Thursday, July 30, 2009


socks with sandals

Someone in the audience at the Buxton Festival asked me how I chose the titles of my books, and it got me thinking about some of the titles from my past.

One of my early books – half finished – was called The man who wore socks with his sandals. Plotting for Beginners was originally called Red clover, rural chic and fairy lights, which anyone who has read Plotting will understand.

I couldn’t think of a title for Zuzu’s Petals until late in the day. I was wandering around Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco (she said nonchalantly) and I saw a flower shop called Zuzu’s Petals, and ZAP! I knew that’s what my book was called.

The book I am polishing now is called But I told you last year that I loved you. I’ve known that was the title from a quarter of the way in. And I think it’s probably the best one so far, because when people ask me the my new book’s title and I tell them, they always laugh.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pet hates

I hate

1/ novels that don’t use quotation marks around direct speech

2/ first person journalistic pieces that are written in the historic present – e.g. I am attending my son’s school concert, and in the entrance hall I bump into my ex-wife.

3/ novels written in the present tense

4/ folding up king size sheets in the kitchen with a person who thinks it is funny to keep on twisting the sheet.

p.s. I have realised that number 3 is not true, as my current favourite novel is When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson. Perhaps I should therefore say “I wish people wouldn’t write novels in the present tense.” (But that sounds rather mealy-mouthed, so maybe I should just delete this postscript.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The little red hen

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Making jam with someone else turns the process into fun. If Dave didn’t make jam with me, I daresay I wouldn’t bother…those arid times standing stirring when the jam refuses to get to setting point, those dratted paper labels that won’t come off the secondhand jam jars. How would I get through them if Dave wasn’t there entertaining me with his delightfully weird and funny conversations? (that so often end up in my books.)

Yesterday I even had someone to pick the fruit with me, to wash it and sort it, to weigh the sugar and measure the water and then to make me a Bloody Mary. Yeah! Everyone should get a daughter-in-law, though they’d be lucky to find one who’s as much fun as mine.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Still missing my mother

I missed my mother badly yesterday. I wanted to tell her about my talk at the Buxton Festival; that I'd spent some of the money she left me on buying my sister's old car; that my son has broken his wrist, falling off a Ripstick, and she'd say "Is he taking arnica?" and then "What's a Ripstick?"

I wanted to tell her that I haven't cut the grass for two weeks, because every time I go outside to do it, it starts to rain. I'd like to tell her that her house still hasn't sold, but that my lovely brother is keeping the garden looking beautiful. (See the pictures.) I'd like to tell her that we are all ringing each other up far more often than we ever did before, but even so, she had no right to go and die and leave us all behind.

But I'd settle for not telling her any of these things if I could just come home and hear her voice on the answerphone "Ma here."


The family were coming, and it was time to get out the recipe box. But even though I emptied it out and sorted through the contents twice, the recipe for leek and mascarpone spaghetti was missing. My daughter - to whom I passed on the knowledge - is camping in Germany, so I looked on the internet and bingo - there was the very same Good Housekeeping recipe I'd lost. Good Housekeeping is like John Lewis - tops.

I know my recipe box is way past its cook by date, but printed inside the lid there is a charming recipe -

Recipe for preserving children


1 grass-grown field

1 half dozen children (or more.)

Several dogs (and puppies if available.)

1 brook



Into field pour children and dogs, allowing to mix well. Pour brook over pebbles till slightly frothy. When children are nicely brown, cool in warm bath.When dry, serve with milk and freshly baked gingerbread.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A treat

Sometimes when you go to places to speak, the venue is unsuitable and the audience meagre, with the people looking as if they have only come into the place to get out of the rain. Sometimes the venue is a marquee and there is so much noise coming in from outside that speaking feels like a fight with the ringside loudspeakers and the sound of the rain on the canvas. Sometimes, the organiser says hello and then abandons you.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to speak at the Buxton Festival, where they know how to look after their authors. It began with a lovely lunch. Unfortunately, I was speaking after lunch so I was a little bit too twitchy to make the most of the food. I even had to leave half my chocolate dessert. I was tempted to ask the waitress to put it on one side in the kitchen so I could go back later and have it for afternoon tea when I was more relaxed.

The room was pleasant and quiet, and the audience was responsive and friendly and asked some good questions, and laughed at my jokes. They laughed at my jokes! Thank you, dear audience.

And then at the end, Rosie the organiser gave me a bottle of champagne to bring home. And home was only twenty minutes away through Derbyshire countryside - what more could anyone ask of a gig?

Monday, July 20, 2009

I wish you could smell my sweet peas. If only I could post the fragrance on my blog.

Do you remember that advert for Rolos? "Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?"

For me, it would be "Do you love anyone enough to give them your last bunch of sweet peas?"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Refreshing our memories

I got out the book with the recipe for blackcurrant jam, and in it I found a note in my handwriting - "Our pan holds no more than 6lbs of fruit." I told him, I did. "Never mind that," said the stirrer - "bung it all in."

And guess what? Our pan did hold no more than 6lbs of fruit. So we had to get the old one with the bumpy base down from the top of the dresser, for the overspill. Never mind that - we made 22lbs of jam, and it tastes delicious. Tomorrow we need to scavenge for more jars, as there is twice as much fruit still to pick and process. Anyone for jam?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ever present

This is me, knackered, in a corner of my sister's kitchen, after a great day out on the Isle of Wight, talking, walking, eating and talking. Oh, did I say talking?

Now I am sitting at my sister's desk, looking through her back window over a leafy garden and then to fields. The coaster under my mug of tea is a photo (stuck on cork) of my mother's pretty cottage garden. The wooden owl on the windowsill was my mother's, and there is a picture of her on the dresser at my side. She is in all of our hearts and in all of our houses. If she were still alive, Jen and I would be ringing her up and telling her what fun we're having, and she'd be so pleased.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I'm going to stay with my sister today - and I am so excited. It will be so lovely to spend some time with her. Since our mother died, my sisters and brothers have become even more precious than they were before.

I've got past the awful unhinged grief I was feeling in the spring, and now the sadness pays just an occasional visit. Sometimes it comes for several days, sometimes it swoops in for the morning and then swoops out again. Yesterday I was baking a coffee cake for the village fete, and listening to some music and a song came on with the lines "You're a long way from somewhere you call home...." and I started to cry. I cried for the whole track, then I rang my friend for a chat and then I felt better. Good. On with the cake.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Buxton gig

Yesterday I went to hear Rosie Alison speak at the Buxton festival. She was talking about her debut novel The Very Thought of You. I enjoyed her talk. She is fascinated (is that the right word?) by love, but particularly, it seems, by romantic love. One of the audience asked if she found it difficult writing an old fashioned love story in such cynical times, and Rosie said she rejected cynicism about love. "Good for you!" I thought, and bought her book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Next week, I shall be standing on the same platform in the same room, talking about my books. I've just been preparing my talk. As a warm up I thought I'd read one of my funny domestic pieces from The Times. I narrowed it down to two, and then asked friends which one seemed the most appropriate. The one below is the unchosen one. If you want to hear the one they picked, come along to the Leewood Hotel in Buxton on Monday 20th July, at 3 p.m.

Every couple should have one

Just as every newly married couple should have a shed on their wedding list if they want their marriage to survive, so there is something every older couple needs, and I know what it is.

It’s not just retired people who need it, such as those poor wives whose husbands – bereft of work - follow them around all day asking “What are you doing? What are you doing now? Where are you going? What time will you be back?”

It can also be couples who work from home, like my husband and I, who have a room and a computer each and who have, you would think, no need to argue.

Our problem is our different styles of working. He works in short bursts, sharp and efficient, sure footed and sound. He cuts through work like a man with a machete hacking through brambles.

I am slow and woolly headed. I need to go to my room and shut the door and be left alone for hours at a time. I am like the author who, when she was asked if there were words she tended to overuse, said “Yes - two words: go away.”

But machete man does half an hour here, and gets up for a drink; half an hour there, and gets up to stroke the cat. Then as he’s on his feet he will come and ask if I remembered to ring the plumber. He’ll do ten minute’s writing, then look outside the door to see if there’s enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, so he can go out cycling later. But then as there’s only enough blue sky for one leg, he will come and ask if I think it’s going to rain. Then it’s fifteen minutes on the phone, and a shout to ask where his stapler is. He does half an hour of planning, then feels peckish and slopes into the kitchen for a bowl of yoghurt, and while he’s there he may as well listen to the headlines. Then he comes up to rage about what he’s just heard. Aarghh !

This was all true until a month ago. That’s when he bought the router, which (for the uninitiated) is a power tool used for precise cutting and shaping of timber.

Routers are wonderful. Every couple should have one. The router has revolutionised our lives, which I now divide up into BR and AR ( Before Router and After Router ). Now, in the AR epoch, I have no excuse not to get on with my work, because he sits in his room as if nailed to his chair until all of his work is done: the sooner it’s done, the sooner he can play with his router.

He started with picture frames. Everything in the house that’s vaguely rectangular has now been framed. Luckily, a router isn’t just useful for framing. It can do decorative edging for shelves, cupboard doors, engraved wooden signs, etched patterns and pictures, dovetails – anything in wood that needs shaping or grooving, cutting or profiling.

And in the evening when his back aches from bending over the workbench, and his fingers are numb with vibration, he sits and flicks through his catalogues of router attachments and cutters. All is quiet except for occasional exclamations, such as “I’m going to get some pronged teenuts. They’re a joy.” Or he may read one of his routing magazines - the sort of publication that features in the missing words round on Have I got news for you - with headlines like “Power up!” or “Beautiful Beast! The new big Bosch router is here.”

It’s not just my husband who is besotted with his router. Believe me, there is a routing fraternity, with ramifications way beyond woodwork. Last week my brother ( who has a “tasty” Elu router ) asked my husband’s view on some abstruse etymological question and on hearing the reply said “Yes, of course. Anyone with a router talks sense.”

As well as improving domestic harmony, the router has solved the Christmas present problem: from now on I’ll buy presents for his router. There is an infinite variety of cutters: no man could live long enough to try them all. I’ve just been down to get his catalogue to count them, but my husband had gone, and on his study door was a new wooden sign “Gone routing.”

Published here with kind permission of The Times

© Sue Hepworth/The Times 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009


I don't see any point in a blog, if the blogger isn't honest. If I don't want to tell you what I've been doing, or what's been happening, it's hard to think up an honest blog post.

At this moment I am sitting in bed, fixing the problem in my book that needs fixing. But obviously I can't tell you what it is - otherwise, when you read the book, you might be looking for the problem. If, for example - and this is not the case - my friend told me that the main male character is two dimensional, you'd be paying really close attention to him to see if I'd made him into a fully formed character.

I recently met a farmer's wife at a party, and she was asking about my writing schedule, and I was telling her that I sometimes sit in bed all morning, writing on my laptop, and that if someone calls at noon, say, and I answer the door in my pyjamas, I feel as if I ought to tell them - "I've been up since half past six - working, and I am still working."

She looked shocked at this and said "You don't look like someone who spends all day in bed."

And I felt that she really hadn't got the idea that writing is work - and that where you do it doesn't matter. Yesterday at tea time my head ached with the concentration of the afternoon's work on my book (not in bed.) I'm not complaining - I love writing - I'm just saying that sitting in bed writing on a laptop is WORK.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hanging in the balance

I recently gave copies of my finished first draft of But I told you last year that I loved you - to three of my friends, whose opinions I trust, and I've been waiting impatiently ever since for their feedback.

I was out on Saturday night and when I got back there was a message from one of them saying "I've finished your book - ring me back!" I rang her back. No response.

I woke up on Sunday monring at half past five - desperate to know what she thought of the book, but made myself wait until half past nine to ring her again. I rang her for the next half hour, but then I had to go out to Quaker meeting.

I rang her as soon as I got home again, but it wasn't until 3.20 that afternoon that I got her on the phone. Ah......

It was OK! She enjoyed the book and she gave it a big thumbs up, but something about it needs fixing. That's OK. I can fix it.

If you are ever asked to read someone's manuscript - don't ever leave them a message like Ruth left me. It may only have been twenty and a half hours between the message and the resolution, but it felt like aeons.

Monday, July 06, 2009

What was God thinking?

I've just picked these delicious strawberries from my back garden, between heavy showers of rain. It's a race to beat the slugs, the frogs and the birds. You would think that the frogs and the birds could concentrate on the slugs, (wouldn't you?), instead of munching on my strawberries.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Values I cherish

Honesty and supportiveness are two things I value in my friends. Yesterday, a dear friend offered to drive with me to Buxton, when I go there go to speak at the Buxton Festival.

"If you think it will make you feel less nervous, I'm happy to come along," she said. "But if you don't need me - or if you think you'll feel better going alone, that's fine. I'm happy not to come."

"You're not interested in hearing me speak?" I said.

"No, I'd just be coming as moral support. After all, you've told me all about why you turned your pesonal bereavement journal into fiction, and I'm not interested in the other strand of your talk - how two people can write a novel together."

If anyone reading this is interested in hearing me speak, I shall be at the Leewood Hotel at 3 p.m. on Monday July 20th - click here for details. Except that it is at the LEEWOOD HOTEL, not the Palace.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Israelis continue to punish civilians in Gaza

The International Committee of the Red Cross has reported on the despair of the people of Gaza.

Did you know that six months after Israel's destructive bombardment of Gaza, the Israelis are still not letting building materials such as cement and steel into the Gaza Strip? Thousands of families who lost everything in the air strikes are still homeless and living in tents.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Sometimes, it’s a comfort having my mother’s things around me, to see her mahogany chest of drawers in the bedroom, her Austrian jug on the windowsill, her Piers Browne painting on the wall. Sometimes I hate to look at them.

Sometimes I like to see her photograph – her smiling, strong, straightforward face. Sometimes I can’t abide it on my desk. I never had her photo on display before she died, so if I have it here now, she must be dead. And I don’t want her dead. I don’t like the new dispensation.

I have to get used to losing her, having her missing from my life, gone, out of reach, unavailable for hugs or chats or encouragement, to live without that unfailing love that made the world feel safe.