Is Your Attention Span in Need of Attention?

I was commenting to someone recently about how short my attention span is, and how consequently I often have trouble following the plot of movies if they’re any more complicated than a rom-com. My mind wanders off somewhere else, and then…er…then…what was I saying? Something about cats was it? Or milk, yes I need to buy some milk. No, movies! Anyway, I decided to create a little comic strip to illustrate what it’s like to watch a movie with me, so that you can see what poor Neil has to put up with (you’ll probably need to click on the picture to make it bigger so that you can read it) –

Vanessa comic strip

Anyone else have this same trouble?

By contrast, here is a really cool video of somebody who has a super long attention span. In 1977, At the age of 18, this guy video’d himself interviewing his older future self, and then waited 38 years to film his older self replying. It’s really worth watching, very poignant in places. It’s 3mins 58secs long.

How’s your attention span? …Hello? You still there?

Line in a Rock

Every man, woman, and child, of every race, that ever lived,
Every elephant and rat and donkey and sheep,
Every horse that won, and the ones that didn’t,
Every theatre that was ever built,
And every stage that was ever danced on,
Every bed that bore witness to conception,
Every phone that carried news; joyous, tragic, mundane,
Every great work of art,
Displayed in every gallery around the world,
Every mirror that helped us decide how we should feel about ourselves,
Because of every magazine that told us how we should look,
Or how we should live, and feel,
Every flower and blade of grass,
Every photograph that helped us remember; people, places, adventures,
Every book that was devoured,
Every hand that was held,
And every shoulder that was cried on,
Every traffic light that stopped us, or let us through,
Every road that was ever built,
And walked on by every shoe,
And driven on by every car,
Every hospital that healed, and didn’t,
Every curtain that closed out the light,
From every window in every house,
Every swing that carried laughing children,
Every school,
Every courtroom,
Every church,
Will one day all just be,
Another line in a rock.

Vanessa-Jane Chapman, 2015


Wordless Wednesday (Assuming words within a picture don’t count…or words within a heading)

To listen

Comments are closed for today’s post because, you know, it’s Wordless Wednesday. Oh these words? No these words don’t count. Or these. Or these.

Friends Fest and Enjoying the Moment

The weekend before last I went to Friends Fest in London with my kids. As a huge Friends fan, you can imagine how excited I was to go, and it was fun indeed. I was incredibly lucky to get tickets too. The event was on for five days, and it turns out the tickets sold out in something like 13 minutes – it was a fluke really that I got them, a friend on Facebook told me about the event an hour before the tickets went on sale, so I just went online and bought them with no real idea of the need for extreme urgency!  What’s even better is that the tickets were only £5 each, AND it was on my birthday weekend. Hurrah!

Here are a few pics from the day…

Vanessa on Central Perk couch

Notice how badass I am – blatantly disobeying the sign saying “No drinks in this area please.” Ha! Get me!

Vanessa and kids at Monica's table

It’s Rachel’s beef trifle! It’s Rachel’s beef trifle!

Monica and Rachel's apartment

They did a pretty awesome job recreating the apartment, see?

Vanessa and kids with Friends umbrellas

And it wasn’t even raining.

The event was organised by Comedy Central who have the exclusive rights to show Friends in the UK, and even though it was a promotion event for them, I really expected them to be trying to get more money out of people on the day, but credit to them, they didn’t at all. Other than a small stand selling some Friends branded merchandise, everything else was free in there. That cup of coffee you see me holding on the Central Perk sofa pic above, (you know, the pic where I was being a real badass), was free – yes, free coffee, tea, and cookies from the Central Perk cafe.

My daughter having her hair blow-dried in a Rachel style, also free:

Rachel's hair station

Dressing up in costumes themed from different episodes (me in wedding gown, daughter in cheerleader outfit, son in chicken head – yes he is under there), photo taken in booth and printouts to take home, completely free, no charge at all, whichsoever at all:

Friends photo booth pic

The friendly and plentiful staff from Comedy Central were also on hand to happily take all the photos everyone wanted on the many phones and cameras that were shoved in their direction. So we really did get a lot for the very reasonable £5 ticket price. And there were interesting bits of memorabilia from the show to browse too, oh, here I am again with my free coffee in front of some of the memorabilia!

Vanessa with Friends memorabilia

The main point I was going to make in this post (which I thought I might get to quicker, but apparently not), is about enjoying the moment. The area with Monica and Rachel’s apartment was sectioned off and they let groups in, a few at a time, and only for five minutes. It made sense to do that because it was clearly going to be the most popular area, and would likely have got too crowded to see anything. After the event, my son told me that during our five minutes in the apartment, he would have liked to explore a bit more, but I spent the whole time orchestrating one photo after another, making them sit and stand in various places, so that we could get all the shots, and then the five minutes were up. I realised how right he was, I thought about how much more I would have enjoyed the experience too if I’d just soaked it up a bit and looked around rather than being so totally focused on getting pictures. Of course we would want to get pictures there, but there’s a balance. Two or three pictures in the apartment would have been fine, I didn’t need twenty.

My realisation was quite timely because last week you may have seen a Tweet doing the rounds about this very subject, about taking time to enjoy moments rather than focusing solely on capturing them with our devices – Carrie Rubin referred to that Tweet in her last post if you missed it. This is definitely something I’m guilty of. Also, I don’t mind admitting – I usually want to get the photos not only to preserve the memories for us, but to have something good to show on Facebook, or on here. Really, is that more important than being there in the moment and enjoying it, creating the memories in our minds and hearts rather than in digital form? Of course it’s not.

But that aside, are you all jealous that I got to go to Friends Fest and you didn’t? Are you? Huh? Are you?

Vanessa with Friends picture frame door viewer

The Worst Poem in the History of the World Ever Ever Ever…for Jilanne!

A long time ago, some of you may vaguely recall we played the Five Truths and One Lie game. As with the previous time I did this, I offered a prize of a poem written and read out by me for the winner. Boy did I end up regretting that. After the deadline passed, I randomly drew one of the names from those who guessed correctly, and the winner was…wait for it…wait for it…oh right, I’ve already told you in the title, Jilanne Hoffman! Congrats Jilanne!

And that’s when the trouble started…

I felt totally uninspired to write any kind of poem. That’s ok, I thought, I’ll leave it for a bit and come back to it. So I left it for a bit, came back, still no inspiration. I wrote a blog post about something else instead. As the weeks passed, I kept thinking about it and worrying about it, I kept telling myself to stop being silly, I’m not a poet, I’ve never claimed to be, nobody is expecting some incredible work of genius poetry. Just do SOMETHING Vanessa!

But the more time passed, the more I felt that the poem had to be really good to justify taking so long, and I therefore felt more and more stifled in my ability to write it. I put up two more blog posts, I apologised for not having done the poem yet. I stressed some more about it.

A few weeks ago I decided it was getting embarrassing, I couldn’t write any more blog posts until I did the poem one, and I didn’t, and weeks passed, and I didn’t do any blog posts. I barely showed my face around anyone else’s blogs for fear of being asked about the winner’s poem. And then this past weekend, it suddenly struck me – nobody cares! I was getting myself into a state over something that was just meant to be a bit of trivial fun. Anybody who may have cared a bit at first, has long since moved on.

So I forced myself to just throw something down on paper yesterday (or actually on screen), thrust my phone at Neil, and said…

“Neil, video me now, we’re doing this in one take, it’s terrible, but let’s just do it!”

“Sure. Is that what you’re wearing?” (For the record, men, nothing good ever came from that question).

“Yes, I’m wearing my squirrel onesie, ok? I will add a string of daisies round my head to make you happy though. Is that better? Does that make you happy?!”

“Um…yes…you look er…great Vanessa…I’m just wondering though, and this is only a suggestion, but-“


And he did. It’s not pretty, it’s not funny, it’s not clever, but it is finished!

Sorry Jilanne to have given you such a lousy prize, and for it to have taken so long. Now can we all just move on and pretend this never happened?

Oh you might still want to know which one was the lie. This one was the lie:

2. When I was about 22/23 I went out shopping with my slippers on, and didn’t notice until I was in the shopping mall, and so quickly popped into a shoe shop to buy an emergency pair. I spent rather too long browsing, and after a while was approached by two policemen who spoke to me in kind tones, smiling and glancing at my slippers, telling me it was time to go back to the centre. I wasn’t quite sure what centre they were talking about, but I eventually managed to persuade them that I didn’t need to go back to any centre, and had simply made a footwear error!LIE!

If you want a reminder of what the other, true ones, were then you’ll have to go back to the original post.

Do you write poetry? Have you ever got yourself into a disproportionate state over something silly? Have you ever thought that a squirrel onesie and a daisy headband was a good fashion choice?

Here’s a List of Things You Can Buy for 99 Cents

Do you have 99¢ to spare? Then let me help you spend it. Take your pick from one of the following:

  • Three quarters of a small serving of McDonald’s fries.
  • A manicure for one of your fingers at a cheap backstreet salon.
  • 9 minutes viewing of an average length movie in an average priced Manhattan movie theatre (yes, I did the math).
  • Anything from the 99¢ store.
  • A book comprising a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal short stories to intrigue, surprise and entertain you. WHAATT?! NO WAY! Yes way! Only 99¢. Courtesy of author C.S. Boyack, who you might recall helped me make bread rolls a while back.

The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack. Don’t you just love that title? And don’t you just love the cover? Designed by Rachel Carrera.

Experimental notebook cover

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this book and really enjoyed the range of stories. Some of the comments I gave Craig were:

“This story is deliciously macabre!”

“Ha! Good unexpected twist!”

“I’ve never seen something like that before, I think it works really well.”

“I could imagine this as part of a full novel that I would want to read.”

“This story really carried me along, eager to find out where it was going to go!”

Tempted? Then why not pop along to Amazon, and order your copy now? (UK residents go here to buy). Unless of course you’d rather have three quarters of a small serving of McDonald’s fries, but quite frankly they’re cold now, whereas Craig’s book is hot off the press!

If you want a bit more of Craig, and why wouldn’t you? Here are his links…


Adventures in Greece

The kids and I returned a few days ago from a wonderful trip to the beautiful Greek island of Corfu. We did some great stuff while we were there – parasailing, banana rides, and water skiing are examples of some of the things we watched while lazily lying on the beach drinking cocktails and eating ice cream, ha!

Here are some of our pics…

Corfu Corfu Corfu Corfu Corfu

Corfu is one of the cheapest places to go to from the UK if you want to go somewhere hot and abroad – consequently some people get a bit snobby and look down on it as a place to go. Like anywhere, it has nice parts and not so nice parts, some areas are definitely just for the young rowdy party crowd, but we’ve been to the island before and we love it. It is located off the north western coast of Greece, east of Italy, and practically touching distance from Albania – those mountains behind the sea in the picture below, that’s Albania, see how you can almost touch it…

View of Albania from Corfu beach

One day while we were walking around, we saw a man unloading crates of fruit from a truck. I made the mistake of saying “Ooh lovely fruit!” a bit too loudly, which prompted him to rush over and pop a grape into my mouth. Not being fully aware of the local customs, I was a bit worried that this might mean I had to marry him or something, so we moved on swiftly, while he called out something which I think was –

“The grapes are good yes, would you like another?”

But could have been –

“Can you learn to make moussaka like my mother?”

Just in case, if Pedro the fruit seller comes looking for me, you haven’t seen me ok? Ssshhh!

Stray cats and dogs wander in and out of the restaurants – in the main they look very healthy and well fed, hard to believe they are strays, I imagine they do well for tidbits from the tourists…

Cats in Corfu Dog in Corfu

Late at night, children, 6/7/8 years old, wander in and out of the bars charming the tourists into buying glow stick bracelets from them. I was a bit of a sucker for those, I felt sorry for them and found it hard to say no to these friendly, smiling children, again though, they looked healthy and well looked after, and seemed happy. They also made a beeline for me each night because they’re pretty savvy and quickly learned I was an easy sale.

On another occasion, after swimming in the sea, we came back to the beach and found one of my sandals was missing. We combed the beach and came across a beach worker emptying the bins. I held up my sandal, and asked him in my broken English with a Greek accent whether he had seen the other one. Obviously my English isn’t usually broken, but I’m under the clearly misguided impression that I will be better understood that way. He grinned, “Ya!” he said and took the sandal from me, I followed him, delighted, expecting him to lead me to the other sandal, but instead he threw my sandal onto a pile of junk. Clearly my Greek accent hadn’t been good enough to make myself understood. We eventually found the other sandal bobbing in the sea – hurrah!

Here I am trying, and failing, to look casual, as if I hadn’t just said for the 50th time that day “Take another picture of me! Take another picture of me! Make sure I look good!” clearly showing both sandals (the picture just wouldn’t be the same with only one sandal right?)…

Vanessa in Corfu with sandals

We took an excursion to Corfu town which is the main town on the island. The town has Venetian origins, and definitely has an Italian feel about it. It’s a very pretty and historic town with lots of little lanes to explore, and is well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Corfu.

Corfu town Corfu town
Corfu town

I had wondered ahead of going to Corfu whether we would notice any impact from the Greek economic situation. On the surface everything seemed fine, the businesses – shops and restaurants etc were all functioning well. The people working there were as friendly, welcoming, and hard-working as ever, but the kids and I definitely felt there were significantly less tourists around than when we were last there, which is a real shame for those businesses who are totally dependent on tourists for their survival. I do hope the situation improves for them all soon, and really there’s no need for people to stay away.

So, have you helped any country’s economy by buying glow stick bracelets and cocktails this summer?


End note – Yes, I know that I STILL owe someone a poem. I don’t have a good excuse for not doing it yet, very sorry, it WILL be soon!

I Let Him Rub Gold Into My Face

A few days ago I had a little day trip to London with the kids. Whilst I was perfectly happy to pose for pictures, the kids were a little more reluctant…

4 pics of Vanessa and kids

So I had to catch them unaware when they were on their devices or watching floating green men…

2 pics of Vanessas kids

None of that has anything to do with the main point of this post, but I’m just setting the scene. Now I’ll get to the point. As we walked down past some fancy shops, a very well-dressed man appeared and handed me this sample…

Sample of gold cream

I really would have liked to just walk on, but being terribly useless in these situations, I found myself engaging in conversation, AND allowing myself to get led into the shop for him to try some product on me. Why? Why can’t I just say no thank you?!

As he dabbed some stuff under my eye, he told me that the product was incredible and contained real gold. He asked what products I usually use on my face.

“Nivea.” I told him.

He also asked what I type of maintenance I usually do on my eyes.

“Er…maintenance…um, well, you know…the Nivea I put on my face also goes under my eyes.” I told him. Maintenance? What am I, a car?

When he was done he produced a mirror for me to say “wow” and pretend I could tell the difference between the eye he had done and the one he hadn’t (the kids also dutifully nodded and said appropriate things to please him). I cut to the chase and asked him how much it was. He told me there was a special offer on at the moment where I could get two products for £198 (that’s around US $310), usually that was the price just for one. What a bargain! (For people who spend hundreds on face cream).

Girl with cream on her face

Wow, I can totally see how much better I look. Wait, you want HOW MUCH for it?! (photo credit: IMG_2902.jpg via photopin (license) )

I reminded him that I generally use Nivea costing around £5, and that would be quite a leap. He reminded me that there was real gold in this product. I thanked him politely, declined, and we left. To his credit, he wasn’t overly pushy, he was gentle in his sales approach, friendly, and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable about saying no.

During the process of him dabbing stuff on me, he had a guess at my age, “35” he said. I played the game of pretending to be delighted while I told him I was actually nearly 45, and he played the game of pretending to be impressed and surprised. I knew he was just flattering me to get a sale, but afterwards I realised I totally missed a trick, I should have said “Well clearly the Nivea is working well for me then.” I want to go back there now just to be able to say that!

Maybe you’ve heard of Orogold before, I hadn’t, but I looked them up online later and found lots of stuff about them, both good and bad. I’m not making any comment about the company or the products, I don’t know enough about them, but I am wondering how many people do spend that kind of money on face cream. I guess I’m lucky that I’ve always had pretty good skin, so it’s easy for me to say “I would NEVER spend that much on face cream,” but maybe under different circumstances I would, who knows. I’m pretty sure I’d want to do more research first though and not just spend a few hundred on a product I’d never heard of before, on the strength of a five minute sales pitch from someone who approached me on the street.

For now, I’ll stick with Nivea thank you. What about you?

(By the way, I know I still owe someone a poem, I haven’t forgotten, it’ll be soon!)

It’s Time to Play Again!

Fairground ducks

We previously had such fun playing the Five Truths and One Lie game on here. Do you remember? So I thought we’d play it again. Last time, the prize I gave was to write a poem for the winner and record myself reciting it (prizes don’t get much better than that right?). Darla from She’s a Maineiac won last time:

I thought I’d do a different prize this time, but couldn’t think of anything good, so I’m doing the same prize again.

Here we are then, five truths and one lie about things from my past. Tell me in the comments which one you think is the lie. If more than one person gets it right, there will be a random drawing. If nobody gets it right, I will do a poem for the person who I think gave the best reasoning for their answer.

Only one guess per person folks. You have until this time next week. Ready? Go…

1.  When I was a child I used to think that horses made that clip clop noise with their mouths rather than with their hooves. I think it was probably because when people pretend to be horses they often make that noise with their mouths.

2.  When I was about 22/23 I went out shopping with my slippers on, and didn’t notice until I was in the shopping mall, and so quickly popped into a shoe shop to buy an emergency pair. I spent rather too long browsing, and after a while was approached by two policemen who spoke to me in kind tones, smiling and glancing at my slippers, telling me it was time to go back to the centre. I wasn’t quite sure what centre they were talking about, but I eventually managed to persuade them that I didn’t need to go back to any centre, and had simply made a footwear error!

3.  In my early 20s I had a makeover done in a magazine. This was my first experience of discovering that magazine/newspaper writers can completely make things up. They printed a supposed quote from me saying “I never thought my hair could look like this, I’ve got curls!” Seriously, who talks like that? (Try saying it out loud).

4.  I was extremely greedy as a small child, and one of the ways this manifested itself was that I used to sneak tubs of margarine out of the fridge and eat them with a spoon. My parents used to find empty tubs of margarine hidden in my room.

5.  When I was about 11/12 (1981/2) a well-known TV comedian kissed me on the mouth backstage after a live show, not in a creepy secretive way, but in a joke way. He did that thing of pointing at his cheek for a kiss and then turning his head at the last second when I went to kiss his cheek. It’s a real sign of how times have changed because there were other adults around, everyone laughed, it was no big deal, and I wasn’t bothered by it (other than feeling a bit silly that he’d tricked me). Now when I look back at it I find it a bit inappropriate, but back then it all seemed quite normal. I’m not going to name him because he’s still a well known personality and these things can get blown out of proportion, it was innocent at the time.

6. When I was five I went on a trip to Malta with my Mum, and we took a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. My head got bashed repeatedly throughout the trip by something hard sticking out of the carriage. It hurt so much I was having to fight back the tears, but I didn’t say a word about it, because I was embarrassed to in front of the man driving (is “driving” the right word?). A couple of days later, I fell down some marble stairs outside the hotel and cut the back of my head pretty bad, I still have the scar. It wasn’t a good trip for my head!

If you’re short of posting ideas, why not do a Five Truths and One Lie game on your blog? If you do, let me know so that I can come and play yours!

photo credit: Sutton Coldfield Carnival 2012 via photopin (license)

Most People Read Fiction Not So Much For Plot As For Company

Girl reading

Whether or not you agree with the above quote by Josip Novakovich, it’s certainly one that makes you think, and question what it is that makes you love a novel or not. It’s an appropriate quote too because today we’re going to talk about writing rules – please present your tickets to the girl on the door then come in and have a seat. Ready? Then I shall begin…

I recently read a post by JM McDowell entitled Damn The Writing Rules—What Do Readers Like? She had written this as a result of feedback she received from some alpha readers of her novel – of which I was one (I will mention at this point that I loved the story and the way it was written). Her post was around the issue of writing rules, and who they are really for. You might want to pop over and read JM’s post before continuing here to get the background on this post.

Personally, I haven’t done a huge amount of fiction writing, a couple of half-finished novels, a couple of barely started novels, an occasional short story, mainly my bits of published writing have been non-fiction. I haven’t really learned the rules of fiction writing – I’ve picked some up along the way, mainly from blog posts written by writers, but I haven’t actively sought to learn what they are. Therefore when I read fiction, whether just for pleasure, or in the case of JM’s novel, to critique it, I’m not consciously measuring it against a set of rules.

Man measuring weights

When I’m reading, the negative things I tend to notice are:

  • Something that doesn’t seem realistic within the context or world that has been created.
  • Story threads that don’t go anywhere.
  • Things left unexplained that I really wanted an explanation for.
  • Anything that seems contrived.
  • Descriptions that feel too lengthy and self-indulgent.
  • Grammatical errors.

These are things that non writers might notice too, things that aren’t particularly to do with fiction writing rules. The one thing I do notice which would come under “writer knowledge” is the show-don’t-tell issue. I can really see the value of that one, and I admire it greatly it when it’s done well, it totally breathes life into the story.

What I do wonder though is where the rules come from. I know there won’t be just one answer to that, but how evidence-based are the rules? How many of them are proven to be key to a successful novel, and how many of them were just said by someone influential at some point because they sounded logical, and have then been passed on and quoted by everyone else, but actually don’t make any difference to reader enjoyment? It’s hard to be conclusive, you could no doubt find a correlation between rule-compliance and successful novels, but you couldn’t be sure that the following of the rules is what made them successful. Of course following the rules is part of the game you likely have to play if you want a traditional publishing route for your book, and that’s probably the main driver for following the rules for many writers.

Something that comes to mind here are the TV talent shows, particularly the singing X-Factor type ones (which yes, I do watch, sorry ‘n all). So many times when I’ve watched the early audition rounds, I’ve seen people who are a bit raw, a bit rough around the edges maybe, their personality is there and it draws you in, they’re different, and there’s something special about them. But then when they make it through to the live shows, they’ve been polished up, scrubbed to perfection, turned into a formula-looking and sounding pop singer. They’ve had that raw edginess, that quirkiness, that made them great taken away from them. I understand that it’s been done by people in the industry who presumably know what is needed to turn those people into money-generators, but it’s a real shame. And I wonder sometimes if too much strict adherence to the writing rules can at times do a similar thing to the writer’s story.

I don’t really have a conclusion to make here. I’m certainly not saying that writing rules are pointless, I understand that many of them are based on solid reasoning and have value to them, and in general I’m a rule-follower, but it’s the idea of blindly following them, or thinking that they are the ONLY way that something should be done, which I take issue with. But I’m no expert, and I welcome any counter arguments below. It’s a subject that gets discussed often amongst writers and there are many different views.

Speaking of writing and novels (notice how seamlessly I work this one in), over on my Sugarness blog, I have this week started a new series of posts in collaboration with author J Keller-Ford, where I have created recipes for each of the characters in her new novel In the Shadow of the Dragon King, to be published in 2016. The first recipe is Eric Hamden’s Red Wine Apple Pie.

Red wine apple pie

What are your views on writing rules? Or if you don’t know much about writing rules, what things turn you on or off when reading fiction? Do you like apple pie?

photo credit (red-headed girl) : Girl and book via photopin (license)
photo credit (measuring weights) : Checking Accuracy of a Scale in a Feed Mill Establishment (FDA 117) via photopin (license)
photo credit (apple pie) : Me!