Wednesday, August 31, 2011

PLJ and Booker nominees

Have you heard of PLJ? It’s a “cordial” you dilute to drink. PLJ is the brand: the product is pure lemon juice. It was advertised in the 60s (yes that’s how old I am)  as a way to lose weight. You were supposed to drink PLJ all the time as a way of retraining your taste so you didn’t like sweet things, and so didn’t eat them, and so lost weight.

Well…for the last year I have been expanding my reading, and in doing so have lost my taste for light fiction (excepting when I’m ill). I’ve been reading some classics I have never read ( e.g. The Grapes of Wrath), and I’ve been reading more books by men than I have in the past. This week I got Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way out of the library, and by the second page I was gripped – by the writing.  Now I can’t believe I am reading descriptions of mustard gas attacks in WW1, or descriptions of violence on Dublin’s streets (the Easter 1916 uprising). Sebastian Barry does indeed “write like an angel” as it says in a plaudit on the back cover.

I have always found Booker winners hard to wrestle with. I gave up on Possession, I lost patience with The Finkler Question, I skimmed The Gathering and Last Orders. I have read several Booker nominees (Room, Digging for America, The Night Watch, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, On Beauty) but in listing them I realise they are all by women. A Long Long Way was also a Booker nominee but it’s the first one I’ve read that’s written by a man. And it’s the writing that hooked me. It is moving, painful and sad, and so many other things as well. I commend it to you.

(p.s. I delight in having odd titles for my posts. I once wrote a post called Buddhism and Dinosaurs thinking no-one would ever Google that – but they do sometimes and then arrive at my blog. If you Google it now you’ll find I am second on the list of links, under Wikipedia.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why is our government allowing the sale of arms to repressive regimes?

Read this shocking report about the huge increase in British arms sales to repressive regimes, including ones involved in the Arab Spring.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Another lesson in self-publishing: the blurb

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know how vital it was to me to get the cover exactly right on BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU (my third book, but the first one I’ve published myself.) I think a cover has to represent the contents of the book, to be attractive, and to seduce the kind of reader who will enjoy the story.

OK, so once that reader has picked up the book, what do they do next? They turn the book over and read the blurb on the back. So writing a winning blurb is the next stage on the way to the till. Just as most writers don’t get to choose their own covers, most writers don’t get a say in their blurbs. Self-publishers have no choice. What a responsibility.

back cover for blog

As far as I can see, the blurb has to do the same thing as Chapter 1, but it has to do it in one paragraph, not twenty pages. It has to give a potential reader a clue about the theme and the tone of the book, and – for my books - the characters.

Writing the blurb for the back of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU wasn’t too taxing. But I gave it a lot of thought before I began, and I had to make a difficult decision: should I tell the reader that Sol has Asperger’s syndrome, or should I leave them to realise it for themselves, just as Fran doesn’t realise until the end of the book? On the one hand, the subject of Asperger’s might attract some readers who are particularly interested in the subject. On the other hand, it could put some readers off.

And then there is the question of whether one should let out a key part of the plot in a trailer. Would it spoil the enjoyment of the book?

Some recent research at the University of California showed that advance information about a plot doesn’t spoil the reader’s enjoyment of the story. It actually enhances it. The researcher suggested that spoilers don’t spoil enjoyment, because plot is a relatively superficial aspect of storytelling…which is something I’ve always felt. I love theme, I love character, I love dialogue, and I care about the texture of the narrative, but plot is just something that I have to use to achieve narrative drive, to keep the reader turning the pages.

I have a friend who always reads the last page of a book first. She wants to know what happens, so that she doesn’t rush through the book to find out, and in doing so misses all the pleasure along the way.

Getting back to the subject of my blurb, I rather wanted people to LIKE Sol, and I thought they might not judge him so harshly for some of his apparently unsympathetic behaviour, if they knew the reason behind it. So I did dither before deciding not to reveal his ASD in the blurb.  

But in any case, the book is about far more than Asperger’s syndrome. It’s about mature marriages per se, and what a couple does when they get to retirement and want different things. I got a lovely letter this week from a reader (it made my day) who thought the book tackled the unanswerable question - “Is it harder to cling on or to let go?” She is the first person to point this out and I’m delighted that she did – because it’s yet another theme of the book.


Friday, August 26, 2011

That missing feeling

bean and ise march 2011

Several months ago my family in San Francisco changed their telephone system. Since then they have always sounded 5,000 miles away when they ring (as indeed they are.) This week on the phone it was different. Isaac sounded as if he was in the next room. We had a nice chat (and Lux babbled something too) and when I put down the phone, an awful overwhelming feeling of missing them swept over me. It was so much worse than usual, and I’m sure it was because they had sounded so near - so near and yet so far.wendy and lux may 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

And while I was away…

Look what Dave made for me with the stained glass I chose two weeks ago

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Isn’t it beautiful?

When I’m away, he gets up to all kinds of evil things like making his glass pieces in the dining room instead of the shed, but just as long as it’s all cleared away by the time I get back i don’t complain. When I die he’s apparently going to turn the sitting room into an inside shed, where he will keep all his tools and his workbench. That’s up to him. I have plans of my own for when he dies…

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When I said that…


…I did nothing at Jen’s, one day of doing nothing involved sitting in the sunshine in the stern of a yacht on the Solent, while Jen’s friends took us on a day trip to the Isle of Wight (and FYI my hair is like that because of the wind.)

sue on boat


Jen took the photographs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Free money

I took another pile of books to a local bookshop yesterday and was paid immediately in cash (that’s what I like!) It’s so long ago since the delight of writing the book and then the hassle of printing, publishing and promoting it, that when I get paid for books these days, it feels like money for nothing. What a joy!

And another joy is that 4 weeks today (not that I’ve been counting) I am flying off to see Lux…


Monday, August 22, 2011

You can’t be a minimalist if you’re sentimental

I had a perfect holiday, doing nothing with my sister Jen.

The first day it rained and we spent the afternoon clearing out the top drawer of Ma’s sewing chest. It’s much easier to do that kind of job with someone else, especially if they are sentimental as well as practical. There are times when in order to be able to throw things away, you need permission from someone who is also emotionally engaged with the material. We only had one tiny temporary tiff, relating to a pair of damaged, rusty scissors in a scabbard made from the finger of a leather glove. I wanted to keep it as an example of Ma’s recycling (the finger of the glove) but Jen wanted to chuck it because the scissors were rubbish, and the scabbard was not made with care. “Come on – two staples! Not Ma’s best effort!”

She was right.

Meanwhile, I have at home a pewter ash tray made by Pa at school in the 1930s. No-one wants it, but no-one wants to chuck it out. Jen and I can remember Pa lying on the carpet in front of the fire, reading aloud his latest article for Farm and Country so Ma could make editorial comments. He would be smoking, and using this ash tray. I’ve had it in my kitchen for three years (since Ma died) and Jen has agreed to have it now. When she’s fed up with it, I’ll take it back.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I’m too tired to blog, and I’m going to stay with my sister Jen for a rest.

cropped Sue(6) & Jen(4)

I am also switching off comments, so I don’t have to worry about monitoring them when I’m not at my computer.

(I’m the one with the glasses and the nobbly knees.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A world away

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One of my favourite things in the summer is to go outside in my pyjamas first thing in the morning and pick sweet peas. Today I brought them back to bed with my breakfast and caught up on yesterday’s papers. My back garden is a world away from cities and from riots, but that doesn’t mean I am not upset by this week’s news. It’s not just the riots, the looting, the murders, the arson, the loss of peoples’ homes and livelihoods, but also the posturing of politicians and the commentary in the media.

I’m particularly upset by the focus on policing rather than on the underlying reasons for what has happened. And I’m upset by the fact that when people try to understand the riots and why they happened and then list the multi-faceted strands such as alienation, poor parenting, the loss of hope amongst large sections of young people, and not forgetting simple criminality from gangs, the people trying to understand are accused of condoning the violence and looting. The causes of the riots are many and varied. Let’s not accept the empty statement of “sheer criminality.” Yes, the behaviour was criminal, but why did people want to behave in that way?

And what can we do to change our society to prevent it from happening again?

One charity working to help young people in difficult situations and young people without hope is Catch 22. Check it out.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


I watched Charade last night and fell in love with Audrey Hepburn’s looks and incredible chic - again. Wasn’t she fabulous? In my next life I will look exactly like her.

(And the film was good too – entertaining dialogue and excellent plotting.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nothing to write home about, but enjoyable nonetheless

It’s been a busy week.

My book is selling well locally and I have to keep tabs on which shops need topping up with copies. I’ve also persuaded another local shop to stock them. I was also asked to write a piece for the November issue of the National Autistic Society’s magazine, Communication. In the August issue they are reviewing my book. They like it!

Other than that, I’ve been catching up on socialising and random fun (e.g. cycling up to the end of the Monsal Trail with my big sister Kath, who is older than me but who has twice as much energy; and playing castle Lego on the floor with my grandsons, who are younger than me and have twice as much energy) and I’ve been trying to master some particularly tricky riffs in a new arrangement of Gershwin’s Someone to watch over me (on my sax.)

Today Dave and I went to buy some stained glass from the warehouse. He is making a new piece, and I was allowed to choose the glass for it. It’s a wonderland in there…

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do we need a telly?

Our village is going digital next week, and Dave and I still have a telly that is analogue and ancient and bulbous, so unless we buy a new one, our television-watching days will soon be over. Dave doesn’t want a telly at all, and I am undecided. Do we watch it enough to bother getting a new one? Can we live without it? Last night was the first time in weeks we watched it – to see news of the riots.

Sue: “I’m going to the tip. Will you get those two old portable tellies down from the attic, for me?”

Dave: “The tip? I don’t think Richard Branson would be taking them to the tip. That’s not how he got to buy Necker.”

Monday, August 08, 2011

What the professor said

Stuart Murray, Professor of Contemporary Literature and Film at Leeds University is an expert on the representation of disability in popular culture, and is the author of Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination (Liverpool University Press, 2008), and  Autism (The Routledge Series Integrati)  to be published by Routledge this September.

I thought you might be interested to read what he has said about my new book -

“Writing about autism and Asperger's syndrome is notorious for the ways in which it frequently cannot resist the lure of the sensational and the spectacular. All too often the condition of autism, and individuals and characters with it, are turned into objects of belittling fascination for a reading audience, often as not more than performing sideshows. What is so refreshing about Sue Hepworth's - But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You - is that it avoids all these traps and rather presents Asperger's as a normal, if idiosyncratic, part of everyday life that elicits frustration, comedy and tenderness all at the same time. Hepworth's achievement in making the condition both distinctive and unspectacular, and weaving this into a narrative of romantic and family life, displays a genuinely subtle understanding of how autism - this most contemporary of conditions – works.”

Friday, August 05, 2011

Another lesson in self-publishing, or Why I have fallen out with David E Kelley Productions

Have you read my new book yet?

(In case you don’t know what it is – BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU.)

Why do I ask?

Well, you know the TV series that Sol and Fran like to watch together – Jessie Levine? In my original draft of the novel they liked to watch something else – Ally McBeal. And I had a quote from one of the episodes in my novel – it was -

“I don’t care about some stupid corporation. I mean I thought I did...I do...but...I’m just trying to invent a reason to be in a room with you.”

In order to quote from a TV series, a song, or a book, a publisher needs to have permission from the original writer. So this spring I rang David E Kelley Productions in Los Angeles and asked how to get permission. Who was the person to whom I should email an official request to quote from Ally McBeal in my novel?

The answer was that they didn’t accept such emails: I had to fax my request. Yep, that’s what they said – fax. Who the hell uses fax in preference to email?

I explained that I don’t have a fax machine. No-one I know has a fax machine. We used to have a fax machine, but that was before email became so easy to use. Email is how people communicate these days, isn’t it?

Tough. They insisted i send a fax.

So I went to my local library in Bakewell and used their fax machine, at a price. I faxed David E Kelley and two weeks went by (and now months have gone by) and I got no response. While I was still waiting I rang the Society of Authors (a kind of writers’ union) for advice. They told me that generally speaking, if an American TV company does give permission, they charge an awful lot of money for the privilege.

So I decided to cut my losses, and waste no more time. I rewrote the two parts of the novel where this Ally McBeal quote appears. Now I make reference to something said by a character in Jessie Levine instead. (Jessie Levine is a figment of my imagination – like the rest of the novel.)

But do you know what is so crazy? I got the word for word quote from Ally McBeal off the net, by Googling part of it. In fact, the whole of the script for that Ally McBeal episode was on the net. I am, however, a person who does respect copyright, which is why you will never see me quote more than a couple of lines from a poem on my blog unless the poet is dead, or the poet has given me permission. Why do I respect copyright? Because if everyone bandies about writers’ words and works quite freely, how will said writers ever make a living? It’s hard enough to make writing pay when people don’t steal your copyright.

Aha! you say. So why have you quoted from Ally McBeal above if you’re so precious about copyright? Because it is one tiny line in a big episode, and OK, I admit it, It is a trivial revenge for DEKP’s asking me to make a special effort to contact them and their choosing not to reply.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

It’s the little things

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You want to send flowers to a friend in hospital in Manhattan.

First you ring the hospital to check you’re allowed to send flowers.

Then you ring up a florist in Manhattan to order flowers. You discuss the flowers you want (they say it’s a bad idea to send fragrant flowers to someone in hospital, and no they don’t know what sea holly is, or eryngium, and they say you must send a vase as well if they’re going to a US hospital) and you tell them the flowers you don’t want (carnations, chrysanthemums.)

And then they take your name. What? Egworth? Epworse? You spell it out.

Then you tell them your message – Get better soon, lots of love, Sue and Dave.

And a few hours later you get an email saying –

Just got beautiful flowers along with the lovely wish to

'Get Well Soom'

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Yes !

When I was in Evesham in the spring I saw a large notice at the entrance to the park that consisted of a long long list of prohibitions.

No cycling

No skateboarding

No this

No that.

The list was about ten items long. I wanted to contact the local council and ask them if they minded if I breathe.

When I was in Grange over Sands last Friday I saw this – and loved it!

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