Even Jane Austen suffered “writer’s block”

A week or so ago, I visited Jane Austen’s house – in Chawton, Hampshire.  Like most avid readers, I have read all of her books and admire her insights into society of the early 19thCentury.  She may have had a short life but there can be do doubt that her impact on English Literature was immeasurable.

The house is also home to the Jane Austen museum and it was fascinating to hear  about her sea-faring brothers, Francis and Charles who both had distinguished naval careers.

Jane’s older brother Edward Austen Knight had been fortunate enough to be adopted by a wealthy family. When he inherited the estate he allowed Jane, her widowed mother, her sister Cassandra and their close family friend Martha Lloyd to live in the house rent free.

End of a peripatetic lifestyle

It must have been a welcome relief to her after a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle between 1801 and 1809.

Jane’s clergyman father had retired to Bath when he was 70 and died four years later.

From then on, the Austen women lived a type of genteel poverty. They stayed with family and friends or stayed in a variety of lodgings in Bath, Clifton, Warwickshire and Southampton.  This was the period when Jane hardly did any writing.   I think it  likely she had so many other day-to-day tasks that she regarded her writing as an unimportant diversion.  Many writers will identify with that attitude of mind.

Once they were settled in Chawton, there was no doubt the family were free of some of the financial constraints.  It was then Jane’s inspiration returned.  Observing the idyllic surroundings of this very English village, it’s not hard to see why this last home was where Jane was most prolific and most successful in her writing.

Pictured outside Jane Austen House Museum


I am not sure if this is really me

She must have also found a great deal of her material in the local residents and the occasional social event at the “Great House” (as Jane called the Chawton House home of Edward Austen Knight).

But poverty can drive inspiration

Not all writers need to feel secure and happy in order to be inspired.  Charles Dickens and George Orwell all struggled in their early writing careers but ploughed on.   J K Rowling was an unemployed single mum when she penned the early Harry Potter series of novels.

But Jane was obviously settled at Chawton and English Literature is the richer because of that. I would  highly recommend a visit to Jane Austen House House Museum to any fan of literature.  I plan to go back as the ticket price entitles you to another free visit within a year.






For much of June and beginning of July 2018 people in the UK have been walking around like Zombies.  Has some sort of apocalypse hit us? Is it a case of mass hypnosis?

No it’s just a prolonged heat wave.

It’s not that us Brits dislike the hot weather.  At first everyone enjoyed having fun in the sun.  But as we entered our third week of soaring temperatures, it seemed like there was no respite.

For most people the only “air-conditioning “ during the long hot nights was an open window and perhaps a desk fan. And it was taking its toll on the nation as we struggled to cope with night temperatures in the late 20’s and the inevitable sleepless nights that ensued.

I have spent a great deal of time in the United Arab Emirates where such temperatures are quite mild.  People laugh at me when I say that it can become a little boring when you have more or less the same hot weather every single day. Now they have some inkling what that feels like, although in the UAE, with air conditioning everywhere, it is definitely much more bearable.

This year there has been no hosepipe bans in the UK – not yet anyway – but most of the people I know have not used sprinklers – particularly in Wales where there is more available water.  We know from previous experience of prolonged dry weather, that sprinklers in domestic gardens are a waste of the previous resource of water, as the green grass will grow once more on the scorched earth.

scorched earth – but it always grows back #UseWaterWisely

Some of us with young children and grandchildren may have filled a paddling pool (is it me or are these a lot bigger than they used to be?) but as the hot weather went on longer than expected even those delights started to pall in many households as we sheltered behind drawn curtains or blinds.

Now after a couple of cloudy days and rain forecast in the not too distant future, we are beginning to hope for a more normal summer, some hot days interspersed with the odd rainy one (Although hopefully not too much rain or we may get the inevitable floods from really heavy rainfall on that scorched dried earth).  Britain has a generally mild climate where extremes of hot – or cold weather – are rare but when they happen they seem to throw the country into complete confusion.  And our lack of planning is exposed.

Cities like Tokyo, built on the boundaries of three tectonic plates have constructed buildings to withstand earthquakes.   In the Southern States of America, many cities are much more hurricane proofed. While in Scandinavian countries it is inherent in their psyche to be ready for the snow every winter.

But would this work in Britain?  Is it worth all our homes having expensive air conditioning units for the rare hot summer?  Should we completely flood-proof any home within walking distance of a river or the sea?

How would we react if it became compulsory to have snow tyres on our vehicles so we could keep things moving when we have a rare blizzard?  No we will handle our  British weather in our own quintessential British way. Not so much a plan as a coping strategy.

Witness previous events when towns and villages have being cut off by floods or blizzards.  Emergency Planners bring their coping strategies into being, invoking an inevitable “Dunkirk spirit” as local services and community groups come together to make sure those afflicted have food and shelter or are rescued from a difficult environment.














Public relations only works when product is right

As a public relations professional, I have always believed you cannot put a gloss on something if it does not live up to the image you are trying to create. No amount of public relations or marketing activity will make a poor service or product any better. But you have a good chance of achieving the image you want if the service or product is good.

I had a senior PR role in the Welsh water industry immediately post privatisation and its image could not have been worse. Privatising our public utilities was not a popular policy. It didn’t help that Governments of all political colours had seriously underinvested in our water and sewerage infrastructure for decades and it was quite literally collapsing under the strain.

I am not writing about the merits or demerits of private investment here. I can only say that money was available to invest in improvements and customer service training. Customers began to see the improvements to their service from a combination of these two factors. Quietly and subtly the image of the water industry improved as result.

Similarly when I worked in the rail industry, the improvements from infrastructure investment improved punctuality of the service to the highest levels in decades. As more trains were on time there were less negative stories in the media. There’s still a lot of work to be done to improve our rail service but there is no doubt that their image is better than it was.

Now I am involved with the voluntary service organisation Rotary International.

Rotary International’s motto is “Service Above Self”, and this is demonstrated by both their international and local community initiatives. When Rotary International started End Polio in 1988 there were over 1,000 cases of polio per day. During the next 27 years partners such as the World Health Organisation and more latterly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came on board with the result that there is now less than one case of polio per week.

Yet Rotary International doesn’t always get the publicity it deserves – certainly not in the UK. Recent news reports failed to even mention Rotary when they reported that polio was on the verge of being eradicated.

With help from partners such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation polio is being eradicated

With help from partners such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation polio is being eradicated

Unfortunately in Britain and Ireland there’s still a strong perception of Rotary as being a gentlemen’s luncheon club. How can Rotary in Britain and Ireland counter this? Certainly not by clubs who refuse to move to a later time slot attract younger business people? And not by the exclusively male clubs who make it difficult for women to join them.

The saviour of Rotary in Britain and Ireland is going to be the clubs like Maidenhead Bridge who are breaking all the old “self-imposed rules”. They meet only twice a month and not for a meal but for coffee. Their average age is in the 40’s and not the 70’s – and partners and kids are welcomed to their meeting. And there are other new Rotary club models such as e-clubs and satellite clubs that are starting up. They want to serve above their self and are slowly chipping away at the Rotary mould. If they succeed it means that the good work of Rotary can continue well into the future.

Book snobbery

Oh dear the dreaded writer’s block and a broken computer have all contributed to my distinct lack of blogging for the last month. Instead I have been reading avidly. An intellectual pursuit? No definitely not.

I’m afraid when it comes to reading, I am less Booker Prize and more Richard and Judy. There I have admitted it – I just love a good yarn rather than great modern literature. One of my favourite books last year was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – not exactly a favourite of the literary critics but a New York Times bestseller. It’s about an up and coming racing car driver but written by his dog. And it works.

I love my Kindle and I love books

I love my Kindle and I love books

I just hate book snobbery. I have read books that have won major literary prizes. Some I have found enjoyable. Some I have had to give up on because they are just too darn hard to read.  When I read I like to lose myself completely in a book. I like to be affected by the characters and really care about them and if that makes me intellectually inferior well so be it. I’ve always been a popularist.

An acquaintance of mine was a best-selling local author. She came up across a great deal of snobbery about her books.


She did not care – they earned her a good living. If someone has written a book to Booker Prize winning standard – then in my opinion they have a right to criticise their contemporaries.

But if they have never as much as had a short story published – then who are they to criticise. Writing a book is a long and painful process. It is said that everyone has a novel in them – whether it is readable is another story. I have every admiration for everyone who has gone through the process of writing 50,000 words or more in a readable form whether it is good or bad.



From Polgreen to Poldark – developing characters

World Book Day (5 March) coincides with St Piran’s Day Cornwall and this Sunday’s UK TV premiere of the new Poldark series.

Book cover

Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark novels are among my favourite books and I was introduced to them because of the first TV series. The makers of the new series have been very keen to point out that this is not a remake of the original programme but a NEW adaptation of the Winston Graham novels and, from what I have seen of the previews, it looks like the story will stick much more to original plot.

I hate it when the Poldark novels and dramatisations are placed in the genre of Historical Romance because they are so much more than that. I liken the books to Patrick 0”Brien for the well-researched historical detail or Daphne Du Maurier for their description of the Cornish landscape.

Winston Graham based his hero Ross Poldark on a second war airline pilot he met once. He was interested in his seemingly restless character. The airman was returning from war in the same way that Ross starts the novel returning to civilian life after fighting in the American War of Independence. He was originally called Ross Polgreen but as the character developed, Graham felt that name seemed too “flowery” and Poldark better reflected his darker side.

Robin Poldark

The novels are based around Perranporth and St Agnes where Graham lived with his Cornish-born wife Jean. The character names Demelza and Warleggan come from place names nearby. The author said he borrowed many of the Demelza’s character traits from his own wife such as her common sense, judgement and courage. Demelza’s delight in small things such as the first snowdrops in spring or the sound of the Night Jar are also borrowed from his wife.


St Ives popular Cornish tourist spot

St Ives popular Cornish tourist spot

But the real star of the Poldark novels is the Cornish countryside and as someone who is trying to develop my creative writing skills, Winston’s prose when describing the dramatic and rugged landscape is something I love to read again and again. No doubt more tourists will be encouraged to see for themselves what Cornwall has to offer when this new series is aired.



Keeping Motivated

Throughout my working life, whether I was employed or during periods of self-employment, I usually began each day at my desk (unless of course it started with a site visit or a meeting). But the bedroom that was once my office has been converted back into a bedroom for when grandchildren come to stay and my permanent work base has gone.

There are times when I wish I still had that base as all my writing now is either done on the dining room table or on my laptop wherever I am at that given moment. Without that office base it can sometimes be hard to stay motivated as writing isn’t a proper job is it?

The trusty laptop

The trusty laptop

I often feel a fraud when I devote time to my novel, writing my blog or writing flash fiction.  It’s easier if I have a freelance project with a deadline to meet as there is a goal at the end of it.

Creative writing is can be hard to devote time to as, unless you are fortunate to have been commissioned, you are writing purely for yourself or for a market you hope will purchase your work.

But the more I find the time, the more I enjoy it and the more I enjoy it the more motivated I get.  It’s a simple formula and for the moment it’s working for me.


Writers block, procrastination and a busy life

My youngest of four grandsons aged from 6 years to 3 months

My youngest of four grandsons aged from 6 years to 3 months

These are all the excuses I use that have stopped me from completing a novel or writing an award winning blog.  One of my many New Year’s resolutions is to concentrate more on my writing.  I plan to improve the look of this and my other blog www.older-power.co.uk. I plan to complete my two novels that are still very much in draft form.  I love writing short stories and flash fiction and I plan to do more.

But it will have to wait until Monday – I can’t do it today or tomorrow.  I have a big family meal and a Sunday roast to cook, my grandson’s 4th birthday party to attend, at least 8 more wash loads to do, the house is a mess, my bedroom needs decorating …. oh dear excuses again.

I can’t even have a glass of wine as I am doing the dry January thing for cancer research.  So I will have a large glass of ginger beer (non-alcoholic of course) and I will collect my thoughts and start.

Except “The Voice” is on tonight and I love that programme – and there’s the film on Sky Box Office that I have meaning to catch up on and i want to finish that mystery novel I was reading.

No Monday it is.  Except I promised to pick up my middle grandson from school and the dog really could do with a long walk. See what I mean. Life just gets into the way.  How did I ever find the time to hold down a demanding job?

Well I will find the time – some day.  PS if you want to sponsor my dryathlon you can donate via the following link https://www.justgiving.com/MargaretAbbett-dryathlete2015