Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Of Mice and er Wasps

Went off to the hairdresser today for a trim. It was a beautiful day, though it clouded over a bit later. Our local roads and lanes are full of trees, ferns and silver birches and I couldn’t stop admiring the wonderful autumn colours as I drove along – so many different shades of golden brown, orange, yellow, red and silvery green. I’m sure I said the same sort of things last year. Have I really been writing this blog for a year?

At the hairdresser, I watched as an elderly lady emerged from curlers and tolerated her hair being back-combed - a technique we all once used many years ago – to make the hair look thicker and fuller. I can’t remember at what point I discovered my hair didn’t need any of this, and could just be washed and left to do its own thing. So much quicker, easier and cheaper. I was full of admiration that two of the stylists could do their stuff in heels four inches high. We were discussing heels at Guildford Writers ( a couple of weeks ago, and someone queried whether women still wore them. Oh they definitely do.

My hair looked fine when she’d finished, which is good, because we will be out for lunch on Sunday with the family, and I’ll be at BookBoyz in Farnborough for the book signing on Tuesday.

We are being invaded again – things from the outside are in – where we don’t want them. When the ProdigalDaughter was here with her family, she found a blue tit in the kitchen. It must have sneaked in when I took rubbish out to the dustbin. Fortunately, it exited as soon as she opened the kitchen door. Next, I found a slug on the kitchen floor. That went out straight away. I should have known it was the thin end of the edge. Worse was to follow. We heard the patter of tiny feet above our heads on Saturday night, and M went up into the roof and put out unmentionable things up there, and I’m afraid, had to retrieve dead bodies the next day.

In addition, for the past three weeks, or so, we have had wasps in the utility room. I thought the problem was over when we spotted a potential nest at the edge of the roof, outside, and dealt with it, but no. On Monday morning, when I went in, there were two or three hovering dangerously. I dashed out again. There are no windows to open there, and I didn’t fancy doing my jobs with them circling round my head. I took the last of the wasp spray in there and sprayed the room and then had my shower. I hoped that when I needed access they’d be dead. But no, when I went back, one was still shooting angrily round the room. I found there was almost no job I could get on with. I couldn’t load the washing machine, or take out clean sheets; I couldn’t get a loaf from the freezer, or a new dustbin bag (the bin men remembered to take our rubbish today; they don’t always). I couldn’t get a clean towel, having washed my hair and I couldn’t get some fish I wanted to cook, from the freezer. It all had to wait. Another few puffs of spray and that was finished. Fortunately, though not for him, the wasp too succumbed to the final blast. And at last, I was able to catch up with those Monday morning jobs; by that time I’d made the bed; clean sheets had to wait for the following day. Since then I’ve bought some more spray, and each day another contingent meets their fate.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Of Men and Sheds

Did I really hear on a news programme yesterday that sheds are good for men's health? Sad, if so, for we (I use the term figuratively) have demolished our shed which embellished the turning circle at the front of our house. Pictures will follow in a few days, when I've taken them out of the camera. After the scrap dealer came, last week, M took the shed apart and when I returned from the Guildford Institute on Tuesday, there it was - a pile of timber - awaiting the bonfire next week. What a superb bonfire that will be.

But men are funny creatures aren't they. Although I thought The Amateur Marriage a bit disappointing, Anne Tyler is so good at summing people up. Take this extract (American spelling):

Hearing Anna remark last night upon the draft from the dining-room window, he had felt a quickening of enthusiasm. ... And later: There was something so reassuring about hardware stores. We can help you deal with anything ...

Yes, I could so imagine M, his face lighting up, as a problem arose that required his skills. A nice practical problem that doesn't require emotion. As it was, today, a customer rang at lunch time, with a plumbing problem, and he raced out of the house, stopping only to seize a sandwich.

I have been playing catch-up today. There was so much paperwork on my desk. I had nearly left the house contents insurance unpaid - it had got buried under the pile. And there was a statement to be checked and a few other bills to sort out. I will take them to the post shortly. And the washing is behind again too. After the weekend away, Monday with our daughter, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Guildford Institute and lunch with local friends yesterday, I've hardly had a chance to do anything this week. I'm still reading through Tainted Tree and I've agreed a cover design with Jan ( - isn't there some way I can make that smaller?) though there is still a little work on it to be done. However, that's a big step towards publication next year. The lunch times spent selling at Guildford Institute were mixed, but I for one, enjoyed my stints there. I talked to quite a few people and had a few sales. These events at the Institute, the Farmers' Market, etc., have left me feeling quite bullish about Goldenford (

We - The Golden Girls - held a meeting this week, and we have four books in the pipeline for 2008 - Anne Brooke's ( next - Thorn in the Flesh - and me after that. Exciting stuff.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The quiet after the storm

It's strange how quiet it always seems when one of our children disappears taking their offspring and partner with them. Suddenly high pitched voices, giggles, tantrums and so on are replaced by silence, and the two of us remaining seem to sink into armchairs in front of the TV, incapable for the moment at least of anything other than a soothing murder mystery. This weekend we have had granddaughters in triplicate, having been to Cambridge and back to see GDs 1 & 3 (together with the Son&Heir and partner) and then to have ProdigalDaughter & family, including GD2, returning from a journey they had to make during the day, for a meal in the evening. They had also stayed on Saturday night (using us as a base) and remained here last night too, so that we could spend a little time with GD2 this morning and feed them lunch before they returned to Herefordshire, mid afternoon.

In addition to this activity, this afternoon, M and a friendly scrap dealer cleared most of the rubbish from one of his sheds. The shed, if the remainder of the stuff is cleared from it in time, is destined to be on a bonfire in a couple of weeks time. We may have to look for some more garden plants to fill the gap created.

Tomorrow, it seems I shall be at the Guildford Institute on my own, selling books, as there seem to have been some changes in the rota. This is a shame, as there's nothing I like more than having an excuse for a gossip, and not much of that gets done on one's own. I may take my library book - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which is the next choice of the reading circle, although I took it with me to Cambridge, and ended up watching rugby instead. That's a first. But the other three adults were watching, and I thought I might need to comment on it at some stage. I found it difficult to believe that fouls weren't being committed every two minutes - or in fact every time everyone jumped on top of one poor man at the bottom of the heap. However, I understood enough about the game to come to the conclusion that England couldn't get through the South African defence. Good try, no sorry, let's rephrase that, good attempt though, at one point.

And now, my eyelids are drooping and requesting an early bath - as they say in rugby circles - and tomorrow, when I come back, I will once again have to plough through a mass of papers on my desk; the returned account books - just in time for the VAT to be dealt with for the end of November - oh and numerous sheets to be changed in time for the next visit - the bonfire night party in a few weeks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Views and Trees

Friday evening, and the sky is beginning to darken. Last night, after a stint at the Guildford Institute, I went to Sainsbury’s, getting back near seven. There was the most wonderful sunset – the sky was flaming and there were pinks and dark colours blending in. I didn’t have my camera, otherwise I might have hazarded a shot. That, of course, was after a lovely sunny day, and today has been similar.

Our lunchtime trips to the Institute have been interesting. As at the Farmers’ Market, our sales have not been colossal, but we are getting ourselves known and recognised. Sometimes a single contact can be valuable. Of course we have also scoffed the excellent vegetarian lunches that are on offer every day. Leone and Celia’s desserts as well – though not every day. It’s worth calling in, just for the nutty meringue.

M & I spent the afternoon chatting with our ex brother in law, who is still our accountant and who called in with the account books. He had been tracing his family tree in Poland, together with his son (our nephew) – an amazing experience. Family trees are still a topic of great fascination and I didn’t get round to telling him that tracing a family tree (albeit in England) plays an important role in my novel, Tainted Tree - out some time next year. Stay tuned and you’ll here more news of it soon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What writers have to do

Monday, and I’m in a mess. My desk is full of papers once again, and I have to load the washing machine with the sheets I stripped from the bed. I’ve unloaded the dish washer – M normally does that but he forgot to start it till this morning. (Normally we do it overnight, on cheap rate electricity.) I have to deal with the spare room bed, because my daughter and family are coming next weekend. (Wouldn’t you know it, we’ve already arranged to visit my son and family in Cambridge). I’ve just been to the post office and couldn’t draw cash, because I’d taken the wrong card with me – because my brain is still asleep. I’ve also got to do some advance cooking for a meal when we return from Cambridge and PD & family will still be around.

Last night, though, when my brain was in gear, I wrote the following blog, which I didn’t then upload:

Sunday, 14th October

raised an interesting point in her query yesterday. Is this really what writers have to do?

I thought about it and the answer is Yes – and No. Any writer who only wants to write can do just that. Putting aside what it’s necessary to do to earn a living, or look after one’s family, after that, it could be the only thing that occupies your time, and you could do nothing but write. But this has nothing to do with getting or being published. In our particular case, because Goldenford Publishers ( is run by a group of us and is a publishing company, we have to carry out all the work required in a small business – that is sales, marketing, design, setting up files ready for the printer, bookkeeping, etc. – as well, of course, as editing and writing. But it would be completely wrong to imagine that if we were published by any other publisher, we could sit back and let them do all the work.

Even in the 1980s, when my self help book was published by Thorsons, I went on about fifty radio stations carrying out publicity at places arranged by the publicity department of the publishing house, and similarly, when it was brought out in a new edition in the early 90s, I carried out a another publicity tour, did interviews ‘down the line’ from Radio Southern Counties and went on Sky TV as well.

Just a couple of years ago, Irene ( and I escorted an author, who shall be nameless, to a Guildford Festival event, and she complained that the budget for publicity from her publisher, who will also remain anonymous, was about £12 a year, and that if she wanted to sell her books, she had to go out to events of this kind and sell them herself. I hear that now, the big publishing houses want to hear what the author can offer in terms of marketing ideas and possible selling leads, before they take them on. Books these days are a commodity and authors can no longer retreat to the garret with their quill pens, if they want their books to sell. That’s not to say that some fine, exceptional books don’t reach the public and sell well. But many others rely on hype, bookshop signings, and radio and TV appearances, even for the shyest and most introvert of writers. For those who are in the public eye through football, modelling or Big Brother, life is so much easier – and they don’t even have to know how to write.

We have just returned from a party at my cousin’s home in Chigwell, Essex to celebrate both an engagement and a housewarming – an hour and three quarters to get there, but alas two hours and twenty minutes to get back, crawling through a traffic jam on the North Circular. Good party, though. I always enjoy seeing my relations and we were blessed with a beautiful autumn day and sat in the sunshine for a couple of hours this afternoon, surrounded by spectacular New Guinea busy lizzies. And another party is in the offing in a few weeks’ time – this time a birthday party with a zero on the end. As it happens, my son has just celebrated one of those – no party – just a weekend away with his family. As it was a special birthday, M & I bought him a mobile phone that does everything but cook the dinner. Conferencing, linking to the internet – when we discussed it we decided it was similar to that Yuppy type toy – the Raspberry, or Strawberry – or is it a Blackcurrant? (All you need is an Apple computer to go with it and you have a dessert.) My son is not a Yuppy, but he knows he doesn’t need this. It is a toy, but that’s what presents are all about, so I don’t begrudge buying it for him.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Books and bookshops

Talking of titles – as I was in my last blog - when we, the Goldenford girls, ( were at the Farmers’ Market last week, a woman stopped to stare at our piles of books. When we caught her eye, she said, indicating The Fruit of the Tree, ‘Is that book about apples?’ ‘There is a mention of a Bramley apple tree,’ I said, ‘but actually it’s an autobiographical book. It’s about children.’ She turned away with a dismissive air.

This got Irene and me talking about books titles and how easy it would be to put our books in the wrong category in the bookshop. The Moon’s Complexion, Irene’s novel about India could be placed under Astronomy; Pink champagne and Apple Juice, Anne Brooke’s gay novel would be in the wine section, along with my novella, A Bottle of Plonk, (which was indeed placed there, in one of the local Waterstone’s on one occasion.) Tainted Tree, will of course, be found with The Fruit of the Tree amongst the gardening books – subsection, diseases of trees, perhaps. Jay Margrave’s mediaeval novel, The Gawain Quest is the only one of the novels we’ve brought out, where the title says precisely what the book’s about. See them all at the Goldenford site.

Early in the week, when M was home, no-one having rung for his services, I suggested that we do some invoices. We keep a record on small dockets and when no-one’s paid us anything for a while, we remember to go through them and M spells out what he actually did. It looked as though we had about thirty invoices to do, but when we started on them, they were almost all for one customer, and the work was unfinished. Yippee, I could put them aside, after dealing with the only two relevant ones, and get on with something of my own with a clear conscience. So I finished the short story – the one which started out as an ill wind, almost became anonymous letter and finished up as no smoke without fire. I called it Seeds of Doubt. I can’t say it was the best story ever, but it was beginning to feel like a log-jam. I had to clear it and start on something fresh. I’ve sent it off to the Writers’ News competition now, and can start thinking about the next comp. and my novel too, which has also dried up. I have continued editing Tainted Tree, though. It will soon be ready to submit to others at Goldenford for their comments and editing.

I also nearly finished my reread of The Amateur Marriage for tonight’s reading ‘Round Table’ where apart from discussion, we had a delicious chocolate cake for our third birthday. The general consensus was that Anne Tyler is a good writer and a keen observer of people behaviour and relationships, but we were not enthused by this book; its view on marriage left us rather depressed.

Irene and I have had two bookshop trips this week; today’s to Leatherhead was not productive, because the manager/owner was busy. But he will read the information we left with him and we’ll talk with him again, when he’s had time to browse through our stuff. Yesterday – to Farnborough again, was excellent. The manager of Bookboyz in Farnborough (that’s Hants, not Kent) has booked Irene and me to do a signing event on 6th November with the possibility of another event for the other two at a later date. And he’s ordered our books, already.

If this is what being multi-skilled is all about, we’re certainly doing it. This week, we writers have again been salespersons and marketers, as well as writers and editors. I, of course, at home, have also been a secretary, bookkeeper and financial wizard. Next week we’ll be selling books at some lunchtimes at the Guildford Institute, during the Book Festival. Delighted to say hallo to any Guildfordians. The lunches are good there, too.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Climbing up Guildford

It’s been a busy few days, and quite productive too. Irene ( and I went on Wednesday to another bookshop to try our luck with sales. The good news – as Irene was parking the car, a man gave us a ticket he hadn’t used up. The bad news – the manager of the shop was having his afternoon off. But, good news again, having looked at the brochure and fliers we left, he emailed and said he’d be happy for us to do a Creative Writing event. We might visit him again for a discussion. As we arrived back at my house, a huge vehicle went down the adjacent lane, and then emerged and followed us, effectively blocking Irene in. The driver emerged with a modest sized parcel and backed his way out of my narrow entrance. When I opened it up, I found it was the first four of my prize books – the others being out of stock at the moment. I haven’t started on them. I’m still reading An Amateur Marriage for next Thursday.

The reading circle is comprised mainly of people who graduated from Surrey University when I did – in 2002. We, (a group of rather ‘mature’ graduates,) also have regular lunch meetings in Guildford and I went to one of these on Thursday. There were only four of us this time - often there are ten or eleven - but we had a good chat, and I went on to do some shopping. At the bottom of town the ‘remaindered’ book shop was closing down and I was tempted to buy a couple of large, glossy gardening books at £2.50 each. But the thought of lugging that weight up the hill put me off. I bought some make-up at Debenhams and acquired a free gift from Estee Lauder. It was a small box, so I didn’t mind that too much. A vase for my cousin came from House of Fraser and that, with its box, weighed a ton. As I lurched in any upwardly direction towards my car, I remembered I was going to buy advance Christmas presents for GD2 (I haven’t yet checked on the others.) Barbie clothes and a bead set, in boxes, added to my burden. I love Guildford – it has so much atmosphere, but wherever you park, there is always climbing to do in the course of the shopping.

My brother in law came for dinner on Friday night, and in the course of the day, apart from my other work, I had to rush out to collect my new contact lens, and prescriptions from the doctor, and pay my credit card at the bank, because of the postal strike. Most of our post seems to be getting through, but I don’t know how quickly our outgoing letters out are arriving.

Yesterday was a leisurely day; even though I don’t like the phone, I still spend quite a long time on it, in order to keep in touch with my children. So almost the whole morning was used up with chats with the Son&Heir and the ProdigalDaughter, as well as GD2 and my sister in law, who also telephoned. But today I’ve been industrious and applied myself to ironing and getting out some letters that were waiting to be dealt with. The weather’s dry and pleasant and M & I took a walk out to the post box, so even it it’s not going to be emptied, the letters have, at least, left our house.

A new Myspace friend, Jean – you’ll find there, amongst my friends – asked when I thought of titles for my stories and books. Occasionally, I have been inspired by a proposed title, or when suggested in a competition, a subject, which is almost a title. Mostly, though, I think of the title afterwards, when I’m looking for something that sums up the story. My novel, Tainted Tree, had a completed different name at first. A writing friend who read it and gave me a very useful critique, said he didn’t like the name. Because it is about a girl researching her family tree, I had looked up ‘history’ in a small Oxford book of Quotations and found a quote by TS Eliot. I extracted a couple of words from the quote for my title. But the general consensus was that it suggested the book was more literary than it actually was. (I don’t do literary fiction – intelligent is all I can aim for.) So I asked myself what the book was about, and came up with the current title, which I think is the right one. As you can tell, the Family Tree is not quite what my heroine, Addie, is hoping for, when she sets out on her quest.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beads are In and Bosoms are Out

A busy few days. We had a very satisfactory launch of Irene's book Sold to the Lady with the Lime-Green Laptop on Sunday. Anne and I manned the bookshop and by using most of our fingers, nearly always gave the right change and collected the appropriate money. And on Tuesday, we were selling again at the Guildford Farmers' Market. We had no cover, and it could have been dreadful, but, once again, we were quite lucky with the weather. It wasn't sunny like last time, but we only had a fine spattering of rain and we managed to protect the books.

Irrespective 0f how many books we sell, I quite enjoy sitting there meeting up with passers by. There were a couple of students from the Guildford drama school (the alma mater of Bill Nighy) who had only just come to Guildford from Watford and London respectively and who were enjoying it. There was the mysterious man who took away a leaflet, but didn't want a book. 'Are you a writer?' I asked. 'I might be,' came back the cautious reply. One woman came up to the stall, told us a bit about her own writing, and then remembered me from something I'd written for Writers' Forum. To my surprise, she said she had been moved by my article (which included a mention of our late friend, Esme Ashford, the writer of one of our books, On the Edge) and had cut it out and shown it to a friend. 'It is a privilege to have met you,' she told me. Much as I like to be appreciated, I'm still asking myself, if she was that impressed by my article, why wasn't she tempted to buy one of my two books, available at that very table. Answers on a postcard, please.

As I trotted up the hill, I passed by a bead shop. There's another one of these in Knaphill. This makes me think that making your own jewellery must have become fashionable, suddenly. I also pondered that women have been showing off more decolletage in the last year or so. Sometimes fashions creep up on you, in a grass roots movement - or one might say, bottom up rather than top down, except it would probably be inappropriate.

I must have been very tired on Sunday night, post launch, because on Monday morning when I woke up, I suddenly realised I could see. This was worrying - my left eye is so bad that first thing in the morning, everything is normally a blur, in spite of my only slightly short sighted right eye. I shot out of bed, and sure enough I'd left my left contact lens in. I took it out and rested my eyes for the four or five hours, before replacing them.

I had to go to a meeting in the evening, and was aware that in the darkness, the roads seemed less clear than ususal. When I got home and attempted to take out the lenses, I found to my horror that now I was only wearing the left lens. There wasn't sign of the right one. At midnight, I swept the kitchen floor, in the hope of finding the errant lens, but I could only find dust. Then I ransacked drawers to find an old right one for the next day, and until I could get a replacement.

Tomorrow I'm back to Guildford for a meeting with my graduate friends, and will be getting a present for GD2 and something for cousins who are having a party in a few weeks.