Monday, December 21, 2009

Out and about in London and Guildford

My desk is looking a bit clearer, so a quick run through of my activities. Going back a couple of weeks, I spent a long day in London, leaving the OM to look after himself. Since he can’t cook, this involved instructions to go the pub a mile away for an evening meal. I went with Irene at midday to the Indian embassy to pick up her papers for a trip to India, and we met up with Jennifer later. We had a meal very close by and then went to see Der Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden, my second visit in quite a short time. Once again I was impressed with the sheer magnificence of the place; we were very high up, and I used my new temporary glasses, and didn’t suffer from double vision, as I had on the previous occasion. We didn’t leave London until about 11.00 o’clock.

Later in that week, and in the following week, we stationed ourselves at the Guildford Institute to sell books, and also at the Christmas Fair at Farnham Maltings. The first day, we took a bus into Guildford from the Park & Ride, and this worked well, apart from Irene tripping over her feet and landing on the ground, while I was queuing to get on. As this took place behind me, I was unaware of her fall, until she told me, but all the other passengers viewed it, and must have thought me an unhelpful sort of friend.

Jennifer and her other half came to dinner with Irene on Saturday night, in spite of the freezing weather. The house was lovely and warm. There are distinct advantages to having a chicken in the oven for two and a half hours.

The last reading circle meeting was also a bit of a party, with everyone taking some small items of refreshment, and our hostess providing a buffet of delicacies. We discussed William Boyd’s Restless. For some reason, I started the ball rolling, and was possibly a little over-critical. When other people have given their opinion on a book, I am inclined to listen and moderate my own views. Because I started, I launched into my critique, which was mainly influenced by my antipathy for the two women main characters.

It was a reasonably interesting story, but marred by these characters, with whom I could not really empathise. This book is another timeslip novel, set in the 1970s and the 1940s. Ruth gets vaguely involved with some half hearted protestors, while her mother in the 1940s is a spy in an organisation which creates propaganda for use in the second world war. The two stories come together by virtue of Eva revealing all to her daughter, in order to get her, Ruth, to help find Eva’s spymaster.

If anything, I felt more sympathy and interest in Eva as a young woman than Ruth the contemporary heroine (at least, contemporary in the 1970s – which does not feel like history to me.) However, both of them were rather cold in my view, and perhaps this reflects the way that spy stories are meant to be written – in a cold, detached, cynical way. If so, it means that I would be better avoiding spy stories.

Since our Guildford trip, I see that the last copy of Tainted Tree has gone from Waterstone’s in the High Street, so perhaps my article in Family Tree Magazine had an effect.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tainted Tree takes an early bath?

We’ve had more torrential rain this week; my trip to Sainsbury’s, yesterday, took me through mini rivers and my car, given a clean up during its service last week, is once again muddied up. This weather and the floods which have occurred in different parts of the country, notably, Cumbria, certainly do not seem typical of November weather and give me uncomfortable reminders of one of the ‘end of the world’ films I saw many years ago – possibly The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Flowers too, don’t seem to know whether it’s summer or winter. We still have the last vestiges of summer flowers – a yellow bloom on the hypericum, which started flowering in August; a few faded geraniums and - until the frost of a few days ago, some blossoms on the fuchsias. To counter that, we have some early polyanthus and a mahonia also sporting yellow flowers.

Guildford is making its own contribution to saving the planet. I will not mock; our small endeavours may well be beneficial when carried out by many people. We now have a giant wheelie bin for our non-recyclable rubbish; a purple bag each week for tins/bottles and paper – to be recycled. (Others in more accessible houses have two separate containers, but the big recycling vehicles don’t like coming down our lane, so we’re on another system.) We also have a kitchen caddy for left-over cooked and raw food and peelings, etc. and an outside food waste bin, to be collected and composted. The new system started at the beginning of November, but there have been teething problems and ours have only just been solved.

This week has been quiet and I’ve been able to do some catching up. Next week will be very busy, not least because Irene and I will be at the Guildford Institute, selling our books, on Thursday and Friday, as well as going to the opera on Monday. December brought a copy of Family Tree Magazine with my article on Tainted Tree in it, as well as the latest edition of Writers News, also featuring a piece on my writing. But bad news at the library – one of my books has completely disappeared from the Surrey Library system, and the librarian at Godalming was unable to tell me where it had gone. If someone had dropped it in the bath, she told me, it would be removed from the system. Let's hope a similar fate doesn't await my other copies.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Busy days and novel marketing

Some people do ten things in one day; they have a right to say they’ve been busy. I am not one of them. Two things in one day qualifies as a busy day; consequently, I have to report I have been busy this week.

I should add that I don’t count chores which I do every day, when I say ‘doing things’. Every day, I do the necessary – the washing and ironing and tidying - and sorting out the post and any typing that’s needed. It’s the other things – well things that actually involve me leaving the house. And I have left the house this week, each day, despite one or two wild and windy nights that had me remembering the hurricane of 1987, and feeling reassured about the conifer that is no longer overshadowing us.

Irene and I went to Dorking for the book signing at Waterstone’s on Sunday and felt it was a successful day. The staff were lovely and helpful and the customers chatted to us whether or not they bought our books; many of them were obviously regular visitors and stayed browsing for a long time. It was a very welcoming store and it deserves to be very successful. Our books were nicely displayed. I haven't included Irene's picture of me sitting at the table in front of the books, as she caught me with a rather grim expression on my face, not related to emotions, but rather wondering if she had taken it or not.

We hashed things over at our Goldenford meeting on Monday night, and on Tuesday, I was able to read another small extract of the current novel.

On Wednesday, I met up with some friends at our local pub, and we had a lengthy chat. We used to meet and eat at each other’s houses, but we’ve given up on that. We can have a much better chat when we don’t have to worry about cooking – and about the occasional husband (working on the premises) who also wants lunch. I went straight on to Sainsbury’s to get my weekly shop, so was out for about five or six hours altogether.

Similarly today, I took my car for a service and MOT, abandoned it there, and walked into Guildford, armed with my shopping list. Looking for presents for the four grandchildren, I visited M & S, Next, Gap, Gap Kids, Mothercare and for myself – HMV, where I bought three more classical CDs and a DVD of the first series of Frasier, for the evenings when we can’t find anything we want to watch on TV. I was exhausted by the end of it, but had succeeded in polishing off most of the present needs. Still looking for a ‘boyfriend cardigan’ for GD1. I’d never heard of such a thing until a week ago, but Gap told me they were sold out. This is obviously the new ‘in thing’ and it just shows how giving something a name can be a terrific boost to sales.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Update on my books

Pleased to say I received my royalty statement from Virtual Tales, reminding me to say that HAVE WINE WILL TRAVEL is still available from them and from other sources.

Meanwhile, I will be at Dorking Waterstone's tomorrow, 12 - 3 with Irene, signing copies of our books, mine being Tainted Tree and A Bottle of Plonk. TT will be featured in Family Tree Magazine, out in December.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tainted Tree goes to Trowbridge and Dorking

Another busy week, which included fireworks and a giant bonfire on Saturday night – the day after my birthday -a meeting on Monday, shopping for birthday presents in Guildford on and also Guildford Writers on Tuesday, lunch with Irene and the reading circle, on Thursday and a trip to Cambridge through stormy weather on Saturday, returning today.

On Sunday, we added half our hedge to the embers of the bonfire which resulted in another blaze. Spending most of the morning walking backwards and forwards with the clippings was exhausting though, and took me two days to recover.

I didn’t have anything to read out at GW, but I had written another few hundred words of the current novel. As far as reading is concerned, I had completed the assigned book, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and found it a very good read. It was a large ambitious novel, in terms of keeping all the information in place, and is a most readable book - a definite page-turner.

I was particularly interested in, because, in some ways, it resembles Tainted Tree, which you could regard as a 'time-slip' novel and it also fits very neatly into this category. The author visits three main time periods – 2005, 1975 and 1905-1913, so like Tainted Tree, this is a mainly twentieth century novel. Unlike TT, however, Kate Morton spends much more time in the early part of the century, whereas my main story was in contemporary times, with diary entries and letters showing the past.

In the present, there is an Australian woman, Cassandra, who like my own modern day character, comes to
England from another land to find out secrets from the past. At times it could be confusing, as it was not always possible to remember what the character knew about the research, for the reader is discovering things from the earlier stories, which are probably unknown to the later characters.

I feel it is important for the author to take the reader seamlessly from one period to another, as I tried to do in Tainted Tree, and for the most part, Kate Morton succeeds in this. Despite various nit-picking, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book, and I shall miss it.

In the mean time, possibly as a result of a piece about TT in the Somerset Times, Trowbridge Waterstone’s has ordered in copies, which is good, especially as I have an article coming out in December in Family Tree Magazine which also ought to bring about some interest.

Next week, Irene and I will be at Dorking Waterstone’s during the middle of the day, signing copies of our books, so if you’re in the area, drop in and see us.

Monday, November 09, 2009

North and south and up and down

I’ve been too busy to blog, or possibly too sleepy or too lazy. But it does seem as if a number of things have been happening that have taken up the slack.

In the past two weeks, I have been to London twice. The first time with Irene and Jennifer, my Goldenford pals, to see L’Heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi, a double bill of light comic operas at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden - a magnificent place since its renovation. They were both amusing and the latter by Puccini, contained the well known piece, Oh my beloved father, which was beautifully sung by the heroine. We walked through the theatre area of London – ages since I’ve been in London by night, and it was buzzing with activity - and we dined in an Italian restaurant. Although late October, it was a warm night, and had so much atmosphere, it was almost like being on the Continent. At the end of the evening, we walked across London Bridge back to the station, and looked at the lights across the water.

Last week, I met my friend who lives in Kent. Our regular meetings in London are easier than family trips to meet each other at our homes, and since our friendship dates back to school days, we leave our partners out of the meetings. Walking into Trafalgar Square, we found that a new statue was to be unveiled later in the day on the Fourth Plinth. It looked, at that stage, like a rather tall hoodie, covered in black material and roped round the middle. Fortunately, though, it was not another example of eccentric modern art, but turned out to be a memorial to Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park, who commanded 11 Group, RAF Fighter Command, with the responsibility of the air defence of south-east England in the Battle of Britain, 1940 and who was described in a German report as the ‘Defender of London’.

When we returned there, at the appropriate time, we found the square was gradually filling up with dignitaries and air-force personnel. We had a very good position to both listen to the speeches and see what was happening on a screen. We saw the unveiling both on screen and in the actuality, including a flypast of a Spitfire and a Vulcan.. At the end of the proceedings, cadets moved amongst us, providing goodie bags for the audience. Later, on the train home, as I got up to leave the carriage, I found a young man was smiling at me. I checked the window reflection to see if there was anything strange about me, but all appeared to be normal. I turned away, thinking maybe that he was a bit odd, but he caught up with me on the exit steps, and finally asked me if I’d been at Trafalgar Square. He’d noticed my RAF bag of souvenirs, and had been envious that I’d been there.

Earlier on, my friend and I had a guided tour of the National Gallery, so that rather than whizzing past numerous paintings, we concentrated on about seven with explanations.

My trip to the Opera House and up to the heights of the gallery, made me very much aware of the double vision problem, which is exaggerated in that situation. This week, I’ve been to an optometrist, who did a new type of examination, and told me that if she’d simply seen the graph without speaking to me, she would have recommended surgery. This may still be a long term solution to my problem. However, for the moment, I am going to try out glasses with a prism over the right eye. Not all the time, though. Specifically for the occasions when I have problems. Like in the theatre, and when I’m driving and notice that there are two single white lines down the centre of the road.

Last, but not least, we visited the ProdigalD in the midlands, last weekend. For those of my friends, who do not know, we have a two month old granddaughter, and this was our first visit to see her. We thought her very sweet, and a good addition to the ballet corps of our other three granddaughters. We also, of course, saw GD2, and were delighted to see her too. She is a very articulate eight year old, with many similarities to me; she can’t ride a bike except with stabilisers, and she can’t swim. On the plus side, though, she loves books (and I’m looking forward to discussing my own with her eventually.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tickling the taste buds and the woodchopper arrives

After a few quiet days, our second workshop took place in what was a busy weekend, with the main emphasis on eating and talking. I'm nver averse to a bit of talking, but probably the dining out was more than I'm used to in one weekend.

First though, Goldenford presented its second successful Writers’ Workshop for the Guildford Book Festival – Sense and Sensitivity. Like the previous week, the three of us divided up the senses. Having had two slots last week, I dealt with only one, this week – taste. I chose this so that I could use a piece from Tainted Tree in which my heroine, Addie, faced with a box of letters which may reveal something of the past history of her unknown grandmother, remembers tasting an olive for the first time, as a child. She had anticipated that it would be something pleasant, and in fact she found it quite bitter. Was delving into her family history going to produce the same result? I wanted to show how describing taste does not have to be just description, but can be linked to emotions.

I had a plate of goodies (depending on how you look at them) to offer to the group to inspire their writing. I’d started off on an oranges and lemons theme – and produced segments of a clementine, lemon slices, small portions of lemon drizzle cake and a chocolate orange – then, to add a little more choice, I threw in some chewy mints and for obvious reasons, some olives. The group had to concentrate on taste, though the lemon had a nice smell, and although I hadn’t anticipated it, the items had a range of colours, the mints being an attractive eggshell blue. It seemed to work quite well, though I hadn’t anticipated the clementine being bitter instead of sweet, nor the chewy mints being a lot less minty than I’d imagined. Nor had I thought I would take home half the chocolate orange. (Dealt with that now.)

That same day (now nearly a fortnight ago) we had a really nice evening out with M’s cousins and followed it up the next day with lunch with friends. All too often, life is a feast or a famine.

We have been having some lovely mild weather, and I took a few shots of the beautiful autumn colours in the garden. I used only to be interested in showy plants with beautiful, dramatic flowers - which is why I planted a huge bed of rhododendrons. Now I realise there is a lot to be gained in having more modest plants which do different things at different times of the year. The cotoneaster, which I once thought uninspiring, is evergreen, produces flowers in early spring, attracts bees, and has now produced fabulous red berries in profusion which I don't remember seeing before. Similarly, the pieris, as mentioned before, I think, have flowers, berries and flame-coloured leaves at various times throughout the year. Also in this scene, are a couple of berberis, one scarlet

and one orange.

This is a tree which overshadowed our house, and which this week our neighbour arranged to be cut down. The tree featured in the second photo is also shown in the first photo, to give some idea of height.

I also tried to get some shots of this, while the lumberjack was perched on top.

The last shot is from my kitchen window - the others from various points in the garden.

I thought it would go down with a cry of ‘Timber,’ but actually he lopped off lengths and got it to half size, before the remainder – about twenty feet of it, finally came down – more of a whimper than a bang, really. Still, it’s good that it’s gone – it will allow more sunshine in the garden.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A letter from Czechoslovakia 1989

When I was preparing for the Goldenford Sense and Sensitivity Workshop, I went rooting through a box of letters to find an airmail letter. I was trying to prepare a tableau of things that would evoke ideas for a piece of creative writing. Other items included an old bunch of keys, a fan, a bottle of pills - come to think of it, there are some good ideas there, I might try it here at home.

At any rate, the first letter I identified as being an airmail letter was actually twenty years old. (There's no filing system in this box, and letters get thrown in and shunted around at random.) It was from my son, when, in his early twenties, he took a trip to Czechoslovakia, as part of an exchange with people from his university - Sussex University.

The following is an extract from his letter, dated 10th September 1989.

...We changed at Stuttgart for a Czech train. The only eventful thing was crossing the border. Here soldiers boarded the train with dogs and a succession of officials asked for various bits of paper and if wanted to declare anything. He looked very bored and I got the impression he was willing us to say ‘no’ so he didn’t have to bother to do anything. I declared my camera and he wrote it on some bit of paper. I didn’t tell him about the two personal stereos, legitimate though they were, because he didn’t ask me – always best to keep your mouth shut.

The first week in Czechoslovakia (or to be more precise Bohemia) was spent looking around Prague (or Praha) as it should be called.) Some things are very modern. Their underground puts ours to shame. It is really very good. It is very quiet for a capital city. There is no huge crush of people like in London. There are no massive traffic jams. There is no-one trying to sell you anything. That is sometimes very nice and sometimes very inconvenient. I am sure it is possible to get anything you want here – judging from Sarka’s flat. It’s just not as easy as nipping down to the shop and buying it. Often the shelves are empty and something, whatever it is, is difficult or impossible to get. You have to wait for a few days. However, the only real big differences in terms of what you can buy are food and electrical things. Sarka showed me Prague’s biggest supermarket and it really wasn’t very good at all. Sainsbury’s is about 100 times better. As for electrical things, watches stereos, televisions, they are there, but they are very, very expensive. I worked out they are about five times the equivalent in England would cost, and that doesn’t take into account the lower Czech standard of living. And they are the technology of fifteen years ago. None of those things really matter though – there is nothing very interesting on the television. Actually I have seen loads and loads of satellite dishes while I’ve been here – much more than in England. Food is always prepared from the basics. This makes it a time consuming process for Sarka and her mother, but they enjoy it and the results are always wonderful. Dumplings (or keneglik) are a speciality and my favourite are the (very filling) plum covered dumplings with sweet cottage cheese. We eat meat a lot – not so much fruit, in fact they haven’t really discovered health food yet –they take what they can get I suppose. I thought food would be sparse but I am eating a huge amount. I have a room to myself in the flat. The block of flats stands with several other blocks of flats in an area of Prague called Motol (in West Prague). They are I suppose like sixties flats in England, and although the inside of Sarka’s flat is very nicely decorated I really don’t like the design at all of the estate and buildings.

Everybody drives in Skodas. There are thousands of the things. You can get foreign cars but parts etc make it very expensive and not practical to do so. Very occasionally you see a Merc. Worth ten times the price of the Skoda. Nothing in between though. The inequality is very pronounced.

Getting anywhere when you are not in Prague but in the country is a problem. For the last five days I have been in South Bohemia. Not in the same mountains as we originally planned but with friends of Sarka’s called Marik and Kate (Anglicised). Marik was a scientist who was very gifted at music and so I got on well with him and said if he was ever passing through Woodingdean he should drop in. (He is planning on going to England.) We picked wild mushrooms and we had fresh eggs (from a hen!!!) and honey (from bees) from a hive next door. We did a lot of walking and climbing.

My son's visit was before the dramatic changes, which occurred only a couple of months later in the same year, to quote from Wikipedia:

The Velvet Revolution (Czech: sametová revoluce) or Gentle Revolution (Slovak: nežná revolúcia) (November 16 – December 29, 1989) was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the Communist government.[1] It is seen as one of the most important of the Revolutions of 1989.

The Czech girls who had earlier stayed at Sussex Uni, and had also visited us here, with my son, were quite adamant at the time, that Czechoslovakia would not take the route of other East European countries, where the collapse of Communism had already started on its irrevocable journey.

About a year later, my son visited Russia, where his then girlfriend, a student of Eastern European languages was working ... and look what happened there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Writing from the senses

It’s been a busy few days – after the presentation to the Staines group, I started preparing for the workshop for the Mole Valley Arts Festival in Leatherhead, interrupted only by a visit from bro-in-law for dinner on Friday night.

Our workshop at Leatherhead went extremely well – we divided the senses between us, Jay Margrave, our historical novelist took on Touch – as well as introducing us; Irene Black had us listening to the music for The Dance of the Seven Veils in Salome, and had the audience giving their impressions. She also brought along some Campari and we each downed a thimbleful – this sent me off writing about a crime scene- where the heroine was forced at gun-point to drink some drugged liquid. My efforts were centred on Sight and Smell – and I had taken with me a bag full of perfumes and sun lotions – including for some lucky person, Chanel No Five – and also Tweed, which I rather like. I never wear perfume these days, so I suppose some of the things may have been a bit stale, but they still stimulated story ideas, as did my tableau of items for stimulating ideas.

Amongst the items in my tableau was an airmail letter, which I had hunted for amongst my old letters. More of that another time.

Our feedback was that it had worked very well. Our workshop lasted three hours, and we put a great deal into it. At our next one, I am doing taste, and I shall buy some things at Sainsbury’s, later today. I also have a passage to read that I will think will be appropriate, from Tainted Tree.

On Monday, I went to an ophthalmologist to discuss my double vision problem, and I’m going to see another op-something or other, and she will try out prisms on a plain lens, to see if this helps. Mainly I’m worried about night driving. Apparently, I also have the beginnings of a cataract, but too early to do anything about that yet. I was asked to bring along all my glasses and I ended up taking glasses, bifocals, lensed sunglasses, sunglasses for reading, ordinary sunglasses, contacts, other contacts for when I want to read and not wear glasses, driving glasses for when I wear short vision contact lenses … Most of them stayed in my carrier bag.

Tuesday, was Guildford Writers, but I didn’t take anything, because I’m still catching up on office work. I got off some important letters today – as there is a postal strike due next week (possibly), I don’t want to leave anything to the last minute.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Account books, reading books and Goldenford books

A trip to the Goldenford office this morning, where I off-loaded all the accounts stuff for the accountant, was followed this evening by something completely different – a reading circle meeting.

We discussed Miss Pettigrew lives for the day, a novel written in the thirties and very much of its time. It was great fun – a confection of a story, not to be taken too seriously. Miss Pettigrew, a middle aged respectable lady, down on her luck, looking for another governess’s job, meets up with an amoral, flighty mixture of upper class toffs and theatrical women and proceeds to cast off all her original conventional ideas. It was a very fast read, and contrasted with last time’s book, which needed to be read slowly and carefully.

House of the Seven Gables was endearing, yet irritating. It could have done with some drastic editing, for at times, the writer rambled somewhat, and also probably included too much description. He overused certain words - rusty and dusty seemed to come up an awful lot, and he also told us the same things several times, e.g. that Hepzibah, one of the main characters was not at all good looking. It was also a book of its time, but Victorian times, as opposed to a 20th century book. The characters were very likeable though, so from that point of view, it was a book I was prepared to work at.

Because Miss Pettigrew was a short, fast book, with a great deal of dialogue, I also managed to read this month, Dear Fatty, the autobiography of Dawn French, a great deal of which I enjoyed. At times I got rather confused and thought her BF – best friend – was Jennifer Saunders, but she wasn’t. In general, I liked her telling her life story straight, so although I realise she is a comedienne, I was irritated by her odd ‘letters’ to Madonna and one or two other similar jokey chapters. However, I was moved by her telling of the death of her father, and of other traumas in her life.

The next book is a really thick one, and as I have a number of things to do this month, I’ll have difficulty in getting through it, though it comes with a recommendation.

Our talk at Staines went well and apart from sharing our publishing experiences with an interested audience, we were entertained to scones and jam with tea, followed by cake, too. (So much for the diet.) I am starting to prepare items for the Senses Workshop which we, the Goldenford Girls are giving on Saturday to ten people. I am guiding the group through two senses – sight and smell. It should be interesting.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Cows and moles and new plants in the garden

The completion of the Goldenford accounts, (though not yet passed to the accountant, so I can’t quite tick it off the list) allowed me to give thought to competitions. A glance at an email regarding the HE Bates short story competition, in which one of my efforts was short listed a couple of years ago, revealed that the closing date was 5th October. Could I get my entries there in time?

I’ve never cut it so fine before, but at around 3.30 pm, I hunted on the Net for the entry form. They’d changed it to a PDF file, which came out all wrong on the page. I then struggled for ten minutes to get the right format. Why had they made life so difficult for me? Eventually I achieved four entry forms and printed out four stories – one them twice by accident. It really is not a good idea leaving things till the last minute. I sealed up the envelope and raced off to the post box. It was 4.10 pm. As I neared the box I realised I hadn’t put a cheque in the envelope. Back home, panting, I scribbled a cheque, unsealed the envelope, inserted it, and was on my way again. I got back to the box at 4.30 pm. Two minutes later the post van arrived. I was suitably chuffed at having made it, but will it get to Northants by Monday?

I took a more leisurely stroll then to see the cow and its calves – who have not after all, gone from the field. This time, I spotted three calves – I think there have always been three, but they lie under the trees when it’s sunny, and you can’t always spot them. Their life together with their mother may be short, but at the moment at least, it’s a good life, not restricted at all, with a large field to graze in.

In my own garden, we’ve just added three pieris; these have cream white pendulous flowers in spring followed by flame coloured leaves, but are evergreen for the winter. So a very satisfactory plant. In the mean time, though, here’s an autumn photo, and there is a well established pieri in this.

Irene and I were in Dorking at the weekend, handing out information about our forthcoming creative writing workshop, as part of the Mole Valley Arts Festival. We popped into Dorking Waterstone's and as a result, a book signing is being arranged in November. So with three workshops/presentations this month, we have quite a full diary. Writers' News Magazine are running a feature on me, in the next couple of months, and an article I submitted to Family Tree Magazine will be in the December edition.

And talking of moles, we've been overrun again. That's the downside of country living.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sense and Sensuality

I make no apology for borrowing an idea from the title of the two forthcoming Goldenford workshops – one at the Leatherhead Institute on 10th October and a second at the Guildford Institute on 17th October. The workshops are called Sense and Sensitivity – maybe the above is better – and I’ve been thinking about the senses today, and how I can style my own parts of these workshops.

To start I tried out some perfume and sat down to write for five minutes. Surprisingly, it actually worked. Words started appearing from nowhere, which just shows what you can do when you try. The piece was not actually relevant to my novel in progress, and interestingly the perfume didn’t appear in the writing until the last sentence.

I went out for my constitutional (I’ve put on too much weight the last few weeks) and as I walked past bramble hedges, I tried out the last of some blackberries, catching my fingers on the prickles. The blackberries were tiny ones, which even the birds had left behind, so not very sweet and quite a few pips. I got to the field where last week I was pleased to see a cow and her two calves; last week, I had been aware of the smell of animal and manure; but this time, there was no smell, and alas, the mother and babies had gone. I sniffed and there was an autumnal aroma of bonfire – not near enough to be unpleasant - and as I looked around, I could see the smoke drifting up to the sky. I got to the little bridge, where I sometimes turn and return and as I passed, I could hear the sound of rushing water. I’m not good at using the senses and I don’t always notice these things.

This morning I collected a new contact lens and the two receptionists there told me, ‘We all loved your book.’ (Tainted Tree) That was gratifying and I hinted they might want to buy copies as Christmas presents. Worth a try. The optician make a point of buying a copy of each of my books for the business, as they come out, and then all the staff read it. They were keen to know when my next one was due, but I’m nowhere near finished.

If you believe in this idea of left brain/right brain – with one half being creative and the other half having a different job, I have been in left brain mode for some time. Going from M’s accounts straight on the Goldenford accounts hasn’t given the creative half any time to get back to writing, and although I’m nearly finished, I still have some queries to sort out.

However, this afternoon, I am making another honey cake and this will give me the pleasure of both taste and smell.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Revealing the secrets of the bedchamber

Listening to the radio a couple of days ago, I caught Liz Jones and Katherine Whitehorn talking about putting aspects of their lives into a newspaper column. I’ve always been an admirer of Katherine Whitehorn, ever since I heard her saying on Any Questions, many years ago, that rather than do sewing, she had pinned her bra with a safety pin. ‘A woman after my own heart,’ I remember thinking. And in this programme, she was eminently tactful towards her opposite number.

But how could Liz Jones possibly believe it was right to write about the most intimate part of her marriage in her column and expect her marriage to survive? It didn’t and the two parties documented their battle in two newspaper columns. I found myself wondering if she didn’t value the marriage at all. She would apparently sneak down to the computer when her husband wasn’t around to get the column to the newspaper before he could see it. She says, in her defence, that he could read it any time he wanted to – in the paper. But it would have been too late. She had already betrayed him; if the secrets of the bedroom were revealed, then presumably, nothing at all was sacred.

There are people who are important to me, friends as well as family, and I don't know about other bloggers, but I wouldn't feel I have the right to put any of their secrets or their secret thoughts on a blog or a newspaper column, or any area for public consumption.

We all moan about our spouses; I personally don’t complain that the other half doesn’t take out the rubbish to the bin, because I like to make sure it’s completely tied up – I’m a bit of a control freak, I admit. On the other hand, I do complain regularly that he leaves finger marks on the paintwork. So I’ve made a statement to how ever many people read this blog. But I don’t regard that as a betrayal, and I hope you readers don’t either. I think what Liz Jones did was far worse than her husband’s subsequent infidelity. After all, she loved her column, more than she loved him.

On the subject of marriage, we celebrated another year on 11th September – that unforgettable date of recent memory. We forgot to buy cards, though. Lucky my sister in law did.

And on the subject of rubbish, there is to be a new regime in recycling in the Guildford area next month. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ups and Downs

After last week's jollifications, it's been a quiet week. I've been reading my book for the reading circle next week, The House with Seven Gables, written in the mid 19th century, I think. (I can't be bothered to get up and look.) It's not without humour and a certain charm, and the main characters are all likeable, so the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, has succeeded there. But it could never be published in modern times. Not without a ruthless editor. He does tell you some things over and over again, and also his sentences in some places are so long that by the time you've got to the end, you've forgotten what the beginning of the sentence was. If he was meant to be an American Charles Dickens, I don't think he succeeded. Nevertheless, I will finish the book in the next few days.

I thought we were to have an empty weekend for the first time in two months. However, yesterday, M's sister telephoned to ask if we wanted to meet up, so that we could have lunch in their camper van. My s-i-l and b-i-l surprised us, recently, by buying this really large mobile home - not to replace their proper home, but so that they can go out on trips to places, stay overnight, if required, and have all the facilities for lunches and teas at their fingertips. So off we went to meet them at a local beauty spot, Newlands Corner, near Guildford. For anyone who doesn't know Guildford, it is a town on the North Downs and therefore hilly (particularly when you're on your way back to your car with shopping.) Newlands Corner is one of the high points and looks down at the countryside around. As you can see, it's a popular spot.

But you can also have quite solitary walks. We had lunch in the van, which is enormous -but s-i-l is brave and drives it - with a kitchen area, bathroom with all the facilities, including shower, and sitting room with sofas which convert into beds. When we had admired it, we went for a walk and chat. It was a lovely day, and we didn't stop talking for a minute.

In the past few days, I've been getting to grips with the Goldenford accounts, and have nearly finished. The lack of much office work means I have almost no excuse for not getting down to continuing the progress of my various protagonists in Innocent Bystanders, the work in progress. Will young Martin face up to the school bully and defeat him? Will vulnerable Jean get out of the clutches of her unpleasant, estranged husband? Will Nick, the honest journalist, win her affections? If anyone knows the answers, please let me know. It'll make the writing that much easier.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Food, glorious food.

It's been a hectic few days, including a meeting of Guildford Writers here last Tuesday - that's a week ago. Small and select it was, with many of our group away, but we spent quite a time chatting.

Because the Son&Heir and the entourage were visiting for the weekend, I did various bits of cooking during the week. If you are efficient, you can produce clever things when the company is there. As I'm not, I tend to do some things in advance and put them in the fridge or freezer. Although the apple tree has started to drop its modest crop this year, I'm still using up last year's packs of frozen apples. So it's important to have some crumble at the ready for almost instant desserts. GD1 and GD3 love my apple crumble.

I had put off the family for one day, so that we could go to a friend's party on Saturday. Lots of people I knew there, so it was good fun. And delicious food. M & I have been going downhill in terms of weight gain. It started when we went to my ex b.i.l for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and finished the meal with a pavlova cake. Then a couple of days later, we went to a Chinese buffet lunch with M's auntie and ate a mile of crispy duck with pancakes. I can't remember precisely the in between bits, but I know that some chocolate brownies I'd made were in the cake tin (they keep very well) and we were absent mindedly visiting the tin and helping ourselves to a couple of those. The party was a continuation of an advent of total lack of will power. The desserts particularly (because it's easier to be sensible with the savoury food) led us even further into temptation. I think there was a coffee roulade (I don't normally consume anything with coffee in it, but I made an exception.) Some delicious profiteroles. I think I had some chocolate roulade too. Then on Sunday, we met our family at the local Chinese http//, to participate once again in an 'eat as much as you like' buffet. Then there were the chocs that Son's other half bought - Belgian and delicious. To add insult to injury (though that's the wrong description, because it was all so enjoyable,) when the family had gone on Monday, we went again to our friends who'd thrown the party, for tea, and had scones with jam and cream.

M & I resolved to turn over a new leaf, today, but lo and behold the chocs were unfinished. We will have to remedy that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The things they leave behind

Yesterday, I watched the last part of Lewis – TV drama. It was too late to work out the plot, but I like watching anyway, just for the characters. Lewis, who was the sidekick of (Detective) Morse, until his death, is now the chief, with his own sidekick. Once Morse was the intellectual and liked classical music and Lewis was the lowbrow, but now, it’s as if he has inherited something from Morse – he has taken to liking Wagner.

It was just coincidental that a couple of days ago, in Guildford, I went into HMV and bought myself a CD of Mahler. I don’t know his music, and at first hearing, some of it seemed strident. But I realise that some classical music is outside the ‘comfort zone’ and I need to hear it a few times. I bought it purely and simply because a friend, who died a few years ago, loved Mahler’s music.

This made me think of the things I have done as a result of the bereavements in my life.

In my twenties, a girlfriend died. She had wanted to visit Israel, but I had not been enthusiastic. However, in the year after her death, I went. It was as if I had to fulfil that journey for her.

A very close friend throughout my childhood and later years died at the age of 47. She was a university graduate; I was not. That was one of the reasons I started studying with Open University, and eventually got a degree from Surrey University. At some time in her life, she had joked that I would eventually want to study. When I achieved that, I really would have liked to have been able to tell her about it. ‘I finally did it,’ I wanted to say to her.

And then of course, there was my book – my first book, The Fruit of the Tree. In spite of the fact I had always wanted to write, it was the death of my baby daughter that motivated me to start writing, and all her life is contained in that book. So when loved ones die, they sometimes leave unusual legacies behind which ensure they are not forgotten and change, in some way, the person that remembers them.