Monday, July 31, 2017

Who am I writing for?

I was once interviewed by a popular and talented local radio guy who had just had his memoir published. He asked me if Dave read my books, and specifically, had he read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU ?

I told him that Dave never reads my books. For one thing, he never reads any kind of fiction, and for another, he wants me to be free to write whatever I want without censorship, and if I knew he was going to read it, it might hamper me and spoil the book. 

The interviewer wasn't happy with this answer: he tried to whip up a problem, implying that Dave didn't care for me or my writing. I insisted on the truth - that Dave has always been my biggest cheerleader, both in terms of moral support, and also practically. He encouraged me to give up my job to concentrate on writing (and he typeset the two books I self published - though I didn't mention this because some people look down on self-published books.)

Then I found out what the interviewer's beef was: his brother had refused to both read his memoir and to come to his book launch. He was clearly aggrieved at this and I believe he thought it showed that his brother didn't care about him.

I've been thinking about this, because last time I spoke to my big sister and she asked about my writing I said she wouldn't like the new book, and neither would my other sister. My elder brother might. I'm not sure about my younger one. My beloved sibs' views on my published books range from huge enjoyment to the view from one that my fictional alter ego, Sally Howe (she of Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups), is a 'silly bitch.' But all my sibs are as morally and practically supportive as any writer could wish, just like Dave. The one who despised Sally H kindly proofread the ms of But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You for me. I'm a very lucky dodo.

So who am I writing for?

Kurt Vonnegut advised young writers to: 

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

I have one reader in mind, and when the book's done I'll tell her who she is. Though I might not be sharing the news with you. But having written it with her in mind, I hope that all of you will enjoy it - of course!

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Yesterday morning Dave went out for the day at 6 a.m. leaving me drinking my first mug of Yorkshire tea. My sister was ringing to tell me something specific at 11 a.m. and I had to go out soon after 12 to a memorial service, but for five delicious hours I had an empty house in which I knew I could write undisturbed. After what seems like weeks of busyness, it was luxury, it was heaven. I was suffused with such a deep feeling of liberty and relief I can't express it in words. 

I submerged myself in my story and in the thoughts and conversation of my characters and I wrote some good stuff. Sometimes you just write, knowing it's what writers call 'a shitty first draft' that will be rewritten later, and sometimes you get to the heart of something the first time you try. Yesterday was one of those days. 

I was still in this ethereal fictional world when I stopped writing and got out the butter, cocoa and icing sugar to ice a cake for the afternoon's wake, when my sister rang. I took on board the key information she wanted to tell me but then she expanded into travel arrangements and speculation and negotiations needed and I was bamboozled. I couldn't focus. My rational brain was AWOL. 

My writer friend Chrissie picked me (and my cake) up in the car to go to the service and I told her about what had happened, and she understood completely. The same thing happens to her. 

Dave is planning to go out again for the day next Thursday and I have written in my diary in large orange capitals 


Monday, July 24, 2017

Letter from home

I'm sorry it's been a week since I posted but I've been busy.

I spent all of Friday cooking, picking flowers, and fetching toys down from the attic for Saturday's refugee hospitality day, organised by Bakewell churches. That happened on Saturday and was wonderful. Rain was threatened for the whole day but the sun defied the forecast, so the kids who came wanted to go to the park both morning and afternoon instead of doing all the activities we had prepared for them. Of course this was fine! The idea was for them to have a good time, and they did, feeding the fish in the river, going on the playground and playing footie with volunteers, three of whom were over 70. 

Meanwhile their mums and our other guests had some peace and quiet in the Friends Meeting House, decorating canvas bags and also making jewellery from our collection of beautiful recycled beads. This picture does not do them justice. Close up they looked positively edible. 

One of the volunteers, a trained masseuse, gave hand massages, and in the middle of the day we shared a lovely lunch up at the Anglican church. I'm sorry I can't show you pictures but personal privacy is vital.

I've also been busy picking gooseberries and blackcurrants and making jam. 

And I've been reading this:

which is the most entrancing and gripping novel I've read in ages. 

And then yesterday my friend Heike, recently back from a peace camp in Germany where they tied bread to tornado fighters carrying nuclear weapons - Bread not Bombs - recommended this:

It's a fantastic book full of history, creativity, inspiring ideas and above all, that precious commodity, hope. 

Lastly, I wanted to tell you what happened to Ben Jackson, whom I told you about here. He was the autistic boy whose mother invited 25 children to his birthday party and no-one turned up. Here's a report from the BBC.

Tomorrow a friend is coming to stay, and after that I shall get back to writing the novel. I have a new philosophy since Mary died which includes making the most of sunny days. Summer is such a busy time outside the study, and there will be plenty of cold dark days coming up when sitting at my desk will be the best option. No-one will suffer if another Sue Hepworth novel remains unpublished for six months, and I don't want to regret not spending time with people I love, or missing the chance to be under the sky, appreciating this beautiful place I live in.

Liz and I have not yet managed this year to have a summer evening walk down the Trail to sit on the terrace at Hassop Station and share a meal, and talk. These things matter. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Missing Mary

It's the most beautiful sunny morning here in Derbyshire. I'm sitting in bed looking at the sun on the lime trees and missing Mary, my best friend, my Anam Cara, who died two and a half years ago. The feeling swept in last night and is still here this morning.

'The sun rises in spite of everything.'
Derek Mahon

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The evidence

I am trying to clear up a bit, as an important visitor is coming to stay in 10 days, and I came across the notebook I used to keep in the kitchen table drawer to grab and make notes in when I was talking to Dave and he said things that made me laugh. I thought you might like to see where some of my characters' dialogue comes from.


And here is the inspiration for Richard in Plotting for Beginners - making jam in his wellies and his leather apron. I just said to him 'Can I tweet this?" and he said 'I don't give a stuff. It makes people aware of health and safety.'

Thursday, July 13, 2017

No one turned up for his birthday party

Long time readers of the blog will know that several members of my family have high functioning autism (also called Asperger syndrome.)

It's hard being autistic. As I said in a much earlier post, if you are a child with high functioning autism, you may be very bright and have no problem with schoolwork, but be ultra-sensitive to noise, touch and smells, and be incapable of instinctively understanding the social world and how to behave in it. 

This sounds like a trivial problem, but it’s not. Amongst other things it can lead to bullying, friendlessness, loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression. It makes living an ordinary life without stress and distress – which most kids do without thinking – a skill that has to be mastered, just like swimming. Sometimes such young people have got the hang of it by the time they are 30.

Yesterday I came across a story on Twitter about a boy with high-functioning autism whose mother invited 25 children to his birthday party and he was expecting them to come and no-one turned up. Imagine how you would feel if this happened to you. I imagined my own young autistic relation going through it. For various reasons which are hard to explain simply in a brief blog post, birthdays are difficult and fraught times for aspies, even without a party.

This year the boy's mother, Lisa, wants to make his birthday special and asked people if they could find it in their hearts to send him a card.

If you want to do this, his birthday is Friday July 14th when he will be 11.
His name is Ben Jackson, and his address is 
35 Dunn Close, Southsea, Portsmouth PO4 9TX
and the full story is here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ancient authors at night

10 p.m.   turn out light and go to sleep.

1 a.m.   wake up for a pee, get back into bed and brain remembers tasks for the following day that should have been done yesterday. Switch on light and send self an email with subject line only - 'pay house insurance, get flea stuff for cat, ring Tracy and pay the bill, collect beads, buy bubble machine for children on next refugee hospitality day.'

1.30.     unable to sleep.

2 a.m.   still unable to sleep and remember another item so forward email already sent with 'order repeat prescription' added.

3.30 a.m.  wake up for another pee. Brain refuses to settle and suddenly a scene that I've been wondering how to write pops into my head. Not only are the two characters there and I know exactly what they are doing, their precise conversation is issuing forth as well. Wake up and write as much as possible in dim light with no glasses, just enough detail so I'll be able to pick it up in the morning.

4 a.m.     still unable to sleep and not sure I'll wake up before Dave sets off for Sainsbury's so send him an email with items to buy I forgot to tell him last night.

4.30 a.m.   still unable to sleep but it's light now. To wake up or not to wake up? Decide not and shut eyes and doze till 6.45 a.m.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Wendy had a double mastectomy last December, began four months of chemotherapy in January, and yesterday completed six and a half weeks of daily radiation therapy. It has been a long, hard row to hoe and she has done it with stoicism and cheerfulness. She is awe-inspiring. Yesterday lunchtime after her last treatment she celebrated with Isaac. 

photo by Isaac

Monday, July 10, 2017


What to say?

That I can't get over how much I am enjoying this summer at home, whether it's watering my geraniums in my pyjamas, bike riding up the Monsal Trail, plotting my new book in the steamer chair while drinking in my front garden and the fields beyond, or playing al fresco table tennis with Dave in the late afternoon. 

Or should I tell you how heartwarming it was when someone I have never met and don't know tweeted this about BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU:

And then there was the lovely unknown reader defending PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS on Amazon against a sorry person who, because she didn't like all the local references in the book said that my next book should be a tourist information book. Between you and me, that review has long bugged me, but obviously it's infra dig for an author to join the fray and say - 'Look, if a novelist can mention the London Eye, Highgate cemetery, or Camden tube station in a novel why can't I mention Hassop Station, the Heights of Abraham or the Maazi restaurant in Matlock? A novel has to be set somewhere!'

Fortunately other readers agree with me. Here is another recent cheering tweet from someone I don't know:

So there you have it. It's a warm Monday morning and it's raining and I'm pleased, because it cuts down my options. I have a lot of jobs to do inside and this morning's task is to get on with the work-in-progress. Have a good week!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Current status

I have just one plum on my plum tree because of sharp frosts when the blossom was out; my raspberry bushes refuse to flourish; my sweet peas are pathetic - I don't know what they were doing while I was away in Colorado for three weeks, but they weren't growing; and my strawberry patch is infested with grass again. 

Yesterday my legs ached on the briefest of bread and butter bike rides, and at 2 p.m. I shlumped, like Mr Bix's borfin. There was no alternative but to lie on my bed and watch an epsiode of Neighbours on the iPad. My sax calls to me, begging me to find the energy to play it and the slackline is thinking of leaving home on the grounds of neglect.

And yet, and yet, I am loving the summer. Ploughing up the Trail with my weary legs I was euphoric. It's fabulous here! At this point in the year I see the benefits of all the rain we have to put up with month in month out. Everywhere is so wonderfully lush, and the verges of the lanes and the Monsal Trail are spilling over with an ever changing variety of wild flowers. Last week I counted 17 varieties on just one ride. This week among the buttercups and clover there are orchids. 

The other reason to be cheerful is that thanks to Dave's inspired dismembering of the dead washing machine, we now have our very own firepit.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

My men

My younger sister Jen and I have different views about the men in Friends. I love Ross because he is the most wonderful comic character, and I adore his slapstick scenes - e.g. in The One With The Leather Trousers. Jen can't stand him because she says he is silly. She prefers Joey. I like Joey too but he's not interesting enough for me: he's too basic a character - the comic fool. 

I've just been thinking about all the male character in my novels - Richard and Gus in Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups, Rob in Zuzu's Petals, Kit in Plotting for Grown-ups, and Sol in But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. And I realised that the man in my current work in progress is different from them all.

Of all of my men in print I think Richard is my favourite. Why? Because he's so funny.
Gus is annoying and barely there.
Rob is too damaged.
Kit is OK for sex but not much else.
Sol is great. He is funny and sweet, but in the end he's too hard to manage.
Richard is pure comic character.

Here he is in Plotting for Grown-ups....

“I’ll bring my Screwfix catalogue to amuse myself in the interludes. I’ve conceived an unhealthy passion for a pair of trestles. I keep trying to stamp it down, but I’m constantly drawn back to them.”

He got up from his chair (we were sitting in the kitchen) and tugged at the seat of his trousers. Then he sat down again and said, “Some of my underpants are terrible. It’s as if they’re alive – I can feel them creeping down my thighs. I need to cull them.”

“What you need to do when you get home is get them all out of your drawer, and lay them all out on the bed and go through them, one by–”

“I am going through them! That’s the trouble! But where can I get some decent ones? I have had it up to here with M&S Y-fronts. They’re hopeless!”

What is it about men and their underpants?

“You need to get something that isn’t a standard Y-front, something a bit more 2011-ish. Especially now you’re on the pull. I mean – what would Ms Fuchsia Pink think of them?”

“This is where Dickies could pounce,” he said. “They ought to be calling in their top designers, even as we speak.”

“So what do you think the perfect underpant needs?”

“Security, material that shrugs off stains, adequate ventilation – possibly assisted – and a reliable fastening. It’s about time persons of quality gave their attention to the comfort and protection of the nation’s manhood. Paxman tried a few years ago – do you remember all that kerfuffle on the Today programme? Nothing happened. Next thing you know, Prince Charles will be muscling in with the Poundbury Pant and the Prince’s Truss.”

I use my life in my novels if you hadn't already guessed. This week our washing machine died and we ordered a new one. In the meantime Dave decided to dismantle it to see if there were any useful components he wanted to keep.

He has promised to take it to the tip today, but he's kept a bucketful of stuff, including the motor, some 'wonderful springs' and the domed glass from the door, which he has cleaned up and says makes an excellent fruit bowl.

I just asked him if he minded my putting this bit of news on the blog and he said 'No. Why should I mind?' then two seconds later he said 'Perhaps you could ask your readers to send us their unwanted washing machine doors.'

Dear readers, please don't.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Sweet piece, and shameless PR

For all those who have not read my novel BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, I commend this short piece - which I did not write - in today's Guardian. Actually, I commend it to all of you. It's sweet and true and made me smile in recognition.

And if you haven't read BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, why haven't you?  It's one of the National Autistic Society's favourite novels about autism. And if you're not interested in autism, you can enjoy it anyway. here's the blurb:

Frances has been married to Sol since the beginning of time. He is eccentric and difficult to live with, but she finds him endearing and very funny, even while wanting to strangle him with his own jogging bottoms. Now, something threatens to split them apart. Frances wants one thing and Sol wants another, and there is no way to compromise. But I told you last year that I loved you is a portrait of a mature marriage at a crossroads - intimate, funny, tender and honest.