Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thoughts on readers, and on writing


I’ve just had feedback from three friends on the latest incarnation of But I told you last year that I loved you. And what’s interesting to me is that apart from one particular plot point, they all pick out different things to comment on.

And this led me on to thinking about the variety of responses to books in general. It may be obvious to you, dear reader, but I’m always surprised at how differently different people respond to the same book. I don’t mean the fact that one person enjoys a book, while another tries to read it and gives up, casting it aside in disgust or frustration or boredom. What I mean is that one reader will say a book is light and comic, while another considers it serious.

And then there are the readers who think that if a book makes them laugh it cannot also be deeply serious. Also, that somehow a funny book is easier to write than a book where the author does not use humour. And another thing – some readers think that if a book is easy to read, it must be easier to write (writers know that the opposite of this is true.)  And also – that a book that is difficult to read is somehow more worthy and serious than a book that is accessible. (This last opinion enrages me!)

Do you have anything to say about any of this, dear reader?

Here’s a starting point – one reader told me they thought Plotting for Beginners dealt with some serious stuff, and another told me they thought Zuzu’s Petals was “light – and much lighter than Plotting.”


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Better now

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No, no, I haven’t been in a swee for a week. We went to stay in Herefordshire with friends.

There was time to read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (gripping)

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and a couple of days when it was sunny enough to eat outside

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And there was a lot of rain.

There was good food, good company, good walking, but only one incident of note – Dave was almost trampled by a very distressed, injured heifer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unable (at the moment) to go with the flow

It’s the middle of my night and I am lying awake, worrying that the people who have just bought my mother’s house won’t realise that in order to get hot water, you have to turn on the immersion switch upstairs and the one downstairs.

I spent yesterday with an empty feeling that felt like hunger, but I knew that eating something wouldn’t make me feel any better.

I told my good friend about it, and she emailed about her own experience - “the sale of my mother's house was uniquely upsetting and I wonder if that was when I really understood that she wasn't coming back.”

That may be it.

When I was little and I got in a tantrum my parents said I was “having a swee.” When they laughed about it later, they never mentioned my brothers and sisters having a swee, it was just Sue who had swees.

There is a three-year-old here – right here - and she is stamping her foot, and shouting: 

I didn’t want to lose Pa in 2002!  

I didn’t want to lose Ma in 2008!  

And I don’t want to lose the house now! I don’t! I don’t!

Just like in olden times, my reasonable (and lovable) brothers and sisters are getting on with their lives, and being sensible, and I am having a swee.

And it’s hard to sleep when you’re having a swee.

sweet peas 07
I’m sad. It’s completion day on the sale of my parents’ house.

Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, - but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

     Edna St. Vincent Millay

(Apologies to E.S.V.M. for the odd formatting of this poem. Neither Blogger nor LiveWriter will allow me to get it right.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


me and dave autumn 2009 poss bk cover

Sue: When you sit at your computer, you lean forwards and peer at the screen like an old man.

Dave: We’re getting old.

Sue: At least you’re fit. It’s pretty good still being able to cycle 35 miles.

Dave: That’s true. (Pause.) Though I can’t always remember where I’ve been.

Photo by Isaac Hepworth

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pet Peeve

I posted an Ezra Pound poem on here the other day. I had to look it up on the net because someone had borrowed our Ezra Pound. The poem was easy to find, but it wasn’t easy to find a reliable version. I was appalled at the number of times it was misquoted – and one of them was by a poet, which was even more shocking.  Not only had she changed two words, she had added an extra one. I was upset, and Ezra Pound must have been turning in his grave. It is a gem of a poem. You would think people could get it right. Here it is again, just in case someone is looking for it on the net:

And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse

                      Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two barely connected ideas

I missed my mother today. I feel as though my life is moving on and away from her. And I don’t want to leave her behind.
I am engrossed in Helen Dunmore’s Talking to the Dead. I admire her writing tremendously. In this book, a woman talks about her sister thus…
Sometimes Isabel pours Jeyes Fluid down her drains, or boiling water on to an ants nest which is too near the kitchen, as our mother did. When I watch Isabel do these things I am at home, as if something is going on which is beyond liking, beyond even love.
Helen Dunmore speaks to me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One cool baby

lux yawns day 8

Not only does my new granddaughter, Lux, have a big yawn, but she also has her own Twitter account @thebeean, and now she has made CNN. I think that gives me an excuse to have her picture on here – and her father’s- the man who works for Twitter: one happy dude (and not because Lux made CNN.)

pappa with lux in office

Friday, August 13, 2010


You may be looking for a new post, but you need to be thankful I’m not peppering my blog with pictures of my new granddaughter and her parents. Don’t you think I am being restrained?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


aug 05 045

I was feeling sorry for myself yesterday, because I had to sign the contract for the sale of Ma’s house, delaying, pushing the papers around my desk, thinking - this is the last step, the last step and I don’t want to take it. It’s the final tangible goodbye.

One of the papers had to be signed with a witness, so I went to see a neighbour. I left the other two papers that did not need a witness, and went to mow the lawn. But the morning passed, and I had to get them in the lunchtime post, so in the end, I grabbed the papers and signed them in a rush like ripping off elastoplast.

Meanwhile, my 75 year old neighbour, who has been on 24 hour oxygen for over a year, is now too ill to be at home on his own, and yesterday was taken to hospital and thence to a care home. He has lived in that nice little house with the sunny, sheltered and pretty front garden since he was born. He will never see it again.

Meanwhile a family in  Gaza are living in their bombed out wreck of a house, on inadequate provisions, with water and fuel limited.

Meanwhile, a family in Pakistan has had their home washed away by the floods.

And here am I feeling sorry for myself?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


And the days are not full enough

And the nights are not full enough

And life slips by like a field mouse,

Not shaking the grass.

Ezra Pound

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Doing my head in

Trying to re-think a novel which I thought did exactly what I wanted it to do, in order to fit in with someone else’s view of the book, while maintaining the truth of it, is doing my head in…


…whereas walking back from the village shop with Dave on a sunny Saturday afternoon – that is heaven.

photo by Isaac Hepworth

Friday, August 06, 2010


Three weeks ago, I gave up watching Neighbours. There were two new hateful characters, a new actor had replaced one of my favourites, and the storylines were tawdry and tedious. Had it always been this way? Was the change in me? Had I finally grown up? 

This week a letter arrived, falling on me like a heavy weight. It was just another stage in a journey I never wanted to take, the journey that began with Ma’s dying. The solicitor dealing with the sale of Ma’s house wrote:

Please find enclosed a copy of our letter received from the purchasers solicitor this morning. I should be obliged if you could proceed to contact me at our office to confirm that completion the week commencing 23 August is agreeable.

This is what we have been working towards – of course -  but to see it in black and white makes it real. There is no alternative, there is no solution. We must bear the loss of the house.

It was lunchtime and I’d been working hard all morning. I took up the jacket I’m knitting for Lux, and sat down to watch Neighbours for comfort. It worked. The world of story is powerful. What would I do without fiction?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Tweets, texts and telegrams

june06 006

Grandmothers get anxious during childbirth. When Isaac first rang to tell me that Wendy was having contractions, I told myself I would not text for updates more than every two hours, and I would not phone. I didn’t want to be intrusive or annoying.

For the first evening and then one night of sleep, it wasn’t too hard to restrain myself, but the labour went on and on with no result, and by the second night, if Isaac didn’t respond to my text within half an hour, my mind was ablaze with awful possibilities.

They were so far away, and there was nothing I could do. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, they are still your children. You don’t want harm to come to them, you don’t want their hearts to break.

Isaac works for Twitter, so it isn’t surprising that as well as sending texts to the family, he was tweeting to the world about the arrival of “the bean” (who, by the way, has her very own Twitter account and some of the following tweets are hers, forwarded by Isaac.)

This is a record of Isaac’s tweets…

update: no update. 4:59 AM Jul 30th via Echofon

RT @thebeean: ok let's do this thing. bring it. #hippiehomebirth 8:29 AM Jul 30th via Echofon

    it's going to be a long night. 9:10 AM Jul 30th via Echofon

      there's a whole lot of breathing going on. 11:17 AM Jul 30th via Echofon

        twenty-four hours of labor and no sign of @thebeean 3:33 PM Jul 30th via web from Mission, San Francisco

        refueling (@ Philz Coffee) http://t.co/W1cMz9I 5:08 PM Jul 30th via foursquare from Philz Coffee, San Francisco 

        RT @thebeean: this #hippiehomebirth is taking forever. 7:20 PM Jul 30th via Echofon

        still no baby. the @wendyverse being super strong and brave. #hippiehomebirth 10:04 PM Jul 30th via Echofon

          35 hours of labor. come on @thebeean! 2:41 AM Jul 31st via Echofon

          headed to the hospital. this #hippiehomebirth is becoming a #hippiehybridbirth. w00t! 3:28 AM Jul 31st via Echofon

          #hippiehybridbirth formally known as #hippiehomebirth (@ St Luke's Hospital) http://t.co/EZDG91L 3:39 AM Jul 31st via foursquare from Mission, San Francisco 

          settled in to hospital room. @wendyverse doing well but still no sign of @thebeean. 5:11 AM Jul 31st via Echofon

              41 hours of labor and I now know what color hair @thebeean has. or at least what color it has on the tippy top of it's head. 7:58 AM Jul 31st via Echofon

                44 hours of labor and a Cesarian brought me and @wendyverse Lux Hepworth (aka @thebeean), 8lb 4oz & 20.5". http://t.co/ubuzyeZ 6:29 PM Jul 31st via Echofon

                  RT @thebeean: hello, world 10:56 AM Jul 31st via Echofon

                    thrilled at the arrival of @thebeean and so touched by all the tweets over the last 50 hours. wow. THANK YOU. 9:01 PM Jul 31st via Echofon

                    Back in the 1950s, telegrams were the way to go. Ma’s twin sister lived in Africa, and every time she had a child, my uncle would send a telegram to my Gran.


                    I bet 1950s communications were easier on grandmothers’ nerves, but texts and tweets and emails and Flickr and Skype combine to help close a 5,000-mile-wide chasm in a family. Last night on Skype I saw little Lux and heard her cry, I saw Wendy happy and well, I saw Isaac holding Lux. I am glad I live in 2010, even if it did take me three days to unwind from Wendy’s labour.

                    The photo above is of me holding my grandson Gil.

                    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

                    An ending and a beginning

                    July2010 052

                    While little Lux, latest addition to the family tree, was settling on her twig, and while the Little Red Hen was recovering from 44 hours of labour – actually, while we were ALL recovering from her 44 hours of labour – I was doing a final sweep of Ma’s house with my big sister, Kath.

                    We have a buyer, we think it will go through, and this was our final weekend. Jen was there the weekend before, taking down curtains and dispatching remnant furniture to a sale, and she’d left us three mugs (one each, and one for Jonty, when he called), two dishes, a kettle and a pan. We had garden chairs and a card table, and we slept on a mattress on the floor.

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                    It didn’t feel as awful, or as raw as it did last time. I don’t know why.

                    Jonty was there on Saturday afternoon helping us, when a cousin and his wife rolled up. They live 100 miles away, but happened to be driving through the dales, and thus Ma’s village, on their way to a holiday cottage, and Janey thought they should make a quick detour down the lane to say goodbye to Ma’s house.

                    “And there were three cousins standing in the road!” she said.

                    We sat on the lawn, with three of the party drinking tea (remember – only three mugs), and we remarked on how pleased Ma would be to see us there together in the sunshine on that last historic visit.

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                    On Sunday, Kath and I locked up for our last time. There was nothing left of Ma, except a vase on the windowsill (for Jonty)

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                    and a photograph of Ma, aged 90, sitting in the garden talking to some local children. Kath hid it in a quiet corner for the new owners to find.

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                    Helen Willis

                    Sunday, August 01, 2010

                    She’s here!

                    My darling new and first American grand-daughter arrived in the world on Saturday after a long long labour, and then a Caesarean. She’s called Lux.


                    I can’t wait to meet her in September.

                    And here is her lovely mother – my super daughter-in-law, aka The Little Red Hen…

                    Wendy after Lux

                    The family…

                    US Hepworth family

                    Here’s looking at you, kid…

                    lux with hair