Posted by: ralpham | December 18, 2011

New year, new novel!

New year, new novel!

This time last year I was nervously writing my first blog after finishing my debut novel a month previously. So here we are, a year later and writing my 50th blog without being an inch closer to being published. Am I disappointed? Well I guess I was up to several months ago, but not anymore. I had given myself up to July to really push hard for an agent/publisher, which I did (and I’ve got the millions of rejection letters to prove it), so now it’s knuckling down to writing the sequel.

The blogging experience was great fun, but I couldn’t have done it without my characters, Joe, Mary, Harry and Graham pitching in.

In the time-honoured tradition of reflecting on the out-going year, I have picked a few of my favourite blogs: ‘This is getting seriously weird’ was when Joe was giving me a hard time for not trying hard enough to get his story published. Another was ‘The evidence of a Godless society?’ written in the light of the UK riots in the summer. Mary’s short story ‘The Visit was truly remarkable, but my clear favourite has to be ‘An unending sense of loss’ written by Joe about his wife’s grief of losing her son.

So, what of 2012? The only writing I’m sure I’ll be doing is on my second novel.

See you next year.

Ciao for now!

Posted by: ralpham | December 1, 2011

Sign on the dotted line? Not a chance!!!

Sign on the dotted line? Not a chance!

By Ralph – Hi folks, I’ve been talking to an indie publisher for the last six weeks about the possibility of signing up with them. They only publish ebooks which I was not particularly keen on. But I guess it was because they were so enthusiastic about my work and also because they are only the second company in almost a year that had shown any kind of interest in my manuscript that I even considered it.

Anyway, after several meetings, the topic came around to the contract. What the guy wanted me to do was to sign over all rights to him, ebook, hard copy, film etc. And that was without an advance! There’s not been many times in my life I’ve been left speechless, but that was one.

Needless to say I blew him out. I can now see how writers can get taken in, especially if they’ve been trying for years to get published.

The upside of the last month is that I have now learned a lot about the copyright law and that the author has a lot of say in negotiations. I’ve also learned how to convert Indesign documents into ebooks.

Onwards and upwards!

Ciao for now!

Posted by: ralpham | November 25, 2011

That’s my girl!

That’s my girl!

By Ralph – Hi folks, so what did you think of Mary’s story over the last two weeks? A couple of people thought her writing was better than mine 🙂 I thought it was fantastic, considering it was her first attempt. I loved the line, “My mouth stretches wider in a facsimile of a smile”.

I also liked it written in the First Person Present Tense. I tried it earlier in the year. While is was great to really get to know the character, I found it was hard to move the story along. It was like walking down a narrowing tunnel!

I went to the Simmonds’ house last night. Joe opened the door, and for once he seemed almost glad to see me. Normally it’s just me and Mary in the back room talking, but this time we were all together. Having his wife’s story posted on my site was clearly as thrilling to him as it was to Mary.

Several times I caught Joe looking quite intently at her, almost as if for the first time. But then, the description of her weekly visit to her son’s grave was so personal and vivid, it must have given his a greater insight into the woman he had shared the last 51 years with.

I guess that is one of the benefits of writing: you can express feelings and emotions that would be hard to talk about, no matter how close you are to someone.

Ciao for now!

Posted by: ralpham | November 16, 2011

The visit – A short story (part II)

The visit – A short story (part II)

By Mary Simmonds


I pass rows of graves with headstones garlanded with flowers and eulogies for the dearly departed.

The next row is mine and, as always, I slow down and then do a right turn into the unending sense of loss.

Eight graves float by then I stop at the ninth. Without warning my vision becomes blurred. I blink rapidly and it clears.

Stepping from the path and onto the grass, I move toward the marble headstone, then reach behind it for the little folded camping stool. It’s wet of course, but who cares? I retrace my steps, open out the stool and sit before the headstone of Chris Simmonds, son of Joseph and Mary Simmonds.

I must look pretty silly sitting on a stool in a graveyard, but I’ve been doing it for so long I really don’t care. Anyway I just couldn’t stand in one spot for an hour or so, my bunions would kill me. Oh well, at least the rain’s stopped.

I look around. Yep, almost deserted as usual.

It’s funny, I can never remember what I think about when I’m here. It’s like my mind goes into neutral, but when my old back starts to stiffen up and I look at my watch, I’m always amazed at how long I’ve been sitting here.

As I stare at the mound of earth before me, As always at this time I develop the power to see though the earth and into the coffin. But of course there is no skeleton, instead there’s my son, asleep. He’s about seven years old today and in his bedroom. I gaze down at a face so beautiful it could belong to a girl. My hand, the hand of an old woman, reaches out and smooths the blond curly hair. He stirs but does not wake. I stroke his head again half-hoping he would wake up so I can gather him in my arms and kiss him. Words cannot even come close to expressing the yearning of my heart so I’m not going to try. Loss can only be felt, not conveyed.

As if from another world, someone walks past me. I rouse myself, pick up the flowers at my feet and slowly walk back to the headstone. I go through the weekly ritual of removing the fading lilies, roses and chrysanthemums. I lay them to one side, remove the latest ones from the wrapping paper and carefully arrange them in the pot. When I’m satisfied with the display I wrap the old ones in the paper and place them in the nearby bin.

With the main chore done, I take out a tea-towel from my handbag and wipe the headstone clean. Don’t laugh, I know I must look as mad as a March hare but I guess losing a child must screw you up in one way or another, so you have to me excuse for acting like a crazy old woman.

I return to my seat and fall back into my semi-stupor. It’s as if for six-and-a-half days a week I function normally, but Friday mornings I’m another person in another world, a world of the past, a world where I feel totally complete with the two people I love more than life itself: my husband Joe and my son Chris.

The only difference between them is that one is alive and the other is dead!

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

Bless you all,
Mary Simmonds

Posted by: ralpham | November 7, 2011

The visit – A short story (part I)

The visit – A short story (part I)

By Mary Simmonds

Rats! It’s starting to rain.

With brolly and collar up, I pass through the gates of the cemetery and along the path to the huge expanse marked off for East London’s fallen.

To the left, sitting in an old wooden shed is my friend the florist. As usual, I put on a bright smile as I approach him because he’s always so cheerful. After all these years of meeting him every Friday, I still can’t make out if he’s naturally an upbeat character or if it’s a professional front he feels he has to portray for his mourning customers.

He looks up as he hears me approaching. “Morning Mary, how are we today? Looks like the rain’s gonna save me the job of washing the old car this afternoon. Bunch of the usual?”

My mouth stretches wider in a facsimile of a smile. “Hello Simon, yes the usual please.”

I watch his bowed and balding head as he sets to work. How strange it is to be working 10 hours a day, six days a week and all the people you meet in all that time are all the same, a continuous conveyor belt of pain passing your shed on their way to a loved one who has moved on. In a way it could be seen as sadder for him because at least after the visit, folks can get back to living their lives but he’s stuck with the dead.

I give him another bright, frozen smile and we exchange flowers for cash.

Coming up to the children’s cemetery, I see a man in his mid-30s sitting on a bench silently bawling. I can’t make out whether it’s his tears or the rain that makes his face wet. He must be aware of me approaching but he makes no attempt to conceal his grief as he stares at the tiny headstone gaily decorated with toys and flowers. Much as I want to look away from the stricken figure, I just can’t. I draw up to him and open my mouth to utter some useless words of comfort but my feet continue their journey.

The moment is gone. I stop and half-turn towards him. My tongue refuses to work, which is just as well. What can I say: “Sorry about the loss of your child but the pain will ease in the passing of time.”

Yep sure! It hasn’t passed for me in 18 years so why should it pass for him?

I watch the back of the heaving broad shoulders for several seconds, then I carry on my solemn journey towards my tombstone.

Part II concludes next week.

Posted by: ralpham | October 27, 2011

Never wish for the perfect partner – It might come true!

Never wish for the perfect partner – It might come true!

By Joe – Bloody hell, It’s bin ages since I’ve written one of these things. I betcha thought I’ve bin sulking since I got pissed and slagged off  Murray six weeks ago

Well I suppose I did sulk a bit, but it’s only cos I can’t sound off at Mary and get over it. How can you rant at someone who makes Mother Teresa look like Cruella De Vil? God, it’s so frustrating!

He’s such a smarmy bastard that Murray, he even brought her flowers after she’d written her post last week. Apparently he said she should consider doing some creative writing, whatever that is. The old girl was over the moon. I can’t remember her being so happy in the 18 years since her son died.

I read it last nite. I was most impressed. It was so much more relaxed than the first one she wrote in June, but I didn’t like how I can across tho. It was as if I was so old, I already had one foot in the bleedin grave (actually, one of our neighbours always calls me Victor Meldew, the cheeky, fat cow)!

Anyway, if the old girl’s happy then I’m happy.

See ya soon!

Posted by: ralpham | October 19, 2011

Life in the slow lane

Life in the slow lane

By Mary – The nights really are closing in. It seems only a few weeks ago when spring had sprung, and here we are already in mid-October. It’s a bit like life really. Joe and I’ve been married for 50 years but it certainly doesn’t feel like half a century – whatever that’s supposed to feel like.

I’d better draw the curtains I suppose. Although this is a very nice area, you can’t be too careful can you? Cor, the old bones are getting creaky. I’m going to need a hoist to get me out of this armchair soon. Actually, I’m only joking, I’m not that bad really. It’s hubby I’m more concerned about. He’s got a bad back – probably due to all that weight he’s carrying around – and for the last five years, arthritis in both his hands.

The front door slams and seconds later, Joe enters the room wheezing, with beads of sweat on his brow.

“Blimey, it’s getting a bit parky out there, old girl.” He slowly bends while holding his back and brushes my forehead with cold lips.

“Shoulda got a cab back from the shops instead of waiting for the bleedin bus. Wanna cuppa?” he asks me.

“No, I’m fine thanks, but you sit down, I’ll get you one, you look all in.”

I lay aside the paperback, exchange spectacles and eased myself out of the settee at the same time as Joe flopped into his armchair. The old boy doesn’t need a second invitation, does he? :).

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Bless you all,
Mary Simmonds

Posted by: ralpham | October 13, 2011

The inmates are taking over the aslyum! (continued)

The inmates are taking over the aslyum! (continued)

By Ralph – Hi Folks, in answer to my question of two weeks ago, which was: “Do your characters sometimes take the storyline to places you don’t want it to go? And if so, how do you rein them in?” I got 40-plus responses from my writing groups on LinkedIn (thanks to you all). The general concensus was:  “You don’t!”

It seems that for the majority of the writers, they are conduits for their creations, and they just let them tell their stories.

It’s definitely ‘food for thought’ as I have never written that way before. It may be a route to pursue in the future, but as my current project is the sequel to my first novel, it makes sense to follow its style.

After hours of scribbling and rescribbling on my vacation, I’ve worked out where, when and how Mary’s son died without the novel turning into a who-dunnit, sorry Dale (apologising to one of your characters, how weird is that!) 🙂

Another interesting issue is having the characters make the transition from middle-age to elderly – the novel is from 1993 to the present, while From Out Of The Blue was from 1957 to 1978.

Fortunately I have Joe, Mary and a few others blogging for me which has really helped me to see them in this new stage of their lives.

Ciao for now!

Posted by: ralpham | September 28, 2011

The inmates are taking over the aslyum!

The inmates are taking over the aslyum!

By Ralph – Hi Folks, I’m off on vacation next week for a well-deserved break. The only thing I’ll be doing is mapping out the whole of my second novel – I’ve been pretty much writing blind, without knowing where the story is going.

One of the strangest experiences I’ve had in the last couple of months – which I didn’t have with the first novel – is characters taking the story where I don’t want it to go. The worst offender is Mary’s brother, who had a relatively minor role in “From Out Of The Blue”. He wants to find out how exactly his nephew Chris died. The last thing I wanted this sequel to be was some sort of detective novel!

Do other writers have this problem of their characters taking over the storyline? And if so, how do you rein them in?

Please leave a comment if this has happened to you.

See you in two weeks time!

Posted by: ralpham | September 22, 2011

Spitting: A social disease

Spitting: A social disease!

It there anything more disgusting than seeing someone spit on the streets? I don’t think so! I am appalled how prevalent it is becoming on the streets of London. Don’t these people have any shame or sense of decorum?

One of the depressing aspects of it is that even if there was a public-awareness campaign on how spitting can spread diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia and influenza, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t stop these oiks.

One of my passions is watching soccer on TV, but why oh why do these overpaid prima donnas have to let loose projectiles of spittle every time they tackle, get tackled, shoot at goal, miss or score?

They know that they’re televised and their germ-spreading missles will be witnessed by millions, but they obviously don’t care how stomach churning their actions are.

Surely if FIFA, football’s governing body, is serious about cleaning up the sport they would sent out an directive to ban such foul behaviour, after all, if a 10-year-old sees his idol spitting, isn’t he going to emulate him?

I know that in some cultures spitting is acceptable, but for me, this is a case of the old adage ‘When in Rome…

See link below for more on this subject.

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