Wednesday, October 31, 2012

That tricky last chapter of Plotting for Grown-ups

The bad news: the second half of the last chapter needs rewriting.

The good news:  Jane is an impeccable editor and has vastly improved the first half of the last chapter (that didn’t need rewriting.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My mother

It is four years ago today that my mother died, and finally I can bear to have her photo on my desk, right next to my computer. It has taken this long to be able to look at her picture without feeling an unbearable yearning to see her.

Helen Willis

The loss of my mother hit me harder than anything else in my life. Today I find her in my brothers and sisters. The love she wrapped around us is now the love we have for one another. I know how lucky I am to have such a loving family. It has made me sturdy and able to withstand the things that life has thrown at me, only some of which I write about and share with the world. Thank you, Ma.

So, let’s hear it for love.

Our life is love and peace and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.

Isaac Penington, 1667

And if you want to read more, here is my mother’s obituary:

Helen Willis 1917- 2008

Helen Willis was a well-known resident of Wensleydale, whose life was not marked by outstanding professional achievements, but whose influence was profound. She was like countless people who live quiet, modest lives but whose loving nature and strength of character are appreciated by their family and many beyond.

She was a long-time member of Leyburn Quaker Meeting, serving the meeting in a number of different offices. In 2003, aged 85, she attended a peace demonstration against the Iraq war. For her 90th birthday, she held a garden party to raise money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.

She was a prize-winning bridge player and a talented craftswoman. Her intellectual curiosity was insatiable and wide-ranging, and included nuclear physics, mathematics, engineering, astronomy, education, code-breaking and architecture. In her early eighties she went on a 24 hour winter trip into the arctic circle to see the Northern Lights. In her late eighties, she learned to use email to correspond with her large, far-flung family.

Born near Bedale, Helen Barron was an identical twin and was educated at Ackworth Quaker School, where she combined mental acuity with extraordinary physical vigour, qualities that she maintained throughout her life. She captained both the hockey and cricket teams, and gained a 1st class Instructors Certificate of the Royal Lifesaving Society. She was also Head Girl.

She then graduated from the Rachel MacMillan Training College for Nursery Education. She played hockey for Kent while at college, and later played for Lancashire.

She was called up a month early to her first teaching post at Hunslet Nursery School in Leeds in August 1939, to help evacuate the school to Bramham Park, the home of Lord Bingley. For the first few weeks, the children and teachers lived, worked, played and slept in the ballroom. She was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

She worked as a nursery teacher until her marriage in 1944 to Fred Willis, whom she first met at school. They set up home in a farming community of conscientious objectors at Holton Beckering in Lincolnshire. After 18 months, the couple moved to north Lincolnshire, on Fred’s appointment as a Farms Manager. There they brought up five children.

After a spell in Derby, the couple moved to Aysgarth in 1972, and played a full part in village life, with Helen particularly making sure to welcome newcomers and include them in local activities.

Mrs Willis laughed easily and bore difficulties with casual fortitude, refusing to be cowed by any adversity. She was self-effacing and talked little of her considerable achievements, but was ambitious for others, giving encouragement, support and praise in equal measure.

She was an indefatigable maker, producing craftwork of grace and vigour until shortly before her death. Her making was carefully matched to the tastes and interests of the delighted recipient, who recognised not only her skill, but the love which had gone into the making.

Mrs Willis died on 30th October, after a brief illness borne stoically, with her usual dismissive disdain for her ailments.

copyright: Darlington and Stockton Times

Monday, October 29, 2012


It is 11.02 a.m. and I have finIshed writing the final chapter of PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS! I just need to think about the very last line for a little bit longer before I email it to Jane. I am going to hang out the washing and play my sax, and mooch around for a bit and then come back to it and see if something better springs to mind.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Here’s what normally happens -

I wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. and lie there trying to work out what day it is. Then I dash to the loo and get back under the covers and lie there wool-gathering, deciding what I am going to write on my blog. This week, however, I am lying in bed working out what I am going to write in the next scene in PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS. I imagine myself in Sally’s shoes and put myself where she is, and then see what happens. I discover (from where?) the main gist of the action and some snippets of dialogue, and then I go downstairs and get a mug of tea and try to resist delving in the tin for one of Dave’s home-made oatcakes, and then go back to bed and write the scene, having explained to Dave (who has been up for hours and is looking at stuff on his computer) that I am incommunicado for the foreseeable future. (Doesn’t foreseeable look weird when you spell it out??)

So now I am going to write that chapter. And as the big D has appeared in this post, I must tell you that the scooter has been removed from the sitting room (as if my magic) to the shed, and the car – you recall he bought a new car? – is not BEIGE, as he said, it is, according to Jane, metallic taupe. Phew.

And here is a photo from last weekend -

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My list

I have been lying in bed on this dark autumn morning, racking my brains for something to blog about.  My head is full of the final stretch of PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS, which I am about to write, and there’s no space for anything else.

In lieu of anything interesting, here is my to-do list

1/ work out the sequence of events in the critical climax scene

2/ write said scene

3/ bring the SAD light down from the attic. We change the clocks at the weekend, and anyway the days are already only about 10 hours long and I need to fend off winter blues

4/ tidy the “stationery” shelves in the corner of my study and throw away as much detritus as I can. If a feng shui expert saw it as the mo it would give them palpitations

5/ agree a cause of death for Juliet (dead character in PfG) – Jane fancies viral pneumonia but I favour e coli

6/ bring all the geraniums into the house for over-wintering

7/ practise my sax

8/ bring in the slackline for the winter (if the sun shines, I should be gardening not playing)

9/ persuade Dave that no matter how much he likes it, his scooter does not live in the sitting room (where he put it one day, when I was out)

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Our village

I emailed Jane the latest instalment of PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS yesterday, and she sent me back her comments, one of which was…

this doesn’t sound real (did that happen to you?)”

And my answer was “Yes. Utterly mad, but true.”

Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction, so you can’t use it in a novel, because the reader wouldn’t believe it,  and they’d question it, and that would break the fictive dream.

On another tack, Dave and I went for a walk round the village yesterday, but I forgot to take my camera, so here – for all of you who like to see photographs of Derbyshire - are some pictures from another October…

our lane…

our  lane

the middle of the village…

middle of the village

 The kissing gate…

kissing gate

 the path from the kissing gate to the church…

path to church from KGate

 the church…

the village church

the church lych gate and the farm…

church lych gate & farm

 the dairy…

The dairy

 view towards the pub…

towards the pub

And this is one Isaac took of Dave and me on the Monsal Trail in 2009…

sue and dave on the monsal trail

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


When we were on the narrrowboat this time, Dave usually steered the boat through the locks while I opened and shut the gates and the paddles. When there is only one of you working the locks, it’s hard work and you have to keep walking to the front and back of the lock to get over to the other side. Sometimes there are little bridges by the tall front gates, but most often you have to walk on a shelf especially designed for the purpose…

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This is not too scary when the gates are shut, if you walk carefully and hang on to the rail.

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But when one of the gates is open and you need to get to the other side, and you can’t be bothered to walk round to the back of the lock and use the shelf on the closed gates, a solution is to step across the gap above the deep chasm. I have always held my breath when I’ve seen Dave do this. This time, I managed to do it myself. The odd thing was that at some locks and times of day I felt confident and stepped across without a problem, and at other times, I looked at the three foot gap and the deep drop and thought “I can’t do that!”

The truth was that I could have done it every time, but only half the time did I feel confident enough to try. There is a lesson in this. 

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And for those of you who don’t understand how locks work, here is a Hepworth tutorial on the subject. (The lock in this tutorial has a bridge at the front.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

What’s been happening

Imagine you were crazy about holidays on narrowboats. Imagine you had a friend who lived on a narrowboat and he wanted to go away on holiday and he asked you to look after the boat for him while he was gone.

That’s what Dave and I have been doing for the last two weeks. Nevertheless, my telling you that I was concentrating my writing energy on PLOTTING FOR GROWNUPS was true. I have been working hard on it. Besides which, the broadband connection via a dongle to my laptop was so patchy and weak that it would have been impossible for me to blog anyway. I did feel rather sheepish about going away again so soon after getting back from California, but in my defence, there were years and years when we never had holidays.

For all of you who like my photographs, here’s a selection…

Early mornings are the best part of the day on the canal..

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Early morning mist over Llangollen…

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Fortunately i didn’t have to disturb the web when I opened the paddle that morning…

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Our fabulous mooring in Llangollen basin…

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I love canal bridges…

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Although I could live without lift bridges…they are such a faff.

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