Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I find myself asking why I read what I read.  This was prompted by being asked to list my ten all-time favourite works of fiction. Was there a common theme running through them, and did this say something about me? In no particular order, I began jotting down titles as they came to mind. I had trouble confining myself to just ten, but there was no doubt as to which book came to mind first.  There it was in scrawled blue biro. Miss Susie Slagle’s.

Miss Susie Slagle’s, by Augusta Tucker, was published in 1940, but I would have read it for the first time around 1958.  I don’t remember how I came by it.  I’m presuming it was brought into the house either by my mother or my older sister. It was part of a number of books deemed too ‘adult’ for me and guaranteed, therefore, to be irresistible, like Dad’s Carter Brown stories, which, incidently, must take responsibility for my life-long enjoyment of crime fiction. 

But back to Miss Susie Slagle’s.  Concerning a group of young medical students lodging in Susie’s boarding house, it was engrossing not only for the depiction of the medical world in 1930’s USA, but also for its wisdom and portrayal of human nature at its most noble and its most base.  Though in no way salacious, it taught me much about the opposite sex - heady stuff to a 12 year old female.  I have no doubt it influenced my view of what a real man is or is not.

While differing in regard to writing style and genre, the books on my list are notable for being character driven.  Primarily, they are about what makes people tick, not about what they do or say, although of course a good writer enables us to decide what people are like by showing us the things they do and the way they do them.  So my own writing was always going to be character driven, I expect.

However, dear blogger, I’ve realised my list says a lot more about me, which is why I’m not saying what the other titles are.  Self-disclosure can go way too far.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Recently, I was invited to take part in a photo shoot on the theme of the writer’s habitat. The photographer is highly talented, enormously creative, and prone to working with hip young things, so I was being paid a huge compliment. Any right thinking person would have jumped at the opportunity to buy in.  Instead, I ran a metaphorical hundred metre dash in the opposite direction. Failed the first hurdle, dropped the baton. No medal, no purchase, no sale. Clearly, my sanity had been passed in at auction. Sigh.

So what was going on in my head? I’m not photogenic, I’m 10 kilos overweight, which as everyone knows equates to an extra five in a photograph, and I have a chipped tooth, that’s what!  In addition, my writer’s habitat is a perfect shambles at the moment. Not that that would matter if the writer looked halfway decent. I could have donned a French beret and a ton of mascara and dismissed tidiness as impossibly ordinary behaviour unbecoming to a serious writer.

It took nearly a week to deal with the self-hating, insecure teenager, who had emerged in my otherwise mature head. The truth is, I actually like myself and the person I have grown into. I’m comfortable with who I am. But it has been a process of years to accept the packaging Creator God gave me; to accept that He deems ‘good’ what He made and loves what He sees. I just didn’t believe it enough. Not enough to submit to a series of photographs, anyway.  So I have been taking stock.  I wouldn’t dream of despising the physical imperfections of any of God’s other creations - all His works are wonderful ‘and that my inner self knows right well’ as Psalm 139 puts it – despite how society might shun, ignore or pity them.  To despise the packaging I am in, is to despise the Designer.  God forbid.

The same Psalm records that our bodies were ‘formed in secret, intricately and curiously wrought as if embroidered with various colours’.  On my way to my seventh decade, I intend to re-imagine the image I have long held of myself.   I rather like the imagery of myself as colourful embroidery!

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Even as a child I had a sense of the privilege and authority in naming. I gave a lot of thought to the naming of my pets. When the same privilege was afforded to my children they knew better than to settle for ‘Fluffy’ or ‘Spot’. Our dog was named ‘Gumption’, and a succession of cats have answered to ‘Cobber’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Yum Yum’, ‘Miss Moneypenny’, ‘Boris’ and ‘Gellis’, to name just a few. When I learnt from scripture that God the creator gave naming rights to human beings, I understood why it has always been important to me.

It was Shakespeare who said a rose’s perfume would be stunning regardless of the name given it. He’s right of course. But does the same maxim apply to personal names? I have just finished reading a book that suggests the inherent meaning of our name is not always reflected in our lives; that a mangling of meaning over time plus interference in our emotional and spiritual backgrounds can result in a schism between identity and destiny.

I spent a lot of time searching for the meaning of my own name, consulting dozens of name books without success over the years. I could never quite accept that a red-headed actress beloved of my mother, an avid film buff, was the rationale for my own name.  In retrospect, I can only be grateful I wasn’t the son my parents hoped for. In recent years I have located well-researched name meanings – thank the Lord for Google, I say - and am amazed at how apt both my given names are. But my husband’s name is an example of how the original, and accurate, meaning can be corrupted over time.  There is no way he fits the ‘usurper, deceiver’ tag usually attached to ‘James’ in the mistaken belief that it comes from ‘Jacob’. No, James belongs to ‘Jamin’, as in ‘my right hand’, with connotations of integrity, reliability and aptitude as a great second in command.

God’s Poetry, written by mathematician and dedicated researcher, Anne Hamilton, persuades me that our names are gifts embodying a divine destiny. It is a notion that sits comfortably with me. 

Friday, 7 September 2012


I attempted to answer this question from a fellow blogger recently.  I say attempted because a window appeared saying I hadn’t copied the garbled letters correctly and refused to accept my comments.  In fact the more times I tried, the harder it became to actually decipher what came up in the ‘prove you’re not a robot’ window. I gave up. I feel badly about this. Bloggers deserve to be rewarded with comments.  It is the unalienable right of wordsmiths everywhere.  Of course it’s preferable that said feedback be stimulating and complimentary, even congratulatory, but on occasions it may be necessary to apply the blog equivalent of anti-bacterial sheep dip to the foul mouthed bleating you’ve just read.  

But I digress.  Why do I blog?  I want to say it’s because my technologically savvy daughter insisted I learn how, but because I’m incorrigibly and incurably honest (inculcated in childhood) I have to ‘fess up.  Writing is cousin to those other forms of social interaction - speaking and acting- and, like them, it requires, nay craves, an audience. We like to say we just have to write or we’ll curl up and die, but really it’s all about ego and/or exhibitionism. The writing variety is more subtle than the other two of course because you get it all out and off your chest without scripted or unplanned for interruptions.  We never know when the reader has muttered ‘Bah, humbug’ and hit the exit button.  Just as well. Writers are sensitive souls.

So, to return to where I began, I will seek instruction on how to successfully post comments and compliments to fellow bloggers.  And grovel for a few in return. Did I mention it’s Be Kind to Writers Week?