Goodbye and Good Riddance, Dry January

If, like a sizeable proportion of the UK population, you signed up for a ‘Dry January’, you’re probably just about to grab the barman’s attention and celebrate the end of a month of abstinence.

red wineI won’t miss this January one little bit. But it’s not giving up booze that made it hard.  The bits of Dry January I can’t handle are:

1 People imagining that one month off the sauce will magically cancel out 11 months of serious abuse. The prevailing belief is that it doesn’t matter what you do to your liver before or after January. Anything goes because it gets annulled like a Catholic marriage. Yes, all you folks that didn’t have a sober half hour in the whole of December – I’m talking about you. And no, it wasn’t really that smart to finish off every single bottle in the house before New Year’s Day, just to avoid temptation.

white-wine crop

2 People seeking sponsorship for their abstinence. It’s only one month! It’s barely long enough for your liver enzymes to return to normal (if they’re seriously raised, you should be looking at 6-8 weeks or longer, like life).  Is there no such thing as self-control unless you can get some dosh out of it?  No? OK, so the next time I give up chocolate for three years, I’ll make a Just Giving page and ask everyone I know for serious money.

3 Pious facial expressions when ordering ‘just an elderflower’. Because, obviously, giving up the hard stuff for a small fraction of the year, while remaining self-indulgent on every other front, really turns someone into a saint.


4 Ever-longer lists of ‘mocktails’, almost as expensive in restaurants as the alcoholic versions. Along with a hefty helping of calories, some also come with twee names like ‘Nojito’ and ‘Abstinence on the Beach’.

5 Hilarious signs about Dry January. You know the kind of thing, often found outside pubs or on Facebook. pub sign dry January

6 Intense conversations about alcohol, mostly around its history or cultural aspects, and not all of it correct:

“In the middle ages, ale was safer to drink than water.”

“Even children drank beer and it was much stronger than it is today.”

“Arabs don’t even have a word for booze.”*

So long, Dry January. Welcome, Dry February.


*Oh yes, they do. There are even words for wine and beer. In fact ‘alcohol’ comes from the Arabic.

More on fatty liver disease and liver enzymes: When and how to evaluate mildly elevated liver enzymes in apparently healthy patients.


Can I Please Be a Man for a Change?

“Cazza,” a friend asked me in all seriousness. “Would you like to be a man?”

Of course not. It was a ridiculous idea. I’ve had plenty of time to get used to being a woman, and I enjoy it. A lot.

Why would I want to be a bloke, with all the disadvantages like obtrusive pipework, higher car insurance, and the chore of daily face-scraping? A no-brainer.

But fast forward a few weeks, and I’ve seen The Danish Girl, I’ve done some thinking about gender, and I may have changed my mind. While I wouldn’t resort to surgery, it might be nice to have a magic wand and painlessly turn into a fella, just for a bit. Graat

Here are just some of the things you can do when you’re a man, even in 2016:

1 You get acres of space on a tube train just by spreading your legs apart.

2 There’s no need to queue up for a pee. 

3 You can take part in conversations about asbestos removal, carburettors, or the offside rule without someone saying it’s a bit technical for you.

4 Interrupting isn’t rude. It’s decisive. And you’re never bossy. It’s called ‘being a leader’.  

5 You can rearrange your scrotum at leisure under the guise of thinking.

6 A fart machine can keep you entertained for hours. 

fart machine

7 There are no periods or hot flushes, and you can pile on weight without people asking when it’s due. Gelinski

8 You can irritate the crap out of someone, then say, “You’re so gorgeous when you’re angry.”

9 If you clean the house or look after the children, your other half is deemed to be very lucky, and you’re hailed as a saint. Abegglen

10 You’re a good sport, even when women make fun of you.  

Why Writers Live in Suffolk

Not all writers live in Suffolk, but plenty do, or did. Eric Arthur Blair was so impressed with the county that he named himself after the River Orwell.  And it’s not just writers. Suffolk is a big draw for all kinds of creatives.

I can’t blame a single one of them, I concluded after a recent couple of days in Aldeburgh.

Aldeburgh beach

By any standards, Suffolk is attractive.

No wonder crime writer PD James bought herself a home across the market square in Southwold. The other Queen of Crime, Ruth Rendell, was also based in Suffolk.

Even villages that aren’t chocolate-box pretty are picturesque. Day

An estimated 375 of them have ornate village signs. That’s more than any other county (except Norfolk).

Freckenham, Suffolk

It’s not a through-route to anywhere, unless you’re heading out to sea. Maybe that’s why it’s resistant to motorways and vapid trends. Walk through any Suffolk town and you’ll find a retro vibe.  Policemen know everyone, tractors roam the streets, and small shops still do a busy trade.

Wine shop, Suffolk

But it’s not Hicksville. It’s a hive of culture. Check out Snape Maltings and the Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten. 

The light is amazing, as artists soon discover. Even if you don’t paint or sketch, it’s uplifting to be outside. I can’t do the sky justice, so here’s a photo taken by a river estuary.

River Alde

It’s easy to clear your head because the air is so bracing. For most of the winter, the wind blows in straight from the Urals. 

Stroll along the beach, and you might find it comforting to watch fishermen sitting patiently on the shingle in the rain. Especially if you have somewhere warm to go back to.

Writing fiction? There’s plenty of inspiration for intrigue, from the Martello towers dotted along the coast to the nuclear reactor at Sizewell.

Martello tower, Aldeburgh

See the guy at the top? This isn’t someone about to go over the edge. It’s an Antony Gormley statue. 

But what if, despite the odds, you have writer’s block in the middle of your magnum opus? 

Just compose a limerick about Suffolk instead.

Tables on the beach at Aldeburgh

How to Conjure up a Title for a Book

Newsflash for TS Eliot: it’s not just the naming of cats that’s a difficult matter. Books are equally tricky.old-books1

If you’re traditionally published, you may not need to give it much thought. One of my books was born with the zingy title of Twins and Multiple Births with barely any input from me.  I can’t really complain. It may be low on pizzazz but it’s a fair description of the contents.

Twins & Multiple Births book

But now that I am nearing the end of my second novel, and the cover design is imminent, I’ve come to the conclusion that Camden Passage isn’t after all right for a racy story about dating in London. Camden Passage is in Islington, not in Camden. It’s a stylish destination for shopping and eating out, but still, could the address confuse non-Londoners?

lighting shop in Camden Passage

For American readers, the potential for confusion is far greater. Camden, New Jersey, is often cited as one of the poorest and most violent cities in the USA. It was no doubt an ideal venue for President Obama to announce his new police initiative last year, but it’s about as far from a classy location as you can get.

Now I’ve abandoned Camden Passage, I’m left with various techniques for finding a new title for my novel.

1 Book title generators like Fantasy Name Generators, Adazing’s book title generator, and a fun blog post by Tara Sparling.

2 Asking friends and family.

3 Talking to other authors.

4 Polling readers of existing books. There’s the title bracket system described by Nathan Roten in his blog post for ALLi.

5 Going to a quiet bar and staying till the barman comes up with a suggestion.

6 Aiming a dart at the dictionary.

7 Subverting well-known titles.

bookshelf crop

I’ve already tried some of these methods. With a dry January, number 5 won’t fly, and I didn’t quite gel with If Clouds Could Steal, suggested by one of the title generators, but polling writer friends and readers remains an idea.

As a journalist, I think bending well-known titles appeals to me more, and that might inject just the right note to hint at the wit within the pages.

The reading world already has Aberystwyth Mon Amour and A Year in Cricklewood.  On that basis, Much Ado about Something Quite Serious makes perfect sense to me.

I can also foresee shelf space for gems like The Ice Triplets, Bonfire of the VAT Receipts, Breakfast at Lidl’s and Great Expectorations (set in a TB hospital in the 1950s).

Hampstead is the scene for much of the action in my novel. Might Hampstead for Dummies work? Kennedy

Hmm. Not convinced. But I rather like Hampstead Handyman which conveys a certain amount of action. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to fulfil its promise unless, as a friend suggested, I actually write a handyman into the story.

Those who can’t decide on a single name for their baby sometimes string all their favourites together as middle names for their little darling. You know the type: the newborn son or daughter saddled with the names of the entire football squad.

That may explain how Tom Wolfe got the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby. Though strictly speaking this was a car, not a baby.

So here I am at the start of the year and the end of my novel, my head spinning with title possibilities, all of them still wide of the mark.

If you’re an author, how do you choose your book titles? I’d love to hear from you.