Archive for September, 2011

Blogstar, Twitterati – helping or hindering your writing?

September 28, 2011

What I wonder is: do the different forms of writing that these two particular social media require, eg the 140 characters for Twitter and the informal self directing nature of a blog, help to improve your ‘real’ writing? To wit, is your novel, or short story collection better served by honing skills in Blogs-ville and Twitter-village? Or are you simply wasting too much time in non-productive writing pursuits?

The attraction of social media.

Twittering keeps you in touch in a quick and immediate way with a whole range of people you’d never get to meet. So, you can be connected to literary agents, writers and celebrities. You can feel special being connected to all that. FB is also an attractive way of keeping tabs on your friends and other acquaintances across the world. In both cases you can publicise your writing.

Linkedin and similar places connect you to a community of like-minded people where you can share ideas, tips and successes. It is a positive and professional community that adds to your writing life.

Blogging is great because there are no rules, you can write what you want, when you want. It is democracy in action. No agents or publishers required. It’s why so many of us are here!

The downside of social media. 

Is it mostly about self promotion as Lorraine Devon Wilke said on Linkedin? It certainly seems that way.

Twitter does seem to be more about celebrities than ordinary people. They are up on the stage and we mortals remain in the audience while hoping that our tweets will get us onto the stage. But the modern mantra about getting yourself out there means being connected all over the place, so what are we to do? Fingers crossed, hope for the best…

Blogging can feel extremely isolated if no-one is reading or responding. If you don’t have an audience what are you doing? True it takes a while to get connections, to have followers and enough hits to feel validated, but are you developing as a writer while you wait?

The fact of the matter is that it is all terribly distracting – checking in to see who’s visited your latest blog, following all the tweeting an in-box full of up-dates from Linkedin.

Perhaps writers are spending too much time being distracted, but telling themselves, actually I am working now, because I have to build my on-line profile. Perhaps we should concentrate on building our skills and writing better stuff to get out there?

How does Blogging and Twittering help you up-skill your writing? First of all, we acknowledge there is a lot of crap out there – democratising the writing world is wonderful but it means there is more rubbish to wade through, so you do need to be producing well written stuff, and good content. Yes, loads of others have said this. But get out there and look around – there are some atrocious blogs, boring and poorly written. Ditto Twitter. My good, how banal can some people be?

Twittering should give you the chance to hone your vocab skills, to write something well shaped and interesting. It should be a way to perfect a great sentence. Go for the ‘less is more’ maxim. Only tweet good stuff. Be funny, be profound – don’t waste your time or others by writing about breakfast.

Blogging gives you freedom, but you still need to have form and content. That is the basics of good writing. Blogs can be as brief as a tweet, or as long as a decent essay. Most people seem to find their size and style within a few months of blogging. But you need to craft and shape your piece, it needs to follow logically, make sense, show some insight, add to the discussions on relevant topics.  A good blog should engender a response in the reader. If not, then what are you doing??

Write often, write well.  The best way to become a better writer is to write more, try out different things, different forms, different ways of expressing yourself. Bloggers and Twitterers, by and large, don’t simply restrict themselves to these forms. To my mind, Tweeting and Blogging should help you edit and revise better, know what is essential to your piece, to the point you are making. This vital skill should then transfer to your main writing. A well written sentence within a crafted paragraph is the bedrock of good writing. Get that right, add in compelling content and you’re a winner.

Here’s the analogy. Years ago when I was Rowing, a new national coach arrived on the scene and turned selection for national squads, especially the Open 8’s upside down by looking at how athletes performed in pairs, not from state senior 8 crews. His reasoning was this: it’s so much easier to see the skills or flaws of an individual rower when there’s only two in a boat. When there are 8, you can hide a flaw, because it’s harder to watch 8 rowers than 2.

Thus writing shorter pieces, a short story for example, which is usually between 3-5000 words, means every word counts. The same is true of an essay or article. This skill needs to transfer to the novel, so you don’t get slow passages of irrelevant detail that simply doesn’t add to the story.

Blog well. Tweet well. Hone your writing skills (through using social media) and then social media will really be helping you deliver what you want – a novel that is stunning, that your many followers can’t wait to read.

7 Lessons for A Successful Education for Your Child

September 26, 2011

If you’re a parent one of the scariest things in the world is the education system, especially secondary school. Somehow Primary isn’t quite as scary as Secondary. Is that because we remember only too well how truly awful most of high school was? Plus we read too much nonsense in the papers, so of course we’re rigid with fear.

I’m going to let you in on a few secrets to getting your child through school successfully and that means they end up happy and functional in this dysfunctional world – be that as a hair-dresser or Rhodes Scholar. There are many roads to being a decent human being and success at school is only one part of it, no matter how overwhelming it seems during the pre-teen and teen years. But you have to work at it – there are no easy cures or quick fixes.

Lesson no 1. Success at school starts at home. Cliched but true – you are your child’s first teacher. So be on their case about reading, tidying their rooms, respect for others, helping out, sharing and listening. Make them responsible for their actions; teach them about being decent human beings, don’t allow excuses for feral behaviour – ever.

Lesson no 2. You need to know your child. We don’t all produce Olympic athletes, or Maths geniuses and some children walk at 9 months and some at 13. Some take to reading, some don’t. You need to know what your child can do, what they are capable of and what their limitations are – how to push them and when to let them be. It will help you support them at school and get them extra help if they need it. Ditto, behaviour – if your child is a bully it’s pointless to deny it. You don’t help your child and the school just think you’re part of the problem. Be honest with your child and the school about what they can do and where they need help and everyone becomes so much happier.

Lesson no 3. They have to be able to read. It is the bedrock of everything, of all subjects, of all knowledge. If you don’t teach them to read when they are little you are committing a capital offence, you may as well let them wander off and play in the traffic. Once they can read, they need to keep reading. Books – novels and true stories – all books. They need to learn to sustain concentration and reading a whole book – not the abridged version or watch the bloody film and winging it – is one of the best ways to build concentration. Read to them early, have books in the house, you read too and let them see you reading.

Lesson no 4. The teacher is mostly right, but not always. Give them a break. A high school teacher has about 120 odd kiddies to worry about, as well as preparing lessons and marking and keeping up with curriculum changes. They know some students really well and some hardly at all. And sometimes they get it wrong. Beloved baby girl was predicted an E for her Maths GCSE unit exam. She got a B. Yes, we feel smug, but we knew she could do it. We knew she was being slack. The teacher thought she was dumb. You need to know your child so that when you have to argue with the school you can do it openly and effect the change you need. She’s now in top set.

Lesson no 5. It’s the peer group that matters. Who are their friends? Do you know? If they spend their days with kids who work hard and pay attention and then go home and complete their homework, they are likely to as well. If they hang out with the bottom dwellers, the ones who disrupt as often as possible, who wag/bunk school, who never complete tasks and laugh at homework, what do you think is going to happen? Who your child spends their day with is crucial to their attitude to school and their success or otherwise therein. You need to take some control over their friends when they are young, so you can have some faith in their judgement when high school starts and they are choosing friends without your watchful eye. They spend more time with their friends than with you or with teachers, so their peer group is central to how well they do and the sort of person they become.

Lesson no 6. It’s about the child not the school. There is a great deal of anxiety about getting into the right school in England. League tables and Ofsted reports are dangerous and misleading things. Children succeed despite their teachers, despite their school. Good schools produce poor performing students as surely as poor schools produce good performing students. It’s about the child. Take it from me. I worked in Distance Education for a number of years where students studied using a variety of prepared materials, textbooks and a weekly, if they were lucky, phone call from a centrally located teacher. These were kids on remote communities, cattle stations, travelling. Usually they got through the materials quicker than students in traditional classrooms, which was handy given some of them had responsibilities on the farm. They also did well enough in their GCSE and A level equivalent subjects to get into the universities of their choice. They were motivated, supported by their family and had access to a decent teacher at the end of the phone line. The teacher simply facilitated: the child did it.

Lesson no 7. It’s a triumvirate – just like Cleopatra, Mark Anthony and Octavian running the Roman Empire. Education works best when the child, the school/teacher and the home are all on the same bloody page. As above, know your child, understand the school’s expectations, know that teachers are human and sometimes stuff it up, although most really are damn good at what they do. Communicate with the school openly, honestly and regularly. A note explaining that there were issues about completing homework is so much better than an argument about an ‘unfair’ detention. School lasts for a long time, better to be on good terms with everyone working towards the same end, so be polite, attend parent evenings, monitor your child’s homework, reading, friends and if there is a problem, get in touch with the school sooner rather than later. Teachers much prefer a note in the diary explaining something odd before it goes pear shaped.

Remember, your child’s education is of paramount importance to you and your child. You both have to take primary responsibility for ensuring success at school. Yes, teachers care a great deal but not as much as you should about your own child. Do the right thing, be an active participant in your child’s life and education. It will make a huge difference and all those worries about getting into the right school will (almost) disappear.

Songs to make you feel – love and real emotion

September 26, 2011

Here we go, part 2 of music to live your life by – this time more emotional stuff, that make you remember, feel and cry. But why not? Every once in a while a good burst of tears does you the world of good.

Romance – Love and Heart-ache

Shamrock Diaries, Chris Rea

Fool, If You Think It’s Over, Chris Rea

I’m Not In Love, 10CC

Your Song, Elton John

What A Fool Believes, Doobie Brothers

Romeo and Juliet, Dire Straights

Damn, Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B Hawkins

I’ve Been Thinking About You, London Beat

Ain’t No Doubt, Jimmy Nail

Senza Una Donna, Paul Young

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic, Police

Wrapped Around Your Finger, Police

The Bed’s Too Big without You, Police

Amazing, George Michael

Sex is on Fire, Kings of Leon

How Long (Has this Been Going On) Ace

One of these Nights, The Eagles

Boys of Summer, Don Henley

Main Street, Bob Seger

Missing You, John Waite

Beautiful, James Blunt


Heavy Duty Emotions

I’ll Stand by You, The Pretenders

Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley

With or Without You, U2

Nothing Compares to You, Sinead O’Connor

Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, Crash Test Dummies

Us and Them, Pink Floyd

Kashmir, Led Zeppelin

I Want to Know What Love Is, Foreigner

How to Save a Life, The Fray

Mad World, version from Donnie Darko

You are So Beautiful to Me, Joe Cocker

Reckless, Australian Crawl

The Carnival is Over, The Seekers

The Last Dance with You, Englebert Humperdink

Songs to make you feel good & strong: party hard

September 26, 2011

Some songs for specific moments in your life. I was thinking anthems but ended up with lists that kept on growing. Parts 2 & 3 to follow – too long a list otherwise and you’ll lose focus. Remember, enjoy, play them again, feel the feeling!

Live Young, Party Hard, Drive Fast

Girls Just Want to have Fun, Cyndi Lauper

Let’s Go, The Cars

Working for the Weekend, Loverboy

Hot in the City, Billy Idol

I Got You, Split Enz

Beautiful People, Australian Crawl

Dancing in the Dark, Bruce Springsteen

Ballroom Blitz, The Sweet

Tubthumping, Chumbawamba

Bennie & The Jets, Elton John

Evil Woman, ELO

Listen to the Music, Doobie Borthers

New Romance, Spider

Isnt It Time? The Babies

Pretty Fly, The Offspring

Feeling strong and tough

Themes from Rocky

We are the Champions/We Will Rock You, Queen

Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin

Down Under, Men at Work

I Don’t Like Mondays. Boomtown Rats

Younger Years, Dragon

Slave to the Rhythm, Grace Jones

Dog Days are Over, Florence & The Machine

Warm Ride, Graham Bonnet

Protection, Graham Parker and the Rumour

No Secrets, Angels

7 Stress Busting Activities to Get You Through Life’s Shittier Moments

September 25, 2011

Life is a bit heavy going at the moment, the world economy is melt downing in ever increasing waves of panic. Costs for everything are soaring; teenagers remain moody and resistant to all pleas for conversation and room cleaning. Work gives you migraines and your partner has a never ending list of complaints and demands. Your fitness and diet regimens have fallen to dust and the fight against wrinkles and age is defeating you. Instead of reaching for the wine or vodka and stuffing your face with chocolate and Doritos, try some of these simple, sane ways to bring some calm into your world.

1. Be Physical – get outside and swim or walk – run or play golf if you must. You don’t have to be high powered but doing something with and for your body is a great way to release the chemicals in your brain that help your peace of mind. Every day is good, but a couple of times a week will do.

2. Go outside and simply breath: be in a park, watching the ducks, have a picnic, take a water-boat ride to anywhere. You don’t have to be physical for this; you just have to be (remember you don’t always have to do). Sunny days help but being outside, even your own backyard or deck is enough. Rug up and sit outside under the stars at night, it makes you feel wonderful to be alive.

3. Do something for someone else, something nice or helpful is best. Simple things like making a cup of tea, hanging out the washing, cooking dinner, buying a treat on the way home from work; flowers are always nice. You don’t have to volunteer or read to strange children, just something small and heart felt for those you love is enough.

4. Create a happy vibe – listen to music that makes you feel good. I can recommend Love is in the Air by John Paul Young, it always makes me sing along and dance. Do the same with movies, find some that make you feel better about the world, eg Love Actually, Bridget Jones and the much under-rated but brilliant Water, with Michael Caine and Billy Connolly.

5. Eat your favourite foods. Ignore all imperatives about diets and calories and the time of the day. Eating is one of life’s purest pleasures, so indulge yourself – have a meal of the things that you just love. But don’t feel guilty. Let me recommend champagne and Toblerone in the bath – bliss.

6. Do something with your hands. Making something is good, so cooking or sewing or gardening. Doing something simple and repetitive is soothing to the soul. Try shelling peas, knitting a long scarf (also doing something for someone else) and peeling hard boiled eggs. I strongly recommend the latter as getting the membrane to break away from the egg and lifting the shell away without taking lumps out of the egg is one of life’s little triumphs.

7.Be with people you love, who make you feel good, who, in the words of Mark Darcy, ‘love you just the way you are’. When my baby girl (now teenage mood-bag) was little she was a joy-bucket, just being with her made you happy. She was a little bundle of sunshine and made everything about the world all right. (She can still do it when she wants.) Find the people who make you feel good, love them, be with them, be good to them. You’ll feel so much better in no time at all. (I include pets here too, cats, dogs – something you can stroke and who doesn’t give you grief back soothes the stressed breast no end.)

Try some, try all but find some way to deal with the stresses of life and make sure you remain a decent functioning human being.

Sex in the Morning?

September 24, 2011

It’s time for a probing personal question: do you have a preferred time of the day for sex? Most of us are evening or night-time sensual beings but sometimes the morning can be the right time.

Confession: this morning I had sex, sort of slumberous and languid and quite the nicest way to start the day. What I notice now, several hours later, is how good I feel, how my well being and energy levels are all elevated. I’ve done a load of washing, cleaned up all the detritus from teenage child’s pancake making extravaganza, and done some pre-cooking preparation for dinner. We’re now off the walk the dog and I hope the vibe lasts the rest of the day. Even beloved is busy downstairs, vacuuming and doing some sort of boy’s stuff in the shed.

Years ago I had a boyfriend who was fond of morning trysts. My boyfriend’s girlfriend (in danger of sounding like a Killers’ song here) left for work early and some days he had that extra urge for something carnal to make his day zing by that bit better. I lived down the road from him, didn’t start uni till much later in the day, so he would often call in and we’d indulge in a bit of extreme physical pleasure and he’d go off to work with his wellbeing and temper assured for the day and I’d go back to a most self satisfied extra hour of sleep wrapped in that lovely musky sex smell that settles into your being and makes everything seem possible (or was that being 19 and the rest of the world waiting for me?).

So, I am left thinking that we waste that upsurge in our energy levels by leaving most of our conjugal conquests to the dark hours. Perhaps we’d all be much more efficient and able to cope with the nonsense of the world if we had more sex in the morning. But then a regular and satisfying sex life helps you sleep too and a good night’s sleep is meant to be hugely beneficial as well.

So, early mornings for energy or late nights for a decent sleep?

Perhaps if we all just had more sex more often…?

Do you think that’s what the bankers and politicians lack?

Reading while you write – the effect of other people’s fiction on yours

September 17, 2011

Normally I just write, I have my vague roadmap ready, the car is loaded with my characters, their issues, attributes and relationships simmering away there in the back seat and off I go. My destination is known, some of my stopping off points, some scenic areas are pencilled in for a visit. But I’m open to other places to go: happy to take detours if they are of interest and make the journey richer for all involved.

But before I get into the car I’ve read a great deal about where I’m going, the places I want to see, the food and drink I’ll indulge in, the important or interesting things about the journey and the ultimate destination. In this way I’ve prepared for the trip, know a bit about it already, but not all of it and am free to make my own decisions about just how I’ll get to know this place. After all I wouldn’t be going to this place if I hadn’t done some reading, some research in the first place, otherwise I’d have no idea at all about what I was getting myself into and perhaps that’s not such a wise thing to do. Especially when you’re going on a long journey. Perhaps a weekend away doesn’t require any preparation but anything longer than a week does necessitate some preparation to get the most out of the journey and the destination.

My background reading is usually Fay Weldon and John Irving because they were the two who made me really want to write, who made me feel I could write and I could write like them; about ordinary people, the interior life and how lives are lived, how we endure and recover from normal but terrible things. I read and re-read these two, absorbing their style, voice, nuances, being alternatively just a reader and then a writer looking at their specific techniques and seeing how appropriate they are for my work.

When I have written slightly outside my normal genre – contemporary women, I guess – venturing into YA, Romance or Crime, I have read within those genres to get a better feel for the tone and mood, the voice of the genre. I think you need to have a basic understanding of the genre and the readers of particular genres if you are to write engagingly and effectively for your audience. I guess it’s best to write the sort of books you like to read, then you know instinctively what the reader wants as you are the reader too. Thus the caveat, you can’t write if you don’t read. Some genres, such as Romance, do have their rules and for a reason: readers expect, so you need to follow the rules to deliver. Having said that, you can always subvert the genre, but you need to know it first.

A good writer is first and foremost a good reader, an eclectic reader, who picks ups ideas and information in all sorts of places. In creating fictional worlds that are ‘real’ you must ensure the ‘facts’ of your reality are true. Thus an amount of research is needed to authenticate your settings. It may be about the flora and fauna of the area, the style of architecture, the width of lapels of a particular era, when walkmans arrived. These sorts of details are important and you need to check them out. Thank god for the internet, where five minutes can tell you the ingredients of Laksa soup and the year of the first Parap Market (1982).

But who should you read during the writing of your novel? Tis a thorny question with some subscribing to the ‘read no-one’ else they influence you unduly to the read widely and intelligently and take what you need.

Normally I just read what I like when writing a novel, given it takes several months in between working and children, it seems unfair to enforce a no reading zone as well. The truth is though, between family, work and writing there is generally little time left for serious reading. When writing my first YA novel I was reading a great deal of YA fiction, as well as teaching it. It was already a genre I was familiar with. It was partly why I felt I could write one. It also helped working with teenagers and having my own children. Authenticity comes from your own life.

For my paranormal romance I read some romance fiction, absorbed the rules, joined an on-line community and based a lot of the writing on films I’d seen, specifically Underworld Evolution and anything set in New York. It seemed to do the trick as well as basing it in an area of reasonable familiarity, a swimmer and a publishing house – yes, I’d read enough about publishing to use it as part of the background. The alpha male rule was easy to deal with given my own dealings with such beasts!

For my current novel, Ophelia, being completed for PhD studies, I have read more novels and textbooks related to lies, secrets and confession than I care to recall. I have never embarked upon this level of reading while writing before and while it has in many ways made the writing harder I feel from recent reading that it has made my writing better.

What I have found is that there is an enormous amount of writing – stories – with secrets at the heart of the plot and almost needless to say, the revelation and impact of that secret. All too often in literature the secret keeper is punished, often ostracised from their family or society such as in God of Small Things, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time; or in many cases death ensues, Tess, Sophie, Blood Brothers, Great Expectations. The burden of the secret is great but the damage from the revelation of the secret is greater.

I’ll have to ensure that Ophelia remains true to this tradition and that the heroine does fall from grace, and loses more than she ever thought possible: indeed fight against my urge to let her live happily ever after, forgiven and reintegrated into her family and normal life.

7 Ways to Cope with Toxic Workplaces

September 14, 2011

Toxic work places – it’s pretty clear isn’t it, a place of work that poisons you for a multitude of reasons. In a lifetime of work it’s a safe bet you’ll end up in at least one along the way. But the smart person only makes the mistake once.

One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist, and so one man’s meat is another’s poison. Thus it follows that what may be toxic for you at work may not be for others. Just as we, as workers, come in varied shapes, attitudes, experiences, ethical beliefs, so do work places. Yes, it’s obvious but worth stating. You may be suffering at work, find it poisonous but your colleagues may not.

Before you lose your cool entirely, it’s worth doing a reality check. Do others feel like you about the boss, the structures, the ethos and management? If so, it tells you it’s not just you, but that fact may not make any difference in the end. That will depend on the size of your work-place and/or its willingness to change.

If it is just you, then you must radically re-think your future. Staying in a toxic environment is no good to your health, your wellbeing, your friends or family or anything in your wider life. It also impairs your ability to work effectively and eventually you will be fired.

Even if it’s not just you, a toxic work place is corrosive and we all have different levels of resilience. Some people thrive in antagonistic places, seeming to grow and glimmer in the light of the latest idiocy from up the food chain, moving from (and often causing) one near disaster to another without attracting a spec of dirt. You, on the other hand, suffer. You can’t cope with the idiocy, the hypocrisy, the incompetence: the blame game and the lies.

What can you do? Your options are limited and will depend on your wider circumstances and obligations.

1.Shift your headspace. Stop taking it seriously; still do your job to the best of your ability but stop taking to heart, or personally a lot of what goes on.

2.Spend time with like-minded colleagues laughing at the idiocy. Have lunch together, a drink after work Not being isolated will help you cope.

3.Think about why you are at work – is it your whole life, is there nothing else of meaning? If so, you must get out as soon as you can because you will go insane. If work is just a part of your life, and there are good things in your life then you can cope for a while, have some perspective, but still have an exit strategy.

4.Accept that you can’t change the ethos and culture of your work-place unless you are in a senior position and supported to do so. This acceptance will help your head-space too.

5.Move on. But do so sensibly; it’s no good doing some grand theatrics that leave you sacked or quitting with nowhere to go. It’s a brutal world out there and you need to keep the wolf from the door as the winds howl and the rain buckets from the sky. Be strategic, look for work, get a new job and then resign.

6.If you can’t move (for family or financial reasons) then cover all your bases: keep notes, keep on top of all aspects of your job; find safe ways of coping, make sure you have a release elsewhere – take up boxing or long distance swimming to exhume the stress and tension. Don’t turn to alcohol and drugs – they’ll just make matters far worse.

7.Don’t badmouth your employer too often or in public (and definitely not on FB). It will come back to haunt you and remember the work place may be toxic but not everyone in it is. You don’t want to tar them all with the same disdain and contempt you feel for the overall organisation. And you might want a reference (one day…)

Work is a part of life and the trick is to make it look easy, to find a job that fills your heart with joy and meaning. Failing that, you want to wake up in the morning without feelings of dread or fear. We spend a lot of time at work, so we can’t afford to spend the greater part of our life being poisoned.

Look after yourself, know your own value and find a place where you can fulfil your vast potential. Know that the only power you have is over yourself and the only person who can rescue you, is you. Refuse to be poisoned, move on wisely and expeditiously.

Crushes – then and now

September 12, 2011

Did you have a BIG CRUSH when you were a youngling? Pictures of movie and pop stars and sporting heroes on your walls? People you worshipped and adored, safe in your faraway devotion, knowing everyone else you knew had similar crushes. It was okay when we were young, but what about as we age, can you still have crushes? Well, why not actually? In these dreary times and when the world crushes down on you, shouldn’t you have someone to dream of, someone gorgeous to take you away from the mire and misery, someone who might inspire you to do better; be better?

Childhood crushes. It was Bowie and Queen, specifically Freddie Mercury who adorned my bedroom walls. Bowie was resplendent in his Aladdin Sane garb; Freddie lounging in a revealing cat-suit in a picture taken from Jackie magazine. I loved their music, adored their outfits, was faithful to them all my life, even when the pictures came down, I still bought their albums and could not understand my friends’ devotion to Davids Essex & Cassidy. I felt mature and sophisticated in my devotions.

I was also besotted by Mark Spitz: he of the seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. I had pictures of him almost naked in his speedos and medals on the wall until my evil brother defaced them bringing down upon his head my mother’s extreme ire in response to my floods of tears. Spitz was darkly handsome, beautifully buff and a testament to determination and drive. His father had expected six gold medals, but at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, where Spitz was beaten by Aussie Mike Wenden in the 100m & 200m freestyle, thus crushing his dreams. But four years later Spitz prevailed, with a world record in all seven events. So he had it all: handsome, super fit and something of an over-achiever. The best sort of boy to be on a girl’s wall. In fact, a huge contrast to my effete creative musicians cheek by jowl there on my lavendar walls.

Then, closer to home was Andrew H. Six foot plus tall, mop of tawny hair, six years older than me, pink wet suit, gorgeous yachts, who moved with the stealth of a big cat. I had a crush on this man for six years, all through school, alongside several boyfriends. I worshipped from two yards away, desperate for each new sailing season to catch a glimpse, maybe get close enough: only managing about six inane words in six years. He’s a brain surgeon now, still sailing, still winning. I hope he never knew… By the time I’d got to uni fortunately I was over him.

Lifelong Crushes. I have loved Richard Gere all my life: from the first moment in An Officer and A Gentleman he was my main movie star man. Not really that tall, and slightly squinty eyes, but he was edgy and his smile was sort of sly and evil, full of sensual promise. He played a range of roles and did get his kit off a lot in his early movies: remember American Gigolo? He’s aged so well too, smile better than ever.

Other life-long movie star crushes: Robert Redford, since Butch Cassidy and especially as Jay Gatsby in that pink suit; Kevin Costner, even Waterworld and 3000 Miles to Graceland; Jeremy Irons, only gets better with age, but his voice was wonderful in Brideshead Revisited even if he was a little ‘wet’ then.

Two women need a mention here: Bette Midler, because I looked like her once and always loved her music and her bawdiness; and Grace Jones who gave androgyny a whole new meaning. How could you love Bowie and not love Grace? I just loved Slave to the Rhythm, that is one of the Music vid clips. She’s still going too. Outrageous and confident women, you have to love them.

Now Crushes. Now, as a less than impressionable older style person I still have crushes. Bill Nighy is my number one these days and, according to the papers, I am very much not on my own. I found him in Still Crazy and have been devoted ever since. I even keep some of the articles about him in the papers.  I fell in love with Jimmy Page during research about the early days of rock n roll, but the Jimmy of the seventies, not so much now. My God, wasn’t he just the most beautiful man? Had I been into Zeppelin as a youngster he’d had been up there on the walls next to Dave and Fred. I came to David Gilmour in the same way. Wasn’t he lovely when he was young? It seems a bit sad to find them now and fall in love with the past, but what the heck, we never get close to our crushes anyway, so does it matter?

Keep the flame burning, I say. It’s nice to think about why you find some people so utterly compelling, what you were doing when you were young and infatuated, why some people still do it for you. I’m listening to Grace as I type and feeling fine.  Nice to have a little fantasy in your life, a little magic from the gods of film, song and water.