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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pauline Chandler asks "Who Needs Stories?"


It still amazes me that many adults don’t read fiction. I used to take it for granted that everyone did, until a chance comment from a friend, an artist, shocked me to the core.  ‘No, I don’t read stories’, she said, ‘in fact I don't read much at all. I don't have time'. She might as well have said ‘I don’t breathe.’


Sadly, I’ve since discovered that ‘not reading stories’ is quite common, even among teachers. Perhaps it’s all that paperwork. No time to read anything other than the latest advice about improving their performance and meeting the agreed ‘learning outcomes'. Pah.

Fiction didn’t feature much on the curriculum in my own school days, during the 50s and 60s, and there was certainly no discussion about what we read in our spare time. We were allowed to read a book, carefully censored, at playtime, as aimless running about was frowned on. In class we read the Greek Myths, Arthur Grimble’s ‘A Pattern of Islands’ (non-fiction) and CS Forester’s ‘The Ship’, which I can’t now recall. Then, because I took Latin, I was not able to take English Literature for O Level, so it was something of an eye-opener when I came to study fiction for A Level. Suddenly, there was a world of commentary on the human condition, from such authors as CS Lewis, Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, Conrad, Lawrence, Hemingway and the ‘moderns’, contemporary writers, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney,Alan Paton, Arnold Wesker, James Baldwin, all wonderful authors who spoke about relationships, love, sex, race and  gender, without prejudice. And my cramped wings spread as I started to understand important lessons, under the gentle persuasion of their stories. 
Someone once said to me, ’You can’t learn about life from books, you know’. Pah. You can, you know. 


All the stories we share with our children teach them the real stuff they need to live well. About friends and kindness, respect for the earth and living things, about war and peace, famine and plenty, justice and injustice. About families and how to make things right after a falling out, about serious illness and disability and what life is like when you lose someone you love, about heroism and sacrifice and survival. How to judge what’s worth aiming for, and what’s not, what will stand through time, and what will fade away like mist.  

This magic doesn’t stop when you grow up. The stories just get better, richer, more challenging.

Do you know anyone who doesn't read stories? I wonder what would make them start. Is it too late when you're grown up? 

Pauline Chandler 
www.paulinechandler.com



Coming soon! A new edition of 'Warrior Girl'.
A story set in the time of Joan of Arc.    

Published by Cybermouse Books.       

Monday, 20 October 2014

Nine years on by Sandra Horn

You know those LinkedIn messages telling you to congratulate someone on their job anniversary? 'Ten years at Blithering and Snodgrass'? I usually ignore them because I never know whether the person targetted wakes up every morning with a song in her/his heart and can't wait to rush off to work, or has to mutter 'mortgage, mortgage, utility bills, shoes,' in order to get out of the house at all. Yesterday, I had one: a 'congrats' message, that is. A delightful ex-student congratulated me on nine years at Clucket Press. Really? Nine years since we launched The Mud Maid into the world with but the single thought: we know what we can afford to lose without ending up on the streets, so here goes? Cor, strike me pink. It worked out rather better than we could have dreamed, so we went on to produce The Giant and The Furzey Oak. We've also brought some OOP books back into publication and ventured into e-books and most lately an audiobook. We didn't anticipate any of this - the plan was one book, finish. The very least-anticipated venture was publishing books for other people, but this too has been good. More than good. We make nothing in terms of money, but seeing friends' books through to life has been amazing. We've done it for two members of the writing group, on a they-pay-printing-costs-we-produce-the-book-for-love basis. The latest two are ready to go: a paperback to be launched on Wednesday and an e-book when the cover has been approved. The e-book is the second volume of Vera Forster's autobiography. The first, A Daughter of Her Century, tells of her early years in Hungary and the persecution (Vera was Jewish) of the Nazi years, followed by the false dawn of the Stalinist regime. It concludes with her escape across the border into Austria after the Hungarian revolution. It's a wonderful, witty, compassionate book. Unusually, and  the oft-repeated reason for its rejection by conventional publishers, the factual writing is interspersed with short stories which further illuminate those dark times. That's how she wanted to write it, and the fact that it didn't then quite fit one genre or another was irrelevant.



She died before she could complete volume two, The Free West, and it is this book that we've just put together. It is, as the first one, a mixture of autobiography and stories, but in this case we've put the stories together at the end of the factual writing. Vera arrived here in 1957, speaking not a word of English. A trained  psychotherapist, she could only work as a domestic servant at first because that was the terms of her visa. It is, among other things, a funny take on the English and their incomprehensible ways, and her own struggles to establish herself here. It also contains echoes of the dark past, so again it is impossible to categorise - but so what? That's not a particularly intelligent way to think about a book, to my mind. I've just finished The Cat Who Came in off the Roof - hugely enjoyable, very funny, and (apparently) a children's book. Huh.
After Vera's first book, we went on to publish Jayne Woodhouse's story 'The Stephensons' Rocket'. It's about a retired greyhound and the troubled family who take him in. It is narrated by Anna, a grumpy pre-teenage girl and again, although it could be called a children's book, we know from feedback that people of all ages read and enjoy it. It was followed by 'And Rocky Too, and then the one we are about to launch, 'Rocky's Home Run'. They are the most satisfying and engaging account of a family's ups and downs and Anna's sometimes painful stages of development. They touch on family breakdown, bullying, friendship, mental illness, but with a light, skillful hand.



What next? Who knows? We didn't intend to produce nine of our own books, let alone other people's. so I'm not going to try to predict anything. Let's see what comes along.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bloody Scotland Could Have Been Bloodier, by Chris Longmuir


It was the day after the Scottish referendum when half of Scotland had been sorely disappointed, while the other half rejoiced, and I was off to Bloody Scotland at Stirling. I’ve been there before, but I wondered if this year it would be bloodier than ever.

Bloody Scotland in case you’ve never heard of it is a crime writing convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. It’s a fabulous event attended by many of the better known, and a smattering of the lesser known, crime writers, and a massive choice of events with over fifty authors giving talks and interviews. The convention is spread over three days, and this year it was from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st September (the voting on the referendum was on the 18th September).

As well as the speakers there was a masterclass on crime writing, a cinema presentation aptly named, Bloody Cinema, in the Old Town Jail, a courtroom drama in Stirling Sheriff Court, Medieval Murder in Stirling Castle, and a gala dinner where the Deanston Crime Book of the Year Award was made to the winning author.

A lively event with Christopher Brookmyre and Denise Mina
The weekend started off with a blast. The first two events had the audience engaged as soon as they started. While waiting for Denise Mina who, we were told, was probably going to arrive on her bicycle, Christopher Brookmyre opened the first one by reading a short story that was, by turns, fantastic, horrific, and extremely funny. This was followed by a conversation with Denise Mina which turned into a humorous and informative pairing.


Stuart Macbride turned Mark Billingham and the audience into zombies
It did make me wonder how the next event would fare following on from this one. I needn’t have worried. The double act that was Stuart Macbride and Mark Billingham provided more hilarity as insults were thrown at each other, and at one point Stuart convinced Mark, as well as most of the audience, that they were zombies, while he read his children’s story Skeleton Bob. Stuart also had Mark mystified by his use of the Doric, particularly when he described his recent award as the world’s stovies champion. His attempt to describe stovies, combined with Mark’s misinterpretations, was hilarious. (Stovies is a Scottish dish comprising onions, meat and potatoes, cooked in beef dripping)

Saturday was packed with events. Three choices for every time slot, so it was difficult to choose. I am highly involved in the digital revolution, so I started off with Digital Detectives, a panel with Allan Guthrie and Ed James, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. Allan and Ed described the career choices which led them into digital publishing with both of them approaching it from a different angle. Allan started out traditionally while Ed was entering traditional publishing following his success in the ebook market. Likewise, Alexandra had come to ebooks following a Hollywood script writing career followed by success in traditional publishing.

I took a break after that despite a full programme of events to choose from. This gave me a chance to wander round Albert Halls where I met up with some friends and after lunch and a gossip with them, I headed for an event I had been looking forward to, Alex Gray and Caro Ramsay, ably chaired by Gordon Brown - the writer not the politician. The readings and subsequent panel conversation were so fascinating I made a mental note to shuffle both writers’ books to the top of my ‘to be read’ mountain.

Alanna Knight interviewing Peter May
The next event was chaired by a writer much loved by all, Alanna Knight, and in the hot seat was Peter May, a crime writer with a long list of books to his credit. I remember being hooked on his Chinese crime novels quite a few years ago. They talked about his new book Entry Island, and another mental note was made. That ‘to be read mountain’ was increasing at an alarming rate.

On my exit from the Albert Halls I was astonished at the length of the queue for the next event. But why that should have surprised me I don’t know, because the event was Kathy Reichs in conversation with Ian Rankin, both of them top writers in their genre. The talk was about books and forensics, and was fascinating.

Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs in conversation

A packed Saturday finished off with the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award dinner in the Colessio Hotel. There were ten short listed authors and the winner was Peter May with Entry Island. I was on a table that included Alex Gray and Dirk Robertson as well as readers and it was a good mix. The meal was good, the drink was flowing, and the chat was great. The evening came to an end all too soon, and I left the hotel clutching my gifted copy of Peter May’s, Entry Island, and the new Alex Gray book, The Bird that did not Sing, which she presented to everyone on her table.

Volunteer dusting for fingerprints
The final event I attended was Lin Anderson and Return to the Scene (RS2) – Forensic Fact Meets Forensic Fiction. This was an information packed session as well as an audience interactive one. Volunteers from the audience donned the white forensic suits and tested for fingerprints. Meanwhile the panel discussion ranged between fingerprints and DNA, with input from a forensic examiner, and a fingerprint expert who had previously served in the police force as a crime scene officer. The forensic examiner, Laura Fairley of Return to the Scene (RS2 – innovative crime scene recreation technology) displayed how this computer software worked to allow various professionals to examine crime scenes without the need to be present. Not only was the software able to scan crime scenes, it also had a body map element which produced a 3D model of a human body on the computer screen which could examine for internal damage as well as external. It was fascinating to see the body go through various layers of transparency right down to the bare skeleton. The body mapping was particularly useful in court cases in order to present injuries a victim has received to the jury. Fascinating stuff.

Bloody Scotland was a brilliant weekend, and the only blood in evidence was the fictional stuff – thank goodness. I sampled various panels, but also missed quite a few, and my biggest difficulty was in choosing which event to attend with a choice of three for every time slot. But that’s a good excuse to return next year, although no doubt I’ll still have the same problem.

If you want to check out Bloody Scotland, you’ll find it here http://www.bloodyscotland.com/

Chris Longmuir









Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Dubious Scent of Books by Catherine Czerkawska

The new - and the really old!

I used to have a favourite independent bookstore. This was many years ago, long before Amazon was a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye and it was run by a couple of people who loved books and writers too. You could go in and chat. They knew local writers and helped to promote them. They got to know their customers and could offer suggestions. Then, one of the big chains moved in over the road with their high staff turnover, their front of shop table displays for which publishers paid handsomely and their three for two offers. When they complained, they were told ‘business is business’ and that was that. Within a year they had closed. Those of us who resolutely kept on shopping with them were clearly in a minority.

Cue forward some years. I’m browsing in the big Borders in Glasgow just along the road from Central Station. The cafe – Starbucks as I remember it – is nice. Sometimes I meet people there. The store is pretty good too. Back then I often browse and buy. There are hand-written staff recommendations. One or two of my books are in there as well. I surreptitiously put them face out, as you do.

Time passes. We live in the countryside but I’m a fairly frequent visitor to Glasgow. Borders has changed though. You have to hunt for books on the ground floor. They are tucked away. I remember noticing newspapers and magazines, diaries and notebooks (not that I don’t like notebooks because I do – most writers do, I think) giftwrap and greetings cards and lots of weird barely book related stuff in glossy boxes, as well as cookery and gardening books, sporting auto (sic) biographies, acres of celebrity tat. Sometimes I browse and take a book to the checkout, but the tills upstairs are seldom open, so I go downstairs to be met by a queue of Soviet proportions and two cash points open. Then I dump whatever I’ve picked up, go home, order off Amazon. Mostly this is because I have a train to catch rather than from any more sinister 'showrooming' intention. Latterly though, I think I’ve lost my marbles because I find my eyes glazing over in there. It’s only when I meet a friend on the train - one I know to be an eclectic reader - and he says to me suddenly, ‘Catherine, do you find yourself looking round Borders and not seeing anything at all that you want to buy?’ and I’m forced to agree with him. Nevertheless, I’m sad when Borders closes. Just a bit. Kind of sad to see it go. But not devastated. Certainly not devastated.

strange, musky, dusty ...
Time passes again. Somebody buys me a Kindle. I open the box and am instantly hooked on the device. What’s not to like? I mean people keep going on and on about the smell of books, but the only books I possess that smell nice in – er – my book, are those old, musty, dusty books I love. I’ve a collection of ancient volumes of Burns’s poetry and other books about the poet and I know they might not smell nice to everyone, but they smell good to me. Extreme age. I like that scent. But then I also like the strange, musky, dusty, sneeze-inducing scent of Victorian paisley shawls! So I can see the attraction, but the ‘smell’ of new books? Even my books? Not so much. Do they smell of – well – anything much at all? Not really. Not after the first few moments.

A couple of years later, my husband gets me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. This time, it’s a coup de foudre: love at first sight. Now, although I still read paper books from time to time, I realise that I hardly buy new books at all. I download novels and stories onto my Kindle and if I find something I truly love and know I want to keep, as an object, as opposed to something I enjoy reading but will never read again, I may buy a paper copy. But in reality, this doesn’t happen very often. Sometimes – like those dusty books of Burns’s poetry – I buy online, from antiquarian sellers. These are often dealers who may or may not have shop premises. It amazes me how ignorant people are of just how many medium, small and micro-businesses are facilitated by the likes of Amazon and eBay. I sometimes buy new paperback books by friends, mostly at events where they are reading, and I think it might be good to have a signed copy. Otherwise, the Kindle is where it’s at for me. I can change the font size and the spacing at will. I can read in bed at night without switching on the light. I can fall asleep and my Kindle falls asleep too, and when I wake it up again, there it is, just where I left off reading. Even when I'm reading several books at the same time. I could sell these devices. 

Now, when I do readings myself, people come up to me and say they’ve got the book on their Kindle. Sometimes they say it quite loudly, within the hearing of the bookstore rep and I feel a faint stirring of guilt. I want to say ‘shshsh’ but I don’t. Because if I'm being truthful I don’t mind too much. And besides, I know that if they have bought the paperback, they will very likely pass it around three or four of their friends, possibly more, whereas if they have got the download, and it’s inexpensive enough, they will very likely tell three or four of their friends about it – and then it will be ‘jam for Georgie’ as one of my favourite authors says. (Can you guess who? No prizes, but lots of stars!)

I also realise that I’m reading more than I have read since I was young. I read voraciously these days, book after book, sometimes waking up in the night, opening my Kindle and just getting in a few chapters when I can’t bear to leave a book alone or when I’m sleepless.

I’m publishing in paper as well as eBook form though (with more to come) and I still go back to the chain bookstores from a sort of lingering sense of guilt, a hankering after that old indie bookstore where I knew the people and they knew me and we could talk about the books we loved. Some bookstores are still like that and greatly to be cherished. I love them, and visit them and buy books in them, even when I know I have too many books in the house altogether. 

But any residual guilt about downloading - legally, of course - has gradually dwindled away. Tonight I found a writer online, who had been recommended to me, one who had written a whole string of novels. I wanted the first in a long series. Would I have found it in my local bookstore? It was some ten years old. So I doubt it. And if, as has happened several times so far this year, I get hooked on a writer and gallop through his or her books, I want the next one now, not next Wednesday when I’m going into town. I want instant gratification. Most voracious readers do. I find it very hard indeed to feel any kind of guilt about this, because guess what? As a writer, that’s what I want too. I desperately want any reader who finishes one of my books and thinks, ‘what else has she written?’ to move smoothly on to whatever else is available while I get on with writing the next one. Don't you?



Visit my website at www.wordarts.co.uk and my blog at http:wordarts.blogspot.com



Friday, 17 October 2014

The Barong and Kris Dance - Elizabeth Kay

It’s easy to forget how storytelling in our own culture tends to obey particular sets of rules, which we take for granted. There’s usually a cause and effect story arc, and on the whole good triumphs over evil. Characters are explained for the benefit of those in the audience/readership who may not have the same background, and you’re left with a sense of completion, which is the culmination of a plot with a beginning, a middle and a conventional ending. That’s not the way it is everywhere, though!
            I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Indonesia, part of which was spent on Bali. We were told we were going to see some traditional dancing, but this turned out to be a sort of play with an authentic gamelan band.
Sadly, the Balinese youth of today are more interested in rock music, and it’s reckoned that this event will die out in five years as the performers become too elderly to continue. I reproduce below the handout sheet exactly as it was given out. I asked the guide to explain the plot, but he said that good versus evil simply carries on from one generation to the next, and there is never a winner. I had to look up a lot of the characters once I got home. Make of the plot what you will…




THE BARONG AND KRIS DANCE

The Barong play represents the eternal fight between good and evil spirit. Barong (a mythological animal) represents a good spirit and Rangda (a mythological monster) represents an evil one.

THE DANCES STARTS WITH MUSIC OVER TONE
Followed by his friend the monkey, the tiger comes up. Three masked dancers appear, representing men making palm wine in the forest, whose child is killed by the Barong. The three men get angry and attack the Barong which is helped by the monkey. During the fight the nose of one of the men is bitten off.

FIRST ACT
Two girl dancers appear, representing the servants of the Rangda, looking for the servants of Dewi Kunti who are on their way to meet their Patih (Prime Minister).


SECOND ACT

The servants of Dewi Kunti come. One of the servants of the Rangda changes into a witch enters both servants to make them angry. They meet their Patih and go together to Dewi Kunti.

THIRD ACT
Dewi Kunti and her son, Sadewa, come up. Dewi Kunti has promised the Rangda to sacrifice Sadewa. A witch appears and enters Dewi Kunti. She becomes angry and orders the Patih to bring Sadewa into the forest. The Patih is also entered by a witch so he does not have pity on Sadewa. Sadewa is then taken into a forest and tied up on a tree.


FOURTH ACT
Unknown by Rangda, Siwa, God appears and gives Sadewa immortality. The Rangda appears, ready to kill Sadewa and eats him up but Sadewa is still alive. She then surrenders and asks him to redeem herself. Sadewa agrees and kills the Rangda. The Rangda goes into Heaven.

                        FIFTH ACT
One of the servants of the Rangda called Kalika comes up before Saedwa and asks him to redeem herself too. Sadewa repuses. Kalika gets angry, and change herself into a boar and fights Sadewa. The boar can be defeated. She then changes herself into a bird but defeated again. At last she changes herself into a Rangda, Sadewa cannot kill her. In such circumstances Sadewa ditates and then he changes himself into a Barong. Still the Rangda seem too powerful and the fight is unended. Followers of the Barong appear and help him fight the Rangda.



The Wikipedia entry may help… 


The other part of the holiday (honeymoon, actually!) was Komodo dragons and snorkeling...













Spot the cuttlefish...  master of disguise...(It's amazing what a prescription face mask can do - I can see underwater!)


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Does Unbound Know The Answer To Selling E-Books? - Alice Jolly

Alice is one of our newest members, and will be posting regularly on the 4th of each month - but a bit of a malfunction on October 4th resulted in her first post being up only for a couple of hours. So - as it's an interesting post, full of useful information, we're re-posting it here today.

What makes a book or e-book sell? That’s a question that every publisher, agent and writer would
Alice Jolly
like to be able to answer. Of course, at present, due to the rise of e-books, the answer is changing daily. But still you would assume that the big publishing houses must have an extensive knowledge of who buys books and why.

But they don’t. How can they? They might notice that the sales of a book or e-book rise after an article in the paper, a radio interview, or a flurry of tweets, but still they have no means of knowing anything much about the people who bought the book, or why exactly they bought it.

Amazon, of course, claim to know which books we all like. Hence all those annoying messages which say - because you like ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’ you may also like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Uuuum.

So does anyone know? Yes, strangely, I do. That’s because I’m publishing a book with Unbound and in order to get the publication process started I have to sell a certain number of copies in advance. Every day I’m checking how many I have sold.

I’m up to 60% now, which means I have raised over £6,000. That figure is on the Unbound website for everyone to see. But there is a part of the Unbound website which only I can see and which looks scarily like a complicated Maths problem. All sorts figures and graphs indicate exactly who bought my book and when.

I also get a weekly updates from Unbound telling me the names of those who signed up and how much money they put in. I even get messages in my ‘Writers’ Shed’ from subscribers themselves. I want to hug all these people – and though Unbound I can send them the e-equivalent of a hug. And on top of all that, because the subscriptions come direct to Unbound, they can e-mail people and ask them why they signed up – and they are doing that.

I can look at those scary graphs and match them to moments when a flurry of new people subscribed. Oh yes, that was the day when the article was in The Independent. That was the Mumsnet blog day. That was the day when that amazingly generous Hollywood producer put information up on his very heavily used Facebook page.

Unbound is a strange sort of publisher. Their main ambitions seems to be to introduce the reader to the writer and then get the hell out of there. But then isn’t that really what we all want? After all, who cares about publishers? The only people that matter are the readers and the writers.

So will Unbound work for my book? Will it work overall? Let’s hope so. But whatever the future holds, I do think it is interesting that one small, independent publisher has such a huge knowledge of who is buying their books and why. Shouldn’t other publishers be worried? I think so.

 The link for my book is here: http://unbound.co.uk/books/dead-babies-and-seaside-towns

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

In Bed with Sally Wainwright by Jan Needle

Let's hear it this morning  for Radio 4 and too much wine the night before. I don't normally listen to Desert Island discs in bed of a Friday morning, because like all good conscientious writers I'm up and at my computer. Naturally.

But the islandee, the castaway, was Sally Wainwright, and I heard her name luckily just before I hopped out of me pit to frighten off my hangover with a sunshine walk.

I don't imagine that I'm alone in this, but I think Sally Wainwright is the best TV writer of series that we've got, and possibly ever had. No, that's nonsense. Come back Dennis Potter and Pennies from Heaven, all is remembered. And Tutti Frutti, come to think of it.

She turns out to be a woman with a wonderful West Yorkshire accent in the Elland/Halifax mode. When she went to university to study French, the other students used to laugh at  the way she spoke the language. (How would a Parisien say Ecky Thump. I wonder? Not that that's Yorkshire, I suppose.)

After a bit of bus driving to pay the rent, Sally (I hope that I can call you Sally, Sally; you'll find out why in a minute) submitted a script for the Archers. Although her mother had it on every evening, she had not actually ever listened to it beyond a background noise,  but her mother clearly talked it through extremely well.  The scripts were bought,  and she immediately gave up bus driving, assuming (as one does!) that she was now going to be rich.

Considering that her scripts included Clive Horobin pulling off an armed raid on the local post office, it's possibly surprising that she wasn't merely shown the door. Realism in Ambridge? Considering her last masterpiece, Happy Valley, one hopes she's now the subject of many a learned thesis about crimes and criminology. Still time to hear D.I.Discs on BBC catch-up, incidentally. I promise you won't be disappointed.

It was Coronation Street, an obsession since she was officially too young to watch such gritty stuff, that put  her on the road to cash and stardom. She was advised by Kay Mellor, another star TV writer, not to stay on beyond five years, after which she came up with the Braithwaites. Much to her surprise her next offering after that was not a great success. But by this time she was contemplating a move to the wealth-belt in the south of England. I wonder what the locals down there make of her accent?

Sally Wainwright lives for her writing – no surprise there – and appears to live her characters' lives. Each person in a drama, however God-awful, inhabits her imagination until she knows and understands what they are doing, and why. Anyone who was devastated, like I was, by the psychopath in Happy Valley, can only feel sorry for her. (Isn't it odd, incidentally, to see the man who played that character so terrifyingly now acting a soft and soggy vicar in Grantchester? My mind boggled.)

A recent photo. Seriously, have I got a chance with her?
The most fascinating thing for me, as a novelist who also writes television, was the way she started. As a child, despite having a sister and a mother who were voracious readers, she did not like reading books. Within a page she would be bored, and the only parts of novels that she really relates to  are/were the dialogue. I thought she'd made a mistake when she referred to the books she read on holiday. Ha! Got you! But they were books of plays by Ibsen, Chekov, et al.

Her writing method is also fascinating. The laptop goes with her wherever she goes, and she seems to see her relationship with it as being similar to Scott Joplin's with a piano. One of her chosen discs was Maple Leaf Rag, played at breakneck speed, and Sally and her laptop are clearly just one mind. One of her most interesting 'confessions' was that her favourite state of being is 'alone.' One guesses that even there there's not much room inside her head. Her husband, Austin, quite clearly is a supportive rock. Her two sons, she ruefully implies, have learned to live with it.

Although her writing has got darker, Sally feels that essentially, human beings are funny. Take Scott and Bailey, for example. She sits in her room and writes about them, in floods of tears. And not just her room, for that matter. 'Writing is my hobby. Why wouldn't I take my laptop on holiday?'

After I'd finished watching Happy Valley I emailed my friend Frank Cottrell Boyce and asked him to tell her when they next met (I assumed this would happen) that I'd fallen in love with her. He never replied, and if she got the message, neither did she.

But on Friday morning I was in bed with her, virtually. Still, virtually, in love.