Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Naked writers at the flower show

But don't get excited. Just read on.

End of July, so I tackled the invoices M dictated the other day. We’ve missed out on doing them for a few weeks and some dated back some time. Anyhow they were all printed out and posted off on Friday, together with statements. I still have a few more of those to do. And in the evening my brother in law came to dinner.

On Friday, I listened to part of Desert Island Discs – the speaker Thomas Kineally. I found him very interesting with a good sense of humour. He was inspired to write Schindler’s Ark through a conversation he had with a Schindler survivor while waiting fifteen minutes, in a shop, for his credit card to clear. It just shows that writers shouldn’t spend all their time at home with the computer. It’s when you’re out and talking to people that inspiration might strike. I loved a phrase he used to describe writers. It sort of answers the question that other people ask – is your writing autobiographical?

‘To write a novel is always to go naked.’

On Saturday afternoon, Irene www.myspace.com/ireneblack and I had a table at the Pirbright Horticultural Show. All week long, I watched the weather and wondered if we would have to call it off. All right for the people exhibiting their onions, etc, inside the hall, but no fun to be sitting outside in the pouring rain. We took two huge umbrellas and then the sun came out and gave us a glorious afternoon. People came and chatted with us and bought our books too. We even had a visit from the Mayor of Guildford.

Finally, I spoke to my daughter to hear she’d had a horrendous journey from Hereford to Prestatyn last week, and they’d even driven through a road that was closed. When they got back, they had to use bottled water for drinking. Yesterday I received a card from Prestatyn, written by GD2, now six years old. She told me every detail of the rolls they bought from the bakery on the way home – egg, mushroom, cheese, etc. I can see she’s going to be a writer, but she may have to learn a little editing first.

Last night, I typed 1200 words of my latest novel, ready for Guildford Writers tonight. All the stuff I wrote on holiday is now in the computer, and I’ve written just under 40,000 words. But now I’m stuck again. I just don’t know what’s going to happen next. Inspiration is desperately needed.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sales and Sandals

A trip to Cranleigh this morning to try out selling our books in the village hall there, which was full of stall-holders. My brave fellows from Goldenford (www.goldenford.co.uk) were up and away at 7.30 a.m., but my brain doesn’t surface that early in the morning, so I followed on later. Actually, I’m not a very intrepid driver, but I have used that route in the past, to my mother, when she was alive, in Hove, though only a very few times, and to my daughter, near Horsham, before she moved to Hereford. The extra little bit to Cranleigh was only about five miles. Then there was the great parking ordeal, and the mini miracle in which a parking space presented itself to me, when I thought the whole place was full up.

Despite all that excitement, we were in a cul de sac in the village hall, and no-one visited us – apart from the old lady who confided to us that it was her fifty fifth wedding anniversary and her husband had taken her for the first time ever, to an Indian restaurant. She didn’t buy a book, though. Not sure any of them would have been her cup of tea – or plate of curry.

On the way back, I decided to call into Guildford. Readers might remember that after the launch of The Gawain Quest, I dragged M to Clarks to buy some shoes and sandals in the sale. Now after the op, the sandals are the only thing he can wear, and he’s wearing them for jobs in unsuitable places. I spent half an hour on the phone the other day, finding out about buying an identical pair (not including rescuing the receipt from the recycle bin, where I’d filed it) and today, I collected the pair they’d reserved for me. In the interim, the price had dropped a further £3, so it was worth the journey. I was tempted to buy another six pairs, to save M the ordeal of shopping trips.

While in Guildford, I called into Waterstone’s and the one copy of A Bottle of Plonk they had last time I was there had vanished. They tell me it was sold in May. I asked them if they would order more copies and they said they would. You can’t always believe what you’re told, so I’ll check up on that. Still, that part of the day was a whole lot more productive than the rest of it.

The Range Rover is still with us. But for how much longer, I don’t know.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Spiders, mites and squirrels

Despite our spider frightener, I can’t get rid of the skinny ones that regularly invade the spare room and spare bathroom, which we are currently using. Last week I got the Dyson tools out and vacuumed up at least six of them from the ceiling of the bathroom – two directly overhead when I was showering. They seem very attracted to the place.

They are not the only pest that’s invaded. When I was making a pizza for the party on Sunday, I decided to add in a scoop of wholemeal flour. To my horror, when I opened the pack it was alive (literally) with mites. I’ve never experienced that before. And I only got the flour to make things for my daughter, a semi-veggie with a healthier lifestyle than mine. I can’t think she’d want to bake that lot of creatures, though. Outside in the garden, a squirrel has spotted our plums (still green at the moment) and is intent on stripping the tree. This happened about three years ago, when the tree was laden, and the squirrel was up and down every spare minute. Some time later, we found a dead squirrel in the bushes; I don’t know whether it was poisoned by a surfeit of unripe plums. In addition, the branches of the tree were so weighed down, that the branches broke off. Now it’s just a tiny little thing, still trying to recover.

Three good emails today One from my cousin telling she had received a copy of an article I had published many years ago on solar heating, and it might be useful for the course she’s doing. One from my daughter who says she is safely home after travelling from Hereford to Wales and back, in the last few days. And finally - one from Anne www.myspace.com/annebrooke saying she has got her contract from PD Publishing. Her novel, Maloney’s Law will be published in the US in 2008. That’s absolutely wonderful, Anne. I join the many people who are rooting for you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Doctors and dentists

Another day with minimal progress. Ever since I’ve been married, I’ve been reminded of Alice through the Looking Glass, who had to run very fast to stand still.

Today, I went with M to the doctor, as now that the operation is over, he has to start anti-coagulant drugs. It’s very worrying, having to remember on someone else’s behalf to take tablets at particular times of day, and to look out for side effects, and avoid particular foods, etc. M is a non-worrier; I have to do it all for him. We came back and I did my Florence Nightingale stuff – dressing the two injured toes. Then off out again to the dentist for him to replace the temporary filling before flying off to the sun. So the whole morning went, and I hadn’t done a thing – and I had to squeeze Sainsbury’s into the afternoon.

At least the sun shone this afternoon, though it’s not forecast to last. Tomorrow, I hope to be home all day, so will make inroads into the washing and ironing. And the Range Rover is off tomorrow. But so far no sign of a replacement. How does M imagine he is going to get around?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Between the showers


A most horrendous trip out this morning. I heard the thunder directly overhead when I was in the shower and in the spare room bathroom, which has a flat roof, it was as if someone was emptying buckets of water down from the sky. I wouldn’t have voluntarily gone out on a day like this, but I had to take M to the hospital for dressings. A fifteen minute trip took half an hour, as I crawled along at 20 mph in the middle of the road, trying to avoid lakes of water inches deep, throwing up great swathes of water on either side at times. I hear on the radio that many roads are closed in the south. The nurse was rather dithery, but M’s had his toes re-dressed and I’ll have to do it for the next few days.

Last week I went to a meeting of the reading circle. We’d been reading Pride and Prejudice. The majority of us loved returning to it. Coincidentally, yesterday, I heard that 17 out of 18 publishers rejected it when a slightly adulterated version was sent to them, purporting to be a new novel.

Later today, when checking my emails, I found one from a journalist at the Evening Standard, asking if I’d like to comment on an article in tonight’s Standard regarding the Pride and Prejudice episode. He wanted a reply by 6.00 pm, and it was already just after five. Stupidly I gave my comments and then asked to see the article. Stupid, because he’d already sent it to me – I just hadn’t noticed. Then I made some more comments and sent them at 5.57, congratulating myself on getting in under the wire. Five minutes later, I looked again, and realised to my horror that I’d sent the email to myself. Doubly stupid. So whether my words of wisdom will get into Monday’s paper remains to be seen. It was flattering, though, to be asked – on the basis of a letter I wrote to the Standard early in 2006.

I’ve been asked to help promote www.toowrite.com/youngwriters - a web-based competition open to writers aged 16 and under. It's free to enter and all stories are published instantly.

The winner of the aged 10 and under category will win their height in children's books. In the 11-13-year-old category the prize is the length of the winner's foot in CDs, and in the 14-16-year-old category the winner will receive their age in DVDs.

Entrants can submit up to five true or fictional short stories that are no longer than 1,500 words.

Visitors to the site are invited to vote for their favourite stories. A shortlist of the 10 most popular entries from each category will be drawn up and the three winners will be based on the quality of the writing.

They have a mirror site for adults too, called www.toowrite.com which offers a £1,000 first prize. I’ll be having a look at that when things have calmed down in the Luben abode.


Since Friday, the horrendous flooding is front page news and my trip out on Friday morning is trivial compared with what people are having to endure in the Midlands, Wales, Gloucestershire, etc. Now we hear that the flooding will reach Oxfordshire, soon. This is like a monsoon, only instead of rice fields being swept away, it is people’s brick built homes that are being invaded and their carpets, TVs, fridges and food and drink that’s being destroyed. It is no less tragic for people, though, who have built up homes over a life time.

The latest episode of my tooth saga is that the temporary filling proved very temporary, and fell out after an encounter with a corn-flake on Saturday morning. The dentist is scheduled for tomorrow. He’s off on holiday on Wednesday – I think he’s going away to escape me. He’s seen more of me in the last four months than in the previous four years.

M & I acted as host and hostess at a party at our house for a group that we’re involved with. This meant non-stop cooking and preparing on Sunday, plus two emergency trips to the shops – one on Sunday and one on Saturday, when I bought cream, strawberries, napkins and things I’d forgotten earlier. In the end, there was miles too much food, and we spent an hour and a half finding homes for the surplus in the freezer. It was a very good party, and remarkably we were able to sit out before it got too cold. It wouldn’t, of course, have been remarkable in another year. Two years ago, M was sitting out in the garden at ten in the evening, when a group of hornets appeared on the scene. But this year, we have had the heating on at least half a dozen times, during either June or July.

I was so tired today, that I forgot completely about buying an Evening Standard to see if I’d made an appearance in their article. That despite a quick trip to Knaphill to buy additional dressings for M’s toes. They are still sore, but tomorrow he will see the doctor. He was very frustrated at staying home, so we did some invoicing, which made him feel at least that something useful was happening. Now after the busy weekend, I’m once again behind with washing, ironing, tidying up kitchen and paperwork, though I have sent off my tax return to the accountant. When I’ve sorted out the mess, it’ll be time for the VAT. And tonight I volunteered to do a short newsletter for the above-mentioned group. Bad mistake. I shall regret it, without a doubt.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bad Boys and Golden Girls

M is not big on discussion of major issues. He informed me a couple of days ago that he had sold his car. (He has a second hand Range Rover which was supposed to have been converted to gas, but which developed a leak as soon as he brought it home.) Why he was conned into buying this piece of old junk, goodness knows, but now he says he’s ‘not going to rush into anything this time.’ This is very worrying. Before I know it, he will be invading my car, loading it up with ladders, scaffolding, covering it with oil, tar and other noxious fluids and taking it out on jobs. Somehow I have to protect my poor little car from him. The RR is due to go in a fortnight. Help.

I have just collected him from the hospital post his toenail op. He’s had a local, so he’s not in pain at the moment. He tells me there were several nurses in the room when the procedure was carried out. He likes to do a little showing off, so he was in his element. He was asked about his work and he boasted, ‘I have a secretary 24 hours a day; she sleeps with me as well.’ They all giggled (so he informs me.) I asked him if he told them about my writing. ‘No, I forgot about that,’ he said. Plus ca change.

I have spent a bit more time on the first three chapters of Tainted Tree, and hopefully tightened up some bits that needed a spot of editing. In addition, I’ve put in some work on the Goldenford website - www.goldenford.co.uk. Irene’s book on E-bay, Sold to the Lady in the Lime Green Laptop is now there in glorious Technicolor. You can’t buy it yet, but get your order in NOW. I’m sure it will be popular.

I have now joined the ranks of Goldenford’s walking wounded. My dentist looked in horror at my tooth this morning and told me he normally expected to see damage, of the kind I’d inflicted, after a fall or a car crash. The tooth had broken in half and he removed part of it, patched it up, and in due course I will be crowned. Irene (www.myspace.com/ireneblack)
is still not fully recovered from her broken arm, and on Tuesday at Guildford Writers, Jennifer turned up with a sprained foot. M, who is lying with his feet up watching the TV could perhaps qualify for honorary membership. The two injured toes are not a pretty sight, even with dressings.

A warning. I am getting unsolicited emails telling me a friend is sending a card. I looked at one marked Hallmark cards, and immediately got a virus warning from my protector. I hurriedly switched off the computer and rebooted, in the hope this would ward off any damage. The card thing is obviously another scam. These are no relation to the Jacquie Lawson cards, (http://www.jacquielawson.com/) which I have been sending to friends, having got the address from Cathy’s Blog (http://cwnotebook.blogspot.com/).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Teeth, tax and toes

Ever since May when I broke my tooth with over-enthusiastic flossing (be warned – if there isn’t the space to floss, don’t do it) I have been chewing on the other side, even though the injured tooth was lined with a very hard substance by a Spanish dentist and filled with the best filler than he had by my own dentist. The tooth on the other side, too, was giving me problems, and when the dentist took an X-ray, nothing was revealed. Yesterday, eating an innocuous piece of toast with cheese and a lettuce leaf, I heard a crack, like a rifle shot. Investigating cautiously with my tongue, it seemed something was missing – a filling, half a tooth – I don’t actually know. I am now eating gingerly on the other side, pending a visit to the dentist this week.

M, of course, is to have his toenails removed from his two big toes tomorrow - sounds horrible. I shall have to deliver and collect him, so my dental appointment is scheduled for Thursday. I suppose these sort of things are trivial in the great scheme of things, but they do assume large proportions, when compared with one’s normal life.

I have been working on the first three chapters of Tainted Tree, but other than that no writing. The Writers’ News competitions haven’t inspired me, and I haven’t had time to get back to my other novel. My desk was so strewn with paperwork that I could no longer function properly and made an assault on it yesterday, with good results. I also started on M’s tax return. When Lawson changed the law so that wives did their own returns, it made no difference to me. (Although I heartily approve of the policy.) I’d always dealt with the return anyway. So I can keep things secret from M, but he can’t hide anything from me. I think he’s glad to make that sacrifice rather than dealing with his own tax.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fiction, tall tales and short nails

I hear from my e-publishers, Virtual Tales, www.virtualtales.com, that A Bottle of Plonk is now available on www.fictionwise.com. Virtual Tales are spreading their net wider and, apart from promoting their authors are also looking for additional ones to join the site. They don’t publish non-fiction, but there are quite a few fantasy novels and also fiction for young adults available from them. A Bottle of Plonk doesn’t fit into this genre, and is in the romance section, together with Irene’s novel, The Moon’s Complexion. It’s also worth looking at their blog, which is (http://virtualtales.blogspot.com/).

The ants are back. In spite of M removing a giant nest and putting it in a corner of the garden, where they could wander off and do their own thing, some of the eggs must have been left behind, because suddenly the flying variety are appearing on the window in the bathroom, and crawling up the corner of the room where the shower was. They are not going to take the hint, are they? Even when we replace the shower (work in very slow progress), they are going to come back to torment us every year. We even bought a couple of electric things which are supposed to send out sound waves and frighten off spiders and other creatures. Well, I can tell you. It ain’t happened. We still get spiders – smaller and untidier, but with us, just the same. But I didn’t buy the devices to get rid of spiders. I hoped that they might have an effect upon the ants, and alas, after a year’s trial, I can see it makes no difference.

I’ve started typing the changes to chapters of my novel, Tainted Tree, that I worked on, on my holiday. I see immediately the disadvantage of using pen instead of computer. Inserts marked with hashes, asterisks and the like run down the margins of the page or are falling off the bottom. Sometimes there’s a bit on the back of the typescript. I will persevere, though, because in view of Tainted Tree’s second prize, I ought to follow this up. Alternatively, it may turn up on Goldenford’s list next year.

M is waiting to hear when he is to have two ingrowing toenails removed. It has to tie in with other treatment, so a bit complicated. We will probably hear tomorrow.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

War heroes

The headline of the evening paper on Thursday was ‘Train Derailed - We thought it was 7/7 all over again,’ and if I’d read that in the morning, maybe I would have been reluctant to use the tube. But without much detail of the derailment forthcoming, I had my second rail trip to London in the space of a week.

M was too tired to drive to North London and this time, we went together to the station. Parking is a nightmare these days, ever since they decorated the roads near the station with yellow lines. We parked about half a mile away and walked through Brookwood Cemetery, famous as a military cemetery, of course. Although I once took a guided tour through part of Brookwood, I’ve never seen this part of the cemetery. There was row upon row of American and British war graves, dating back to WW1, immaculately kept, many with a simple rose or single flower. This slightly austere but elegant style dates back to Lutyens, I imagine. At one time bodies were brought to ‘Death Station’ from Waterloo. Thanks to that, we continue to have a good local station, even if we have no parking places.

We allowed too much time for walking at both ends and were miles too early, so sat in a cafĂ©, hiding from the rain for an hour. The service at Golders Green crematorium was quite a revelation. I didn’t know, for example that my cousin, Gerald, had been a champion boxer, nor that he was in the paratroopers, and I had no idea that he was a hero. I didn’t know we had heroes in our family, because I’ve never been a risk taker, and I imagined that applied to the rest of my family. I was wrong.

My cousin, was not, it seems, an entertainments officer in the prison camp where he ended up in WW2, because he had already been wounded in action. Here’s a piece I found about him, when I came home and searched the net.

On the 19th September 1944, West of Arnhem, Private Flamberg's company, after almost continuous fighting since they dropped the day before, delivered two attacks on a strong enemy position. They were held up each time and suffered considerable casualties. A number were collected, of whom Flamberg was one, by Lieutenant C Silvester, Brigade Liaison Officer, and led in a third time. There was heavy fire and in the supposition that it was from our own troops, Flamberg was sent out into the open with a recognition triangle. He was met by a German tank which immediately opened up and put a bullet through his shoulder and remaining there in action, pinned the Company at about 200 yards. Flamberg crawled back, and concealing his distress, cheerfully asked and obtained permission to attack the tank with a Gammon bomb. He then stalked the tank, working up to within ten yards of it, in great pain with one arm useless. He threw the bomb and damaged the tank so that it hastily withdrew, opening the way for the Company to which Flamberg, as cheerfully as ever, then returned. The tremendous fighting spirit and fine example of this man was of the highest importance in its effect on the troops, who then went in to hand fighting in the best of spirits as consequence of it.

When he returned from the war, supposedly against fascism, he was horrified to find that Oswald Mosley, released from prison, was once again building up a following of fascists in England. Together with other ex-servicemen, he was instrumental in forming The 43 Group, who fought fascism at home, possibly by unorthodox means, during the next five years.

At the funeral his granddaughter and grandson, wore with pride, respectively, his red beret, and his military medals.

We went back to the family's flat for refreshments afterwards, and I talked so long to relatives I hadn’t seen for years that we didn’t arrive back at Brookwood till around 11.00 p.m. Then we had the creepy walk through the cemetery, back to our car. I would never have done that on my own (not least because I would have lost my way and walked round and round in circles.)

Today, we have been to a lovely lunch party to celebrate a friend’s anniversary and birthday. Tomorrow, we’re out to lunch too. Back to work on Monday.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Death and Therapy

I heard yesterday that a cousin of mine has died - at a very ripe old age. As a result of the second marriage of my grandfather, my cousins have a wide age range. He was a bit of a character – as I will no doubt hear at the eulogy. He was a POW in Germany, Entertainments Officer, I believe, and then after the war, led anti-fascist protests in the East End. As it happens, I was listening to the history of cotton on the radio today, and heard how Oswald Mosley’s men infiltrated the mill-workers in the cotton industry in the thirties. We flatter ourselves that it could never happen here. Oswald Mosley apparently, like Hitler, had a charismatic personality and could win people over. Fortunately, there was, it seems, sufficient opposition to stop him in his tracks.

Also on the radio, today or yesterday, was the poet Danny Abse, talking about his wife, Joan, who was killed in a car crash, two years ago. Here in Guildford, Irene and I were part of a group who sponsored his appearance at the Guildford Literary Festival, probably only a year before that, and we had the pleasure of taking both him and his wife out to dinner, after his performance. He had written a diary since her death, and talked of the value of putting one’s words onto paper, after a traumatic event of that kind. It confirmed my belief that to write one’s grief down is always good therapy. It helped me after my daughter’s death. It is of course an added bonus if the account is then readable later and not only acts as a therapy, but a memorial too, as I believe is the case, with Danny Abse’s book.

The news of the day, is of course the release of Alan Johnston. When I switched on the radio this morning, someone was mid sentence and I didn’t know initially what had happened to him. It was very moving later to hear of his release, his words and those of family and friends. No doubt he will also need to go over his own story and receive help to recover from his ordeal. But how wonderful it is when a story ends happily. If only it could be true for more people and their tragedies.