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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