Saturday, October 28, 2017

That was the week that was

Last weekend I was depressed at the state of the world. This week I've been angry and have been firing off letters to those in power. 

On Thursday there was a moment of joy when two young peace activists (a Quaker, Sam Walton and a Methodist minister, Dan Woodhouse) were found not guilty of criminal damage, after breaking into the BAE Systems' Lancashire site in order to disarm Typhoon fighter jets destined to be used by Saudi Arabia in their bombing of the Yemen. I have been following their case.

In delivering comments on his judgement District Judge James Clarke said: "They were impressive and eloquent men who held strong views about what they were doing and what they wanted to achieve. They impressed me as being natural in their delivery and honest throughout their evidence…"

"I heard about their belief of BAE's role in the supply of aircraft to Saudi Arabia. I heard about their beliefs regarding the events in Yemen, that they include the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian property, and the basis for their belief that this amounted to war crimes..."

"However, having considered in full the defence under sec 5 Criminal Damage Act 1971, I find the defendants not guilty."

Yesterday, Friday, was one of those blue and golden October days and I cycled up the Trail and then planted daffodil bulbs in the front lawn with Dave. And then I was done in. It takes a lot of energy to be angry and I have never had very much stamina.

Yes! I have cosmos still flowering!

This morning I'm going to get the SAD light out of the attic, because I can't stand these dark mornings, tonight it's babysitting at Zoe's house, and tomorrow it's Quaker meeting. After that I shall print two copies of the second draft of my new novel. Chrissie and another writer friend are going to read it and give me feedback. After years of writing and feedback and rejection I have a very thick hide, but this time it feels different. This novel is not like one I have written before and I am nervous as to whether it works. I have an ideal in my head (something between Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and Homestead by Rosina Lippi) and yet of course I want it to be an original Sue Hepworth. I am never usually nervous about showing someone else a completed novel. Will they get it? Does it work? 

I hope that when you guys eventually get to see it, you will love it.  
Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Too angry to blog

I'm too angry to blog. I have just written two separate letters to my MP about 1/ child refugees and the UK Government's reneging on its promises to bring more children into the UK and 2/ the well-documented problems with Universal Credit (for overseas readers - a new welfare benefit) and the fact that desperate claimants have to wait 6 weeks to receive their money. 

I was almost too angry to actually type these letters, partly because I know I will get a blank response. He always sends me back unthinking replies that toe the party line and do not address my questions. I found myself typing 'Yes, I am angry..' and then decided it was probably not a helpful thing to say. Anyway, now it's done. 

Why do I write when I know what he will say? Because I want to say NOT IN MY NAME, and I also hope that if sufficient people write, and he gets a massive postbag on an issue, he won't be able to prevaricate any longer. He will have to act.

So anyway, when I'm stomping around the house feeling angry about the way the world is run for the rich, with the needs of the poor and vulnerable ignored, I'm not in the kind of mood for noticing querky, bloggable topics. 

And by the way, I consider myself to be rich, because I have a secure place to live and enough money to heat the house, enough to eat, and if the central heating boiler conks out tomorrow, I have enough money to buy a new one. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What do you do?

Last week a good friend told me she was overwhelmed by the news: it made her anxious, stressed and depressed. I gave her some glib reply about finding something positive to do locally to make the world a better place, and concentrating on that. I was sincere at the time. I had found it worked for me.

Then yesterday I woke up depressed and upset about the millions of refugees all over the world, and how politicians in this country and so many other 'rich' countries do nothing to offer them help. I tried all day to shake the feeling. I personally do everything I can think of to help. I felt better for a while after my bike ride, but then the gloom descended again. I used the energy from my dark mood to do some cleaning (a desperate measure, as I hate cleaning) but still the mood persisted. I could not shake it.

Today I have woken up in a better headspace, and I shall write again to my complacent and benighted MP about the UK government's response.

But it prompts me to ask the question of you, dear readers, what do you do when the cares of the wider world become too heavy, and you are already doing all you can think of, all you have the energy for, to make things better?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


What do you think of SatNavs? Do you use one?

Dave has no innate sense of direction, so when he was given one a few years ago it revolutionised his journeys. He loved it so much that for the first two weeks he had it switched on and talking to him all the time, even when he drove the three and a half miles into Bakewell. Well, you know Dave.

On our first long joint trip to a foreign place (somewhere in Gloucestershire) Dave had it plugged in and programmed and I sat with the road atlas on my knee. I like maps. I like to plan out the route before i go and if necessary write myself notes and directions. It became clear on this maiden voyage that my idea of the most sensible route did not match that of the SatNav - or 'Jane' as we called her then. This led to increasing frustration and animosity between me and Jane, and me and Dave, so I surrendered to both of them. We got there just fine, of course.

Since then I have always spurned the thing for trips on my own to new places. Last night I had to be somewhere in Sheffield that I had never been before. I had to be there for 6 p.m. so I was driving through the rush hour and the venue was in the middle of one of those fast moving one-way systems. There were arrows on the google map showing direction of travel on some of the streets but not all. I looked at the map in the morning and again before I set off and memorised a visual image. Yes - you know what happened - I went sailing past where I needed to be. Do you recall that scene towards the the end of Little Miss Sunshine where they can see the hotel they need to be in but have no idea where the bloody entrance is, and in the end they just drive through a barrier and go for it across a place they really really shouldn't be? It was not like that.

I ended up parked on a street within a few minutes walk of the venue but I didn't know which way to walk. Fortunately I have a tongue in my head. I got there just fine. But that was in daylight. The meeting finished at 9 o'clock and it was dark. I found my way back to the car but had NO IDEA and I mean NO IDEA which way to go. That part of Sheffield is alien to me and it is very near a dual carriageway that leads straight to the M1. I didn't want to end up in Leeds. So I plugged in Jane and tapped HOME and followed her directions. With her help, I got within sight of a familiar landmark - Sheffield University Arts Tower. As soon as I reached it, I switched Jane off.

I shall never be rude about her again, and next week when I have to do the trip again, I shall programme in my destination. So I guess I'm converted, but only in extremis.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Carpe diem

It is perhaps the last mild and still autumn day before the weather changes, and although I have a blog post in mind, I want to be out in the garden. So please be patient.

Our house is up this lane:

This is in the middle of the village:

And this is  the Monsal Trail and it might also be the cover of my new book...but I'm still pondering.... 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Living off the fat of the land

It's been my birthday week and I have spent most of it in Wensleydale with my brothers and sisters. This is four of us. 

I don't know what else to say. It's funny how a week away from the blog strikes me dumb. We had fab weather and fab walks and lots of chat and it was lovely.

This is where we stayed, in an old mill:

And here are some other snaps we took this week.
This is Walden Beck:

Walden Beck higher up, at West Burton falls:

Cogden Beck, site of many a family picnic (more fun when the kids are there):

Aysgarth Middle Falls:

And here's one I took in another October:

Saturday, October 07, 2017

A pleb goes to the Opera

First, you need to know that I prefer cinema to theatre, but also that I have been to the opera before. I've seen a Mozart opera - I can't recall the name of it - and I've seen Carmen. Two opera-loving friends persuaded me to go. It was over 20 years ago and I haven't been since. That should tell you something.

Since that time, cinemas have started this cool thing of screening live performances from London theatres. I've resisted these since they started but in the summer I went with Chrissie to see a live screening of Hedda Gabler and it was terrific. 

Our local screenings are in a room above a pub in a village five miles away. There are perhaps fifty black plastic moulded chairs squashed into this room and a giant screen taking up the whole of one wall. It's intimate and friendly, and having been to see three things there now - one of which was the film Paterson - I can see it could become addictive.

I like the cinema because I can see the expressions on the actors' faces, and I am unaware of the audience and so I can become completely engrossed in the film. In the theatre I'm too far away from the action. I can't become involved in the same way: I am watching it and not in it. I am not engaged. I want to be taken over by a piece of fiction, whether dramatised or filmed or on the page. If I'm sitting anywhere but the front row of a theatre, it doesn't work for me. Who me? Demanding? Maybe. But that's how it is. 

This all means that if I go to the opera I've got that whole theatre-difficulty going on, and on top of that, the damn thing is in another language. When I went to see the live screening of La Boheme from the Royal Opera House the other night in the pub, I was on the second row in a small dark room in front of a huge screen and I could see the performers up close, expressions and all, and - fanfare! - there were subtitles translating the words. So barriers to my involvement were dealt with, and I enjoyed it. The story was about ordinary people, the music was fabulous, and the performances were terrific. The other key factor is that I recognised the music because it appears in one of my favourite films, Moonstruck.  

Yes, I'm a cultural low-life: I have never pretended otherwise.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

First draft of new novel!

Except for the very ending, which I am going to write when I have read it through.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Letter from home

There are so many sorrows in the world - Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Las Vegas, refugees and asylum seekers all over the world - a thousand blog posts wouldn't cover them.

'Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.'

These are the first four lines of a poem called A Brief for the Defence by Jack Gilbert, which I return to every so often, in the same way that I return to this quote from Rohinton Mistry's novel Family Matters:

There’s only one way to defeat the sorrow and sadness of life – with laughter and rejoicing. Bring out the good dishes, put on your good clothes, no sense hoarding them. 

Sometimes for sanity's sake one has to retreat from the bad news and cherish the ordinary everyday things in life. In that spirit, here is a letter from home:

I am going away on Saturday with one brother and two sisters to stay in a cottage in Wensleydale which is five miles from where our other brother lives. We go up en masse, sans partners, and have a jolly good time. We remember what it is we love about each other and we rediscover our petty irritations. To outsiders we appear to be similar - and probably annoying - but within the family we are distinctive. We each have our role. I am the soppy unpractical one. 

But I do make nice cakes, and I emailed the other three to ask them what kind of cake they would like me to take. Please would they vote on the following: a chocolate cake, a coffee and walnut cake, or a moist, tangy lemon drizzle. Guess what? They all chose a different one.

I would love to show you an up-to-date photo of us all, but some of the sibs would object, so here is one from 1958:

The other news from home is that I am within sight of the end of the first draft of my novel. Here is a page from my favourite book about the writing life, The Unstrung Harp (TUH) by Edward Gorey, in which Mr Earbrass is writing a novel:

Last week, last Friday, to be precise, I thought my novel was utter crap. 

This week, however, this is not how I feel. I really like it. I am not unusual in these flip-flop feelings. Other writers feel the same. It's amazing that anything ever gets published.

The other news is that tonight I am going to see La Boheme with my writer friend, Chrissie (who also loves The Unstrung Harp). I don't like opera, but I keep coming across people in novels talking about La Boheme so I thought for the sake of my cultural education I should go. It will cost £10 and is 5 miles away and is streamed from The Royal Opera House, so what's not to like?

Monday, October 02, 2017

When is a book too long?

I just finished reading American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. It's a fictionalised account of Laura Bush's life. I bought it on the spur of the moment in Waterstone's, having never heard of it before. This is something I never do.  I also never buy novels that are more than 400 pages long, and this is 636. What was going on? It looked intriguing, it had great reviews on the back, and the writing inside was top notch.

Well... it was well written and I enjoyed it up to 350 pages and then I flagged. I kept going back to it and reading more, but there was so much flab to work though it became tedious, and there were bits that were easily skippable. However, the book is very well written - it just needed pruning - and it's an interesting study of how much someone will compromise because of love, which is a topic that I've been wrestling with the whole of my life, and which is one of the subjects tackled in But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You. The book also looks at personal responsibility in both  private and public spheres.

So now I need another novel to read - a short one. Any suggestions? No sci-fi, fantasy, magic realism or fluff, and nothing with graphic violence either. As Frasier says - "I'm listening..."