Red Rose Blues – a Tribute to Joe Ashton

This is my tribute to Joe Ashton: long-serving Labour MP, journalist, novelist and playwright – and one of my first writing and editing clients. He was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and sadly, he has passed away today. 

His daughter, Lucy, who is a journalist at the Sheffield Star, has written a wonderful tribute to her dad: Lucy’s tribute to her dad, Joe Ashton.

When I first became a freelance writer and editor, I met Joe Ashton, who wanted someone to type, edit and organise the second volume of his memoirs, Joe Blow, concentrating on his vivid memories of his childhood in 1930s Attercliffe and during wartime.

Working with Joe on his book was sometimes a frustrating, time-consuming process, with lots of chops and changes, but also with an excitement and enthusiasm about words. I learned a lot about writing and how to communicate from Joe. In the end, together, we produced a book to be proud of. Many people bought it when it went on sale in the Sheffield Star shop, and the proceeds raised hundreds of pounds for the Salvation Army, Joe’s favourite charity. Here is a taster for the book which was featured in the Sheffield Star in 2014: The Bread and Dripping Generation.

At first, not knowing much about dementia then, I wasn’t too concerned when he said he was “losing words”, but after a while, it was clear that there was something seriously wrong. I was working with people with dementia by then, so I could recognise some of the symptoms. I haven’t seen him for several years, due to the deterioration of his symptoms, but I always thought of him fondly.

During this Covid 19 crisis, my usual part time job working with people with learning disabilities has transformed into a different sort of care job, working with vulnerable older people in their own homes, several of them with dementia. I’ve naturally been thinking of Joe a lot for the past few days. Hearing the news of his death is something I’ve been expecting for a while, but particularly poignant to hear it on BBC Radio Sheffield’s lunchtime news today. Lots of love to Joe’s family and friends.

Joe Blow cropped

Joe’s favourite photo of himself as a child – rescued in a tin of family photos when the Ashtons’ house was fire-bombed in the Blitz. Copyright: Joe Ashton.

 

Red Rose Blues – for Joe Ashton

 

This is the story of a good Labour man,

With a bad case of Red Rose Blues.

Born in the back streets, knowing the price of coal

Was too high, in the hungry thirties,

In the smoke-black terraces of Attercliffe,

Where even the sparrows coughed,

And the kids shivered and starved.

In a city where the Don was empty of life,

He could find a spark of soul in anything,

Even in the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Blitz,

When he watched his house burn down,

And they rescued their wireless from the flames –

But left its hire purchase bills to burn.

 

As he rebelled against grammar school life

In the posh part of town, refusing to wear uniform,

He learned that words were tools, weapons, an escape hatch.

Writing down the bones; telling the truth;

Even lying through your teeth could make the world a better place;

A way of escaping outdoor lavs and tin baths for everyone;

Words could weave streets in the sky, a shiny new city,

And make them come true, in glorious Technicolour.

 

His heart was stolen by a red-haired, red-hearted girl,

Who matched him word for word through good times and bad.

Together, they fought for a better world,

And sometimes, each other. But there was always love;

It always ran deep in him, like the fire to keep fighting.

 

He was born with a wild mind, collecting the small details of life

Like garden seeds germinating in his pocket.

By old age, it contained lost streets, theatres and picture palaces,

Spiralling out of him like tendrils of bindweed,

Like the corners of his eyebrows,

While the words he reached for escaped him like racing pigeons.

In the end, he got lost in his dreams.

In his mind, he was always still a snot-nosed kid with a holey jumper,

Running through Attercliffe’s broken wartime streets

A pile of scuffed library books in his arms.

 

By Anne Grange.

 

75 Bodmin Street with Rag and Bone man cropped.jpeg

Joe Ashton as an MP in the seventies, revisiting the streets of Attercliffe and chatting to a rag ‘n bone man. Copyright: Joe Ashton.

Vegan Scouse Stew with Dumplings

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Scouse stew with dumplings

So far, I’ve been in a pretty privileged position when it comes to food in this crisis. I have always kept my kitchen cupboards well stocked with tins and essentials – I think it’s part of having been brought up by parents who were born at the end of World War Two and remember rationing. It’s a cushion against financial hardship.

I know that supermarkets have also been struggling with supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables, but I’ve been picking up my veg box from Beanies – they are closing their doors at the end of this week, but will still be open for orders and will be doing deliveries, so they are still going to be around.

By last Thursday, I didn’t have much fresh veg left, so I decided to make a stew. As it cooked, I wrote a poem about the fantastic cooking at the Ty Newydd Writers’ Centre in Wales, where I was due to spend a writing retreat this Easter, and it came out tasting just like Tony the chef’s speciality, Scouse stew, although my original inspiration for this comes from the traditional Nottingham home-cooking of my grandmother. I don’t suppose there’s much difference! It’s a tasty way of using up those sad looking vegetables at the bottom of the fridge.

Vegan Scouse – with Dumplings

Serves 3-4

Method and Ingredients:

For the stew:

1 soya-based veggie burger (I used Tesco own brand) – you could use soya chunks, or even make your own seitan – or maybe a handful of lentils or beans.

1 onion, chopped

1-2 carrots, sliced

1 parsnip, sliced

1-2 cloves of garlic – thinly sliced

2 smallish potatoes, cubed

Spices: smoked paprika, chilli flakes, cinnamon (to taste)

Mixed herbs

Vegetarian stock cube

Vegetarian Gravy granules

Salt and pepper

Method:

In a large lidded saucepan, sautee the onions and add the veggie burger. When the veggie burger has defrosted, chop it into 8ths – and then smaller pieces with your spatula. Stir well, then add the carrots, parsnips and potatoes. You can add different vegetables – whatever you have in the house! Then add the thinly-sliced garlic, mixed herbs and spices. Crumble in a vegetarian stock cube and three teaspoons of vegetarian gravy granules and add salt and pepper. Cover with boiling water until the vegetables are just covered – about 1.5 pints – about 800ml, should do it. Stir well, and leave to simmer on a medium heat.

For the dumplings:

50g vegetable suet (or you could use margarine)

100g self-raising flour

Water

Method:

Weigh the suet into a bowl, then add in the self-raising flour. Mix well, then add in approximately 75ml of cold water to form a firm dough. Knead for a few minutes, before dividing the dough into eight equal pieces, then roll each piece into a ball – you may need some extra flour for doing this.

Place the dumplings on top of the stew and put the lid on. Turn the heat down low, but keep it simmering. You might need to give it a stir from time to time.

Then sit at your laptop for at least half an hour while the stew cooks and the dumplings expand into fluffy masterpieces. You can write a poem if you like! I did!

Virtual Tŷ Newydd

If I inhale, I’m actually there,

Just before dinner time.

Tony has cooked up a treat.

Scouse, his signature dish –

Vegetables in a rich gravy;

Homemade seitan.

Chocolate cake for pudding.

Chatting to him earlier,

About his vegan recipes –

Taking a writing break;

A melt-in- the-mouth Anzac biscuit.

 

I settle back on the squashy white sofa,

Legs stretched out, balancing my laptop.

Facing the garden and the sea.

Fresh spring air fills the room

With the scents of spring;

The deep silence of the library walls

Letting in small, friendly noises –

Led Zeppelin leaks in from the kitchen speakers;

A gull cries as it crosses the hazy sky;

A blue tit chitters from sycamore tree branches.

 

The sea is a vague blue stripe that blends with the clouds;

The land on the other side of the bay is a wash of green.

Sometimes you can make out detail; houses, cars.

I know this view so well; the sea below the fields,

Past the sweep of the garden,

The copper beech; the magnolia in bloom;

The blackbird that hops across the lawn

Towards the giant chair.

 

I leave the laptop on the sofa;

Stand in the bay window to take in the view,

Under the echo that we play with while reading our work

To the others in the evenings, soft with wine

As the view fades into darkness.

 

I will return to this room,

I tell the echo.

 

 

 

Creative ideas for writing and reading for families in self isolation

Hi! It’s probably been the strangest week in history – so far! Now your kids have just come home and will be staying there…for a very long time. If you’re not a teacher, you might be totally stuck for ideas. How are you going to keep them occupied? How can you keep up their education? I really feel for the students doing their GCSEs and A-levels, and the uni students who are having to come home again.

I hope I can help in a small way! I’m a qualified English teacher, but secondary school teaching didn’t really suit me – hats off to those who stick with it. Instead, I worked in adult education, which includes encouraging families to learn in creative ways together, like den building and playing storytelling games. At the end of May, I was due to teach English at Bearded Theory festival’s award-winning festival school and also set up my library tent in the kids’ field. Hopefully this wonderful festival will still be taking place in September this year.

You might feel a bit daunted about the concept of teaching English, or Literacy, which it’s often called! This post isn’t about sticking to the rules of the National Curriculum. Hopefully, your child’s school will be providing resources for that, although my hints and tips should help to make it more enjoyable.

This post is about giving your kids, and yourself, the opportunity to fall in love with reading and having fun with writing. If your children are reluctant writers, don’t criticise their spelling or punctuation – just let them write and use their imaginations.

It helps if you show your love for creativity too. Read books, listen to audio books, have a go at some writing exercises – words are powerful and they can be a lot of fun!

Give your children space to read and write. It doesn’t need to be quiet! At Bearded Theory festival, with the main stage booming away in the background, kids often spend hours reading books, and parents and kids curl up on a cushion and read together. My biggest draw, however, is my collection of vintage typewriters. I just tell children how to use them, and let them get on with it. This works amazingly well, with kids queuing up patiently for ages. Unless a child decides to write a novel…that has happened a few times!

The ideas below are set out into different age groups, but there are tips and links that will be useful – and fun to try – for children and adults of all ages in each section.

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Kids love typewriters!

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Memoir Masterclass with Anne Grange – Webinar from the comfort of your own home!!!

This masterclass will now take place online as a Webinar, using Zoom. It will still be happening on Saturday 4th April 2020 at 1.30pm. Tickets are now only £10. So you can now take place from anywhere in the world, you’re also getting a great bargain! Booking details here: https://kurious.art/whats_on/webinar-memoir-writing-masterclass/20200404-1330-webinar-memoir-writing-masterclass

This masterclass has an added level of poignancy now. If you want to express your thoughts on the Covid 19 pandemic but are unsure where to start, this is the perfect opportunity. Personally, I’ve been finding my friend and writing colleague Beverley Ward’s facebook.com/keepcalmandcarryonwriting/ page and group very useful, with its daily writing prompts.

You can also find me at: https://www.facebook.com/AnneGrangeWriting/ if you have any questions, or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/anne_grange

I look forward to our afternoon of writing on 4th April! Get yourself comfy and have the following things near your computer screen: a notebook and pen (it can help the creative process to write or make notes in longhand) and an object that’s of sentimental value to you or something that tells a story about your life to use in writing exercises.

It will be a practical, creative masterclass, which will inspire you to write a fantastic memoir in any format – prose, poetry, for memoir writing for performance.

The Memoir Masterclass is aimed at people who want to tell the story of their life – or the story of a particular episode of their life. Maybe you know you have a great story to tell, but don’t know where to get started? I think we’re all going to have good stories about this unprecedented time of world-wide pandemic and mass communication.

In a supportive group, we will explore what makes a great memoir or autobiography. We will work on sparking memories, using “free writing” techniques to capture them. We will look at using poetry, prose and other techniques to capture memories, and using objects and photographs to help us to write our stories. The Memoir Masterclass will also look at structure, writing routines and will empower you to continue writing when you get home.

We will explore a variety of memoir writing techniques and genres, and you will actually start writing your memoir in the masterclass. The Memoir Masterclass will give you the confidence and support you need to tell your own story, in your own words.

About me: Anne Grange has been a freelance editor since 2013. As a freelance editor, she specialises in helping people to tell their own stories and enabling them to publish their memoirs and share them with the world, mostly working with self-published and indie authors.

Anne also works on community projects, such as the recent In Our Day project at Walkley Library, collecting the stories of people with dementia and compiling them into a fascinating book, documenting the colossal changes and challenges of ordinary people living in Sheffield in the twentieth century. She is an adult education tutor and experience course facilitator, specialising in creative writing and writing for wellbeing, and also works with adults with learning disabilities.

Storytelling is very important to Anne – whether memoir, fiction or through poetry, and as a novelist, she runs the Sheffield Novelists group which provides ongoing mutual support for novelists. Anne is the author of novels Outside Inside and Distortion.

Twitter: @anne_grange , Facebook: Anne Grange Writing.

To book a place on the Memoir Masterclass, visit the Kurious Arts website.

photo for Memoir Masterclass blog post

Free Sample of my novel Distortion

Hi!

Here’s a little present for you – a free sampler of my second novel Distortion. I hope you like it. If you do, please share it with your friends! The book is available online at: Buy Distortion here!

Here is the free sampler of my novel: Sample of Distortion by Anne Grange

new FINAL FRONT COVER

The brilliant front cover of Distortion, my second novel

Writing and Publishing Distortion – Advice for writers

I haven’t made a big song and dance about it…yet, but my second novel, Distortion, is now out as an e-book and a paperback. It’s been a long process, but my writing and editing skills have been sharpened by working with the inspiring clients I have worked with since 2013, when I set up my freelance editing business, Wild Rosemary Writing Services.

Now I have helped other people’s dreams of publication to come true, I felt that I knew the editing process well, I had great feedback from my friends who wee the “beta readers” of the book before it was published, and I had a wonderful cover designed by Susie Morley, which really makes the book eye-catching.

I started writing Distortion in 2010, shortly after finishing my writing MA, and it was wonderfully freeing to write something brand new, without any baggage or restrictions. Having new ideas and developing new characters was really exciting, and the second time around, I felt much more sure-footed when it came to plotting the novel.

Now I’ve written and self-published two novels, I can pass on some advice for aspiring novelists – I’d love to know what you think.

  1. Don’t work alone. Being part of a writing group is really useful. Find one that suits you, and if you can’t find one, form one yourself. I was one of the founding members of the Sheffield Novelists group, and now it’s been going since 2009, helping people through the creative process and bringing writers together. There are also many online writers’ groups, such as Scribophile. The ideal writers’ group will keep you going – e.g. help you to commit to writing a chapter per month, encourage you, but also discuss aspects of your work that could be improved.
  2. Keep going ! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a million and one things in your life as well as writing a novel. Just keep going. Even if you can only commit half an hour in a day, or a few hours at weekends to your writing, keep up that commitment to yourself. This is something that you may keep needing to evaluate if you let yourself down, but that’s how I finished, and edited Distortion.
  3. Don’t hurry! In my opinion, a novel needs space and time to breathe and develop. You may find yourself being as influenced by your novel as much as you are creating it. For example, I thought that my music-obsessed teenage main character, Jason, might be really into the band Manic Street Preachers, so I started buying their albums, despite not being a big fan to start with. It had also been years since I had picked up a guitar. Along the way, I now have a “libraries gave us power” Manic Street Preachers tattoo (featured below), I’ve learned how to play the bass, and I’m now playing the guitar in a band. Your novel is part of you, so live and breathe it while you are writing. Obviously this would be a little worrying if you were writing a murder mystery though.
  4. Keep learning: go to writing workshops and spoken word nights whenever you can, read about and research the craft of writing, and meet fellow writers. Pop into your local library (hopefully you have one!), or search online for writing events near you. Often, there are events that are free or affordable, and there’s advice online. Go Teen Writers is one of my favourite blogs for advice on the nuts and bolts of writing, although it does tend to have a U.S. bias. This will also help you to build up a network of other writers and get great advice from published authors as well as people who are starting out.
  5. Edit as much as you can. Once you’ve finished the first complete draft, put it away for a few weeks at least and enjoy the freedom. Once your writing fingers start itching again, edit until your book is the best you can make it. There’s some good advice here about editing your book in layers.
  6. Once you’ve edited your book, you still need an external editor. This isn’t just a plug for my own editorial services! Whether this is someone that you pay, or a friend or relative you can trust to be eagle-eyed and even ruthless at times, you need someone to spot those silly mistakes (no matter how carefully you think you’ve checked your manuscript) or daft ideas that just didn’t work. Then go through the book again yourself, just in case anything stands out.
  7. Self publishing is difficult, but worth it. It’s great to get my words out in print and to know that people around the world can read them. The problem is publicity and marketing. I love my books, but I don’t want to feel like I’m blowing my own trumpet all the time and boring friends on social media and in real life to death by constantly reminding them to buy my book – and then to review it on Amazon. You’ve got to get the balance right. It’s a good idea to help out other authors too, particularly self-published ones. Give other writers good reviews and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you!

Please take a look at Distortion. If you fancy reading an exciting novel about secrets, lies and loud guitars, you’ll definitely enjoy it. It’s out as an e-book and also as a rather handsome paperback.

Here’s the blurb:

When teenager Jason Knight picks up a battered acoustic guitar in a charity shop, he just wants to form a band with his best friend Ben and stop being bullied by his nemesis, Bradley Smeed.

Jason’s guitar playing stirs up memories for his mum Kaz. She’s been keeping her true identity secret: fourteen years ago, she ran away from cult stardom in the band Mission Control, traumatised by the death of her lover, troubled guitar genius Daz Lightning.

Will Jason Discover the truth and become a rock god?

Read a sample or buy the book below!

 

Published in 2016 – Vivian Edwards by Chelle Martinez

This is the first erotic novel I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Some of the books I’ve edited have steamy bits, but this is basically all steam!

It’s been an interesting challenge for me, but I would love to work on more projects like this. Who knows? This book might be the next Fifty Shades of Grey. It will certainly take you on a wild ride.

Vivian Edwards is hot off the press, in more ways than one. Based on Martinez’s true life adventures on the sultry island of Fernando, you’ll be thrilled, shocked and mesmerised!

Buy the book here in paperback and e-book.

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A sultry new read for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey