Saturday, September 30, 2017


Canal Bank Walk

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest of the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven 
From green and blue and arguments that cannot be proven.

Patrick Kavanagh

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BAT and other characters

Lux and Cece are currently highly amused by a new book called I AM BAT

It's a simple book for 2-5 year olds but Lux is 7 now and she loves it. Who cares about age? I love it. They face-timed me on Sunday and Lux held up the book and turned the pages so that I could read it aloud, which in itself was lovely because I so miss reading to them both. 

Lux has been so taken with the character of BAT that she has copied the illustrations:

I suppose this counts as fan-fiction for picture books.

Creating memorable characters is vital when you're writing fiction. I had no trouble creating Fran in BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU, or in dreaming up Sally Howe in PLOTTING FOR BEGINNERS and PLOTTING FOR GROWN-UPS. Fran is serious and has a social conscience the size of the national debt, but she does have a sense of humour, which is one reason she has put up with Sol for so long. Sally Howe is lightweight and entertaining and can be a bit of a dope, but she is also driven.

My current female lead, Jane, is nearly there in terms of being a fully rounded character, but not quite. Last week, for example, Sally Howe burst into the text and had to be booted out. It was a part of the story where a lot had happened in a short space of time, and I wrote the third person narration like this:

She was desperate to get away. She had to get away! The last week had been one thing after another and who knew what would happen next? She felt as if she was living in a fast moving soap opera that had far too much plot. 

The next day when I was reading back what I had written I realised that the idea in the last sentence was something that Sally Howe would think and not something Jane would think. It's a writer's perspective, and Jane is not a writer. So maintaining the integrity and strength of a fictional character is not just about how a character acts and how they talk, it's also about how they frame things. Well, yes.

I seem to have strayed into writer's blog territory, and I apologise to all non-writers reading this. The thing is...writing is where my head is right now which is why I am not blogging so much.

OK. I have an empty house till 8 o clock tonight, and I am going to write. Target - 3,000 words.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Sprout

This is Cecilia. On Twitter, she's @thesprouut

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Not swanning around

You know that scene I was writing? Where the person turns up after twenty years and I had no idea what was going to happen? I've been engrossed in writing it. It's been huge fun. I was so deep into the world of the novel yesterday that when Dave wanted me to go outside to admire the hedge he'd been trimming and came and banged on my study window, he scared me stupid.

So I haven't been swanning around with no excuse not to blog. Yesterday, however, I did go out for the afternoon to Chatsworth House with Liz and we walked round the gardens to take in the views and the trees and the fountain, and also to look at the modern sculpture exhibition. They have one every September, but the last time I went was with the aging hippie 4 years ago. I don't understand a lot of modern sculpture, even when I read the interpretations. Some of the exhibits we saw yesterday looked like giant cast iron blobs, ugly, lumpish, incomprehensible. Here is one we saw that I didn't find objectionable even if I wouldn't want it in my garden:

Do you like it? Get it?

Here is what the label said:

JOEL SHAPIRO (b. 1941)
104 by 193 by 130cm
Executed in 2013. This work is unique.

Shapiro's work is intended to communicate something of the artist's emotional state, retaining both an abstract and scaled-down aesthetic, and achieves a suggestive, often athropomorphised figuration. Although suggestive of a reclining figure, Untitled evades such precisions; the work is predicated by an inherent instability, a sense of flux, shifting under the eye into ever-changing patterns and arrangements and constantly eliding the gap between configuration and disfiguration.

Do you get it now? I don't. I understand the individual words (apart from 'disfiguration') but not when you put them all together. To me, it reads like something from Pseud's Corner in Private Eye.  I am not averse to modern art in general. I like a lot of abstract modern paintings, whether or not I understand what the artist is saying. But when I saw the sculptures yesterday it made me feel like an uncultured philistine.

My favourite strands of the lovely afternoon were talking to Liz, being outdoors on a fine September afternoon in a Capability Brown-landscaped park, and sitting for half an hour before we came home with my back to the stables in the strong sunshine, basking. I need to soak up as much sun as possible to see me through the winter. There has been more rain than sunshine this summer. This has been the typical state of our table tennis table, i.e. with a glazing of rain:

This is the first September for eight years I have not been to stay with the US Hepworths, and I am missing the sunshine, as well as missing them.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What happens next?

I'm loving writing this unplanned novel. 

When I started it I knew the theme and the setting and not much else. I'm seven eighths of the way through now and I've got to know the characters along the way, as well as how the plot works out. Until three weeks ago I didn't know how it was going to end, but one day it came to me in a flash. And when this conclusion arrived it was all so obvious, because hints had been dropped in the text much earlier on.

Right now, a character from twenty years before the novel started has turned up on somebody's doorstep and I have no idea what is going to happen. I'm just waiting to hear what these two characters say to each other and then I'll know where to take it next. It's so exciting! 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where is the hope?

I know that some of you come here for light relief and others (don't laugh, it's true because they've told me so) for a burst of sanity.

But it's hard to think of a blog post when your mind is consumed with subjects such as these:

The 800 plus people who were killed and the 24 million who were affected by widespread floods across south Asia. This did not make the headlines with as much brouhaha as the devastating hurricane in the Caribbean and Florida and the flooding before that in Houston. But it was just as much a disaster for the people concerned.

The people threatened by Hurricane Irma who did not have the means to evacuate when they were told to do so.

The people who did evacuate and are now returning to find out how much they have lost.

The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people by Myanmar.

A new United Nations report which found that the living conditions for two million people in Gaza are deteriorating “further and faster” than the prediction made in 2012 that the enclave would become “unlivable” by 2020. "When you're down to two hours of power a day and you have 60 percent youth unemployment rates ... that unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago," said Robert Piper the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities. 

The constitutional changes voted in by the UK parliament this week.

The whole Brexit disaster and the hopeless, puerile and combative way the negotiations are being handled by Tory politicians.


I won't go on. You know it all well enough. I am sure many of you feel the same. At my Quaker meeting recently many of us wrote (in our bimonthly newsletter) our responses  to the question: 
How do you maintain hope for the future? 

Quakers are a bunch of idealists whose guiding principles are peace, simplicity, equality, justice, integrity, and care for the environment. Maintaining hope in the current world political climate is a struggle.

I like this piece on Hopelessness  by Andrew Boyd that I have mentioned on the blog before.

Bakewell churches have this year held three hospitality days for refugees, asylum seekers, and survivors of human trafficking. We pay for transport out from Sheffield for our guests, we provide activities for adults and children, and we cook them a delicious lunch. These days have been wonderful days of warmth, friendship and hope. 

Everyone can do something to make the world a better place, and doing something positive, however small, is better than giving in to hopelessness.

I will leave you with this quote from Jan Eliasson, former deputy UN secretary general:

"Where is the hope?  You are the hope."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Warning: Novelist at Work

This little interchange happened years ago...

"So what is it like, living with a writer?" someone asked Dave.

"Very difficult," he said. "I looked in the cupboard last week for something to eat and found nothing but spaghetti hoops."

"But you like spaghetti hoops," I said. "That's why I bought them."

"I don't like spaghetti hoops. I've never liked spaghetti hoops." 

"Oh no…sorry," I said. "It's Gus who likes spaghetti hoops."

Gus is a character in Plotting for Beginners, and I'd obviously been living the fictive dream in the Co-op.

My most recent male character - in the new (quiet) novel is called Joe. And Joe has a penchant for Werther's Originals and after some firsthand research, and unfortunately for my teeth, so now do I. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Books that make you cry

Can you think of any books that made you cry?

I asked my writer friend this yesterday and she said Life and Fate and she described the scene to me that made her cry. It would have made me cry too. I asked for any others and she said there were some, but she couldn't quite - 'Oh! I cried at the end of The Railway Children!'

'That doesn't count!' I said. 'Everyone cries at the end of The Railway Children. And I'm not talking about films.'

'No,' she said, 'I cried at the end of the book as well.'

Fair enough.

Books that have made me cry are:


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The Age of Innocence

which also happen to be three of my favourite books.

Another book that makes me cry is my own But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. I was reading part of that the other day to check how I had dealt with a particular emotion, and I came to the bit about the fire, and that made me cry. I am not sure that counts, though, because it was about something that happened to me, so you'd kind of expect it.

Anyway, the point is, I like a small contained cry when I'm reading. 

What books have made you cry?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Don't read this post if swearing offends you

Do you swear when you are

  1. alone?
  2. with close (adult) family?
  3. with your children or grandchildren?
  4. with close friends?
  5. with acquaintances ?

I am a grandmother, and a liberal Quaker and I would tick 1, 2 and 4.

When I was a religious born-again evangelical Christian teenager - in my former life - I thought swearing was a sin. Now I think the issues are about good taste, and whether your swearing offends other people.

The TV programme The Thick of It has been recommended to me more than once by people whose opinion I value, but when I tried watching it, there was so much distasteful swearing on it that it spoiled my enjoyment and I switched it off. It was partly about the quantity of swearing but it was also about the words they used - ones I would never say.

I am currently watching a comedy drama series in which the word fuck appears fairly often. It is not used gratuitously and it doesn't offend me. Does it offend you?

The word seems particularly effective in the impatient injunctions: 'Shut the fuck up' and 'Sit the fuck down.' I don't just find it effective, I actually like it.

In my current quiet work-in-progress, someone who doesn't swear much is in a situation where she is shocked and very angry and she says 
‘Yes I fucking saw and I fucking heard. Who is she?’ and it seems entirely appropriate, and the thing is...I can't think of another way in which this character would express herself so effectively in this particular situation. 

I'd love to hear your views on all of this.

(p.s. the swallows will be back next week)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

A post in two parts

Do you read quiet novels? 

I think the last two books I read that could be described as quiet were Willa Cather's Shadows on the Rock, and Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night. I am very happy to read a quiet book if it is short and beautifully written. ( I don't always like them...I hated the much-lauded  My Name is Lucy Barton.) But I can't think of a commercially successful quiet book by a previously unknown writer. Can you?

I recently saw the film Paterson which I adored. It's about a bus driver who is an aspiring poet. It's such a lovely film that when it came to the end, I could have sat and watched it all over again, straight away. And it is so quiet that I sat puzzling how it came to be made. How on earth did it get financial backing? I read up about it and discovered that the writer and director is Jim Jarmusch, a famous and successful director. That's how it came to be made. An ordinary screenwriter would never get the backing for such a quiet film.

I don't know where I am going with this, except that this week I found myself writing to someone that I no longer expect anything to happen with my writing, but I keep writing because I am horribly bad tempered if I don't. And I am well aware that for PR purposes I shouldn't be saying this on a blog, but there you are. I've said it.

And I am still enjoying working on my quiet novel, working and reworking it to make it the best I can. And when it's done, which I hope will be the spring, you will get to see it.

The second part of this post is a return to the Antony Gormley figures on Crosby Beach, called Another Place. My hesitancy about these figures stems from my basic dislike for non-ephemeral art installations in the natural world. But after reading my post on Tuesday about Liverpool, Rosemary Mann sent me some photographs of the iron men which she said I could share with you. I found the pictures very affecting, and it's made me want to go back to see the figures at sunset when the beach is quiet and when the sand is wet.