Saturday, January 31, 2015


Did you ever emerge from an absorption with a personal pain or sadness which is not objectively inconsequential, and then looked abroad and saw suffering on such a scale as to make you resolve to be less complaining?

My Twitter feed is full of bad news from Gaza.

Life there is as arduous and awful now as it was at the height of the Israeli bombing last July, but in a different way. Wrecked houses are still wrecked, homeless families are still sheltering in UN premises, there is a restriction on power and the import of materials for reconstruction as well as on medicines, and a multitude of other things that make ordinary life supportable.

The UN has had to suspend payments to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for repairs to homes damaged in last summer's war, because they have received only £88.8m of the £474m pledged by donors.

Here, Palestinian children look out through holes in a sheet at their family's house in the east of Gaza City (photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters)


Here, a Palestinian woman washes clothes at her damaged house in the east of Gaza City (photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

gaza-living-ruins woman

Read this piece in the Chicago Tribune and you will get the picture.

If you would like to help, you can donate to the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians here.

This is what they will do with your money.

Thank you.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Make good art

I had three possible topics in my head this morning for a post:

1/ a Pollyanna-ish post, Five good things about snow,  plus pretty local snowy photographs (as it has snowed, and is snowing, and I am going to have to go to Sheffield on the train and stay overnight, assuming we can make it to the station)


2/ a discussion about writers  breaking the fictive dream with references to the current disintegration of The Archers (longest running radio soap in the world, which has been captured by an evil Script Editor who is alienating listeners like me, a fan of 43 years) and also with references to the current series (series 3) of Last Tango in Halifax, which has lost me. I am still watching it but I am outside of it now, detached. And it’s not just me…my sax teacher says she was gripped by it, but isn’t any more. There’s a lot to say about this.

3/ a quote from the writer Neil Gaiman on what to do when disaster strikes. I like this, and this is the one I am going with – and for the literal-minded amongst you, when he talks about “art” I am sure he means anything creative, which includes all manner of things….whether it be making a fruit cake, knitting a jumper, taking a photograph, painting a picture, building a snowman, or writing a poem.

take it away, Maestro…

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.     –  Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It’s grim up North (a whinging post)

kathy staff

People often ask me if I find it hard to make myself sit down and write every day: does it take a lot of self discipline? Well, it doesn’t when I’m in the middle of a piece of fiction – novel or screenplay. But at the planning stage, the stage when I’m wrestling with plots and story arcs, the place where I am right now, it’s hard. And it’s exacerbated by a lack of hope and of courage: am I kidding myself? can I do it? am I wasting my time? Yesterday I couldn’t concentrate and gave up, and got out my patchwork instead.

Another thing is that more heavy snow is forecast for Thursday so for the second week running, it looks as if I shan’t be able to help Zoe out by driving into Sheffield and picking up the boys from school, etc. etc.


image copyright of

Last week I was tweeting about that inspirational book Late Fragments in which the author who is dying of cancer can still see the beauty of the everyday. At the same time, I was having a Twitter conversation with someone in London about snow. He was wishing he got snow as often as we do and I was telling him that, yes, yes, I can appreciate its aesthetic qualities, but I still loath it because it cramps my life. That’s how crap I am at playing the glad game.

January this year is turning out to be a sister to February: a month of practising determined cheerfulness, resolutions not to complain, stiff upper lips and gritted teeth. So….I am thankful for my warm house, my kindly and chatty companion, my loving family, good friends, good books, and technology. The latter means I can have a messaging chat with Isaac in Colorado when a cough wakes me up at 4.30 a.m. and I can also send loving texts to my dear friend M who is seriously ill, and whom I have still not been able to visit because of worries I will give her this tiresome virus.

I’m trying to be a Pollyanna, but I am obviously in the remedial class and need a personal trainer in cheerfulness.

You know what?

It isn’t any of the above. It’s whittling about my friend that’s the problem. It colours everything.

Here’s a January view (sans snow) from the limestone edge behind the village:

jan08 025


Sunday, January 25, 2015

On my mind right now, and always in my heart

My closest friend, my friend for thirty years, is seriously ill in hospital with cancer, just half an hour’s drive from here, and I can’t go to see her because of this snotty virus. I can text and I can write, and I do. She has her loving and stalwart husband and kids around her, and that’s what matters in the end. She knows I love her and am thinking about her, but I’m sad I can’t visit and hold her hand for a while.

This is for you, M, not that you’ll see it…but I’ve told you before. It’s a quote from the Victorian writer Dinah Craik…

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one's deepest as well as one's most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely.

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”



Friday, January 23, 2015

Where I’ve been

There are a lot of vile bugs swanning around in north Derbyshire and Sheffield this winter, and on Tuesday I came down with one. I am not complaining: I am just explaining why I haven’t posted. My head’s been too thick with snot to think.

This was the view from the bedroom window on Tuesday:


Yesterday I managed to work, despite the ever-present snot. And I also read Late Fragments by Kate Gross. I read it in one sitting, something that is rare for me, especially when the book is non-fiction. It’s the beautifully written memoir of a 36 year old woman who died of cancer a month ago. It is sad but not gloomy. It is moving, inspiring, and above all, life-affirming. It is honest, not cheesy. It is more about living, and how to live, than it is about dying.

The sub-title of the book is Everything I want to tell you (about this magnificent life) – which should give you a clue about the general tenor. If you read just one book this year make it this one. It’s about love and friendship and the importance of paying attention to the wonder all around you; and the last paragraph of the book is the Raymond Carver poem Late Fragment

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

Beloved on the earth.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What every couple needs

Dave has been working in the attic for two weeks, which seems a long time, but there was lots of clearing and dismantling to do before he could start on the actual insulation. The upside is that as well as achieving lower future heating bills, we’ve sorted out the stored junk – at least half of which has been dumped on us by offspring. And we’ve found things that were lost, and things that were forgotten about, such as this cartoon which Kate Charlesworth gave me. She drew it to illustrate a piece I had in The Times years ago.


This is the piece…

Just as every newly married couple should have a shed on their wedding list if they want their marriage to survive, so there is something every older couple needs, and I know what it is.

It’s not just retired people who need it, such as those poor wives whose husbands – bereft of work - follow them around all day asking “What are you doing? What are you doing now? Where are you going? What time will you be back?”

It can also be couples who work from home, like my husband and I, who have a room and a computer each and who have, you would think, no need to argue.

Our problem is our different styles of working. He works in short bursts, sharp and efficient, sure footed and sound. He cuts through work like a man with a machete hacking through brambles.

I am slow and woolly headed. I need to go to my room and shut the door and be left alone for hours at a time. I am like the author who, when she was asked if there were words she tended to overuse, said “Yes - two words: go away.”

But machete man does half an hour here, and gets up for a drink; half an hour there, and gets up to stroke the cat. Then as he’s on his feet he will come and ask if I remembered to ring the plumber. He’ll do ten minute’s writing, then look outside the door to see if there’s enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, so he can go out cycling later. But then as there’s only enough blue sky for one leg, he will come and ask if I think it’s going to rain. Then it’s fifteen minutes on the phone, and a shout to ask where his stapler is. He does half an hour of planning, then feels peckish and slopes into the kitchen for a bowl of yoghurt, and while he’s there he may as well listen to the headlines. Then he comes up to rage about what he’s just heard. Aarghh !

This was all true until a month ago. That’s when he bought the router, which (for the uninitiated) is a power tool used for precise cutting and shaping of timber.

Routers are wonderful. Every couple should have one. The router has revolutionised our lives, which I now divide up into BR and AR ( Before Router and After Router ). Now, in the AR epoch, I have no excuse not to get on with my work, because he sits in his room as if nailed to his chair until all of his work is done: the sooner it’s done, the sooner he can play with his router.

He started with picture frames. Everything in the house that’s vaguely rectangular has now been framed. Luckily, a router isn’t just useful for framing. It can do decorative edging for shelves, cupboard doors, engraved wooden signs, etched patterns and pictures, dovetails – anything in wood that needs shaping or grooving, cutting or profiling.

And in the evening when his back aches from bending over the workbench, and his fingers are numb with vibration, he sits and flicks through his catalogues of router attachments and cutters. All is quiet except for occasional exclamations, such as “I’m going to get some pronged teenuts. They’re a joy.” Or he may read one of his routing magazines - the sort of publication that features in the missing words round on Have I got news for you - with headlines like “Power up!” or “Beautiful Beast! The new big Bosch router is here.”

It’s not just my husband who is besotted with his router. Believe me, there is a routing fraternity, with ramifications way beyond woodwork. Last week my brother ( who has a “tasty” Elu router ) asked my husband’s view on some abstruse etymological question and on hearing the reply said “Yes, of course. Anyone with a router talks sense.”

As well as improving domestic harmony, the router has solved the Christmas present problem: from now on I’ll buy presents for his router. There is an infinite variety of cutters: no man could live long enough to try them all. I’ve just been down to get his catalogue to count them, but my husband had gone, and on his study door was a new wooden sign “Gone routing.”

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2002

published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Good morning!

I am sitting in bed swathed in my worn and patched - and yet still holey - eau de nil cashmere hoodie (circa 2007) trying – after a week off – to remember how I write a post. It’s 6.53 a.m. Now I am compos mentis, Dave has put on his bib and brace and is up in the loft working on his huge insulation project.

I’ve been awake for hours with stuff going round in my head, one of which was the job with a six figure salary (with my own driver) that I was offered last night. Yes it was a dream, but I always like to understand my dreams. I turned the job down, by the way. I wouldn’t take any kind of salary to swap my current life for a corporate one.

I like living here and being free to decide how I spend my time, even if it does mean my cashmere hoodie is beyond any kind of repair that would make it wearable in polite society.

For one thing I have time to pick up the boys from school and play Monopoly with Tate for an hour and a half before tea.

monopoly with tate

And I have time to have them in bed in the morning and get to know what they like playing when they have their rationed “screen time.”


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Picture week – last day – cheat

You probably think I’ve been lounging around doing nothing for a week, apart from taking a few photos. Well, I’ve been ill, and then busy. And then exhausted. So this last photo is from @Sky1Ron whom I follow on Twitter. He’s a news and traffic reporter for KCBS in the San Francisco Bay Area. He goes up in a plane and takes the most amazing aerial views. This is one he tweeted this week. I love San Francisco. I miss San Francisco. And who knows when I’ll see it again now the West Coast Hepworths live in Colorado.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Picture week – day 4

Winter sunshine in my study


Winter view from our gate


Winter sunshine on our lane


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Picture week – day 3 (take 3) – snowdrop gallery!

My snowdrops yesterday


My snowdrops today


Snowdrops along the lane, in the lee of the wall – today






Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Picture week – day 2


Monday, January 12, 2015

Picture week - day 1

My fridge door


Friday, January 09, 2015


I was going to write a post about how the photo of me at the side of the blog is out of date and how I might be committing fraud by having it there, and how I should find a new one that doesn’t make me look too awful. That photo was taken in April 2008, so it’s out of date by seven summers of sitting in the sun sans sun screen - get a load of that alliteration that just popped out - ten trips to sunny California, the stress of self-publishing two books, and the grief of losing my mother. I aged five years when my mother died.

I like this photo a lot that Isaac took in Sausalito


but it was October 2008 so it’s also out of date.

The hunt is on for a replacement photo.

Meanwhile, I’m wrestling with all kinds of darkness  - global, local, seasonal. And yet I live in a house with views that are wide and lovely, I have enough to eat, the house is cosy (and becoming cosier by the day, as Dave installs insulation up against the puny post-war utility rafters) and I love my family and my friends. I don’t want to moan, so I’m taking a short break. I might decide to post just a photo of something domestic every day. You could check in. Otherwise, I’ll see you in ten days.

With love.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Who’s the boss? You or your book?

The first time I sat next to Dave in the university library 46 years ago this month (are we really that ancient?)  I was appalled at his behaviour. I’d peeked inside his T S Eliot Selected Poems, that he carried around with him like a talisman, and saw marginalia on every page.  Except does marginalia include stuff scribbled between stanzas and verses, as well as in the margins?

I was brought up not to write in books. Apart from that stricture – which I mostly observe - a book is a book, and is there for my enjoyment.

My good friend Chrissie reads five times as many books as I do and has a library to match, but I stopped borrowing books from her when I realised she is one of those people who won’t bend the spine of a paperback: she has it open 90 degrees or less and peers inside it. Like my big brother.

Listen. I take care of my books. I am not a hoodlum. I like to keep their covers pristine, I don’t bend down corners of pages, I try not to drop them in the bath, but I am not going to put a book’s comfort before my own. I open my books. I want to be comfortable when I’m reading, and I am not comfortable if I am worrying about getting a crease in the spine.

Now I must go. I need to check on Abe Books, the second hand books site, to see if they have a copy of my favourite book in the same edition - Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor, paperback, publication date 1989, ISBN – 0-571-15240-6 – because this one has been read so often it’s falling apart.


Note to regular readers of the blog – the header is my photo of the new year full moon, setting behind the village, January 2010, taken from the attic.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Being fair to Trollope, and other stuff

I decided I wasn’t being fair to Joanna Trollope in my last post by making something up as an example of her fractured dialogue. So here is an example from her Sense and Sensibility

“I seem,” Elinor said, “to be just as bad at reading people as I ever was.”

and here’s another -

“John and Fanny,” Elinor said firmly, “are family. We had to come.”

and one more -

But,” said Elinor quietly, “that’s what Fanny wants.”


I am currently trying to develop the voice of one of my male characters before I begin to actually write the screenplay (up to now I’ve been planning it.) As research, I turned to About a Boy by Nick Hornby (whose dialogue, and its appearance on the page, is immaculate). I opened it in the middle, because I saw the film and know the story, and before I knew it I’d finished the thing and no notes taken. Then I went back to the start and read to the middle. Excellent stuff. Now I need to look further afield and continue to ponder on my character’s voice.

Another thing is that Episode 2 of the third series of Last Tango in Halifax was on last night, and this morning (time currently 6.55 a.m.) it is available for people with no tellies (such as me) to watch on iPlayer, and yet here I am, writing my blog. That’s how much I love you guys.

Actually…to be truthful….it’s how strong my work ethic is. (But I do love you guys.)

I tried again to capture the full moon at teatime yesterday and realise now that I need a tripod to do this effectively, and I’m not going to buy a tripod, so the moon will always be out of reach.



Whereas an ON Christmas will be back in two years…


Saturday, January 03, 2015


I’ve just read Joanna Trollope’s reworking of Sense and Sensibility – written as part of a current project to bring all of Jane Austen’s novels into the 21st Century. My verdict: well-written, but it doesn’t work. The social norms about marriage and wealth prevailing at the time Austen wrote do not still hold today.

But then I wondered if they do still hold in the world which Joanna T inhabits. In her world people wear gumboots, not wellies, and they have supper, not tea, so maybe the whole marriage thing is different too (tongue in cheek here.)

The other thing to say about the novel is that although I have read and enjoyed – no, been positively gripped by -  several of Trollope’s earlier novels, every time I read a new one, her voice ends up irritating me. She’s obviously a stonkingly good novelist, and she writes well about families and emotions, but – and this is my own peculiar, personal reaction – her writer’s voice gets on my nerves.

his masters voice

There is one particular thing I can’t stand, and that’s the way she breaks up her dialogue. Here is an example of something that might have occurred in one of my Plotting books, but written a la Trollope…

I want,” said Richard fiercely, “a new pair of underpants. Not just one pair, but a whole fleet of them. I want to enter a new underpant era.”

He was, Sally thought as she nursed her mug of tea, rather nuts.

People in Trollope novels nurse their tea and their coffee mugs. They also often say things fiercely. But it’s that cutting into what a character says or thinks, with a subordinate clause, that gets up my nose.

And then I wondered what there is about my voice that gets up readers’ noses.

Feel free, dear readers.


Friday, January 02, 2015

Picture Post

This picture post is for all of you but especially for M, because she’s not well, and reading a long post is hard work.

Winter sunset behind a piece of Dave’s stained glass: