Saturday, April 20, 2019

Letter from home

It's been a full, rich week:

- Playing my sax with a pianist friend - such good fun.

- Sitting in the sunshine watching Dave and the family member who declines to be named raising a shed in the latter's back garden. (Gosh, there are a lot of clauses in that sentence.)

- Cycling, cycling and cycling.

- Looking for a new novel to read. I am looking for something that's beautifully written and is romantic. Any suggestions?

- Going out early in the morning for two photo-shoots on the Monsal Trail, to take a cover picture for my new book. The first was with my friend Liz, and the second with a friend I made through Twitter - Valerie Dalling, who lives in the next village and is a talented photographer. I now have two shots I love and am trying to decide which one to use.

- Trying to make attractive tealight holders, using coloured tissue paper, PVA and jamjars. 

This is what the sitting room table looks like this morning. Note the sweet pea seedlings getting frisky.

And these are the results:

My fat fingers have been struggling with this craft because next Saturday we have a refugee hospitality day and we need some new crafting ideas - things that are pretty and/or useful that can be made in a short time and taken home at the end of the day. We always have a jewellery-making table because it's so popular

Most of the above were made with recycled beads. We have also decorated cotton shopping bags with fabric paints, and decorated photo frames and small mirrors with all kinds of pretty stuff.  We are always looking for new ideas so if you have any, please let me know.  On the other side of the room, people are playing with toddlers and babies, so whatever happens on the crafting tables has to be safe for that environment. (I hope you manage to negotiate the comments section below. I know it's a trial and sometimes eats comments, but there appears to be nothing to be done about it.)

Have a lovely weekend. I'm going to spend a lot of mine in the garden...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

America and its bloody guns

On Tuesday night Wendy got a message from the school principal saying that the girls' school would be closed on the following day because of a 'credible threat.'

The girls are used to having lockdown drill at school. They think it's a routine practice for tornadoes. They don't know about America's crazy gun laws or about the NRA or about school shootings. They don't know that 20 years ago, the Colorado school Columbine had a mass shooting and that the anniversary of it is tomorrow. 

What was Wendy to tell them?

Last night Isaac let us know that the situation was resolved. The 18 year old woman from Florida, who had an obsession with the Columbine massacre, was dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot.

She had flown into Denver and bought a gun and ammunition. Had she lived in Colorado, it would have been a legal sale. As she was from Florida, it was not. The laws of her home state as well as those of the place of the sale have to be obeyed. And in Florida, there have to be several days between sale and possession, while checks take place.

I despair of America ever being sensible about guns. I'm used to the idea of the family sometimes having bears, bobcats and mountain lions in their garden. What about the bloody guns?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The way to do it

Do you recall a previous blog post when I was railing against a rude rejection I'd received from a literary agent? It absolutely wasn't the rejection I was cross about, but the dismissive tone of their one line email: 

'Many thanks for your email and material but I'm afraid we're going to pass.'

You spend three years writing and rewriting a novel, agonising over it, trying your best to make it precisely what you want it to be, and they send you one dismissive sentence.



This morning I got another rejection. This is how it should be done.

Dear Sue,

Thank you for giving the xxxxxxx Agency a chance to consider your work. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your submission.

Whilst I enjoyed reading your opening chapters, I am afraid that I did not feel quite gripped enough to absolutely fall in love with your writing.

As an agency, we feel that it is immensely important for new writers to have an agent who believes completely in the potential of their work to sell and who can therefore take that enthusiasm to the publishers. Accordingly, we need to feel really passionate about a writer’s work before we sign them onto the agency.

We receive nearly 600 manuscripts a week and can only take on a select number of debut writers every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective. This is an entirely subjective decision and I have no doubt that another agent will feel differently. 

I wish you the very best of luck in finding an agent who is right for you.

Best wishes,

OK. Rant over. 

Dave is still formatting the text: there are an awful lot of anarchic indents in it that need to be brought into line. He said this morning that seeing all the dialogue in the text - seeing it, not reading it - made him feel ill. What a good job he isn't my target reader.

You, my dear blog readers, are my target readers. 

I'm aiming to publish it in May.

I had a fab bike ride this morning, and met my friends up the hill again:

Friday, April 12, 2019

Weekend homework

Do you recall this interchange from Plotting for Beginners:

'I detest dialogue,' he said, shuddering.

'But dialogue's the best bit.'

'When I open a book and find dialogue, it's a stark reminder that there are going to be people in there.'

That, my friends, is a direct quote from Dave, who is currently formatting my new novel for publication.

Yesterday, mid-format, he came in the room and said 'Do you think you've got the right title for the book? You're looking for click-bait. Who's going to be attracted by a book called EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU?'

'I would,' I said. 'I'd be intrigued.'

'Really? Well, OK.'

I'm looking at you now, readers. 

1. Would you check out a book called EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU?

2. What does the title EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU suggest to you?

3. How do you feel about the original title FRIENDS, LOVERS AND TREES?

Answers in the comments section below. The easiest way to comment is to click on the Anonymous button and if you want to, you can give your name at the end of your answer.

I'd so love to hear from you. 

Monday, April 08, 2019


I woke up on Saturday morning after a good long sleep, after the nine and a half hours in hospital waiting rooms the day before, and I felt euphoric.

It was a bright spring day and the sun was shining. i was alive and well and free. I could be outside in the fresh air all day long if I wanted! I really was euphoric. It was peculiar.

The day filled up with a photoshot on the Trail for the cover of the book, a coffee and chocolate brownie with Liz (the photographer) a bike ride up the hill

the crossword with Dave, and then some gentle gardening. I was happy all day. Joyful. I was well. I was outside in the sunshine, doing things I enjoy. This was how I should feel every day. Thankful for my health and freedom.

The next day I woke up and discussed the cover photos with my brother and felt cast down. He didn't think they were right.  Gloom and despondency. Quaker meeting didn't help: I couldn't settle. 

Why is it that I can't sustain the joy and thankfulness from one day to the next? Is this the human condition? Or is it a failing in me?

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Waiting for Godot

late night email from my friend:

So glad they didn't find anything wrong. Love Chrissie xxx

That is the best thing that can be said about my yesterday. 

I went to see my lovely GP about a mystery symptom, and because of my history he sent me to A and E with a letter so they could give me tests he couldn't do. It would be unlikely I had the thing he was worrying about but he is diligent and cautious and the consequences of his not sending me (if I did have the thing) could have been death. So I went.

It's a 45 minute drive to the hospital. Dave, who was about to go out on his bike, offered to go with me, but we all know how long you have to wait in A and E and I didn't want him to miss the fine spring day as well, so I declined. I'd be fine. There was no point in both of us having our Friday screwed up.

I checked in at A and E at 12 noon, and I left at 9.30. The staff were wonderful, but the waiting, oh, the waiting. The trouble with going on your own is you have no-one to listen out for your name while you go to the loo. You have no-one to fetch you a cup of tea or a sandwich. I'd only taken a bottle of water, a banana and an apple, so thank goodness for the orderly bringing sandwiches round the Clinical Decisions Unit at 7 p.m.  A girl needs her blood sugar boosting while she's sitting in a busy waiting area directly opposite a huge screen that has pop videos constantly streaming, that thankfully said girl couldn't hear. 

After four hours of sitting opposite that screen I can tell you how ridiculous the dancing and writhing on them is when there's no sound, and how sexualised they are. What we needed was wall-to-wall ballet, or David Attenborough, or a travel programme, or sheep dog trials, or anything, anything other than people doing stupid formation dancing, or writhing on this and that while looking at the camera. Aarghh!

Dave kept ringing me up to ask how I was and what was the news and should he come?  "No, don't come," I said. "I'll be finished soon." 

I wanted to say "I'm tired and fed up and I've got a headache," but it felt inappropriate when someone in a wheelchair opposite me was throwing up, and behind that poor man, there was an old woman with a black eye and a bandaged head.

At 8 p.m. when I was still waiting for a scan, I'd given up hope of ever leaving the place. I imagined being there at 2 a.m. still waiting.

The NHS staff were all lovely - of course - from the A and E receptionist to the nurse who took my blood to the X ray man, the Scan man, the receptionist who surreptitiously fetched me a cup of tea, the gentle, smiling doctor who said of course he was still there at 9.30 p.m. - hadn't he said he'd look after me? 

And I shan't forget the 80 year old patient who shared his Werther's Originals with us all, before the sandwich lady arrived.

Hey ho.

The second best thing about yesterday was Dave arriving in a taxi to come and drive me home. I could have managed if I'd had to, but it was a relief to be rescued. My hero.

I do not have a life-threatening illness, just an annoying symptom, so I'm going to celebrate by riding my bike up the hill to see this little chap:

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Sartorial ecstasy

I'm staying off B****t on the blog, because we all need a break. 

One day in Boulder I was looking for my boots in the shoe rack and came across some bright blue shoes and I fell in love with them. 

I tried them on and joked to Wendy - 'These shoes obviously won't suit you, so I think I'll have them.'

'Of course!' she said. 'I ordered them online and when they arrived I knew they weren't for me, and saved them for you.'

I don't believe her: I think she bought them with me in mind. She's that kind of girl. And she never wears blue. 

Do you have an item of clothing that brings you joy? Something that lightens your heart as soon as you put it on? That's how I feel about these shoes. I catch sight of them on my feet and I can't help smiling.

You may recall that a month ago I said I was going to treat myself to something from TOAST which was far too pricey but which I was buying as a 70th birthday treat? (Don't worry, this 70th birthday fixation will be over by Christmas.)  It was a pair of dungarees. I bought them and they were too wide and too short so I sent them back, but in Boulder's famous hardware shop, McGuckins, I found some I loved, which were a third of the price. I ADORE dungarees. I had three pairs in the 80s - bright yellow, bright green and bright turquoise - but we lost them in the fire and I have always mourned them. 

I asked Dave if there was anything he wears that makes him feel unreasonably happy and he said yes, his light brown carpenter dungarees (we are so made for each other) and his leather jerkin. He rocks his dungarees but I loathe his jerkin, which amongst other faults, is two sizes too big. I hate it, but now I understand what joy it brings him, I shall not complain when he wears it to walk down to Hassop Station with me. Sartorial joy is rare and should be honoured and celebrated.

See how happy I am?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Working it out

I am still wrestling with the idea that I am going to be 70 this year, and wondering what it means for me and my life. Perhaps it doesn't mean very much, just as passing from December 31st to January 1st means little, though people mark it as the start of a new year, with new aims and purposes.

When I was about to turn 60 I felt the same, and asked various friends who were already that great age how they felt and if they were approaching their lives any differently. That resulted in my taking up the sax, and having a slackline in the garden.

So far I've only asked one wise friend about being a 70-something - someone who happens to be in his 80s and is still active politically, socially and physically. I explained I wanted to do something 'useful' to help people, and he said I should start by considering what brought me joy. Then think about what are my main concerns, and see if I could bring the two together. 

I don't think it's going to work. What brings me joy is being outside in the countryside, either walking or cycling or gardening, and being with friends and family, while my main concerns are refugees and food poverty.

I asked a member of the family who is in his thirties about what I should do, now that I will not be writing another novel, and he said "Have fun." When friends are seriously ill, and others have already died, there is an argument for seizing the day and packing in as much fun as possible before I too become infirm.

Yesterday I told Dave that when I got back from an early morning errand I was going to drive into Sheffield to buy some knitting wool, but when I got home from the errand the sky was so blue and the sun so bright and I knew it was the last day before the Sheffield school holidays began and the Trail would for two weeks be full of visitors, so I went out for a long bike ride instead of going to town. I didn't regret it. But I was knackered,and couldn't do much for the rest of the day but sit around in the sunshine.

Old age feels like a balancing act - between enjoying what your savings can buy, and keeping enough for possibly decades of rainy days; between having fun, and helping other people; between taking it easier because you're older, and pushing yourself everyday to keep fit.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: old age ain't for cissies.

p.s. I just had a lovely Mother's Day card saying - 
"Hope you can rest on your laurels a bit after 48 busy years!"

Thursday, March 28, 2019

It's not me!

My proofreader knows me well, and amongst the typos and queries about my grammar and the inappropriate register of one of my adjectives (i.e. rectilinear) he commented on some of the responses and behaviour of the main character. 

'You wouldn't do that,' he said.

'But it isn't me!' I said.

You may as well know that the book is about a woman grieving for her best friend, and I have used my own experience in writing it.  I wanted to explore the themes of grief, friendship, aging, and the healing power of nature, so of course I'm going to use my own experience. But the woman does all kinds of things that I wouldn't do, because I have tried my hardest to make her different from me in as many ways as I could. I needed a plot to hang it all on, and that has got nothing to do with me or my life. So I hope you'll bear that in mind when you read it.

I'm still waiting to hear from two publishers if they'll grant me permission to include 'their' poems in the novel - how long does it take, for goodness sakes? -  but I had the loveliest response from an Irish poet yesterday. The three Irish people I've approached for permission have been so generous, friendly and charming, I've decided that in my next life I shall marry an Irishman. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

This is now a B****t-free zone

For the upcoming week, the B word is banned from the blog. 

Yesterday morning as I drove down to Bakewell in the sharp spring sunshine, I was hit by a seasonal melancholy. The light was clear and unforgiving, the daffodils on the verges were searingly lovely and the world was saying 'In your face, it's spring!' I don't know what it is about daffodils in this particular angle of sunlight, with mistiness on the far horizon, but it makes me feel sad. I came home and told Dave and he knew just what I meant. So did T S Eliot - 

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Yes, I know it's not April, but it feels like April. 

Later, in the afternoon, I was pottering in the front garden sorting out the raggedy pots of tête-à-têtes, when a local farmer drove past in his Land Rover, with his window down and his Jack Russell terrier on his knee and the spring felt human again, friendly.

I'm free today. Tomorrow I'll hear what my proofreader says about my novel and I'll make the corrections. I'm on the way.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Letter from home

When Isaac and the girls waved me off through security at Denver airport on Wednesday, I had an ache in my chest. I don't remember it being that bad before.

But then I arrived home to Dave, the green grass of spring, and the leaf buds on the hawthorn tree. It was wonderful. There was also the blessed silence after the hellish travel.

(Brexit never left my consciousness while I was in Boulder so there's no difference there. Nuff said. Here's a link to the Revoke Article 50 and remain in the UK petition, in case you want to sign it and haven't yet done so.)

There were surprises at home. I knew Dave had installed a cupboard in the back porch, but I didn't know he'd made a new boot rack in there and moved his bike to the shed. This latter may sound minimal to you, but it's huge to me. Now the porch looks orderly rather than a jumble, and hanging washing on the airing rack is a pleasure instead of an awkward struggle.

But the biggest surprise was in the sitting room: a telly!

After doing without one for 10 years, and then deciding to get one, but rowing on the day we had planned to go and buy it, I thought it would never happen. I LOVE surprises! Yay for Dave!

But I don't feel I finished recounting my adventures in Boulder so here goes...

I had a fun trip out with Wendy last Monday.

Breakfast out:

a pedicure, and then a drive into the mountains. A woman on Goodreads reviewed Plotting for Beginners scathingly some years ago, saying it was unrealistic that a woman of 50-something should behave as Sally Howe does. I have long wanted to tell her that it was based on how I felt at that age and she was entirely mistaken, but it's infra-dig for authors to respond to 'reviewers' about stuff like that. If she'd seen Wendy (42) and me (69) last Monday, driving in the Beetle with the top down and loud rock music blaring from the radio, Wendy and I singing along, and waving to people as we passed, that reader would no doubt have needed smelling salts. 

We eventually came down into the foothills, parked, and went for a hike.

And last week I went for a hugely enjoyable 18 mile bike ride with Isaac. (I was VERY impressed with myself - do I owe it to the magic pills?) 

Here are some shots from the trip:

photo by Isaac

Aye, but it's good to be home for the spring. In Boulder the grass is brown and dead and there aren't any blackbirds. 

Wendy said excitedly last week "I saw a hock in the garden!" and I said, puzzled, "What's a hock?" 

"You know," she said. "A bird of prey."

"Oh, we don't have hocks in the UK."

And Isaac said: "She means a hawk."

Monday, March 18, 2019

Early Morning Blues

"Alexa! What's the weather today?"
"There will be lows in the early morning, giving way to bright sunshine that will last until bedtime."

I woke up too early this morning from a dream that John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, had died. It was the last straw. I turned to BBC iPlayer and Ed Reardon’s Week because the sardonic humour always cheers me up. 

Then I made a cuppa and brought it back to bed and looked on the iPad at the headlines in the Guardian and had my usual reaction: “Oh my God. Dystopia,” and closed the page.

No one had emailed me anything interesting so I looked at Twitter and came across Garrison Keillor’s latest tweet which took me to his website, where I read a couple of his columns. Meh. Too sweet for how I was feeling.

What else could I read? I was flummoxed, and decided I should write something that I would like to read. Hence this dreadful. I am dictating this and the iPad doesn’t recognise the word drivel. Ah, it got it that time.

It is 6:50 in the morning and the girls will be down at 7 to get into bed with me and have a chat before their breakfast. That will cheer me up.

Brexit rumbles on and Dave told me on the phone yesterday that he was going to go out and buy some more supplies for the looming apocalypse. People here in Boulder ask me what I think of Brexit and I wish they wouldn’t, because although I do check up every day on the news I really don’t like to think about it in the in-between times. I tell them that the very idea of Brexit was ridiculous and the way that it has been handled has been catastrophic and that everyone in Britain is despairing, whatever their view on whether or not Brexit was a good idea. They then tell me that people in America feel as desperate about Trump. How is it that we have such incompetent disastrous leadership? How is it that right wing extremism is on the rise? It feels like the end of the world. Did it feel like this at the beginning of the Second World War?

Added to this, I am feeling lost. It feels as if my writing career is coming to an end and I don’t know what I am going to do instead. I need a long-term project which is intellectually stimulating and feels worthwhile. Does anyone have any suggestions? The only thing I have thought of is to go back to volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau. I shall have to retrain, and I don’t know if my memory is up to the job. 

Hurrah! Footsteps! Here come the girls!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Letter from Boulder

I'm not sure whether I like or hate the internet this week. Would it be easier if I couldn't follow every tortuous twist and turn of the crumbling UK Parliament? Would I be feeling more at ease? Happier? More hopeful for the future? I despair.

But in London as I write, young people are off school, striking for climate change:

I went to the Boulder Museum yesterday with Isaac. It's small and spanking new. The temporary exhibition is about wolves and the campaign to re-introduce them to Colorado for the sake of the environment. Isaac supports it. I am not sure I welcome the possibility of more wild animals visiting the family garden (sorry - backyard) when the girls could be out there, playing. It's bad enough they've had bears, raccoons, a bobcat and a mountain lion. And Lux wants to camp out this summer.

The permanent exhibition at the museum is on the history of Boulder. I learned a lot....

Boulder was the first US city to introduce sales taxes to support the preservation of open space purchases, the management and conservation of native habitats, and the support of recreational opportunities.

Boulder was a dry city (except for 3.2% beer) until 1967.

Boulder was the first place in the USA to issue same-sex marriage licenses (1975).

The median age of Boulderites is 28.7 

The first schoolhouse was opened in 1860 and Colorado University opened in the 1870s. Pretty fast going! 

There are a lot of people who oppose mandatory vaccination. Boulder Valley School District Kindergartens have the lowest percentage of vaccinated children in the whole of the USA. Most of the parents who oppose it are highly educated.

Here are some slides from the exhibition (captured on my phone so forgive the wonkiness).

One day every year, Boulderites leave their bikes at home and travel to work by tube on Boulder Creek:

Yes, folks, this is the city where you can go into a restaurant and be offered massaged kale.


Isaac has lived in the States for 16 years and now has a slight American accent but this sometimes slips into English when I'm visiting, and the girls always laugh. We often discuss the language differences.

There is one American pronunciation he doesn't use and when Wendy says it, it always that makes me flinch - "herb." Americans don't pronounce the "h" and I always think "Why do they pronounce this the French way when usually their French pronunciations are way off beam?" Traditionally Brits have learned French as a second language which is why we pronounce "croissant" the French way, and Americans learn Spanish as a second language so they probably excel at stuff I know nothing about.

In conversation over breakfast we were talking about recycling and Wendy and I suggested to the girls they could write to the State governor and ask him to introduce bottle deposits.  I used the word "scheme" and Wendy laughed. She would have used the word "programme." She says that when she hears me use the word "scheme" she interprets it as an evil plan.

Well, this is sufficient rambling for today. It's bright sunshne outside and freezing cold and the cycle paths are calling.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

All I can do today

I'm holding onto the 8th line....

Saturday, March 09, 2019

What is a poem worth?

I may be over here in the States, playing Bad Piggies, watching Paw Patrol and reading The Worst Witch but my work-in-progress is still on my mind. A kind person is currently proofreading it for me, while I am trying to decide how much I want to spend on including poems that are quoted in the book.

I've mentioned to you that I've been seeking permissions from publishers and agents to include several poems in the text, because even though most of them can be found on the internet, it's important (as well as being the law) that artists are paid for their work. 

It's a complicated process. For one of the poems one publisher holds the electronic rights, another publisher holds the hard copy rights for the UK and Commonwealth and yet another for the US and other countries. If I have the book on sale via the internet as a print-on-demand title, that means I'll need world rights. 

But it's more complicated than that. The publisher who holds the electronic rights has asked me what my print run is. How can you say what your print run is when it's an ebook? How can you say how many you're going to sell? The price of the permission will increase with the number sold. The estimate is 100 GBP (there is no pound sign on this keyboard) for 500 copies, and it will go up from there.

But for another poem there was a flat fee of 50 Euros (no euro key), and another more famous poem was free.

I've been puzzling over this. Is one poem worth more than another? They are all terrific poems. I couldn't say that one is 'better' than another, so what's going on? Is it that one publisher is better represented by his agent? Is it that one publisher is more powerful than another? Is one more generous? Is the smaller publisher more aware that I am unlikely to have a bestseller on my hands and there is no way I am going to make a killing? 

Of course writers should be paid for their work. When several years ago I found someone offering free downloads of Plotting for Beginners I was furious. Every spring I receive a small sum from the Authors Licensing and Copying Service in payment for copies academics have made of my past research publications. Now I have to decide what I am willing to pay to use someone else's poems. I am not rich, nor can I judge how much money I will make from sales of the book. 

A friend asked me how crucial the poem was to the text.  The book is a mixture  of thoughts, feelings, plot, characters, settings and themes. How do I judge whether pulling one thread from the tapestry will make it weaker? How much is a poem worth?

I've been checking out the paving stones on 13th Street but have so far not found an answer.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The journey

It was a good trip from London Heathrow to Colorado:

The guy who checked me in at the bag drop asked if I was happy with my seat, offering to move me to one with three vacant seats beside it - naturally I said 'Yes, please.'

I came through security faster than ever before. This means a lot to me as I have an artificial knee so have to be patted down on every single trip.

I had a pleasant chat in the bookshop with an American woman travelling to Atlanta in which we swapped book recommendations, and then later she offered me the hardback she'd just finished reading that looked really good (but I thought she should give it to a friend back home and not to me. Now I regret that I said this.)

The plane left on time.

I stretched out on the empty seats and had a two hour nap.

I read a gripping memoir called Someone I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell, which I also recommend. (And I am someone who usually steers clear of memoirs.) Wendy was diagnosed with early onset dementia when she was 58 and she describes what it's like to live with dementia, her ingenious coping mechanisms, and her exploits as an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society, the talks she gives and the research she's involved with. The book is sobering rather than depressing, but it's also inspiring. I learned for the first time what it's like - from the inside - to live with dementia. She describes her foggy episodes, and how she emerges from them, and all the special tactics she uses to travel around and lead as normal a life as possible. Here is a link to her blog.

I watched two good films - Can You Ever Forgive Me? about a literary forger; and Sometimes Always Never which now ranks amongst my favourite films of the past twelve months. I really recommend it.

The air hostess on my flight was so warm, friendly and genuine that I went on the BA site later and filled in a compliments form about her. 

And lastly, my darling granddaughters met me at the airport carrying beautiful home-made WELCOME signs: 

Sue Robot

Aren't I lucky?