Friday, September 30, 2011

A new obsession: a new ambition

It seemed like a good idea to drive from Las Vegas to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (280 miles and 5 hours) with an ageing hippie for whom a USA coast-to-coast drive is the equivalent of a Saturday morning trip to Sainsbury's, but it might have been better if we hadn't been using her map from 1971.
Moving swiftly along (which we didn't) - the Grand Canyon is more awesome than I ever imagined. We gazed down into it, we watched the changing shadows and colours, we walked along the rim, and we hiked down into it on the Bright Angel Trail.
The information leaflet said it was one and a half hour's walk to get to the first restroom (an earth closet and a water tap) 1,000 feet down. The path was narrow and stony, slippery in some places because of the surface dust, and at the side there was often a vertiginous drop. We got there in an hour and a quarter, but then I discovered we had only gone one and a half miles down! Pathetic! It is seven miles to the river at the bottom. It took us an hour and a half to get back up, and the air is thin at 7,000 feet, so I got a bit puffed.
But now I am totally hooked! I want to fly over it, sail through it on a boat, and walk right down the trail to the bottom ( a feat which takes a day.) The problem - apart from the arthritic knee and the advanced age - is that I couldn't carry all the stuff I would need to sleep at the bottom for two nights, before I tried to climb back up again. So I am on the lookout for a young fit man who will do the honours (by which I mean - carry my backpack. ) He has to be thoughtful and sensitive and patient ( I don't want a macho type) and someone who has a good relationship with his mother. I don't care about perfect abs. (For the record, Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise did not turn me on.)
So if you know such a person, point him in my direction.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Road trip

Today I am going with Karen to see the Grand Canyon. Yippeee!
We are flying to Las Vegas on a cheapo-cheapo airline and then renting a car and driving for five hours to get to the Canyon. Karen has kindly arranged and booked it all - bless her - and she will be doing the driving. I said to her that driving through the desert with her would be just like Thelma and Louise ( never having seen the film.) So she said that first of all, I HAD to see the film before we set off, and secondly (or "second of all" as they say over here) I mustn't be taking a gun.
OK, Karen.
I don't have a gun. Check. Seen the film. Check. Loved the film! But I don't think we'll be replicating the ending (if you don't mind.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

I love you, Margarita

If you're lucky enough to be staying in San Francisco, and your luck is so extravagantly awesome that you also have a warm, understanding, zany and hilarious daughter-in-law, who can turn any evening into a party, then get yourself down to the Velvet Cantina on 23rd and Bartlett. Start the evening with their perfect margaritas (I had one for you, too, Chrissie) and something to eat with the second margarita (Do you expect me to give you details of the scrummy food? I can't remember what I had to eat! Come on, I'm upright and my head is clear - isn't that enough for you?)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A shrine

Karen and I had a fabulous day in North Beach yesterday, walking and talking and soaking up the sunshine. We took in the Coit Tower, and Stella's pastry shop and a couple of cafes (there was a lot of talking to do) and we ended up at the City Lights Bookstore.
Why are they always so snooty in there? There is always someone behind the counter dressed in black who is young and male and sporting some outre constellation of facial hair and they always look at me with an expression that says "You're old and grey and female, what can you possibly want in here? Why aren't you at home, knitting? We only welcome OLD people if they are male. And even then they have to be of vast intelligence and have impeccable literary and political connections. Only old people like that are allowed past our portal."
When Karen asked if they had a copy of How to retire, happy wild and free the guy said "Oh, we don't carry books like that," as if we were in a Christian Bookshop and asking for porn.
I really think they should lighten up in there. If they can carry onesies emblazoned with the word HOWL, they have no right to be so high and mighty about their stock. Or about anything else. And besides, Karen has exquisite credentials. She is a bona fide aging hippie who lived in Haight when it was all happening, and you can bet she's read more books than Mr Snootismo has had hot dinners.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This is my fifth visit to San Francisco, and I've always denied seeing fog. But that was then - when Isaac and family lived in The Mission, a district that doesn't see fog. Now they live on Bernal Hill, I am always at their sitting room window gazing out at the long wide view, saying "Look at the fog, creeping in from the coast. Look at it - it's sinister!" and they laugh at me, poor wee innocent that I am. It can be a baking hot day and then at 4 o clock, I see it swirl in from the Golden Gate and cover areas of the city not protected by the contours of the landscape, like the Mission is.
So OK. I have seen the fog. And now I learn it has it's very own Twitter account - @KarlTheFog. This week it tweeted: "Back early from vacation. I'm as happy about this as you are."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waking up in sunshine

I had a horrid journey with flight delays which made my journey 26 hours door-to-door, but a friendly and humorous couple in the same boat (who incidentally had fab Manchunian accents) kindly lent me their phone so i could ring Isaac and let him know I'd be VERY late arriving. And now it's the next day and I really don't care. It is sunny. It is hot. And I am here! I LOVE San Francisco. And I LOVE my family. How wonderful to see them all again. Lux is chatty, smiley, confident and playful. Just like her Mom. (See - I am into the lingo already.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Flying west

I am flying to California tomorrow to see my lovely family.

I may blog while I’m there.

I may not. There might be too many other more exciting things to do.

Dave will be holding the reins of my publishing empire while I’m away (and painting the kitchen, and making some new compost bins and playing his electric guitar at 6 a.m.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Carpe diem

Here’s a quote from my Quaker Faith and Practice:

“Are you able to contemplate your death and the death of those closest to you? Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully.”

And here are some quotes from Martial:

“Quisquam vivere cum sciat, moratur?”

Translation - If someone knows how to live, why would they delay?

“non est, crede mihi, sapientis dicere ‘vivam’:

sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie.”

Translation - Trust me: a wise man doesn’t say “Life starts tomorrow”. Living tomorrow is too late. Live today.

I went to a friend’s 60th birthday party the other night and caught up with a lot of people I haven’t seen for ages. It was fascinating to find out what they’re all doing, but even more interesting to see how they’re approaching retirement.

Some are embracing it and exploring their creative side, taking up activities they’ve hitherto not had the time for. Others have felt they’re on the brink of a scary chasm and have panicked and taken on armfuls of voluntary jobs. One person, a senior civil servant, had decided he wanted to see if he was able to earn some money in the big bad world.

It was a big shock to me when I turned 60, but now I’ve adjusted, I am carpe diem-ing as if there’s no tomorrow. I want to cram in everything I can before I’m too old or ill to enjoy the activities I love. There was a fab little trio at the party with a tenor sax playing the kind of music I love – The Nearness of You, How insensitive, Desafinado, you know the kind of thing, if not, then listen to this   – and for the first time since I took up the sax (when I was 60), I thought it would be fun to play in a band. So this may be my next big aim. Watch this space.

What’s on my mind this morning, though, is that I’ll be seeing Lux in 2 days.(D.V.) Last time I saw her she looked like this:

lux in November 10

Now she looks like this:

August 21st 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I’m not the only writer who…

…hated a chick-lit book cover foisted on her by her publisher. Read this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Excellent Service

One week today I will see this:

oct07 112

And more importantly, this little person:

Sept 10th 2011

and this person:

isaac and lux may 2011

and this person:


Excitement does not cover it.

I have

  • collected an extra suitcase from Zoe
  • bought my dollars
  • registered on the ESTA immigration website and paid 14$ for the privilege(what a cheek!)
  • started putting clean washing in the spare room to pack later
  • begun my to-do list of things to do before I go.

And, with an eye to my last post….

I shall NOT be

going in a pub on a Sunday evening in the Lake District with Dave and two friends and sitting down to eat and three of us ordering a meal from the menu and one of us asking for a cheese sandwich and being told that the chef does not make sandwiches in the evening.

I MAY be

walking into a smart restaurant (with a view of the Bay) on a Sunday at 2.15  p.m. and asking for lunch and being welcomed warmly and handed menus and one of us asking for a coffee while we order, and being told “Of course” and then when we are served and we thank the waiter, being told “You’re welcome” and NOT as happens over here being told ”No problem” as if it might be a problem serving a customer.

Hooray for American customer service! Hooray for California! Bring it on!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The list

It was fun showing a couple of Yanks round my world. We only had two and a half days but packed a lot in. John was puzzled as to why it’s called the Peak District when he’d only seen a few low hills, so we ended up leaving the White Peak and heading for the Dark Peak and Mam Tor, and climbing to the top. I think he was convinced (or was he just being polite?)

Bakewell Pudding was not appreciated, on account of the almond essence (almondine.) That’s fine. I didn’t make it – I just thought they should sample it as a local delicacy.

The “cute villages” were a big hit, though, with ours being given a 5star rating by Friday afternoon (woo-hoo!) when the sun was warm and Karen walked down to the dairy with a basket full of empty milk bottles.

The dairy

And she loved cycling up the Monsal Trail – we made it to the end. If you haven’t done it yet, add it to your own to-do list. You can hire a bike from Hassop Station, and you can buy a copy of a Bakewell Love Story at the bookshop there. It’s called BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU.

Lastly, the ubiquitous dry stone walls were a source of fascination…

oct 05 036

OK, I admit it: this photo above is not of Derbyshire, it’s Wensleydale. But it’s limestone country, it’s the Pennines, and I’m going to take Karen and John there next time they come. The Yorkshire Dales are even lovelier than the Peak District (and Karen – the villages are cuter.)


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

This and that

People often ask me how much of my books are taken from my own life.

We-e-el-l-lll, one bit in the latest book  is certainly true – I did meet a woman at a peace demo in San Francisco on the first day of one of my visits, and she did show me round the city and we did become friends. And TODAY she and her husband are coming to stay for a couple of days – Woo-hoo!

Me in heavy disguise

I have seen her home, but she has never been here and seen how beautiful the Peak District is, and we are both outdoorsy types, and I want to take her cycling on the Monsal Trail, and on our favourite walks round here, and rain is forecast forever and forever amen so please can you all keep your fingers crossed that we’ll have at least one dry day? I’m not even asking for sunshine (though that would be nice) - just one dry day.

The other news at Hepworth Towers is that we are now officially a no television household. Our area went digital and we have no way of watching the big old box in the corner and Dave doesn’t want to have a telly, anyway, so while I consider what I want, I have not renewed our licence. I am willing to give it a go and do without a telly for now.

The fact is that my head is so full of Karen and John coming, and then in less than two weeks my trip to the sunshine to see Isaac and Wendy and Lux in San Francisco, that tellies (is that how you spell the plural?) are the last thing on my mind. I told Karen this and she said “Oh but I wanted to watch Neighbours with you and see why you liked it” – so I told her she would have the full Hepworth Neighbours experience – huddled round my laptop with a glass of wine and a packet of crisps, because we have never been able to receive Channel 5 in our village anyway – digital switchover or no digital switchover.

I am going to get up and get weaving, but before that I might just watch Monday’s episode as I haven’t seen it yet.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Yet another lesson in self-publishing: the nitty gritty of the book cover

Only read the following if you like lots of detail…

This was an early idea for the cover of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU:

book cover

But although I felt it represented the story, there was nothing about it that would make it stand out on a bookshop table. Also, there was not a hint of humour in it.

So I talked to my friend Ella, who is funny and creative and who had read the first three chapters of an early draft of the novel, and she suggested that the cover should show a greetings card with the title of the book on it. The greetings card would be home-made and possibly tatty. (This is what I remember – correct me if I am wrong, El.)This idea composted for a while in the heap at the back of my brain, while I looked at book cover designs on the net. One design I saw brought me back to Ella’s idea. I think her idea is brilliant, because it embodies the feeling inherent in the title – which is a declaration of love which is really, really anti-romantic. Who sends someone a card saying “But I told you last year that I loved you”? But I thought there would be more of a disjunct and therefore it would be more effective, if the card was attractive.

So this was the first rough mock-up:

Book cover 001

Dave did the writing because I couldn’t fit it in. I was writing the words horizontally and it was hard to fit those words in a heart shape, so he suggested we use a template with curved lines and trace over it – which was a great idea:

heart template

This is my attempt:

heart writing

Then we roped in our daughter, Zoe:

heart writing 1

Zoe kindly said she would do the writing for us once I had decided on the heart I wanted. It wasn’t this one:

Book cover 022

because those tiny red rosebuds are way too girly and a wee bit soppy, to boot.

And it wasn’t this one: Book cover 018

or this one:

front cover green card

At this stage, Dave – a very patient person - was getting to the end of his tether because I was having ideas, and he was making them happen, but once he had made them, I realised I didn’t want them.  So I turned to Zoe. She and her husband make cards for each other all the time, and she had made her husband a valentine card a couple of years ago, like this:

Book cover 028

although (of course) her card said something loving and romantic inside the heart.

So then Zoe sat down with a sheaf of paper and the template and practised writing the title over and over until she and I were happy with it. Then she wrote inside the card that she or Dave made (I can’t remember who did it in the end!)

Then we had to decide if we wanted it sitting on a shelf like this:

back and front together

so that the left hand side would be the back of the cover.

We dithered with this for a while. All right, I dithered with it. In the end I decided that having it sitting on a shelf made it seem too real, as if there was an actual card like this in the book, when actually, the card with the message on it is conceptual. (This reasoning makes sense to me.)

So then I posted the card to our son Isaac in California, along with a snippet of turquoise card to show the colour of the background I wanted. This was what he emailed to me:


and I swooned.

Then he put on the words I asked him to, and tweaked it until I said stop. I chose that ultra slim font for my name on the front so that it was the card and the title that hit you in the eye, not my name. If I were famous, then my name would be more important than the title. But I’m not.

Then I got all the technical details and specifications for the cover production from the printer and emailed them to Isaac and he said he didn’t have the software to do it, but he knew a man who did - his friend, Matt:

production evening

So Isaac and Matt sorted out the techie stuff together.

I emailed the cover to the printer and Isaac Fedexed me a hard copy over as well – because that’s what they asked for, to check for colour matching. When the first approval copy arrived, it was glossy! AARRGGHH! I had asked for matt. Nothing screams “self-published novel” louder than a glossy cover. (The paper wasn’t right either. But the paper is another story, and not a happy one, and I really don’t want to revisit my paper problems.)

So then the printer used what they call Matt Laminate, and I was happy. To be perfectly truthful, the turquoise is paler than I would have wanted, but blue is notoriously difficult to match, so I made myself happy with what I got.

And I AM very happy. The cover is striking, pretty, spare and clean, and does what I wanted it to do: it matches the contents, and it makes people pick up the book and check it out.

So thank you to Ella, Dave, Zoe, Isaac and Matt, for your help, patience and all round brilliance.

And special thanks to Dave for not murdering me. I can be an infuriating person to work for.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Bedtime reading

I stick by everything I said about Sebastian Barry’s A Long, Long Way, and yet there are some nights when I go to bed and don’t feel up to reading paragraphs that begin with (brilliantly evocative) sentences like

“The approach trench was a reeking culvert with a foul carpet of crushed dead.”

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Reasons to be happy despite the end of summer

Yes, it’s September today, but I’m happy -

  • the sun is shining and I’ve just had a bike ride up the beautiful Monsal Trail
  • I got my monthly sales report from the wholesaler and I can send in a bill for books sold in August
  • 3 weeks today I will be in San Francisco with Isaac, Wendy and Lux
  • I am loving not doing any writing, and fettling the rampant garden instead
  • I just bought a new vacuum cleaner. I hate cleaning, but I hate (even more) vacuuming and not seeing the difference – the Dyson can go to the tip!