Saturday, April 29, 2017

Perfect Day

You know those columns where a celebrity is asked what their perfect day would consist of? I always wonder what my perfect day might be and can never decideI realised yesterday that it's because there are all kinds of perfect days. Yesterday I had one.

A perfect day

get woken up by the blackbird (see last post)

have a messaging chat with Isaac and find out how Wendy is; also talk about the words biddable and loggy

have cuppa and take a few early morning photos in my pyjamas because the world is looking so beautiful

write a blog post

have another cuppa and work on the novel

have croissants and home made jam for breakfast

work all morning on the novel in peace because Dave is out on his bike

have lunch and chat to Dave who has now returned

do some gardening (and btw, those tulips in the header are my tulips! I am so proud!)

have half an hour's catch-up phone chat with Zoe (my daughter) 

play table tennis with Dave in the garden

go out for a bike ride

have tea 

watch an old DVD with Dave

play Scrabble

go to bed while the blackbird is still singing 

Another perfect day might be spent with these little beauties:

Wendy has finished her gruelling four months of chemotherapy, and in a couple of weeks will begin six and a half weeks of Monday to Friday radiation therapy. It is such a long haul. I expect perfect days are a distant memory for dear Wendy. I'm so thankful she's getting such expert treatment.

And soon I'm going to stay, and help. 


Friday, April 28, 2017


Last week I recorded the blackbird that wakes me up every morning at 5 a.m. The moon was still up and there was a crack of dawn to the east.

I love my blackbird. I sent the recording to Isaac who played it to the girls while they were having their breakfast, and Cece said 'It's like a bird concert!'

The annoying bird who pipes up at the beginning of the recording and continues throughout, is a great tit. I'd hoped the blackbird's song was louder than it is, but if you listen carefully you will hear him. 

Isn't he wonderful?

The early morning light today was magical. Here are views from, respectively, the upstairs loo (at the front), the bathroom (at the back) and the bedroom (at the front).

We are so lucky.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


You know, after a week away from the blog, its hard to start up again. 

It's been such a busy time - first my fantastic 26 hour trip to London in which I packed in lots of talking, lunch overlooking the Thames, the ballet, more talking, the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery's me on the river:

Then on Friday I cooked for the refugee hospitality day on Saturday and learned how to make earrings.

It was Bakewell churches second hospitality day and it was just as successful as last October’s, though different. The October day was sedate and peaceful. Last Saturday was lively, noisy, full of fun and exhausting. There were more visitors, a lot of younger children, and more boys. 

It was a dry sunny day, and Bakewell was looking its best. Bakewell is a small, old market town with a river running through it, and a riverside park. 

It's set in the Peak District National Park, and attracts a lot of visitors - day-trippers, walkers, climbers, and cyclists. So when we were thinking about how we could show support for refugees and asylum seekers, one of our ideas was to host day-trips for women and children who can't afford to get out of the city. We aim for a day not of giving and receiving, but a day of sharing.

We pay for a coach to bring them out from Sheffield, and we provide activities and a home cooked lunch and afternoon tea. 

Last Saturday there was a range of things to do – glass painting, seed planting, bubbles, a treasure hunt, table tennis, badminton, football, a walk by the river to see the foot-long rainbow trout and the swans, and a trip to the park. Building towers with 300 family-sized yoghurt cartons was also a big hit. (Regular readers will know who ate the yoghurt.)  

We also made jewellery from beads, some bought and many recycled: 

The jewellery making was so popular our bead stocks were decimated and now I'm begging everyone I know for their unwanted beads. The earrings below on the left were my practice piece and the pair on the right were made for me by one of our guests:

We all had a wonderful day - guests and hosts alike. A Ugandan woman with three children said at lunch it was her ‘best day ever.’ She also got up at the end of the afternoon to express her gratitude, but after one sentence she was overcome with emotion, and could not continue.

Now we're planning our day in July.

And I am getting back to writing the new novel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'a right strawy epistle'

I'm having two days off from writing. I'm going to London to see the ballet and the Howard Hodgkin exhibition (woo-hoo!) so before I go I have time to tell you what's been happening at Hepworth Towers.

What's been happening? 

Life. Life has been happening. At the beginning of last week I had a to-do list with 17 items on it, many of which were the worst kind - about money (the other worst kind, of course, being houseworky.) I've ticked them all off except two. 

And writing.  I've been writing at least 1,000 words a day. I've now written 27,361 words of the first draft, and I'm feeling pretty pleased.

I did take a day off last Friday to spend with a friend who is German. We went to see two films and we coloured eggs for Easter. It's a German tradition that she and her husband do every Easter, and I loved it.

This is the one I chose to bring home:

The trouble is that I can't bear to break it open and eat it.

It's a possibility that my friend, who has made her home in Derbyshire for the last 12 years and who wanted to live here till she died, will have to go back to Germany because of Brexit. Meanwhile, a member of my family who lives on the continent is applying for Irish citizenship so he can carry on living where he has for more than 30 years. One of the items on my list was to find my Irish grandmother's birth and marriage certificates. Brexit! Aaarrghhh.

I'm finding this post hard to write. My writing fiction head is so different from my blog-writing head. And that reminds me of a quote which is not pertinent to that last idea but which I do think is true:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

I'm sorry for this right strawy epistle. I'm out of the habit, friends. 

Lastly, I came across another quote thanks to Jenetta, and I liked it so much I'm planning to make a colourful collage of it, when I've finished the novel.

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions."

Dave doesn't like the quote. He says the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Comments, please.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A choice of reading

I was awake and ready to write a jolly post this morning about what is on MY bedside table, in response to a comment from Sally on a recent post, but I glanced at the news first and something upset me so much I am going to do the bedside table and then the other thing, and you can choose which you care about.

My bedside table will shock you if you're a minimalist.
This is what I currently have on the top shelf alone:

The Siege by Helen Dunmore, Part of the Furniture by Mary Wesley, and Homestead by Rosina Lippi - all of which are there because I wanted to look at the way the authors wrote specific scenes. Where'd you go Bernadette by Maria Semple, which I am supposed to be reading (for a second time), Word Painting - a guide to writing more descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan, which I am dipping into, Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor - because it lives there. Garrison is always there for good cheer, and for comfort reading in the bleak hours of sleepless nights.

Other items:
My journal, two copies of Country Living, the latest edition of the journal of the Society of Authors, a Guardian supplement about the 1930s and whether current times are comparable, a ripped-out magazine feature on the best new mascara and false eyelashes, Mary's funeral programme, an old birthday card from Mary's younger daughter, a thank you card from Isaac and Wendy, three emery boards, three pens, a pad of post-its, aconite pills, a bedside light, and a Google guest identification tag from when Isaac took me to Boulder Google last September. This is not it: this is the souvenir

Part 2:

I walked along the lane and back last evening at dusk because I needed fresh air. The pheasant that makes that awful croaking noise in our garden every morning, and is doing it as I write, was roosting in one of our beech trees. His black silhouette against the sky made him look like a skinny peacock. It was cold. I had thrown on a fleece and a long wool scarf and I had to wrap the scarf around my head against the wind.

What I first read when I woke up this morning was a Guardian piece about the refugee families in Dunkirk, whose meagre belongings were destroyed in the Dunkirk fire that also destroyed their shelters, and who last night slept on the roadside because they said the emergency facilities provided for them were unsuitable for children. 

I thought about the refugees - all the refugees - sleeping out on cold spring nights. I thought about the refugees who were sleeping out last night. How can it be that just the other side of the Channel there are hundreds of destitute, embattled and traumatised people who are homeless, whom our government refuses to give shelter to? Surely it is the normal human response to offer help to people in desperate need.

I am deeply ashamed of this government. I have given up writing to my MP. He is chairman of the Conservative party and only ever tows the party line of Theresa May. I now write to the boss and copy him in. Perhaps if enough of us write to her she will listen. Public pressure is the way to go with people who appear to have no inner moral compass. Or you might like to write about the UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia used in bombing civilians in Yemen, or about the cuts to benefits of the disabled or...or.... Take your pick, but write. Please.

Monday, April 10, 2017

suggestions, please?

I'm feeling bleary after a bad night, and going to Bakewell market later than my usual 8 a.m. because Boots doesn't open till 9 and Dave needs some Sudafed, so.... I thought I'd do a quick post and ask you a question.

Can you recommend a contemporary novel by a good writer that is a love story? I hesitate to say 'literary fiction' but I don't want something that is cheesy or commercial: I want beautiful, spare writing. Yes, I'm demanding. You already know this. But can you make some suggestions? Please?

A propos of nothing, the sky changed very rapidly this morning for the first hour that I was awake - here it is through my window at 6.20, 6.25 and 6.40 
(It rises further round now so I can no longer lean out of the south facing window and squirm round sideways to take it. I have to take it through my east window and through glass.)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Research for the novel - via Twitter

I was writing a scene in the new novel this week in which a woman goes into the bedroom of a man she doesn't know, to change her clothes. I wrote a description of the contents of the room, but when her eyes fell on the bedside table my mind went blank. 

Usually before I begin to write a novel, I plot the whole thing out from start to finish, and I also develop my characters. This time I haven't done that. I'm writing the novel more organically, and I'm developing the characters as I go along. This man (with the bedroom) is still a work in progress, which is why I had no idea what was on his bedside table. (U.S. equiv. = nightstand)

On Wednesday night I turned to Twitter, and asked men over 40 to tell me what was on their bedside tables. I got two replies. The next morning at 6 a.m. I tweeted again and got a couple more. I have 500+ followers, but Isaac has 25,000, so I tweeted him and he retweeted my question. The tweeted replies were coming in so fast I couldn't keep up with reading them and tweeting my thank yous (I hope I didn't miss anyone out.)

The tweets were fascinating. Beautiful little character studies. Being a person whose various careers have centred around my interest in people, the responses were a delight, but Isaac (a techie product manager) also enjoyed them. More to the point, they gave me some terrific ideas for my character. 

I thought you might like to see a few of the tweets. One tweet I've not shown is from a guy who said he had a digital thermometer, so I asked him why and he uses it to record the temperature of the room, because he lives in an old house and wondered how cold it got in the night. My character is definitely having this! After the tweets below - just a sample - I've listed what else I chose for Joe's bedside table.

This is hopeless! I haven't included the man with the rosary beads and a cardboard model of a robot. Or the man who has a glass of water with a CD on top so he knows the cat hasn't been drinking from the water. I investigated some of them and found out, for example, that Chris Thorpe (above) who has the old book about Swedish politics, also had a toy tinplate model of one of the boats that goes around the Stockholm archipelago.  

It's not just about the list of items per se, it's also where they lead my imagination. It was so productive.

On Joe's bedside table is a torch, a loo roll, a chapstick (which would never have occurred to me - ever), a digital thermometer, two empty lozenge wrappers, an almost finished packet of Ritz crackers, a glass of water with a CD resting on top and Patrick Kavanagh’s Selected Poems. This may well change as I get to know my character better.

If you responded on Twitter and you're reading this - thank you again. You made my day, and helped to make my character.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

where my head is

I'm not blogging so often these days and I want to explain.

I'm writing a new novel and my brain is full of that. It's not just about having less time for writing the blog, it's about where my head is between posts. When I'm not engaged in a new writing project, my brain freewheels and notices things and ponders things, and these things come out in the blog. But when I am writing fiction, and especially in the beginning phase of it (as now) my head is full of my new characters, of where the story is going, and where I want it to go. I'm planning the structure and wondering if it will work. 

I am in another place much of the time so that I wander round the garden and Dave says things like "Are you OK? What are you worrying about?" or "Is everything all right? You look distracted."

And I say -"I'm just thinking about my writing."

My emails are different, too. They are skimpier and straight to the point and don't contain observations and speculations and all the flim-flam they often do. All the energy is going into the book.

The other thing to say is that there is only so much quiet, undisturbed writing time in my world and at present I am pouring all of it into the book.

As far as the garden goes - my tulips have never flowered this early before. It's the beginning of April, for goodness sake! They're a whole month early. How crazy is that? 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

A ragbag of cheerfulness

I am weirdly cheerful this morning for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, I have discovered the cause of the nasty headaches I've been getting in the last two weeks. I always get sinus troubles at this time of year, and I was saying to Dave when I woke up with yet another headache that it must be a hay fever reaction, and he said 'Don't be ridiculous, there's no pollen at this time of year.' So I looked it up on the Met office site and guess what? There is such a thing as tree pollen and it's worst between mid March and May. Case closed. Not only did I beat Dave in an argument (such a rare occurrence) but I know the cause of the symptoms, and I know they will pass, and I have a new way of attacking the problem - anti-histamines. 

Secondly, you know those annoying items you have on your to-do list that never get done because they are boring and complex and you think they are going to take forever, so they never get tackled and crossed off the list? Changing electricity suppliers has been on my list for two months, and yesterday, in less than an hour, I sorted it out. I possibly feel happier about not having it on the list than I do about the money we're going to save, but I probably shouldn't admit that. 

The third thing is serious.  We've stopped talking about politics in this house. We used to do it a lot. Things are so dire out there, it's currently beyond discussion. But the one bit of positive news that I did tell Dave about was that Sam Walton, a Quaker peace activist, this week attempted a citizen's arrest on Saudi General Al-Asserie, for war crimes. Al-Asserie has been the public face of the Saudi brutal bombardment of the Yemen. In November 2016 he told ITV that Saudi forces had not been using cluster bombs in Yemen, only for Saudi forces to later admit that they had. These cluster bombs had been manufactured in Britain.

Sam Walton

On Tuesday, Al-Asserie met with MPs to brief them ahead of a debate on the humanitarian situation in Yemen (which is pretty odd in itself.) The General was on his way to speak to the European Council on Foreign Relations when Sam attempted his arrest. The general's body-guards protected him (while the General gave Sam the middle finger)  so the arrest was not successful. You may think this achieved nothing. I disagree: anything that keeps continuing war atrocities in the public eye is a good thing. If they are hidden, nothing will ever change.  

Did you know the following?
That since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £3.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:

  • £2.2 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £1.1 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £430,000 worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)
The legality of UK arms sales is currently the subject of a Judicial Review, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade. The claim calls on the government to suspend all extant licences and stop issuing further arms export licences to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen while it holds a full review into whether the exports are compatible with UK and EU legislation. The verdict is pending.

I live in hope.