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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Jane and Me

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is a genius in a bonnet. If you disagree or would like to start a fight (Austen-related only, if you’d be so kind), please indicate your intentions in the comments. Otherwise, let me take up my pen and a sheet of hot-pressed paper and commence. 

When I was fourteen and studying for English Literature O-level, our teacher handed out a stack of novels. “We’ll be doing Jane Austen this term, girls,” she informed us. I’d heard of her, obviously, but only through reading “What Katy Did Next” when the heroine went to Europe and there was a funny scene in Winchester Cathedral which seemed to imply that Miss Austen wasn’t properly appreciated in her home country. 

Anyway. We read it and I didn’t get it. I wrote a couple of essays on it and thought no more of it. Looking back, it was a bit strange as I was reading every minute of the day and ploughing through some books which were much harder and more abstruse than Pride and Prejudice. The next year, aged fifteen and with the O-level done, I picked it up again and started reading. I can still feel the sensation of the penny dropping as I realised that I was engaged in living the story of the Bennet sisters for the first time and loving it. Since then, I’ve read it hundreds of times. Literally. Hundreds. 

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Has Ruth perhaps lost her mind? Does she not know that this is Day 11 of her blog tour? Why is she banging on about Jane Austen?” Bear with. 

As you know, my very own novel, the Diary of Isabella M Smugge comes out tomorrow and I’ve been clogging up your feeds about it for the last few weeks. One of my favourite things has been reading other people’s takes on my words. Imagine my joy when lovely Fran Hill (a brilliant writer, check her out if you haven’t already) kindly gave me an endorsement for the book which included the memorable words, “Reminds me of Austen.” Readers have also been leaving reviews on Waterstones and Goodreads, for which I am enormously grateful. 

One reviewer kicked off thus: “Imagine Emma Woodhouse as a lifestyle blogger.” Of course! A 21st century Emma would be very like my own self-obsessed heroine, aspirational lifestyle blogger and influencer Isabella M Smugge. Lots of money, comfortable house, staff, and a burning desire to focus on other people and what they were up to rather than concentrating on what was going on closer to home. The reviewer put it like this: “Jane Austen said of her heroine Emma Woodhouse that 'I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like'. There is more than a touch of Emma about Isabella – had Emma lived in the early 21st century, she would no doubt have been a lifestyle blogger and expert on ‘relationship enrichment' – but, just like Emma, Isabella grows in self-awareness and maturity. 

The really scary bit about writing a novel is when you hand it over and it’s no longer yours. I was concerned that no-one would like Isabella, who is snobbish, pretentious and can’t see past the end of her own elegant nose. And yet people seem to love her. Like Austen’s flawed heroines (Elizabeth Bennet with her prejudices, Catherine Morland and her obsession with trashy novels, Anne Elliot with her disastrous over-dependence on the advice of her friend), Isabella has faults, but is capable of redemption. 

There’s a reason why certain books are described as “classic novels.” We come back to them again and again because they satisfy a need in us to see the protagonist develop and evolve, often through difficulties and struggles, just like us. I’ve read so many of them over the years, and studied them, at school then at university, that I suppose the narrative structure and flow has soaked into my writer’s brain. 

Isabella has it all at the beginning of the novel. Rich, pretty, fit, successful with an apparently perfect home life. But who wants to read about someone like that? For a story to work, we must have an arc, a five-act structure, ups and downs. Without realising it, that’s what I wrote, which is why if anyone ever asked me to give them advice on being a writer, I’d say, “Read. A lot. All the time. Let the housework pile up – doing it only encourages it anyway.” 

So, thank you Jane. You’re a corker and I love your novels more than life itself. Thanks for influencing me, even though I didn’t realise you had until I started writing this blog. 

It seems appropriate to end with a quote. Writing to her beloved sister Cassandra in late January 1813, she shares the news that her copy of Pride and Prejudice has just arrived. “I have got my own darling Child from London.” Yes. That’s exactly it. Receiving my own box of copies from Bungay, on the other side of the county, it felt a bit like holding a long-awaited baby in my arms. 

No-one could ever be as great a fiction writer as Jane Austen, in my opinion. She is peerless and can be read again and again with joy. To have my own darling Child compared, even a little, to hers, is the greatest compliment I could ever receive.

Images from Unsplash

Ruth is a novelist and freelance writer. She is married with three children, one husband, three budgies, six quail, eight chickens and a kitten. Her first novel, “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, published by Instant Apostle, comes out on the 19th of this month. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities and blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at ruthleighwrites.




Sunday, January 31, 2021

In which Ruth writes a novel

I don’t know how many books I’ve read in my life, but I can tell you, it’s probably in the tens of thousands. Maybe more. At primary school, it quickly became clear to everyone that I would always be a stranger to the intricacies of maths, the last to be chosen for the netball team and not exactly the life and soul of the party either. I was a shy, unsure child, prone to gazing out of the window and missing the vital instructions issued by the teacher. One thing, though, was totally up my street. I remember sitting at home aged around four while my mother read me a story. It was a large print version of Little Red Riding Hood and I can still remember laughing uncontrollably at the picture of the wolf in retreat (why do children find bottoms so funny?) and then being surprised as the black squiggles on the page re-arranged themselves into words I recognised. There was no stopping me after that.

Sitting in Mrs Hubbard’s class at primary school with a huge number of other short people (we were the baby boomer year), I wrestled with sums and getting all the new rules of school right (no boots in the classroom, no crowding in the Wendy house) but felt right at home with the letters of the alphabet displayed on the wall. D was for duck and there was a cheerful looking mallard, like the ones on the duck pond on the village green, illustrating the fact. Books with lots of pictures and a few easy words were handed out and I raced through them.

From about this age, when a grown-up would bend down and ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would announce, “I am going to be a writer.” Since I was a complete bookworm, this was no surprise.

Primary school finished. I was overcome with emotion on that hot summer day in 1977 and sobbed all the way home. I didn’t stop crying until it was tea-time and cried myself to sleep that night. Something new and scary was coming and I didn’t fancy it much.

None of my friends went to my new school. Seven of us from our enormous class (forty-five sounds about right) had gone to this one, but everyone else had scattered to other high schools. Some of the boys went to Davenant, the faith school up the road, others to the boys’ grammar which was linked to my new school, yet others to West Hatch in Chigwell, a smattering to Epping and Ongar Comp and some to Lucton Boys and Lucton Girls. Back then, there was quite a choice.

School wasn’t great, but one saving grace was the library. Like a literature-hungry locust, I chomped my way through Junior Fiction and started wading through Senior Fiction aged around 12. I could escape from my feelings in there, from the ever-growing suspicion that I didn’t fit in, was no good at anything (apart from English) and was in fact a bit of a waste of space. I stocked my mind with humour, fiction, fact, history, and anything I could lay my hands on. Most lunchtimes, I could be found in the library devouring a book. Looking back, I can see that I was filling my mind with stories, writing techniques and narrative which would stand me in good stead in later life. At the time, reading was an escape from a life which was absolutely no fun at all.

I left Essex in November 1984. I ended up in Exeter, a place which I will always love. There I found people who I still count as dear and valued friends. I started to carve out a life, discover new things, explore. Reading was still my all-time favourite thing. I was always broke, but I’d amble round second-hand bookshops and come home with a carrier bag full of tatty paperbacks. Did I write? No. I had left that childish dream far behind.

In 1993, I got married to a Buckhurst Hill County High School boy and found myself back in Essex. My new job involved boarding a Central Line train every morning, walking through the streets and squares of Bloomsbury (including Gower Street, used as Baker Street in Sherlock – fun fact) until I reached the vast, brutalist concrete structure inhabited by the Department of Psychology at UCL. I loved that job. My boss had just become Head of Department. We hit it off at once and spending my days in a place which was dedicated to learning (plus plenty of recreation after hours, mostly in a pub with sticky carpets which served doubles for £1 on Friday nights), my writing mojo stuck its head back over the parapet.

One day, I was chewing the fat with one of the girls from Educational Psychology on the floor below us. She was doing a master’s degree. I expressed interest and mentioned that I had vaguely thought of doing an English degree myself. We were surrounded by places of learning. UCL covered a fair bit of ground in Bloomsbury, we had Senate House Library next door, Birkbeck a stone’s throw away plus various other establishments. If you really wanted to expand your horizons, this was the place to do it.

Sarah encouraged me to have a go. “Look, you’ve got a really supportive boss, loads of resources on your doorstep and nearly everyone in admin is studying something. Why don’t you give it a try?”

So, I did. I filled in a form with a pen (something we used to do in the olden days) and submitted it to the front office at Birkbeck. A letter arrived the next week inviting me to come and sit an exam. Three thousand other people had had the same idea as me and looking around the hall at everyone scribbling away, I asked myself, “What are you doing here?”

I looked down at the exam paper. Words I knew well leapt off the page. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984! Good old George Orwell and his dystopian view of the future. I was off, covering page after page with answers. In due course, another letter arrived telling me that I was through and inviting me to write a piece based on anything I chose. It could be journalism, fiction, sci-fi, romance, in fact any genre I fancied. I thought long and hard. It had to be something that not many people would think of. I plumped for a Martha Gellhorn short story called “Ruby.” I couldn’t read it now, having had the children. It’s probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever read, but on a hot summer’s day, with a notepad balanced on my knees, it seemed like just the job to get me in.

Which it did. Result! There were one hundred and twenty places available on the course and they’d whittled the original three thousand people down to three hundred or so. The next letter invited me to visit the English Department where I would be interviewed by two lecturers. This was getting serious. My boss was his usual chilled out self about the whole process. He wished me luck and told me to take as long as I liked. I turned on the answerphone and marched out on to Bedford Way to make the short trip to Birkbeck.

Arriving in the Department, I inhaled the smell of books and knew I was home. Suddenly, I realised that I wanted this more than I’d ever wanted anything. My name was called, and I found myself in something resembling a moderately spacious broom cupboard occupied by two women. One was clad in a flowing velvet outfit, had long blonde hair and a soulful face. She, it seemed, was a specialist in medieval literature, about which I knew virtually nothing. The other was wearing more modern clothes and was an expert in the field of Old English. I was stumped.

The whole thing was a blur. After fifteen minutes or so, I was ushered out of the cupboard and emerged, blinking, into the sunlight. Back in Psychology, my friends clustered round asking me how it had gone. I genuinely didn’t know, but when yet another letter arrived, I ripped it open to find that I’d been offered a place. I was ecstatic.

Birkbeck is part of the University of London but specialises in offering courses to people who work full-time. I’d do a day’s work in the Department then amble over to Birkbeck two nights a week and soak up lots of lovely, delicious, delightful learning. I loved every minute and made some wonderful friends. Some of the other people on the course were already published writers. I was in awe of them.

I graduated after four years, then left UCL to go to a job at a firm of patent attorneys on the edge of the City. Five years of hard work, a steep learning curve and some speedy character development followed. Again, I was fortunate to meet some lovely people. In the summer of 2003, I departed, expecting my first child. Still not a writer.

Years passed; stuff happened. We were expecting child number two and wanted to move. In the autumn of 2006, with a three-year-old and a six-month-old baby who had recently given up sleeping through the night, we moved into our new house. Looking back (and my apologies for the length of this blog – I may not be posting again for a little while, so look on it as buy one, get one free), I can see that all those millions of words I’d devoured over the years were sitting in the header tank at the back of my brain patiently waiting for a chance to come out.

Life in Wickham was, and is, a rich tapestry. I met people at the toddler groups, in the doctor’s, at preschool, in the park, in the nursery corridor. We nursery mums were pushing babies in prams, juggling recalcitrant toddlers, toting new pregnancy bumps, and carting bags full of nappies, wipes and biscuits around with us. Fourteen years spent at the primary school with three children, a stint running Thursday toddlers, various church activities and general socialising means that when I walk or drive into Wickham, I will absolutely one hundred percent run into someone I know.

In 2008, pregnant with child number three, I was sitting at Ipswich Hospital waiting for a scan when my phone rang. It was a friend from Essex who worked at a large Christian charity who were looking for a freelance, part-time writer to assist the editor of their magazine. “I kept reading the ad,” she said. “I knew it reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t think who. Then I read the phrase, ‘must be nice, but pushy’ and I realised it was you.”

Naturally, three months pregnant and with two little boys, no family near by and a long history of taking on too much, I jumped at the chance. I got the job and that was the beginning of my writing career. Aged forty-one. It had been a long time coming. I wrote for Stewardship and learned about turning in a certain number of words to a deadline, creating engaging content and coaxing good stories out of interviewees. Then I got another freelance job, then another and another. By the time lock down hit last year, I was in the best position I’d ever been since I went self-employed. It had always been hand to mouth, and sometimes not even that, but in March 2019, I was feeling confident that my freelancing career was really going places.

At the end of March, as lock down restrictions were announced, I watched as one by one, many of my clients shut their operations down and cut back on their spending. I still had some work, but not a huge amount. What I did have was lots and lots of time. I was writing a weekly blog which felt great. I was contributing to a monthly one for the Association of Christian Writers. I wrote and I wrote, and I wrote, and people said nice things.

One day in February last year, I was sitting with my laptop on my knees gazing out of the window (old habits die hard) and chuckling to myself as I formulated my April blog for ACW. I do like to write funny and I thought that the world could probably do with a few more laughs. What if I invented a person who made their living by posting aspirational content across social media platforms? Someone who was an expert at angles, lighting, content and strategy? Someone, in fact, who was the opposite of me. What would she be called?

I thought hard. She would be smug and therefore her name would have to reflect that. A rich, posh woman – Isabella. Yes, that was a good name and gave me the, “I” in “I Am Smug.” Middle name Mary. Last name Smug. “Isabella M Smug.” I pondered it. It didn’t look quite right. Suddenly, I typed two extra letters and suddenly, there she was. Isabella M Smugge, as in Bruges.

I entertained myself by writing the two opening paragraphs. I made them as far from my life as possible. My imaginary woman was musing on her perfect life, her weed-free garden, her gigantic Georgian house, her glittering writing career. I grinned as I posted it and thought no more of it.

I got some great comments. People seemed to like my monstrous creation. In May, I wrote a much more serious piece, but I put Isabella in again. I found that she had something to say. Still, she was two-dimensional, not a real person, simply a device.

That was on 7th May this year. Lots of people I liked and admired, all writers, said that they would like to know more about the world of Isabella M Smugge. A couple suggested she might make a good heroine for a novel. I was flattered but knew that I could never write a novel.

The message which changed the direction of my life came in at eleven minutes past two that day. I was on the veg patch with Mr Leigh, clad in ancient clothes with my hair in plaits, stumping around with a spade and smelling richly of compost. In my defence, we had just put up a poly tunnel and were composting anything we could lay our hands on. My phone pinged. After five minutes or so, I pulled it out of my pocket. Tony Collins, a fellow member of ACW had messaged me.

“Hi Ruth. If you want to work up a proposal for Isabella, I would be pleased to take it to some publishers for you. I am working as a freelance commissioning editor these days. Feel free to contact me.”

I forgot I was a respectable middle-aged matron of the parish and let out a shriek, dropping the spade and bounding over to Mr Leigh, engaged in watering in his seedlings. There was much excited yelping. I took some deep breaths and replied in an enthusiastic yet measured manner. It’s important to note that I had no idea what I was talking about. I hadn’t written fiction since my primary school days. Back came the reply. “Perhaps two sample chapters, given that the tone is of particular importance with humour. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Giddy with excitement, we bounded over to the house like a pair of spring lambs. Tea was made and I was encouraged to sit down, open my laptop and get writing. That was on the Tuesday. By Friday evening, the two chapters were written, and Isabella had turned into a real person with a life, ambitions, deeply buried sadness and a very bad hashtag habit. I hit send and waited to hear back.

I’m going to stop there, since most of you have probably nodded off by now. Isabella is out there. This week, she’s been delivered all round Wickham, Ufford, Melton, Hollesley, Kesgrave, Martlesham and Campsea Ashe. Packages containing her and her merch have gone all over the UK, to the USA, Australia, Norway and France. That little girl, bent over a book about a talking wolf, turned into a woman who has had the most exciting, joyous, thrilling and downright bonkers week of her life. And none of it would have happened without the journey I’ve just described to you.

Isabella was written in Suffolk and she’s of the place. From the minute she pranced into the playground in her designer clothing looking down on everyone, she burst into life. Words cannot express my gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to read her and tell me what they think.

I can now say, “I am a writer” and truly believe it. I wouldn’t be a proper one if I didn’t finish with a quote from someone else. Anton Chekhov in this case. I haven’t read much Russian literature[1] but I really liked this. “Don’t tell me that the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

It’s been six days since Isabella arrived. What a journey.

Images by Pixabay.

Ruth is a novelist and freelance writer. Her childhood dream of writing a real book came true and now she can hold that book in her hands.

[1] Hands up, I only read Dr Zhivago in my teens and it was really hard.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Intergenerational Language

I’ve learned such a lot of new words since the children came along. When our eldest was tiny, he struggled with the word “milk” which came out as “knock”. He was a huge knock fan. For quite some time, my husband and I would unconsciously refer to the life-giving fluid in this way, causing confusion in public. I once asked for a little more knock in my coffee at a toddler group, and in an embarrassing moment, one of us bellowed “Can you grab two pints of knock?” when at the supermarket.

He also wrestled with the pronunciation of “footprints” and mangled the two syllables to produce an entirely new word. “Poomfrints.” This sounded much better than the original and again, we hung on to it for as long as we could. My daughter still refers to her “dandruft” and I have recently purchased several bottles of anti-dandruft shampoo.

Now that we’ve got three teenagers in the house, a whole new lexicon has emerged. That sweet little knock drinker is now a hulking heavy metal fan who works out every day to become “hench[1]”.

We’ve got a family WhatsApp group which has proved very useful in these strange times. With five of us living together all the time, me locked away in the dining room writing, the eldest on his college course online or listening to heavy metal while doing bench presses, the other two at school online and my furloughed husband doing any number of jobs and projects, communication can be difficult. Recent messages have mainly been about food (“When’s dinner?” “What’s for dinner?” “Are you coming down? Dinner’s ready”) or school work. “Help! Maths! I’m confused! Hello?” This was our daughter reaching out to our second son who is the Maths whiz in the family.

None of them read my blogs and that is a very good thing as it means I’ve got a rich source of copy, right here at home. Hunched over my desk this morning, my head was spinning as I ploughed through interviews, notes, half-written articles and any number of book-related tasks. My mood was lifted by this exchange between the children.

Guess who’s passed English GCSE?

That would be me.

Wait fr?


U not joking.


Nah I ain’t joking.

Tell an adult.

Sorry Shakespere.

What can I say?


Roughly translated, this might read, “I say, old chap, I’m most frightfully pleased. I seem to have passed my exam.” “Oh, jolly good, that’s marvellous news. I’ll tell Mater and Pater.” “Please do.” “Thank you and kind regards.”

It’s a short, silly blog this week. I hope you don’t mind. My self-obsessed, snobbish heroine, Isabella M Smugge is taking up nearly all my time and headspace. She emerges blinking into the light on the 25th of this month when a box of early copies arrives at Leigh Towers. I can hardly wait to start sending her out to all the lovely people who have requested a copy.

“Gg and a Happy New Year!”

Images by Pixabay.

Ruth is a freelance writer and novelist. She is married with three children, one husband, four budgies, six quail, eight chickens and a kitten. Her first novel, “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, published by Instant Apostle, comes out next month. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities and blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories. Ruth is a recovering over-achiever who is now able to do the school run in her onesie most days. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at ruththewriter1.

[1] Strong, fit, and having well-developed muscles (typically used of a man).

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Leigh’s Miscellany

When the history books get round to writing up 2020, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll turn to my blog for inspiration, although they could do worse, to be honest. You won’t find any graphs or speeches from Government ministers here. I’ve gone back over the year and picked out things that meant something to me. If they make you smile, or even think, then I’ve done my job.

1. Since lockdown, the social side of shopping has really come to the fore. Having donned my wellies and tramped through the muddy lanes for a mile or so, I get to Wickham for the Saturday market. Olga the Jam Lady and I chat away nineteen to the dozen and if another customer approaches, I suggest they buy some of her Lebanese Fig Chutney. If you’re anywhere near East Suffolk, I suggest you do too. It’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. I then amble over to see Marie and Graham on the cheese and pie stall and there is more chattering and guffawing. Fruit and veg from Newbourne is next and then a trip to Mrs Spencer and Nice Quiche Lady to stock up on pastry goods for mum and dad and a banter-filled twenty minutes with the boys at Revetts’. Exercise, socialising and shopping. Win win.

2. We got a cat. This is worth two or three bullet points alone. I can’t believe I’m telling you this (bracing self for many sarcastic WhatsApps from friends) but I actually used images of said feline to make Christmas presents. Yes. The children all have a framed photo of the sixth family member on their bedside tables, my daughter has a pencil case and phone cover with her little furry face on them and my parents have a picture of her on the mantelpiece. What have I become?

3. Pre-lock down, I made an effort to look half-decent outside the home. Make-up was applied, hair brushed, nice clothes selected. These days, I can mostly be found with hair in plaits, no make-up, mismatched clothes covered in ash from cleaning out the Rayburn and wellies, like as not. Because really, who cares?

4. Towards the end of the year, I made a significant discovery. There are people in this world who are unpleasant and unkind and who like being that way. Now, this might sound a bit negative, but it’s not. I’ve spent my whole life trying to spread a little happiness, and having it thrown back in my face (occasionally) has not been much fun. This year, I finally realised that I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s liberating.

5. Friends have been a huge part of carrying me through this year. Long-established ones scattered around the country (Essex, Devon, Fife, Northamptonshire) and local ones have kept me going. I’ve met some wonderful fellow writers on the ACW group, including two ladies who have become dear friends without ever actually meeting me. Looking forward to it one day, girls!

6. When I first became a mother seventeen years ago, I was stressed. What if I got it all wrong? What if I messed everything up? In spite of my parenting, the children have turned out pretty well and I felt quite emotional on Christmas Day watching them with their elderly grandparents. They made an effort to chat and listen and when it was time to take them home, they took their hands, put their arm across their shoulders and walked them carefully across the drive to the car. It was wonderful to see.

7. Sticking with the parenting vibe, this year music has played a significant role. Our eldest son is a drummer and has been expanding his musical knowledge. When it was legal, I spent a lot of time ferrying him across Suffolk to band practice while we listened to music. Loud music. Mostly heavy metal. Sometimes, he’d say things like, “Have you ever heard of a band called Rage Against the Machine?” I would snort and remind him that I had a life, thank you very much. He’s got into Led Zeppelin (excellent) and reminded me how much I like them. It’s been a delight watching him discover music which sound-tracked my youth and listening to bands he’s introduced to me.

8. I never had time to watch TV before the pandemic, but 2020 has been the year of quality entertainment. All the usuals plus some outstanding programmes. The Trial of Christine Keeler, Mrs America, Roadkill, Harlots, Staged, The Queen’s Gambit and yes, I admit it, Bridgerton. Corsets, big posh houses, carriages and lots of how’s your father.

9. For me, this has been the year that my dream came true. An actual book deal. I still can’t quite believe it, even though I’ve got an author’s headshot (taken by lovely Cherry Beesley at Simply C Photography) and a book cover. Thank you, Instant Apostle for taking a chance on a new author. The diary of Isabella M Smugge comes out in February. Watch this space.

10. Before the pandemic, I thought I was fairly well-informed. This year has opened my eyes to the predicament of those who live with chronic disease. Some of the most beautiful and heart-breaking writing I’ve ever read has expanded my world view this year. If 2021 is going to be any better than 2020, and we can only hope and pray it is, we need to major on compassion. The headlines are full of stats, but let’s remember that each of those numbers represent a person with a family and hopes and dreams. Just like me. Just like you.

So that’s it for 2020. It’s been quite a year and I’d like to thank you all for taking the time to follow me. Otherwise, I’d be a delusional middle-aged lady in plaits sitting here writing words that no-one reads. Happy New Year and God bless you all.

Images from Pixabay

Ruth is a freelance writer and novelist. She is married with three children, one husband, four budgies, six quail, eight chickens and a kitten. Her first novel, “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, published by Instant Apostle, comes out in February 2021. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities and blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories. Ruth is a recovering over-achiever who is now able to do the school run in her onesie most days. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at ruththewriter1.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

And you’re carrying those eggboxes because….?

I don’t know about you, but it’s the little things I’ll remember about 2020. As this year has gone on, I’ve cherished the many little acts of kindness, funny stories and frankly bonkers experiences which have characterised it for me.

Things seem to happen to me. I’ve always got a story, which is pretty handy when you’re a writer. Last weekend was a bit of a tough one. Lots of emotions resurfaced from some sad times a while ago, I wrote a blog for More Than Writers about some really heavy stuff and I felt tired, a bit down and generally pathetic. I had a FaceTime chat with three dear friends on Sunday evening and we were all feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. We agreed that this was understandable and tried to encourage and build each other up.

On Tuesday, I went into Woodbridge to meet up with the lovely Darrell who runs Archway Carpets. We had a hilarious, socially distanced lunch with lots of loud snorting, laughing and giggling. As we left, he handed me about fifty eggboxes. This would have come as a surprise to most people, but seemed perfectly normal to me. Our chickens lay beautiful green, blue and chocolate brown eggs and I frequently drop off half a dozen for Darrell and his family to enjoy. Hence the boxes.

“You’re not going anywhere else, are you?” he asked me, eyeing the armful of boxes with trepidation.

“Actually, I am,” I replied, standing up and hefting them into a comfortable holding position. “I thought I’d go to a well-known chain of High Street shops with an “M” in its name and buy some new jeans.”

Marching down the Thoroughfare (Woodbridge’s main street), I spotted a few people giving me odd looks. My appearance was unremarkable save for a fine new pair of boots and the said eggboxes. I arrived in M and Something, had a quick browse, chose the jeans and approached the cash desk. You know when you haven’t seen people for a while and you talk more quickly and in a higher pitch than usual? The two ladies in charge were a bit like that, in the middle of telling a funny story and deep in laughter. Under my mask, I had a broad grin on my face. I do love to hear laughter.

The transaction started going through, but the younger of the two ladies (Lucy. Hi Lucy) was staring at my eggboxes.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I’ve got to ask. Why on earth are you carrying so many eggboxes around with you?”

I told her I was collecting them to soundproof a studio. This was obviously made up, but she was already laughing so I changed horses in mid-stream and explained that Darrell loves my eggs. This finished her completely.

“He LOVES your EGGS! Ooh errr Missus!”

Doubled up in infectious laughter, she disappeared temporarily behind the cash desk while her colleague (Julie as I later found out. Hi Julie and welcome) burst into peals of laughter too. In retrospect, I suppose I could have chosen my words more wisely, but it was too late to backtrack. I explained that the eggs, technically, were not mine, but those of my hens. We carried on laughing and talking in high pitched voices for quite some time. Gosh, I’ve missed socialising. Pretty soon, they knew all about Big Words and Made Up Stories and the Diary of Isabella M Smugge (out in February people, keep an eye on my socials).

I was wondering what to write about this week, but as we filled the shop with shrieks of laughter, I realised that it could only be about one thing. A middle-aged woman in new, shiny boots walking into a shop with an M in its title holding loads of eggboxes. Julie gave me my own carrier bag to convey them back to the car. I left beaming from ear to ear (not that anyone could see through the mask). My friend Sue was in the queue behind me, also laughing (hi Sue), The other customers were gazing at me in that way that people do when they suspect that someone might have escaped from a secure facility.

Such little things can lift the spirits and engender a burst of healing, life-giving laughter. I’m chuckling now, just writing this. Here’s what Mark Twain had to say about it: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

Enjoy your week.

Images by Unsplash and Pixabay.

Ruth is a freelance writer and novelist. She is married with three children, one husband, four budgies, six quail, eight chickens and a kitten. Her first novel, “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, published by Instant Apostle, comes out in February 2021. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities and blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories. Ruth is a recovering over-achiever who is now able to do the school run in her onesie most days. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at ruththewriter1.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Imagine that!

I started this blog on 5th November 2019. Back then, I had no idea that pretty soon I’d be throwing around ten-dollar phrases such as “lock down”, “social distancing” and “self-isolation.” Did you know that Covid-19 has created a whole new vocabulary? What would you call someone who ignores the guidelines and goes out to an illegal rave, having first bought up all the loo rolls at their local supermarket? Why, a covidiot, of course! Social get-togethers conducted on Zoom are covideo parties and the long-term strategy for leaving the pandemic behind is covexit. Even Cockney rhyming slang has got in on the act, as in, “I think he might be suffering from a mild dose of Miley Cyrus.”


We’ve all found ourselves in a different kind of life this year. As we head out of November and into the month that would normally be characterised by frantic shopping and googling of recipes for chestnut stuffing, I thought I’d entertain you with our old friend, the Top Five List. No theme, as such, because sometimes it really is all about the giggles. These are things which have made me laugh over the last few months and heaven knows, we could all do with a few more smiles in our lives, dear readers. So, in no particular order, here they are: 

1.   Some years after the rest of the world, I’ve discovered Spotify. I also got a Bluetooth speaker for my birthday. This means I can play music while I wash up and put piles of clothes away, which is lots of fun. The other day, I was doing some dull chore in the kitchen and singing along to Jimi Hendrix. My son was next door on an online college course. I was delighted when he appeared, frowning, and hissed at me, “Can you keep that music down, please! I’m trying to work.” A massive parenting win.

2.    I am the reason that Dundee-based author Wendy H Jones can boast that she’s ACW’s[1] most stolen writer. Back in 2018 on my first ever Writers’ Day, I purchased a vast pile of books from the bookstore run by Wendy and accidentally trousered one of her DI Shona McKenzie murder mysteries. I have since paid her back, honest guv.

3.   Back in the early part of the summer, I had to ring up a local estate agent about letting out my mother in law’s house. We got chatting and I told her I’m self-employed. “Oh really? And whereabouts in the house do you work?” she enquired. “On the bed, mostly,” I replied in all innocence. Because I do. You know, writing. On my laptop. Propped up on a pile of cushions looking out of the window. She fell about laughing and too late, I realised that I had given her the impression that I was employed in the oldest profession.

4.   My eldest son is the drummer in a heavy metal band. He started lock down with very short, sharp hair and one T-shirt with a picture of a hair metal band on the front. As I write in the last week of November, he has long hair which he’s been growing for nine months, a vast selection of metal-themed clothing and an Instagram page for the band. (Black Alice Official, if you’re interested. It’s loud. Very loud. Just warning you if you’re feeling frail). The other night, he fired up a YouTube clip of a Mötley Crüe concert. Half rock chick, half middle-aged mother, I found myself gazing at Mick Mars (one of the guitarists), tutting and saying, “Those heels won’t do his back any good.” In my defence, I should say that poor Mick suffers from ankylosing spondylitis and really shouldn’t be wearing anything apart from a pair of fleece-lined moccasins.

5. My fifth hilarious fact bears repeating. Sharp-eyed readers will remember that I mentioned the whole cat clothing business back in October in, “I Never Thought I’d See the Day.” Never, no, not in a million years or so, would I have believed you if you’d told me that I would be trying to dress a reluctant kitten in a navy-blue Babygro (for medical reasons). And I speak as a veteran of the mummy wars, a woman who used to wrestle toddlers into clothes each and every morning. Now that SpayGate is over and done and Misty’s fur is growing back, our usual affectionate relationship is back in place. I found myself holding her like a baby in my arms the other day and saying, “Who’s that pretty girl?” to our reflection in the mirror, using exactly the same voice I employed on my actual baby girl, back in the day. I know. Crazy! 

So, there we are. Five fun facts which I hope have made you chuckle this week. Thank you for reading what I write and commenting on it.  

I’m going to be publishing the blog every two weeks from now on, as my writing life is getting very busy. My novel, The Diary of Isabella M Smugge, is being published in February and I’ve got lots of writing on the go. Thank you all for your support. I’m a real-life writer. Imagine that!

[1] Association of Christian Writers

Thursday, November 19, 2020

A window on the world


When I was a lass back in the 1870s, television was a wonderful and mysterious world apart. At our house, we didn’t have one. All my friends did and when I went over to their houses to play, we would sit down and watch the children’s programmes until it was time for the boring old news which signalled home time. We lived at the top of a cul-de-sac in the middle of the village. When my parents got married, my grandmother accompanied my mother down from Glasgow to Essex, where she set up home in a flat at the bottom of her road. I was the eldest (and first) grandchild and Nana is inextricably linked with my very earliest memories. By the time I was seven, it was considered safe for me to walk down the road and knock on Nana’s door, shouting, “It’s me!” through the letterbox.

Younger readers will be baffled, but back then, black and white TVs were more brown and white. Nana had a vast Bush set which sat majestically on a rosewood table in her front room. Every day in the school holidays and every Saturday tea time, I’d walk down to her flat and we’d watch TV together. It was great. We could choose from BBC1, BBC2 or ITV. That was it. The TV took a little while to warm up. You turned it on and after a little while, the picture and sound would catch up with themselves. Meantime, Nana would be making a hot drink in her little kitchen. We watched Tarzan films, the 1930s Flash Gordon series with its dopey hero facing up to his arch enemy, Ming the Merciless of Mongo, Laurel and Hardy, Wacky Races, Saturday Night at the Movies, dramas, comedies and the last gasp of the variety shows. When it was time to go home, I’d turn the set off and watch, fascinated, as the picture dwindled to a tiny white dot before finally disappearing.

In 2020, that world seems a lifetime away. Thousands of shows are available at the touch of a button. We introduced our children to one of our favourite programmes, “Frasier” a few months ago and threw them completely by putting a video on. “Is this what you used to do?” they enquired, confused by the whirring sounds and poor quality. “Why didn’t you just stream?” I’m old enough to remember when the first VCRs came out, vast and chunky. They were hailed as technological marvels.

Anyway, back to the present. I was wondering what to write about this week. My friends Deborah and Georgie suggested some of the recent adaptations of classic books for the screen so that’s the direction I’ve taken. 

Ever since lockdown 1.0, I’ve been watching a lot more television than usual. And darn, it’s been good. I’ve noticed that a lot of it is written by, directed by and starring more women than I’ve been used to seeing. Growing up, women were there (mostly, not always) as decoration. Busty nurses helping Young Mr Grace in, “Are You Being Served?” glamorous hostesses on, “Sale of the Century” and dancers in the background of variety shows.

This year, I’ve watched with joy as women move to the forefront of entertainment. That’s how it looks to me, anyhow. I’ve just finished watching, “The Queen’s Gambit” and who knew chess could be that gripping? I’ve asked for the novel for Christmas. “Life” on BBC1 with the redoubtable Alison Steadman was a treat, leading me to shout, “Peter, you idiot!” several times at the screen. It all ended up OK, but it was a close thing. I also loved, “Roadkill”, the Sunday evening BBC1 drama series, all shades of grey and badly lit offices full of civil servants. Great music, Hugh Laurie being a cad and lots of strong women, including a cameo from Patricia Hodge as a newspaper owner who got to threaten Pip Torrens. And you don’t see that every day.

Over the years, I’ve watched my fair share of classic serials, but those clunky ones from the 1970s and 1980s with wobbly scenery and costumes recycled from previous productions have been replaced with glossy, slick, well-resourced programmes on well-known streaming services. 

I settled down to watch, “Rebecca” with great excitement, as it’s one of my favourite novels. I couldn’t fault the scenery or the costumes, but there was a hollowness at its heart, a lack of true menace that disappointed me. Perky young Lily James was far too pretty to be a good Mrs de Winter mark two. Where was the lank hair and the limp cardigan? Mrs van Hopper, on the other hand, was a triumph. When Max de Winter appeared, sporting a range of eye-catching suits, he was extremely easy on the eye, but far too young and – well, nice – to be the brooding, violent, secretive anti-hero of the book. Once we reached Manderley, however, and met Mrs Danvers, the true star of the piece was revealed. Tight-lipped, clad in chic black and seemingly omnipresent, Kristin Scott Thomas played her in trademark glacial style. Her red lipstick was the warmest thing about her. I was truly sorry to see her plunge into the sea after a dramatic clifftop confrontation. 

We’d never heard of box sets back in the days of the giant brown and white telly. Now, they’re part of the language and bingeing is something we’ve probably all being doing over lockdown. Recently, I even found myself addressing my 89-year-old mother in a loud clear voice: “Now, this is called a BOX SET. I will get it going and you can sit here and BINGE. That means you don’t have to press anything; it will carry on AUTOMATICALLY. Would you like a cup of TEA?” I got her hooked on, “The Crown”, and as someone who can remember exactly what was going on in 1936 (“Of course, her father always spoiled Margaret, and we were all black affronted when that American besom[1] ran off with the King”), she was able to provide a running commentary on each episode.

[1] Scottish dialect word meaning a hussy, amongst other things

I don’t know what Nana would think about some of the programmes I watch nowadays, but something tells me she’d love a box set with a nice cup of tea. Somewhere on the far reaches of YouTube or Netflix, you can probably still find Flash Gordon trying to save his boring girlfriend while being vamped by Princess Aura, Laurel and Hardy falling down stairs and trying to move pianos and Johnny Weissmuller swinging through the trees in a tailored pair of leather shorts. I should probably have a look some time. But for now, I’m off to carry on binge-watching Series 4 of, “The Crown” along with the rest of the nation. 

Happy watching!

[1] Scottish dialect word meaning a hussy, amongst other things

Images by Unsplash

Ruth is a freelance writer and novelist. She is married with three children, one husband, four budgies, six quail, eight chickens and a kitten. Her first novel, “The Diary of Isabella M Smugge”, published by Instant Apostle, comes out in February 2021. She writes for a number of small businesses and charities and blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories. Ruth is a recovering over-achiever who is now able to do the school run in her onesie most days. She has abnormally narrow sinuses and a morbid fear of raw tomatoes, but has decided not to let this get in the way of a meaningful life. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at ruththewriter1.

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