Saturday, March 31, 2012

Come home Anne Tyler

That's it! I am done with Sebastian Barry. I don't care if he does write like an angel. I can't take any more of the unhappiness and violence in his novels. I don't care if it is all based on the kinds of things that have happened in Ireland over the last century: life is hard enough and tough enough without reading novels about misery as well. I need lifting up. I need encouragement. I need solace. I am going to read Breathing Lessons while I am here. I can't face East of Eden now.
Wendy and Isaac saw me taking Plotting for Beginners off their shelf last night and said - "Good book! You ought to read it!" but I only wanted it to check what Sam calls Sally, (i.e. does he say Mum, or Ma?) as I am working on the sequel during the silent watches of jet-lag, when everyone else is asleep.

Friday, March 30, 2012

one difference between a mother and a grandmother

So here I am sitting in bed with a laptop - no change there, you might think. But here in SF it is time to be asleep. Lovely little Lux in the room next door has had a disturbed night, and so have I. I have only been in to see here a couple of times to settle her, whereas Wendy has been in far too many for her own comfort. It is likely that I (the Gran) enjoy cuddling a wakeful bundle of fun in a rocking chair in the middle of the night rather more than Wendy (the mother) does. The difference is what happens afterwards. When I was a young and exhausted parent, I could go to sleep anywhere, even sitting on the loo. Now I am an ancient crone, once I'm disturbed I lie awake. But I came to see my family, didn't I? And that's what I am doing, and loving it.
I just wish I'd brought more cheerful novels along to read on my holiday, because lying awake is sometimes like that Fleur Adcock poem - Things: "It is 5.a.m. All the worse things come stalking in and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse."
I brought with me The Secret Scripture, which is wonderful - of course. (Sebastian Barry is my latest writing hero.) East of Eden is a classic: I always bring a Steinbeck to read when I'm here. Rose Tremain's Temptation is also on my bedside table. But why are all serious books also rather miserable? Can you tell me one that is substantial and thought-provoking without making you feel desperate when you're reading it?
Aha! Just been to the sitting room and looked on the bookshelves and found Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler - just the ticket.

p.s. If you live in India, and you have arrived at this post after searching for differences between mothers and grandmothers, I would love it if you would tell me WHY you are looking for this topic. I have had a lot of hits from India on this post and I am intrigued as to why...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I see hills of green


This is the first time I have been in San Francisco in the spring, so it's the first time I have seen hills that are green. It's also the first time I have needed a woollen jacket when eating outside. It's all new.

The best thing so far is that Lux remembered me! It's tough having a grandchild 5,000 miles away. I don't expect I will ever know her as well as I do my grandsons - who live half an hour's drive away from me - but I still want her to know who I am and be pleased to see me when I visit. So far it's working - pretty good for someone who is only 20 months old. Or, as they say over here, "Good job!"

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On the move

It’s raining in San Francisco, and Isaac has bought Lux her first umbrella. But look at the photo! Both she and Wendy are wearing warm coats! Is this what I should be packing in my suitcase? Aaarrgghhh!

bean's 1st umbrella

I have never been to stay in the rainy season before. Wendy said it was only fair I should get some rain some time as it ALWAYS rains when they come here. I am flying there tomorrow, but I shall be blogging when I get there. Unlike the narrowboat, the SF house is uber-wired.

(So anyway, that’s why I’m changing the header picture to my April one today – even though it’s still March. I shan’t have access to all my photographs over there.)

Monday, March 26, 2012


Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 020

Narrowboats naturally reflect the tastes and lifestyles of their owners, and this applies to the boats of boat companies too.The boat we were on last week was clean, bright, and it had a good engine.  It had basic cooking equipment, a self-tuning telly (a miracle if you watch the telly) and it had a HUGE clip file containing details of all the pubs and eateries along the length of the canal, often with menus included. (We did not need this – we took most of our food along with us.)

The boat had everything we needed apart from one thing.There was no shelf above the bed for a book, a mug of tea, your glasses, a torch, whatever. Every other boat I have been on has a shelf by the bed.

I guess the owners of our boat spend the evening in the pub, stagger home and settle down to sleep under their minus 3 tog rated duvet and the idea of reading never enters their mind. But don’t they even like to start the day sitting in bed with a mug of tea, while the boat warms up?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

AWOL again on the Leeds-Liverpool canal

I’m sorry to have left you in the lurch with no explanation. We went for a surprise holiday on a narrowboat on the Leeds-Liverpool canal with the family member who declines to be named. Sadly you won’t be seeing any photos of said family member because they also decline to be pictured.

Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 039

It’s thirty years since we were on that canal and in the intervening time the noise of traffic has grown, spoiling a considerable length of it for country dwellers like us, who live up a lane and whose favourite sound is the song of the resident blackbird at dawn.

Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 001

But there still are some pockets of quiet loveliness, namely on the Yorkshire side of the Pennines, west of Skipton. It was beautiful above Gargrave, and we hung around there for several days rather than venture further. There’s no county compares with Yorkshire – the countryside, the accents, the fish and chips cooked deliciously in beef fat.

Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 015

We had a great time (naturally! - we were on a narrowboat holiday!) despite the traffic and the frosty nights and the duvets with minus 3 togs, necessitating my sleeping in two pairs of pyjamas and a cashmere v-neck, a hoodie and a scarf. Dave wore even more than that: he is a true gent and insisted I had all of the inadequate duvet to myself.

Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 060

I cycled the tow path down to the Bingley Five Rise locks, built 200 years ago, and rang one of my sisters from there to say – I’m here! One branch of our family comes from Bingley, and one of my grandfathers had barges carrying coal up and down the canal.

Mar 2012 Leeds Liverpool with Jak 088

I am sitting here in bed with the cat and my laptop, wearing only one set of pyjamas. It’s warm. It’s silent. It’s magic.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book titles

oh dear oh dear oh dear – it doesn’t suit me being busy. I want to be sitting in bed all morning with my laptop writing the next 10,000 words of the new book – which, incidentally, still has no title.When are we going to find the right one?

If an author is a bestseller writer, the title and the cover are pretty much irrelevant. Eager readers will leap on the latest book with enthusiasm, whatever.

Jane and I are not bestseller writers (yet) so we need to get a title which grabs the reader and INSISTS they read the book.

Ones that attract me are quirky, intriguing, and/or which contain a personal pronoun.  So, for example, I found Charlotte Mendelson’s title When We Were Bad, irresistible. The book had good reviews, so I bought it. I wasn’t disappointed: I loved it.  What kinds of titles attract you when you see them in a bookshop, when they are not on the books of authors you know you like?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Co-writing a novel


I’ve just heard back from my co-author Jane, and she likes my second batch of the book (10,000 words). Yay! This is the first draft and it will need a lot of further work, but it’s 80% there.

Friends still ask “How do you and Jane write a book together?” And I explain that the thus-far untitled comedy we’re writing is Sally Howe’s diary (next instalment after Plotting for Beginners) and that I write the diary in Sally’s voice, but Jane and I have together planned the storylines, the characters and the texture of the book.

I often get stuck. Last week I had to write Sally’s birthday and was stumped for ideas as to what she was going to do on it, so I sent a quick email to Jane. She responded with a plan of Sally’s day, including the character(s) she spent it with. So that was fine, and I started writing it, but then was stuck as to what X said when he and Sally visited somewhere before lunch.

Another quick email exchange yielded some detailed phrases and sentences that X would use. Jane knows X  a bit better than I do, and specifically she knows how his mind works. 

We did write a piece for a magazine about how we wrote Plotting for Beginners together and it’s on my blog here, if you’re interested.

If you haven’t read Plotting for Beginners (shock! horror!) don’t fret. The sequel we are writing is a stand alone novel and doesn’t require prior knowledge. But when you read it next year, you may well want to go back for the earlier instalment.

The photo at the top is of Jane and me at the launch of Plotting for Beginners.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I’m sorry not to be posting this week. I am really busy with a family matter.

This family member is not involved, but she is a sweetie:

feb 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Small talk redux, and a Fair Trade breakfast

I had a difficult week last week, which is why I was so dyspeptic in Friday’s post. Now all I will say about small talk is that the weather was invented so that hairdressers and smiley dental assistants have something to talk about so they don’t have to say to you, “Are you off out tonight?” We just need to inform them all of this.

I am now feeling better. The sun shone today, and the day started in a warm and friendly way with a fair trade breakfast provided by the children at Quaker Meeting, They had a sleepover last night at the Meeting House, and this morning they provided breakfast for all the adults (with a little help from some of the Friends) before Quaker Meeting.

It was fab. All the ingredients were either fair trade, home made, or locally sourced. They prepared most of it themselves, set the tables, made the menus, and acted as the waiting staff. Our Meeting would lose its sparkle if no kids came.

Q breakfast 3

q breakfast 1

Q breakfast 4

Thank you Josh, Rachel, Anna, Hamish and Sasha.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Small talk

I hate going to new hairdressers because they always try to make trivial conversation and ask you inane questions like “Are you off out tonight?” and I don’t like small talk. I can’t do small talk. Fortunately my current hairdresser has known me for years and talks to me either about real things like family or haircuts or future life plans, or she doesn’t talk at all.

Today I went to a new dentist because my usual one has retired. the new one is pleasant (except that he didn’t polish my teeth) and he has a smiley dental nurse who I liked right up until she said, “Are you doing something nice this afternoon? Are you going out?” I was in fact doing something taxing and private this afternoon and I said “I don’t want to talk about it.” I suppose it was due to my feeling rather tense, that I blurted out this reply.

Do you consider me churlish?  Or do you sympathise that the kind of nicety she was trading in was unnecessary and irritating?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


One of the very many things my sister Jen and I miss with our mother gone, is her encouragement. These days we try to encourage each other. Encouragement is an underrated blessing you can offer someone else. And I always find Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, helpful: if you need some encouragement, find it and read it. (Though of course, it may not speak to your condition.)

There’s a blog I have enjoyed checking into from time to time called The Scent of Water  and one time I found something really encouraging that I wanted to share with you. Megan Young writes the blog and she gave me her permission.

She said to her blog readers

“So, with much love and great respect, here are 50 things I know about you:

1. You do your best.

2. You doubt your best is good enough.

3. It truly is.

4. So relax about it.

5. At times you feel invisible.

6. Though your smile lights up a room.

7. And your laughter a universe.

8. Use them often.

9. They make you beautiful.

10. Gospel truth.

11. You worry a lot.

12. Which is useful, sometimes, for making plans.

13. But not for hiding.

14. You're needed out here.

15. In spite of your imperfections.

16. Because of your imperfections.

17. And all the gifts you have that you casually discount.

18. Stop doing that.

19. Accept them. Grow them. Stand tall on them.

20. Share them.

21. Sometimes the world rests on your shoulders and you don't always want to bear the weight.

22. It's okay.

23. You don't always have to.

24. Put it down for a minute and catch your breath.

25. Jump in puddles, climb trees, sing in the rain.

26. The world will still be there tomorrow.

27. You will still have the courage to face it tomorrow.

28. However difficult it feels.

29. That's what makes it courage.

30. That's what keeps whole worlds in motion.

31. Whenever you doubt your worth or your place.

32. Please remember that.

33. Your life might not be what you expected it to be.

34. It's still your life.

35. And there's still time enough.

36. If not to be a ballerina, then to dance.

37. If not a doctor, then to heal.

38. So dance, so heal.

39. Sometimes you're too busy for the things that bring you joy.

40. It feels self-indulgent, maybe, or selfish.

41. Even if you had the time.

41. Make the time.

42. Say no to something else.

43. Because your joy is the least selfish thing about you.

44. It's treasure, and charm, and wonder, and delight.

45. It's unique. It's powerful.

46. Which makes you unique. And powerful.

47. Also gospel truth.

48. Don't worry about changing the world.

49. Just by showing up.

50. You already have.”


Monday, March 05, 2012

Bookish miscellania

I’ve been known to give up reading a novel because there were so many characters introduced in the first few chapters that I couldn’t get them clear in my head. Fancy, I almost gave up on Anne Tyler’s Back when we were Grown-ups. What was she thinking with that first chapter?

I find it especially difficult when all the characters have foreign names that I don’t know how to pronounce. Somehow, being able to hear the sound of their name in my head helps me get a handle on them as a character.

Jane and I are currently working on the first section of our new novel (STILL WITH NO TITLE – poor thing, it’s like a baby without a name) and we need to introduce the characters in Sally’s voice in Sally’s diary without being unrealistic. i.e. no-one says in their diary - “Richard is my brother.”It is not as easy as you might think.

Meanwhile, over the ocean, my 19-month-old Californian granddaughter is spending an hour a day looking at books.

lux oct 1 2011

Go Lux! Her Dad says she likes to scrutinise all the pictures even if she isn’t up to listening to the storyline yet. She especially likes Peepo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

I bought it for her because I adore the Ahlbergs’ books, but also because I wanted to make sure she’d know something about her English heritage. We can’t have her growing up not knowing what a back-to-back terraced house is, now can we?

Friday, March 02, 2012

To everything, there is a season

I opened my laptop this morning before the birds started singing, and I thought – Ooh, I can listen to the Youtube blackbird as I write. But if you are dozy and you have a bad headache, even a blackbird (in your laptop) can be an overpowering backing track.

Also, I’m wondering if the blackbird in the garden will be put off if he thinks there’s another one on site.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A favourite sound

If I had to choose a favourite sound that has nothing to do with my family… (e.g. one of the grandchildren saying “Hi, Sue!” in a particular smiley tone – oh I am a soppy date – and yes, before you ask, they do call me “Sue” ) …the sound would be this.