Thursday, October 18, 2018

Anarchic weather

I've told you before about the anarchic weather in Boulder... and it's business as usual. 

On my first day here it was warm and sunny and we went on a bike ride to lunch where I had my first margarita of the trip,

photo by Wendy a cafe where the more observant amongst you will notice that the spelling is somewhat unusual. But the view was lovely, the food delicious and the margarita excellent, which goes to show that orthodox spelling is not essential for a happy life.

The next day was sunny too. Here's Cece playing in the leaves in the park.

photo by Isaac

But then we had four inches of snow and it stuck around for a couple of days. This is me walking the girls to the school bus stop.

photo by Isaac

The great thing about Boulder City is that they clear the multi-use paths even before they clear the roads, so I managed a long bike ride yesterday that included a great view of the Rockies.

Today the snow has gone and it will be T shirt weather this afternoon.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Leaving an Aspie at home

The day before I flew to Boulder - which is where I am now - Dave and I had the conversation we always have before I leave the country. (For strangers to this blog, Dave and I have been married for 48 years.)

Dave: If I die while you're at Isaac's, you mustn't think of cutting short your holiday and coming home. You must stay there. There would be nothing to come home to - just a cadaver, which will go in the fridge. Though I don't know why they would bother when it's going to be burned anyway.

Me: You're crazy. Do we have to go through this again?

Dave: It's important. I don't want your trip to be spoiled if I die. There really is no reason. 

Me: I will do what I think, Dave. You'll be dead. It'll be up to me. 
(Thinks: there is absolutely no point in trying to explain AGAIN how upset I'll be.)

Dave: But I don't want you to come home before you need to.

Me: Fine, fine. Now, can we talk about something else?

The next day when I was waiting at Heathrow for my flight to Denver, we had a chat on the phone.

Me: What have you been doing? Been out for a bike ride?

Dave: No. I've been cutting up that wood and stacking it.

Me: Great. Which woodstore did you put it in? Was there room for it?

Dave: It's in the wheelbarrow in the sitting room.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

When someone understands

I sent a heartfelt message to the Aging Hippie in California this morning (my breakfast time and her bedtime) about how I couldn't bear to read the news any more, and how I was dreading the long journey to Boulder alone - even though I am dying to see them all. I didn't expect an immediate response to my misery  but she was still awake and we 'chatted' for half an hour. Here are some snippets. I am the one in blue:

I felt better afterwards. It's so comforting when someone understands exactly how you feel.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The world, the universe, and trees

Dave does not do indifferent. He is either outraged - as in this morning's justified rant against Trump's latest unspeakable behaviour - or he is euphoric - such as about new discoveries in astrophysics. 

In the latter case, he erupts into the room and waves his arms about in febrile excitement, and hyberbolic sentences pour out of his mouth. Unfortunately my brain goes into meltdown when I hear phrases like 'billions of light years.' I cannot imagine what such humungous numbers mean, nor do I understand how they relate to me. When I tell him this, he explains that the immensity of the universe is a comfort. It makes him realise his troubles and his life are insignificant.

Everywhere there is trouble - here, in America, Syria, Gaza, Indonesia, Eritrea, and more and more and more, and the politicians in so many places make things worse. Life would still go on if there were no politicians, no government. The trees, the rivers, the clouds would still be here if there were no governments. Increasingly with the world like this:

by Banksy 

.....I want to be outside in the warm, cold, breezy, whatever air, and to see the trees. Trees are such a comfort. 

Liz and I went for a replenishing walk along Bradford Dale yesterday.

Before we climbed the hill and left the dale, Liz introduced me to one of her favourite trees, a sycamore. It is old and has a wide and sturdy trunk and leans asymmetrically over the water. It is not a perfect shape, I mean in terms of the platonic ideal of a sycamore tree. But it's beautiful - really beautiful. And it has ferns growing in its bark. I don't mean at the base, I mean 6 feet up, and again at 12 feet up. It's a nurturing tree. You'd feel safe if this tree was your home.

Here it is in March:

photo: Liz McGregor

In June:

photo: Liz McGregor

and in July, with Liz:

photo: Liz McGregor

I have started to grow some trees at home. Currently they're seedlings. I have a pine, a holly, a beech and an oak. When they're robust enough I'm going to plant them alongside the Trail. It's some kind of contribution. Perhaps one of them will be a comfort to someone in the long long future.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018


Guess what?  I dreamed about Robert Peston. He was staying at our house and he wanted to print out part of his work-in-progress on our printer, so I warned him about the state of Dave's study (which is more like an indoor shed) and when we went in the room, Dave had tidied it up. 

Do you hear that tone?
It's chipper again. 

I'm obviously happy, despite everything that's happening out there. I'm going to stop fretting: the time will come when I want to write serious stuff on the blog, and until then it's going to be happy fluff. 

Here is my favourite recent photo of my granddaughter Cecilia. That's her jelly fish hat, which she designed and made herself:

I'm going to stay with them all next week and she suggested I buy another whoopee cushion because she and I broke the last two through over-enthusiastic whoopee-ing. She's my girl.

Monday, October 01, 2018


I've just been reading my blog for September and I've come out the other end feeling rather queasy. The world is falling apart and I've been writing all these chipper lightweight posts and now I'm wondering why. 

It could be that there is too much bad stuff out there to cope with - Trump and his disgusting shenanigans, May and her incompetent Brexit manoeuvrings, the state of the UK after 6 years of needless austerity, the explosion of the need for food banks, the sidelining of the sick, disabled and unemployed, the new form of worker exploitation in the form of the gig economy. And I haven't even mentioned Israel and their continued oppression of the Palestinian people - murdering people in Gaza, and demolishing homes in the occupied territories to make way for their illegal settlements; and the way the world lets them get away with it.

It's the most beautiful autumn day outside my window - blue and gold. How does the autumn make you feel? It makes me melancholy. I don't know why. Is it the angle of the sun, the intense but fading beauty, the sense of time passing? 

Aysgarth trees by Rosemary Mann

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Back home

It's always hard to pick up the blog again after a week off, and especially hard after a week away with my siblings. I want to show you a photo of us all together and some of them wouldn't like me to, and I'd like to tell you about some of the things that were said, and they wouldn't like that either. Each time we go away together I end up posting series of photographs and this time it will be the same.

The only thing I will tell you is that I fancy the pants off the journalist Robert Peston, and Jen thinks he looks grubby:

(It was her Sunday Times.)

So on to the other pictures - all with permission.

This is a view from the converted chapel we stayed in at the top of the village green in Bainbridge:

My brother Pete painting the view:

His unfinished sketch (gosh, I hope that's the right term for it):

He has a set of books like this he has taken away with him on holidays and filled with beautiful miniature paintings. They are fabulous.

Here is my sister Kath on the day we went to Langstrothdale:

And here are some other views from the week taken from our walks. 
First - the Roman road above Bainbridge, which I think is called Cam High Road. (I'm in bed and don't want to get up to check the map):

Another view from further down the road:

Bainbridge Quaker Meeting House at the other end of the village green. The memorial services of our mother and father were held there.

The river Bain, which I believe is the shortest river in England.

OK, now I've broken myself in, I may be able to do a proper post next time that isn't just pictures.

Friday, September 21, 2018

End-of-the-week envoi in which you discover what an old fogey I really am

You know all that bleating about how good for writing this autumn weather is? Well, I can't write all day, everyday. My sax playing is improving, though. Mel was impressed with the progress I've made with Take Five. << follow that link and listen to the original. It's fantastic. Did you know it was the biggest selling jazz single of all time? It's an injection of happiness.

Here's a plug for the site : it said there was no chance of rain here between 9 and 11 this morning so we set out for a walk in the wind and sunshine and grabbed our fresh air. As we were walking back down the lane at 10.55 it started to spit. I am so impressed with that site, and so are my endorphins.

Enough waffling...I want to ask you something. Do you understand why someone would want to have piercings in their mouth? Yesterday in the library the smartly dressed and coiffed librarian had 3 or 4 piercings in her lips. I was baffled, and yes - I admit - rather put off. I'm definitely in old fogey territory now. I barely understand why someone would want to deface a beautiful body with a tattoo FOREVER, but with piercings in the mouth, I am utterly baffled. Can one of you explain?

Also, this morning, I read in the Guardian about the books on the Booker shortlist.

'Unveiling this year’s Booker shortlist, which runs the gamut of topics from sexual abuse to environmental crisis, chair Kwame Anthony Appiah said that the dominant theme among the 171 books submitted for the prize was, “our species, and sometimes the other species who share this small planet, challenged by anxiety, suffering, pain; our institutions and our environment under threat.”
“We live in dark times,” Appiah said. “Or, at least our novelists think we live in dark times.”'

Writers have to write what they care about, they have to write the truth as they see it, and I know the saying 'Happiness writes white' but could no prize-worthy writer of literary fiction write something even a smidge uplifting? Isn't reality bad enough without spending leisure time reading about dystopias?
Tomorrow I'm going to Wensleydale to stay in a holiday cottage with three of my sibs. 

The fourth lives close by. I'm excited! I may blog while I'm there. We'll see. In the meantime I'll leave you with this top tip:
If you find two stale chocolate chip biscuits in the cupboard and decide to mash them up with the end of a rolling pin for the birds, the chocolate chips won't mash and they're not stale. Yum.
If this post is a little too frivolous, blame it on the endorphins. I keep thinking of blogging about the Israeli government, but I don't have the heart to talk about injustice and misery today. 
p.s. Someone on Twitter has given me this answer to the piercing question:

I think one of the main reasons is for pleasure. As in it pleases their partner when being intimate. I've put that as carefully and politely as I can

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Brain ache

Dave has been fretting about a cable that came unplugged from his computer due, he says, to my enthusiastic vacuuming. Now how likely is that? Anyway, Isaac, the family techie, says if everything is still working, Dave should forget about it. So it's going to be labelled and stuck in the attic with all the other computer cables we have forgotten the purpose of. 

He's quiet now, so I think he's gone back to reading Bob Woodward's Fear. Meanwhile in California the Aging Hippie is having postcard parties with her Democrat friends to write to voters in swing seats to persuade them to oust their sitting Republican in the midterms.  My elder fabulous grandson (14) asked me at the weekend whether if I could press a button and remove Trump and have Obama back in the White House, would I do it, and I said 'Yes! Of Course!' and he said - 'But what about the damage to democracy?' and I said 'Yes yes yes, I would still do it.' He was surprised at my fervour.

But back to the problem closer to hand (no, not Brexit - arrgghh) - my plot. 

I am working on my rewrite, specifically on the plotline, because that is where the trouble lies. I went back to basics and got out an old how-to book called The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray. You will see that I have consulted this chapter on plotting so often that the spine is broken:

The title on the left says Guidelines for Plotting with Aristotle's Incline. Posh or what?

Ray uses The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler as his model to explain the classic approach to plotting. 

I like Anne Tyler. I've read a lot of her novels, but I last read The Accidental Tourist 20 years ago. So I read it again so I could see what Ray was talking about, and this time I enjoyed it even more than last time. This time not only do I relish her characterisation but I truly appreciate her huge skill as a novelist. 

Of course, when I got to the end I had that familiar feeling - She's a master! Who am I kidding? What makes me think I can write a decent novel? - but having shucked that off, I am working hard on the plotline. It is slow progress. Very slow progress. I can't remember working so hard on anything, unless it was a sax piece. Yesterday I got out Take Five which I gave up on several years ago. I am doing better at it now. Some of my scribbled notes taken from Mel's instructions make me laugh: "Don't put rests between the notes - it is continuous sound and relentless."

Wish me luck, give me strength...I have another hard morning of brain ache ahead of me. At least we have autumn wind and rain, which is perfect writing weather.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The joy of screenshots

I just read Jenetta's comment on the last post where she mentions a quote I had on here some time ago. It's weird, because by chance I came across a quote yesterday also mentioning defiance, and I'd already cued it up for this morning's blog: 

The thing I love most about my iPad is the ease of taking a screenshot. I have a whole album full of quotes and cartoons and photographs I've saved via screenshot.

Here's another, relating to the great 2018 wrinkle debacle:

quote by Augusten Burroughs

And another I found this morning, which is a paragraph taken from Megan's blog The Scent of Water:

This last one is so encouraging.

And here's a doting grandmother screenshot:

Thank you, dear readers. It warms my heart to think of all the loyal blog readers I've never met, those who are with me through hard times and joyous ones, posts where I moan or boast or grieve or protest, who comment on the frivolous posts as well as the serious ones. You feel like friends. I know some of your names - Marmee in South Africa, Ana in Australia, Jenetta, Helen and Sally in the UK, Phoebe in the USA (?). Thank you to all of you. You make my world less lonely.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Progress report - or a bunch of trivia, depending on your point of view

The plum mountain has now been reduced to two bowlsful (I don't think this is a word but it ought to be) on the kitchen table. The plums are no longer pink and yellow, but dark red. Their destination is likely to be another crumble. It's urgent, because they are fast heading for the land that no delicious Victoria plum should ever see - the compost heap.

You know what? I miss custard. It's not worth making it just for me, because I don't like it cold and how could anyone possibly judge the right quantities for one portion? I don't like ready-made.

The sweet peas are still flowering but their stalks are getting shorter and shorter. 

I'm feeling better about my new glasses since my sax teacher said they suited me. They are also so comfortable that I often forget I have them on. (Dave also said they suited me, which was nice as he is always honest, but as he has suspect fashion taste it didn't cheer me up a lot.)

This morning, Dave is working on a stained glass project in the shed, rain is forecast, and I am going to sit at my desk and work out how to get out of the hole I am in with the book. It's short of narrative drive and the solution I started to apply last week has changed the whole nature of it so I need to think again. I had thought of giving up writing forever, but I get too bad tempered when I don't write, so that's really not an option. 

This is the first of my books that is not a comedy and contains only a couple of pages of amusing dialogue. Is this the problem?  Who on earth knows? 

I have revised a book before, but never rewritten one, which is the territory I am in at the moment. It's hell for me, and everyone else as well.

from the brilliant The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey
Let me know if you can't read the text and want to. I'll post a close up. 

Over and out.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

My life

Someone commenting on my last post, in which I bemoaned my EXTREMELY wrinkled face, told me to    "Get on with living your interesting, full and satisfying life and stop worrying about pointless things."

I did respond in the comments section - twice - but I can't get that phrase 'interesting, full and satisfying life' phrase out of my head. It keeps cropping up in all kinds of situations. Take this morning, when I woke up feeling like all writers do from time to time - that I was a big fat impostor, that I was kidding myself that I could ever write page-turning plot, and I should give up, and concentrate on the rest of my 'interesting, full and satisfying life.'

Is my life interesting, full and satisfying? Is this what it looks like from the outside? 

From the inside, I know I am very fortunate. I have good health, a lovely home, a great family (Dave is included in this word though he would argue that he counts as family. I know! Take it up with him.) I have good friends, and I have enough money so I don't have to worry, though the price of domestic heating oil is currently causing some alarm at Hepworth Towers. 

No-one outside can tell if my life is satisfying, but as for interesting and full...I had always thought that mine was a very quiet life. I do the same bike rides over and over, we rarely go out in the evening, and these days, my domestic and admin duties seem to take up far more time than they ever did, and they are neither interesting nor satisfying. I have a couple of trips down to London a year, one up to Wensleydale, and two to see the family in Boulder. That's about it. 

Yesterday I woke up thinking - Oooh, Dave is out all morning, so I can write. Then I went downstairs to get my first mug of tea and walked in the kitchen and there were the plums that we picked the day before.

These are from our one tree. And it's not all of the crop. They needed processing - stewing so Dave can eat them with his yoghurt, jamming to give away, making into crumbles for freezing, and dispersing amongst friends and neighbours. 

Dave has worked as hard as I have on them and we've more or less cracked it now. But the freezer is full and we have four large containers of stewed plums in the fridge for Dave to get through before they go off. 

So...I have fun. I am happy. I like my life. But I still don't like my wrinkles. Does anyone? Honestly?

Monday, September 03, 2018


I'll be 70 next year.

Three years ago on the blog I wrote a post about my wrinkles. That was September too. There must be something about the sad September sun that makes me morose. Or is it the fading garden?

This year my wrinkles - which used to be just around my eyes and could be brushed off as laughter lines - have expanded and completely annexed my cheeks. One reason is that I like being in the sun; another is that I have lost weight. The third cause is genes.

That nice photo of me in my wedding hat that I posted a week or so ago does not show the full horror of the wrinkles. And now, to top the distress, I have some new glasses which were a big mistake. I started wearing glasses when I was three, gave them up for contacts when I was seventeen and I have only returned to them since my cataract operations.  I do not suit glasses. I hate glasses on me. Every time I need a new pair I am determined to get ones that suit me and every time I fail. This time the ones I REALLY wanted were a hundred pounds more expensive than the second choice, and I couldn't justify the extra expense. £400 for a pair of specs? Noooo! Do you have a notional top price you will pay for any given item? - jumper, bike, book, bottle of wine, theatre trip? I do.

But to get back to looks...

I recently bought some Chet Baker CDs:

Doesn't he look cool? I'd like to look as cool as that. But then he's young on this picture. Perhaps I could look that cool (with my sax) if I was young. 

Then I thought of one of my sax heroes - Ben Webster - who was old when he died, and a little overweight, and who wore a funny woollen hat which didn't suit him, and I realised that if an old person who is not favoured in the looks department is sufficiently talented, no-one cares a jot what they look like.

That still does not help me, as I don't have sufficient talent in any realm to get over the problem of my horrendous wrinkles. What to do? I finally understand why someone might want plastic surgery, though there are so many arguments against it for me personally that I won't bother you with them.

Personal vanity is a trial. Suggestions would be welcome. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

In which I contemplate the future assisted by a guest blogger

Me first, and then Dave...

Yesterday morning Dave walked into the bedroom at 6.15 a.m. and said 'I'm glad you're awake. I want you to help me find my keys. I've looked everywhere. I'm really worried!'

Dave's inability to find his keys is legend. He is not the tidiest person (ahem) so I thought OK, better get up and get this over with and then I can get my Yorkshire tea and come back to bed and drink it in peace.

So I got up and looked everywhere obvious. No joy. I looked in places not obvious. Still no joy.

We verbally retraced his steps of the previous teatime when he'd arrived home on his bike from an optician's appointment in a village 11 miles away. Was the front door locked so he'd need his keys? or had he walked straight in? Neither of us was sure. 

Having searched and fussed again for another five minutes, the theory was that either his keys were in the optician's car park for some reason, because he'd felt hassled when he'd finished his appointment, or they had fallen out of his shoulder bag on the journey home. 

He was going to look for them and couldn't wait for me to get washed and dressed, so I hastily pulled on my jeans, and a jumper over my pyjama top and took my mug of tea with me in the car. Dave set off, and I kept my eyes glued to the kerb of the far side of the road for eleven miles. The keys have a bright green lanyard attached to them which I had always thought excessive, but now was secretly pleased about.  

But we did not find the keys. 

It was 6.45 by now and we'd arrived at the car park outside the doctor, optician, physio, dentist and gym. The keys were not in sight, and I went in the gym to leave Dave's name and phone number in case someone handed them in. Then we drove home and I scanned the roadside again for eleven miles. No keys.

After breakfast I phoned the optician, doctor, etc, and left name and number and details of the keys. Then I shopped and baked a lemon drizzle cake because Zoe was coming over for the day with the boys (the fabulous grandsons I am no longer allowed to picture on the blog, let alone name). Half an hour before they were due, Dave set off on his bike to the optician's, to retrace his journey one last time, to make absolutely sure the keys were not to be found. I thought this was a waste of time. Hadn't I already looked on the road twice? Didn't he trust me?

I carried on faffing in the kitchen and opened the dresser drawer to get out a clean tea towel and guess what? There were the keys. WTF were the keys doing in the tea towel drawer? There is a hook for the keys. Why would ANYONE put the keys in the drawer that contains tea towels and dishcloths and nothing else except a secret stash of barley sugars (ahem)? The keys have never ever seen the inside of that drawer before. Believe me, it is as strange a place to put the keys as the cat's litter tray.

Zoe and the boys arrived and I told them the tale. The fabulous grandsons were amused. Zoe's expression was more complex as she contemplated the implications. I asked the younger FB if he thought Dave would be cross or relieved. He said 'I have never seen Dave angry. Does Dave get angry? If Dave gets angry I'll have to change my view of him.'

'Yes, he gets angry,' I said, 'but not very often. I think he'll be relieved. Also, he got in another bike ride today and he didn't think he would because you were coming.' 

Dave arrived home, and his only obvious emotion was relief. It wasn't just expressed relief about the keys, it was silent relief that he was not responsible, because we both knew - without even saying it - who had absentmindedly put the keys in the drawer and it wasn't him and it wasn't the cat. We knew it was me, because I am the only one who is tidy and PUTS THINGS AWAY.

This, dear readers, is the future.

As a special bonus, Dave has given his account of the saga. Hold onto your hats...

There is always something a bit cock-eyed about Thursdays.

No real surprise then to find us out just after dawn yesterday, Sue in pyjamas clutching a cup of tea, and me at the wheel, furrowed but determined, both with eyes glued to the kerb between here and the opticians where things went wrong.

Things had not begun well. I got up around 0400 as usual, messed about a bit, and then set out to feed the zoo next door while its owners are basking in Wales. I could not get out of the house. My keys were nowhere to be found, and I am the world’s-worst looker-for-lost-items. But no, they were not there: not on the hooks marked “keys” where they occasionally live. And not in any recent pockets. Not in any piles of washing, or tossed into the porch. They were not there, and the large green can’t-lose-me lanyard was not there either.

I roused Sue, who camps on the borders of coma most of the morning, ready to slip across at a moment’s notice. Nothing short of a cattle prod gets her going before 1030 at the earliest, and she isn’t even interested in the latest astronomical news until late morning. In short, she is virtually dead before noon.

But she recognised the keyless panic, and boldly got up in the faint light to hunt for the keys. It did not take long to decide that the keys were not there. I mean, really not there, as in lost, and not as in ‘you will have left them in your pockets’.

Cut to Wednesday. I had an appointment at the opticians, 10 miles away, but Paul at the garage suddenly needed the car to ease it gently towards scraping through its MOT, which it failed last week. So I set off on the bike in the sunshine, with bag full of useful things like keys and bike locks slung over one shoulder.

All good. A bit of a palaver at the opticians, and I came out after a couple of hours slightly dazed and pre-occupied. I unlocked the bike (so the keys were there) and cycled off. I had meant to go the long way home to get a decent ride, but it was late and I headed for home, making a short detour to add a few miles.

That was the last known sighting of the keys.

So back to Thursday and the pyjamas. We retraced my exact route, all eagle-eyed and keen as mustard. Sue was even awake. Nothing. Zilch. No keys.

The family was coming on Thursday, and I was detailed to construct more medieval weaponry with grandson minor. But before they arrived, I felt that speeding in the car had not done the job, and I needed to ride the route on the bike to get a slower and closer view. I set off, and did the trip, but disappointingly, no keys leapt from the verge or anything else.

On the last hill before home, I was surprised to be overtaken by my car, with S at the wheel, and grandson minor bellowing something out of the window with his usual grin.

Meeting them on the drive minutes later I began to explain the abject failure, but was interrupted by Sue who said that the keys had turned up. Calloo, callay. The keys had turned up.

But where had they been hiding ? In the tea-towel drawer.

What you need to know here is that only tea-towels live in the tea-towel drawer, and over a period of 22 years living here, no key has ever seen the inside of that drawer. And I go into the drawer only when I have made oatcakes and need a clean tea-towel to drape professionally over the cooling batch. No, I have no clue why I do it.

Later, much later, with no intervening accusations as this is a no-blame zone at least in theory, S wondered aloud why and how she had put them in the drawer as she would not usually do that.

And it remains, dear reader, a mystery. And for the moment, the keys remain safely on the hooks. I feel like patting them smilingly every time I go past.

Is this what the future will look like ?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

When the shine comes off

I should be writing, but I am temporarily dismayed. This might be because I have just spent half an hour on a helpline and had a most unsatisfactory outcome; or it could be because I've been reading Robert McKee's Story and I've realised that there is not enough jeopardy in my novel. What I can do is tell you about the art workshop I went to on Sunday. 

It was at a small local gallery:

I've been wanting to mess around with shape and colour for some time and the workshop provided an opportunity, as well as some minimal and helpful guidance on how to get started.

The first thing we did was rip up (or cut up) a piece of primary coloured paper and stick it on a sheet of plain white cartridge paper. We had ten such pieces of cartridge paper and did this same action ten times. Then we went back to the first one and made a single mark on it with paint or pastel or charcoal or ink - our choice. We did this with each piece of paper. Then we went back to the beginning and worked on each piece some more in whatever way we liked. It was a good way to get going, and ideas came as we went along.

There was no expectation that we would have a finished piece of work at the end of the day, but that we might have got some ideas as to how to progress and work on our own. This was good, because although I brought four pieces home, there is only one I still like, and it's as basic as you can get:

I have no pretensions and no pride about my 'art' work which is why I am happy to show it here.

The workshop was absorbing and fun and also strangely tiring, so that when we were given another task an hour before the end, I wasn't up to it. We had to paint on an A2 sheet with a long handled brush held in the hand we don't usually use. I did this and loved the way the wet paint glistened in the studio light. I though it was fabulous and brought it home to work on it some more. Now I realise how deluded I was. It does not look enticing now that the paint is dry. It looks like someone trying to get some turquoise paint off their brush. And there are even drips!

I am going back to my writing. I can't imagine wanting to do art work on my own. Being in a room with other people playing was encouraging and fun. Doing it on my own when I have little confidence will feel pointless. I'd rather be doing patchwork, which is also playing with shape and colour. I know I can achieve something lovely with that, even if I do hate the sewing part.

The last thing to say is to Ana - about a book I mentioned in the comments section. I said I was engrossed in Meet Me at the Museum. I was engrossed, but two thirds of the way through I got bogged down, skipped to the end, and I never went back. I'm waiting for The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve to arrive in the post. From the details online it looks as though it's brimming with jeopardy. Perhaps it will help.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Characters and icebergs

What does he think he wants?
What does he really want?
What is his dream?
What does he dread?
What would he do if he won a lot of money? 
What is his guilty secret?
What is his recurrent nightmare?
Who or what would he die for?

The questionnaires I've been filling in about my characters in order to get to know them better have been a bit tedious because they've been repeating a lot of stuff I already know. is paying off. I discovered some surprising things. I found out that my main character's favourite possession is a scarlet china mug bearing the motto 'Home is where the heart is,' which her husband gave her on returning home from a conference. This woman dislikes household items bearing cheesy mottoes, but this was of deep significance at the time. 

I learned that another character's mother was Moroccan, and that he met his wife at an Art in the Park event at Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, when they wanted to buy the same picture. 

And I learned that although the third main character tells people his favourite motto is 'Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence' - Colin Powell - this is a lie. Really, his favourite motto is  'Think outside the box' because it's helpful in his work. He won't admit to this motto, however, because he's very brainy and it's such a hackneyed cliche.

Although the mug will definitely feature in the next draft, the other stuff might not. Writers are supposed to know lots and lots of details about their characters that never appear on the page, but which inform their depiction of the character's actions and responses. You know how 90% of an iceberg's volume is beneath the water? It's the same principle with fictional characters.

This is getting technical. And I'm actually wondering whether all the preparatory exercises writers are encouraged to do are really to make them so bored they can't wait to get down to actual writing. It's certainly having that effect on me.

As a bit of light relief, here's another storyteller, Lux, at age 3, telling Isaac the contents of an imaginary phone call with Froggy. 

You might not be able to make it all out, so I'm going to tell you that after she says Froggy is OK, she says 'He has a hose. And he's upstairs with his Mommy making quiches.'  It's a wonderful bit of creative detail: I could do with her on my team.

Over and out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Working hard, and my hat

I woke up to a silent house at 5.45. Bliss. Dave will be back at teatime which is also good.

I need silence and preferably a completely empty house in order to concentrate, and to slip into another world. 

I have been working on my novel rewrite since then, and now I've got up and showered and put the washing on and am taking a break to talk to you.

I decided I needed to get to know my characters better and found a nine page questionnaire online to help me. It's on the site Here's a sample section taken from the middle:

I need to fill in a questionnaire for several of my characters. You can see it will take some time. This is before I start the rewrite itself. I have a month before anything else happens to interrupt me (D.V.) - apart from Dave, of course - and I'm going to be busy thinking and writing, so forgive me if I don't blog so much.

Just to go back to the wedding... Isaac took a lovely shot of me in my hat. I love the way the brim falls.

I bought this hat for my own wedding 48 years ago. It was from C & A and cost less than £1. For some reason before the wedding (probably a comment from my mother) I changed my mind and put my hair up in a bun and the hat wouldn't fit. I've been puzzling about why I still have it, because we lost 98% of our things in 1996 when the warehouse storing our stuff burned down. I cannot think how I came to bring the hat with me to Derbyshire in 1994, which meant it escaped the fire. Was it because I was very attached to it? Or because I couldn't think how to pack it without crushing it? I mean...I do like it a lot, but it's still a mystery. We also brought Dave's boater.

Did we think we were beginning a new era of our lives in which there'd be permanent sunshine forever and ever amen? Two innocents.