Sunday, August 31, 2008


I was just about to click on the buy now button, to acquire a webcam (the sole purpose of which was PR for my books) when I thought I'd check out what other authors are doing on YouTube.

There are repeats of TV book programmes and interviews, but there aren't many authors doing interesting things on their own. I watched a couple of talking heads reading their books and found it very boring. The ratings reflected my view. It seems that readers aren't much interested in watching writers read their books - not even famous ones. Even my hero Garrison Keillor didn't have many people (in internet terms) watching his stuff. So I've delayed the webcam purchase.

But YouTube has something that blogs don't have - the star rating. As so may of you are silent lurkers, who don't like to comment, how about if I had a facility for you to give each blog post a star rating ? Then I could see what kinds of posts you like to read, and which you find dull?

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Inspired by my editor Anna's blog, I took a tasteful photo of my breakfast table yesterday. Actually, this isn't true. I was inspired by the flowers I'd picked from the garden, which sadly you can't smell - maybe one day scents will be possible on the internet.

I cleared the table in the dining room ( I usually eat in the kitchen) and had the flowers and my porridge on the table and nothing else. Doesn't it look like one of those tasteful photographs you get in Country Living? When I see those photographs I always think - why can't I live like that?

Yesterday afternoon we were given some secondhand books by a friend. This is what my breakfast table looked like this morning, complete with the Saturday papers. This is my life.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Lady Godiva approach

Did you know how hard authors have to work these days to publicise their books? I've done very well locally with Zuzu's Petals but Dave and I have been racking our brains for ways to reach a wider audience. Should I go on YouTube with it? And what about Plotting for Beginners?

"If I went on YouTube with Plotting for Beginners, would you read Gus's part?" I asked him.

"Anything," he said. "I'd parade through the streets of Bakewell wearing only a copy of Zuzu's Petals if it would help increase your sales."

I'll let you know if and when, you silent lurkers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Last night I dreamed I was in the kitchen with Dave, and he was prodding my stomach with a fork. I said "Don't! That's not nice!" and he stopped, and went out of the room. Then he came back and did it again. Then I woke up with a horrendous stomach ache.

I could hear from Dave's breathing that he wasn't asleep, so I said "I have this awful pain," and he was full of sympathy, as he always is, and we discussed what might be the cause of the pain, and then I told him my dream.

"Was it a big fork?" he said.

I pictured a devil's fork and couldn't speak for the giggles. Then, when I calmed down, I said "It was a kitchen fork, fool. But you had a look of malice on your face when you were poking me."

"It's so unfair to hold me responsible for my behaviour in your dreams. And you know I'm not a malicious person. Scientific exploration is different. I could hold up my hand to prodding you with a fork to find out your core temperature."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another thing about blogging... that I write things here for your interest/delectation, and hardly ever get a response. Sometimes, you silent lurkers, it would be nice to hear from you. For example, why did no-one respond to my post about Bob - What's in a name? - below?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The trouble with blogging

The trouble with writing a regular blog - when you're a writer - is that when something funny happens, or something happens that makes you think, you're in danger of writing about it on your blog. What you should be doing is saving it in your writer's notebook for later use in a book, not 'wasting' it on your blog. Here's an example...

Last night, as I was dropping off to sleep I was running through the events of the day in my head, and there was something I regretted doing, and I said to Dave - who was dropping off to sleep beside me - "I'm sorry, Dave."

And he said to me "It's all right."

And we went to sleep.

This morning, I remembered apologising to him but I couldn't remember what for. And I thought - Hang on, he didn't ask me why I was saying sorry, he just said "It's all right."

Why didn't he say "What for?" or even better "There's nothing to be sorry for."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's in a name?

I've been thinking a lot about names, lately, because I've been dreaming up new characters.

The guy came this morning to service the boiler. He's called Bob. I whispered to Dave: "Are you sure it's the same guy who came before? I don't remember him as tall and slender with glasses and grey hair." I was expecting him to look different.

"Of course he's the same guy."

And now I've remembered another Bob I know, who is tall and slender with grey hair and glasses. Maybe I need a new stereotype. I always think of Bobs as being short and squat, with dark hair, and possibly rather angry. But Bobs aren't at all the same as Roberts, or Robs. Why is that?

p.s. here are my two grandsons, who like a very different Bob (Bob the Builder.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Finally, I got the chance to look at my new Toast catalogue - in bed this morning. I did have to put the light on, though, as the colours of the clothes are so DARK this season. I adore Toast clothes, but I can't afford them. Or rather, I could afford one a year, but - as Richard in Plotting for Beginners would say - "they don't know what to charge."

Unfortunately there are several items in the new catalogue that I love. I much prefer to flick through and find nothing, then I don't have to yearn.

Plain vs fancy

"Hey," Dave shouted from his computer, in the room across the landing, "have you seen these sticky notes you can put on your Google homepage? It's like a post-it to write reminders to yourself."

I went in to see. His homepage looks a jumbled mess to me - he has weather, quotes for the day, time and date in a huge block, and now he was cluttering it up even further with a virtual tacky post-it. I like my homepage plain and restful.

"Hmm," I said, unconvinced. "What have you got on there, then?"

"Stack the firewood, mend the fence panel, measure up for the bathroom extension...that kind of thing. You could have... ring the boiler man about a service, check the oil price, do the accounts."

"I see - another chance to nag, is it?"

"What I need," he said, "is the facility to write sticky note reminders on your homepage."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Silent mission

Yesterday, it was my turn at Quaker Meeting to take the childrens' Meeting. On the third Sunday of the month we have a shared lunch, and after a story and discussion, the children always cook something for that. I stashed my ingredients in my basket and before setting off, popped in the garden to pick some pot marigolds for the central table in Meeting. I also cut some parsley for the dish we were going to cook.

I arrived at the Meeting House late and rushed to the kitchen to put the marigolds in a jug of water, carried them through to the Meeting room where some Friends were already sitting in silent worship, placed them on the table, and left the room.

It was fun cooking with the children. We chopped onions, grated cheese, crumbled breadcrumbs, and boiled lentils, but then we needed the parsley. Where was it? Sudden realisation! With the marigolds.

I asked the children which of them would like to be a secret agent. All their hands shot up. I dipped, and picked one, and then explained the mission: creep into the silent, solemn Meeting and retrieve the parsley.

I worry about taking the children when it's my turn, because I am not a teacher, but we usually manage to have some fun.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hard work

After spending two days agonising over the plotline of my new book, I showed my bare-bones plan to a writing friend. "Does it work?" I asked her. "Is this particular event near the beginning of the book sufficiently significant?"

"Yes," she said. "It is. However, you have two coincidences somewhere else that are unconvincing." Then she suggested a way to deal with the problem.

She was a huge help, and I agree with her misgivings about the plot, and I think her suggestions as to ways to get it right are good. The only problem now is that it's going to be sooooooh much harder to write, and I am a basically lazy person. Extra work is what you get when you ask a good writer for their opinion. Thanks, K.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Authors and narrators

I have a problem. I wrote Zuzu's Petals in the first person, which means that many people think the narrator of the story - Corinne - is really me. They think she speaks for me. They think that her opinions are mine. Yesterday a friend emailed and asked "WHAT is wrong with matching Marks and Spencer curtains and cushions? And magnolia walls?" and I emailed back - "It was Corinne describing Elspeth's decor and ending the paragraph "Very dull." It wasn't me!" (However, for the record, I have just checked the text, and Corinne is actually saying that it's dull to have a print of Monet's garden in Giverny on the wall.)

But I like to write in the first person. Jane and I decided to write Plotting for Beginners in the first person, too, and people assumed that everything that happened to Sally had happened to me.

Do I really have to write the next book in the third person to get away from this confusion? Oh Lord, I do hope not. I am still wrestling with how to tell the next story - point of view and voice - and it's giving me brain ache trying to decide how to do it. I don't want my options narrower than they are already.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's a wonderful life

James Stewart - at the time he made the film It's a Wonderful Life - which Corinne watches in Zuzu's Petals.

If you'd like to see the end of the film It's a Wonderful Life again, then click here and see it on YouTube. Get your tissues ready, and if you haven't seen the film yet -

(a) - shame on you! - and


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Man on Wire

I went to see the film about Philippe Petit last night - the man who tight-rope-walked between the tops of the Twin Towers in 1974. It was sooooh inspiring. To have a dream of doing something like that and follow it through the years to completion is amazing. But it would have been impossible without his friends. Quite apart from their emotional support, their practical help was essential. Talking of support, I wouldn't be writing if Dave hadn't supported me. Oh, and Dave, do you have time to fix me up a tight-rope in the back garden this morning? I really, really want to have a go at it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The order of work

Every author works in their own individual way. If you want to know how I first start to tackle a book, it's like this

1/ a theme

2/ the characters

3/ the plot and the structure

4/ the tone, the point of view and the voice

And at any time at all when I am considering and planning each of the above I will be trying to decide what the running motifs will be. What on earth am I on about? What I mean is an idea or subject that crops up throughout the book, so, for example, one of the running motifs in Zuzu's Petals is colour. Did you notice it?

I have outlined my main characters for the next book, though there is heaps of detail to add to them. This morning I am trying to nail the basic plot.

p.s. no, no, daisies have nothing to do with any of the running motifs in ZP, or anything else in this post, but this is my blog, and if I want to post my photographs here, I shall!

Monday, August 11, 2008


I lay awake for two hours last night - I know it was at least two hours, because I heard ten, eleven and twelve o'clock strike - trying to decide where my new book should be set. Eventually I decided, but this morning I feel too wrecked to write.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Runaway bride

I went to a wedding party last night. It was lovely to catch up with the 30 year old bride, whom I remember as a toddler ( oh, how ancient I am.) It was also very heartening to hear her say that she loved Zuzu's Petals, and that she could have run away with Rob - one of the male characters. It was sweet to think that someone else loved him as much as I do.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Character questions (but beware - ZP spoiler alert)

I did my blog post about Difficult Questions this morning (see below this one) and then I started work on my new novel - working title only - "But I told you last year that I loved you." This morning's task is to begin to build my main characters, so I delved into my files to find the questions that I use for this. I came across the the first notes I did on Rob Walker - one of the characters in Zuzu's Petals - and I thought you might be interested to see them.

Rob Walker

age 53

date of birth June 13th 1952

Sun in Gemini, Moon in Pisces, Merc in Gemini, Venus in Gemini, Mars in Scorpio,Ascendant Cancer

what is his job? illustrator, cartoonist

marital status divorced

children one daughter (27)

describe yourself – physically. "I am not as obese as I was, but could still do with losing a stone. Apart from my weight I don’t look bad for my age. I don’t mean I am good looking but that I don’t look too old."

what colour eyes and hair ? dark hair greying at the temples, brown eyes

what is your eyesight like? good

do you wear jewellery? “You must be joking. Who do you think I am? Michael Barrymore?"

what does he smell of? “Nothing I hope. But when I’ve been cycling I might smell a bit rank but then I have a shower and use Neutrogena shampoo and Johnsons baby powder.”

what is your most prized possession? my summer bike – the Condor

what style is your house done in? “That’s not how I think. I don’t think in terms of domestic style.” pared down – modern, spare

favourite food - “I try not to have favourite foods. I’m on a calorie restricted diet and I can’t afford to even think of food and favourite in the same sentence”

favourite plant/flower/tree - scented roses – they remind him of his (dead) mother

favourite book – Lance Armstrong’s biography, It’s not about the Bike; and Touching the Void

favourite film – Touching the Void – even though he thinks it didn’t do the book justice

telly programmes – satire, The thick of it, Bremner Bird and Fortune,…but only because there’s nothing better on; Ray Mears and any kind of survival programmes; Grand Designs – I like to see the couple working towards a plan

what magazines, if any, does he read? – Bicycling, back copies of Official Tour de France Guides

what type of music does he like? – Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan

what incident in his childhood – big or trivial – does he feel guilty about? teasing Roland Baker for being fat.

guilty secret – eating bacon sandwiches at a cyclists café when he is out

what is his recurrent/recent nightmare? he returns to his house to find it full of people holding a surprise party for him

does he think people are basically good or basically bad? bad

where does he buy his clothes? Hawkshead catalogue and the local Cycle Shop "Bella bought me a voucher from a posh website but they don’t know what to charge for their clothes. I can’t bring myself to spend it because the prices are so ridiculous."

what mannerism does he exhibit when he is nervous? "I clench my teeth so that the muscles in my cheeks twitch. The dentist says it’s bad for my teeth and I am trying to stop."

what are your commonest expressions?

to what does he habitually refer? – his bike, other peoples’ bikes, e.g. "look at those fluid seat stays!" "Did you see the way his chain rings shimmered in the sunshine?" Tour de France escapades/anecdotes/tales of heroism

what does he say when he bangs his toe? nothing. he grits his teeth

what does he say when he answers the phone? Yup?

when he says someone dies, how does he phrase it? "he kicked the bucket"

what does he think he wants? to live to be 130 – longer than the man who ran off with his wife

what does he really want? to be normal and have a normal social life and to feel able to start dating

Difficult Questions

A local newspaper contacted me this week and asked if I would like to answer 20 questions for one of their weekly columns. Most of the questions were easy to answer freely, such as -

"When you were a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up?"

But other questions were very personal, and I couldn't answer them honestly without feeling I was revealing things to the general public that I really didn't want to, such as -

"What has been the most rewarding personal experience of your life?"

"Are there any things you regret in your life?"

What do most people do, who appear in this kind of feature ? Do they tell the truth or make things up?

I declined the offer from the paper, but did another column they offered instead. When it appears I will post a link on my blog.

p.s. the honeysuckle above has nothing to do with questions, except that it could be my answer to "What is your favourite climbing plant flowering in your garden at the moment?"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Another quote from JKJ

Oh, to think I have got this far in my life without reading Three Men in a Boat. Here is another quote I like... "People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested meal - so noble-minded, so kindly hearted."

Saturday, August 02, 2008


I'm reading Three Men in a Boat for the first time - shock!

Here's a great quote where JKJ is talking about his inability to help his friend dress better - "The less taste a person has in dress, the more obstinate he always seems to be."