Write around the Isle – turnips, thrillers and special guests

Sir Tony comes to town for BroadstairsLit

(c) Carlos Dominguez Photography

There were turnips on display when Baldrick fans packed The Pavilion on 10th March to welcome Sir Tony Robinson to Broadstairs.

The actor, presenter, author and comic genius who, we decided, must by now have national treasure status, delighted the audience with hilarious tales of stage and screen from his childhood start as the Artful Dodger in the west end production of Oliver to that going-over-the-top iconic Blackadder finale.

The queue for signed copies of his memoir No Cunning Plan (Pan Macmillan) – stretched a while…

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Tiverton Books

And on the subject of paperbacks – six years ago, Carol Clarke invited me to visit the bookshop she’d opened in Cliftonville with her husband, Dave. It sounded delightful – I love a second-hand bookstore – and I promised to pop along. Last Sunday I finally made it!

Tiverton Books is tucked away beneath the Smiths Court Hotel and offers good quality, used books across a range of subjects and genres, quirkily laid out without category headings under a system that Carol knows like the back of her hand, but which is suitably cryptic to ensure the potential buyer gets to have a good browse.

With everything from Blyton to Dickens to Jilly Cooper to a tome on quilting, there is something for everyone (I left Carol a couple of my own works – pristine and unread – if you want a bargain) without breaking the bank. I came away with four thrillers for under a fiver. Wish I’d got there sooner!

Tiverton Books can be found “Down the Steps” at Smiths Court Hotel, Eastern Esplanade, Margate CT9 2HL

Open every Sunday from 10 am to 2pm. www.tivertonbooks.co.uk

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Kent Festival of Writing

For anyone with writing dreams of their own, the Kent Festival of Writing started life 3 years ago and welcomes “all writers from absolute beginners and those writing just for fun, to would-be and established authors at all stages of their careers.” The day aims to provide “inspiration, support and the opportunity to develop skills with hands-on workshops designed to encourage and inform.”

Director Sue Basset is a writer herself and has recently acquired an agent for her Gothic thriller which is currently being submitted to publishers. “I know how important it is to meet other writers,” she says. “Their support and encouragement, along with the advice I have received from published authors and tutors, have been invaluable on my journey. I wanted to provide something similar for aspiring writers which was accessible and local.”

Events include workshops on blogging, finding your writing voice, interviews with published writers and a mystery book swap. (I’d be there myself but I shall be teaching elsewhere – at the fabulous Chez Castillon – if you have dreams of writing with sunshine and wine, check this out too www.chez-castillon.com)

Kent Festival of Writing will be held on Saturday 14th April 2018

Whitstable Community College, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1PZ

For details and tickets see https://www.kentfestivalofwriting.co.uk

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Back here in Thanet, the writing scene is flourishing too with the well-established Isle Writers group being regular and entertaining contributors to the monthly Broadly Speaking sessions hosted by BroadstairsLit. The group meet regularly for discussion and critique sessions and have produced an anthology Small Things. Find them on facebook https://www.facebook.com/IsleWriters/

If you have a story to share, or would simply like to listen, Broadly Speaking is held on the last Sunday of each month at the Yarrow Hotel, Broadstairs from 7.30pm. Visit https://broadstairslit.co.uk/broadly-speaking-3/ for the full lowdown.

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Don’t miss Hunter Davies!

And if you really like a good yarn, then the BroadstairsLit guest for April has more tales than you can shake a stick at. In his memoir A Life in the Day (Simon & Schuster) witty raconteur Hunter Davies reflects on life in London in the Swinging Sixties, his time as editor of Britain’s first colour weekend supplement The Sunday Times Magazine; his friendship with the Beatles (he wrote the only authorised biography of the group) and his partying with and ghost-writing for some of the biggest names in television, film and theatre of the day. We’re talking Sir Michael Caine, George Best, Melvyn Bragg, Dame Joan Bakewell, Sir Sean Connery, Cilla Black, Paul Gascoigne, and Wayne Rooney among others. It is also a moving account of his deep love for and marriage to the acclaimed novelist Margaret Forster who he sadly lost to cancer in 2016. Hunter will be joined by their author daughter Caitlin Davies, whose latest book Bad Girls (John Murray) is a fascinating look at the history of Holloway prison. Both will be in conversation with me, spilling the beans about all of this and more. Come along – it’s going to be riveting!

Hunter Davies and Caitlin Davies will be at The Yarrow Hotel, Broadstairs from 7pm 6th April. Tickets at £15 include a welcome drink and canapés. Please see https://broadstairslit.co.uk/events/ to book

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Still to come…

  • Friday 11th May – Extra Time with James Brown. The TalkSport host talks about male friendship and his love of football
  • Thursday 21st June Being David Archer. Tim Bentinck (David Archer) and Sunny Ormonde (Lillian Bellamy) take us behind the scenes at Britain’s favourite radio soap.

Details of all events and how to book https://broadstairslit.co.uk/events. Original article at https://theisleofthanetnews.com/jane-wenham-jones-write-around-the-isle-turnips-thrillers-and-special-guests.

Just Jane: tribute to Carole Blake

carole-blog-post-medIn the absence of a Gazette column to post this week, I thought I’d share a Woman’s Weekly piece I wrote back in 2013. In memory of, and with love to, Carole Blake, who died so suddenly on 25th October and is missed by so many of us.

It made me sad to re-read it but it is also a happy memory of a great evening with Carole – to go with many more of some fab times. Here’s raising a glass!

The article reads…

Would someone please tell me where this year has gone? One moment we were all moaning about how winter was dragging and the daffodils were late, we sneezed and it was summer for a day or two, then I got distracted and found it was October and now suddenly everyone’s using the C word and preparing to take the tinsel out of the loft.

Time flies as you get older, they say. And it’s not only ten months that can pass in the blink of an eye. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of rolling up to top literary agent Carole Blake’s party held to celebrate her astonishing fifty years in publishing.

Astonishing because Carole looks far too youthful to have been at it that long – they clearly started ‘em young in those days – and surprising for me too, to realise that I first met her, screwing up all my courage to speak, when I was a wannabe novelist back in 1998. Which means I’ve been knocking around the book world fifteen years myself and I don’t know where that has gone either.

I arrived at the bash with Katie Fforde and a wild look in my eye.

We had flown back from France for the event – I’d been teaching at the fab Chez Castillon (Google it now!) and Katie had been working away at her 21st novel (she, too, has been going a while) – on a journey which was punctuated by minor crises, mostly of my doing. These began when I left my mobile on the floor at Bordeaux airport while trying to stuff my handbag into Katie’s suitcase (that one item of baggage rule has a lot to answer for) and went downhill from there.

“J’ai perdu mon telephone,” I stuttered frantically to the couple sitting where I’d last seen it. “Avez-vous seen it? S’iI vous plait.”

“Never mind all that, love,” said the husband. “Try the information desk.” Mercifully it had been handed in by some wonderfully honest being, and after a small panic over where Katie’s passport was and me leading us purposefully to the wrong gate, we arrived in Gatwick intact but with not much time to spare.

Katie’s face was a picture, therefore, when at passport control, she whizzed through and I got the cheery chap who fancied a chat. While I explained why I’d gone to France, why I was coming back, whose party it was and why I didn’t look at all like my passport photograph (it was taken nine years ago, mate!), I could see her expression ten metres away, frozen in horror, convinced I was about to be led away and we’d miss the revelry after all.

I’ll spare you the sagas of the taxis, my blisters and the curious incident of the laddered tights, but eventually we got there to find Carole, her usual cool, glamorous self, in a room brimming with warmth and affection.

The fizz flowed, the speeches were heartfelt. Fellow agent, the beautiful Isobel Dixon, recalled her interview at Blake Friedmann 18 years ago when she was offered a glass of wine and wondered if it was a test. I would say it probably was and she passed it by having the second glass – she’s been working with Carole ever since.

Colleague Conrad Williams told how he had learned from Carole’s example, the “centrality of lunch” and the bestselling crime writer Peter James, hailed by Conrad as the “Uber Client”, stated quite simply that he adored her.

Carole said she’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry – by that time I was fumbling for a tissue myself. And looking round the packed room I went on my own little trip down memory lane.

There was the agent who wrote that she hated my first novel so much she couldn’t even encourage me, and the other poor chap I practically stalked while trying to flog it anyway. The smiling one-time boss of the publishers who eventually gave me a deal; the authors I was once so shyly in awe of – now my friends. The big book-seller who was so kind to me when I was newly in print and the editors I’ve only ever known by email – now here in the flesh. Looking at the guest list later there were more names from the past I sadly didn’t spot among the 300-strong crowd, all there to raise a glass or three to a long-serving pro. I need her to have another gathering when she’s been doing books for the full sixty.

The next morning Katie and I were back on the plane to Chez Castillon a little jaded but very glad we’d made the trip, and four days after that I flew home. The napkin that came with my complimentary salty things bore the maxim: “Time flies but you are the pilot.” I think we can safely say Carole Blake has earned her wings.

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Plain Jane 100516: I might give Channel Tunnel another chance

Plain Jane 100516Friday Quiz Time and your starter for ten. Who knows what auspicious and momentous event took place on May 6th? 

Yes, well done, you at the back, Roger Bannister did indeed break the four-minute mile on that date in 1954.  Just six years before Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act on the same day as Princess Margaret married Tony Armstrong-Jones and a year after Tony Blair was born. As it happens, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, a little later in 1966, were also sentenced to life imprisonment on May 6th and it was Orson Welles’ birthday. (Never let it be said your local newspaper does not have the enhancement of your general knowledge and possible potential to win on Eggheads at heart.)

But I was thinking of something a bit closer to home.  Clue: it happened just up the road here in Kent, the Queen was there, and despite the worst of the fear-mongering, we didn’t all get wiped out by rabies.

I speak of course of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

It was on this very day, back in 1994 that the sub-aqua link between England and France was officially opened by Her Majesty and President Mitterand.

I have no recollection of it at all and can only assume that  since I had spent the previous twelve months in a haze of exhaustion after the arrival of The Child That Never Slept, that I was probably having  a catnap when the news footage came on, the whole event thus passing me by.

I have now been belatedly mugging up and can tell you that the structure, recognized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, on a par with the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal,  is 31.4 miles long, with an average depth of 50 metres below the seabed, and the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world.

I have only been through it twice. Whereas my highly risk-averse colleague Mr Mike You-won’t-get-me-up-there Pearce (he wouldn’t even come on the roller coaster at Dreamland) frets about falling out of the sky, I feel a slight sense of unease about all those tonnes of water hovering over my head.

So I hesitate to mention it, knowing  a proportion of the readership gets rather more exercised by my carbon footprint that I do (there was a small outcry and some  hilarious abuse when I once admitted flying to Manchester) but on the many occasions I have been to France since the tunnel opened, I have been inclined to let the plane take the strain.

Having, however, had the recent experience of being stuck in a traffic hold-up on the M25 (three hours), endless queues for security at Gatwick (at least half an hour longer than usual), an extra long wait on the runway after we’d “missed our slot” (a further forty-five minutes) and a ninety-minute flight during which the back of my seat was consistently and rhythmically kicked by the small boy sitting behind me, who also regularly shrieked, I am wondering if I should rethink.

Teaching here now at Chez Castillon in the Dordogne, up to an hour’s car ride from Bordeaux airport, I have been joined by two other Thanetians, who arrived fresh-faced and bright-eyed, having  made the journey from Broadstairs via the Eurotunnel shuttle,  in shorter time door-to-door than I had, and having had considerably more sleep. Perhaps it is time to put aside my fear of fire and flood and broken-down trains (in 2009, 2,000 passengers were trapped down there for 16 hours, a thought that fills me with horror and dread) remember instead the thousands of successful journeys that have been completed since and be brave for the 35 minutes it takes to cross beneath the Channel.

Sorry to inflame a different faction altogether, but it’s at times like these that I so miss Manston….

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You can read the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Channel-Tunnel-chance/story-29252022-detail/story.html.

Champagne de Romance at Chez Castillon

CC Champ 100515

It is always a joy to be at Chez Castillon.  Next course up – could it be for you? – Write and Sell Short Stories. Write a short story for Woman’s Weekly – and get personal feedback from their fiction editor – or a prize-grabbing entry for a competition.

Coming soon – Writing Crime with lovely Clare Mackintosh and Pitch and Sell Your Novel avec moi :-). For details of all courses see here.

To give you a flavour of what to expect I’d like to share a post from Lynne Shelby, winner of the Accent Press and Woman magazine novel competition who blogged about her experience at Chez Castillon, in May.  You can read the original – and find out more about the fabulous venue – at http://www.chez-castillon.com/437/champagne-de-romance-at-chez-castillon.

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From Lynne:

It’s market day in the small French town of Castillon de Bataille. Writer’s notebook and camera in hand, I edge through the crowds gathered around stalls selling fish and meat, fresh herbs and spices, and dresses fluttering in the breeze like brightly coloured flags. Later, I am to write an atmospheric description of the market through the eyes of a character in my WIP.

I am spending a week at a writers’ retreat at beautiful Chez Castillon, part of my prize for winning the Accent Press and Woman magazine Writing Competition with my debut novel French Kissing (I’m so excited that it’s now available on from Accent Press!)

Days at Chez Castillon begin with a breakfast of fresh croissants and baguettes from the local boulangerie (I could get used to this!). Then I and my fellow writing students, Sue, Mary, Helen and Peter, spend the morning in the “classroom” with our inspiring and insightful (and patient!) tutor, Jane Wenham-Jones.

Janie and Mickey who run Chez Castillon are wonderful hosts. As well as being a writer (her novel, Life’s A Drag, is published by Accent Press), Janie is a superb cook, and for lunch and dinner, all the students, and the writers in residence, Katie FfordeJudy Astley, Catherine Jones (writing as Fiona Field), Jo Thomas and Clare Mackintosh, gather in the dining room for delicious food, fabulous wine and much laughter (I do like being a writer!).

Today, after lunch, best-selling novelist, Katie Fforde, one of the judges of the Accent Press and Woman Writing Competition, helps me with my WIP. I sit by the pool in the sun, holding my breath while she reads my work, and I’m so thrilled and delighted when she likes it. She very generously shares her expertise and knowledge, and gives me some invaluable advice on how to sort out my plot.

CC Champ KF

Also at Chez Castillon this week is David Headley of DHH Literary Agency. Jane helps me, Sue, Mary, Helen and Peter work on the pitches for our books, which we then present to David for feedback. I’m very encouraged by his appreciative interest in my WIP. It’s such a great opportunity to hear what a top literary agent looks for in a submission and to learn a little more about publishing.

My first visit to Chez Castillon goes all too fast. It’s been an inspiring and exhilarating week of writing, with great food, great wine, and above all great company – and so much fun. And what better way to toast a gathering of writers that includes romantic novelists than with Champagne de Romance? Santé.

If you’d like to be inspired by the beautiful Chez Castillon and its writers in residence, why not join bestselling novelist and tutor Jane Wenham-Jones in October

The one that enraged a Kipper….

This was my Isle of Thanet Gazette column, published 8/05/2015 that gave rise to the following on this week’s letter page. As I said on twitter – thanks for all the amusing response! – I love the idea that I should pay for my sins by attending a council meeting…. Punishment indeed!!! 🙂

Featured image

The offending piece:

“They are homophobes; they are sexist.”

 “They are self-opinionated and won’t take criticism.”

 “They’ve shown  how incompetent and secretive they are.”

 “They play games.”

By the time you are reading this, we will know which party’s representatives have landed in Thanet, and whichever one it is, the chances are it will have been described as one of  the above.  The most enjoyable part of interviewing the various candidates for the seats of South and North Thanet in the lead-up to the general elections, was hearing the rants that I wasn’t allowed to print. Above is the short version. I have acres of tape on what is fundamentally wrong with Labour, the Conservatives, the dreaded UKIP, the Lib Dems (actually nobody took them seriously enough to be rude) and the Greens (ditto).

When we got down to analysing individuals, most of my interviewees were keen to protest that they weren’t in the business of knocking their rivals, but did manage to shyly reveal:

“He’s not going to do anything for the area.”

“He’s not going to trot around dealing with people’s problems.”

“He’s a bit like the temple in Cambodia with four faces”

“I’m a different breed of politician from him. I’m not here to tell lies.”

“He’s just using it as a stepping stone up his own vanity ladder.”

“You can’t trust him.”

So welcome whoever made it through. You sound thoroughly delightful and I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire. One thing is for sure – it will indeed be  a HE in South Thanet. Our current incumbent at the time of writing, Laura Sandys, is sadly not standing for re-election. I can honestly say I have never heard her say a bad word about anyone.

I have had various conversations with Laura over the last five years: as a journalist seeking her views, at local gatherings various, and as a constituent to her MP. Ms Sandys was unfailingly smiley, concerned, committed and above all, moderate. Even my most left-wing friends had little negative to say apart from the obvious – that she was a Tory. In traditionally right-wing circles, hallowed was her name. When she first came on the scene, the criticism levelled at her most frequently was a puzzled: “She seems a bit too nice.”  Eventually we realised she actually was nice. Very! She also worked like a Trojan, was passionate about her causes, would turn out to the opening of an envelope even when it was cold, dreary and pouring with rain – make-up-less, hair wet and still managing to look as if she were privileged to attend  – and always seemed to be one of those rare creatures:  the politician who is in it to try to make the world a better place, not for their own self-glory. I know I am not the only one who would have voted her back in, in a heartbeat, whichever party she was standing for. (Except UKIP, obviously. But the good lady is  far too intelligent for that!). Good luck with whatever you do next, Laura! I doubt Thanet will see your like again.

ALSO BY THE TIME you are reading this, I will be propping my eyes open with matchsticks, having flown back from  a week working in France (see www.chez-castillon.com) in time to cast my vote and pitch up at the Winter Gardens for the count. It’s a long sleepless night, filled with politicians and council officials, news bulletins and anxiety, and not even an open bar. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll have seen who we’ve got and be suitably relieved or disappointed or in deep despair .

Whichever of the three, my message for the new chap is this: I hope you’ll do a bit more for Thanet than they said you would…

The joy of Chez Castillon

April 2012 – the first time…CHEZ CASTILLON

You never really know someone until you live with them. A truth universally acknowledged by generations of women who’ve been swept off their feet with champagne and roses only to discover too late, that he always leaves the loo seat up and his socks on the floor. No such worries when in one’s own, beautiful ensuite accommodation,  and sharing a house with other females but the rest holds true.

Katie's bookIn return for their own silence, I have promised to be judicious on the matter of what exactly I discovered about my fellow authors when we spent a week together in France but suffice to say I can thoroughly recommend the experience . It was billed as a “Writers’ Retreat”. For which I’d suspected, you could read “Writers’-sit-around-and- Drink-Too-Much”. I was, after all, going with members of the RNA – not an organisation famed for its temperance in pastures new.

summer-time-coverBut when Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Jo Thomas and Catherine Jones and I moved en masse into Chez-Castillon, a gorgeously restored 18th century townhouse on the banks of the Dordogne, owned by Micky Wilson and Janie Millman who have turned their talents – they are both actors and Janie is also a writer and one fabulous cook – to running creative courses, surprising discipline was shown.  Katie was up at six completing her daily word target before breakfast, Judy was heard to say she wouldn’t have any wine at lunchtime so she could work hard in the afternoon (“say” being the operative word here, I didn’t actually spot her without a glass in her hand) and Jo had completed 7,500 words by the end of day two, (by which time I had managed to pen a TO-DO list and wander down the road for a pedicure). Nor was it just writing!

51UNN9eBnbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX342_SY445_CR,0,0,342,445_SH20_OU02_Catherine “Brace Up” Jones put us all to shame with dawn  swims; we did walking, shopping and wine-tasting (naturellement)  and in the evening made our own entertainment. “Stars in their Eyes”  saw Katie as Mary Hopkins, me as Joni Mitchell (ambitious, yes!), Jo providing the entire score from Calamity Jane (with hand movements) and Catherine as Edith Piaf.  Micky was Nat King Cole, Judy contributed hilarious jokes (in French no less!) and Janie a poem about knickers and vicars which is now a blur but went down a treat after the fourth bottle. The  whole experience of spending a week with fellow scribes was madly, gloriously, divinely inspiring and even I – Queen of Displacement –  returned with a list of book chapters, a short story, two columns  and some riotous photos. We will be going back….

Fast forward to NOW…

CM blog smallAnd back we’ve been – several times!

I’ve taught a number of  courses, hung out with the usual suspects – which most recently included the lovely Clare Mackintosh, director of Chipping Norton Lit Fest, and used Janie’s recipes in my 100 Ways to Fight the Flab, proving you can eat well, drink copiously and still combat your writer’s bottom if you only know how.

Jo-Thomas-187x300Katie, Catherine (aka Fiona Field) and Judy have each had new books out, see covers above.

Clare’s amazing debut novel, I Let You Go is published later this year, and Jo Thomas has seen mega success with The Oyster Catcher – all were partly-written at Chez Castillon.

The authors will, I’m sure, testify to the magical, inspiring qualities of the place (it’s not just all the wine :-)).

100 Book cover Dec 2013 - front (small)I am back there teaching on May 17th and again in July and October (when you’ll be helped to sell a short story if it kills me! :-)). Other retreat/course dates are available.

See my page here or visit www.chez-castillon,com. Mention this blog for the chance of a discount when booking and feel free to email me for more details.

It is fab!

And I’d love to see you there.

Room for a little one…

Room, indeed, for two little ones – or even two quite big ones (bedroom sizes generous).

Due to a cancellation, there are now a couple of places available at the fabulous Chez Castillon, where I am teaching “Is there a book in you?” in October. And I can’t tell you how lovely it is! (The place, not necessarily the tome lurking within, but we can work on that). Full details here.

The food is fab, the wine flows, the sun shines and I’ll be there (see footnote)… What’s not to like?

My entirely impartial verdict:

˜˜˜˜˜˜Worth selling your body or breaking  the piggy bank for. 

footnote 1  and the lovely Katie Fforde will be there too. Your chance to share a dinner table  with a mega-selling novelist. We might even persuade her to sing. See here.

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