Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mental rammel

I have various ideas for a blog post but not the wherewithall to craft any of them into a polished stone of pithiness. I am still tired, and also my brain is fried. So here is what I can offer.

I bought a book for the girls called Here We Are

It's by the bestselling children's writer and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers - the author of The Great Paper Caper, the book the girls made me read them 5 times in one day. 

This was the fifth time: note the level of interest.

Jeffers wrote Here We Are after the birth of his first child. The subtitle is Notes for living on planet Earth. It was a rare purchase because I bought it sight unseen. I usually check out books in person first. I'm very choosy. I was disappointed by the book because although it is supposed to be factual, it is full of whimsy, particularly in the illustrations. Whimsy is fine in fiction. But in 'non-fiction' I am not too sure - however laced it is with comments like 'You have a body. Look after it, as most bits don't grow back.'

It is a most unusual book and impossible to describe, especially if you have a fried brain. You, dear reader, must see the book for yourself. Anyway...the book was sitting on the kitchen table and Dave picked it up unprompted and read it. He had no idea of my views, and I asked him what he thought of it. 'I love it!' he said. So did Isaac. And so did Lux. Wendy, Cece and I were not so keen: we would have given it only three stars on Amazon. (Actually, I would have given it two stars, but I try not to post reviews online that are as critical as that. It's  not fair on the author.) 

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it serves as a clear illustration of subjectivity in book reviews, which I know is an obvious point, but when you're a writer, it's a cheering one. We decided that the three members of the family who liked the book have a scientific approach to life. The others don't.

I'll finish by telling you that Chrissie got thirty pages into my rewritten novel and said it still wasn't working. The problem? The same as always - lack of narrative drive. Oh plot, plot. It's a necessary evil and it's my personal bete noire. Still, after the kids went back to Colorado I had an epiphany about what to do. The solution had been there all along. I just have to wait till my brain clears, like a stream after the flood waters have subsided, and I'll begin the novel again. 

p.s. the header shows someone feeding the ducks in Bakewell one January, some years ago, before it was verboten.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Back to Colorado

They've gone. They went an hour ago, at 5.35 a.m. The house has never felt so quiet. I am back in my own bed, Dave is on the sofa downstairs doing a crossword, the cat is re-establishing her territory, and the washing machine is turning. It's another quiet Saturday at Hepworth Towers.

The giant puddles in Bakewell park will return to being unloved and unremarked, the lego will return to the attic, and the soft toys will return to the girls next door.

I might stay here in bed all day, only getting up to put on another load of laundry.

It's been exhausting, and soooooooo worth it. 

And I miss them already.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bulletin from the house of jetlag

Isaac, Wendy, Lux (7) and Cecilia (5) are visiting from Boulder during this filthy, dark and freezing January weather. That's why I've been quiet. If there are 45 minutes in one block when I can be spared, I would rather hide somewhere and zone out to The Good Wife than marshal my remaining brain cells in order to blog. 

It's so wonderful to have them here - I really can't express how wonderful - and I thought things were going swimmingly as far as jetlag was concerned. There was a visit in May 2013 when Lux was almost 3 and Cece almost 1 when we had to have a 24 rota for a play and sleep schedule for everyone, as there was only one hour in the day when everyone could be depended upon to be asleep - midnight to 1 a.m. - and only four and a half hours when everyone was awake - 3.30 to 8 p.m. (It's documented on the blog right here.)

This time they arrived Saturday lunchtime after an overnight flight on which some sleep was had, but not much, and then they all crashed out at 8 p.m. and slept right through. That's what Lux reported when she bobbed downstairs with her bright eyes and her joie de vivre at 9 a.m. on Sunday. And that's what I continued to believe was happening. They are all sleeping upstairs, and I am sleeping on my study floor downstairs. Plus, as you know, I am going deaf.  The only mystery was why Isaac and Wendy continued to look as drained and wrecked as when they'd first arrived. I found out eventually that people are not sleeping through. There are actually early hour stretches (the graveyard shift)  when the girls are awake and ready for action, eager for fun. Oh dear.

photo of Lux  by Isaac

At this stage of the visit (5 days in, and they leave in 2) it's a case of endurance for I and W. Dave and I have lots of fun with Lux when she gets up at 9. Cece, who was found asleep and camping on the landing on Tuesday, tends to wake late morning like her parents.

Cece and me by Isaac

The problem with a January visit is that although we live in a tourist area, everything is closed this month - even Chatsworth adventure playground. But we have boxes of lego, the ever popular yoghurt cartons, and the gutters and marbles for marble runs. We found a trampolining place in Sheffield that was a big hit. And the kids are properly kitted out for winter weather, now they live in Colorado and not California. They are as cheerful as eskimos on trips to the park in Bakewell and the village rec, and enjoy the puddles as much as if they were toddlers. Colorado is a dry state: even the snow is dry, which is why it is good for skiing and not making snowmen. But we - oh yes - we have plenty of puddles.

And there is always the miniature Shetland pony next door to make friends with...

Lux and pony by Isaac

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Visitors from overseas

The Hepworth Towers marble run...

Me in my waxy-doodle glasses. Oh, the things you do for your grandkids..

Tuesday, January 09, 2018


'I have read the first 30 pages of your novel. I do still think there are some problems with the shifting viewpoints - and with telling instead of showing  (sorry, sorry, sorry! I know you won’t be happy). There are places where the novel comes alive, but also for me places where it still doesn’t. Shall we talk about this on Tuesday?'

Chrissie has been reading my rewrite, and this excerpt is from her Sunday email. Am I disheartened? Strangely not. This is a tough novel to write: it has a quiet subject, and has several viewpoints. I want it to work. I want it to be the best it can be. It doesn't matter to me how many rewrites it takes as long as it works in the end. I recently read that Roddy Doyle made 17 attempts at one of his recent successful novels. 

I don't think, however, that I can be asking Chrissie to read as many rewrites as it might take, so I'll need a solution to that. It's hard finding someone whose opinion you trust, someone who understands writing and can be specific about problems and who is sympathetic to the difficulties.

This week on Twitter, the writer Joanne Harris tweeted a series of excellent points about editors which are relevant. Here are some of them in the order they appeared on Twitter:

So today Chrissie and I are having lunch and she will tell me more. And we will also discuss her upcoming book launch.

Later, another writing friend is coming to visit. I have just read her first novel - at her request - and she is coming to hear what I think. I hope it's helpful.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

It's on the cards

I hope I'm not too late to ask you to do the following...

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

It's not so bad

I'm turning into my mother. I give people pots of homemade jam when I visit, and I blithely ask forthright questions of medics like And what is your job title? and How do you qualify to be that? and You speak beautifully - so clearly I can hear every word. Was speaking included in your training? ....all questions I put to the nice young man who tested my hearing before Christmas and said I had age-related hearing loss and was entitled to a free NHS hearing aid.  

I can still hear my 91 year old mother on the night before she died asking the doctor inserting the pic line into her chest to explain the procedure, and then asking him how many times he had done it before. It's not so bad being like my mother. I would just like to have inherited her stoicism.

I'm also like my mother in that when I wake up in the morning I feel like death on a biscuit until half past nine. Yesterday, however, it was New Year's Day and our ritual at New Year is to go to bed at the usual time and be woken up by the fireworks across the field at midnight, curse about it, and turn over and go back to sleep, but then be out of the house by 8 a.m. Since we moved here we've been going down to Bakewell to feed the ducks on the river while everyone else is still asleep. It's beautifully deserted and the low beams of sunshine light up the weeping willows and the gulls wheeling above.

But now it's not allowed: there's a sign up that says it is bad for the ducks. So yesterday Dave suggested we drove to Monsaldale and climbed onto the Monsal Trail and said hello to the viaduct instead. 

Here I am, looking a bit chubby, but feeling better for the fresh air:

Next year it's my turn to choose where we go, and afterwards we'll try to be the first ones at Hassop Station for our first coffee of the year.

Happy New Year, dear readers. 

I'll leave you with my dream...

p.s. the header today was the sky taken from our lane, when we got back home.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Blogging in dark times

I always spend some time between Christmas and New Year thinking over the past year, and then ahead to the year that's coming.

This year I had to read through the blog from last January to remind myself what happened. There weren't many amusing posts, and I'm sorry about that. This is the only one that springs to mind. There were too many posts where I lamented the state of the world, and I won't bother you with links to those: I'm sure you have your own lamentations. 

There was quite a lot about Lux and Cece, but then I spent twice as much time in Colorado this last year than I do under normal circs.

I did have some great times in the UK too, like the drenching wet walk I went with my sister in March.

There was probably too much on the blog about writing: I have been working on a new novel, and it's taken up a lot of space in my brain. 

I told you about writing letters to politicians. This is not surprising, as there hasn't been a year in my life when I have written so many letters or signed so many petitions. And although I recently tweeted about having petition-signers' burnout I will carry on. In our Quaker Advices and Queries it says "Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand." It's a tough call to action.

I didn't tell you about the two peace vigils we had in Bakewell this year, though I did post about our BRIDGES NOT WALLS event in January on the day of Trump's inauguration.

And I mentioned the refugee hospitality days we held in Bakewell, and will be continuing with in 2018.

By the way, did you know that the charity Help Refugees now has a shop in London where you can go and buy items that refugees need, and they will provide them to the refugees where they are. You can access this shop online too. Here.

I used to try to keep the blog non-political, but as the years have gone by since this government decided that austerity was the way to go, and poverty and  homelessness have surged in the UK as a result, I can't keep silent. I just saw this tweet from an ITV journalist about their recent reports on local deprivation.

We live in dark times, and I blogged in November about how I stay sane when the world appears to be falling apart.

Here is the thought I'd like to leave with you for 2018:

It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Well, I got my new computer on Saturday and the machine is fine, but I'm struggling to get used to the strange environment. You know how new (i.e. up-to-date) software makes you feel as if you're working in a foreign language? AArrgghh! I've just touched something and the text is now huge and I can't work out how to get it back to normal. That's the kind of thing I mean. 

How are you all? Having a nice time? It's been so quiet at Hepworth Towers we would have been able to hear a Christmas tree needle drop, had any been dropping. But the tree I dug up from the garden is sitting in a tray of water and isn't losing any. 

We've been reading and cycling and fielding phone calls from our three scattered children, and that's about it. So today's post is on books, in the mode of that one they have in the paper every Saturday.

The book I am in the middle of reading:
I was reading Midwinter Break by Bernard Maclaverty for the second time in two months, to examine the craft of the author, but then someone gave me this for Christmas:

which is surprising and interesting and weird and quirky, but is difficult to describe, so here's what the first sentence inside the dust jacket says: 'Bluets winds its way through depression, divinity, alcohol, and desire, visiting along the way with famous blue figures, including Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Yves Klein, Leonard Cohen and Andy Warhol.' Actually, I could have described it but I'm feeling lazy. 

The book that changed my life:
Writing down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This is the creative writing book that sprung me from writing technical reports into creative writing - both non-fiction and fiction. I return to the book every so often for help and inspiration.

The book I never finished:
Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. I tried twice and gave up  because I was bored. I've also tried twice to read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, which I was enjoying but lost heart with because it was so wordy. I'll try again with this one.

The last book that made me cry:
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I like books that make me cry. I would like to write such books.

The last book that made me laugh:
It's one I return to for encouragement when I'm in the middle of writing a novel - The Unstrung Harp; or Mr Earbrass writes a novel by Edward Gorey. I've shared excerpts with you a couple of times, but I'm not sure you get it.

The book I am ashamed not to have read:
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. A good friend (who doesn't read my blog) gave it to me and my heart sank, because although I think Kingsolver is a good writer, she uses twice as many words as I would like her to. I don't like wordy writing and avoid it. I also don't like this question, because I think that feeling ashamed not to have read a famous or lauded book is a waste of emotion.

The book I wish I'd written:
There's more than one, but let's stick to one of Kent Haruf's - the second one of his trilogy - Eventide. I love his spare writing, and his humanity.

(I just got back the text on my screen to the normal size and have no idea how I did it.)

The book I think is most overrated:
Stoner by John Williams. It's MISERABLE but mainly, I don't understand why everyone makes such a fuss of the writing. I am baffled.

The book I think is most underrated/maligned:
Mrs Vole the Vet by Allan Ahlberg. See my post on it - here. And read my review on Amazon here.

The book I most frequently give as a present:
When I first discovered Homestead by Rosina Lippi I gave a copy to all my close friends. Now I don't give books to people apart from to my brother, because I know how uncomfortable it is when someone gives you a book that is not to your taste.

The book I would most like to be remembered for: 
I can't answer this. Which one of mine will you remember me for?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Found wanting

Here is another post with austerity-formatting because I am still without a laptop.

Today is the day of family, feasting and games at Zoe's house, and I have my pile of contributions assembled ready in a corner of my study. 

Yesterday I went to see the Muppets Christmas Carol on my own. A friend told me it was a great Christmas film, and I believed her, and spent the week trying to find someone with time on their hands like me (a writer whose laptop has died and whose new one has not yet arrived.) Everyone I asked was too busy, even the one to whom I offered a free lunch and the price of the cinema ticket. Altogether I approached six people. I should have listened to the universe. It was not worth the trip into town and the sacrifice of a whole afternoon of bright skies. Michael Caine was excellent but Miss Piggy had barely a walk on part. What is the point of any kind of Muppets Show if Miss Piggy doesn't do her thing? Still, the Dickens message was clear, and I came home wanting to watch It's a Wonderful Life, partly to remind myself what a great Chritsmas movie is, and partly to compare the messages.

I think Dave must have been feeling sorry for me because he insisted he could sit beside me on the sofa while the film was on, and make not a peep. He LOATHES that film. I said thanks, but no thanks, thinking there is no fun in watching a film with someone next to you who is muttering under their breath. But he did it! He sat there reading his Mary Beard book, and doing Times crosswords, while I became a soggy mess on the sofa. I start crying near the start, when Mr Gower hits the young George and makes his sore ear bleed. The thing that struck me last night was how much austerity Britain feels like the scenes where George goes down the Main Street of Bedford Falls when it's not Bedford Falls, but it's Pottersville. ( If you've never seen the film and don't know what I'm talking about, I feel sorry for you. Get it sorted!)

In the middle of the film, one of my grandsons ( aged 11) rang. He is a drummer and last time I saw him I rashly promised to learn Baker Street on my sax and play it with him. He rang to ask if I'd learned It yet. Could I take my sax over today and play? Reader, I have been practising Baker Street but am a long, long way from being proficient. I feel a failure. Letting a grandchild down is a big deal. I think I'm going to have to come clean and substitute something else that's raunchy and has a good beat. But it won't be happening today. I hope he understands.

This has been a very quiet week. It has felt what empty nest syndrome must feel like (which is something I didn't suffer from when it actually happened) so I am really looking forward to sitting round the table at Zoe's house, with two of my offspring and their appendages. I'm not allowed to have photographs of any of them on here these days, so here are the little ones who will be missing. We can't wait to see them and their parents in January.

Happy Christmas, dear readers!

Monday, December 18, 2017


My computer has died. I have a day on my own to write and my computer died last night.
The rewrite of the book is done and a fairly recent draft is backed up, so at least I'm not worrying about that. But blogging on here is restrictive - I can't change the header, add links, or edit pictures, and the fonts are ill-disciplined, so you'll have to put up with an austerity blog until I get a new laptop.

We've had a fortnight of amazing dawns like this

and stunning sunsets. On Saturday I was driving home over the hills from Sheffield and the sky was a glorious, stupendous tapestry of orange and purple. Drivers were stopping on the crest of the ridge and taking photographs of it. I didn't have a camera and kept driving, but it's a wonder I didn't crash, because my eyes were continually drawn back to the sky.

Christmas seems different this year. Or at least, my mood this year is different from how it's been before. Sombre, I think is the word. I have held back from saying this, because I don't want you to think I see myself as a character from Little Women, but this year I am so aware of the hardships of so many people in "austerity" Britain - homelessness, debt, poverty - with so many dependent on food banks, that it feels pretty irrelevant as to whether I am having the kind of Christmas I consider to be my absolute ideal i.e. stuffed full of family. I am so, so fortunate in every way that matters. I never used to be able to understand when my father said he didn't want anything for Christmas - would I just give a donation to Shelter? - but now I do. 

Dave has already given me my Christmas card for this year. He always makes me something in wood. Here it is:

I have an empty house today and a dead computer and I shall be decorating the tree. Yay!

I hope you all have the kind of Christmas you long for. 


         Wendy Cope   (Copyright) from If I Don't Know, Faber 2001

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”  

Thomas Mann

I'm still rewriting my novel, and enjoying it. I'm making changes to character, plot and wording.
I was just sitting here in bed at 6.35 a.m. trying to decide which sounds more colloquial -

‘Well, you think of a word for yellow that’s got one syllable!'
'Well, you think of a word for yellow that has one syllable!'

Yes, it comes down to minutiae like that. Earlier I was lying in the dark thinking about a character and realised I needed to make an important addition to what she found in someone else's wardrobe. But then, if she did find this item, would she mention it to the person whose wardrobe it was, and if so, when?
Which reminds me of my treasured book - The Unstrung Harp; or Mr Earbrass writes a novel....

And I just checked my email and found one from me written in the middle of the night when I got up to pee that says "Change midsummer scene. Jane thinks more."

So you see, there is lots to do.

Meanwhile, it feels as though Christmas at Hepworth Towers is being rewritten. You know how people always say to you in December "And what are you doing for Christmas?" To me they always say "And is it an ON Christmas, or an OFF Christmas?"  (If you don't know what that means, read this.)

Last year it was ON, but it had to be abandoned after I'd decorated the tree, because Wendy was not recovering well from her op and I zoomed off to Boulder to help Isaac look after the family. And Dave dismantled the tree, and had the best OFF Christmas he's ever had. But we can't switch this Christmas to ON, because Zoe and family are away alternate years, and the family member who declines to be named will also be away with his fiancee. 

Last weekend one of my grandsons saw a charity appeal leaflet on the kitchen table that had a photo of an old woman on it and the caption NO FAMILY, NO TREE, NO CHRISTMAS, and asked 'Is that you, Sue?' and then gave me a big hug. Oh dear.

If the snow and frost retreat, I'll be digging up my tree and bringing it in, and it will be in the sitting room, not coralled to my study, because I had to abandon it last year. Don't tell Dave this, but apart from the tree I care less and less about the ON/OFF thing. We are both still here, alive, well-fed and warm. And I'm thankful. 

Being here with just Dave on Christmas Day will be lovely. And I'll be with all the family (bar Dave) on the 23rd for feasting and games at Zoe's house. I have it all.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Oh dear oh dear oh dear

I think I've given you the wrong impression about the main male character (note - I did not say 'hero') in my new work-in-progress. He feels the cold, but he is not weak or feeble. This may seem like a minor characteristic right now, but when you read the book it should make sense. But actually I am wishing I hadn't told you any of this, so please put it out of your mind.

I went to a book group last evening to chat about my book BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU.  The people there were either psychiatrists or trainee psychiatrists, and although they were friendly and welcoming - of course! - I have to admit I felt a little intimidated. 

When I got home, I told Dave how I felt, and that the next book on their list is Metamorphosis, and he said "Well, at least you turned up. They won't be getting Kafka."

Good old Dave. 

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Weekend round-up

I had eight hours sleep last night and when I went to get my morning cuppa I brought the laptop back to bed so I could blog. But then I just sat there and looked at it, too tired to write.

When I went down for breakfast later I found a new batch of oatcakes on the side - thanks, Dave - and the cook in boiler suit and wellies exiting the back door to have a bonfire. So I sat and ate breakfast in the kitchen and watched the bonfire progress through the window for twenty minutes, too tired to move.

Eventually I went back upstairs and showered and dressed and donned jacket and wellies to go outside to admire the bonfire close-up, and it was such a lovely mild day I started tidying up the strawberry patch (that Dave keeps demanding we scrap right now and I keep resisting, saying, 'No let's just give it one more season.') That was a pleasant half an hour. I hadn't finished, but my hands were cold so I came back in and made a coffee and by that time the  paper had arrived so I sat on the sofa with my feet up, reading the Review section, too tired to do anything else.  

I don't know why I'm tired. There were only four events in the diary this week - seeing a live screening of Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance from the Vaudeville Theatre in London - terrific acting, but I was not sold on the play;  a curry with friends; my sax lesson; and an inset day spent with my older grandson who is now 13, and whose name and photo I am no longer allowed to post, but long-time readers will know who I mean. 

The day was lovely. We went into Sheffield on the bus and saw an exhibition of Ravilious and his associates, and my companion looked at them carefully and had lots to say. 

HMS Ark Royal by Eric Ravilious

I can't recall a gallery visit I have enjoyed as much, unless it was the visits I used to make years ago with my father to Askrigg village hall to see the annual exhibition of Wensleydale artists. He would be chuffed to bits that his great-grandson has an artist's eye, and talent too. 

Bolton Castle, Wensleydale, in December

We had a hot pasty and did bits of shopping in John Lewis - buying Christmas presents for Lux and Cece, and checking out the functions of Fitbits (as you do.) I even got the price and spec of a telly, because I'm thinking of getting one. At present we have a huge, box-like 20 year old monstrosity that is not digital and is only fit for watching DVDs.

You can tell I'm tired, can't you, by the pedestrian nature of the above?

The good news is that the rewrite of the novel is coming along. One of the things I've changed is the main male character. I've made him nesh, and I'm liking him so much better. I hope you will too. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Seasons change

Hooray! I got the keypad working on my own! So I can write in bed again. It's temperamental, though, so if you see a word that looks as if it should have an a, s, d or f in it, please supply your own. 

I had a sad afternoon in the back garden at the weekend.  It was bitterly cold and spitting with rain and it was one of those November afternoons that seems to be longing for dusk from 2 o clock onwards. We were cutting things back, chopping things down, retrenching.

When we moved in here 21 years ago, the garden was covered in brambles and nettles, and a couple of collapsed sheds lurked in the undergrowth. Dave cleared it and landscaped it, and I planted it. For ten years I worked long hours in the garden and it was full of fruit and flowers. Nothing fancy, but it was fecund and colourful.

Then, some years later, although I still loved gardening, there were other things I wanted to do, and we grassed over a couple of borders. 

Now I'm in my late sixties (oh horror) I have so much less energy than I did even ten years ago and I want to keep cycling and walking as well as gardening, and something's gotta give. Dave usually mows the lawns and clips the hedges, 

but he doesn't know a crocosmia from a sedum so he couldn't do any more, even if he wanted to. So we're going to grass a large part of the back garden and plant a couple of fruit trees. 

I'll still have the border in the back with the amazing crocosmia lucifer

but nothing beyond it. 

If we grass the back, though, the large strawberry patch will have to go, and I'm not quite ready to relinquish it yet. Not for my sake, but for Dave's. In a good season I pick a kilo a day and he eats most of them. It seems mean to dig it up because the weeding is so arduous, but he insists it's fine. Watch this space. 

We're keeping a couple of blackcurrant bushes, whose maintenance is minimal, and the front garden will stay as it is. 

I feel sad, but now I think about how much I've got left, I feel better. Blogging is definitely good for my health.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Progress report

Well, Pete the computer guy says it's not cat hair that's making my keyboard stick: I need a new keyboard. But the laptop has passed its life expectancy so now I have to make one of those annoying decisions...do I spend £60 plus on a new keyboard or get a new laptop? Boo.

And in the meantime, no more writing in bed. Double boo.

There is snow outside in the garden this morning, but in Mexico it's hot and sunny and Wendy and Isaac and the girls are having a brief dreamy holiday as a reward for getting through this past shitty year.  Regular readers will be delighted to hear that Wendy is doing well, and she has her final surgery when they get back.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Winter ways

The keyboard of my laptop doesn't work on the left hand side and I think it's because it's congested with cat hairs. I usually write in bed in the morning - it's my most productive time - so I have tried writing in bed with the keyboard that plugs into the laptop but it's too unwieldy/cumbersome/whatever. So here I am at my desk far earlier than usual, in my pyjamas and swathed in a rug. I've carried the towering SAD light down from the bedroom and it's beaming at me from the windowsill.

Don't you find the dark tiresome? There aren't enough daylight hours to fit in all that I want to do, which is why I haven't yet taken my laptop to the computer guy so he can fix it. 

I'm sorry I've been quiet. I've been rewriting my novel. I got the stinging critiques from my trusted readers and after utter deflation for a couple of days I thought about everything they'd said and decided I agreed with a lot of it. So I embarked upon draft 5. I don't feel shame that it needs a rewrite, but I do feel a little silly that I didn't admit to myself that it really was not ready to be seen by someone else, and I do feel sorry that my readers had to wade through it.  But then this time of writing was a completely different process I have not tried before, so what the hell? And both my readers are writers and I know they will have learned stuff from my mistakes. It's educative seeing why someone else's writing works or doesn't work. 

I will sort it out. I have the whole of the dark, dark winter ahead of me. 

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.