Saturday, December 31, 2011


What a fabulous way to end the old year.

My book  - BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU - is in the Guardian today, in Readers’ Books of the Year.  Yay!

Follow this link and scroll down to the third para from the bottom.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


"Things are possible during December's darkened days that are not even dreamt of at other spokes of the Wheel of the Year. We should use this magic as a vehicle for deepening our awareness of the world around us and preparing ourselves for the ongoing pilgrimage of our lives."
- Montague Whitsel

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Christmas Eve Edition

This is for all my new readers who know nothing about the ON/OFF Christmas concept. Enjoy, whether you are new or old. And happy holidays, whether your Christmas is on or off.

Christmas in the Shed

Are you and your partner at odds as to how to celebrate Christmas? Does one of you want to go and sit by a peat fire in a bothy in the Outer Hebrides, while the other wants to stay in the thick of things and party every night ?

Although we have tried to find the perfect Christmas compromise, for us there is no middle ground. It was somehow not a problem when we were first married. As impoverished students we both thought it fun to have a second hand Christmas tree and to make baubles out of painted eggshells. Now – forty years and three children later – we disagree.

You may need some background. I come from a meat eating, sub-Walton family of five children, with a history of jolly Christmases - not extravagant, there was no money for extravagance - but certainly festive. I don’t ask for incessant parties, or for spending overkill. For me there is nothing more heart warming than having the house packed with people I love, sharing good food, conversation and games, and to have decorations and a tree.

For my teetotal, vegetarian, atheist husband, who is an only child, and who is not one of life’s natural celebrants, an empty, quiet house is the ideal. He is allergic to visitors, cards, tree, seasonal food and tinsel, and his idea of jolly activity is a spot of DIY, whilst his only concession to over indulgence is an extra carton of natural yoghurt.

Last Christmas I tried to be selfless and to accede to his puritan yearnings by having no decorations and by giving up the tree. This was painful. Admittedly we missed out on the annual row about where to place it ( the issue for him ), and whether or not it was perfectly vertical ( the issue for me ), but still I was bereft. I lasted out till Christmas Eve, but failed to go cold turkey, and resorted to assembling all my over-wintering geraniums in the dining room, and stringing the fairy lights on them. It was sad, but it was better than nothing.

This year he floated the idea of the Christmas Shed. I was suspicious, because we already have a potting shed, a storage shed and a workshop shed, and I know he harbours an evil imperialist plan to have the garden covered with a vast shed complex. But actually his idea has promise.

Firstly, we would alternate a Christmas ON year with a Christmas OFF year. In an OFF year ( his year ) we would have no visitors and the house would be declared a festivity free zone. I would decorate the Christmas Shed to my taste, with a tree, cards, holly and tinsel, and there would be a stash of Christmas goodies in there, and a radio for Christmas music. If friends or family visit I would entertain them in the Shed. If no-one calls ( and who would blame them ? ) and if the sitting room is not available for a surreptitious screening of It’s a Wonderful Life, I could seek refuge from the monastic desert and go out to the Shed for a mince pie and an invigorating blast of Jingle Bells.

In an ON year, the house would be mine to fill with whoever and whatever I liked. My husband could slink off to the Christmas Shed with a bowl of yoghurt and sit in a deck chair in his boiler suit reading Walden. If he wanted a little light activity he could mend a few broken chair legs.

We could have a sign inside the front door saying “Next Christmas: December-” and then give the year. That way, adult children visiting the house during the year would be able to discreetly note it in their diaries, and no-one would suffer embarrassment or hurt feelings when the subject of Christmas was raised in those difficult parent-offspring telephone conversations that often occur in September. Outside the house, my husband could erect a sign directing carol singers and other assorted revellers towards the appropriate location.

So, that’s decided, then. We’ll buy a Christmas Shed and get started. The only problem now is to decide whether we start the new regime with an ON Christmas or an OFF Christmas. He says we’ve had Christmas for thirty years, so this year should be OFF. I say I did without the tree last year, so Christmas should be ON.

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2009

published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Christmas edition

You know how the newspapers use stuff they’ve prepared earlier (and not news) in their Christmas editions?

Well here’s my version of that – a piece I had in The Times

Party Time

“The best thing about being self-employed is that I don’t have to think of an excuse for missing the office party,” said my fellow home-worker – my husband.

I, however, am in need of some fun and games. Living up a lane in the Peak District is heavenly for three seasons of the year, but when the looming mists swirl in and blank out the fabulous views, and I can’t go anywhere without wellies, and it feels as though the long dark tea-time of the soul has set in till March, I get desperate for bright lights and company.

Unfortunately the man at the computer upstairs is not a party animal: he neither goes to parties, nor understands what they are for. I remember when I decided to have one for my fortieth birthday, he asked “Why on earth would you want to celebrate getting older and moving another few steps downhill? All we’re heading for now is death.”

He couldn’t face attending the party, but was concerned about the hordes of people I would be having in the house, and wanted to make a contribution to the preparations. He did. He calculated the tonnage of the assembled revellers, worried that the sitting room floor might collapse because dancers would refuse to keep to the edges of the rooms, and he went down to the cellar, where he used chunky four by four wooden posts to prop up the floor from underneath.

Apart from that, the only other time he’s been anywhere near a party was one New Year’s Eve when he found two of our oldest friends on the doorstep, unannounced, and waving a bottle of champagne. Unhappily, I was away, but he phoned me and while he wailed about the “scandalous imposition” of their expecting him to stay up until midnight and be jolly, I jumped up and down with frustration that I couldn’t be there to join in.

He’s not what you’d call a singing-and-dancing-kind-of-guy. Think less Gene Kelly and more Fraser, the Scottish undertaker in Dad’s Army - “Doomed! We’re all doomed!”

But he does have a tender heart, and, eager to cheer me up, he has suggested we have our own office party – just me and him.

We should have it in his study as it’s bigger than mine, he says. I am just wondering how he will press me up against the filing cabinet for a quick snog when you can’t get near it for all the wallet files spread out on the carpet for easy access, when he offers to clear the floor. He will also carry out into the hall the stacking plastic boxes stashed with papers and reports, and he’ll even wheel his poncey, sorry, precious new bike out to the shed (to join my sturdy workhorse) where he thinks it might be all right, just for a couple of hours.

I’m not sure what he’s got to offer by way of food and drink, though. He is teetotal, and he’s never been able to grasp the concept of eating as an enjoyable activity: as far as he’s concerned, eating is for refuelling. That’s apart from yoghurt, of which he is a connoisseur. Our village shop gets in catering size cartons of Longley Farm natural, just for him. At Christmas when the shop is closed and he has to pre-buy in bulk, and yet I also need extra fridge space for family entertaining, he keeps his extra cartons of yoghurt cool by floating them in the water barrel in the garden.

old pic of dave

It may be just me, but when I think of party food, yoghurt isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

I don’t care though, because for the party he says he will wear a Santa hat and download a festive screensaver onto his computer.

He really knows how to show a girl a good time.

I do appreciate the offer of an office party, I say, but I wonder whether it’s possible to have a party with only two people. Couldn’t we invite someone else? Unfortunately, the only other people we see during our working days are the postman, a sweetie who likes to tell us how many buzzards he’s seen on his round, and our neighbouring farmer, who calls when he is moving his heifers, to ask us to stand in our gateway to stop them from coming in and cavorting on the lawn.

But we do have a continuous stream of telephone callers. Perhaps during the party we could have the phone on loudspeaker, I suggest, and at least have some conference calls, maybe with a Christmas quiz, so it doesn’t feel so lonely? He says we can’t do that, because he’s just recorded a seasonal message on the answering machine saying “Sod off, it’s Christmas.”

He says he’s willing, but his Christmas spirit is weak. And even after detailed explanations, his grasp of partying is non-existent. So I may flip out: cabin fever does strange things to people. If you see a news report of a desperate woman in sparkly reindeer antlers streaking through a Derbyshire village shrieking “Does anyone want to party?” you’ll know who it is.

old pic of me and dave

© Sue Hepworth/Times newspapers 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My present suggestion

Is there a married woman over forty that you need to buy a present for and you’re totally stumped? ( Highly unlikely as it’s a cinch to buy presents for older women, unless they happen to be my sister Jen, who admits it and won’t be offended by my saying so here. Anyway, Jen – I have given you two this year to increase the chance of success. xx)

What was I saying – oh yes - Why not buy this married woman over forty BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU?  Amazon say they can deliver it by Christmas if you order it today. It is said to be "clever, funny, subtle, wry, sad and uplifting all at once...Sue Hepworth writes thoughtfully and insightfully, and with such tenderness and humour."

OK, enough hustling for a Sunday. Do you know what?  I can cope with mastectomies, I can cope with knee replacements, and I suffer no pain. But last night I was charging around in my socks and bumped into the bedpost and broke my toe and it HURTS! It really HURTS!

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I searched for an image of a broken toe on Google and the pics were so unpleasant – not because of the broken toes but because so many people have ugly feet – so I gave up and I’m putting this one here instead. (Yes, it’s summer. Remember summer?)

I just asked Dave why he has a propensity for taking pics of me on the slant and he came out with various odd reasons (as per usual) but ended up with “Well, it makes you think, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, Dave. It makes me think: Why on earth do you do it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Research papers for a novel – now binned

I’ve been chucking out more stuff, and it’s exhilarating.

This week I hoiked out an old wallet file from the filing cabinet entitled “Corin and Friends,”  which was my working title for Zuzu’s Petals. (Do you know what? I think Zuzu’s Petals was a rotten title.* Poor beleaguered novel – revolting pink frilly cover and a bad title. A good novel, badly packaged. Oh well.)  Here is Zuzu and her petals in It’s a Wonderful Life -

Anyway… i leafed through the newspaper cuttings which I saved to use for material. Here are some of them:

Glass of Swoosh, please – matching water to food is now de rigeur (remember the awful Charles and his thing about types of bottled water?)

An interview with David Hockney  (Corin so liked David Hockney)

Playing the moody hues – on tweaking colour for emotional impact (Corin was perfecting her digital photography)

Life goals for your 50s

Office English (actually I ended up using this in But I told you last year that I loved you – remember Chrissie’s husband Roger?)

Parkie Life (about the new breed of park-keeper. Includes references to guerilla gardeners – remember Tim?)

Life begins at 14 – an entire supplement on how to raise a healthy happy teenager (why on earth did I save that?)

Woolly Romans (Discovery that the Romans wore thick woolly socks with their sandals. That was for another book that never got finished. It was called The man who wore socks with his sandals. Great title!)

socks with sandals

Then there was -

Eat less and live to 130 – calorie restriction prolongs the life of rats but can it do the same for us? (Remember Rob and his aversion to eating?)

A fashion item on sleek cycling clothes for men. (Oh Rob – you and your Lycra.)

So now it’s all in the recycling bin, and the Bodleian will have to make do without it.

*I got the idea for the title of Zuzu’s Petals one day when I was wandering around Haight-Ashbury (doesn’t that sound cool?) I saw a flower shop called Zuzu’s Petals – and thought “That’s it! That’s it!” Unfortunately i don’t think it was.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hepworth’s hypothesis on short-term memory loss

For the past two weeks, I have been carrying my mother around in my head – or rather a yearning to see my mother. A hopeless melancholic wish to see her has been there at the end of every thought, as I finish every task, at every turn in the road, waking up in the morning, or settling down to sleep at night. Just when I thought I was not going to feel that sadness any more, it sweeps in and stays for a while.

But then yesterday, when the Higgs boson announcement was made, I cheered up. Not because I am into that kind of stuff, but because Ma was. I thought – Ah, she’d be so delighted. She and Dave would be talking excitedly on the phone about it, even now. And the weather changed in my head: weird.

Brains are odd. Mine is odd, anyway. My mother lives in there all of the time, mostly quietly and happily. I wonder if old people lose their short-term memories because their brains are so full of dead people they’ve lost that there isn’t enough room for all the new stuff they encounter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Appeal 2

You may have read about the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. You may know that the Israelis are expanding their settlements, stealing the land and the water from Palestinians whose families have been living there for generations.

But did you realise that in order to build these illegal settlements, they are demolishing the homes of Palestinians?

At present there is a push against the Bedouin community, their homes, villages and schools. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions reports that in the past week since December 5th, 20 structures were demolished and at least 61 people displaced and left homeless.

A video taken on November 24th show the demolition of homes in the Bedouin community of Beit Hanina, leaving 20 people homeless, including 6 children. (Beit Hanina was bisected several years ago by an "apartheid road," Road 443, built by Israel for the exclusive use of Israelis.)

Here is another specific example from October: fifteen Israeli army jeeps and a bulldozer showed up at the rural community of Khan al-Ahmar, in the hills east of Jerusalem, and demolished five homes, displacing 71 people, including some 60 children.

If you care about this injustice and inhumanity, you could write to your elected representative and ask them to pressurise Israel to stop the demolitions, and the expansion of Jewish settlements.

You could also make a donation to a charity that works in Palestine to support Palestinians. Medical Aid for Palestinians is a non-governmental British charity with no agenda of violence, and works for the health and dignity of Palestinians living under occupation and as refugees. They give practical aid of all kinds, too many to list here, but which include mobile emergency clinics for Bedouins, the provision of equipment in hospitals in Gaza, and  therapy programs for traumatised children in Gaza (see my last post.)

Click here to make your donation. Thank you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Christmas appeal

If you enjoy reading my blog, perhaps you’d like to respond to my Christmas appeal.

On Christmas Eve three years ago, Mona ElFarra, a Palestinian doctor, wrote on her blog – From Gaza, with Love – the following:

…. the living conditions of the Palestinian children in Gaza, where children have no clean water, no bread, no safe homes, no safe schools, no safe playgrounds, no safe environment, no proper housing conditions, not enough medications, no electricity, no cooking gas and no entertainment facilities…while all the borders are strictly closed and nobody can get out no matter how great their need or wish.
While you are celebrating the Christmas and the New Year, think of Gaza children, think of the world as one family looking for peace and justice, looking for stability and happiness for all
I love you all
And again merry Xmas and happy New Year
Mona ElFarra

Just five days later she was blogging about the intense bombing campaign that Israel had started on Gaza, and I was blogging this (follow the link.) I blogged about Gaza for a month, until the bombing stopped.

Amongst other bombs, the Israeli army dropped white phosphorus, flachette bombs and DIME bombs in Gaza. It is illegal to use these weapons in civilian areas, but the Israeli army did it anyway.

The young children in the occupied Palestinian territory have had to live through horrendous atrocities: air strikes and rocket attacks by the Israeli military, death and destruction on an unimaginable scale and grinding poverty caused by decades of military occupation.

Many children in Gaza are deeply scarred by what they have witnessed. They are frightened, confused and angry and many still suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, bedwetting, sleep disorders and depression.

The British, non-governmental charity which has no agenda of violence – Medical Aid for Palestinians – is working to help these damaged children. To help children cope with trauma, MAP provides a programme of specialist care. They give children the time, attention, support and professional care that helps them to recover and begin to enjoy their lives, to be children again.They have helped many children so far - but there are still more who need our help. MAP's programmes save and improve the quality of lives in many ways - but none is more important than giving scared children the chance to just be children. Imagine if we could help more children who are hoping that someone will listen, giving them the space and time to find their feet again.

 Click here to make a donation today.

Click here to see MAP's programme in action.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday morning at home

Views over my garden wall this morning -

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I went to Bakewell to get some odds and ends, and in the Deli found myself explaining to three American women the difference between a Bakewell tart and a Bakewell pudding. They bought the pudding because I told them they could get a Bakewell tart from anywhere but you have to come to Bakewell to buy a Bakewell pudding. When I bumped into them later outside another shop, I almost, almost told them that if they went to the Bakewell Bookshop they could buy a signed copy of a novel set in Bakewell – namely, BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. I couldn’t get over the almost, though. Do you think I should have done?

Now it is 11.47, and I have just spent a blissful half hour sitting on the sofa in front of the log burning stove, reading the Saturday paper with a mug of coffee in my hand, while Dave played me Christmas carols on his electric guitar. This afternoon, I may start work on with this…

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Friday, December 09, 2011

A favourite book

Do you have a favourite book that you return to every so often? I just finished reading Jeanette Winterson’s brilliant memoir, Why be happy when you could be normal?, and hadn’t become ensconced in anything else, and was tidying the bookshelf in my bedroom (which contains my very favourite books) and found Homestead by Rosina Lippi. It is a slim novel, simply but beautifully written, winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award, and the quote from the review in the New York Times speaks for me - “A novel of great depth, compassion and tenderness.”

It is a series of interlocking stories of three families living in a remote Austrian village in the Alps, from 1909-1977. I don’t like writing book reviews. All I will say is that I loved this book so much the first time I read it that I bought a copy for all of my friends’ birthdays that year. I am reading it again now, and wishing that I could write about families and emotions as well as Rosina Lippi does in this book.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

comfort wear

Sue: “When you’re dead I shall wear these joggers all the time.”

Dave: “A crime against fashion.”

Sue:  (Thinks…what does he know about fashion?)   “Why do you say that?”

Dave: “They look like half of a pantomime elephant costume.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

It could have gone either way this morning

That’s it.
I have had enough of this winter and it’s only December 6th.
It is dark. It is cold. It is wet. It is sleeting. it is half past seven in the morning and it is STILL DARK.
But I am going to stuff my bad temper back under the duvet and play the glad game and tell you about four little things which delight me:
  1. going into Waterstone’s and buying a book and using my Society of Authors card to get 10% discount. It’s not the discount – I could have got more without the card on Amazon – it is the flashing of the card: what a frisson.
  2. having a quick instant email exchange with Isaac – 5,000 miles away - at the odd times when our time zones happily interlock, such as 6 a.m. my time.
  3. the fact that my sister Kath and I both buy fruit and veg from the same market stall – she in Newark, and I in Bakewell – and that Gwen, who works on the stall, is perfectly happy to take a package from me on a Monday and pass it on to Kath on Wednesday. It feels like something from Lark Rise to Candleford, and I love it.
  4. going to visit Zoe and family. Even when some of the attractive personnel are absent.

But there are many delights quite apart from the parents of said personnel. They are so creative that everywhere you look there are unique, attractive, funny and fey decorations, such as this advent calendar that Zoe made this year and gave to Brian -
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And this valentine coaster she made for him some years ago -
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here’s the other side of it -
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And here’s an old Christmas card that Brian made for Zoe. It’s the size of a magazine cover, Zoe’s head has been transplanted onto it and Brian has changed all the existing straplines into family in-jokes, but you can nevertheless get the drift.
brian's mag with zoe
This week Brian is printing their Christmas cards from a lino–cut done by Zoe – can’t wait to get mine.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Blog still here but the prize has gone

Dec 2011

Isaac rang up last night – his weekly call from a sunny morning in blue-skied San Francisco (above.) I told him we were sitting by the log stove; we had snow on the hill behind the house; because of energy prices everyone I know is turning their heating down and reducing the number of hours they have their heating on, that a quarter of households in the UK face fuel poverty, and that Dave and I had been logging. And then I listened to myself - sounding like a bulletin from the siege of Leningrad.

Someone called Chris has won the Sue Hepworth Blog Christmas Competition 2011 – well done Chris! So now the rest of you can stop wracking your brains – all two of you. I am wondering if the puzzle was too easy: my other Christmas puzzles have taken longer to solve and have generated far more entries. Oh well.

Isaac asked if I had decided to continue the blog. The answer is “Yes, for now.” Thank you to all of you who have sent encouraging messages about it, and to those of you who lurk in the cybersphere and say nowt, but still keep coming back and reading.

Did you know I have a programme that tells me how many readers I get each day and where they live, and what keywords they type into Google to end up here? My favourite keywords this last month have been the following (I have added links in case you want to see the relevant post):

Finally, someone has recognised me for who I am.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Christmas competition 2011

OK. you guys and gals (I use the Jimmy Savile phrase because the last time I just said “guys” as a generic term for all of my readers whatever gender, my elder brother thought I just meant men) phew, OK, it’s time for the

 Sue Hepworth Blog Christmas Competition,

so hold onto your hats and don’t fall off your chairs with enthusiasm.

The prize is whichever of my books you would like – personally signed, by moi, (another media reference – this time to one of my heroines – Miss Piggy. Oh I am feeling frivolous this morning.) I will post the book to anyone, anywhere you choose.

I took the photo below as research for a scene in one of my novels. (Yes, just occasionally, they  contain something that hasn’t happened in my own life…although…) Anyway, you have to tell me where the picture was taken – what is the environment.

Please note, dear siblings, that you are not allowed to enter this competition.

Everyone else, please write your answers in the comments section below by 8 a.m. GMT December 16th.

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Not yet

Well I was thinking of telling you today that I was going to have a break from the blog for December.

I’m not doing that; though it may come.

In the meantime…

"In the end, writing is like a prison, an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude, the thoughts, the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you for the moment understand and with your whole heart want to believe."
- James Salter