Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I am so chuffed with the top of the arch in my back garden - the New Dawn rose and the honeysuckle I grew from a cutting. Doesn't it look gorgeous?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oh dear

Someone in the village called me "dear" yesterday. It was a nice man, a man I like, but I loathe it when people call me "dear." I don't at all mind people - busdrivers, shopkeepers, the man on the market - calling me love, pet, darling, sweetheart and my duck, but when someone calls me dear, it feels as if they think I'm 93.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Criticising is easier than writing

So here I am, unable to look at my own first draft any more because I am sick of the sight of it, and a writer friend has asked me to look at something of hers. What joy! How easy it is to see when some little thing isn't working in someone else's text. How easy it is to write something like... I like this idea but I think you could phrase it more elegantly. Vividness is an ugly word.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Excuses, excuses

Yesterday I was asked - again - by someone I met at a party, "Do you have to be terribly self-disciplined to write?" and I said - "If the book is going well, writing is the only thing I want to do. I don't need self discipline."

The book has been going well for the last three weeks, and that is all I have been doing. And if you say to someone - a partner maybe - "I don't have time to do

a/ the household accounts

b/ the cleaning

c/the gardening

d/ my tax return

because the writing is going really well and I don't want to stop and anyway I have very nearly finished the first draft" - they would have to be churlish to say "Tough - do the jobs!" wouldn't they?

Now I have finished the first draft, and I need self-discipline to do all the household jobs. Aaarghhh!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The end of the road

That's a celebratory bloody Mary, there. I don't usually drink in the morning. I've typed the last line of my book! I've done it! I got from A to B! (It's a good job Sally Howe isn't reading this, or she'd be telling me off for using all these exclamation marks.) Now all I have to do is go through the whole thing line by line and make sure it's perfect. That's all.

And talking of Sally Howe, a regular reader of this blog - all right, my brother, Peter - emailed to say that he couldn't see the pictures for Sally Howe's world in the Gallery at the side of this page. So, apologies to anyone else who tried to see them and couldn't. Now they are fixed. Happy viewing, and as always, click on them to enlarge them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

In the thick of it

I haven't posted here for several days, because I have been so engrossed in the last few chapters of my novel - the one I'm writing. I haven't been able to think about much else. Last night I was so involved in the story, that I got upset with Dave over something he didn't do and then I realised that I was acting as if he had done what the guy in the novel had done.

When I explained, he said - "Ah, just like the spaghetti hoops incident," which was when I bought spaghetti hoops for him, even though he doesn't like them, because I was confusing him with Gus in Plotting for Beginners. It's tough being married to a loopy writer.

Today I have to start to write the final chapter. I know where it starts and where it ends, but I am not sure exactly how I am going to get from A to B.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pandemic flu scene - ripe for cutting

I wrote a piece a couple of years before swine flu appeared on the scene, and once I started writing the current book - But I told you last year that I loved you - I decided to include it, but now that swine flu has taken off, it would probably not be a good idea....although, I would be interested to know what you lot think...

Later that evening, all thoughts of Northumberland slipped from Sol’s mind. We were watching a Channel 4 documentary on bird flu, and Sol was riveted. Although the disease had slipped from the headlines, said the voice-over, medical experts the world over were convinced there would a pandemic. It was just a matter of time. When the programme finished, Sol switched off the telly and said, in the voice that I always thought would make him an excellent hell-fire preacher, “I don't intend to be a victim of the avian apocalypse. We need to be prepared, and we can’t trust the bloody government. They’ll have a stash of vaccine and a bunker with supplies, and they’ll leave the unsuspecting public to fend for themselves.”

All through the night he was switching on the light to make notes on a pad he had on his bedside table. He viewed bird flu with as much horror as he viewed social interaction, and by the next morning he’d hatched a plan so in one fell swoop we could avoid them both. He regaled me with it over my porridge, while I was still waking up. Why couldn’t he be like other men at breakfast time, and read the paper?

His bird flu plans centred on total isolation. He got the idea from Eyam - five miles away from Rowberry as the infected crow flies. When the plague arrived there from the great Wen in 1665, the local rector persuaded the villagers to isolate the village to prevent the plague from spreading to the rest of Derbyshire. 260 of the villagers died, but the plague was contained.

“As soon as they announce on the news that there’s a case in Britain, we’ll have to stay at home for either three months or six, I’m not sure which yet,” said Sol, “but at least until the pandemic has been and gone and someone else has buried the corpses.”

“But that kind of activity is just up your street,” I said. Sol delighted in helping people with practical problems – heaving away a cherry tree that a gale blew down on Mrs Bailey’s front path, putting a slate back on Chrissie’s roof, replacing broken windows in the village hall, unblocking Fiona and George’s loo.

“I could have used my new round-mouthed shovel for the grave digging, but-” “

Why not? It’s not as if it’s a sociable activity, unless the village hall committee set up a rota for refreshments. I can just see Mrs Bailey in her wellies, squelching through the mud, Would you like another egg and cress, Mr Suskind, when you’ve disposed of Mrs Woodbury?”

“The point is, Fran, that neither of us could be in contact with any corpses or we’d risk becoming infected,” he said.

When Jem got up and Sol told her the survival plans, Jem said “Oh my God! As if my life wasn’t bad enough already. If you two are having a lock down, I’m going to stay with Cass.”

After breakfast, Sol started scribbling shopping lists, and I didn’t get much work done because of his constant shouts from downstairs. “How many bars of soap do we use in a week? Do you think I should order body bags?”

The next morning when I left for the advice centre, he gave me his lists, and I was charged with going to the Co-op at the end of my session. I filled two trolleys as high as I could pile them, with - probably not enough - loo rolls teetering on the top. As I was nearing the check out I bumped into Mrs Bailey.

“Oh my word!” she said, pushing her spectacles up to the top of her nose, and peering closely at the contents of my trolley. “Party time? I hope I shall be invited.”

I tried to force a smile.

When I got home, I helped Sol stack the booty in the shed, next to the tins of baked beans left over from his beat-the-millennium-bug escapade.

“You mustn't tell anyone about this cache, or its location,” he said sternly, “or we could be prone to break-ins.”

His other plans included opening the post wearing rubber gloves, or doing it bare-handed after waiting for the virus to die (12 hours for porous surfaces, 48 hours for non-porous surfaces); and secondly, preparing Gwen at the village shop to leave emergency items of shopping at the gate.

He gave me his safety goggles from the shed to protect my eyes from bird flu virus droplets, and he ordered a pair from George’s catalogue for himself. He also planned to wear his chainsaw safety helmet with a visor so he didn’t inadvertently touch his face, apparently a fatal error for people with potentially infected hands. He allocated an old pair of swimming goggles to the cat.

“So far so good,” he said, after organising the eyewear, “but I fear the chimney may be our Achilles heel.”


“We need to buy a sonic bird-scarer. If queasy birds decide to perch on the chimney, they could topple in and bring infection into the house.”

He went to the doctor’s to be vaccinated, but there wasn’t a phial of Tamiflu in sight. The best thing on offer was an ordinary flu jab, so he had to settle for that. He came home with a sore arm, a leaflet listing possible side effects, and a bad temper.

“Why the hell isn’t the NHS better prepared?” he said. “Bloody politicians! I don’t think God does enough smiting these days. It should be the case that if a politician steps out of line, then SMITE!” He smashed his hand on the kitchen table, and the shock made me spill my tea down my front.


“A bit of light smiting would be a jolly good idea. It would save people like me from writing endless letters of complaint, and save a hell of a lot in postage.”

He opened up the leaflet about the flu jab and started reading. “It says here there’s a slight possibility of coma or death. You’ll need to watch me closely for 24 hours.”

The next day, he was still alive.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Filling in the third dimension

A writer friend and I were talking about - well - what do you expect? - writing - yesterday, and I was telling her what a great writing day I'd had - seven hours at one go, just breaking off to hang out the washing and have a bowl of muesli for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, and all finished by 2 o clock.

"I've done the fun part," I said. "I've written all the dialogue that sprung into my head without any bidding. Now I have to do the boring bit - go through the text and add bits like she scratched her head and she sat back and folded her arms and she took another sip of her tea."

"Ah yes," said my friend, scratching her head, "making your scene three dimensional. That bit's a real drag, isn't it?"

"If we were rich," I said, sipping my tea, "we could employ assistants, like Bridget Riley does. She thinks up the painting and then gets minions to help her with the actual execution. There's a job there, for impecunious writers: helping other writers change their strips of dialogue into three dimensional scenes. Or maybe we could persuade someone to do it for free as work experience..."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Expenses scandal

Looking south towards Craster from Dunstanburgh Castle - I've just turned from sorting out some card receipts from our holiday, to writing a scene that takes place in Northumberland, and it occurred to me that if I were an MP, I could call my holiday a fact-finding mission, and set my holiday expenses against my tax bill.

After all, didn't I find out something important that I didn't already know?

In the book, Sol (one of the main characters) has to use the phone box in Craster, and he says to Frances - his wife - "and then I ran back to the phone box above the harbour, you know - that one on the corner - but it only takes credit cards now - what bloody use is that?"

When Dave and I were in Craster, I checked the box, and it takes coins. And now I am thinking - does it actually matter if such a trivial fact is correct or not? I'd rather have Sol complain about the need for a credit card...

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Holiday pics

A regular reader of my blog has said I should put up some holiday pics, so here is a small selection (click to enlarge) :

Holy Island harbour on a still, hot day: Dunstanburgh Castle:

View of Embleton Bay from Dunstanburgh Castle:

View of the castle from Embleton Bay:

Hers and his treat:

Saturday, June 06, 2009

VW rules

If you need cheering up, watch this.

I could see Victoria Wood playing the part of Sally Howe in a televised version of Plotting for Beginners. What do you think?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Buxton Festival

I am appearing at the Buxton Festival on the afternoon of Monday 20th July. Why not come along? Click here for details. But I am at the Leewood Hotel, no matter what the website says.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Location, location, location

Sorry not to have posted for a while - we have been in heaven - i.e. the coastal plain of north Northumberland.