Sunday, March 31, 2013

Favourite snapshots from Gold Rush country

The Aging Hippie and I stayed in Jamestown, a pretty sad, down-at-heel Gold Rush town, past it's best, although it did boast this attractive period shop below. I'm a sucker for any shop that calls itself "Emporium" because It always reminds me of George Bailey running down the street in Its a Wonderful Life shouting euphorically: "Happy Christmas, Emporium!"

We visited the nearby town of Columbia, where there is a street of buildings preserved from the Gold Rush era, though many of them were not the original buildings of 1849, because so many were destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt, often more than once. This was my favourite, maybe because I used to watch Tales of Wells Fargo when I was 10 and had a crush on the lead actor, Dale Robertson:

I've just reread what I've written above and realised how influenced I've been by American films and television: so much of what I see out here is coloured with excitement and glamour, even before I encounter it. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

US curios and trivia

I knew that Americans call the pavement the sidewalk, but I didn't know they call a tarmac road a pavement, did you?

Can you imagine seeing this comment about Karma outside a UK bookshop?

And who would have thought you'd find lichen on cactus?

It is the law in California that all take-away containers must be compostable. What a sound idea.

(And just so you know - the BLT tasted swell.)

Henry Miller did not marry Marilyn Monroe. That was Arthur Miller.

As we were driving along Highway 1 in The Big Sur, the road wove away from the ocean and into the redwoods and something caught our eye:

It was intriguing and enticing and we parked and went in.

It was a shack next to the forest, with a large deck outside and a table with free tea and coffee. They had a variety of tea-bags, but I'd taken my own (naturally.) There was also free wi-fi. Inside was a funky yet serious bookshop, and a young man (I can say that as he was probably a third of my age - OMG, I am ancient) who was charming and helpful and who treated us, not as if we were two grey haired women, but as if we were valued guests. He said "The place was made for people like you, people who just want to hang out." He could teach the staff of City Lights a thing or two. They are so horribly snooty in City Lights, and look down their noses at you, even when you're buying something they probably approve of such as a Tom Waits CD or a Bukowski anthology. Yep, I think the guy in the Henry Miller Memorial Library should run training courses for the staff of City Lights.

We hung out in the sunshine for a couple of hours, emailing, reading, drinking tea, and stroking the resident cat. It was hard to drag ourselves away. 

And in case you'd forgotten, Henry Miller was a prolific writer, but is probably best known as the author of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Big Sur snapshots

The Aging Hippie pointing out whales swimming up the coast (which I failed to see):

Lupins on which a hummingbird had landed a minute earlier:

We saw some hills...

climbed to the top of one not so high (notice Highway 1 in the bottom of the valley between the trees):

avoided the ubiquitous poison oak:

saw a redwood that had survived a forest fire:

napped on the beach:

found a great place for breakfast:

and enjoyed more views:

Travels with the aging hippie

Have you ever driven down the Pacific Highway, Highway 1 on the westernmost edge of California? It's so picturesque; but that word doesn't describe it, which is why I am not going to do a travel piece on our trip. 

This is me on the beach at Carmel by the Sea, a pretty town, a rich town, a town so posh that the last time I was there, I spilled ice cream down my T shirt and then felt I couldn't go in any of the shops because the assistants might look down their noses at me.

Carmel is where The Big Sur starts. Once you're past Carmel, the hills are high to your left, and there are steep drops down to the cliffs and the beaches to your right. The winding road clings to the sides of the hills. And it's wild. I mean it's actually wild. I didn't realise until I was there that it is sparsely populated and that artists and writers are drawn to live there, so although there are very few houses visible, there are lots of galleries.

If you look very closely, you will see the road up to the left of the picture below:

On the first night we slept in a luxurious yurt (well, it was California):

This was the ceiling, supposedly so you could look at the stars:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Iffy and squiffy

It is warm and wonderful where I am.Warm enough to be outside in shirtsleeves but not too warm to comfortably walk up the 1 in 4 hill to Isaac's house, pushing Cece in the stroller. 

Last night was a girls' night out. Wendy took me to a bar called Blondies which she said was a bit iffy (not her word) but it didn't seem as iffy as the bar they took me to last year which was a dark and dingy gay bar just over the hill from here. Whatever - we had margaritas. Two margaritas - that was enough to get me squiffy. (I'd be a really cheap date if I was in the market for dates.Thankfully, all that is behind me, unlike Sally Howe, heroine of the upcoming Plotting for Grown-ups.)
I digress. After the two margaritas, Wendy helped me outside and into a cab where a tiny TV screen was showing a man getting his legs waxed. A wild night out or what? 

Next stop was Wendy's favourite burger place - Umami Burger. Yum.

She took me home while the night was still young, because I am not.

This morning, Cece was up and shouting from 5 a.m. She is a happy baby, but very shouty. Lux woke up at 6 a.m. I did stagger upstairs to the living room to offer my babysitting services to the parent in charge, but thankfully was told they had it covered. I staggered back down to bed, and lurked there till I smelled coffee and saw the sun peeping through the blinds. I had a fab, fun time with Wendy and the margaritas, but the pace of life at Hepworth Towers in Derbyshire (even under three feet of snow) is probably more suited to me on a long term basis. The problem is, I did not discover margaritas until a few years ago, and I have a lot of lost time to make up. I will have to drink them a lot in my next life - the one where I am a rock chick and have my hair in an urchin cut, and it's bleached.

Friday, March 22, 2013


I just got back from a a trip to the Big Sur with the Aging Hippie, but I am waiting to get my photographs of the trip accessible before I write about it.

In the meantime, back in San Francisco, spring is in full flood. Warm sunny days, blue skies and all the flowers of spring and summer that we get at home, all squashed into one short season. There are daffodils, cyclamen, tulips, geraniums, ceanothus, cistus, lilies, freesia, ranunculus, lupins, nasturtiums, lavender and poppies all blasting out their colours at the same time in one big hooray!

When I get home I will see them all again, but rather more sedately, and serially. The only thing I haven't seen yet are sweet peas.

And for all you friends out there for whom I have promised to drink a margarita, I admit I am way behind. Yesterday, a week after I got here, I had two. Tonight the Little Red Hen and I are going out to rectify matters.

And yes, dear British readers, I know about the snow, and I am sorry.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

California trivia

Looking after someone else's teething baby is like doing someone else's washing up - not as bad as doing it for yourself. 

When you have been awake since 5 am and up since 6 am, hanging out with a toddler, a baby and a middle-aged son, a mimosa at 9 am just feels like pre lunch drinks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sunny San Francisco

The journey was smooth. I am getting to know my way around Terminal 5 at Heathrow now. I still have to ask the way to the water fountain though, to top up my bottle. And can you believe they charge you to use their WiFi? How mean is that? I did not indulge. 

The best part of the trip was at Arrivals when Lux ( two and a half) ran across the concourse shouting "Sue! Sue!"  So Facetime really works. (They remember who you are between visits) And last week she apparently called a toy sheep after me. I am honoured.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Only read this if you are interested in writing

You might think that two people who can write a book together are going to agree on most things. This is not the case. Jane and I like each other’s writing and respect each other’s talents, but we have very different views on many things – and the use (or not) of semi-colons in a work of commercial fiction (i.e. PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS)  is the least of them.

The thing that amazed me – even knowing that we have both grown more opinionated and in different directions since we wrote PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS all those years ago – is that we can disagree on the cadence of a sentence.

We were writing the blurb for the back of the book and I emailed Jane this sentence -

On the eve of her sixtieth birthday, Sally Howe is hit by a double whammy – not only has her long-haul marriage ended, but her agent can’t find a publisher for her latest book, so it looks as if her writing career is on the rocks as well.

Jane changed it to:

On the eve of her sixtieth birthday, Sally Howe is hit by a double whammy – not only has her long-haul marriage ended, but her agent can’t find a publisher for her latest book, so it looks as if her writing career is on the rocks too.

She thought the cadence of her sentence with “too” at the end was better than my sentence with “as well.” I was incredulous. Amazed. I agree that “as well” could be seen as clumsy, but those two syllables at the end of the sentence feel so much more comfortable to me than Jane’s one syllable.

We have changed the sentence to:

On the eve of her sixtieth birthday, Sally Howe is hit by a double whammy – not only has her long-haul marriage ended, but her agent can’t find a publisher for her latest book, so it looks as if her writing career is also on the rocks. 

We are both satisfied with this. But you can see from this one example how hard it can be to write with someone else. If it wasn’t also huge fun, our book wouldn’t be coming out this summer. Miraculous, n’est-ce pas?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Yes, we have snow. Again.


But not much.

Monsal Trail today

And it brightens up the Monsal Trail, and our village church.

Our village church

And the sun is out, shining on the ancient stiles and pathways round the village. 


And my Pollyanna approach to the bitter east wind is possible because I am flying off to California on Thursday, where there may be rain (as it’s spring) but there sure as hell won’t be snow. Forgive my smugness:I really need a break.

update: the snow was horizontal this afternoon. I hate the stuff.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

My mother always said…

…that children should be nice to their mothers every day: therefore, when I was little, we did not celebrate Mothers Day.
I brought my children up the same. But then my lovely daughter decided differently, and every year she sends me a Mothers Day card. And I like it!
This is the fab one I received today – her own design, her own printing.

mohers day card
(And yes, she does call me Sue – my choice. Sometimes she calls me Mum – her choice.)

Friday, March 08, 2013

Inside Sol’s head

Some people who read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU said they would have liked me to have included Sol’s point of view in the novel  – i.e. to see the world through his Asperger eyes.

If you’d like to see the world through an Aspie’s eyes, you can read this post on Dave’s blog. Dave – my husband of 42 years.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

So how do you comfort the bereaved?

You say you are sorry for their loss.

You don’t suggest a bright side – as in “Well, he had a good innings” or “At least she is out of her suffering now.”

Later on, the bereaved person may suggest such things and you can agree, but that is later, and you take their lead.

You show them support and love and patience and accept their feelings as real, and you remember that:

There is nothing you can do to make it better, and nothing you can do to hurry it along.

Here is an extract from a self-help book I worked on some years ago…

How to help a bereaved person:

· Let them talk about their loved one, if they want to.

· Listen to what they say about how they feel.

· Keep them company. Sit with them quietly, talking if they want to talk, being silent if that is what they want.

· Accept that their feelings are real and valid. What is non-negotiable is to accept as real the feelings of misery expressed by your friend, and to desist from persuading them to see things otherwise.

· Don't say "cheer up" or tell them to "count their blessings." But you could tell them that although it doesn't seem like it now, there will be a time in the future when they won't feel so sad.

· Show them on a daily basis that no matter how they feel, you care about them. Let them rely on your acceptance and your love. Although it may not seem to make a difference, it does, it really helps.

· Later on, invite them out to join in activities, but don't be disheartened and give up if they keep on refusing you: one day they will be ready and will say yes.

· If the bereaved person is not a family member or someone you know well, it is still a kind gesture to acknowledge their loss and express your sympathy. Don’t worry about what to say. All you need to say is that you are sorry. Avoiding them or saying nothing can be much more hurtful than stumbling over what you say.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


Dave has been working really hard on typesetting PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS. He keeps passing it over to me to check for errors and glitches, and then I pass it back and he does some more. I am going to scrutinise it one last time, when I have finished this post.

It is a nit-picking, time (and patience) consuming job. That’s fine. I’m not complaining. I was just thinking, though, how different it is from computer programs, where every week the designers send out updates. Wouldn’t it be great if after the book is published, I could send out an update when someone spots there is an indent in the wrong place or a missing bracket, or italics where none are necessary?

Some day soon I will show you the cover for PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS (which I love to bits) but not just yet.


Monday, March 04, 2013

Death is part of life, and all that crap

I’m not talking about my death here: I am not afraid of dying, I’d just rather not do it quite yet. I want to see if my younger grandson becomes the comedian he wants to be, and if my elder grandson becomes – based on his current proclivities - a palaeontologist, an astronomer or (please God not) a banker:

and if Lux becomes the first Californian nudist pianist, as she so loves running around naked, and just look how long her fingers are:
and what becomes of smiling Cecilia:
happy cece
And I would also like to see some more of America, to play my sax in a flashmob, to turn down an offer from a publisher, and to see if Microsoft ever get their act together so I don’t regret not replacing my PC for an Apple (oh how I detest Windows Picture Viewer).
No. The title of this post relates to the death of a loved one and the things people say in a misguided attempt to cheer you up when you’re bereaved.There IS no comfort, or as one of my characters in PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS says about something else -
Thank God for Richard. He sees hardship for what it is. He understands the darker side of life. He does not try to pretend that horrible things that happen are anything other than horrible things that happen. He does not buff them up into shining opportunities, he doesn’t frame them as transforming planetary transits which are for the ultimate good of the inner self, like Wendy does (God help her). Richard sees crap for what it is.
Death may be “part of life” but that doesn’t make the death of someone you love a happy, pleasurable or even an acceptable experience. Clearing up vomit, dealing with exploding nappies, and the pains of childbirth are part of being a mother, but does that make them nice? At least there’s a baby involved. With bereavement, all you get is a vast black hole (even if there is the relief of not having to put up with someone who uses Zoflora in the kitchen so your dish cloth stinks and the work surfaces taint every bit of food you absentmindedly put on them – a fairly trivial blessing, I think I can live without.)
When I was grieving for my father, the most comforting piece of writing I found on the subject was not that “I am just in the next room” rubbish (to which I always wanted to retort – “Well why don’t you walk in here where I can see you, then?”) but this poem here, because it told the truth:
Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, - but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Friday, March 01, 2013

Thank goodness

March is finally here. We can forget about February the “month of despair” for another year. But spring isn’t here until the daffs are out. And they’re not.


So here are two books to get you through the next couple of weeks – books to encourage you, to give you heart, books that are full of hope: The Secret Garden, and The Enchanted April.

(And both are available as real books, as well as ebooks.)