A candid chat with author Candida Lycett Green

Candida Lycett Green portraitThis interview was originally published by the New Writer magazine.

As the daughter of legendary poet Sir John Betjeman and travel writer the Hon. Penelope Valentine Hester Betjeman, Candida Lycett Green had an imposing literary legacy to live up to, but it doesn’t seem to have daunted her one bit. Now in her sixties, she’s the author of over a dozen books, has written and presented a clutch of television documentaries, is a contributing editor to Vogue and a member of the Performing Rights Society. Since 1992 she has been writing a regular column for the Oldie, and her latest book is a compilation of 100 of her columns. She says that  writing seemed to be a logical career path.

“I needed to get a job and earn my living, and as I was quite good at English at school and writing was part of my parents’ trade it seemed obvious,” she says. “I saw it as a craft I could do rather than being inspiration-driven. I think people can be very airy-fairy about writing – I’ve only ever seen it as a method of earning a living. There’s a terrific mystique about writing that to me seems completely unfounded.” Continue reading

Mid-week writing prompt – a willingness to believe

Feather cr Judy DarleyThe other day while out for a run I noticed two women with pushchairs blocking the path ahead. Seeing me, they moved the buggies out of my way (thanks!) so I sped past, then slowed on seeing two toddlers ambling ahead.

Just as they turned towards me, a feather dropped from the sky and landed from the path between us, and the toddlers gazed up at me with astonishment, as though they thought that somehow I had made that happen. A magic trick under the shadowy canopy of the trees.

All fiction writing is a form of magic trick, asking of our readers that they suspend their scepticism just long enough to slip into our carefully crafted reality. The best writing does this so skilfully we don’t realise it’s happening until we emerge from the tale.

Small children, by nature, have a head start on the rest of us. Try taking one of your old stories with a grown up POV and re-write it from the point of view of a very small child. You might be surprised by what emerges!

If this image prompts you to write something, I’d love to know. Just send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. You could end up published on the site!

Book review – Unwrecked England by Candida Lycett Green

Unwrecked England coverBooks compiled from magazine or newspaper columns occasionally struggle to offer the cohesion of a coffee table book written with that end in mind, but this isn’t the case with Candida Lycett Green’s Unwrecked England.

Selected from 17 years worth of her columns from The Oldie magazine, Unwrecked England is a vast, deep pool of a book that you’ll want to dip your toes into, wade up to your waist in or dive head-long into.

Candida’s passion for England’s wild places was passed down to her by her mum Penelope and dad, St John Betjeman, and in her preface to the book she writes of happy childhood memories spent exploring the countryside. Far from being a simple travel-guide, the book is a celebration the best of England’s unspoilt areas, from entire villages to a single oak-tree, so that while her entry on Ashdown is largely factual, other pieces are a glorious mishmash of impressions supplemented with quotes from diverse sources ranging from modern-day horse traders and pub landlords to historical diarists, artists and poets. Continue reading

Cocktails and literature

The Ampersand Hotel book club

Meeting a favourite author at a book signing can be pretty magical, and now these kinds of promotional events seem to be getting ever more inventive. You may have read my post about high speed book signings on Virgin Trains. Now you can enjoy a night of cocktails while being read to by authors in a hotel library. Sounds good to me!

The event’s hosts at The Ampersand Hotel say: “Spurred by reports of dwindling library numbers and the demise of the printed word, with the number of books borrowed from libraries down by almost 13 million in the last year alone, The Ampersand Hotel will champion the humble book and book club by hosting a series of exclusive author events in the hotel’s library.”

Throughout October and November in South Kensington, you can curl up in a cosy armchair surrounded by shelves of “curated books” (not entirely sure what that means – selected with care?) and sip on bespoke cocktails while enjoying readings from esteemed authors Anne Zouroudi and Rosa Rankin-Gee.

Tickets for the readings, priced at £35, include one cocktail and a selection of delicate sweet and savoury canapés created by Pastry Chef Ji Sun Shin.

The next evening, on Monday 4 November 2013, offers an exclusive preview of Rosa Rankin-Gee’s debut novel Kings Of Sark. Prior to its launch on 7th November 2013, Rosa will treat guests to a reading of her novel about complicated love, only children and missed opportunities. The final chapter of the evening involves a Q&A session and book signing.

The night’s bespoke cocktail will be ‘La Coupé’, an enticing cocktail made with vodka, apple cider, absinthe and lemon juice, taking inspiration from the novel’s enigmatic landscape. Yum!

Literature, cocktails and elegant surroundings? Count me in!

Tickets are available on a first come first serve basis via the Book Club registration page on The Ampersand Hotel’s Facebook page.

How to write historical fiction

22 Britannia RoadToday’s guest post comes from the talented Amanda Hodgkinson, whose second historical novel comes out in February 2014. Amanda offers her insights into the art of writing historical fiction.

Historical fiction is not just about the past. It’s about us and who we are today as much as it is about who we were before. While historical accuracy is important (a novel set in the eighteenth century is unlikely to have somebody whip an iphone out of their pocket for example), for me what’s more important are the characters and the story they tell. Above all, a novel should entertain and enthrall. It should capture our imaginations and also allow us to reflect on our own lives.

Choose your era

My novel, 22 Britannia Road is set just after the Second World War, when the diaspora of displaced persons across Europe was in full flow. Silvana and Janusz Nowak are a young Polish couple. Newly married with a baby son called Aurek, they are separated in 1939 when Janusz joins up as a soldier. They will not see each other again for six long years. Continue reading

Bring kids’ drawings to life

LambyYou may have encountered the mishmash collaborative illustrations by artist Mica Angela Hendricks and her four-year-old daughter (if not, where have you been?). I’ve just encountered a comparable collaboration that has me in a spin!


Vicky Putler and Theo Sykes at Thorody began making stuffed drawings when their daughter asked them to turn some of her drawings into toys. “I think the first one was Foxy (pictured above),” says Theo. “We use a pantograph to scale the drawings up and make a simple pattern, then create the ‘stuffed drawing’ with off cuts of our printed linen and embroider any detail.”

KangarooThe couple, who specialise in designing and screen printing fabrics, put some of their collaborative creations up on a social media site and were soon getting requests for bespoke stuffed drawings based on children’s drawing from as far away as Australia.

“As well as the bespoke stuffed drawings, we currently have three designs that are in production: ‘Foxy’ ‘Ginger the Reindeer’ and ‘Prog.’”

I love how characterful the finished creatures are, and how true to the original works of art. They’re perfect, original Christmas gifts!



Mid-week writing prompt – the ‘-est’

An ‘-est’ is always a good starting point for any work of creativity, and nothing makes a road-trip more interesting than a chance turn off to see the largest, the biggest, the widest, the, um, hairiest. Or, in this particular case, the southerliest – or rather, the most southerly –point of England.

England's most southerly point cr Judy Darley

Just think if your character were on a journey to see the four corners of a country, or indeed, the world. What might make them set off on such a pilgrimage? Who might they meet or collect on the way? And what might the outcome be?

Lizard Point cr Judy Darley

Book review – Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson

Mr Darwin's GardenerWriting the first paragraph of a novel is an artform in itself. At the very least it must intrigue the reader sufficiently to make them hunger for the remainder of the story, while setting the tone for the pages that follow.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener achieves this with unwavering audacity, opening with the sentence: ‘Edwin lopes along the road, picking his nose’, before spilling into the degenerate mockery of the jackdaws surveying the scene.

It’s an unconventional start that makes what follows – a drifting narrative that alights in the minds and thoughts of the residents of the Kent village of Downe – easier than you might expect to absorb and devour. Continue reading

Sign up for Cartwheel Collective’s Spoken/Written Bulletin SW

Cartwheel cr Judy DarleyLooking for somewhere to submit your creative works to? I recommend signing up to the Cartwheel Collective’s Spoken/Written Bulletin SW.

Although specifically shouting up creative opportunities in the south west of England, they also offer info on calls for submissions from magazines and anthologies across the world, as well as details on open mic nights, writing residencies, freelance writing jobs, funding, cross art form opportunities and masses more.

The monthly e-newsletter arrive in the inbox of the email address you sign up with, so it’s really convenient too. Who knows what it could lead too?

The season of mellow fruitfulness

Azienda Agricola Tenuta degli Angeli mushrooms cr Judy DarleyJohn Keats’ wistful description of this time of year has been utilised so often and by so many that it’s almost slipped into the arena of clichés. Yet what is a cliché but an example of someone who’s said something so succinctly we all borrow and steal their phrase time and again?

Puddle cr Judy Darley

As the first leaves start to turn gold and fall from the tree, a faint dread grips me. While the rising fragrance of the woodland and the crimson encroaching on the greens please me aesthetically, it’s what they lead to that fill me with dread. The long, endlessly long, dark and cold winter.

Last year winter stretched right until May, which was fairly dispiriting even for people who unlike me aren’t mainly solar powered. When it came, summer was truly gorgeous and exceptional, but far too short – I’m not ready to say goodbye!

And yet, Keats was right, this is a season of fruitfulness, for writers no less that farmers.

Change is always a good instigator of creative ideas, and even the change in seasons can be valuable, if only in prompting a change in focus and pace.

As the days get shorter, and the weather less inviting, staying in to write seems more inviting than ever. Snug woollens and a laptop definitely seem like a good match, and if all else fails there are always fingerless gloves to help out.

It’s also a good season for reading – discovering new exciting writers and reacquainting yourself with old favourites. And if the writing gets stale, few things help better than a crisp cold country walk or run enjoying the sight of the changing leaves.

Here are a few others that might help

Reasons to celebrate autumn

Dawn happening late enough for me to glimpse it

Autumn sunsetGolden skies that stretch forever

Country walk cr Judy DarleyFewer people about to disturb thoughtful strolls and runs
Less sun-glare on the laptop screen
oraging for autumn berries

Cherry red cherry tree cr Judy DarleyThe splendour of crimson leaves
The pleasure of cuddling up on the sofa as rain lashes the window
Fewer festivals, fetes, barbecues and other distractions
More dreamtime…