Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing fiction causes insomnia

It’s official. Writing novels interferes with your sleep. You have a great meeting with your co-author and agree what is wrong and what is right with the book, and what needs changing and who is going to do it and by when, and then that night you can’t switch your brain off. It is alive with characters and scenes and dialogue – old and new and proposed – and in the end you give up and watch comedy on your laptop and think: How am I going to get through tomorrow with only half as much sleep as I need? I have to drive to Newark (possibly through floods) to see my big sister, and to work on the cover production with my brother in law. Oh dear.

But then you think about your characters again – whom you love – and think, Well, this won’t be forever, and I shall miss them so much when the book is finished, and miss the fun of writing them into impossible situations and seeing how they manage to wriggle out of them. Yep, being a novelist is like playing God, but I don’t think God needs eight hours sleep. Or maybe he does, and that’s why the world is in such a mess.

Talking of which, if you want to know why most Americans don’t understand the problems of Palestine, you could read this excellent article.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bad practice

I really must learn not to even think about the current work in progress (PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS) after 7 p.m, never mind actually work on it – or even read feedback from readers. If I do, the book goes round and round my head all night so it’s a relief to wake up. Right, 7.10 a.m. is a sensible time to work on said WIP so that’s what I’m going to do now.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sally and me

Here I am, sitting in bed with my laptop, thinking that some time or other I have to tell you about Sally Howe – the heroine of Plotting for Beginners, and of the self-contained sequel, Plotting for Grown-ups (to be published next year.)

Regular readers of my blog might think that Sally is me. We do have a lot in common. We’re both writers and we both live near Bakewell in the Derbyshire Peak District. But I am not Sally and she is not me.

Some of the things we have in common are:

we both grew long grey plaits when we first became writers; we would both like to dress like rock chicks but feel we are too old; we hate February (but then all of my heroines hate February); we both like ogling the clothes in the TOAST catalogue but not buying them because of the prices; and we like writing in bed, Yorkshire tea, Fred Astaire, James Thurber, sweet peas, watching Neighbours to relax (so sue me), cycling and walking on the Monsal Trail:

may 2011 monsal trail 003

and going to Hassop Station Cafe on the Monsal Trail:

nov 2012 014

Friday, November 23, 2012

For my regular readers

Hello, you lot, you dear faithful readers.  Now that an Israeli/Gaza ceasefire has been announced, I am hoping NOT to be blogging about Gaza and the oppressed Palestinian people for a while (apart from my Christmas appeal.)

cristina ruiz cortina gaza kids

I try to leave politics off my blog, but this is one issue I feel too strongly about to ignore. A blog reader once asked me why. The answer is this:

I care deeply about social justice, and the way the Israeli state treats Palestinians day by day is not just. Outside Gaza, they oppress them, steal their land and resources, destroy their houses and their olive groves, treat them inhumanely, deny them freedom of movement, and treat them as second class citizens. Meanwhile, the people of Gaza live under siege conditions, with no freedom of movement, and they are denied access to all kinds of basic resources such as medicines and building materials to rebuild the houses destroyed by Israeli missiles. Past bombing by Israel has destroyed their infra-structure and their economy. The Israelis break international laws and yet the rest of the world supports them in the oppression of the Palestinians, by sending them aid and arms. The Israelis are treated as a special case, presumably because of collective world guilt for the Holocaust. You would think that people who had survived the Holocaust would behave more humanely towards other people.

The other reason I cannot remain quiet on the subject is because the mainstream media generally reports the issues from the point of view of the Israelis without challenging their spokespeople, ignoring the Palestinian case, and the BBC is the worst offender in this.

If you want to read more, read this.

OK. That’s it. Normal service resumed…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A sign?

I printed out the latest (and I hope the penultimate) draft of PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS this morning, and the printer managed all 90,000 words without a paper jam. I hope it’s a portent of things to come. Smooooooth sailing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Help the people of Gaza

I don’t endorse violence of any kind from any party. I do think it is wrong to target civilian populations of any kind. But Israel has kept Gaza under siege for years; it is an open air prison, and Israel will not lift the siege. Palestinians have tried non-violent resistance,  diplomacy and rockets to achieve justice. Israel has said no to all three. It is time for Israel to negotiate with the people who were democratically elected in Gaza by an overwhelming majority: Hamas.

My heart aches when I think about what is going on in Gaza. If you feel the same, don’t just sit there feeling powerless, engulfed by a terrible sympathy, do something. For example:

1/ Boycott Israeli goods, and especially those from illegal Israeli settlements; and don’t invest in international companies which work to enable the oppression of the Palestinian people

2/ Give money to charities helping the people in Gaza. Medical Aid for Palestinians, and the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, are charities which I know have an agenda of non-violence

3/ Write to your elected representative and urge them to demand that Israel stop the bombing

4/ Demonstrate against the bombing

5/ Tell other people the truth about the situation to counteract the lies from the Israeli government and the bias of the mainstream media. Here are five truths to get you started:

  • Israel has many illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and is expanding them, breaking international law;
  • Israel is breaking international law by collectively punishing the people of Gaza - not just by bombing them, but by restricting their freedom of movement, and their access to humanitarian aid, power and medical supplies;
  • Hamas was democratically elected by the majority of the Palestinian people in an election judged fair and free by impartial international observers
  • Israel bulldozes Palestinian houses and steals Palestinian land and water and cut down hundreds of their olive trees (their livelihood) and harass them in their everyday lives;
  • Israel practises apartheid e.g. there are Israeli-only roads, and housing which Arabs cannot rent.

6/ Forward friends a link to this post. This is it.

7/ Don't despair. The campaign to abolish slavery must have seemed like an impossible task when it first began. 


p.s.  I do not endorse violence of any kind - not even the rockets from Hamas, but it is time for Israel to sit down and negotiate with Hamas, a democratically elected government.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Stand up and be counted – solidarity with Gaza

Nov 2012 006

That’s me, with the pink bag.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Are your children safe?

My grandsons in Sheffield can play outside and be safe.

My granddaughters in San Francisco can play in their yard and be safe.
cece and lux oct 12
In Gaza, it is not safe for children to play outside. Israeli soldiers might shoot them or bomb them. A woman pregnant with twins was killed yesterday: it is not safe in the womb.
It is not safe anywhere.
My two year old granddaughter became frightened of planes after Fleet Week in San Francisco because of the low flying stunt planes. Imagine yourself as a two year old in Gaza. There, the planes are in the skies to kill people. There is no escape. It is impossible to flee, because Gaza is under the Israeli blockade. The Israelis are bombing civilians in an open-air prison.
Here is two year old Walid Abadleh, killed in the latest Israeli airstrikes.
2 yr old
Please read the news about what is happening in Gaza right now, and protest in whatever way you can – on the streets, or by writing letters to your MP or other elected representative. if you are American shout louder: the US has more power than anyone to keep the Israelis in check.
The other thing you could do is donate money to Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British charity with a non-violent agenda, that works on the ground in Gaza and in the rest of Palestine.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This last week

OK. Here is the problem: do I write a sunny-side-up blog post about the beauty of the autumn leaves, or do I tell you how I really feel?
This last week has been tough. Partly, it’s been tough because I have this chronic sinus problem that’s been hanging around on and off since last Christmas, and this week it’s been ON and I’ve felt crap.
Then Jane and I had a wobble over the book. This is now happily resolved and it’s all systems go.
Then there’s the news: everywhere you look, it’s bad. Sometimes I despair of the corruption in public life; the way the rich and powerful ignore the needs of the powerless; the way the small person is crushed; the way powerful nations oppress smaller vulnerable ones – yes, Israel, I am talking about you and your oppression of the Palestinian people. It feels wrong to detach oneself and stop up my ears to it. I must stay engaged, and if possible, speak out when I can.
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.          Edmund Burke
So there you have it – that’s how I am. Today, I am taking my laptop to Adrian at 121 IT services to find out why it keeps crashing; then I am having my hair cut, and then I am seeing my grandsons for a Lego update, and to hear my older grandson sing Skyfall, that he is practising for his talent contest at school. That should cheer me up.

Tomorrow it is back to tweaking the text of Plotting for Grown-ups, which will also be fun.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Writing a book and making a patchwork quilt have a lot in common. (Have I said this before? No, just checked – I said it was like having a baby.) OK, back to the book analogy….There is the original idea and attendant excitement, the planning, design, redesign, hours of tedious application, bursts of joy, and then the huge satisfaction of the finished product and (you hope) enjoyment for other people.

But there is sometimes a moment when you look at the work in progress and think – Aaargghh! This is not working!

Jan 2012 011

Then you have to sit and think and let a few days go by, while you work out what the problem is, and what you can do to put it right.

The patchwork project that I started last winter has come out of the drawer again (because there is less fun to be had outdoors) and I can see that the misgivings I had about it earlier in the year are sound, and that it needs a complete reworking. So I have started unpicking the pieces already assembled. I did two hours last night. When it’s all unpicked, I will spread out the pieces on the floor again and redesign the quilt from scratch.

On the book front, we’re currently considering the ways in which the first draft does not pass muster, and how to put things right. There’ll be some unpicking, but it won’t be as drastic as that required by the quilt.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Poem for today

You Learn
You learn.
After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
and you learn that love doesn't mean leaning
and company doesn't mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
and presents aren't promises,
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes open
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
and you learn to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure.
That you really are strong.
And you really do have worth.
And you learn. And learn.
With every good-bye you learn.

Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, November 05, 2012


Oops! Religion and politics in one fell swoop on what is supposed to be a writer’s blog, and all because I couldn’t think of an entertaining way to tell you I’ve been planting tulips and riding my bike on the Monsal Trail.

The good news is that Jane and I have agreed that the current draft of the last chapter works, and we each get what we wanted out of it, which at first seemed impossible.

Now we have to sort out the first chapter.

Living simply

I have been scratting around trying to think of something to write on here. It’s proving difficult because I am so immersed in rewriting the last chapter of Plotting for Grown-ups, and the only other two things that are occupying my brain are (1)  the American election, and hoping for the sake of the US and the whole world that Obama wins, and (2) simplicity and living simply, because that’s what we’ve been thinking a lot about at my Quaker meeting.

I don’t know how much you know about Quakerism, but we don’t look like this:

Or this:

Most of us look pretty normal.

We don’t have a set of beliefs or a creed, but we have things called testimonies, which are ideals we try to live by: truth and integrity, equality, peace, social justice, and simplicity.

I thought you might be interested to read what our book called Quaker Faith and Practice says about simplicity:

I want to list ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity. They should not be viewed as laws but as one attempt to flesh out the meaning of simplicity into twentieth-century life.

First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Third, develop a habit of giving things away. De-accumulate.

Fourth, refuse to be propagandised by the custodians of modern gadgetry.

Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Seventh, look with a healthy scepticism at all 'buy now, pay later' schemes.

Eighth, obey Jesus' injunction about plain, honest speech.

Ninth, reject anything that will breed the oppression of others.

Tenth, shun whatever would distract you from your main goal.


Friday, November 02, 2012

The writer, the grandmother, and the hero

Jane and I have now agreed what has to be done to sort out the last chapter of PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS, and the upshot is that the hero is no longer my ideal man, and I shan’t be running away with him.

What are you saying?

Yes, I was considering it! These people are real to Jane and me!

Meanwhile, the grandmother in me is longing to run away to see my girls 5,000 miles away…

halloween 2012 cece

oct 2012 lux