About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Saturday 29 October 2011

WEEK 42--A Trip to Needwood Ice Cream

On Wednesday night the female half of the cathedral Director of Music and I cooked up a plan.  Neither of us had ever been to Needwood Farm to buy some of the best ice cream in the country from the very place where it is made.  That's what we'll do tomorrow, we decided.  While our husbands are away.  After all, the weather has been so lovely.  What could be nicer than eating ice cream in this Indian Summer we are enjoying here in the West Midlands?

Well, obviously it rained on Thursday morning.  But we were not deterred.  Here it is, just visible through the mist and rain:

If you're trying to find it, here's the address: Coulter Hills Farm, Coulter Hills, Newborough, Burton-on-Trent DE13 8SJ.  Down a long concrete road in the middle of nowhere.

When you walk into the shop, there is none of the National Trust lavender bag knick-knackery cum coffee shop vibe going on.  It's just a barn selling eggs and ice cream.  There are about half a dozen big chest freezers loaded with different flavours.  After much squeaking with excitement and groaning in anticiplated pleasure, we narrowed the choice down to six.  And bought a tub of each.  I got the butterscotch, the pistachio and the honey & ginger.  My companion bought banana and toffee, hokey-pokey and mango sorbet (to cleanse our palate).  Hokey-pokey, in case you're wondering, is a type of ice cream where you put your spoon in, take it out, in, out, in, out, shake it all about.  And it contains crushed up Crunchie bar middles.

That very evening we had an ice cream binge.  This is about the midway point:

I have to tell you, every single flavour was a winner.  If only the Director of Music and I could synchronise our viewing of TrueBlood, we could have perfected the evening by watching a couple of episodes whilst eating ice cream, but she's half a series behind me.  Never mind.  By Series 4 we'll be ready for another trip back to Needwood to sample their new flavours.  We may yet get our girlie act together.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

WEEK 41--Reading Book IN THE WRONG GENRE by a Favourite Author

Here we go--Shelter by Harlan Coben.   I was very grumpy when I picked this up and began to read it.  I'm a huge fan of Harlan Coben's thrillers, especially the Myron Bolitar ones.  But  Shelter is TEEN fiction.

What is Coben playing at?  I don't want him to write for teenagers.  I want him to write for ME.  Specifically, I want more novels featuring Myron and his psychotic yuppie sidekick Win.  Who is this Mickey Bolitar and why should I care about him?

So of course, I had to read it.  Isn't this what my New Year's Resolution is all about: identifying those moments of middle aged inertia and confronting them?  Spotting my resistance to trying something new, and then combating it?

I should also admit to a vested interest here.  If my current novel ever finds a publisher, this is exactly what I will be requiring my readers to do.  I know there is a loyal band of hard core fans out there who loved my novels.  They will be scowling.  What is she playing at?  We don't want TEEN fiction.  We want more about those characters from Angels and Men. We've been waiting for 11 years!

But back to Harlan Coben's new teen novel, Shelter.  Well, I hoovered it up.  Myron appears as the hero's uncle.  Uncle?  But I thought Myron was an only child.  Where has this brother of his suddenly appeared from?  A bit of hasty back-plotting by the author here, I thought cynically.  I've since discovered that there is a whole other adult novel, Live Wire, which fills in this particular gap, and makes the whole Shelter concept plausible.  Or more plausible.  I expect.  I haven't read it yet.

This just goes to show that even the master-plotters of the genre can occasionally paint themselves into a corner which requires some ingenuity to get out of.  How does Coben go about planning his books?  Maybe I could pick up some tips.  I checked out his website under FAQ.  It was nice to see the old favourites: Where do you get your ideas from?  Are your characters based on people you know?  And there was the frequently-asked plotting question.  His answer: 'I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan or stopover in Tokyo… but I’ll end up in California.'

Damn.  That's what I do.  It's just he does it so much better.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Does the Dukan Diet Kill You?

I'm addressing this question because I can see from my secret blogger statistics that people have ended up on 'Close Encounters' after Googling 'Does Dukan Diet kill you?'  Perhaps you didn't know that bloggers have access to this kind of information.  We do.  So the individual who has been searching 'Catherine Fox fart', go and stand in the corner.  The global obsession with Dukan brings quite a bit of traffic my blog's way.  'What happens if you eat pecan nuts on the Dukan Diet?' someone asks.  Another person rather more tersely searches ' Dukan Donut.'

So let me do what I can to field your questions.  Does the Dukan diet kill you?  Well, I'm afraid that if you stick rigidly to it, you will eventually die.  But you will anyway.  Let's refine the question a bit.  Does doing the Dukan diet kill you more quickly than not doing the Dukan diet?  Gosh, I really don't know.  I only have my own case to go on.  I know I weigh around 20lb less than I did before I started.  That's meant to be healthier, isn't it?  But there are risks that must be acknowledged.  Death by falling pilchard tins in Lidl.  Accidental inhalation of oatbran.  It could happen.  Or being murdered by people who are sick of hearing about the sodding Dukan diet.

But what about the long term?  Of course, I may turn into one of those people who put all the weight back on AND MORE, ha ha ha!  Told you!  Yes, I may be worse off in a couple of years time, and the Dukan diet will be to blame.  Nobody says this sort of thing to your face if you lose weight.  They say, 'Oh wow, you're looking fantastic! cow You've lost so much weight! I hate you  Don't lose any more, will you! or I'll sit on you with my big fat arse and flatten you, you twiglet!'  Why is there a hint of schadenfreude in the air when a lapsed dieter resumes their original proportions?

Because we are only human.  And because weight gain and loss is never a simple scientific procedure.  It's never just Eat Less, Exercise More, Lose weight, Sorted.   It's mired down in emotions and image and personal worth.  Plus it's a multi-billion pound market.  It should be about health, shouldn't it?  But it ain't.

That said, I feel good and I can run faster now.  Though I'm nowhere near as effective at pinning people down on the judo mat.  Swings and roundabouts.

And while you're here, why not turn your mind to higher things than weight obsession and self image?  Why not buy my mate Richard Beard's book:
  The one that would have made the Booker shortlist in a perfect world.

Saturday 15 October 2011

WEEK 40--Hiring a Barbershop Quartet

Last Monday was the chancellor's 50th birthday.  He made me promise not to arrange a big surprise party for him.  I think the idea of coming back from Choral Evensong to discover 200 people hiding under his study table was just too much.  This was a pity, in a way, as the new Head of the Cathedral School had kindly offered to lend me 450 pupils, all of  whom would have been wildly excited at the prospect of surprising Canon Pete.  But the thing to bear in mind is that I have a significant birthday of my own looming and I don't want to turn the whole thing into a nightmare of escalating reprisals.

But it seemed a shame for the day to pass with no surprises at all.  Hence my new thing of the week--hiring a Barbershop Quartet.  This is something I've always wanted to do.  And here they are in the picture, performing in The Olive Tree, Lichfield.  You will notice that the restaurant is empty.  This is because it was fairly early on a Monday night and no other diners had arrived by then.  It is not because they all ran out with hands clamped to ears when the group launched into 'Happy Birthday!'.  The other thing I should point out is that they are wearing very expensive silk ties bought in Venice, not ties from the Friary School, Lichfield.  The quartet was made up of two cathedral lay clerks, one concert violinist and half the cathedral Director of Music (the husband half of the husband-and-wife team, rather than the victim of a tragic accident with a bacon slicer).

Was it worth it?  Yes, yes, yes.  Perfect.  Thank you, chaps.  The chancellor bore it extremely well.  After pitching the right key with an iPhone (that's how modern they are) they sang 'Will you still love me tomorrow?' and 'Goodnight sweetheart'.  Then off they went for a pizza.  We did think about hunting them down and bursting in on their meal and caterwauling the Lamb Evensong responses, but thought better of it.  The restaurant staff were very relaxed about the whole thing.  Possibly they were relieved it wasn't a choral Full Monty act.

If you'd like to hire these lovely talented gentleman yourself, get in touch with their leader via http://www.sarumvoices.co.uk/

Wednesday 12 October 2011

WEEK 39--Co-Founding a Literary Scheme

This year's dazzling Lichfield Literature Festival included the launch of the Samuel Johnson Young Writers' Scheme.

To be honest, this was all I ever dreamed that co-founding something would be.  Basically, I sat in a room with some very clever motivated people and said, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great if we could set up something for Lichfield teenagers, to encourage them to write?'  I tossed out a few suggestions, and these wonderful people went ahead and organised it.  

I remind myself every so often that there really are folk out there who enjoy organising things, just as there are people who like columns of figures and having conversations with HMRC.  Accountants, we call them.  To me they are like extreme sport enthusiasts.  I don't begin to understand what makes them tick, but hats off to them.

The culmination of their organisational efforts was a week-end of creative writing for a dozen AS and A-level students.  We were hosted by the wonderful Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, http://www.samueljohnsonbirthplace.org.uk/ and were lucky enough to hold our workshops in the very room where Johnson was born (here in the picture--visit them, you'll love it).  A statue of the great man was visible through the window in Lichfield's market place.  How could we not be inspired?  A poet could not but be witty in such a jocund company! (as Johnson never wrote).  On the Saturday it was fiction (led by me); on the Sunday it was poetry, taught by poet Neil Rollinson. http://www.neilrollinson.com/  

Having taught with Neil before, I know that teenagers are inclined to think that poetry is a lot cooler than prose.  Which secretly means they think Neil Rollinson is cooler than Catherine Fox.  So I bought the students jelly babies, to make them like me more.  

The tutors certainly had a good time, and I think the Johnson Scholars (as we've decided to call them) enjoyed the week end too.  Some very promising work was produced, and we're hoping to continue building on this beginning.  Check out the website to find out the official side of this new venture:  

Friday 7 October 2011

Re-Writing a Detective Novel

This post is just to reassure you that I haven't disappeared or abandoned my (admittedly flagging) New Year's Resolution. New Things will still be embraced.  Hideous personal challenges will be set.  But this week I've been busy revising my novel MS in the light of feedback from a reader.  Or rather, Reader.  Someone official appointed by my agent to appraise the book.

Her comments sounded curiously familiar.  They are almost word-for-word the same ones I heartlessly dish out to my creative writing students. It starts too slowly.  And perhaps it would be useful to write a plot outline.  Just goes to show it's far easier to see the problems with someone else's work than with your own.

This needs to be a short post.  I am composing it in that brief window of opportunity in which you will still be able to hear my own authentic voice, before the Tobermoray single malt the chancellor brought back from retreat on Iona starts speaking.  In rouhgly thirty sconeds.