Thursday, September 25, 2014


When I first started learning to play the saxophone five years ago, I told my sax teacher (Mel) that I was playing for fun and didn’t want anything to do with exams. Now (and I know I have said this before and nothing has come of it) I want to learn to improvise. This means I need to learn all my key signatures and my scales. So I have homework, even if exams won’t follow. I have to sit down and learn the lot of them. Hmmm.


My other main project this autumn is adapting BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU into a TV serial. The first task is to work out how many one hour episodes I need. This sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s not just about what happens in the story: there are a lot of other issues, such as – for example - where the major points of conflict and the cliff hangers come. As it will be a comedy drama, I’ve decided to use the successful BBC series Last Tango in Halifax as a model. I need to examine each episode to see what it contains in terms of content and complication – another lot of homework.

last tango

Did you see it? I watched series 1 and 2, and loved every minute. I think you can probably guess which homework I’m enjoying the most…OK, I admit it, I haven’t even started on the wretched keys and scales.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Things I probably shouldn’t tell you…

…but you would know anyway if you followed me on Twitter.

1/ I love dungarees. These are my gardening ones. If you look carefully, you will see they are far too baggy. What? You can’t see? Look again!


And here are my new ones, bought in Boulder – also too baggy. A good four inches on the waist too baggy. I love them! I feel so happy when I am wearing them. But I haven’t decided yet if I dare wear them beyond the front gate. 


I probably shouldn’t tell you the second thing because some people find it irritating when you tell them cute things their children/grandchildren said…

2/ Lux (4) is preoccupied with death and dying at the moment, and we had lots of chats about it last week. I had to keep reassuring her that I am not so very old that death is imminent. For example, I could still ride a bike, couldn’t I? But at the weekend she was discussing the topic again with Isaac (her Dad), and she said thoughtfully - “Sue’s almost dead, right?”

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Coming home

The upside of Dave’s not travelling is that when I arrive back at Manchester airport after sixteen and a half hours journey, he is there to meet me - not tired, not jetlagged, and full of interesting things to say. And I know I’ve said it before, but I always love coming home to Dave and to Hepworth Towers, set up this quiet lane on the edge of the village.
These things make up for missing the family back in Boulder, and the gap that is left by Lux (4) not getting into my bed at 7 a.m. every morning for a chat on such topics as why my plum tree only had six plums on it this summer after years of overload, and why Dave thought it was a good idea to wash a duvet in the bath. (Lux’s comment: “Dave needs to calm down from his silly choices.”)
I am taken aback by the strength of my feelings for all of my grandchildren. It’s not what I expected. I thought they might be entertaining in a sotto voce kind of way. I didn’t expect to love them as passionately and as tenderly as I do, and to miss so badly the ones  who live half a world away.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Americans and tea

I don't know if you noticed on a previous post, but eight of my ten favourite books were written by Americans. There are hundreds of things to like about America and Americans, and here are a few: the stunning physical geography; the friendliness; the way waitresses say "You're welcome" and not the dreadful "No problem" adopted by their British counterparts (why would serving a customer be a problem?); the way when you walk in a cafe for breakfast they give you a coffee immediately and then come back for your order for food; the way they keep topping up your coffee without being asked; the fact that they will give you anything you want at any time if it's on the menu. (There's none of this "we don't serve sandwiches in the evening" and no raised eyebrows if you order a coffee and a vodka gimlet while you're deciding what to have on the fancy lunch menu.) 

And I love the fact that Americans understand what constitutes good bacon. I just wish someone would explain to them about tea. The default offering in public places, cafes, hotels, even Amtrak, is Lipton's. OMG. It is a right strawy tea - weak and tasteless.

In most American supermarkets there may be a whole shelving unit with packets and packets of so called tea - herbal, fruit, chai, spice, green, ad nauseum - but you're a lucky woman if you can find a decent breakfast tea, such as Twinings (let alone the gold standard  - Yorkshire tea.) For example...

Wholefoods sell them both, but you may have to take out a second mortgage.

A lack of appreciation of decent tea is evident even in the UK, in the most surprising places.  One evening on my screenwriting course, a fellow student of the same age said despairingly on looking in the kitchen cupboard and scanning the multitude of coloured boxes containing tea, "I just want a decent cup of ordinary tea. I wish I'd brought some Yorkshire Gold with me, but I didn't want to seem like a sad old woman." To which I piped up: "I brought some Yorkshire tea. I'll fetch it from my room."

I've stopped caring if people label me as an old English woman who must have her tea. Some things are more important than image, and tea is one of them. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Boulder bike trails

Boulder is a great place to cycle. It's green, it's quiet, there's not much traffic, and there's a network of bike trails weaving everywhere between houses and roads. Some stretch out to the edge of town, like this one, where you need to clamber over a railway line. 

But then there's this view of the Flatiron Mountains in the other direction:

Wherever you are in Boulder you can either see the Flatirons, or the foothills of the Rockies. 

I'm beginning to get over my love affair with San Francisco....

We cycled into town at the weekend with the kids in the trailer, and caught a show on Pearl Street - a man juggling five fireclubs, then doing a lot of talking and then standing on a slackline juggling knives. He was a good performer. At one point he didn't feel the audience was giving him enough applause and he said, "Hey, you guys, it took me fifteen years to perfect this trick, let's hear a bit more appreciation." I know how he felt. 

I don't think it's on for a novelist to say something similar but I often feel like it - "Hey, you guys, it took me 5 years to learn how to write a novel and then another 5 to write my best one. How about a few more reviews on Amazon?"

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amtrak through the Rockies

When I come to stay out west with Isaac and family, I usually take a mid-trip trip with the Aging Hippie. But as most of you know, she's buggered off to join the Peace Corps (here's her blog) so I went to Glenwood Springs for two nights on my own.

I travelled on Amtrak with a rotten head cold, the kind where you're wiping your nose every five minutes. I've not been on Amtrak before and was impressed by the warm-hearted staff, the spaciousness of the seats, and the relatively low cost of the fares. Unfortunately, the weather en route through the Rockies was dark, overcast, misty and rainy. I managed to take some photos through the window, but although the scenery was stunning, it reminded me - in that weather - of the worst excesses of Snowdonia on a rainy day. (I am not a fan of the looming Welsh mountains of dark slate. So bite me.) 

Here's the view east of the plains (from the moving train) as we left

And here are three more as we travelled west

We got as high as 9,000 feet going through the Moffatt tunnel, which goes through the continental divide. When you get to the other end of the tunnel you notice the rivers run in the opposite direction, and the weather is often vastly different. On Tuesday it wasn't.

Amtrak is wonderful. What is not wonderful is that freight trains always have priority, and Amtrak has to put up with it. We had to stop for an hour on the journey while workmen finished whatever they were doing on the track, and later we had to stop for two and a half hours while some other guys came up to move a boulder on the line (no-one's fault.) This meant that a six hour journey became a nine and a half hour one - the same time it took me to fly from Heathrow to Denver. 

My cold was getting worse and worse, as they do when you have chronic sinus trouble, so I was not a happy bunny when we arrived in Glenwood Springs. I got the cold from Lux when I first arrived in Boulder, but don't travel halfway round the world to see your grandchildren to then spurn their cuddles on account of their snotty noses.

The journey home on Thursday was sunny, and I wiped my nose only once. See the difference the sunshine makes to the scenery: it made it beautiful.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Taking the plunge

If you are over 60 and not completely happy with the way your body looks in a bathing suit, get your fat ass down to Glenwood Hotsprings, Colorado on a sunny weekday in term-time before 11 a.m. 80% of the bathers in the hot pool there (aka the therapy pool) are over 70 and there is every body type known to woman.

I have not been swimming for 25 years. Most of my children and grandchildren love to swim; some even find it therapeutic. In a covered pool under artificial light and in chlorinated water it holds no allure for me. I'll go further - swimming is a perverse activity. We were made to walk around in fresh air, not to struggle to make progress in another element (water). (Oooh, I love having a blog - I can be as outrageously contentious as I like.)

However, the main claim to fame of Glenwood Springs, where I was yesterday, are the hotsprings, so of course I took a dip (in my 30 year old cossie.)

I went in the hot pool and the not so hot pool and it was fab. Really fab. Doing a gentle breaststroke in warm water so rich in minerals that you more or less float without effort, surrounded by a cradle of mountains was blissful. If you're ever in Glenwood Springs, give it a go!

If you've not been in your cossie for 25 years, I recommend avoiding all mirrors, however. What you see may come as a shock.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My ten favourite books

Someone has asked me on Twitter for my ten favourite books, so I said I'd post them on here.

In no particular order ... except that Leaving Home is definitely my number one...

Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Homestead by Rosina Lippi

Happenstance by Carol Shields

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (non-fiction book about writing)

In a Father's Place by Christopher Tilghman

If it was ten novels you were after, Valerie, substitute Unless by Carol Shields for the Natalie Goldberg book.

I hope I haven't forgotten one. Getting the last two was a bit tough when I am away from home and my bookshelves.

Monday, September 08, 2014


It's very green here in the city of Boulder, and Isaac has wild deer coming into his garden most days. Here's one I saw earlier:

Yesterday morning in bed I was reading an A.A.Milne poem to Lux called Lines and Squares, which goes like this:

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!"

And the little bears growl to each other, "He's mine,
As soon as he's silly and steps on a line."
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe their talk;
It's ever so 'portant how you walk.
And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears,
Just watch me walking in all the squares!"

I quoted it here in full because it's one of my favourites.


said: "That's silly! You don't have bears in a town!"
And I had to agree.

But later we all went for a walk in the neighbourhood and Isaac showed me a beehive 
that's surrounded by an electric fence to keep out the bears.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

In retreat

The last time I was in Colorado was 11 years ago, and the day after touching down, I woke up with what seemed like the worst hangover I'd ever had. It turned out to be altitude sickness: Denver is a mile high. Today in Boulder I've been feeling not as bad, but certainly delicate, so much so that I've several times retreated from the joys of being with Lux and Cece and gone back to bed.

Also, it's English weather. How dare it be damp, chilly and overcast? I was promised sunshine.

The other news is that I watched The Fault in our Stars on the plane and wondered why they had bothered to adapt the book. I enjoyed the book: I liked the writing and the tone. The film is a poor thing - the screen equivalent of  "a right strawy epistle." 
OK you guys...the first one to tell me who first used that phrase and about what, will get a free copy of Plotting for Grown-ups.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Plotting for Bacon

Puzzling some more on why Lisa thought the bacon sandwich was for me (see last post)….I checked the Plottings and found a host of bacon references. These are just three.

today’s tweet from @sallystoneymoor

Butter and bacon – two things I can’t live without.

today’s tweet from @sallystoneymoor

For all those non-veggies out there: have you embraced the BLT or are you a bacon butty person?

And later, when I was making myself a bacon sandwich for dinner, he arrived at the back door looking wan. He was carrying two Chatsworth Farm Shop carrier bags stuffed full of something.

“Ooooh, that smell. It’s months since I had a bacon sandwich,” he said longingly…….


…“You poor thing. Would you like a bacon sandwich to cheer you up?”

“Would I? Do Screwfix do next day delivery?”

also, I have to tell you again that the publisher has slashed the price of the ebook editions of my comic novels, Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups, to 99 pence in the UK and 99 cents in the US. Be a peach, and tell everyone you know. I’m asssuming you’ve already bought them yourself….

Now I’m going to shower and drive to Manchester airport. Colorado, here I come!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Life is a bacon sandwich

We had such delicious salads on the course last week, that I considered – again - becoming a vegetarian, like so many of my immediate family. But then waiting for the train home on the station platform, another student and I smelled bacon, and we simultaneously sniffed and said - “Ooh, bacon!”

Bacon is definitely the deal breaker when it comes to giving up meat. I heard on the news that every bacon sandwich you eat takes an hour off your life. I didn’t pause much for thought, not because I don’t value every moment, but because I believe I have bacon-proof genes. My mother lived to be 91 and my father 84, and they certainly never knowingly turned down a bacon sandwich.

Bearing all this in mind I was still rather discomfited by something that happened on Monday when I was having lunch at Hassop Station with Chrissie Poulson, crime writer extraordinaire.


The lovely Lisa, who usually works in the bookshop, was working in the cafe that day. She’s only ever sold me books, but when she brought our orders to the table – an LBT with salad, and summer vegetable soup - she said “Hi Sue, I guess this is yours,” and handed me the LBT. Chrissie got the soup.

“How did you know?” I asked, aghast.

She merely laughed.

It’s worrying, though. Can you tell someone loves bacon sandwiches just by looking at them?


This is an LBT I ate in the Big Sur last year, and you need to know that I took the photo because I was so impressed by the compostable box.

Almost forgot – the publisher has slashed the price of the ebook editions of my comic novels, Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups, to 99 pence in the UK and 99 cents in the US. Be a peach, and tell everyone you know.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Recovery position

When I first arrived at the screenwriting course at Lumb Bank last Monday, I was impossibly nervous. I thought everyone else would be young and hip and that I’d be the left–out, past-it, fuddy-duddy. (Oooh, hyphen overload.)  I need not have worried. Yes there were a lot of young people there, but they were friendly, and there was no hint in their hello’s of “What the hell are you doing here?”

The place we stayed – Ted Hughes’ old house -  was an old and comfortable country house half way down a hill, facing south, with views of woodland and hills. 


785634657_f00f9a2d49_o (1)

The library…


The sitting room…


I slept badly, but there were huge compensations - lovely walks, good food, and a hilarious last-night game of charades. Oh yes, and the point of it all  – excellent workshops and time to write on our own.

I got home at lunchtime on Saturday in a zombie-like state of exhaustion, but at the same time so wound-up that all I could do was lie flat on my bed for several hours in a semi-conscious torpor, neither awake nor asleep. I didn’t recover enough to talk to Dave in any meaningful way until Sunday.

Now I am enthused. I’m no longer working on a film version of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. It’s going to be a television serial, and the first task is to examine the structure of the story and work out how many one hour episodes I need. It’s so exciting that I’m no longer dreading the winter.