Monday, July 17, 2017

Missing Mary

It's the most beautiful sunny morning here in Derbyshire. I'm sitting in bed looking at the sun on the lime trees and missing Mary, my best friend, my Anam Cara, who died two and a half years ago. The feeling swept in last night and is still here this morning.

'The sun rises in spite of everything.'
Derek Mahon

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The evidence

I am trying to clear up a bit, as an important visitor is coming to stay in 10 days, and I came across the notebook I used to keep in the kitchen table drawer to grab and make notes in when I was talking to Dave and he said things that made me laugh. I thought you might like to see where some of my characters' dialogue comes from.


And here is the inspiration for Richard in Plotting for Beginners - making jam in his wellies and his leather apron. I just said to him 'Can I tweet this?" and he said 'I don't give a stuff. It makes people aware of health and safety.'

Thursday, July 13, 2017

No one turned up for his birthday party

Long time readers of the blog will know that several members of my family have high functioning autism (also called Asperger syndrome.)

It's hard being autistic. As I said in a much earlier post, if you are a child with high functioning autism, you may be very bright and have no problem with schoolwork, but be ultra-sensitive to noise, touch and smells, and be incapable of instinctively understanding the social world and how to behave in it. 

This sounds like a trivial problem, but it’s not. Amongst other things it can lead to bullying, friendlessness, loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. It makes living an ordinary life without stress and distress – which most kids do without thinking – a skill that has to be mastered, just like swimming. Sometimes such young people have got the hang of it by the time they are 30.

Yesterday I came across a story on Twitter about a boy with high-functioning autism whose mother invited 25 children to his birthday party and he was expecting them to come and no-one turned up. Imagine how you would feel if this happened to you. I imagined my own young autistic relation going through it. For various reasons which are hard to explain simply in a brief blog post, birthdays are difficult and fraught times for aspies, even without a party.

This year the boy's mother, Lisa, wants to make his birthday special and asked people if they could find it in their hearts to send him a card.

If you want to do this, his birthday is Friday July 14th when he will be 11.
His name is Ben Jackson, and his address is 
35 Dunn Close, Southsea, Portsmouth PO4 9TX
and the full story is here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ancient authors at night

10 p.m.   turn out light and go to sleep.

1 a.m.   wake up for a pee, get back into bed and brain remembers tasks for the following day that should have been done yesterday. Switch on light and send self an email with subject line only - 'pay house insurance, get flea stuff for cat, ring Tracy and pay the bill, collect beads, buy bubble machine for children on next refugee hospitality day.'

1.30.     unable to sleep.

2 a.m.   still unable to sleep and remember another item so forward email already sent with 'order repeat prescription' added.

3.30 a.m.  wake up for another pee. Brain refuses to settle and suddenly a scene that I've been wondering how to write pops into my head. Not only are the two characters there and I know exactly what they are doing, their precise conversation is issuing forth as well. Wake up and write as much as possible in dim light with no glasses, just enough detail so I'll be able to pick it up in the morning.

4 a.m.     still unable to sleep and not sure I'll wake up before Dave sets off for Sainsbury's so send him and email with items to buy I forgot to tell him last night.

4.30 a.m.   still unable to sleep but it's light now. To wake up or not to wake up? Decide not and shut eyes and doze till 6.45 a.m.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Wendy had a double mastectomy last December, began four months of chemotherapy in January, and yesterday completed six and a half weeks of daily radiation therapy. It has been a long, hard row to hoe and she has done it with stoicism and cheerfulness. She is awe-inspiring. Yesterday lunchtime after her last treatment she celebrated with Isaac. 

photo by Isaac

Monday, July 10, 2017


What to say?

That I can't get over how much I am enjoying this summer at home, whether it's watering my geraniums in my pyjamas, bike riding up the Monsal Trail, plotting my new book in the steamer chair while drinking in my front garden and the fields beyond, or playing al fresco table tennis with Dave in the late afternoon. 

Or should I tell you how heartwarming it was when someone I have never met and don't know tweeted this about BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU:

And then there was the lovely unknown reader defending PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS on Amazon against a sorry person who, because she didn't like all the local references in the book said that my next book should be a tourist information book. Between you and me, that review has long bugged me, but obviously it's infra dig for an author to join the fray and say - 'Look, if a novelist can mention the London Eye, Highgate cemetery, or Camden tube station in a novel why can't I mention Hassop Station, the Heights of Abraham or the Maazi restaurant in Matlock? A novel has to be set somewhere!'

Fortunately other readers agree with me. Here is another recent cheering tweet from someone I don't know:

So there you have it. It's a warm Monday morning and it's raining and I'm pleased, because it cuts down my options. I have a lot of jobs to do inside and this morning's task is to get on with the work-in-progress. Have a good week!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Current status

I have just one plum on my plum tree because of sharp frosts when the blossom was out; my raspberry bushes refuse to flourish; my sweet peas are pathetic - I don't know what they were doing while I was away in Colorado for three weeks, but they weren't growing; and my strawberry patch is infested with grass again. 

Yesterday my legs ached on the briefest of bread and butter bike rides, and at 2 p.m. I shlumped, like Mr Bix's borfin. There was no alternative but to lie on my bed and watch an epsiode of Neighbours on the iPad. My sax calls to me, begging me to find the energy to play it and the slackline is thinking of leaving home on the grounds of neglect.

And yet, and yet, I am loving the summer. Ploughing up the Trail with my weary legs I was euphoric. It's fabulous here! At this point in the year I see the benefits of all the rain we have to put up with month in month out. Everywhere is so wonderfully lush, and the verges of the lanes and the Monsal Trail are spilling over with an ever changing variety of wild flowers. Last week I counted 17 varieties on just one ride. This week among the buttercups and clover there are orchids. 

The other reason to be cheerful is that thanks to Dave's inspired dismembering of the dead washing machine, we now have our very own firepit.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

My men

My younger sister Jen and I have different views about the men in Friends. I love Ross because he is the most wonderful comic character, and I adore his slapstick scenes - e.g. in The One With The Leather Trousers. Jen can't stand him because she says he is silly. She prefers Joey. I like Joey too but he's not interesting enough for me: he's too basic a character - the comic fool. 

I've just been thinking about all the male character in my novels - Richard and Gus in Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups, Rob in Zuzu's Petals, Kit in Plotting for Grown-ups, and Sol in But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. And I realised that the man in my current work in progress is different from them all.

Of all of my men in print I think Richard is my favourite. Why? Because he's so funny.
Gus is annoying and barely there.
Rob is too damaged.
Kit is OK for sex but not much else.
Sol is great. He is funny and sweet, but in the end he's too hard to manage.
Richard is pure comic character.

Here he is in Plotting for Grown-ups....

“I’ll bring my Screwfix catalogue to amuse myself in the interludes. I’ve conceived an unhealthy passion for a pair of trestles. I keep trying to stamp it down, but I’m constantly drawn back to them.”

He got up from his chair (we were sitting in the kitchen) and tugged at the seat of his trousers. Then he sat down again and said, “Some of my underpants are terrible. It’s as if they’re alive – I can feel them creeping down my thighs. I need to cull them.”

“What you need to do when you get home is get them all out of your drawer, and lay them all out on the bed and go through them, one by–”

“I am going through them! That’s the trouble! But where can I get some decent ones? I have had it up to here with M&S Y-fronts. They’re hopeless!”

What is it about men and their underpants?

“You need to get something that isn’t a standard Y-front, something a bit more 2011-ish. Especially now you’re on the pull. I mean – what would Ms Fuchsia Pink think of them?”

“This is where Dickies could pounce,” he said. “They ought to be calling in their top designers, even as we speak.”

“So what do you think the perfect underpant needs?”

“Security, material that shrugs off stains, adequate ventilation – possibly assisted – and a reliable fastening. It’s about time persons of quality gave their attention to the comfort and protection of the nation’s manhood. Paxman tried a few years ago – do you remember all that kerfuffle on the Today programme? Nothing happened. Next thing you know, Prince Charles will be muscling in with the Poundbury Pant and the Prince’s Truss.”

I use my life in my novels if you hadn't already guessed. This week our washing machine died and we ordered a new one. In the meantime Dave decided to dismantle it to see if there were any useful components he wanted to keep.

He has promised to take it to the tip today, but he's kept a bucketful of stuff, including the motor, some 'wonderful springs' and the domed glass from the door, which he has cleaned up and says makes an excellent fruit bowl.

I just asked him if he minded my putting this bit of news on the blog and he said 'No. Why should I mind?' then two seconds later he said 'Perhaps you could ask your readers to send us their unwanted washing machine doors.'

Dear readers, please don't.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sweet piece, and shameless PR

For all those who have not read my novel BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, I commend this short piece - which I did not write - in today's Guardian. Actually, I commend it to all of you. It's sweet and true and made me smile in recognition.

And if you haven't read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, why haven't you?  It's one of the National Autistic Society's favourite novels about autism. And if you're not interested in autism, you can enjoy it anyway. here's the blurb:

Frances has been married to Sol since the beginning of time. He is eccentric and difficult to live with, but she finds him endearing and very funny, even while wanting to strangle him with his own jogging bottoms. Now, something threatens to split them apart. Frances wants one thing and Sol wants another, and there is no way to compromise. But I told you last year that I loved you is a portrait of a mature marriage at a crossroads - intimate, funny, tender and honest.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It's good to be home

Boulder is beautiful with its wide tree-lined streets and its ubiquitous bike paths and its views of the Rockies, but here it is home. The spring grass was green in Boulder and the trees were fresh and thick, but here it is lush, the verges overflow with wildflowers, 

the trees are varied, and the deer don't eat my fruit or flowers. 

The runners and cyclists on the Boulder trails are serious and intense, keeping fit, stretching themselves. Few of them respond to a good morning or hello, even though generally Boulderites are warm, chatty and hospitable. The people on the Monsal Trail - though retiring Brits - seem to find it easier to greet a friendly passer-by.

This is the view over my front garden wall:

This is the elderflower that grew from a cutting from my parents' garden:

Here is one of my borders: 

I'm finally over my jetlag and am tackling the pile of admin that's built up on my desk over the last three weeks. I've also just picked my gooseberries, and am picking strawberries every day. Soon it will be the blackcurrants. My sweet peas are yellow and sickly and I've just dosed them up with sequestered iron. My blackbird still sings at 4 in the morning. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


It always feels a bit disloyal to the Colorado Hepworths when I say how pleased I am to be home after I've been to stay with them. It sounds as though I didn't love every single minute of my time with them, and that's obviously not the case. Who else am I expected to drink too many margaritas with and then beat at skee-ball?

No, seriously, folks. It was wonderful to be with them all. The skee-balling was a fraction of the fun.

But this is the longest time in 48 years I've been away from Dave and the longest time I've ever been away from our current home, with the fields all around, the views of hills and my garden. 

I kept asking Dave to send me photos of the garden, but he just doesn't 'see' flowers. This is what greeted me at the front gate. Isn't it lovely?

The garden has gone crazy and there's a week's weeding to do.

The other thing that has grown is the collection of yoghurt cartons, but the least said about that the better.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mixed emotions

It's a day of mixed emotions.

It's a happy day because it's Isaac's birthday and it's the first time I've spent it with him in over 20 years. Neither of us can recall when exactly the last time was. He moved to the States in 2003. I remember his very first 17th June, though. He was two weeks late but took only two hours to arrive. I remember the bright Sunday morning sunshine lighting up my hospital room, and someone else's midwife coming in and asking me to stop making so much noise: there were first time mothers along the corridor and I was scaring them witless. It was all pretty wonderful.

This is the man himself (he's photo-shy) with Wendy last night on a date:

Today he drove me up to a tiny gold rush town on a dirt road in the foothills of the Rockies and bought me the best slice of pizza I've tasted in years, in the general store.

photo by Isaac

Isaac may be camera shy but not when he's taking the photographs. Look at the beaut he took today in the same town:

photo by Isaac

But it's also a sad day today because of what's happening in London. As many of you know, Dave and I lost all our things in a warehouse fire 20 years ago, at a time when we were between houses. That loss was as nothing to what happened to the poor residents of Grenfell Tower this week. I cannot imagine the horror and terror they must have gone through, and are still living through. It is beyond imagining. I think of them all today from thousands of miles and a world away and hope they are being looked after. I am staying off politics, not because it is not relevant, but because it is not what this post is about.

'Our life is love and peace and tenderness, and bearing one with another, and forgiving one with another and not laying accusations one against another, but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.'

Isaac Pennington 1667

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Boulder biking

I know I've been a bit iffy about the Boulder climate up to now, thinking it rather anarchic - snow in the morning, T shirts in the afternoon -  but I've never visited in May and June before. Now, unlike in the UK, you can depend on sunny weather. So when I went on a bike ride yesterday and forgot to take my camera, it didn't matter. I knew it would be sunny today and I could go again and take some photos.

The bike paths around Boulder (which are technically called multi-use paths and are the equivalent of British bridle paths) are fantastic. I was missing my bike, but now the kids are out during the day and I can cycle, the biking here is a fine substitution for the Monsal Trail. Actually, it's better in that you can have circular routes, and not just there-and-backs.

This is the start of my route today, just up the street from here:

And all the views that follow are taken from the Boulder Creek path. This is the Boulder Creek itself, which is currently full of meltwater from the Rockies:

Further along said trail:

It was hot and sunny all the way and every time I stopped to take a picture, I had to drink some water. You can feel the air is thinner here, and you need to keep hydrated.

There is another difference from the Monsal Trail - instead of rabbits, you see little prairie dogs:

I was very tired when I got home - more tired than I would be from an equivalent ride in Derbyshire. The altitude makes a noticeable difference, which is why so many world class athletes come to train in Boulder. I have no such pretensions. I'm in it for the fun, the exercise, the views and the sunshine.

Monday, June 12, 2017

What's happening here

It's a new week. The girls have both gone to circus camp for the day, Wendy is having the 15th of her 33 radiotherapy sessions, and I'm going to write. And although I'm glued to the news back home, I'm going to attempt to keep my politics off the blog and restricted to Twitter. 

Yesterday, we celebrated Cecilia's fifth birthday. She climbed into my bed in the morning fully dressed, and sang Beatles songs while shaking maracas. (Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians, and so far our Cecilia is living up to the name.) 

In the morning we sat at the end of the road for a while and watched the cycle leg of the IronMan Boulder, cheering on these amazing athletes with drums and aforementioned maracas. Here is the local celeb, Cecilia:

photo by Isaac

And here she is when Wendy lit the candle on her humungous cupcake:

photo by Isaac

It was a good day. Happy Birthday, Cece! 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mornings in Boulder

Every morning the children come and get into bed with me when they wake up. We chat, play games and read. This morning I was reading the news on the iPad when they pattered downstairs to my room - first Lux and then Cece - and got into bed and put their heads on the pillow and closed their eyes. They fell asleep and I was trapped between them. This has never happened before. I wrote some emails, but after half an hour, I needed a pee. Could I extricate myself without waking them up?

I am now in the adjoining room with a cuppa, blogging.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Celebration in Boulder

If you're in Colorado you don't have to stay up all night to follow election results.

Congratulations to Jezza for his stonking success!

And thanks to Wendy for the margarita.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Shocked, appalled and ashamed

I may be staying on another continent living in the world of Ramona and her Mother (we've finished Ramona and her Father now), in a place where my reading companions say things like "Wouldn't it be great if there was a unicorn who could fly round the world delivering rainbows?" but I am still in touch with the real world back in blighty. More's the pity.

To be specific, I am ashamed that billionnaire owners of the most popular newspapers - which give a new high-viz definition to the term 'the gutter press' - and who think the rich should inherit the earth, are so desperate that a politician promising a future "For the many, not the few" should not win the general election, that they print pages of lies and smears against said man. Yes it was a long sentence, but I couldn't stop it.

I was the sort of little girl who didn't believe in unicorns but who did believe the world was a beautiful place and that people were basically kind and good. I am battling despair at the state of the world and the unethical, immoral no, BAD behaviour of so many people in power. But I refuse to despair. If the Maybot wins the election tomorrow, as she probably will, I will be sick at heart. But I shall still refuse to despair. I will try my best to do what I can to make the world a better place. 

I will choose love.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

as American as...

Up until yesterday I didn't realise that lemonade stands are an American institution, like yellow school buses and 'baseball.

Anyway...after being read the chapter in which Ramona thought of having a lemonade stand, Lux decided she would like one. So yesterday morning Isaac and the girls made some delicious lemonade, and at teatime the girls set up shop on the sidewalk with a bubble machine and a Beatles soundtrack (Cece's current favourite music) and waited for customers. 

Photo by Isaac

They got six, and were very pleased with their takings. Not bad for a street that looked like this:

This is the same street that a mountain lion walked down on Friday. And the same street from which a bear walked onto the patio to nose around for food in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

I much prefer the human wildlife.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Reading the classics

When I was here at Christmas, the girls were happy to sit on the sofa in front of the fire and work through a pile of picture books with me. Things have changed. Lux is almost seven and has grown out of a diet of Julia Donaldson, Oliver Jeffers and Allan Ahlberg. She now likes being read stories with chapters. Hooray for Beverly Cleary and Ramona.

I don't want to do a hatchet job on Enid Blyton, because her books got me hooked on reading. But even a ten year old family member (who these days prefers to remain anonymous) who'd been given a supposedly updated version of a Blyton book for reading practice, was not impressed. He criticised Blyton for a superfluity of exclamation marks, as well as for various other shortcomings. Well, there is no excuse for anyone to read Blyton now: there are so many better options.

The Ramona books are classics. The first one  - Beezus and Ramona - was amazingly first published in 1955. Lux and I have just finished reading Ramona the Brave (pub. 1975). It is engaging, funny and touching and has not dated one bit. I envy Cleary's writing talent, and I am ridiculously happy we have a pile of Ramona books to read before I go home.

We're not just reading. The list of activities is endless, but I'm way too tired to tell you what they are. And Lux does play video games on an old phone sometimes. Today she taught me how to play Swampy. I enjoyed it and wanted to keep going but after several levels she said: "This level's really hard for you, Sue. You won't understand it at all."

Lux and me

And here is Cece, who has another week before she breaks up, poor thing:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Postcard from Boulder

You're honoured. I've come in from the quiet hammock to say Hello. 

Wendy had a three hour nap today, so as far as I'm concerned the day has been a success. Now she's at the pool with the girls and I've been lying in the hammock on this warm sunny teatime, catching up on emails, reading the news, looking at the trees, drinking wine and eating crisps. 

It's been a busy day - a knitting lesson, a bike ride to the park, a game of baseball, lunch, beads, reading a chapter of Ramona the Brave, and chat. So an hour in the hammock is just the ticket. 

Yesterday Lux and I went to the pottery painting studio, which was, as they say,  aces. She designed and painted this plate as a surprise for Cece, who has not yet broken up from school.

On Sunday we had another success: we made a rocket launcher from a kit. For all of those who remember the Pom Pom Puppies Fiasco (which I have tried unsuccessfully to link to, because I am working on Isaac's spare laptop and I can't for the life of me work out how the hell you right click for copy without a mouse) - let me inform you that this time I followed the instructions and achieved success. So there: I am not an utter dummy in the craft department.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Guess where I am!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

after Manchester

I am so sad about the bombing in Manchester, and I send my condolences to all those affected by it.

A local poet, Helen Mort - winner of too many awards to list here - tweeted her poem Prayer yesterday in response to the Manchester bombing. 

The poem is from a collection of poems addressed to the mountaineer Alison Hargreaves and appears in Helen's book No Map Could Show Them (pub. Chatto and Windus 2016). She has kindly given her permission for me to share it with you. I should explain before you read it that Bamford and Hope are two villages in the Derbyshire Peak District.


Give us good days.
Days unspectacular but adequate:
the weather neither calm nor wild,
your coat zipped nearly to the top,

a silver thermos cooling in your bag,
the sky at Bamford reddening, as if
embarrassed by its own strange reach
and day-old pipe-smoke clouds.

Above the Hope cement works,
crows wheel arcs of guarded flight
and when you touch the rock
your fingers hold.

© Helen Mort

Photo  © Chris Gilbert by kind permission.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday musings

I woke up from a dream in which I was being interviewed at the Jobcentre. I was sitting between the family member who declines to be named and a man whose CV was handwritten on four small post-its. Because of the cuts they were interviewing three of us at a time. The interview was friendly and relaxed, even convivial. This was not the real world.

I also woke up with a headache from tree pollen because I forgot to use the nasal spray last night. There are a lot of trees near our house.This is the view from a bedroom window this morning:

There've been some beautiful evening skies this month. Look at these, taken from the bathroom window:

We are so, so lucky to live here. We are so, so lucky full stop. I shall be using my postal vote today to keep the Conservatives out because I care about all the people in our society who aren't so lucky. I care about social justice, and I want to save the NHS. If you want to know the best way to vote tactically to do the same, you can put your postcode on this website and it will tell you the best way to do that in your constituency.

Over and out with the politics. I could have said so much more.

I fly to Boulder on Thursday. My case is already half packed, including the Penguins and Club biscuits requested by the girls.  It will be hard leaving Derbyshire looking so beautiful, but so good to see Isaac, Wendy, Lux and Cecilia, and wonderful to be there, able to help. It sucks being thousands of miles away from people you love, people whom you yearn to help and support.  

And Boulder is just as beautiful as Derbyshire:

photo by Isaac

Though they obviously have just as many dandelions, which thankfully, it will not be my responsibility to get rid of.