Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blast from the pest (sic)

A story from last summer for your entertainment…
The Bunny Club – a late night posting – Part 1.
Do you remember I said we had a mouse in the kitchen and the cat wasn’t interested because she just wants to catch rabbits these days? Well…
… there I was in the dining room at 7.45 pm, eating a late tea of fish and chips and drinking a glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, trying to recover from some bad news I’d just received via a phone call, when Dave came in from the kitchen and said, “It’s not a mouse in the kitchen, it’s a rat. And it’s hiding under the dresser. I’m getting my boiler suit on and my wellies, and I’m going to deal with it.” Then he retreated.
Five minutes later he came back and said, “It’s not a rat, it’s a rabbit. Can you come and help?”
I finished my tea and went into the kitchen, to find him climbing behind the washing machine.
“I thought it was under the dresser,” I said.
“It ran out when I poked it. It was too quick to catch.”
We don’t have a big kitchen. We don’t have a fancy kitchen. Half an hour later we still had not found the dratted rabbit. Had it escaped through the open window while his back was turned? Who bloody knows? We’ve left the cat in there, and I’m telling you now, Dave can go in there first in the morning.
The phone caller with the bad news had left a message with Dave for me to call her back when I got in at 7. “I hope that doesn’t spoil your dinner plans,” she said.
Dinner plans? Fish and chips for one, while the other dismantles the kitchen in search of a fugitive rabbit?
The Bunny Club – a late night posting – Part 2.
I wrote the last post late at night because I couldn’t sleep (on account of the bad news – of which more later). I sat here in my study writing. The house was silent, and I was just about to go and make some cocoa, when I heard a sudden skirmish behind the kitchen door. I froze. I didn’t want to stumble on a scene of carnage. So I went to bed, cocoa-less. When your kitchen -the ultimate altar to domesticity - becomes a place of creepiness and possible death, it’s deeply uncomfortable.
What was hiding in there behind the units? When four mousetraps had not caught it, but were contemptuously tossed across the kitchen by the quarry, you worry. When the demon is lurking out of sight, just sneaking out occasionally to snatch fragments of chocolate digestive lodged on said mousetraps (“Sorry, Ben,” (the painter), “the rabbit has finished the chocolate biscuits, you’ll have to have shortbread fingers”)  - somehow the intruder assumes the proportions of a monster. I mean – Dave said he saw a rabbit, but was it really a rabbit? It could have been a rat. He has been known to be wrong. He is a man. He just came in the bedroom saying he was freezing cold and had been waiting for me to wake up before coming in for clothes, and I pointed out that he has a heap of discarded jeans and jumpers in his study. If he can miss those, he could surely confuse a rabbit with a rat…
Thankfully, in the morning, the kitchen floor wasn’t strewn with bloody lapine entrails nor garnished with a headless corpse. We hadn’t really wanted the cat to kill the intruder, but we’d gone to bed fed up, and it seemed the natural thing to say to her - “You brought it home, you flush it out!”
When we opened the door, she bolted from the kitchen, as if desperate to get away from something. Was it a rat? Later she deposited a gutted bird on the doorstep, an apology for failing us.
“Right,” said Dave, after breakfast. “We can lure it out with lettuce, or consider force majeure.” He began to dismantle the kitchen again.
“I think it must be behind the fridge,” I said.
Dave pooh-poohed the idea: “There isn’t room.”
He pulled out the washer, the cooker and the dishwasher and cleaned their tops, their sides and the floor behind them. Then he took the kickboards off the units and swept out the droppings underneath. “Where the hell is it?” he said.
“I think it’s behind the fridge,” I said.
More pooh-poohing: “There isn’t room.”
He poked between the units and the wall with a long stick. Nothing.
“I think it’s behind the fridge,” I said.
Finally, he pulled out the fridge, and yes! It was a rabbit! Thank God! It wasn’t injured, and it didn’t have a stray mousetrap clipped to its ear. But then it rushed into the boxing around the pipes.
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So Dave unscrewed the boxing. July2010 016
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He put it on the back lawn and the harmless, cuddly bunny hopped jauntily away.
Our kitchen hasn’t been this clean for years.
Dave is a star.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Show and tell

These are the flowers on my kitchen work surface, in the jug my sister Jen gave me:

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This is the mouse that was hiding in the back porch:July 2011 059

And these are the dungarees which a friend from Canada gave me years ago.  They are torn and patched and do nothing for my figure (I am not really that baggy underneath) but they are my favourite disreputable garment and when I am past caring what I look like I shall wear all the time.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This is for whoever needs it

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Ellen Bass

(posted with permission of the poet.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Unmitigated misery

This is an extract from a review of a paperback book which appeared on Saturday in the Guardian Review.
…an ambitious young architect builds a dream house by a lake near Berlin. Almost immediately, catastrophe strikes as the landowner's daughter commits suicide and the Jewish neighbours refuse to move "despite being offered almost half the value of their property". A Red Army recruit rapes the architect's wife before the house becomes the property of a persecuted intellectual imprisoned for trying to swim away to the west…
The book is literary fiction. It is beautifully written, apparently.
Tell me, does the book appeal to you?
Why is it that the majority of the novels reviewed in the serious papers are miserable?
It was Carol Shields, winner of many literary prizes, including the Pulitzer and the Orange prize, that showed me that a book can be beautifully written and be about ordinary life, ordinary happiness and unhappiness, not unmitigated trauma and misery. Who is carrying the torch, now that she is no longer here?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In heaven there will be no convolvulus

I’m going to pull some up – and will have to blog later. The garden has become a battleground. Below is the small patch of garden from which I dug the perennials, because I was going to grass it over. You turn your back for six months to publish a book, and look what happens…

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Friday, July 22, 2011


I saw Tate yesterday and asked him if he’d broken into his precious ten pound note, and he said, “Yes! I’ve spent £3.50, and bought a bag of Fool’s Gold.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Training to walk on the Monsal Trail

Here she is - my lovely granddaughter. Yesterday, 5,000 miles away,  she took her first steps and a few minutes later I got to see them. Isn’t technology wonderful?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Would you like to help me?

If so, please will you order a copy of my new book – BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU – from your local library? They might just buy a copy. (Come on…a girl’s gotta hustle.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A day of errands

First to Hassop Station Bookshop to deliver more copies of But i told you last year that I loved you, which is selling well.

Then to Sheffield to call on the family member who declines to be named. He gave me a helpful lecture on

1/ macro economics and free trade

2/  the current phone hacking scandal

In order to understand more about the latter, and the dark side of power, he lent me John le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor to read, so my summer reading list is becoming ever longer and ever more varied.

Thence to John Lewis to buy some wool and a knitting pattern. It will be 2 months on Wednesday (not that I am counting the days or anything like that) that I fly off to see Lux, and I want to knit her something for the Californian winter, such as it is.

lux day 350 2

But when I look for a knitting pattern, I always feel desperate. I want a simple pattern that I can vary myself with pattern or colour or stitch. It is not easy to find one, unless I spend a fortune on a big glossy book of patterns. I could have a big rant here about the current state of knitting and the price of wool and the inaccuracies of fashionable designers’ patterns (no names no pack drill) but I won’t, as you can’t all be knitters, and I don’t want to bore you. I used to have a large collection of old knitting patterns that were just the ticket, but they got burned in the fire along with all our other treasures, and at times like these I feel fed up again about the fire.

Just as I was tossing the pattern books down in despair (along with an old lady who felt exactly the same as me)  Zoe rang and the very first thing she said (presciently) was, “Are you all right?”

So I called in at her house and she lent me some patterns.

Thence to a friend who is reading my book and finds Sol adorable (ah, a woman with excellent taste), and thence to Hobbs Craft Shop at Monsal Head to replenish their stock of my book.

So… a day bookended with sales of my book – cash on delivery – just what I like.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

The village fete

On Saturday it was the village fete. The vicar always comes to bless the well-dressing which is made by the children in the village school, and then the fete queen is crowned, and she opens the village fete.

So there we all were on Saturday, waiting for the ceremony to begin, with the fete queen and her two attendants waiting in state on a small dais, under a prettily decorated canopy, when the heavens opened, and everyone without an umbrella rushed under the canopy to join them…

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and mde it very crowded for the coronation.

But then the sun came out again and I got a photo of the well-dressing, the design of which I was thrilled with (you know how I love the Monsal Trail)…

for blog

I didn’t explain this before, but to make a well-dressing (in Derbyshire) you make a wooden frame and fill it with clay which has been mixed with water and salt. A design is sketched on paper - traditionally of a religious theme, though often not so nowadays - and this is traced onto the clay. The picture is then filled in with natural materials stuck into the clay, predominantly flower petals and mosses, but also beans, seeds and small cones. Anything that is natural is acceptable, and nothing that has been manufactured.

Friday, July 15, 2011

If it’s serious AND funny it could be Hepworth

I have always maintained that a novel can be funny AND serious (take a look at Zuzu’s Petals and But I told you last year that I loved you) and this year the judges of the Man Booker Prize agreed with me and gave it to Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question. I have been trying to read it. It is not hard going and it is funny. But it has not engaged me, and I have cut my losses and given up. I read for pleasure and not for improvement and any book that smacks of hard work or “application” gets slung in a pile in the corner to be given to more worthy friends with greater stamina and a more serious frame of mind. (So, shoot me.)

I have turned instead to The Mitfords, letters between six sisters, which is the collected letters of the Mitfords from 1925 to 2002.  A book that is 800 pages long would not normally get past our front door, but I’m glad this one sneaked in as I am still engrossed, 300 pages in. There is a lot to like, but I am particularly taken with their exuberant enthusiasm for such a huge variety of nicknames. I long to start a letter “Darling Honks” and to sign off “Love from Sooze,” so if you get one from me like that, you’ll understand why.

p.s. Jane Linfoot and I still address each other as Daisy and Giovanna in our emails (see Plotting for Beginners) so maybe we are Mitford manquées?

p.p.s. Yes, I know one of the sisters is missing from the picture above. It’s Debo (the last surviving one, the one who lives five miles from here, the one who used to be the mistress of Chatsworth House, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.)


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In praise of 7 year olds

It was Tate’s birthday yesterday and when I rang him in the morning and when I saw him in the afternoon, he told me joyfully that he’d been given some wine gums and a ten pound note. He loved his other presents – one of which was a pocket digital camera – but oh the joy he got from the wine gums and the ten pound note!
He is a beautiful sunny boy,  thoughtful and sensitive, enthusiastic and affectionate, and I told him there was no-one else like him in the world.
“But there might be,” he said.
“No, Tate. There’s no-one like you.”
There might be someone like me.” He paused for thought. “But they probably wouldn’t have a ten pound note.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catch up

Six months of working at getting the book out - from quotes from the printer to signing copies in Waterstone’s - then a domestic to-do list of tax return, etc, etc, then a week of lolling in the sunny garden.

Since then we have made yet more jam – the last batch of which had to be boiled a second time the following day because the jam-tester of the family is impatience personified and the jam was NOT actually at setting point the first time.

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Yes, yes. I am the jam-tester. Dave, bless him, did all the emptying out and washing of jars for the second attempt. We have now made sixty-something jars of jam and the five bushes in the garden are still laden with blackcurrants, so I am picking them and giving them away. There’s something magic about those bushes. I keep giving bushes away and the next year the ones that remain seem to up their fecundity to make up for the loss.

As well as jam-making, there has been an awful lot of yearning going on. I haven’t seen my Californian family since last November and it’s another two months until I see them again. Now the publishing frenzy is over there is more space for the yearning to fill. Lux will be one at the end of the month.

July 8th 2011

I’ve also been yearning for Wensleydale, so Zoe and I went up at the weekend. It was as beautiful as ever.

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bolton castle in the distance


Friday, July 08, 2011

The costs don’t end once the book is printed

For those of you who are interested in how self-publishing works, here is something else to consider.

You may remember how delighted I was when one of the biggest wholesalers agreed to stock my book, because this meant that anyone anywhere would be able to order it - through their local bookshop, or online from Amazon, The Book Depository, Waterstones, WHSmith, etc etc, etc.

Yes, it was good news, but there are costs. Not only do I have to give the wholesaler a massive discount, to include their profit and the retailers’ profit, I also have to be able to send them boxes of books when they order them. I couldn’t happily store all my books at home, so I am paying the printers to store my books in their warehouse. Then when the wholesaler orders a quantity of books, I email the printer and they pack up the books (at a cost) and courier them (at a cost) to the wholesaler.

This week I got my first bill. I have 30 days to pay. I am still waiting for the shop that bought 60 books from me for my launch to pay me for them. (They are still within their 30 day limit, so I’m not complaining.) Meanwhile, another wholesaler has decided to stock my book (at a whacking discount) and they want 90 days credit.

There are so many people in the food chain of publishing – the writer, the agent, the publisher, the courier, the wholesaler, the retailer - that it’s no wonder it’s impossible to make a living as an author unless you’re a wham-bam bestseller-writer.

By comparison, the cost of producing and marketing ebooks is minimal. Draw your own conclusions about the future of publishing.

Oh, and don’t forget, you can buy my excellent novel – BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU – as a paperback or as an ebook. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, someone you know (your mother?) will love it. As a reviewer on Amazon says - A really great, easy to read book that will be enjoyed by people of any age, sex and marital status!  

So why not buy a copy?

p.s. I have learned an awful lot about publishing in the last 6 months, but one thing still mystifies me. Why is it that yesterday morning the info about my book on Amazon (that everyone sees) said they had 4 of my books left in stock. At teatime they had 5 books left. And today they have 8 books left. How does that work?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The problem with paper

Another lesson in self-publishing – only for those who are interested in the minutiae of printing.

When I first started thinking about the book I wanted to produce, I knew the cover was important – image, design, layout, colour, whether the finish was matt or glossy. (Matt! It had to be matt!)

What I didn’t realise was how difficult it would be to choose the paper the text would be printed on. I had some books on the shelf I wanted to match, and the rep for the printer (in the south of England -  in other words – off my map) sent me some examples of books that they had printed. I could not adequately compare the two. He sent me some paper samples. The rep told me to choose the weight and type of paper – e.g. Muncken 80gsm. He didn’t mention the colour. If you look at the paperback novels on your shelf, you’ll see there are very few – if any – with white pages. Most of them are ivory, cream or off-white. When I got my approval copy for the short print run (the pre-release review copies) the pages were bright white, and I realised I had forgotten to specify – not bright white!

Once that was sorted, and they’d been reminded (on pain of death) that I had ordered a matt cover, I was delighted with the 50 pre-release copies that arrived.

I told the printer’s rep I wanted the same paper for the long run. I thought I had it sussed, but when they arrived the paper felt completely different. It was thick and stiff and white (the colour had not been specified on the rep’s estimate and was not picked up by me with my exploding brain).

I was gutted. If you have a copy of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, you will see it looks and feels professionally produced: it feels like a quality “product.” But it is not exactly as I wanted. I wanted off-white paper and I wanted the paper to match the paper in my pre-release copies, which was floppier.

I rang the rep. He was puzzled. He said the paper used in the long run and the short run were the same. In order to convince him I had to send him a book in the post so he could compare the two. He was still puzzled. After investigation, he told me that the long run and the short run were printed in different premises (which I knew) and that they were printed using different processes. The long run is done by litho, and the paper comes on rolls. This means that one run had the short grain of the paper going across the page and the other run had the short grain going down the page. Even though the paper was exactly the same weight, the grain going one way means the paper feels stiff, and when it goes the other way it feels floppy. If you have got this far in the story, you may have noticed I have become imprecise. I cannot now remember which orientation of the short grain makes it stiff. I do know it’s the litho-printing on rolls of paper that does it. Even the rep – a very experienced and knowledgeable man - did not realise the different processes made such a huge difference. I learned something. He learned something.

If the book becomes a runaway best seller and I need to get more printed, I shall have to choose the paper again, because if I want more than 1500 printing at a decent price, I will have to have them done on the litho-presses. So I will need a different weight of paper – lighter. Oh me, oh my.

Monday, July 04, 2011

An infinitesimal niggle


I am still enjoying NOT working, but I have eight unused ISBNs in my drawer, and I so hate waste…

(Photo: July sky over our lane by Isaac Hepworth.)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Long weekend

I’m taking the weekend off from the blog while I weigh my options – should I slackline, garden, cycle, play my sax, or sit in the sun?