Monday, 26 January 2015

An Idealistic Esperantist


 Just listening to a Radio 4 Programme about the idealistic international Esperanto movement and am reminded of my great friend, the late Mary Davies, a great Esperantist. Very interesting programme. Try to catch it on BBC Listen Again HERE

In tribute to Mary I am re-posting here two posts from 2009 and 2012. 

From Lifetwicetasted 2009

The Loss of the Exceptional Mary D

I have just heard from Jan Atkins of the death (aged 93) on the Isle of  Arran of my old  friend Mary Davies, a gifted painter, writer and healer.  My novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings was inspired by tales told to me by this wonderful  and somewhat  mystical writer and artist who  lived  in retirement on the Isle of Arran and who  also, in her time, drew buildings for a living. She was - remarkably -  a note taker and reporter for architectural historian Niklaus Pevsner and in her time helped to save important buildings from demolition.

Drawing from Mary's stories, experience and documentation the novel takes place in Poland in 1981 and Britain in 2006 . What’s it about? It’s about  the consuming nature of art, the shadowy place between now and the hereafter; it’s about passionate encounters arising from a confluence of cultures and the long journey of a mother and son to mutual understanding.  

Always a spiritual person, she was a member of the Quaker Community and towards the end of her life she embraced the very inclusive Ba 'Hai faith.  On this coming Monday she will attend own her funeral in the card-boards coffin,  decorated with flower paintings by her friends at a party she held some years ago. When I last visited her it was standing in the corner serving the purpose of a cupboardI met the exceptional Mary Davies at a workshop I ran in Cumbria and She kept in touch. Later in her seventies she published and sold out three novels including the very telling and sensitive Still Waters. I visited her several times on Arran, including once when she regressed me to an earlier life. She believed she herself had gone through several incarnations. 

In my little writing room I have a board plastered with influential pictures and texts. Mary's picture, with her Polish friend Halina, has been there at its centre for six years. So she has remained - and will remain - a true inspiration. I am hoping now that The Woman Who Drew Buildings will act as a tribute to this exceptional woman, this very good soul.

I find myself wondering which world Mary  will grace in her next re-incarnation.

 As a further tribute to Mary I have re-printed here the post I put up when the novel came out. In the extract the list of objects which the boy finds in his mother's flat is the exact list of objects which Mary brought me in two carrier bags and told me to make of them what I would. ... And I did...

From Lifetwicetasted 2012 

The Gift of the Exceptional Mary D
My new novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings is dedicated thus:
‘For the exceptional and inspirational Mary Davies - painter, writer and healer.’

This novel has been in the making for five or six years, when the exceptional Mary D gave me a box of materials about her travels and experience in Poland in the 1980s.

Mary knew I was interested in the idiosyncrasies of letters, notebooks, images and ephemera that I used to inspire my novels. I was, she said, to use them as I wished. We had long talks about her experiences and the the dilemma of using them as inspiration, for what I knew would be - in fact -pure fiction.

It has taken me some years to develop my imaginative take on on all this material and all these ideas in order to allow the novel to emerge of its own volition. It became more fluid – easier - when my purely imagined characters got to grips with the material of their true to life inspiration. In the novel I gave my heroine Marie Matheve.

The Woman Who Drew Buildings was the outcome of all these processes.

The extract below describes the moment when Adam, the estranged son of
Marie Matheve (who has problems of his own) comes upon just such a cache of materials as his mother lies in a coma in hospital:

… Adam’s eye moved to the wardrobe and the pile of boxes above it. Now this he could disturb. He climbed on the dressing stool and started to pull down the boxes. He worked swiftly and as he worked his spirit lifted. He started to drop the boxes so their contents spilled on the polished floor – books, notebooks, papers, brochures, travel documents, bundles of clothes, bright scarves, packets of photos, sheaves of drawings in a disorganised pile….
… he took a second bottle of wine from the fridge, took a new notebook from the pile in her bottom left desk drawer, came back and began to make a careful list of the things that had spilled out of the boxes. His face was burning with wine drunk too fast, his brain was racing, his hand was shaking, but one by one he listed the items from the brown cardboard box:

· Article in Esperantist magazine by Marie Mathéve, recounting her ‘Study In Poland.’
· A newspaper article about the visit of Marie Mathéve’s visit to Poland on a Siropotimist grant to consider buildings.
· Photo of Marie and a younger (very pretty)woman leaning towards each other, making a triangle. On the back Marie has written; Jacinta Zielenska and me in the Cherzov flat.
· Small published book of drawings of Krakov marked Ex Libris D. Adama Zielenski` Paperback with a brown paper cover to protect it.
· Photographic slides, small and hard to see, with viewer,.
· Poland’s Progress edited by Michael Murray first pub 1944 this the third ed 1945
· Krakow by Edward Hartig 1964. Coffee table book.
· Poland by Irena and Jerzy Kostrowicki
Official 1981 guide to Krakow
· Official guide to Katowice
· Notebooks, many notebooks
· Two small red Sylvine notebooks still with their 30p price tag on. Marked 'Poland Diary 1981'
· One Winfield exercise book marked Paris Diary 1985
· Daler Sketchbook full of Marie’s drawings eg: Cherrzov From My Bedroom; steelworks; estate with Tabac in foreground; old steelworks; coal mine looking towards Katowice; done in coloured markers, making her usual style brighter and bolder. But style is unmistakable.
· Spiral Bound Daler Sketchbook with more subtle drawings from Brittany, Paris Luxembourg gardens, View from my window 8th floor Rue de Rennes; Paris. Louvre 1985.
If you fancy it, The Woman Who Drew Buildings (ISBN 978-0-7553-3380-6) or online HERE 


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Writing for Life and ‘Forward Assist’

  Writing for Life and ‘Forward-Assist'.

Having written professionally for more than twenty years and in those years mentored and tutored hundreds of aspiring writers I am very certain now that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, and ultimately a radiant process.

In all these years of writing and working with writers I have started from the premise that everyone can write. We have hundreds of thousands of words available in our heads. Writing Is putting some of them down in an order that makes some kind of sense -  at first to yourself and then later perhaps to others. As you write down you unscramble impressions, perceptions, thoughts and ideas into an order that makes sense to you and could very well strike a chord with others. These ‘others’ might be counted in tens, thousands or hundreds of thousands. The number doesn’t matter.This is how language works and how writing can add meaning and self-worth to any individual in any community.

I have always sensed and felt that this was the case but it came to me as a certainty when I spent several years as writer in residence in a woman’s prison, working with talented and insightful writers, some of whom had read little and had no idea that they could write. (You can find examples HERE )

It was Mike Kirby, ex-governor of that prison who last week introduced Avril and me  Tony Wright Director of the Charity Forward-Assist See site HERE. We just thought we were going for coffee, but things turned out differently.

Not killing fields 
An ex-serviceman turned social and community worker himself, Tony  became concerned at the number of ex-servicemen of all ages (who had served their country in all the wars going back to World War 2) who ended up out of work, or in distress, or mentally stressed or homeless in the confusion engendered by their transition from military to civilian life.

So Tony developed  his idea as the charity Forward-Assist. In Forward Assist ‘peer led’ support groups and structured diversionary activities provide a much needed service that reduces social isolation and promotes community engagement with other veterans on a daily or weekly basis’.

Tony also described his research in the USA and official and unofficial support there for ‘Vets’. It was interesting to hear his description developments in the US after what came to be seen afterwards as the shaming treatment of Vietnam  ‘Vets’.

It was impossible not to be infected by Tony’s energetic enthusiasm as he described the wide range of projects now flourishing under the banner of  Forward-Assist – Fishing, Debating, Cooking, Gardeing,  Drama, Football, Photography and Film, Their debating project ended up with a visit to the House of Commons to experience a parliamentary debate. (See the pictures HERE.) 

And quite naturally we came to the possibility that creative writing could be developed into one   ‘diversionary activity’ under  the First-Assist Banner. It has already been tried once. Tony described one great workshop he had set up with Andrew Motion, which had been a great success.

As I said earlier, I think everyone, given the right safe environment can write. And  also  that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, ultimately radiant process.

So it seems natural to us that the outcome of meeting and listening to Tony Wright is that Avril and I have offered ten weeks of workshops for Forward-Assist ex-soldiers, starting in the summer. I know we will all enjoy the process and that the process will, in the end produce interesting pieces of writing on a whole range of subjects. And then – in  co-operation with First-Assist  - we will publish this writing book which will be a credit  to the writers and also make them visible to the much wider world in all their diverse individuality.

We can only hope, in its own way, that ouWriting for Life project is as successful as are the football, gardening and the other Forward-Assist projects. We know that writing changes lives. See HERE 

We hope that this will be the case with anyone who joins our First-Assist group in the summer.


Veterans and Mental Health: uTube clip.

The Dilemma :

Tony Wright’s Project

The Debating Group. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Magic of Words and The Boy Who Likes Chocolate

Like many of us I spent New Year’s Day reading a present. This is an old and much loved habit. This one, though, was very different from the historical tomes of the past ( belated acknowledgement to Hilary Mantel.*)

The book this year was very special as it was a gift from my grandson, who has now graduated from being the boy who loves chocolate to scientist in a white coat. By Mark Forsyth, it is called The Etymoligicon and he inscribed it To Wendy: A Book that I thought would be right up your street. Love… 
Seems that the scientist in a white coat has bought the book for
Aiming for the  right word'.
himself and had gone back and got one for me. 
He and I have always had a love of words in common. One of our things used to  be playing the dictionary game 
This book The Etymoligicon is a - sometimes droll, sometimes outright funny, always very learned - essay about the words we use, their historical meanings and the extraordinary way in which they are interconnected.
Forsyth explains the deep history of the words that we bandy about as though they sprang out of the ether ready-formed. He shows how words of many nations share deep roots of meaning which are as old as the existence of social communication. In so doing he dissolves artificial differences between people and cultures.
With witty wordy magic he connects the origin of making books to the contemporary notion of  bookmaking; he connect compassion to pantaloons and panties, he connects the Gaullish trouser bragues with braggarts moving neatly onto codpieces and the bulging parts of buildings (braggets) and then –extraordinarily - onto the bracket symbol we use in texts. [ ]
Forsyth leads us on our merry way on the trail from genus to oxygen and nitrogen to things engendered onto military generals. If you are a general …you can order your troops to commit genocide.
And so, so on. In this book this and much more is laid out with such self-deprecating wit that you don’t realise just how much you are learning, not just about language but about the unities that bind our human culture.
Me, I think I know a lot about words and how to use them. But this New Year’s Day, sitting by the fire reading The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, I learned a lot more. Wx

Leaping out of a sea of words.

What present did you read after Christmas? Write and tell me in two hundred words and I will publish the first three on my new companion blog Twice Tasted Books.

*I see Wolf Hall will be a TV drama. Stand by for another test of whether a great book works as a film/



First Class Journey to London

Click-clack, click-clack
No reading, no writing
Three hours of sitting
Embalmed in comfort
Tracks clicking

Click-clack, click-clack
Night journey, no windows,
Marked out by looming signal boxes.
And the length of the land
Flashing by unseen. Click!

Click-clack, click-clack
Bright lights, big city
Tracks clicking.

23RD December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sisters at Christmastime.

  These days I am thinking a lot about my sister. In the subconscious fashion common the writers,  

       I have discovered in recent years that I have drawn on elements of  and aspects of most members of my family inn my fiction (See The Romancer' HERE…). 
     That is, except for my sister. I am not sure why. 
     Sisters grow up in the same background in the same physical and psychological environment. Significantly they share a uniquely derived  gender identity,. But that does not mean they are the same kind of person. It merely makes a refinement of the differences between you – making them more ambiguous, more opaque,
I think we remember our sisters more deeply  than other siblings. Maybe this  relationship is bitten more deeply with love and guilt and perhaps framed with shared involuntary joys and failures.
I trailed behind my own sister. She was always impossibly talented and superior, like our mother with her fine dark eyes and bright hair the colour of a new penny. My own mousy curls could, I knew, never compete. The difference was more deeply scored when I was told by one teacher after another that if I was half as good as my sister I’d be all right.   I learned early that she was impossible to emulate. It was much easier to fail in her shadow.
I remember these crowded afternoons in a small front room, the Dansette clicking and purring. And a crowd of girls  dancing together, strutting their stuff, chopping arms, jutting feet, learning the moves, ready for Saturday. My sister was popular, a leader among them.   And could could she move!  Syncopating steps in her green  five inch heels as she danced the others into the floor.
When we were young wives she was generous to a fault. My new husband and I, broke after our wedding, lived for some months in her spare bedroom. On our first night there our  narrow Edwardian wardrobe - stuffed over-full with our clothes – collapsed. The great clatter was followed by a deep silence while all in the house held their breath,imaginations reeling. And then, nothing spoiled,  we all went back to sleep.
  Hers was a pretty, brand new house: dainty wallpaper and cushions; tea on the table just on six: home baked pies and cakes. I would watch her as she  put on her lipstick, combed her hair and set the table: a perfect wife, waiting for her man.
For me - messy. untidy, and disorganised -  failure to emulate was the only welcome option.
 And then there were the thing about children – one, two, three perfect babies. She was so good at this process that the doctor – a handsome man with neat manicured nails – asked the midwife to be called to witness what looked like a perfect event. The handsome doctor turned up, his  pyjamas hidden under his elegant top coat. He witnessed a perfectly managed birth – a relief for any man I would think.
And now today a this Christmas time  I am thinking about my sister and at last agreeing with the very wise Margaret Mead. Now we are both grown this has become the strongest relationship, stronger than it has ever been.
I'm looking forward to seeing her soon.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Travelling Rituals

This time I am not time travelling and not -  this time - travelling abroad but, although I tell myself  will not be writing on this Christmas week away  I still pack my writer's kit and will still look for a place to lay it out.

I identify with Deborah Levey who puts it well in her excellent  Things I Don't Want to Know. Here she is settling in  unpacking for a solitary sojourn in the hills of Majorca. -

'I started to perform the familiar rituals of travelling alone, as I had so often in my life; untangling wires and precariously plugging in the European adaptor with two pins. switching on my computer, charging up my mobile, arranging on the small writing desk the two books and the one notebook I had brought with me...'

If you have not read this book yet you are in for a great treat. Hers is a life worth writing about. Listen to her talking on Avril's blog.

Reading her made me think about my six notebooks that  became the basis for my novel Journey to Moscow. You can read about them HERE I think I will pack the lot. 

Despite not being alone and having wonderful food and great books in fine company suspect I could still get that itch to write, couldn't I?

You might like this post on notebooks.

My Rebuilding Blog Adventure

Stop press

Just to let you know that I am in the process of splitting Lifetwicetasted into two blogs

This One – Which I Have Christened TwicetastedLIFE  - will focus on journaling my life and opinions about more or less everything as well as some  emerging thoughts about my writing process

The other One – which I have christened TwicetastedBOOKS (take a peep) will eventually house all my current novels, accompanied by writer’s notes, reviews and the story of the evolution  of each novel. In my workshops and readings I have found that people are very interested in this.

The process will be just about complete in a couple of days. I hope you will bear with me and keep observing my Blog Adventure . 

Monday, 8 December 2014


I have read thousands of books in my long time – always choosing books I thought I might like. Yet for many years  not once did I write to the author and tell them how much I had enjoyed it and why.

Now, as a published author myself, I have begun to realise how very significant were the letters I received through  the years from interested and interesting readers. And this has been even more important to me when my novels have gone into eBook form and people have been reading them on Kindle.

This is  especially so now with my recent books, when I have missed the push  of a big publisher behind me.. Reader-response is  crucial these days to provides evidence of response.on the ubiquitous Amazon machine.

So now I am even more grateful when my readers put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to make positive comments about my novels either directly to me or  on the Amazon site. Such comments are very significant to me and are much more rigorously surveyed than any wider press review.

I am practising what I preach! These days I am much more assiduous about writing comments on books I have read and enjoyed.

How, then, can we spread this very welcome practice?

My impression is that there are lots more people out there who would like to spread the word about books they have enjoyed in Kindle or paperback. However some have told me they are intimidated by the term  review  which as about it the atmosphere of Guardian or Telegraph with their iconic, experienced and sometimes self-consciously literary  reviewers.
I prefer to call the pieces I write about other writers' books  - both on my blog and on the Amazon book pages -  comments or commentaries, . It seems to me that these are much less portentous and accessible labels. Anyone can make an informed comment.


Draft your commentary in a plain Word file, so you can write it freely, and then edit it to say precisely what you want.  Then (see below***) you can copy and paste it onto the Amazon site.

The Commentary

1.      Decide how many stars you would like to give it, from 1-5.  I would only bother to award stars if you judge it worth four or five stars. Any less rather wastes the time you spend writing the commentary.
2.      Only comment if you have real grounds to like and recommend the book.
3.      Give it some kind of brief title. A Great Read or Enjoyable WW2 Story etc etc

On your Word-draft put down three things:

-         Main theme or thrust of the book in terms of characters and or narrative.
-         Most enjoyable element for you as a reader. How does it link to your other reading? Or your own experience?
-         Why you might recommend it to other readers.

Remember, you can keep all this quite short if you want to. Or you can expend it into a more detailed commentary. It’s up to you.

If you are very new to commenting and want to have a go - here are some tips if you would like to go on the Amazon Site and comment and any book you have enjoyed.  
  1. ·        Find the book by title on Amazon
  2. ·        Click on the REVIEW button beside the title
  3. ·        You will then see a layout of the current reviews
  4. ·        You could leaf through these reviews to see what others have said about your chosen book. Some will be twenty lines long, some will be four or five lines. Do not be intimidated! The shorter pithier comments  ones can be just as valuable as longer  ones.
  5. ·        Click on the button that says hers  CREATE YOUR OWN REVIEW.
  6. ·        It asks you award the book your Star rating.  (See my note above about the Star issue)
  7. ·        There is a space below the stars for you to WRITE YOUR REVIEW.
  8. ·        If you have followed my advice you will have drafted your comment first on a plain Word file. ***
  9. ·         Now COPY your comment and PASTE it into the space beneath your star rating. This space will grow depending on the length of the comment.
  10. ·        Now press ‘SUBMIT’ and you will have published your commentary to the world and warmed the writer’s heart.

If you click HERE you will see some comments on my booksthat have warmed my own heart. 

Believe me! More than socks or sweets, chocolates or wine, a genuine comment on Amazon will be a wonderful Christmas gift for a writer whose work you have enjoyed.

From me to you - 

To Celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas

Here is a Christmas Present for the first twelve readers who comment on any one of my novels during the Christmas period. If you send me the link to your comment and your address I will send you a signed copy of the first edition of my memoir The Romancer.


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