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Reblogged from Cristian Mihai

It doesn’t matter if you plan on self-publishing your story, or you want to find an agent, or you just want to print it out and put it under your pillow, your story is ready when you feel there’s nothing more to add, nothing more to cut, nothing more to tweak. If you can read your entire manuscript without wanting to make a single change, then you’re good to go – it’s the best you could do at the time. Maybe a break is good, maybe it’s not. All I know is that I edit and re-write and tweak my stories until I just want to get them published and never have to read them again.

Read more…

I’m still not back in the loop with writing Comfort in a Cotton Frock for #NaNoWriMo — well, three words, to be precise — so here is more advice from Cristian Mihai.

(The Recommended Tags service on WordPress is still suggesting the 2011 Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament when I do a NaNoWriMo post!  Bizarre.)

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 1
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 2
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 3

Take care and keep laughing!




#NaNoWriMo Day 3

In which I decide this will be the last post with extracts from my ongoing memoir as a NaNo Rebel.  I hope it leaves you wanting more!

I'm a Survivor, Darling! Post Card I’m a Survivor, Darling!

I am standing at the bottom of the stairs. I can hear Granny’s stick on the floor above and I turn back.

‘Is that you, Rich?’

As I creep towards the kitchen, a fountain pen falls out of my pocket. ‘Rich?’ The woman is a stranger to me. I know she is standing at the top of the stairs looking down. She wears a long narrow skirt and an equally long, grunge-coloured cardigan. She reminds me of my history teacher whose buttons are always done up the wrong way.

I scuttle through the kitchen and clamber over gumboots and riding hats to get to the back door. I love my cousins’ house. I love pootering about in and out of the rooms and up and down the corridors but now there is a granny flat within because Grandpa has died and Granny is living with my cousins.  It means  the freedom to roam is no longer there.

She is not a witch. She is not even horrible but I cannot talk to her. She makes me shiver. She is so tall and long and thin and gaunt, and the noise of her stick makes me want to bash her with it to see if any emotion can be harvested. She cannot touch or hug, and is it violets or lavender I smell?  Perhaps it’s mothballs.  I know her name is Violet, Vi for short, but I cannot associate it with flowers.  Only later do I learn that she used to be very active, that she fell from a ladder while decorating and broke her hip and was never the same again.

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 2
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 1

Sarah Vernon © 3rd November 2013

Take care and keep laughing!


#NaNoWriMo Day 2

In which I plug on bravely.

Tom & Sarah in their parents' pyjamas © Sarah Vernon

Tom & me in our parents’ pyjamas © Sarah Vernon

A house. A home. It’s not what I think it will be. I want to be back on the barge, our lovely lumbering Dutch barge moored on the river at Chiswick or heading, perhaps, to Greenwich for repairs.  I long to watch the swans swanning past with their furious, unseen paddling.  Oh, to fall over in the mud again at low tide. I want to run around on deck and delight in the occasional puffin or red-necked grebe and the unobservant cormorants swooping in and out.

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag

The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out

But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.*

I’ve never seen the bears but I can say this ditty off by heart because Daddy recites it when he says goodnight.  But he doesn’t come and say good night often.

I don’t care if Mummy tells me off or Daddy shouts at us for getting in the way.  I just want to mess about on the river with Ratty and Mole.  And Toad if he should ever toot-toot over to our bend of the river.

“You’ll get used to it, darling, I promise.” I look at Mummy and see how happy she is to be on dry land.  This makes me happy enough.


“Go to sleep!”


“I said go to sleep!”

I can’t sleep.  I can’t sleep because Tom is making noises in the bunk below.  I can’t sleep because I have to get up for my first day at the big school and I’m frightened.  I’m frightened by what the other children will be like and whether they’ll like me  and whether they’ll tease me and bully me for speaking so posh and having mouse-coloured hair and being so shy.  I want to be all grown so that nothing like that will bother me ever again. Oh, I want to be grown so much. It’s so unfair to be small and frightened. And podgy. And plain. So plain that no one tells me I’m lovely.  Oh, oh, but there was that nice man once when my parents had a party in our tiny garden with a swing . “Do you know what he said about you, Chookie?  He said, ‘Why does everyone make a fuss of Tom. Why aren’t they making a fuss of Sarah? She’s so beautiful’.” Mummy doesn’t tell me until later and I’m flummoxed by the faraway look in her eyes. Why doesn’t she ever tell me I’m beautiful?

Wednesday Anne doesn’t take us to school any more. Gun-Brit-from-Finland takes us. Gun-Brit-from-Finland lives in the big bedroom. Me and my brother think the same: ‘”‘Snot fair.”

Gun-Brit is pleasant but not very reliable.  I love saying her name, relishing the satisfyingly hard sounds of the consonants within. One day, when she picks us up from school, she leaves me behind on the platform at Kew Gardens.  The train comes in but when I look round for her and Tom, they’re not there.  I can feel my tummy starting to churn when I catch sight of them already on board.  I throw myself through the closing doors of the next carriage and get squished The other passengers pries me free and brush me down and make sure there’s no permanent damage.

Everyone laughs about it back home.  Except me. I join in the laughter though I wonder if anyone can see the fright. I don’t want to be left alone. Forgotten about. Discarded.

School is nice. The other girls and boys are nice and the teachers are nice, and  I love writing in italics and drinking the milk.  And I love a boy called Nicholas. I’m trying to make him love me but he hasn’t noticed me. Perhaps if I bring my treasured writing case in blue leather to school he’ll notice me. Or maybe, if I fall down and graze my knees, he’ll come to my aid and realise what he’s been missing.  I get to sleep each night by creating happy-ending scenarios.

I wake up wondering why we so often join hands in the playground chanting: ‘We won the war of 1964’. Daddy will know.


“What’s the war we won?” I repeat.

“I don’t know.  Eat your breakfast.”


Tink-a-tink-a-tink-a-tink goes the fork in the bowl. Uncle Roger is making us all scrambled eggs.  He’s older than Daddy and he has an engaging stutter and a lovely sense of humour.  I’m not frightened of him or my aunt, Alison. I’m not frightened of my cousins but we don’t seem to have much in common. They are country while we are town and I know I’m going to be found out.

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 1
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 3

Sarah Vernon © 2nd November 2013

*Christopher Isherwood 1959

Take care and keep laughing!


#NaNoWriMo Day 1

This is the start of a memoir that is being submitted as part of National Novel Writing Month. That it’s not fiction makes me, I’ve learned, a NaNo Rebel for they are asking for fiction in any genre. I care not since I’ve always been a bit of a rebel in my way.  Fifty thousand words is required which is doubtless beyond me as life has a predictable way of flipping me upside down and inside out, especially when I need to concentrate most.  Why? This memoir will explain all.  Eventually!  I can’t quite believe I’m opening myself up by posting my progress on this blog but I know it is what I need to get back to writing.  Constructive criticism is positively welcomed.  All such posts are drafts; with that in mind, read on…


My father has died. I think I did not greatly care for him but I cannot stop crying. And when I have placed a few letters and photographs into my bag, I want to ring my mother and cry in her arms and wail, ‘He’s dead, my Daddy is dead. My Daddy!’ But how can I?

Chapter One

I’m up so high sitting on the sofa and yet the porthole’s even higher. Mummy’s soft brown calves and the hem of her cotton frock are all that’s visible. She’s forgotten something. She’s forgotten to say goodbye to me.

She wants her sunglasses and Daddy is doing something in the bows of the barge and won’t get them for her.

‘Darling,’ she says.

I swivel round on my bottom to find her stroking my brother Tom’s brow as he lies grizzling in his cot. ‘He’s so pretty, even when he’s mewling,’ she says. Mewling? Why can’t she use ordinary words?

She picks up the glasses from the shelf and goes back up on deck. I don’t know if she’s coming back; I don’t even know where she’s gone but she looks very happy.

With my hand I trace the stripes of the ticking that covers the sofa, and I press my lips together. Mummy can’t see me but I’m here. I know I’m still here because I can feel the stinging in my eyes.


“Quickly, quick!”  The black and white television shows the long, narrow boats skimming along with Cambridge ahead. “Come on, Oxford, come on!”

“Why on earth do you support Oxford? Think of your great-grandfather rowing for Cambridge.” Mummy makes one of her disparaging faces at me and turns away.

“But, darl…,” Daddy starts to say and then thinks better of it.

“But Daddy went to Oxford,” I say, “and he’s closer to me than great-great whatever he is.”

“Dear lord,” she says. Tom and I look at Daddy and Daddy looks at me and Tom. It’s an early conspiracy.

I picture my father in a brown, monk-like cell studying clever books even though I have never in my life seen him reading a book. After that, he and Winnie went off to fight the Jerries. I know about Winnie because there’s a huge picture of him on the wall at school, and I can see the two of them crouching behind a fence, twizzling their guns, cocking their hats. How proud I am that it was my Daddy and Winnie who beat the baddies single-handed. Are they aliens? I’m not sure because there’s a Jerry at school and he says he’s English.

Wait! Here they come, here come the boats, and we rush to the telly in the sun house on deck to see ourselves but the cameras are facing the opposite bank. Oh. Well.


It’s hot outside and I don’t want to go up on deck because Mummy and Daddy are fighting about Tom. He’s been stung by a bee and he’s screaming his head off. I feel sorry for him but not that sorry. How can you tell when it’s ‘bee sting’ screaming or ‘I want’ screaming?

I wish Anne would come. Wednesday Anne. I want to help her today: I want to use the dustpan and brush. She’s broken her arm again so she can’t do any cleaning without me. I love her. How pretty you are, she says. I couldn’t do any of this without your help, she says. How I love her. She’s been around for ages and is even older than Mummy and Daddy. She used to clean for Ellen Terry and Ellen Terry was very famous and from very, very long ago. Charles-Who-Had-His-Head-Chopped-Off was around then. I think. I want to be Ellen Terry.

There’s lots I want to be. I want to be grown. I want to be able to wash my hair. I want to be a girl who Mummy and Daddy find lovely and pretty. I don’t want Tom to be the only one everyone goes ga-ga over.


I’m screaming now. My knee hurts like billyo and there’s blood all over the grass. No one comes rushing down the gangplank because Daddy’s gone down below to call Mummy. And then she’s there and everything’s all right. She strokes me and wipes away the blood and cleans it with something that stings and I try not to scream again because I know she doesn’t like it. And then she puts a plaster on and cuddles me and tells me I’m a brave little thing and I love her. A brave Mam’selle Michelin. I don’t know why she calls me that but it makes everyone laugh so I think it’s good. I’m going to have a ‘normous scar.


We’re doing a test. Sums. I wish Mummy had kept me and my knee on the barge. I’ve managed to copy most of Jerry’s answers but he’s got his hand over the last one.

They’re all wrong. Jerry got them all wrong so Miss Burns knows what I did. I wish I could be on my own and could read all by myself. I still need help with reading.  But it’s okay now because we’re having an end-of-term pressie-giving. We’ve all had to bring something wrapped up in pretty paper to put in the Christmas bin and we’re all going to go up in turn to choose a surprise package. I’m the last to go up and there’s only one thing left. I bend over to look into the bin and there it is. And I recognise the paper, and I recognise the shape, and I know what it is. I don’t cry.  I just pick it up and go back to my place on the floor.


The most magical thing has happened, the best present ever. It’s so beautiful I can hardly bear to put anything in it. The sides of the bag are matt plastic tartan and the handles a sludgy beige. I’m holding it by my side and looking at it and me in the mirror. It’s the most beautiful thing in the whole wide universe. Oh thank you, I say, oh thank you. Look, Mummy, the handles match my shorts!

No-one’s listening.


“No, no, Tom, it’s a boat, not a car,” says Daddy excitedly, and pushes the tiller on the model yacht from side to side.

“Leave him alone,” says Mummy.

Tom tries to pick up the boat but it’s too big.

“I don’t know why you bought him that. We don’t want another bloody sailor in the family.”

“Why not?” says Daddy, perplexed.

Later, when it’s low tide, we’re allowed to trudge through the Christmas mud in our wellies. They tell me not to take the bag but now I’m not listening. I clasp it to my chest and breathe easily as I push the tips of my gumboots through the giant turds of the river.

Tom is chanting tunelessly. “Updiddle diddle, down diddle diddle—” He lifts up his arms and swoops towards me. But his feet can’t keep up and before I can shout or move, he falls splat! into the mud. Serves him right.

My bag is covered in muck. I don’t care about the mess on my clothes but Mummy does. “I told you not to take that bag,” she says, hauling me out of the bath and scrubbing me up and down with a white towel. It hurts when she rubs between my legs because my legs are podgy and they chafe when I walk.

Tom is tucked up in his cot now. He’s too old for it these days but there isn’t anywhere else. I’ve got the built-in bunk beside him. When I come in he’s lying in the cot, his bright blue eyes following me as I go up the wooden steps and flop onto the mattress.


‘Shuddup!” I want to punch him but I don’t.

“Be quiet!” shouts Mummy. “Don’t wake him up.”


“But can’t I stay and help you? Please?”

“No, dear, I have to take you to school. You have to be at Miss Gwynne’s this morning for all your school work.”

“But you won’t be here later and I won’t be able to help you.”

Wednesday Anne holds my hand as we walk along the street with all the big houses with tall windows where other people live.

“I tell you what, I’ll leave a little bit for you to do this afternoon. How’s that? You can get out your dustpan and brush when you get back.”

“Yes, please.” I rest my head against her. “Of course it won’t be the same with you not there,” I add gravely. And mean it.

“Never you mind, dear, I’ll be back next week, and the week after and the week after that. Now just be careful,” she says, taking a tighter hold of my hand as we reach the main road.


Wednesday Anne didn’t come last week because she’s broken her arm again but she’s here now for my birthday party. She’s right behind me when I blow out the candles on the pink-ribboned cake. Her arm is swollen with plaster and hung in a sling. I’m wrapped in the frock that Mummy made, the red one with squiggles of black; it’s got white knitted cuffs and a white knitted collar and matching red knickers which itch. The girl opposite is wearing silver ballet pumps and a pink dress and she’s got frilly blonde hair and a little upturned nose but I don’t care because Anne doesn’t think she’s a little darling: I heard her say ‘no manners that one’.

“I want cake,” Tom cries and reaches out to get another sausage from the hedgehog.

“There, there, little darling, you’ll get some soon enough, there’s a good boy,” says Anne and strokes his hair.

I turn my face towards her. “Am I a little darling?”

“Of course, poppet,” says Anne. I don’t think I can be a little darling because Mummy cuts my fringe and it’s very short and woggly and she only calls Tom a little darling.  Not me.


We’re moving. We’re going to a house, a proper house like normal people. I don’t know if I’m going to like it.

My parents [c1955]

My parents

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 2
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 3

Sarah Vernon © 1st November 2013

Take care and keep laughing!


This is what I hope to be doing in November, in other words getting back to my writing. Do you write? Do you want to write? Join #NaNoWriMo and go with the flow!

Take care and keep laughing!


The Blog

It’s just a few days until November, and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month, better known ’round these parts as NaNoWriMo, is near.

Have you always wanted to write a novel?

We know some of you have been waiting all year for this month! For those of you who are new to this project, here’s the gist:

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