Friday, November 29, 2013

Bad piggies, curious cubes and other miscellania

1/ What is the difference between a mother and a grandmother?
If a child wants to come into bed at 6.15 a.m. and play Bad Piggies on the iPad, the mother might say “I suppose so, just for five minutes, but turn off the terrible sound effects!”

A grandmother will say “Of course! Is it more fun with the sound effects on? That’s fine, but not too loud or you’ll wake up Mum and Dad.”

2/ I had my post op assessment this morning, and the doctor took out the ONE stitch from my eye and it didn’t hurt. And I can now see in that eye better than I have done for 60 years. Pretty miraculous, n’est-ce pas?
3/ I went to see Philomena with my new eye and it was brilliant. Ten out of ten. Compelling and gripping. moving and superb. What’s more, I never realised how handsome Steve Coogan is when he isn’t Alan Partridge. I floated the idea on Twitter that he might be our man to play Kit, but I was definitively shouted down, not least by Jane. (No change there, then.)
4/ Lastly, I went in Waterstones on Tuesday to buy a pile of children’s books and when I got to the till and handed them over I remembered something else. I said to the assistant - “Oh, do you have that new Joanna Trollope that is a take off of a Jane Austen novel?”
and she said
“What is the title? I will look it up on the computer.”
“I’m not sure, I will ask a colleague.”
“I will go and look on the shelves for you.”
She just said “I don’t know.”
And she stood there looking at me, feebly.
So I said - “OK. I will go and look on the shelves,” and I stalked off, because if I hadn’t have done so, I would have been much too rude.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

…on second thoughts…

I have been puzzling about my reaction to the cataract op when I have had three major operations under general anaesthetic and I didn’t want to crawl into a hole afterwards (although, having said that, I was in bed anyway). Therefore, it must be the fact that I was awake throughout the proceedings, as much as the fact that they were meddling with my eye.

Case closed.

Tomorrow I shall write about something completely different, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What really happened

I wanted to tell you about my cataract op but I am from a family of robust, no-nonsense women, who already think I’m a wimp.

Also, when so many people have worse problems to deal with, it felt self-indulgent to whimper. I mean – I was lucky to have a top eye surgeon on the NHS and for everything to go smoothly and to suffer no pain.

Then on Sunday, a good friend told me that she hated having ops on her eyes, and after they were done, she always wanted to hide in a hole. She pointed out to me that all our instincts are to protect our eyes, so we are fighting those instincts in lying on a table awake, and letting a stranger poke medical implements into them. She said I wasn’t a wimp to hate it. This made me feel better.


So I’m telling you - afterwards, I was cold for five hours. I had to go to bed with all my clothes on, under a duvet, quilt and blanket, and even then switch on the electric blanket.

Bed is the only place I wanted to be, curled up watching crap TV on the iPad, and then catching up with The Archers.

The woman next to me in the hospital waiting room said she would have to have a general anaesthetic if someone wanted to operate on her feet. She couldn’t stand it otherwise.

I talked to Dave about this.

Me:  "Would you be nervous about having surgery on a particular part of your body?"

Dave: "I think I'd feel unnerved if they removed my head.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

On vulnerability

"We don’t have to hate ourselves for our own vulnerability. We don’t have to hate ourselves for what life has done to us. We don’t have to hate ourselves because hurt or loss or longing has gotten to us. Our desires will always be with us in some form, keeping us firmly attached to a world that will hurt us. We must come to love ourselves, love our life, in its vulnerability, in its impermanence, not in spite of all its flaws, but because of them. Because the vulnerability, the changes, the flaws make us who we are."               Barry Magid

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Wendy was worried one day this week because the house had been quiet for more than five minutes, so she went to find out what Lux and Cece were up to -

reading week

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cataract city

The doctor was ace, my op went well, and my distance vision in my new (left) eye is better than that in my right eye when it’s wearing a contact lens. Roll on the op on the right eye.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In control

I forgot to go to the Fair Trade stall in the village hall yesterday because we were busy cutting the hawthorn tree down to size. That is, Dave was up a ladder being scratched as if by five cross cats, and I was on the lawn, directing operations. The day before, he stood atop his car, pruning the copper beech away from the telephone wire, while I directed operations. That’s my forte - directing operations.

Later I did more clearing. This included bagging up three defunct manuscripts to give to my grandsons for drawing paper. And I found some literary memorabilia, such as this paper clipping of a man I used as a model for George in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. (It’s really someone called Professor Tallis whom I don’t know, and George has nothing to do with him: I clip out photos of strangers from the paper to help me imagine my characters better.)

George from But I Told You

I also found a rejection letter for BUT I TOLD YOU. I have lots of rejection letters for various books – every writer has them. Sometimes they just say “No thank you.” Sometimes they say lots of nice things and then “No thank you.” And sometimes they say baffling things and then “No thank you” like this one. This one still made me want to spit.

rejection letter

No-one has ever before or since accused me of having too much plot in my first three chapters. Usually the criticism is that the beginnings of my books are far too slow.

Do you know what? It’s wonderful to know I shall never again be sitting waiting for a letter from a literary agent. It is a horrid thing to have your future life resting in someone else’s hands and to wait, day after day, week after week, month after month, for them to present you with it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nora Ephron makes homework fun

It’s all very well having a tidy desk and all the bank statements filed, and the pile of stuff delivered to the charity shop that has been waiting for yonks, and the sweetpea/veg garden weeded and dug over ready for manure, and the geraniums brought inside and the filing cabinet organised and my sax pieces practised, but when I have no ongoing writing project, I feel as if I am wasting my time.

Does that mean I am a proper writer and not someone pretending to be a writer?


This above is my homework – watching the film of When Harry Met Sally, and reading the screenplay. After that I am going to do the same with Casablanca. Then I am going to read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU and work out how to write a screenplay for it. I know I said I was going to do PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS, but I’ve changed my mind.

So if you want to make suggestions about casting Sol and Fran and Jem and all the rest, now’s your chance…

Monday, November 18, 2013

When I grow up I am going to be a stoic

…and when I am a stoic, and people ask me how I am, I shall say “Fine, thanks, how are you?” even if my head is dropping off, because there are so many people close to me and far away who are so much worse off than me.

And I won’t say “I am having a cataract op next Friday and they’ve told me I can’t wear my contact lenses for the week before, and I have to wear these glasses that are the wrong prescription because I hardly ever wear glasses so have never bothered to update them, and they strain my eyes and I can’t see clearly to read or write or do anything else that is interesting, and they make me feel disoriented and cut off from people and a bit confused, and really fed up.”


Won’t you be pleased when I’m a stoic?

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Sometimes Sally Howe attempts to take over my blog: just look at the title of that last post - pure Sally Howe. On the other hand, if you are a mid-list author when the midlist has been abolished (as I read recently in the literary pages) you have to be shameless and pushy and good at blowing your own trumpet, however small that trumpet.

Oct 10 069

Yesterday was a perfect gardening day. It was bright, dry, not too cold, and it was still. This last is the clincher, as we live on the edge of the village up an incline with nothing to protect us from the prevailing westerlies. With the autumn colours, particularly those of our copper beeches, and the knowledge that the days are getting shorter, I am always tempted to stay outside until I am so tired I have to crawl back into the house.

Yesterday I didn’t. I called on some lovely neighbours, also outdoor types, who said they don’t like November and December. They prefer the winter months after Christmas, because the days are getting longer. I like it now – there’s no colour in February.

Oct 10 057

Oct 10 063

Friday, November 15, 2013

Eat your heart out Stieg Larsson, Jodi Picoult and all the rest...

Last night I learned that BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU  has been named by the National Autistic Society as one of their six favourite novels about autism, alongside the bestselling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time.

NAS favourite autism novels

The other four novels are: A rock and a hard place, Al Capone does my shirts, Of Mice and Aliens, and Einstein’s Dream. 

Some people like my novel because it is sad, funny and tender. Here is one of my favourite reviews of it on Amazon:

review bity

And this is what Stuart Murray - Professor of Contemporary Literature and Film at Leeds University and an expert on the representation of disability in popular culture - said about the novel:

“Writing about autism and Asperger's syndrome is notorious for the ways in which it frequently cannot resist the lure of the sensational and the spectacular. All too often the condition of autism, and individuals and characters with it, are turned into objects of belittling fascination for a reading audience, often as not more than performing sideshows. What is so refreshing about Sue Hepworth's - But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You - is that it avoids all these traps and rather presents Asperger's as a normal, if idiosyncratic, part of everyday life that elicits frustration, comedy and tenderness all at the same time. Hepworth's achievement in making the condition both distinctive and unspectacular, and weaving this into a narrative of romantic and family life, displays a genuinely subtle understanding of how autism - this most contemporary of conditions – works.”

So what are you waiting for? Why not buy a copy for someone who wants to know about Asperger syndrome? Or for someone who likes contemporary realistic love stories? (I am assuming that you yourself have already read the book...)

It’s on special offer on  - £5.75.

And also from The Book Depository at £6.84 -  where you get free delivery worldwide.

Support little-known authors!

Support independent publishers!

Some of us would like to carry on writing, but don’t think we can afford to…

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bulletin from a writer’s empty desk

After two weeks of intermittent rain, yesterday was sunny and I was determined to be outside all day to make the most of it. I rode my bike, went for a walk with Dave, and then planted heaps of wallflowers, only coming in from the garden when the light was fading.

2nd view from the sofa

Then I collapsed with weariness, and my legs ached all through a bad, bad night. So it’s official: I am old. I can no longer manage to do everything I want to do in a day without falling to pieces.

On the other hand, I have decided that I AM going to write a screenplay, and I’m very excited. I just have to decide if I’m adapting But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, or Plotting for Grown-ups. The latter is more filmic, and anyway, you and I have already chosen the actors, so I think PfG is the one.

I have ordered screenplays of When Harry Met Sally and Casablanca, and I am looking for cheap copies of screenplays of Tootsie and Truly Madly Deeply.

Watch this space.

empty desk 2 

That book – Life and Fate - is just there to impress you. I have borrowed it from my erudite friend, Christine Poulson, to check it out. I don’t think I’ll be reading it now these screenplays are winging their way in my direction. Yes – just like Sally Howe – I am “ineluctably, intellectually shallow – a cultural low-life.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Yesterday I did some more clutter clearing. I was working on the back porch, which is too small to fit any kind of table in (whether or not it is lovely and made from reclaimed wood). Even so, the place is a key battleground at Hepworth Towers in the fight between order and minimalism and the ever threatening tsunami of grubby items of mysterious usefulness (never mind beauty.)

If I went away for a year, I would not be able to get into the porch for stuff that should live in the shed.

In my view, the presence of the following items is acceptable:

  • the cat tray

  • a tidy rack of hiking boots, working boots and wellies

  • a hook with spare coats

  • the central heating boiler

  • an airing rack suspended from the ceiling

  • a compost bucket

  • a hat and glove basket

  • the cat’s bed on top of the boiler, which she has currently disdained in favour of the basket chair in the kitchen

  • the vegetable box

The following will be tolerated (with gritted teeth):

  • one bike which is apparently too important to live in the shed with mine, even though this bike leans up against the shoe rack obstructing access.

What I do not want to tolerate is a list of DIY stuff that is so long I am not going to bore you with it.

However, yesterday I found this item nestled on the windowsill between a spare inner tube and a bicycle pump:


My Gran’s toaster. This toaster is imbued with intensely happy memories of holidays at her house in Morecambe. After she died, my mother adopted it, which means that the grandchildren remember it on their Gran’s breakfast table.

Unfortunately, as well as a good clean up, the toaster needs a new element, which I don’t think is available. You can buy very similar toasters on eBay, but they would not be Gran’s.

Yesterday I sent out a family email asking if any of my four siblings or their children or associates would like the toaster, saying if I didn’t hear by Friday, I would throw it away. I held my breath, desperately hoping someone would want it, because I didn’t think I could actually throw it away when Friday came.

A trickle of emails arrived throughout the day, renouncing the toaster. (Oh ye of hard hearts – I have your number now.) Then late on, Isaac (my son who lives in San Francisco) said he would give it a home. Last thing at night, my younger brother said he would have it if no-one else stepped up.

I now have a new measure of family sentimentality (and I love you guys for it.) Also, there is a bit more space in the porch.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Writing, and not writing

I gave a talk on Friday night about my writing. I spent a good deal of time worrying about it beforehand, and preparing for it, and on Friday morning I woke up with a realisation – yes after all these years – of the reason why I first began to write. And it’s this. I started writing in order to say:

This is what my life is like

This is what’s happened to me

This is how I feel about it

And to ask –

Is this what it’s like for you?

After a while, other motivations crept in: the desire to make people laugh, the desire to have a book on the shelf with my name on the spine, the desire to write a successful novel in the third person.

But at present I’m not writing, which means I have time and mental space to do things like play my sax more than once a day, to read all of the bits of the weekend papers I am interested in, to catch up with The Archers, to go out and start work on the garden only to be rained off after half an hour.

My desk has never been so tidy.

empty desk

And it spooks me a bit to see it like that.

Friday, November 08, 2013

For love or money

A week after Plotting for Grown-ups was published, my nine-year-old grandson asked me if I was writing another book. 

“No,” I said, “I’m having a break from writing for a bit. I’m doing other things like playing my saxophone. I’ve joined a band.”


On Bonfire Night he asked what I was writing in the dark with my sparkler.

Someone said: “Plotting for Pensioners.” It might have been me.

“What’s a pensioner?” my grandson asked.

“It’s someone who gets a pension,” I said.

“What’s a pension?”

“It’s a bit of money the government gives you to live on when you’re old and haven’t got a job. I get a pension.”

"But you're in a band."


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

It is possible to have too many tables

When we moved into this house with not very much (our furniture and belongings from 25 years of family life having been lost in a warehouse fire) I wanted a kitchen drawer like the one in our old house.

I wanted a drawer full of the detritus of everyday family life – a domestic archaeology to ground me – fossilised rubber bands, ancient postcards, last year's advent candle, crushed paper flowers from playgroup, buttons and safety pins, plant labels, tacky plastic novelties from Christmas crackers, old matchbox cars with scratched paintwork.

kitchen drawer

Since then I have been developing a drawer such as this, and it was only this September that I felt it was time to transform it. Now it is a treasure trove of interesting bits and bobs that the grandchildren like to ransack when they visit.

It is time – after seventeen years - to clear some clutter.

Unfortunately I am fighting a rising tide from the other person who lives here. And the real trouble is that his clutter is large and beautiful.

He likes making tables out of recycled wood. In the sitting room alone we have one coffee table made from an exceptionally chunky old oak gatepost, two made from old teak science lab benches and one glass one with beech legs.

Two years ago, a good friend gave him her old office parquet floor. It has been stacked in the shed since then, but now its time has come. Dave is making tables from it. Here is the first table top:

first parquet table

now installed as a new desk in his study (phew).

But Dave is always so delighted with his successes that he goes on to repeat them again and again. Here is the current work in progress:

parquet table

I don’t know where he intends to put it. He won’t want to sell it, because he will love it so much.

Yesterday, he told his sister (a happy recipient of three coffee tables made from reclaimed mahogany) that he was making another parquet table.

She was silent for several seconds, and then she said “Oh dear.”


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Arms are for hugging

I’ve hesitated in putting up this post because I don’t want you to think I am proselytizing. I’m not. All I am doing is telling you what I’ve been doing, and what’s on my mind – just as I always do on my blog.

I went on a peace vigil on Saturday.

peace vigil 2

A bunch of us from Bakewell Quaker Meeting stood in silence in the rain for an hour, holding placards, and people walked past us with varying degrees of puzzlement, embarrassment, encouragement, interest, and apathy.

Some of the placards were just about peace:


Some were against the arms trade:


Why did we bother, when everyone except arms dealers wants peace?

In this week before Remembrance Sunday we wanted to suggest alternatives to war.

Quakers have a handful of guiding principles, which we call testimonies, and one of them is the peace testimony.

The Quaker peace testimony is not just about refusing to fight. It also means working for peace. Just a few examples of Quaker peace initiatives are -  working to resolve conflicts, both local (as in Northern Ireland) and international (as at the United Nations); working towards peace and social justice in all kinds of settings through non-violent social change; and providing relief work in war zones. The work done by Quakers in World War II – for example through the Friends Ambulance Unit – brought them a Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.

I have demonstrated in the past against nuclear weapons and against specific wars such as the Iraq war, both in London

make tea not war

and in San Francisco.

Me in heavy disguise

(That’s how I met the Aging Hippie.)

But it’s only lately I have been actually thinking about pacifism itself.

Being a fifth generation Quaker with a father and grandfather who were conscientious objectors, pacifism is in my genes. It’s always been as obvious an ideal as kindness and honesty.

It’s easy being a pacifist when your father has not been taken out and shot, your sister is not being raped, and no-one is threatening to burn down your house. And in any one of these situations I don’t know how I would react.

But in the situations I do find myself in, I try to do what I think is right. That’s it.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Friday round-up

It’s 8.55 a.m. and I am still in bed. It’s been a hectic week.

For one thing, there’s been fevered discussion about the cast of the film version of Plotting for Grown-ups. (And it has surprised me just how many people lust after Hugh Laurie.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, Dave and I spent several hours on Monday fixing posters on Correx for the Bakewell Quaker Meeting Peace Vigil tomorrow. Today we have to paint them with PVA to rainproof them. (Oh, you Quakers in San Francisco don’t know how lucky you are not to have to think about soaking rain.)


Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I had to drive into Sheffield on family business.

Then last night, it was band practice. I was so tired that I wished it wasn’t. But I made myself go, and it was fab. I love the band. I love how they play. I just hope they’ll be patient with me and not give me the push because I’m so inexperienced at playing with other people. My timing is idiosyncratic because I have always rejected the tyranny of metronomes. Drummers are something else – friendly, non-controlling, and gentle.

I haven’t found time for a walk on the Trail or a coffee at Hassop Station all week. I hope Dave and I will put that right today.