A Review: A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark

 I’ve decided to stop referring to myself as someone who is learning to become a writer and, instead, to label myself as one who is working on becoming a better writer. After all, I can write, as in I can put pen to paper and produce readable fiction and non-fiction. What I am aiming for is to become a good writer and, hopefully, one who will eventually become published. 

So, as an improving writer, I am going to publish reviews of books which I feel are of particular use to an improving writer. Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry From Kensington definitely falls into this category. 

I loved this book: it is witty, warm and wise and eminently capable as is its protagonist, Mrs Hawkins. Spark’s prose hums along nicely. She reminds me a little of Austen in that she presents her reader with a seemingly cosy comedy of manners and then sneaks in some truly horrifying characters who represent the dark side of life. 

However, the real benefit of this book to any one wishing to improve their writing lies in two key areas: one being that as you read, you take on a subliminal lesson of the joy to the reader of a lightness of touch such as Spark’s; the other being the advice given ‘free of charge’ by the capable Mrs Hawkins to aspiring writers. I include them both below.

“You are writing a letter to a friend…this is a dear and close friend, real – ore better – invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you.”

“some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work,…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.” 
My advice is simple, if you haven’t read this book, do so immediately. 

The Best Advice a New Writer Can Get…


As I have been sharing in various posts, I want to become a writer. And that involves a number of things: practising writing in different forms at every opportunity; writing in my preferred form more consistently; taking writing courses and reading what other, successful, writers have to say about the craft. 

Some of the above were pretty obvious from the start, some not so much. The obvious was the practising and writing courses; the less obvious the reading what published writers have to say about writing. I don’t know why this wasn’t obvious at first but it just wasn’t. I didn’t really come to that realisation until I finally, after several years of stop/starting with my writing, decided that buying a writing magazine was quite a good idea. From this came the realisation that published writers can offer some very good advice and tips on writing and that a more formal writing course, such as an MA in creative writing would be a very good investment in my future. 

However, the really key advice that ran through every article and book on writing was to read, read, read as well as to write, write, write. 

This was an exciting moment for me as a trainee writer, because I’ve always felt a little guilty reading when I should be feverishly writing away. Now I realise that I can read guilt free as it will serve as an almost subliminal writing course in itself. So I have been reading: reading widely, voraciously and enjoying myself hugely. And what’s more, it seems that the more I read, the more I write. Who knew? 

I’ve also decided to post reviews of the books which have been particularly enjoyable as well as useful to me. But that’s just the kind of crazy chick I am. šŸ£ 

Creative Flow vs Careful Planning

I’ve recently set up a creative writing workshop for students at the school where I teach. There are about 10 students in total who attend and it’s great. After years of teaching schemes of work and having to stick to the limits that they impose, it is a truly joyful experience to throw away the rules and work however we please. One of the first casualties has been careful planning.

We discussed this as a group. I relayed the advice that I recently read in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ about plot and his preference for putting “characters … in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free”. We agreed that, for the most part, we preferred this way of writing. Some of us said we liked to just write and then at some point map out key details but none of us said that we sat and planned a story out before we start to write. And then, do you know what we did? We just wrote. For 40 minutes, a long time for a teenager, we sat and wrote, all working on our own stories. It was bliss. 

Next week we’re going to continue the process of writing before we settle down to polishing and redrafting. I find that the more I just sit and write like this, the more I love it. And as a teacher, I find it really liberating; I can’t wait to try it in the classroom.

Writing, writing and more writingĀ 

Iā€™ve written two short stories recently and really enjoyed the experience. This has surprised me as I have always thought of myself as in it for the long haul. Any story ideas that I have all seem to be better suited to a novel rather than a brief 1000 or so words. 

Admittedly, I have not ever really tried writing short stories before. I’ve always been stuck to the idea of writing a novel. I still am, but writing short stories is a great way to practise writing and is ideal when you’re busy and only have time for really short bursts of writing. I’m talking 20 minutes in a day. I’ve just published one to this blog and I’ve just finished the first draft of another one. For a would be writer it’s good discipline just to be writing. 

As for the novel. That’s shaping up in my head and will be started when school finishes. I want to get stuck into it before I start the MA in creative writing in October. But for now, I’ll get on with redrafting Pear and Parsley Jam. 

Unearthing a Short Surprise.

How often does this happen? Today I was browsing through my files on Dropbox for a part written short story that I can use with my lovely student writing group, The Sidmouth Scribblers, and I found a fully formed short story that I had forgotten I’d written! 

 What a treat! It wasn’t too bad either. That’s not me boasting; that’s me knowing the short story is not my forte. It just needs a little bit of tidying up and I reckon it will be ready to post here. Ready fiction, just remove outer packaging and lightly redraft. In fact, I’m may even send it to my writing magazine’s latest competition. Or am I getting a bit carried away? šŸ˜¬

Liebster Award

I am really excited to haveĀ been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovelyĀ  autumnchocolatebooks-I love her blog and it is well worth checking out.

And also, a big thank you to anyone who follows, likes or leaves comments on this blog ā€“ I really appreciate all your support!

Anyway, without further ado, here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

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The eleven questions I was given were:

  1. What is your best childhood memory?
  2. What do you feel most proud of?
  3. If you could only have one snack / dessert what would it be and why?
  4. What motivated you to start your blog?
  5. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
  6. How do you spend your free time?
  7. What are your top three favourite books and why?
  8. What is your biggest fear?
  9. What is your strongest personal quality?
  10. If there was one thing you could tell your 15 year old self what would it be?
  11. What does a perfect day look like to you?
  1. It has to beĀ a Christmas one: I love Christmas and I really loved it when I was a child. The Christmas that stands out in mind was when I was around 6 or 7 and I had this huge doll and a pram. There were lots of different clothes to dress the doll up in and I loved it. The really poignant thing is that I later found out my dad’s business was in danger at the time and my parents nearly lost their house. All of our presents that year were second hand or home made. That’s probably what made them so special.
  2. This has to be getting my degree – I was a single mother and my final year was not an easy one. That certificate has given me choices at a time when I was really unhappy in work.
  3. I think it would have to be a really denseĀ  chocolate mouse with fresh raspberries. Yummy!
  4. I decided that it was high time I took my writing more seriously. I started a writing course and set up a blog. It has taken me a while to get into it but I love it.
  5. Strangely as I am an English teacher and English is my first love, the teacher who had the most impact on me at school was a Maths teacher. Because of her I loved Maths, she made it so accessible and real. When I got a different Maths teacher for my final two years, my grades went down hill fast. I will never forget her teaching us percentages and telling us about how she cried when her first mortgage statement came through and she saw the percentage of interest that the bank was taking. It made me just love her!
  6. Writing, whenever I can; reading – of course! Sewing, although this takes a back seat when I’m into a piece of writing and the gym – I treat that as if it’s part of my working day and I really love it.
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – so witty and it has so much to say about the plight of women in Austen’s time. If I’m allowed a play then The Importance of Being Earnest – it’s just perfect. I love Harry Potter because J.K Rowling is so inspirational but there are so many more.
  8. Losing someone I love. It terrifies me.
  9. When I decide to do something, I am pretty much relentless. It drives my poor husband a bitĀ  mad at times.
  10. Start writing now. Don’t wait for inspiration just jot things down, thoughts, ideas, short stories, whatever!
  11. A perfect day for me is a lovely spring day. When the world is warming up but is not yet too hot. It would be spent in the garden reading and writing. I would have the whole day to myself and the luxury of all that time to dip into the latest book that I’m reading and to get on with some writing would be just perfect.

Eleven facts about me are:

  1. I am discovering the joys of being 50; against all the odds, in my view.
  2. I am really close to my brother and I hate it that he’s working abroad at the moment.
  3. I’m a cat lover.
  4. I love red wine and chocolate.
  5. I’ve written a romantic novel and now I want to try something a little different.
  6. I love London; it’s one of my favourite places to be.
  7. I would love to learn another language.
  8. I want to go to Thailand to meet my sister in law’s family; they live in a rural Thai village and I am really looking forward to meeting them.
  9. I am about to start an MA in Creative Writing.
  10. I am a grandmother and I love it.
  11. I am a secret murder mystery fan.

The five people I nominate are:

  1. excaliburthehoodnerd
  2. The Aeolian Harp
  3. Lauren is Reading
  4. Ephereal Blogs
  5. Madi Uram

And your questions are:

  1. What is your best childhood memory?
  2. What do you feel most proud of?
  3. If you couldĀ have any pet what would it be andĀ why?
  4. What makes you angry?
  5. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
  6. How do you spend your free time?
  7. What are your top three favourite books and why?
  8. What is your biggest fear?
  9. What is your strongest personal quality?
  10. If you could meet anyone from any time, who would it be?
  11. What does a perfect day look like to you?

I loved doing this. IĀ look forward to reading your responses!