Postman Pat – RIP

I was saddened to read of the death of John Cunliffe, the originator and author of Postman Pat. He first wrote about him in 1978 after a request from a BBC producer for a series for pre-school children set in the countryside. The series was an immediate success and many children delighted in watching Postman Pat and Jess, his black and white cat, as they drove on their rounds in Greendale meeting the inhabitants. There was Mrs Goggins who worked in the Post Office, the Reverend Timms, Granny Dryden and Ted Glen, the twins Katy and Tom Pottage and many more.20170413_124128_resized-1

John Cunliffe wrote all the books too, as well as a weekly Postman Pat story for the children’s comic, Buttons, but when the work became too demanding, I was called in to take over the weekly comic slot. For five years, I wrote a story a week, an enjoyable task as the characters he had created were so real and alive and believable. As I had two young sons at the time, much of what Postman Pat did was based on what we did, so when the boys had chickenpox, so did Postman Pat’s son Julian, and when we went on holiday or picked apples and brambles to make jam, so did Pat and the Greendale folk.P Pat

I wrote an article for a writing magazine about producing a Postman Pat story every week and shortly after, received a gentlemanly letter from John tactfully pointing out where I had gone wrong. I had misplaced Greendale from its origin in Cumbria over to the east coast but I was able to escape any censure as I had a letter from the editor revealing that it was she who had made the original mistake.

Postman Pat will live on even though his creator is no longer with us. The series is a worldwide success forty years on and shows no signs of losing popularity among the youngsters of today.

John Cunliffe has left a wonderful legacy for generations to enjoy.

Moving On….

Changes are afoot in the Burnett household; we are moving across country to the east of Scotland. A new house, a new town, a new area to explore, new friends to make…

All very exciting but breaking up a home where we’ve lived for nearly thirty years is hard work, both physical and emotional.

My office where I work, has had a good clear out of thirty years of writing.P Pat I’ll keep all my published work which at the moment fills almost an entire bookcase, what with the 250 Postman Pat comic scripts and annuals I wrote, the hundred or so BBC radio and TV programmes I scripted,  the numerous articles on all sorts of subjects I wrote for magazines and online sites, and the magazine short stories published here and abroad. And then there were the many writing workshops I ran and the materials I prepared for them.buckettrippertapes

But as well as the ‘successful’ pieces, there were very many more rejected manuscripts – hundreds of them in fact. For every piece I had accepted, there were ten ‘failures’ which I kept, just in case I could work on them or a market came up which would be suitable or because I didn’t want to throw them out.

Well, I have now. Reading them over, I can see exactly why they were rejected and I tossed them all out –  they weren’t worth saving after all.

I also found my first piece that I entered into a club competition many years ago and received a crit for. The adjudicator had attached a single line of type to my manuscript which said:

Hackneyed. Full of clichés. Subject has been done many times before.

I was devastated when I read that and almost gave up writing there and then. But it taught me a valuable lesson; temper your criticism with kindness and encouragement. Make it like a sandwich with some positive comments at the start, the meat on how the writer can improve it in the middle, and a final positive note of encouragement at the end. When I’ve been an adjudicator, I’ve always tried to do that. The memory of my first crit still rankles!

I’m looking forward to the newness of everything, home, area, friends, and hoping it acts as a stimulus to more writing. But first, there are a few more cupboards to empty. Let’s hope I don’t find any skeletons – or maybe, as a writer, I should look out for them. You never know where they can lead.

Confined to a Garret? No Chance!

This week has been celebrated as Book Week Scotland when writers all over the country have left their garrets and travelled the length and breadth of the country talking about books and writing and more books and more writing.

My friend Michael J Malone has been touring the west coast talking about his new book, House of Spines. (Cracking great read! I recommend it.) He’s been to Rothesay, Dunoon, Millport, Tobermory and …er…Wishaw. Definitely not on the west coast, that one!

pencil

The Pencil, Largs

For my part, I was in Largs, not as part of Book Week but to do some research for my next novel. It was a beautiful sunny clear day with the temperature just hovering above freezing as we walked along the shore to the Pencil monument commemorating the Battle of Largs in 1263, and then on to the Marina, filled with yachts of all shapes and sizes, mainly parked up until the spring. And there was a very welcome restaurant where we had coffee and Danishes and thawed out before we walked all the way back.

Then it was to Perthshire, and past the Ochil Hills just tinged with snow, to the Auchterarder Book Fair, part of their celebration of Book Week. We set up our stalls, or rather tables, in the hall with our books on display. I was surrounded by historical novels, crime, science fiction and fantasy, and did I detect an element of competition as we tried to attract customers to look at our books and hopefully buy one?books

I was one of the authors who gave a short talk about their writing life, starting with my five years with Postman Pat and moving on to the present day and A Scottish Childhood, and the future with my novel Festival Fireworks.24255073_1980255258879716_3265096166631918755_o

And all this gallivanting doesn’t stop there. Next weekend is the Society of Authors Christmas lunch in Edinburgh where there will be many friends to catch up with and have a jolly, merry afternoon.

Can’t not mention the success at the Imprint Writing Awards of members of Ayr Writers Club. Six members were shortlisted and the club scooped 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the poetry section, (one member winning two prizes) and 1st and 2nd in the short story.  It’s a sign of a very vibrant and talented club and one I’m pleased to belong to.

Shortlisted for Imprint 2017

Shortlisted for Imprint

 

Deadlines, Dreadlines

 

The deadline fast approaches....

The deadline fast approaches….

There’s a great quote from Douglas Adams on the Ayr Writers’ Club website:

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

I love deadlines too but for different reasons; I need them. I do very little writing unless I have a deadline of sorts. It can be a date for a competition entry, an editor’s request (whoopee do!), something to finish before we go off on holiday/go into hospital/start a different piece of writing or whatever. If I have a date which I know I have to finish the piece by, then I will make sure I do.

But the deadline can’t be too far ahead. Too far and I leave it till it comes looming nearer. There comes a point in the calendar when I know that if I don’t start the piece almost immediately then I won’t do it well or get it finished to my satisfaction. I have to wait till then before I start though I will be thinking about it as I go about dealing with weeds or making a meal. (That is not to be recommended; too many burnt offerings and odd flavourings.)

I’ve had two deadlines recently, one for a local competition which I always try to support by putting in an entry, and one from an editor giving me the go-ahead for a pitch I submitted a while ago.

Deadlines scare me too. I don’t like being late for anything and I don’t like sending off pieces at the last minute. I always try to get them in well ahead of that date circled on the calendar, so the two pieces have been sent off in plenty of time.

Being ahead of a deadline has given me some nice extras – editors don’t like last-minute, unreliable contributors. They like writers who can produce the goods well within the time frame and  matching what they asked for. So if there’s a rush job (usually because one of their less reliable writers has failed to complete the remit), who do they turn to? Someone they know who can do it.

I’ve been asked to write scripts and articles with a very short deadline simply because the editor knows they can rely on me to do it.

Many years ago, I was asked to try out for a children’s comic for which I had been contributing stories. They were looking for someone to take over writing the Postman Pat stories as John Cunliffe, the originator of the character, wanted to concentrate on the TV work. I had to write two trial scripts and submit them by a deadline. I sent three well before the due date and got the job. That resulted in five years of a weekly income and over 300 stories about Postman Pat in the weekly comic, the holiday specials and the annuals.

And what did I write about? What my family, including my two young sons got up to. So if we went to the library or planted seeds in the garden, so did Postman Pat and his friends. My husband shaving off his beard was the stimulus for one of Pat’s friends to do the same! I have actually a record of our day-to-day activities when my sons were in primary school.

However, I learned one salutary lesson from it all. Obviously I was excited about getting the job of writing Postman Pat stories, so when my eldest came home from primary school, I told him the news. His face fell. I realised then that he believed in Postman Pat the same way as he believed in Santa and I had just disillusioned him. He never read any Postman Pat stories again, dismissing them as ‘just Mum’s stuff.’

And as for that children’s story I was drafting several blog posts ago….. well you see, there isn’t a deadline for that……

Excuses! Excuses!

Must do better. Somebody set me a deadline, please!