Friday, November 17, 2017

Cold, cold heart

Today on the blog I have a guest: Christine Poulson, the crime writer. She is going to answer some questions about significant books in her life, but first, I wanted to tell you about her new novel which is published today - hooray! 

I read Cold, Cold Heart before Chrissie sent it to her publisher, and in my opinion it's her best yet. It's intelligent, tense and gripping, like all Chrissie's novels. Chrissie's books always have a strong sense of place - usually the Fens - but this one is set somewhere very different, and this unusual setting added an extra layer of fascination for me. The cover makes the story look violent, but Chrissie doesn't do graphic violence in her novels, which means they are suitable for lily-livered people like me. I shall be recommending it to all my friends, which is why I am telling you about it.

This is the blurb on the back cover:

Midwinter in Antarctica. Six months of darkness are about to begin. Scientist Katie Flanagan has an undeserved reputation as a trouble-maker and her career has foundered. When an accident creates an opening on a remote Antarctic research base she seizes it, flying in on the last plane before the subzero temperatures make it impossible to leave. Meanwhile patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont has been asked to undertake due diligence on a breakthrough cancer cure. But the key scientist is strangely elusive and Daniel uncovers a dark secret that leads to Antarctica. Out on the ice a storm is gathering. As the crew lock down the station they discover a body and realise that they are trapped with a killer...

Now, I'll hand you over to Chrissie, to tell us about the books in her life...

The book I am currently reading:
is Robert Harris’s Conclave, about the macchinations surrounding the election of a Pope. It is a compelling read, perfectly paced and as gripping as a thriller.
Also by my bed are two collections of short stories that I am dipping into: Foreign Bodies, golden age fiction in translation, edited by Martin Edwards and The Realm of the Impossible, edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin.
I am also listening to Timothy West’s superlative reading of The Duke’s Children by Antony Trollope.

The book that changed my life:
Really there are so many, but I will pick The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, which despite its flaws opened my eyes to so much when I read it as a young woman.

The book I wish I had written:
I wish I could write a short story as good as Susan Glaspell’s ‘A Jury of her Peers.’ Pitch perfect and not a word out of place. Written exactly a hundred years ago but still with a freshness and a relevance.
There is not much point in wishing you had written someone else’s novel as you can only write what you can write. But there are crime novels I go back to again and again: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Dorothy L Sawyers’ The Nine Tailors, Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, and more recently I’ve admired Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness.
Having said all this, I do wish I had written Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder!

The books I think are most underrated:

Vassilly Grossman, Life and Fate, a War and Peace for the twentieth century.
On a much smaller scale, Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock. I was surprised that so few people know it and not to see it on sale in Quebec where it is set.
In crime fiction, the novels of Magdalen Nabb, set in Florence and featuring the highly sympathetic Marshall Guarnaccia.

The last book that made me cry/laugh:
Vassilly Grossman’s Life and Fate made me cry: a Jewish doctor refuses her chance to escape from the gas chamber because she cannot let a child die alone.
Kate Dunn’s stories of mishaps in provincial theatres, Exit Through the Fire Place: The Great Days of Rep, made me laugh so much I almost fell out of bed.

The book I couldn’t finish and am most embarassed at not having read:
I don’t know about couldn’t, but I certainly didn’t, and I probably won’t: James Joyce’s, Ulysses. It’s many years since I made the attempt. I don’t think I got past page 50.

The book I most often give as a gift:
Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees it Through: funny, touching, and yet the lightest of reads along with charming illustrations.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to keep sane when the world is falling apart

Don’t watch or listen to the news. Read it. This means your horror/despair at the state of the world is not renewed throughout the day.

Find something immediate, local and practical to do to make the world a better place. This should be something that suits your personality, your interests and your deepest concerns. Focus on this work.

Give money to the good causes that tear at your heart.

Write to your MP about your political concerns, even if your MP’s views are far removed from your own. (But this is a tricky one. Sometimes the satisfaction I feel after writing to my MP evaporates when I receive his complacent deflecting replies, and I feel even angrier than I did when I first wrote.)

Clear the dead leaves from a gully that’s blocked down the lane. See the water flow unimpeded and feel the satisfaction. It’s fun playing with water, and you have made a difference, if only minimal.

Watch Neighbours or some other mindless, harmless telly – twenty minutes a day. It takes you away from the real world and lets you unwind.

Listen to your favourite piece of calming music. 

Pick up litter.

Practise a skill you are trying to master.

Play with and talk to children. Their joie de vivre and innocence are refreshing, and inspire hope.

Indulge in bracing, aerobic exercise: release some endorphins!

Get out in the fresh air and under the sky for at least an hour every day, but more if possible. Associate with trees. They are calming and healing and strong and beautiful.

‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

….So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.’
Herman Hesse

photo by Isaac

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

In limbo

Here I am, waiting for feedback from two writer friends on the second draft of my new novel. I have cleared the boring admin tasks in my in-tray, tidied my desk, dusted my study, cleaned several windows inside and out (what?), and am half way through washing the kitchen floor - a job that Dave usually does when we are expecting visitors.  I am halfway through it because Dave and his dirty feet came home when I was in the middle of the job. He's out today and I have an empty house and rain is threatened so I will finish the job and then perhaps do some sewing, or I might clear out some of my mother's old papers that have been sitting in a suitcase under the bed since she died, nine years ago. Actually I think that latter job is a step too far. Ooh, just remembered, Liz is coming later - that will be nice!

Since I've been in limbo, the weather has been kind enough for me to get back on the slackline after two years off it. I mowed a strip in the lawn around it so my bare feet don't get so cold and wet. My record of steps on it before the break was 13. I got up to six this week.

Here is an old photo for those of you who don't know about me and my slackline. It's low slung, because it's the balance I'm interested in, not the height. Anyway - come on - I'm in my late sixties, what do you expect?

I've also just read Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, a book you could describe as pianissimo. I enjoyed it, but not so much that I would recommend it to all my friends, as I have been doing with Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night. And I am just a tidgy bit put out that MacLaverty has two quotes in his novel that I also have in mine - and I wrote mine before I read his. 

But the best news is that improvising on my sax has become good fun, and it continues to improve, so that Mel, my teacher, was delighted with my progress last lesson.

Sunday, November 05, 2017


Long-time readers of my blog will know that my novel BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU was written from my personal experience of being married to someone with Asperger syndrome, my husband of 47 years, Dave. There are others in my family who are autistic, but Dave was my muse.

Sometimes friends ring me up and say Turn on the radio! or Switch on the TV! There's  a programme on about Asperger syndrome/autism and I thank them and carry on with what I was doing. My instinctive unspoken response to such  suggestions, which I know are meant to be helpful, is "I live with autism I don't want to listen to yet more of it on the radio."

However...I recently heard a programme on BBC Radio 4 about autism and communication which I thought would be very helpful for people who don't know much about the subject. It was an episode of Micheal Rosen's Word of Mouth and you can find it here

Someone in the family who has Asperger syndrome (not Dave) told me I should watch a BBC TV programme called Aspergers and Me because it was very good. Chris Packham, the well-known wildlife broadcaster, who is in his early 50s, was talking about growing up with Aspergers and being diagnosed with it in his forties. I watched this. It was good.  You can watch it here if you live in the UK and have a TV licence. It's available for another 17 days.

But now I want to make a recommendation of my own. I've just finished watching ATYPICAL, a comedy drama series on Netflix about a teenage boy called Sam who has Asperger syndrome. 

There is some controversy in the autistic community as to whether the programme is both true to life or helpful, but I love this series on three levels - as a writer, because it is so well written, as a viewer because it is so entertaining, and as someone who has several aspies in her family and can recognise a lot of what is going on, both in terms of Sam's behaviour, and the reactions and behaviour of his family.  I especially like it because it has helped me imagine what it is like to be an autistic person experiencing a meltdown. The writer alters the sound and lighting in these scenes to great effect. 

I just read an aspie's critique of the series in which he criticises the laughter at the behaviour of Sam. OK, I get this, but from the point of view of a neurotypical who has lived with and loved an aspie for nearly 50 years, it is the humour - added to the kindness, honesty, reliability and intellectual stimulation - which has been the saving grace in my marriage.

p.s. a long-time reader of this blog, Marmee, mentions in the comments below a blog about knitting, on which there is some information about autism. I found a page on this blog which explains simply, briefly and clearly, what autism is. It's here.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Too tired to write

I am too tired to write, so here are some November photographs from my archives.

The gate next to our house:

The view in the other direction:

My favourite sycamore:

Dusk through our window:

Wensleydale farm gate by Rosemary Mann:

View from the Monsal Trail:

The river Wye at Rowsley by Liz McGregor:

             Cecilia  (November 2016)

                    Lux   (November 2016)

The Monsal Trail:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

That was the week that was

Last weekend I was depressed at the state of the world. This week I've been angry and have been firing off letters to those in power. 

On Thursday there was a moment of joy when two young peace activists (a Quaker, Sam Walton and a Methodist minister, Dan Woodhouse) were found not guilty of criminal damage, after breaking into the BAE Systems' Lancashire site in order to disarm Typhoon fighter jets destined to be used by Saudi Arabia in their bombing of the Yemen. I have been following their case.

In delivering comments on his judgement District Judge James Clarke said: "They were impressive and eloquent men who held strong views about what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. They impressed me as being natural in their delivery and honest throughout their evidence…"

"I heard about their belief of BAE's role in the supply of aircraft to Saudi Arabia. I heard about their beliefs regarding the events in Yemen, that they include the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian property, and the basis for their belief that this amounted to war crimes..."

"However, having considered in full the defence under sec 5 Criminal Damage Act 1971, I find the defendants not guilty."

Yesterday, Friday, was one of those blue and golden October days and I cycled up the Trail and then planted daffodil bulbs in the front lawn with Dave. And then I was done in. It takes a lot of energy to be angry and I have never had very much stamina.

Yes! I have cosmos still flowering!

This morning I'm going to get the SAD light out of the attic, because I can't stand these dark mornings, tonight it's babysitting at Zoe's house, and tomorrow it's Quaker meeting. After that I shall print two copies of the second draft of my new novel. Chrissie and another writer friend are going to read it and give me feedback. After years of writing and feedback and rejection I have a very thick hide, but this time it feels different. This novel is not like one I have written before and I am nervous as to whether it works. I have an ideal in my head (something between Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and Homestead by Rosina Lippi) and yet of course I want it to be an original Sue Hepworth. I am never usually nervous about showing someone else a completed novel. Will they get it? Does it work? 

I hope that when you guys eventually get to see it, you will love it.  
Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Too angry to blog

I'm too angry to blog. I have just written two separate letters to my MP about 1/ child refugees and the UK Government's reneging on its promises to bring more children into the UK and 2/ the well-documented problems with Universal Credit (for overseas readers - a new welfare benefit) and the fact that desperate claimants have to wait 6 weeks to receive their money. 

I was almost too angry to actually type these letters, partly because I know I will get a blank response. He always sends me back unthinking replies that toe the party line and do not address my questions. I found myself typing 'Yes, I am angry..' and then decided it was probably not a helpful thing to say. Anyway, now it's done. 

Why do I write when I know what he will say? Because I want to say NOT IN MY NAME, and I also hope that if sufficient people write, and he gets a massive postbag on an issue, he won't be able to prevaricate any longer. He will have to act.

So anyway, when I'm stomping around the house feeling angry about the way the world is run for the rich, with the needs of the poor and vulnerable ignored, I'm not in the kind of mood for noticing querky, bloggable topics. 

And by the way, I consider myself to be rich, because I have a secure place to live and enough money to heat the house, enough to eat, and if the central heating boiler conks out tomorrow, I have enough money to buy a new one. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What do you do?

Last week a good friend told me she was overwhelmed by the news: it made her anxious, stressed and depressed. I gave her some glib reply about finding something positive to do locally to make the world a better place, and concentrating on that. I was sincere at the time. I had found it worked for me.

Then yesterday I woke up depressed and upset about the millions of refugees all over the world, and how politicians in this country and so many other 'rich' countries do nothing to offer them help. I tried all day to shake the feeling. I personally do everything I can think of to help. I felt better for a while after my bike ride, but then the gloom descended again. I used the energy from my dark mood to do some cleaning (a desperate measure, as I hate cleaning) but still the mood persisted. I could not shake it.

Today I have woken up in a better headspace, and I shall write again to my complacent and benighted MP about the UK government's response.

But it prompts me to ask the question of you, dear readers, what do you do when the cares of the wider world become too heavy, and you are already doing all you can think of, all you have the energy for, to make things better?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


What do you think of SatNavs? Do you use one?

Dave has no innate sense of direction, so when he was given one a few years ago it revolutionised his journeys. He loved it so much that for the first two weeks he had it switched on and talking to him all the time, even when he drove the three and a half miles into Bakewell. Well, you know Dave.

On our first long joint trip to a foreign place (somewhere in Gloucestershire) Dave had it plugged in and programmed and I sat with the road atlas on my knee. I like maps. I like to plan out the route before i go and if necessary write myself notes and directions. It became clear on this maiden voyage that my idea of the most sensible route did not match that of the SatNav - or 'Jane' as we called her then. This led to increasing frustration and animosity between me and Jane, and me and Dave, so I surrendered to both of them. We got there just fine, of course.

Since then I have always spurned the thing for trips on my own to new places. Last night I had to be somewhere in Sheffield that I had never been before. I had to be there for 6 p.m. so I was driving through the rush hour and the venue was in the middle of one of those fast moving one-way systems. There were arrows on the google map showing direction of travel on some of the streets but not all. I looked at the map in the morning and again before I set off and memorised a visual image. Yes - you know what happened - I went sailing past where I needed to be. Do you recall that scene towards the the end of Little Miss Sunshine where they can see the hotel they need to be in but have no idea where the bloody entrance is, and in the end they just drive through a barrier and go for it across a place they really really shouldn't be? It was not like that.

I ended up parked on a street within a few minutes walk of the venue but I didn't know which way to walk. Fortunately I have a tongue in my head. I got there just fine. But that was in daylight. The meeting finished at 9 o'clock and it was dark. I found my way back to the car but had NO IDEA and I mean NO IDEA which way to go. That part of Sheffield is alien to me and it is very near a dual carriageway that leads straight to the M1. I didn't want to end up in Leeds. So I plugged in Jane and tapped HOME and followed her directions. With her help, I got within sight of a familiar landmark - Sheffield University Arts Tower. As soon as I reached it, I switched Jane off.

I shall never be rude about her again, and next week when I have to do the trip again, I shall programme in my destination. So I guess I'm converted, but only in extremis.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Carpe diem

It is perhaps the last mild and still autumn day before the weather changes, and although I have a blog post in mind, I want to be out in the garden. So please be patient.

Our house is up this lane:

This is in the middle of the village:

And this is  the Monsal Trail and it might also be the cover of my new book...but I'm still pondering.... 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Living off the fat of the land

It's been my birthday week and I have spent most of it in Wensleydale with my brothers and sisters. This is four of us. 

I don't know what else to say. It's funny how a week away from the blog strikes me dumb. We had fab weather and fab walks and lots of chat and it was lovely.

This is where we stayed, in an old mill:

And here are some other snaps we took this week.
This is Walden Beck:

Walden Beck higher up, at West Burton falls:

Cogden Beck, site of many a family picnic (more fun when the kids are there):

Aysgarth Middle Falls:

And here's one I took in another October:

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A pleb goes to the Opera

First, you need to know that I prefer cinema to theatre, but also that I have been to the opera before. I've seen a Mozart opera - I can't recall the name of it - and I've seen Carmen. Two opera-loving friends persuaded me to go. It was over 20 years ago and I haven't been since. That should tell you something.

Since that time, cinemas have started this cool thing of screening live performances from London theatres. I've resisted these since they started but in the summer I went with Chrissie to see a live screening of Hedda Gabler and it was terrific. 

Our local screenings are in a room above a pub in a village five miles away. There are perhaps fifty black plastic moulded chairs squashed into this room and a giant screen taking up the whole of one wall. It's intimate and friendly, and having been to see three things there now - one of which was the film Paterson - I can see it could become addictive.

I like the cinema because I can see the expressions on the actors' faces, and I am unaware of the audience and so I can become completely engrossed in the film. In the theatre I'm too far away from the action. I can't become involved in the same way: I am watching it and not in it. I am not engaged. I want to be taken over by a piece of fiction, whether dramatised or filmed or on the page. If I'm sitting anywhere but the front row of a theatre, it doesn't work for me. Who me? Demanding? Maybe. But that's how it is. 

This all means that if I go to the opera I've got that whole theatre-difficulty going on, and on top of that, the damn thing is in another language. When I went to see the live screening of La Boheme from the Royal Opera House the other night in the pub, I was on the second row in a small dark room in front of a huge screen and I could see the performers up close, expressions and all, and - fanfare! - there were subtitles translating the words. So barriers to my involvement were dealt with, and I enjoyed it. The story was about ordinary people, the music was fabulous, and the performances were terrific. The other key factor is that I recognised the music because it appears in one of my favourite films, Moonstruck.  

Yes, I'm a cultural low-life: I have never pretended otherwise.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

First draft of new novel!

Except for the very ending, which I am going to write when I have read it through.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Letter from home

There are so many sorrows in the world - Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Las Vegas, refugees and asylum seekers all over the world - a thousand blog posts wouldn't cover them.

'Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.'

These are the first four lines of a poem called A Brief for the Defence by Jack Gilbert, which I return to every so often, in the same way that I return to this quote from Rohinton Mistry's novel Family Matters:

There’s only one way to defeat the sorrow and sadness of life – with laughter and rejoicing. Bring out the good dishes, put on your good clothes, no sense hoarding them. 

Sometimes for sanity's sake one has to retreat from the bad news and cherish the ordinary everyday things in life. In that spirit, here is a letter from home:

I am going away on Saturday with one brother and two sisters to stay in a cottage in Wensleydale which is five miles from where our other brother lives. We go up en masse, sans partners, and have a jolly good time. We remember what it is we love about each other and we rediscover our petty irritations. To outsiders we appear to be similar - and probably annoying - but within the family we are distinctive. We each have our role. I am the soppy unpractical one. 

But I do make nice cakes, and I emailed the other three to ask them what kind of cake they would like me to take. Please would they vote on the following: a chocolate cake, a coffee and walnut cake, or a moist, tangy lemon drizzle. Guess what? They all chose a different one.

I would love to show you an up-to-date photo of us all, but some of the sibs would object, so here is one from 1958:

The other news from home is that I am within sight of the end of the first draft of my novel. Here is a page from my favourite book about the writing life, The Unstrung Harp (TUH) by Edward Gorey, in which Mr Earbrass is writing a novel:

Last week, last Friday, to be precise, I thought my novel was utter crap. 

This week, however, this is not how I feel. I really like it. I am not unusual in these flip-flop feelings. Other writers feel the same. It's amazing that anything ever gets published.

The other news is that tonight I am going to see La Boheme with my writer friend, Chrissie (who also loves The Unstrung Harp). I don't like opera, but I keep coming across people in novels talking about La Boheme so I thought for the sake of my cultural education I should go. It will cost £10 and is 5 miles away and is streamed from The Royal Opera House, so what's not to like?

Monday, October 02, 2017

When is a book too long?

I just finished reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. It's a fictionalised account of Laura Bush's life. I bought it on the spur of the moment in Waterstone's, having never heard of it before. This is something I never do.  I also never buy novels that are more than 400 pages long, and this is 636. What was going on? It looked intriguing, it had great reviews on the back, and the writing inside was top notch.

Well... it was well written and I enjoyed it up to 350 pages and then I flagged. I kept going back to it and reading more, but there was so much flab to work though it became tedious, and there were bits that were easily skippable. However, the book is very well written - it just needed pruning - and it's an interesting study of how much someone will compromise because of love, which is a topic that I've been wrestling with the whole of my life, and which is one of the subjects tackled in But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. The book also looks at personal responsibility in both  private and public spheres.

So now I need another novel to read - a short one. Any suggestions? No sci-fi, fantasy, magic realism or fluff, and nothing with graphic violence either. As Frasier says - "I'm listening..."

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Canal Bank Walk

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest of the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven 
From green and blue and arguments that cannot be proven.

Patrick Kavanagh

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BAT and other characters

Lux and Cece are currently highly amused by a new book called I AM BAT

It's a simple book for 2-5 year olds but Lux is 7 now and she loves it. Who cares about age? I love it. They face-timed me on Sunday and Lux held up the book and turned the pages so that I could read it aloud, which in itself was lovely because I so miss reading to them both. 

Lux has been so taken with the character of BAT that she has copied the illustrations:

I suppose this counts as fan-fiction for picture books.

Creating memorable characters is vital when you're writing fiction. I had no trouble creating Fran in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, or in dreaming up Sally Howe in PLOTTING FOR BEGINNERS and PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS. Fran is serious and has a social conscience the size of the national debt, but she does have a sense of humour, which is one reason she has put up with Sol for so long. Sally Howe is lightweight and entertaining and can be a bit of a dope, but she is also driven.

My current female lead, Jane, is nearly there in terms of being a fully rounded character, but not quite. Last week, for example, Sally Howe burst into the text and had to be booted out. It was a part of the story where a lot had happened in a short space of time, and I wrote the third person narration like this:

She was desperate to get away. She had to get away! The last week had been one thing after another and who knew what would happen next? She felt as if she was living in a fast moving soap opera that had far too much plot. 

The next day when I was reading back what I had written I realised that the idea in the last sentence was something that Sally Howe would think and not something Jane would think. It's a writer's perspective, and Jane is not a writer. So maintaining the integrity and strength of a fictional character is not just about how a character acts and how they talk, it's also about how they frame things. Well, yes.

I seem to have strayed into writer's blog territory, and I apologise to all non-writers reading this. The thing is...writing is where my head is right now which is why I am not blogging so much.

OK. I have an empty house till 8 o clock tonight, and I am going to write. Target - 3,000 words.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Sprout

This is Cecilia. On Twitter, she's @thesprouut

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Not swanning around

You know that scene I was writing? Where the person turns up after twenty years and I had no idea what was going to happen? I've been engrossed in writing it. It's been huge fun. I was so deep into the world of the novel yesterday that when Dave wanted me to go outside to admire the hedge he'd been trimming and came and banged on my study window, he scared me stupid.

So I haven't been swanning around with no excuse not to blog. Yesterday, however, I did go out for the afternoon to Chatsworth House with Liz and we walked round the gardens to take in the views and the trees and the fountain, and also to look at the modern sculpture exhibition. They have one every September, but the last time I went was with the aging hippie 4 years ago. I don't understand a lot of modern sculpture, even when I read the interpretations. Some of the exhibits we saw yesterday looked like giant cast iron blobs, ugly, lumpish, incomprehensible. Here is one we saw that I didn't find objectionable even if I wouldn't want it in my garden:

Do you like it? Get it?

Here is what the label said:

JOEL SHAPIRO (b. 1941)
104 by 193 by 130cm
Executed in 2013. This work is unique.

Shapiro's work is intended to communicate something of the artist's emotional state, retaining both an abstract and scaled-down aesthetic, and achieves a suggestive, often athropomorphised figuration. Although suggestive of a reclining figure, Untitled evades such precisions; the work is predicated by an inherent instability, a sense of flux, shifting under the eye into ever-changing patterns and arrangements and constantly eliding the gap between configuration and disfiguration.

Do you get it now? I don't. I understand the individual words (apart from 'disfiguration') but not when you put them all together. To me, it reads like something from Pseud's Corner in Private Eye.  I am not averse to modern art in general. I like a lot of abstract modern paintings, whether or not I understand what the artist is saying. But when I saw the sculptures yesterday it made me feel like an uncultured philistine.

My favourite strands of the lovely afternoon were talking to Liz, being outdoors on a fine September afternoon in a Capability Brown-landscaped park, and sitting for half an hour before we came home with my back to the stables in the strong sunshine, basking. I need to soak up as much sun as possible to see me through the winter. There has been more rain than sunshine this summer. This has been the typical state of our table tennis table, i.e. with a glazing of rain:

This is the first September for eight years I have not been to stay with the US Hepworths, and I am missing the sunshine, as well as missing them.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What happens next?

I'm loving writing this unplanned novel. 

When I started it I knew the theme and the setting and not much else. I'm seven eighths of the way through now and I've got to know the characters along the way, as well as how the plot works out. Until three weeks ago I didn't know how it was going to end, but one day it came to me in a flash. And when this conclusion arrived it was all so obvious, because hints had been dropped in the text much earlier on.

Right now, a character from twenty years before the novel started has turned up on somebody's doorstep and I have no idea what is going to happen. I'm just waiting to hear what these two characters say to each other and then I'll know where to take it next. It's so exciting!