Thursday, May 31, 2012

Normal service resumed

Shout me down if you like, but I am so pleased that the weather has taken a turn for the “worse.” Now it’s cloudy and drizzly I can sit here in bed with my laptop and write, and not feel as if I ought to be outside making the most of the Californian weather. Plus I can have a break from watering my sweet peas, which have been looking distinctly peaky.  On with Chapter 3…

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Monsal Trail

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We are so, so lucky to live half a mile from the Monsal Trail – a disused railway line that is now a bridleway. It goes through beautiful limestone country and because it’s so high, there are fabulous views.

On a warm, clear day it’s a real treat to cycle up it at eight in the morning, before it gets busy, or at teatime, when all the tourists have gone. I usually stop between Cressbrook Tunnel and Litton Tunnel, where there is no view of houses, or civilisation, and no sound but birdsong. I sit on the cliff edge and look at the river below, and listen to the birds, and think about the day – to come, or just past – and about all my family, and all my other concerns. Then I cycle home feeling better.

The last two times I’ve been, someone has left litter and I’ve brought it back to chuck in the bin. I’m always puzzled as to how someone who has the sensibility to choose to walk or cycle miles up a trail in the countryside, can also think it OK to leave their litter there. Last time it was a plastic carton  - an Asda Spicy Chicken Pot. Oh my God.

You see that viaduct in the picture below? The Monsal Trail goes along that. Impressive, eh?

Monsal Dale

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bakewell vs the Finchley Road

Jonathan Franzen, writing in the Guardian Review yesterday, mentioned some of the questions that readers ask him that he finds annoying. That made me think. One of the comments or questions that I find annoying is about where my novels are set.

Plotting for Beginners and But I told you last year that I loved you are both set in a village near Bakewell, and Zuzu’s Petals is set in Sheffield and Wensleydale. The book I am working on with Jane Linfoot right now  - Plotting for Grown-ups – is also set near Bakewell.

“Do you think,” some people say, “that people who don’t live near Bakewell will like the books?” 

And I snap at these people – some of who are friends -  or I say through gritted teeth, “A book has to be set SOMEWHERE, doesn’t it?”

A lot of Mary Wesley’s books are set in the West Country. I don’t know Cornwall: how does that spoil my enjoyment of her novel Part of the Furniture, which is (mostly) set on a Cornish farm? It doesn’t. 

I read contemporary novels all the time that are set in London – When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson, for example - and I don’t know London. Why is it any more valid for a book to be set in London than in the Peak District?

Anyway, Bakewell is so much prettier than London…

The river Wye in Bakewell



Friday, May 25, 2012

One horse town

This Hepworth craze with narrowboat holidays has led us into lots of little towns I didn’t even know existed, or towns that were just names in my head – Northwich, Middlewich, Whitchurch, Llangolllen, Tewkesbury, plus lots of other places we visited that didn’t leave a lasting impression. As well as expanding my knowledge of the UK, it’s made me appreciate that phrase “the death of the high street.” So many of the little towns we’ve seen consist of a high street with a dozen charity shops, a WHSmith, a Boots, Tesco, an electrical shop, and no little grocers, bakers or butchers. Such towns have had the hearts ripped out of them. I won’t say which was which – if you live there, you’ll know.

There was one village on the Weaver River where all the houses and gardens were beautifully kept, but where the playground looked like this –

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Is it a one horse town? Is it a result of the cuts? What’s going on?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I love MAY

I am still having a love-affair with my bed, after sleeping on that two foot wide “bed” on the narrowboat for ten days.

The weather since we got back has been so beautiful with still, clear, sunny days, and the rich new May vegetation is so lush and so fresh and so tender, that at times I feel almost sad. I was going to put that T S Eliot quote on here about April being the cruellest month, but then remembered I’ve already posted it once this month. I must be feeling particularly melancholic this spring. I was sitting on my steamer chair outside yesterday, and looking at the copper beech with its newly unfurled pink-brown leaves and realised that it was ten years to the day since my father died. I can remember that May so clearly.

If you’re a new reader to this blog, this might be the time to tell you that Zuzu’s Petals is all about the death of an elderly parent. Ignore that sappy, pink frilly nonsense of a cover foisted on me and the book against our wills, and consider reading it.  There is a love story in there as well, but for me the central theme is bereavement and the concept of home. You can buy it as a paperback or as an ebook.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This is where I’ve been…

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…in Cheshire, on the Trent and Mersey canal. We had booked a different boat on the Kennet and Avon, but the boat company rang up two days before our trip to say the canal was leaking and closed for repair, so they offered us two other choices.

The weather was iffy, and my bed was 2 feet wide (yes, literally)  and I felt as though I was sleeping on a pantry shelf. But the company on board was convivial, and there were lots of laughs, and we were on a narrowboat, when all’s said and done, and it was MAY, the best month of the year, so yes. It was a good holiday.

The highlight of Dave’s trip was our ride on the Anderton Boat Lift – a way to transfer 50 feet downwards onto the River Weaver…

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The highlight of my trip was the birdsong. When we moored up near trees the birdsong was varied and loud and wonderful, and even when we were chugging along the canal, the low throbbing of the engine didn’t drown it out.

I’ve been on a narrowboat on three rivers now – the Avon, the Severn and the Weaver…

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…but I prefer canals. You get a more intimate view of your surroundings, there is always a towpath to walk on, and there are times when you’re higher than the surrounding countryside - which is never the case on a river – so there are some fabulous views. Anyway, I love those little bridges…

April 2011 (Easter) barge holiday 017

Thursday, May 10, 2012

To be a writer, you need a thick skin

I am very lucky to have Jane as a co-writer. Her judgment is impeccable, and she cares as much about the exact arrangement of words and the choice of said words as I do. Sometimes I find her comments bracing, but I realised yesterday that the mood I am in, and the amount of effort I have put into a piece of writing that I send her, impact unreasonably on my reaction to her emailed response.

Yesterday, I sent her yet another draft of the synopsis for Plotting for Grown-ups (Yay! See! We got a title in the end! Although…it is just a working title at present…) and she sent me this reply:

hi daise

no this doesn't work at all - it doesn't begin properly, it looks a) very bitty  b) very un-slick and hence un-pro - i would so not want to read a book by peeps who couldn't even get a snazzy synopsis together

but I think if I get out my hatchet it may work -

can't decide if i need to do this or september

best dilemmas love g x

A perfectly fair email. But I was tired and fed up, and what I saw, were the words “This is total crap.”

Poor Jane, she has to put up with someone who has knee jerk emotional reactions to emailed comments, and sees words that just aren’t there.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sally Howe/Sue Hepworth crossover


Sometimes people ask me if Sally Howe (in Plotting for Beginners) is me. The answer is “no” but nevertheless, some of the things that happen to Sally have happened to me. And some of her opinions are the same as mine. Some of them.

And I have a feeling that in the sequel to Plotting (that I am writing with Jane, and which is on the verge of actually having a title) Sally is going to mock the sleeveless trench that appears in her latest copy of the Pure catalogue.

A sleeveless trench? Give me strength. The catalogue says - “it is a real statement piece…” Too right. It states: “If you’re wearing this, you’re a bozo.” Don’t they realise that rain falls on your arms as well as your body?

Monday, May 07, 2012

You decide

My sister Kath has just sent me (by phone) the song of a nightingale because I said I didn’t know what it sounded like.

This is not her recording, but listen.

Now, listen to this blackbird.

Which do you prefer?

Can someone tell me why so much fuss is made about the nightingale?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

I miss my mother

It’s three years and six months since my mother died. Usually, she pops up in my head and I’m happy to think of her. But these last two weeks, I’ve been yearning to see her, feeling sad that I can’t.
I always wonder what brings it on. This time I think it’s hearing about other people’s much loved elderly mothers passing away. There have been two in the last month, and yesterday my lovely hairdresser (of 20 years) told me about her father-in-law who is fading away.
Or is it the season? The arrival of spring? The brightness, the possibilities, the new openings that she is not here to share?
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
T S Eliot
Odd, isn’t it, that on Thursday I was delighting in the joy of spring in The Secret Garden,  and here I am tuned into its melancholy?

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Ma  and Sue in Morecambe

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Hope and transformation

I’ve nearly finished reading The Secret Garden for the third time. If you don’t know it, it’s a children’s book and a classic, published a hundred years ago.

I love this book. It’s about the Spring, and hope and transformation, and opening out to love. It’s about hope that things can be better, daring to move outside one’s comfort zone, being transformed. I love the fact that it’s firmly set in Yorkshire, and I love the descriptions of Spring and the joy that the children have in the opening out of the world in Spring.
It’s a great book to read when the winter is getting you down, but I am enjoying it now. It makes me think that things that I yearn for, for other people - such as healing from trauma and heartbreak, and new beginnings, and moving forward in the face of difficulties – that they are possible. And you know, sometimes they are.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

(extract from the poem Sometimes by Sheena Pugh)