Sunday, August 24, 2014

A day off

The Ageing Hippie (in the US Peace Corps in Pretoria) still has no internet, but on occasional Saturdays she makes a long trip – most of it by dirt track – to her nearest town, and there in Wimpy’s she can have half an hour of wifi. I knew she’d be there yesterday so I emailed her, and found myself saying this…

“It is 8.24, a sunny autumnal morning and I am sitting in bed with my Yorkshire tea and Dave is playing his guitar downstairs – Bob Dylan’s Ramona. I just had breakfast in bed - two of Dave’s oatcakes with my home made lemon curd. Now Dave is playing San Francisco Bay Blues.”


Then I realised that it is not just “autumnal”. It is autumn, and I changed what I’d written.

In summer, we sit outside a lot at Hepworth Towers – to read, to talk, to daydream. Today it was too chilly: I sat in the sunshine in the bay window to knit patches for the worn-out elbows of my favourite cardigan. Hey ho.

The autumn has come so soon this year. Too soon. Most teatimes in summer we play table tennis on the back lawn. Yesterday I had to do it in a boiled wool jacket.

Dave always beats me at table tennis. He beats me at Scrabble, too, and crokinole. He doesn’t see why this might be a tad annoying. I have won just one game of table tennis in the whole of the summer.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” he said yesterday. “It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter who wins, does it?”

“Not if you’re the person who always wins,” I said. “And when I try my very hardest to play the best I can, it’s dispiriting never to win.” He isn’t a bit competitive, but I am.

“Oh,” he said, “I don’t try my best. I know you don’t like backhand spins, so I never do them.”

Bugger. I am even worse than I thought.

The other thing to tell you is that I finished reading Wuthering Heights and enjoyed it slightly more hated it less after Cathy’s death (the midpoint). I have also watched half of the film, which is excellent. Today I shall watch the rest. I am watching it in two sessions because it’s so dark and so violent, and I can’t bear violence. When I was little I used to hide behind the sofa. Now I just shut my eyes. The book has infected me, though. There is a narration inside a narration in the book, which I have unconsciously mimicked in this post.

Tomorrow I go to stay in Ted Hughes’ old house for my screenwriting course. Whoop-di-doo! There is no wifi there so I won’t be posting again until I get back next weekend. No radio, no Twitter, no news. Yes.

Sept08 230

Thursday, August 21, 2014

what this blog is and is not

I was so upset by the end of the cease-fire in Gaza yesterday, added to the dreadful news from everywhere else, that I couldn’t blog. I began to understand why when everyday the headlines read like something from a nightmarish dystopia, some people tweet nothing but pictures of kittens.

If you’re a long-term reader you’ll know that this isn’t a political blog: it’s about my writing, and my life. The oppression of the Palestinians is the only political issue that appears on here. And I guess that you know how I feel about that by now. Yesterday, I was shocked at the news of the beheading of the American journalist, James Foley. And I was sad for him and his family. Innocent people are being brutally killed all the time in Gaza. And I hope you’ll accept that it is not minimising the horror of James Foley’s death to say that every innocent life that is lost in whatever war zone is equally sad. Everyone’s life is of equal value. In the words of the Quaker classic, Advices and Queries,

“Remember that each one of us is precious, unique, a child of God.”

This blog isn’t a religious blog either.

I want to write about something else. When I can, I will.

In the meantime, here is my version of cute kittens – my granddaughters – who I am flying to see two weeks today, if World War III hasn’t broken out by then.


lux in box

kids on scooter and bike

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

There is trouble and suffering all over the globe

Sometimes, the news is so universally bad that it is difficult to know what to do, never mind what to write on the blog.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Be honest – what do you think of Wuthering Heights?

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was 19, expecting it to be a blockbusting romantic tale of passionate love that would blow me away. It wasn’t, and it didn’t, and I hated it. I am reading it 40-odd years later and now I just find it tiresome, and if I wasn’t reading it for homework I’d have long since given up. As it is, I am half way through, Cathy has just died, and I am having a rant about the whole affair before I carry on. Now I see the book as a study in the long term effects of child abuse and neglect: it is precisely the kind of novel I would avoid, whoever wrote it and however many prizes it had won.

Aug 2010 004

Homework?  I am going on a residential screenwriting course next week and one of the tutors has asked that we read WH, and watch the acclaimed 2011 film version (yes, that really dark one) in preparation. By the way, I just googled the film to find a link for you and in the blurb under the search results it described it as “the greatest love story ever told.” Love? Really? it’s not my idea of love.

When I finished reading Unless last week, I looked at reviews on Amazon and as always, for some ghoulish pleasure, checked out the one star reviews. I’ve realised that most readers who write one star reviews of well-written novels just don’t “get” the book. And I’m wondering how many stars I would give WH if I were reviewing it on Amazon.

This second time around I am expecting nothing in terms of enjoyment, and am trying to view the book in terms of the quality of the writing, and how I would adapt it for the screen. But I do hope I’m not the only one on the course next week who detests the novel.

I haven’t forgotten Gaza. On Saturday, I went on a local demo to encourage people to boycott Israeli goods. A man wearing a grey suit and an angry red face shouted at us - “You dirty scum-bags!”

Who did he think he was? A character from Wuthering Heights?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fan letters to novelists

Do you ever write to authors?

Guess what I found in my “jewellery” box when I was looking for our Dennis the Menace Fan Club badge last week?

Two postcards to me from Carol Shields. THE Carol Shields. I had written to her on two occasions to thank her for particular books – I’ve never written to any other novelist -  and she had responded.

Carol Shields' message

This was before I had started writing myself. Now I know how welcome is a letter or email from someone who has enjoyed a book I’ve written. It makes my day too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


I looked after my grandsons on Friday, so I decided to unearth the box of old Beanos belonging to the family member who declines to be named. When we moved here from Sheffield, we had to leave almost all our possessions in the removal firm’s warehouse for eighteen months while we found a house to buy. The family member who declines to be named refused to trust his Lego or his Beanos to anyone, so they came with us to the rented house. And he was wise. The warehouse burned down, and Dave and I lost too much to list: some of it was replaceable, but so much of it wasn’t. It was heartbreaking.
The Beanos were a huge hit (as the Lego has always been)

and at the end of the day I went upstairs to look in my jewellery box for our Dennis the Menace Fan Club badge. It wasn’t there, but I found the tags that were tied onto the cribs of my three babies in hospital.
baby labels
So not everything of sentimental value was lost in the flames.
My heart goes out to the people of Gaza.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

150,000 people showing their solidarity with Gaza

I hate crowds, but I went on the national demo for Gaza in London yesterday and it was beyond wonderful - a coalition of caring and outraged ordinary people spending their Saturday on a shout to the UK government to stand up for justice and liberty.

Here we are assembling outside the BBC, so they can’t ignore us. It was also a welcome opportunity for some chanting specifically aimed at their biased presentation of the conflict.

Gaza demo outside the BBC

Can you see me?

The march was noisy but peaceful, and there was no trouble of any kind, not a single arrest.

We were there to demand an end to the massacre of Palestinians, a UK arms embargo against Israel, and an end to the siege/blockade of Gaza that has been crushing the life out of Gaza for years. We wanted justice for all Palestinians, wherever they live in the Occupied Territories.

There were a lot of placards with the same slogans, so I tried to snap the ones I liked that had individual messages:








An ordinary placard, but photogenic demonstrators:


This is my favourite:


Friday, August 08, 2014

Saturday, I’ll be in London

Click this link to find out what I’ll be doing.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

(I hope this is not just an intermission) Her Mistress’s Voice

Jane and I once got a rejection from a literary agent for one of our books that said this:

Having read these opening chapters I am not really sure that this is for me. I find the conversational tone quite wearing after a while, and as I imagine the whole novel is going to be written from Sally's point of view, I wonder whether you would be better off with someone who is captivated by her...

I know how she felt, NOT about Sally or our book, but generally speaking: I agree that if you don’t like a first person narrator’s voice, you’re not going to enjoy the book.

I just picked up from the library a well-written novel with impeccable reviews, read 30 pages of it and then put it down. The novel was written in the first person and the narrator’s voice grated on me. It could have been a mood thing: I may have another bash at it in the future. Possibly.

But the issue is not just about the voice of a first person narrator, it’s also to do with style. There are some writers whose style is so compatible with your sensibilities that when you read their books, you feel as if you are swimming in pure cool water surrounded by a beautiful landscape of hills and trees. It’s a feeling that I find hard to describe. Perhaps it’s more apt to say that you feel as though you’re back swimming in your own amniotic fluid.

I can only think of a few writers who fit into this category for me - Carol Shields, Sebastian Barry, Helen Dunmore’s writing in The Siege, and Christopher Tilghman’s in his book of short stories, In a Father’s Place. Two days ago, I desperately needed an intelligent book to distract me from the news, and Carol Shields’ Unless came to the rescue. It is a book about unhappiness and feminism and family and that makes it sound ridiculously worthy and way beyond ordinary, low-brow mortals like me…but it isn’t. And it’s just what I need right now.

(p.s. if you had not realised, the title of this post refers to the ceasefire in Gaza.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hopelessness….can change the world

Peace Vigil 4 8 14 - pic 2

Our small silent peace vigil in Bakewell yesterday was powerful; but this morning I woke up exhausted and hopeless and am still in my pyjamas at 10 a.m. I swore I would not look at the news or the net today (except to check if there’s a ceasefire)  but I was drawn back via a quote about compassion from someone called Andrew Boyd to something else he wrote. It has helped. Maybe it will help you, too. This is an excerpt from his piece Hopelessness can change the world.

You are faced with a stark choice: do you dedicate yourself to an impossible cause? or do you look after your own, making do as best you can?

The choice is clear: You must dedicate yourself to an impossible cause. Why? Because we are all incurable. Because solidarity is a form of tenderness. Because the simple act of caring for the world is itself a victory. Take a stand – not because it will lead to anything, but because it is the right thing to do. We never know what can or can’t be done; only what must be done. Let us do it.

Monday, August 04, 2014

World War 1 and Gaza

letter from dave to cameron

That’s an excerpt from a letter Dave wrote to the broadsheets yesterday. All over Britain today, people will be commemorating the start (why not the end?) of WW1.  

I will be joining Bakewell Quakers in a silent peace vigil, and I will be holding this placard:

peace poster

Friday, August 01, 2014

Yesterday’s gone

aug 1st 2014