Monday, 13 May 2013

My writing life has moved

After much deliberation, I have decided to move all my blogging about writing and my book, In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree, to a new website:

Please come and visit, and follow my adventures in the world of publication there.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

faintness, weakness, weariness, languor (a noun)
from Latin lassus faint

It is how one feels after a book launch party.

It is how one feels after writing posts for one's book blog tour.

It is how one feels when one stays up late at night then is woken by the dog early in the morning.

It is how one feels when no-one else in the family empties the dishwasher.
Or puts the washing out.
Or contemplates the ironing board.
Or tidies away the games.
Or sorts out the paperwork.
Or plans the food for the coming week.

It is how one feels when all one wants to do is curl up in a comfy chair and read a book.

So I just might do that.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Publication Day!

At long last, In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree has come to fruition!

On Saturday I had my book launch party...

And today, it is available to purchase from Amazon - either as a paperback or ebook.

I know this is not much of a blog post, but I will be most grateful if you would consider buying it, or at least raising a glass to toast the book with me! And thank you to everyone who has journeyed with me to this day - your support is much appreciated.


Friday, 15 March 2013

Red Nose Day: a plug for how you can help children in Zambia

In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is a memoir of our first year in Zambia. The reason we went in the first place was because of my husband's medical research into malnutrition and the immune system. We saw, first hand, the results of children that were born into families too poor to eat. We saw charitable projects that offered children lunch at school in order that they both received food and received an education. We know that malaria is caused by mosquitoes, and that a mosquito net can prevent its spread.
So, today, I ask you to consider giving to Comic Relief, which does so much work for the poor of the world. Last night the BBC showed a programme "Hell and High Water" where six celebrities rafted down the Zambezi in order to raise money for education. It was lovely to catch a glimpse of Zambia again, and to see those magnificent Victoria Falls. But they did it for a reason: to draw attention to the fact that so many children cannot afford an education. Many walk for hours in order to reach a school. Some cannot go to school as they have to care for their families (often due to the impact of HIV/AIDS). Yet they are still children, just like yours and mine. They too need health, food and education. 
Go on: make a difference.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

travelling about; wandering; pilgrimage; a complete and systematic course or round (a noun)
from Latin peregrinus foreign

Tomorrow I head off on my Book Blog Tour, travelling around the world, talking with different people about my book, and writing, and editing, and reading, and living in Africa. I am so excited!

Peregrination seems like such an apt word in the circumstances. One of the definitions - wandering - fits in with this blog: Withenay Wanders. Another - a complete and systematic course or round - fits in with the idea of visiting everyone in a set order, then returning back here in a week or two's time. I'm not sure I'd label it as a pilgrimage, but I'm certainly travelling about. And In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is all about my travels - to Africa, through motherhood, around Zambia.

The word has a certain poignancy to me as well, as about the only piece of my mother's schoolwork that I ever remember seeing was "The Peregrinations of P P" (her initials). She had moved around the UK a number of times during her childhood and this project was a mini autobiography of her life. I always loved the alliteration of the title, and was slightly in awe of my grandfather who had known what peregrination meant.

But then, so (now) do I.

Follow my Book Blog Tour on and don't forget to enter the competition!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: Competition time

I am not here!

I have gradually been moving all my writing blog posts over to my new blog and website:

Today I am launching a competition to anyone who enters their name in the comment box there.

Please do head over, follow the blog and enter to win the prize.

(It involves biscuits!)

In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree will be available to purchase as an ebook or paperback from next Monday, 18 March.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

softly, carefully (an adverb)
Scottish, perhaps from Old Norse hofliga fitly or hogliga gently

Thirteen years ago we went on holiday with a group of friends to the Isle of Mull. It was a lovely break, staying in a big old house, chopping wood for fires and spending time with some wonderful people. We spent Easter Day on Iona, an amazing experience, with two memories that stand out: a cross made from daffodils, and the clarity of turquoise blue sea all round.

Colour in that part of the world must be particularly vivid, for the main town of Tobermory sparkles in a rainbow crescent of colour, stretching out around the bay. All the houses are painted different colours, which makes it the perfect image for a cheerful postcard home. It also inspired the children's TV series: Balamory. Little did I know when I gazed at this beautiful scene that I would be watching it for years to come with two small children!

Which brings me, slowly, to hooly. A typical episode started with the nursery teacher opening the doors, asking about the weather and, "What's the story in Balamory?" The teacher was Miss Hoolie. I had always assumed her name was just a Scots surname that the ingenious writer thought sounded good and was easy for a young child to say. Yet, when I came upon this word in the dictionary I thought how apt the definition was for a young nursery school teacher: softly, carefully. I might only have added 'cheerfully'!

For completeness, I have to also glance up at hooley: a boisterous party (Irish). Perhaps that was what the children at the Balamory Nursery thought of it!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: An excerpt from the book

It is only two weeks to go to Publication Day on 18 March.

Am I ready?

It is hard to believe that the book I have been writing and editing for so many years is finally about to be published. Friends have already been asking for signed copies: I guess I have two weeks to practice writing my name! (It is Catharine - with an A...) I can't wait.

As loyal readers of my blog, I thought I would share an excerpt with you. There will be further excerpts during the week on my author blog and website:, so do head over there and follow my progress.

So, I should start at the beginning...

Passport Pandemonium

It was as the Heathrow Express was dipping underground, leaving London and all that I knew behind, that calamity struck. 
“Stephen, where are the passports?” 
He stood up to check. They weren’t in his coat pocket. They weren’t in his rucksack. They weren’t even in the basket under the pram where we put everything else. 
They were nowhere to be found.
We were still searching when the train pulled into the airport. I knew with a cold certainty that they were lost. 
It wasn’t as if I had even wanted to emigrate. It had been a year since Stephen received the funding to do his medical research: anything to do with childhood malnutrition, dendritic cells or the immune system and he was in his element. We had both known the project meant living abroad for a couple of years, but I’d secretly hoped that something might stop this happening. What did Zambia hold for me? What if the children caught malaria? How would we cope far from family and friends? 
Still, I didn’t plan for us to lose our passports an hour before departure. 

(c) Catharine Withenay 2013

Friday, 1 March 2013

An African Dream

The BBC is running a series called 'African Dream' which features an African entrepreneur.

This week it featured Sylvia Banda, a Zambian lady who has built up a multi-dollar business over the past 27 years, but it started with her taking ten days of annual leave and attracting her first customers simply by the smell of the food she was cooking wafting out of the window. Now she is exporting her own pre-packed food.

I am always inspired by 'rags to riches' stories - even more so when it is in a developing country and there is no safety net for the entrepreneur. I wish I had the courage (and the skill and inspiration!) to follow suit. So hats off to Sylvia, and I wish her every ongoing success.

You can watch the programme online here:
(It is only 4.20 minutes long, including the titles and credits!)

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

to darken, to obscure (a verb)
from Latin ob towards and audire to hear

"I can assure you that the spending going into schools to support pupils with SEN in 2013-4 is in excess of £19m as it was in the year 2012-3."

So states the letter I received a couple of weeks ago from the Council setting out its justification for the allocation of funding for children with Special Educational Needs in the next financial year. It is a mastery in the art of obfuscation.

Let me explain. It purports to reassure me that they are spending the same amount on SEN next year but, as I pointed out to my husband, both £50m and £25m are in excess of £19m: nevertheless the cut would be crippling. Now I doubt the actual figures are anywhere near as dramatic as my example, but the letter does not make it clear to the reader that the rearrangement of the education budget will result in a drastic loss of funding to my daughter's primary school - in fact, to the tune of about 10% overall - primarily due to a reduction in SEN funds.

Politicians are experts in obfuscating, hiding the truth behind gestures, words and flannel. I listen to The Today programme on Radio 4 most mornings and laugh inwardly when they are taken apart by impressive journalistic interrogation. (Sometimes, I have to be honest, it makes me squirm and I'm shouting at the interviewer to leave the poor person alone... but that is rare!) Political agenda require that a message is put across, even if it is an obscure slant on the real story.

But can there ever be a justification for hiding the truth?

Monday, 25 February 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: Being a butterfly doesn't come naturally

Only three weeks to go!

It has been half-term this last week and not only were my parents-in-law visiting but also my husband had a week off work. Naively I thought this would mean that I would be able to sneak plenty of time away at my desk to blog and tweet and write and promote my book and organise my life. Instead, we went to the zoo, we went shopping and out for dinner, we went to the optician/dentist/vet (various appointments throughout the week), and wrote angry letters to the council and MP (just don't go there!). And to top it all, last night I spent the whole evening ironing whilst the rest of the family watched The Blues Brothers.

Thankfully, I believe everything is still on target for Publication Day (18 March). I have reviewed and corrected my proof copy of In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree and I have prepared the Kindle version (other ebook versions are next on my list). All I need to do now is the marketing and publicity.

Self-promotion does not come naturally to me. I wonder if it does for any writer, in all reality, for some of the love of the art of writing is because you are lost in your own make-believe world. Squirrelling oneself away, armed with only a keyboard and screen (or pen and paper) the writer spends their time in their own company, and those of their own creation. I love reading Joanne Harris' tweets. She writes in her shed, and every day the shed is a different place or scene. Often I think I'd like to live in her world! A novelist inhabits a world of their own imagination. For me, I wallow in my own history and the stories of my family's life in Zambia. It is quite a selfish art!

But in order to publish, and subsequently to sell, the writer has to emerge from this cocoon and become a butterfly: bright, colourful, flamboyant. They have to fly around, talking to everyone they meet about their book, their writing, how wonderful it all is. I have organised a book launch party, but it has involved several sleepless nights and mild panic attacks as I hope and pray that my friends will come. It would be so embarrassing to be sat on my own with a glass of flat champagne and a box of unsold books behind me!

Thankfully I have some wonderful friends, some of whom have gone through this before. They have offered publicity suggestions - the local paper, magazines, the library, the school. But most of all they smile when I mention my book and encourage and don't laugh at my feeble attempts at promotion. For now, that is what I need.

Maybe, one day, I will become a fully-fledged butterfly.

If you want details of the book launch and other events, please see my other blog and website:

Friday, 22 February 2013

When you just love a bargain

This week I had my eyes tested at the opticians. As I expected, I need a stronger prescription. Stronger, that is, than my exceptionally-weak-and-really-only-bought-because-the-company-paid-for-it pair of glasses that I've had for over 15 years. And not used much.

My optician took one look at my pristine spectacles and said they were quite retro. Retro to the extent that they are almost coming back into fashion.

Unfortunately, I still needed a new pair. We whittled the shop's stock down to two options. One was lighter than the other which, I was told, meant I wouldn't be so aware of wearing them. (As you may have guessed, my ability to wear glasses so far is quite minimal, so I wasn't sure that this should have a great influence over the choice.)

Anyway, I decided just to take a deep breath and go with the ones I thought looked better. Good job too: they are going to cost me £90 all in, whereas the super-duper light ones were £260 before paying for the lenses!

Some decisions are a lot easier, and a lot more pleasant, than others!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

lying (an adjective)
from Latin mendax, connected to mentiri to lie

Today's word was sparked by a twitter conversation between Carol and Mat (@carolJhedges and @lotharmat) that I happened upon (such is the glory of twitter!). Carol put this delightful word into a tweet (she deserves extra points just for that!) and Mat commented on what a lovely word it was. I agree!

Not that its meaning is so lovely: lying, inclined to be untruthful. How often have parents spotted that in their children? My personal bugbear is when I ask my two before they leave for school if they have brushed their teeth. "Yes," I get in response, the red rising in their cheeks and their terrified eyes saying otherwise.

And it allows me to sign off with an impossible sentence. I, of course, am never mendacious.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: 4 weeks to go!

Herewith I officially announce the publication date of my book: 18 March. In just 4 weeks time In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree will be available to purchase online as a paperback or ebook.

How exciting is that? (And how often do you read blog posts that start with the word 'herewith'?!)

In preparation for this momentous day in my life I am proposing to do a blog tour, if anyone would like me to call by. I can write a post, or be interviewed, or supply a prize for a competition (it would be a book!) - whatever suits you best. The topics can be varied: Zambia, motherhood, writing a book, the process of publication - whatever you like really. I'll answer questions on the state of the world economy or the 1922 England Cricket team if you like (although the answers would be a lot shorter).

I propose doing the blog tour in the week leading up to 18 March, and some for a few days after. So, if you are interested, pop a comment in the box or send me a tweet @c_withenay. Propose a date - or range of dates - and I'll sort them into some sort of sensible order (I hope!).

In the meantime...the proofs did arrive! I have found a few errors but surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying reading the book through from beginning to end. My surprise was because I could still enjoy reading it after so many, many read-throughs and edits! The stories still make me laugh and cry. I have also nearly completed the ebook formatting, so this week (in addition to all my half-term obligations) I plan to check out whether that works too. It is a busy, busy time, with organising the book launch as well.

Four weeks - not long, really. So please let me know if you'd like to be part of my book blog tour!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

I thought they were supposed to be holidays?

Half-term: a week's break from the school routine.

A week to spend with my lovely children and also - in this particular instance - with my husband.

We aren't travelling anywhere. The week is free, plenty of time to spend together as a family, to plan days out, to go to the cinema to see all the films we've missed...


  • Two dental appointments
  • Two optician appointments (different days)
  • An appointment to learn about the computer (and why it isn't working perfectly...!)
  • Writers' group
  • Writing course
  • Birthday party 
  • A trip to the vets (routine injections)

Add in that my parents-in-law are visiting for the week and we find that there is barely a day free.

How did that happen?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

a low woody plant, smaller than a tree, a bush (a noun)
from Old English scrybb scrub

Not only do I love words but I also love names, and am fascinated to know where people's names come from, or why their parents chose them. Those with extraordinarily long memories will recall a post I wrote about Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria, who (I feel) needed everything that his name could give him. Today's word was born out of a similar fascination after hearing about Anya Shrubsole.

Anya is a cricketer, currently our leading wicket taker in the Women's World Cup that is taking place in India. Sadly today England were knocked out of the competition - disappointing for the reigning world champions not to be able to defend their title in the final (but a magnificent effort by the West Indies!). I feel Shrubsole is an unusual name, although I'm prepared to be bombarded by hundreds of them correcting my error.

As a shrub is a small tree, perhaps I should also mention Billy Twelvetrees, recently picked to play for England's Rugby Union team in the 6 Nations. I gather that this was his mother's maiden name, that his father chose to take when they got married. His father then took up a career as a tree surgeon - a magnificent move I think.

I do wonder: does it mean anything that the man has the tree - indeed twelve of them - but the woman is a shrub...and a sole on the bottom of a foot? I do hope not! After all, both excel in their own fields (ahem!)

Monday, 11 February 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: Impatience and frustration

Reading others' blogs and writing I realise that most authors are excited about finally seeing their book in print. The sight of all those words, ordered and bound up in a beautiful cover, available to pick up and flick through is, for them, so wonderful that they can't help but stare at them in amazement. It is a tangible result of their creativity, years of hard work compacted into a hand-held object. Authors love books - and this one is theirs. No wonder they get so excited and wish to share the moment with everyone they know!

I am merely awaiting a proof copy to check through, but I understand exactly where they are coming from. As if last week's excitement about revealing the cover design wasn't enough, I am now anticipating receiving some actual versions of my book. The last week has been spent completing the formatting of my paperback, uploading the book and ordering my proof copy (or copies, to be exact).

This has been no mean feat, given the various computer catastrophes that have occurred. I blogged earlier in the year about how my new Mac Mini didn't have a connector to my old monitor, so I was rigged up in a Heath-Robinson-style manner to the TV screen. It was ok, although the definition was poor (which surprised me) and from half a mile away (ok, about 2.5 metres) it was not always easy to see. The new computer also doesn't communicate with our ageing (but perfectly functional) printer, so I had to review my book on screen, or try to link up wirelessly with my husband's laptop (which then also decided not to communicate with the printer), or devise some other scheme.

I went for the screen review and a fast proof copy order. It is due tomorrow. It was a good job I timed it the way I did, as that evening the TV screen decided to fall off the wall. Thankfully it didn't break, but for the last 5 days I have linked my computer to a screen balanced on the floor, peering my head around the furniture slightly and willing today to arrive. (At long last, I had time to go into town and speak with a nice man at the shop who has sold me the right connector to my old screen - hooray!)

Unfortunately, whilst I was out a man delivered a parcel and left it with my neighbour, who is now out. It can only be one thing - MY BOOKS! I am so frustrated being at home and knowing they are in a box a few metres away but I can't get to them.

I've considered various options:

  • Phoning the neighbours (but I don't have their number).
  • Phoning everyone I know to get their number. (Probable waste of time).
  • Breaking and entering. (Suspect I'll be arrested).
  • Picking the lock. (Ditto.) (And I don't know how to.) (Nor do I have any hairpins.)
  • Being patient. 

Darn! I think I'm failing at that one! I wonder how many visits to their house is reasonable before it becomes obsessive?

In the meantime, I must get on with formatting the Kindle version. From what I can gather this is going to involve a lot of patience and caffeine. Time to put the kettle on...

Friday, 8 February 2013

Pride comes before a fall

I was feeling so proud of myself.

I had got up early. I had got the children up early (or at least in plenty of time to get to school).

I had taken my daughter to choir before school (having forgotten about it completely the previous week - oops!)

I had taken the dog for a walk around the field, letting her have a good run and be thoroughly exhausted for the day. Muddy from nose to tail, she was curled up in her basket in the utility room.

All this, and home before 9am. Just enough time for a cup of tea, a bowl of cereal and then to go to work.


So I thought I'd tweet about it. (I like to tweet at moments of achievement, for usually tweeting only seems to cover the disasters.) I reached into my coat pocket to retrieve my phone.

It wasn't there.

Nor was it in the other pocket. Or on the side in the kitchen.

My conclusion was that it had fallen out of my coat pocket when I was walking the dog. I thought back to the point I'd pulled a treat from my pocket - presumably it had fallen out then and I was totally unaware. That was right on the other side of the field, about as far away as I could go.

I groaned. (As did my stomach, as I still wanted breakfast.) Reluctantly I rang up work and said I'd be late in, as I felt obliged to walk around the field again to locate my phone. I am the luckiest girl alive to have very understanding work colleagues. I only hoped the phone hadn't fallen into too much mud! I left the dog in the utility room, pulled my wellies back on and trudged back to the field.

Retracing steps to look for something you have dropped is never a fun task, nor is it easy. Anything looking black or catching a glint of light might have been it. I took a stoical approach and decided not to be too concerned until I had looked at the far side of the field, where I thought it most likely to have fallen.

Taking a short-cut across the centre I felt the biting wind blow across and shoved my hands in my pocket, wishing that I'd put my gloves on. That reminded me that I'd left my gloves on the side in the utility room when I'd come in with the dog after our walk. And then I remembered that I'd put my phone down with them.

I stopped abruptly, considering my stupidity. I had a dilemma: go straight home and check, or walk around the field in case my memory was wrong. (After all, within 2 minutes of putting them down I'd forgotten that I'd left my phone with my gloves, so what hope had I of remembering correctly now?) I decided that I would curse even more if it had fallen out of my pocket, so hiked over to the other side, looked around half-heartedly, and returned home.

My tea was cold. My dog was confused. But my phone was safe and sound.

My only problem then was what to tell my work colleagues!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

the act of throwing someone out of a window (a noun)
from Latin de from and fenestra a window

"He makes a better door than a window," my mother once said of a gentleman who had blocked her view throughout a concert I was in. I hadn't realised how colloquial this saying was until I read it in Up a Hill Backwards by Peter Lancaster. As an aside (albeit an important one) I must encourage you to buy his book, as it is a beautiful, gentle, witty tour of the Pennines - the backbone of England.

Anyway, he lists it as a Yorkshire phrase. I had assumed that everyone would know it, or say it, since it is such an pertinent description of a block to a view...which just goes to prove that what you or I think is obvious or banal is unique, odd or misplaced to someone else. Such are the idiosyncracies of humanity.

Defenestration is probably what my mother would have liked to have done with the gentleman in front of her: to throw him out of the window. One of my favourite bible stories comes in Acts 20.7-12, when one poor boy, Eutychus, is so exhausted by the length of Paul's sermon that he falls asleep, falls out of the window and dies. Thank goodness the godly Paul was on hand to resurrect him!

The word raises two questions in my mind. Firstly, I wonder what gave rise to the need to invent the word defenestration in the first place? This could take me on a long tour of Roman architecture and the history of windows and murderous intents. Such a lengthy investigation might have to wait for another day!

Secondly, who do you think is the best candidate for defenestration today?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: I'm so excited!

As those of you who have followed my blog over the years will know, I have written a book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree. It is a memoir of our time in Zambia - the time when my children were toddlers and the last thing I wanted to do was leave the comfort of my life in the London to venture into tropical, sub-Saharan Africa.

The book is due to be published before Easter, but I thought my loyal blog readers would like to see a sneak preview of the cover. And so, with a great fanfare and roll of drums....

I am so excited by it! It finally makes the whole thing real. I love the way that the cover shows the tree growing out of the global map of Africa.

It was designed by Andrew Brown at and I can thoroughly recommend him and his service. He did make me think, with a list of about thirty questions about the book that were designed to help him. They helped me too - as I focussed on what were the important parts of my story and how to present it to others.

I also enjoyed the experience of analysing others' covers. It turns out I really don't like very many! Perhaps I am over critical. For one, the design was okay but the colours? Yellow and purple - yuk! For many they were really fussy, with too much detail for my liking. In fairness (I always try to have a balanced perspective) they were writing different books - the cover does have to reflect the style and genre of the book itself.

But you know what's best about my book cover?

It carries on round the back!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

tropical American plant (a noun)
from Latin contra against and herba a herb

Floating through the dictionary I came across contrayerva. My attention was drawn to it as it is a tropical American plant of the mulberry family. With publication of In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree imminent anything that mentions mulberries grabs my attention!

This particular plant was once believed to be an antidote to poisons. I do wonder how they tested this, and exactly what poisons it counteracted.  Unfortunately my copy of Culpeper's Complete Herbal doesn't list it... but then, he did write it in 1633. Having said that, wikipedia tells me that a Dr Nathaniel Hodges listed it as a main ingredient of a successful recipe in his treatise on the Great Plague of London about 30 years later.

Here is a picture that I think Culpeper and Hodges would have appreciated.

Picture credits:
Photo -
Print - Amos Jade @

Monday, 28 January 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: Party planning and proofreading

In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is getting ever closer to completion. I've had my copy back from my friend the proofreader and there aren't too many corrections. To be honest, I think I took all the hyphens out of air-conditioning from someone else's comments on reading the book, only to have put them all back in this morning. Such are the trivialities of grammar and spelling pedants (and I count myself as one: I hate the thought of such errors creeping in, although still I find more...)

The Mulberry Tree by Vincent Van Gogh

As the process of publishing approaches its climax (by which read: published book!) I have been turning my mind to publicity: in particular to Publishing Day and how I can celebrate that.

One option is the local bookshop: that is, in fact my Number 1 choice and I am plucking up the courage to go in and ask.

Another option is to organise a party of my own. I could hire a hall, or use my own home. The hall has the advantage of anonymity (strangers could come but don't then need to know where I live!) but might lose out in terms of character. And ease (for what could be easier than finding more teabags at the back of the cupboard, rather than running out just when the Mayor pops in). (That assumes the Mayor is coming. He might not. In fact, I think 'he' might be a 'she'... there are a few details to be confirmed here!)

My friend, on the launch of his book, used his church and had some live music and some readings and plenty of food and drink. Another friend, launching her poetry book, held it on the green outside her home (grateful for decent weather in October!), using friends to sell the books while she sat at another table signing them.

It all sounds terribly grown up!

Perhaps we could just all go down the pub together? What do you think?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

You look great from this angle!

It is always lovely when people ask, "Have you had your hair cut?"

Particularly if you have. And if you like it.

Twice in the last week I have been complimented on my hair cut. This is astonishing, given that I had it cut before Christmas - and doesn't that seem like an age away now? Furthermore, they were local friends who have seen me since then, so I'm not quite sure what has suddenly changed!

Their comments were limited to complimenting the back of my head. Even when I had it cut, the hairdresser kept saying, "This looks really good at the back!" With the wizardry of mirrors she showed me before I left the salon, but her comment has been repeated by everyone since.

"It looks really good at the back!"

Not sure this says a lot for my face! :-)

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

(an adjective)
source unknown

Unusually, this week I have chosen a word that has no definition, although it is (from what I can gather) an allowable word in Scrabble.

I must have first come across it whilst living in Zambia. At the moment my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is at the proofreader's, and I look forward to finding out whether she queries the word. It is only used once, in a sentence along the lines of
My son was getting a bit fratchety in the back of the car.
If I tell you he was not yet three years old at that point, and we were held up by the police who were letting a VIP cavalcade go past, and he wanted his lunch...can you understand the word?

I assume it is the result of combining fractious and crotchety. I love the word, as it is a softer expression than crotchety (which I associate with anger more than boredom). And you'll be pleased to know that my son was not frequently fratchety, so you are not going to be repeatedly bamboozled by it when you read the book!

Anyone else with fratchety children out there?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday: Progress on the book

As I look out of the window it seems appropriate to sing:
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush,
on a cold and frosty morning.
I love the trees covered in fresh snow, their twisty, convoluted branches silhouetted against the white snow-laden clouds. Finally we get to see how God formed these trees from thick trunk to spindly twigs.  I don't now have a mulberry tree to show you, just apples. Still beautiful.

It is into this snowy world that I have to take my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree today. I have printed it out and my proofreading friend is ready to go. The only problem in this weather might be getting it to her! However my self-imposed deadline of publishing before Easter only leaves me eight weeks (eight weeks!!!) and so each stage needs moving on as quickly as possible.

I recognise I don't cope with stress very well. When the printer stopped at page 48 yesterday afternoon (of about 270) I think my husband was grateful that I had to go out with the children and he could resolve the problem quietly on his own. (He is fantastic. At all times. But particularly when it comes to printers.)

Having edited to the nth degree (and yes, I recognise that I will have to edit more when I get the manuscript back) I can concentrate on the other aspects of publishing a book. There are acknowledgements, covers, disclaimers, decisions on book size and pictures and... The more I do, the more I realise how much effort is put in by publishing houses. Having said that, I am enjoying going through the process by myself. This way I learn all the steps that need to be taken and at my own pace.

But the most exciting thing is... oh, I can't tell you that just yet. Save that it is beautiful and exciting and I want to tell you now, but can't. Hopefully next week.

For now - out with the ice-scraper and into the snowy world I go.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Red is for...

My son's move into secondary school has resulted in a new way of teaching, not least of which involves a whole new range of lessons - subjects that are touched on in primary school but are better dealt with when they've achieved the maturity (ahem!) of 11+.

The most exciting are the practical ones. Every fortnight there is cookery (or Food Tech, as they officially call it). To my surprise, everything so far has been edible. My husband and I even managed to finish off the rice salad, into which he had added slightly more curry powder than you would recommend. I asked him if he'd accidentally added a tablespoon rather than a teaspoon. "Oh no," he said, "I just took the pot and shook it..."

DT develops another batch of skills. I am full of hope for the demonstration of woodwork and metalwork skills, but the first item to come home was from plastic. He told me what they did.

1 Took a piece of plastic.
2 Sanded all the edges and rounded all the corners so that it was smooth.
3 Placed it on the machine, which heated it and then moulded it into the wavy shape.
4 Let it cool and added the stickers.
(To be fair to him, the stickers may have been added before the heating step!)

All very well and good. Look at the result:

Does anyone else think he's designed a communist flag?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Withenay's Wednesday Word - a series about words and their meanings. 
Sometimes the word is chosen because I like it, sometimes because it is unusual, sometimes because I have heard or read it in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). Your challenge is to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

the act of intervening (a noun)
from the latin interventio - a coming between.

I have heard the word intervention a lot during the last week. There is talk of troop intervention in Mali. The teachers at school discussed what intervention was required for the pupils to achieve all that they were capable of. My husband's expertise has been called upon to specify what intervention was required for a particular patient.

What struck me, as I was listening to the news on the radio the other day, is that I was not sure whether intervention a 'good' or a 'bad' thing. By definition, it interrupts the flow, the status quo. That has nothing to do with being 'good' or 'bad', although change is often difficult to cope with or adapt to.

The intervention of troops always fills me with fear. As a peace-loving individual I wish this was never needed. School intervention is another frightening phrase, bringing images of poorly behaved, or poorly educated, children requiring drastic measures to make them 'normal' (whatever that might mean). Medical intervention is the most positive of the lot - leaping in to save a person's life - but perhaps the least pleasant. It doesn't usually mean that all is well: in fact, it usually means that without the intervention things would be a lot worse.

Yet intervention is given a positive twist. In Mali, it is to maintain peace and order. At school, it is to provide the best for the pupil. In a hospital, it is to save a life.

My daughter might ask if it is a good word or a bad word. What would you say?

Monday, 14 January 2013

Why is nothing as straightforward as it should be?

I always thought it would be easy.

When I started writing In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree, I thought it would just be a case of opening a Word document, thinking a bit about where to begin my story and then to start tapping the keys. Clearly all I would have to do was persist at that for a bit, then hand it to a nice publishing company, have it printed and - voila! I would be a best-selling, multi-millionaire author.

My first hurdle was the writing. It isn't quite as simple as just sitting down and doing it. That, in itself, requires discipline. Discipline is not something I am good at. I am easily distracted. I love lots of things. Tea and biscuits, for example. And, gradually, as I made friends and contacts in my new home, they were more enticing than retelling my story.

I am forever indebted to Debbie who listened patiently to my whinge about getting the book written before suggesting I set myself a target: 500 words a day. All of a sudden it was manageable. 500 words is just a couple of sides of A4. I could make enough time to sit down (with a cup of tea, of course) and write that. In fact, perhaps my target should be 1000 words?

So I revised a target, knowing I would be happy with half of it. And thus I was able to achieve, but also didn't feel a need to be down on myself when it went wrong. And I gave myself weekends off: writing time then was a bonus! (In fact, spending time with my wonderful husband and children was the bonus, and made all the writing mid-week worthwhile.)

Writing those final words of the final chapter was such an exhilarating feeling! I had accomplished something - I had followed it through to completion. There, in a few kilobytes of text, was a year of my life, written out for all to see.

Then I started reading it through and didn't like bits. And it was lumpy, with chapters of variable length - some many pages long, some just a couple of sides. And did it really flow together? Would anyone else truly be interested? The process of editing began in earnest.

Today is my private deadline for finishing editing. Well, actually, it will be tomorrow (you see, I like double deadlines so that I don't feel too bad when I fail the first!). If this book is to be published then I have to get it as good as I can at this moment in time. What is astonishing is how many spelling or grammatical mistakes there are that I must have overlooked all the other times I've read it through!

I am determined to meet this deadline despite the traumatic computer events of the last week. My old Mac Mini had died on a couple of occasions in the last month: the entire operating system crashed. I'm no technological expert, but I know that isn't good. So in the middle of last week the nice men at the Apple store did a data transfer to the new model for me.

In itself the change wasn't a problem, but the new Mac Mini (a) doesn't have the right connector to my old computer screen, so I am hitched up to the TV in a rather precarious fashion and (b) doesn't have Word on it (and won't accommodate my older version), so I am having a rapid lesson in Pages (Apple's equivalent).

As if that wasn't enough, over the weekend the computer decided not to communicate with my printer. Did anyone ever say life was supposed to be easy?

Friday, 11 January 2013

The trouble with meter readings

Yesterday the man came to read the meters. Of course, I was out, so he left a card for me to fill in the readings and leave in a prominent position today.

I hate reading the meters, particularly the electricity. This is when I curse the builders we had from here to kingdom come. Blue air all around. This is the procedure I took in order to complete the request.

1. Be prepared. Get the torch and the screwdriver.
2. Check torch: find the battery has gone. Find spare batteries.
3. Discover that new batteries also don't make the torch work. Find another torch.
4. Only torch I can find is a headlamp. Don't laugh.
5. Put on the light in the pantry. Pull out the set of steps and use them to wedge the door open.
6. Sort out all the empty bottles that were thrown into the recycling box and missed...
7. Empty pantry of big boxes and packs of drinks that fill the floor space. 
8. Remove the vegetable rack.
9. Put the trays on the kitchen table.
10. Kneel on the (horribly dusty) floor in the corner of the pantry.
11. Remove 4 screws from wooden panel, and then the panel.
12. Using headlamp, read electricity meter about 1m away in the depths of this cupboard. (Note to self: need opticians appointment!)
13. Go back into house to find pen and paper to write down the number.
14. Reverse steps 7-11.

The Gas meter is a lot easier, being in a box outside. It was only complicated by the fact that (a) I couldn't find the back door key and (b) that silly triangular key is always at the bottom of the drawer.

I hope our energy company realise how much effort I go to on their behalf. By the end of all that I feel ready for another cup of tea! 

Photo credit: from the film Delicatessen (1991)

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Withenay's Wednesday Word

One Christmas my grandfather was given a new dictionary. In the period while granny made dinner, my uncle took the dictionary and played an impromptu game of Call My Bluff. He chose a random word: we had to make up a definition...then he told us the correct answer.

We'd had a few rounds of miserable efforts when he asked, "What does nictitate mean?"

My father huffed, "Oh, I don't know!" before making up some ridiculous answer.

My heart was racing. "It means to blink," I said, grinning from ear to ear. My uncle looked up in amazement, before admitting I was right and returning to reading the dictionary.

"How on earth did you know that?" my father asked.

"It came up when I was helping my husband revise for his medical exams," I explained.

Medics do have their uses, if only to get one up on my uncle and father (two of the most intelligent, erudite and word-centred men you could ever meet!)

It has been a bit of a favourite word ever since.

For 2013, I thought I would start a new series about words and their meanings on a Wednesday (simply because it alliterates well with Withenay and Word). I had thought of setting the Call My Bluff challenge to define them, but then remembered all you would have to do is google the word to get the answer. So instead, your challenge will be to invent a sentence in the comments box that includes it.

Sometimes they will be chosen because I like them; sometimes because they are unusual; sometimes because I have heard or read them in the previous week; often because that is just where the dictionary took me. Together we can expand our vocabulary, inch by inch (or maybe letter by letter). 

And so to the first Withenay's Wednesday Word:

to blink (a verb)
from the Latin nictitare - to wink repeatedly

Monday, 7 January 2013

Mulberry Tree Monday

I have written a book.

It is called In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree.

It is due to be published before Easter (exact date to be confirmed).

How exciting is that? 

Stating it as bare facts brings home the reality of all those hours of writing and editing, tweaking and ditching words to create a story.

When I started writing it was to ease my boredom. Newly arrived back from Africa I was full of stories and life experiences that I was itching to share with others. But I had moved to Newcastle, where I knew no-one. My husband's job was not long-term there and I had two children in primary school, so getting a job for myself was impractical. (I would have had so many demands on part-time work to be unemployable, and always at risk of having to hand in my notice days after I started!)

Writing was my escape. Writing was my chance to share my stories, if only with the computer. Writing gave me the opportunity to exercise my little grey cells in between the mundane child-rearing exercises.

Writing also meant I didn't have to clean the house (this still applies!) It meant I could drink tea and eat custard creams (fuel for the thought process). And, interestingly, it opened doors I didn't think were even there, as friendships developed with other writers. I have a lot to thank my WEA class for, not only as they criticised and corrected my words, but also for the support and encouragement they shared.  It was a lifesaver, creating a rock when so much in my life was sinking sand.

Over the years since it has waxed and waned as a priority to me. I have excuses, as anyone would who brings up children and renovates their house and moves across the country and has family crises that need attending to. But I've stuck with my book, returning to it to perfect words and phrases. Every time I look there is something I'd like to change: my biggest fear is that will continue forever, whether it is in print or not.

So I have set myself the Easter deadline. I have drafted an approximate timetable and I have tasks I have to complete by certain dates.

One of which is to finish the final edits this week. So, if you'll excuse me, I'm just away to re-write chapter 14...

Photo credit: Trees Direct

Friday, 4 January 2013

Blog and book and broken promises?

January 4th: it must be about time to draft some New Year's Resolutions, right?

Clearly if my aim were to do something every day of the year then I would already have failed, so my thoughts are to be tempered by my innate ability to be late. A resolution not to be late would be interesting but, again, a failure before starting.

If I am to actually achieve anything then I ought to follow the SMART maxim: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. So my desire to lose 2 stone before the summer falls into many of those categories, but achievable? I think not. (You can't see the stash of chocolates that Santa brought!)

As this is my blog, where I can make and break all my own rules, I am therefore giving myself the gentle push to do more of it. I know I've been a little lax in recent months, but this is such a marvellous place to set my thoughts and memories free. I have plans for a new blog design, which is exciting but not yet ready for pressing the 'publish' button. All in good time, dear readers, all in good time (as I sense Jane Austin would write, had she joined the blogosphere).

My greatest challenge, however, is to publish my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree before Easter. That's a tight deadline, and promises me a frantic few months ahead. But there is much to say about it, and the process of getting there, which I imagine will fuel a multitude of blog posts.

All sorts of plans, ideals and deadlines. Any chance of making them, whilst also holding down a job and running around after the children? A slim one, and perhaps that's what makes it worthwhile. Or at least, worth sharing.

Wish me luck!

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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