the internet, the ultimate rabbit hole leading to all manner of wonders and dangers. With book and lyrics by Moira Buffini and music by Damon Albarn this is currently playing at the National Theatre in London.

There have already been lots of events this year celebrating 150 years of Alice and I’m hoping tea parties formed part of that. If you missed them and feel left out make some tea and invite some interesting characters round (animal and human). Mad Hats are of course necessary. And see the 2010 film by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter for inspiration.

Depp in Tim Burton Alice
Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter

Oh, and don’t forget to read the original book as well…

Man Booker Prize 2015 and Penelope Fitzgerald

down by the river
down by the river

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist 2015 was announced last week. See the list here:

If you work in publishing or at a bookshop you will already know about the shortlist and have seen tables piled up with the six shortlisted books. For everyone else, it depends on whether you read books and if you do how much you know or care about big literary prizes. I’ll assume you have a passing interest…

The Booker (no one I know would call it the ‘Man Booker’ as the ‘Man’ sponsor was only added in 2002) is seen as equivalent to the Oscars in terms of sales and prestige. Despite this the prize has always been followed by controversy, which I would suggest is the same with the Oscars. Booker judges have been accused of choosing a bad winner, having a conflict of interests (e.g. being in a relationship with an author?) or always choosing men (since the prize started in 1969, 30 men and 16 women have won the prize). It’s probably getting better as Hilary Mantel has won twice!

I have to admit that I haven’t read loads of the Booker Prize novels, but one that I have read is the 1978 winner, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It’s set in the 1960’s and is about a group of people living in riverboats on the Thames. The selection of Fitzgerald’s book as a Booker winner was criticised at the time as the novel is fairly short and the story is concentrated on domestic issues like family life, relationships, outsiders and how poverty can decide whether you sink or swim. I found it wonderful, a great evocation of the times and often very funny. I also love the fact it’s partially based on her own life with her two young daughters on a barge that sank!

Offshore bookcover

Penelope was also very inspiring as she didn’t start writing novels until she was sixty. More on Penelope here:

Enid Marx – Queen of the Mocquette

Enid Marx double-diamond design for London Transport 1937
Enid Marx double-diamond design 1937

When I think of the name ‘Marx’ two things come to mind – The Marx Brothers and Karl Marx. Both are interesting in their own ways, but I had never heard of Enid Marx (1902-1998) until we visited the Compton Verney Art Gallery in the summer holidays. She was an English painter, designer, children’s book writer and, yes, a distant cousin of Karl Marx. Her work is wonderful and inspiring. She did lots of printing and had a passion for patterns. I love the fact that she designed the seat covers (mocquette fabric) for London buses and tube trains in 1930’s.

The photo at the top of this post is an example of one of her seat cover designs from The London Transport shop:

If you want to know more about the wonderful Enid look at the Independent newspaper obituary and check out the Compton Verney Art Gallery website

Anyone who has ever used the London Underground and been charmed (or otherwise) by the patterns on their seats will know the names of different stations conjure up ideas and stories, even if you never actually get off at that station. TubeFlash is an interesting website based on flash fiction for different London stations. You can submit your own 300 word story (check the conditions first) or just read some of the ones already published on It’s a fun project.

Other writing news:

Very pleased to report that Words and Women, who support women writers living and working in East Anglia, have lauched their annual prose competition today!

Closing date for entries is 15 November so better get writing…

September is ‘Back to School’

left on our street
left on our street
Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in America, but her real work was photography. She took photographs everywhere (often when walking the children she was looking after) and kept the negatives. She had a few printed, but never made money from her photography. Which is a shame as after her death her negatives were discovered, printed up and displayed. Now her work is hailed as wonderful examples of street photography and reportage on the everyday and the overlooked.­ Check her out on:

For writers I think her photographs are so interesting and evocative they beg for a story to be written about them! I will definitely be looking at them for inspiration for my next competition story: The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition is always good and FREE to enter.

As we’re now in September, it really is ‘back to school’ in concentrating on writing projects. Always have to be working on something!


Hello and welcome to my new blog! It’s about writing. Mainly creative writing and mine, but other types and authors are welcome too.

From my extensive research (via internet searches and things other people have told me) blogging can be a useful and fun activity. Good. However, setting up a blog is tricky and difficult if you’re over ten and don’t have a blog adviser strapped on your shoulder. As I am clearly not ten and don’t have any extra people attached to my person I am winging it. With faulty wings. This, I would suggest, is the natural state of any writer. You have an idea and then anything can happen.

To help things along I’d added a few links on the left side bar as examples of my writing. Hope you enjoy them!

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