Monday, August 31, 2015

Not writing but pitching

I’ve just been making lemon curd to take my mind off the bloody pitch that’s been screwing up my brain for the past week month forever. On Friday night I even had a nightmare in which my mentor (who’s a screenwriter’s screenwriter) called in unannounced and said “I have five minutes to spare. Let’s get your pitch sorted out.” And I couldn’t find the papers.
The other reason I haven’t blogged since Friday is because tomorrow I am a guest blogger on a poet’s blog. A real poet. The one who edited that anthology Lifesaving Poems that I’ve been going on at you about. We’d been having an interchange on Twitter and he asked me to write a guest post and I was bowled over and said “Yes.”
But it’s not the fact that I will be a guest blogger on a classy blog that’s been freaking me out, it’s what he said in today’s post, flagging mine up -
To mark the start of this new season I am posting a brand new guest blog post here tomorrow morning. It is by the wonderful Sue Hepworth, whose blog is essential reading.
Do stop by and read it.
How can I write a blog post on my OWN blog after that? People who don’t usually read my blog will visit. Poets will come. The kind of people who understand every one of the allusions in The Waste Land will come. The kind of people who take A Little Life to bed, in the same way that I would take a hot water bottle and Garrison Keillor. My regular readers know what an intellectual low-life I am. Visitors don’t.
I’m a humble blogger. Sometimes my posts stand re-reading. Sometimes they don’t. So if you’re new here, and what you’ve read so far is rubbish, you could try my post on Perfectionism and all its faults. That was well received.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

At the limit

This week I’ve felt like one of those unfortunate teenagers who keep taking and failing GCSE Maths.

I never had trouble with school. I was one of those annoying girls who got prizes for English and Maths and other things besides. Now, for the first time in my life, I am at the limit of my capabilities. I keep writing a pitch for my screenplay, and my mentor keeps sending it back with another bunch of criticisms. Over and over.

Do you know that quote about writing? “It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” That is how I felt yesterday. I kid you not. I was so frustrated, I cycled to the end of the Monsal Trail and beyond, when usually I only go half way along.

I have to write a half page pitch to accompany episode one, a story outline, brief character descriptions, and my CV, to send them off to a TV producer. It’s the pitch that is driving me bananas.

It starts with what they call the logline. That is a one sentence description of what the film/TV series is about that will grab the attention of a jaded professional.


I can write a tweet, a blog, a broadsheet article, an academic paper, a novel, a screenplay, and a bereavement card, but trying to sum up BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU in one sentence, which shows why it is different from any other story about a marriage under threat – and that includes why it’s funny as well as sad – well. It’s beyond me.

Do any of you want to have a go?

In the meantime, the world turns and the season is changing. This morning I took the dying sweet peas from the vase on my desk to the compost heap and found the first conker.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Stalkers and sweet peas

Sometimes people tell me they like reading my blog, but it makes them feel as though they’re stalking me. And I usually say: “But I don’t put the whole of my life on there” and “I only share what I feel comfortable sharing” and “There is so much of my life and my family that I don’t write about.”

I don’t know whether or not they are reassured, but at last I understand what they mean, because now I am reading someone’s very personal memoir and I feel as though I am stalking him.

Do you remember I told you about that poetry anthology Lifesaving Poems, edited by Anthony Wilson and published by Bloodaxe? I’ve been reading Anthony Wilson’s blog, and now I’m reading his memoir of being diagnosed and treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It’s called Love for Now and I’m gripped.

But I also feel uncomfortable. It’s a very personal memoir that he wrote at the time it happened, and I feel as though I am reading stuff I shouldn’t be reading, because it describes the daily fabric of his life, and his family and friends, and what they did and what they said. I feel as though I am hiding outside his house and peeping in through an open window. But I can’t stop reading. The author published this memoir because he wanted to tell people the truth about what it is like being treated for cancer, and to share his thoughts on love, family and mortality, but I still feel vaguely uncomfortable.

So, you’re asking, where do the sweet peas come in?  Nowhere. They are not connected in any way. I just wanted to tell you that after last year’s complete failure in the sweet pea department, this year they’re wonderful.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Perfectionism and all its faults

I was reading an interview with the CEO of an up-and-coming American company in Forbes magazine this week (as you do when your son has just started to work for them) and it made me think.

The CEO said this:

“Even of the things we’ve done thus far, they’re only a tenth as good as they should be.”

and also

“What we talk about internally is continual improvement and perpetual dissatisfaction.”

And the two comments sounded exactly how I feel about my garden. They also made me feel uncomfortable, because I got an insight into how I must come across to Dave, who finds my perfectionism challenging, and sometimes unbearable.

Even this week we touched on the subject when he said how much he hates painting (as in decorating), and I said the pleasure in painting is in trying to do it perfectly, and he said: “I’m not interested in perfection.”

A long time ago I wrote a piece for the Times about perfection. I just read it again and decided it stands the test of time, so I’m posting it below.

But before that, here is an imperfect photo of two pieces of Dave’s stained glass, to show you how his scorn of perfectionism never dents the fabulousness of the things he makes:

sept 2011 052

The idea of perfection

Reading this year’s Orange Prize winner The Idea of Perfection has made me consider the thorniness of liking things just so. I loved the book, but in my Picador copy there were no quotation marks used to enclose the direct speech. And I hated that.

Popular culture abounds with characters with fine discrimination, or obsessive pickiness, depending on your point of view. Remember Meg Ryan as Sally in When Harry Met Sally ? “I’d like apple pie a la mode. But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.” You could say she was picky.

But if there were a team event for pickiness in the Olympics, my family would get the Gold medal. At fifteen my brother was ironing his own shirts, because my mother didn’t do it well enough. Now if you wash up for him he will tell you to turn the teaspoons upside down on the draining board so that they drain efficiently. I am picky about everything. So picky that last time I had breakfast in bed, my husband - who can never remember precisely what I like, but who wanted me to enjoy the treat - brought me three different mugs for my tea, three spreads, and three different types of jam. My father, a Grand Master of pickiness, will spurn every kipper that isn’t from Craster. But if you send him one from that blessed haven you give him exquisite pleasure, and he will be sweet for days.

At least you can be sure of giving great pleasure to high maintenance types if you make the effort and get it right. Those people who say “I’m easy,” or “I don’t mind,” can be impossible to please. How can you possibly know how to delight those colourless children who come round to tea, and who “don’t mind” whether they have fish fingers or pizza or baked beans on toast ?

Pickiness becomes truly unbearable, though, when it extends to a delusion that other people want to know your opinion about everything on every occasion even when you haven’t been asked. This week I am dreading my father coming to stay, and casting his critical eye over my treasured garden, because I know he will make derogatory comments about how I have pruned the blackcurrants or let blackspot infest my roses. When someone picks at an expression of your creativity, that’s when it hurts the most.

So if someone actually asks your opinion about something which they care deeply, and in which you can see an imperfection, what do you tell them ? If they have just spent three months stitching a tapestry and they ask you if you think that it matters that they ran out of blue and had to use another dye lot and can you see the difference, and does it matter ? If you can, and it does, what do you say ?

When planting our new garden my husband asked exactly where I wanted him to place the silver birch tree, so I marked the spot in the ground with a stick. “We work to fine tolerances here,” he said. When I viewed the tree later from the kitchen, I thought it was nine inches too far to the right, but I bit my tongue and said nothing. I was rewarded for this uncharacteristic forbearance when in the evening he looked through the window and decided that the tree needed moving, about nine inches to the left. Such miracles are rare.

I know I’m difficult. But being the picker can be just as uncomfortable as being the pickee. It is not easy when someone you love has just sanded and varnished a wooden floor for you, and every time you sit down on the sofa you notice a white paint stain under the varnish.

I do find it helps to remind myself that in some cultures craftsmen deliberately include a mistake in their work, because only God can create things perfect. It also helps to read the motto my husband gave me “Perfection is our aim. We must learn to tolerate excellence.”

© Sue Hepworth/Times newspapers 2001

Monday, August 17, 2015

Grief attacks

I was talking to a spunky 80 Year old after Quaker meeting yesterday about grief. Her adult son died four years ago in very sad circumstances. She said that the grief doesn’t go away but sometimes it feels much worse. It swoops in and takes her over: she calls this a “grief attack.” It’s an interesting expression.

I think it’s what I’ve had lately. It’s been like depression – waking up with a black cloud hovering over my head, a cloud that follows me around all day. I can be distracted for a few happy hours, but then it returns. It seems to have gone for now, thank goodness.

The only other news is that I have a verruca. Who ever heard of a pensioner with a verruca? 

(which sounds very like one of Daise’s one line diary entries in Plotting for Grown-ups.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to buy my books

It’s an inconvenient truth that the wholesaler has stopped stocking my books because it’s several years after publication and the sales have dwindled to a steady trickle. (Of course it’ll be different when BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU is televised, but that is in the future, and the wholesaler needs room on the shelves now for all the new books published this autumn.)

The upshot of this is that new copies are not available on Amazon but you can order them from an independent bookshop. Ebooks are available on Amazon, but you may not want an ebook.

28 Feb front cover

So, what to do if you don’t have a neighbourhood bookshop?

You can buy them from me, that’s what!

Contact me at infoATdelicatelynuancedDOTcom and tell me what you want and where you live and I will post them to you in return for a cheque. PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS and BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU each cost £7.99 and the postage within the UK is free. If you’d like me to sign them and/or write an inscription, I’d be delighted.

I am holding my breath.

Layout 1


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Growing up

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grand Tour

You may or may not have noticed that I've been a bit down the last two weeks, and Dave, concerned, suggested I go on a six week tour of my four siblings to see if that would cheer me up. I only had a three day window, however, so I am staying with my sister Jen near Winchester till tomorrow. Dave, meanwhile, is trying and failing to find the decorators caulk that I have tidied away at home. Sorry, Dave.

I've been having a wonderful time as I always do. And I AM cheered up. Jen is the most wonderful hostess. I've also expanded my culinary education by eating a heritage tomato ( not done before) and seeing what uncooked prawns look like ( disgusting and grey.) We've been walking in the water meadows by the river, eating out, catching up on family gossip, drinking too much wine (well I did) and arguing about which of us has eyebrows that are most like Ma's. (As you do when you're with your sister.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Day off

Friday, August 07, 2015


The Monsal Trail has been a blessing lately. When the world feels as if it is falling apart, it’s good to get on my bike and go.

And I saw something new. I was sitting on the edge of the Trail looking out at the valley and then I looked up and saw unripe hazel nuts, something I’ve never seen before. They were beautiful.


I’ve had two rainy rides on the Trail this week, and both were pleasant. Yes I came home soaked, but it was warm rain, and light.

One time I stood under the tall trees and felt so comfortable out there in nature with no-one else close by and tried to remember a snatch from a Mary Oliver poem. It plagued me all day. I checked with Megan later what it was and she knew straight off…the last lines of a poem called Black Oaks:

…Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a

little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from

one boot to another -- why don't you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don't want to let go of the wrists

of idleness, I don't want to sell my life for money,

I don't even want to come in out of the rain.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


Today I’d like to share with you a quote I found exactly a year ago and put on the blog last August…

This is an excerpt from Andrew Boyd’s 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.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Heartening news

This is an addendum to yesterday’s post: good news about the many people – ordinary people, not politicians – supporting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. It’s a story in The Guardian today – here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

What’s concerning me

I could write a chirrupping post about how many jars of blackcurrant jam we’ve made (50) and how we’ve had to stop because we’ve run out of jam jars. Or I could write a sad post about how I miss Mary. Both of them would be true.

But what’s eating away at me is the UK government’s callous attitude towards the refugees in Calais, who are desperate to get into the UK to settle and work. These are people fleeing from war, starvation and much, much worse.

PANews BT_P-d124d499-ac6e-4748-aa3b-9c98133f32ba_I1

I’ve just found a charity in Calais that does great work with them. It’s here. If you would like to donate, follow my link and then click on ‘Contact.’

And the United Nations High Council for Refugees also helps refugees. Here’s a link to their website.