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!

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