Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Seasons change

Hooray! I got the keypad working on my own! So I can write in bed again. It's temperamental, though, so if you see a word that looks as if it should have an a, s, d or f in it, please supply your own. 

I had a sad afternoon in the back garden at the weekend.  It was bitterly cold and spitting with rain and it was one of those November afternoons that seems to be longing for dusk from 2 o clock onwards. We were cutting things back, chopping things down, retrenching.

When we moved in here 21 years ago, the garden was covered in brambles and nettles, and a couple of collapsed sheds lurked in the undergrowth. Dave cleared it and landscaped it, and I planted it. For ten years I worked long hours in the garden and it was full of fruit and flowers. Nothing fancy, but it was fecund and colourful.

Then, some years later, although I still loved gardening, there were other things I wanted to do, and we grassed over a couple of borders. 

Now I'm in my late sixties (oh horror) I have so much less energy than I did even ten years ago and I want to keep cycling and walking as well as gardening, and something's gotta give. Dave usually mows the lawns and clips the hedges, 

but he doesn't know a crocosmia from a sedum so he couldn't do any more, even if he wanted to. So we're going to grass a large part of the back garden and plant a couple of fruit trees. 

I'll still have the border in the back with the amazing crocosmia lucifer

but nothing beyond it. 

If we grass the back, though, the large strawberry patch will have to go, and I'm not quite ready to relinquish it yet. Not for my sake, but for Dave's. In a good season I pick a kilo a day and he eats most of them. It seems mean to dig it up because the weeding is so arduous, but he insists it's fine. Watch this space. 

We're keeping a couple of blackcurrant bushes, whose maintenance is minimal, and the front garden will stay as it is. 

I feel sad, but now I think about how much I've got left, I feel better. Blogging is definitely good for my health.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Progress report

Well, Pete the computer guy says it's not cat hair that's making my keyboard stick: I need a new keyboard. But the laptop has passed its life expectancy so now I have to make one of those annoying decisions...do I spend £60 plus on a new keyboard or get a new laptop? Boo.

And in the meantime, no more writing in bed. Double boo.

There is snow outside in the garden this morning, but in Mexico it's hot and sunny and Wendy and Isaac and the girls are having a brief dreamy holiday as a reward for getting through this past shitty year.  Regular readers will be delighted to hear that Wendy is doing well, and she has her final surgery when they get back.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Winter ways

The keyboard of my laptop doesn't work on the left hand side and I think it's because it's congested with cat hairs. I usually write in bed in the morning - it's my most productive time - so I have tried writing in bed with the keyboard that plugs into the laptop but it's too unwieldy/cumbersome/whatever. So here I am at my desk far earlier than usual, in my pyjamas and swathed in a rug. I've carried the towering SAD light down from the bedroom and it's beaming at me from the windowsill.

Don't you find the dark tiresome? There aren't enough daylight hours to fit in all that I want to do, which is why I haven't yet taken my laptop to the computer guy so he can fix it. 

I'm sorry I've been quiet. I've been rewriting my novel. I got the stinging critiques from my trusted readers and after utter deflation for a couple of days I thought about everything they'd said and decided I agreed with a lot of it. So I embarked upon draft 5. I don't feel shame that it needs a rewrite, but I do feel a little silly that I didn't admit to myself that it really was not ready to be seen by someone else, and I do feel sorry that my readers had to wade through it.  But then this time of writing was a completely different process I have not tried before, so what the hell? And both my readers are writers and I know they will have learned stuff from my mistakes. It's educative seeing why someone else's writing works or doesn't work. 

I will sort it out. I have the whole of the dark, dark winter ahead of me. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Cold, cold heart

Today on the blog I have a guest: Christine Poulson, the crime writer. She is going to answer some questions about significant books in her life, but first, I wanted to tell you about her new novel which is published today - hooray! 

I read Cold, Cold Heart before Chrissie sent it to her publisher, and in my opinion it's her best yet. It's intelligent, tense and gripping, like all Chrissie's novels. Chrissie's books always have a strong sense of place - usually the Fens - but this one is set somewhere very different, and this unusual setting added an extra layer of fascination for me. The cover makes the story look violent, but Chrissie doesn't do graphic violence in her novels, which means they are suitable for lily-livered people like me. I shall be recommending it to all my friends, which is why I am telling you about it.

This is the blurb on the back cover:

Midwinter in Antarctica. Six months of darkness are about to begin. Scientist Katie Flanagan has an undeserved reputation as a trouble-maker and her career has foundered. When an accident creates an opening on a remote Antarctic research base she seizes it, flying in on the last plane before the subzero temperatures make it impossible to leave. Meanwhile patent lawyer Daniel Marchmont has been asked to undertake due diligence on a breakthrough cancer cure. But the key scientist is strangely elusive and Daniel uncovers a dark secret that leads to Antarctica. Out on the ice a storm is gathering. As the crew lock down the station they discover a body and realise that they are trapped with a killer...

Now, I'll hand you over to Chrissie, to tell us about the books in her life...

The book I am currently reading:
is Robert Harris’s Conclave, about the macchinations surrounding the election of a Pope. It is a compelling read, perfectly paced and as gripping as a thriller.
Also by my bed are two collections of short stories that I am dipping into: Foreign Bodies, golden age fiction in translation, edited by Martin Edwards and The Realm of the Impossible, edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin.
I am also listening to Timothy West’s superlative reading of The Duke’s Children by Antony Trollope.

The book that changed my life:
Really there are so many, but I will pick The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer, which despite its flaws opened my eyes to so much when I read it as a young woman.

The book I wish I had written:
I wish I could write a short story as good as Susan Glaspell’s ‘A Jury of her Peers.’ Pitch perfect and not a word out of place. Written exactly a hundred years ago but still with a freshness and a relevance.
There is not much point in wishing you had written someone else’s novel as you can only write what you can write. But there are crime novels I go back to again and again: Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Dorothy L Sawyers’ The Nine Tailors, Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, and more recently I’ve admired Rennie Airth’s River of Darkness.
Having said all this, I do wish I had written Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder!

The books I think are most underrated:

Vassilly Grossman, Life and Fate, a War and Peace for the twentieth century.
On a much smaller scale, Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock. I was surprised that so few people know it and not to see it on sale in Quebec where it is set.
In crime fiction, the novels of Magdalen Nabb, set in Florence and featuring the highly sympathetic Marshall Guarnaccia.

The last book that made me cry/laugh:
Vassilly Grossman’s Life and Fate made me cry: a Jewish doctor refuses her chance to escape from the gas chamber because she cannot let a child die alone.
Kate Dunn’s stories of mishaps in provincial theatres, Exit Through the Fire Place: The Great Days of Rep, made me laugh so much I almost fell out of bed.

The book I couldn’t finish and am most embarassed at not having read:
I don’t know about couldn’t, but I certainly didn’t, and I probably won’t: James Joyce’s, Ulysses. It’s many years since I made the attempt. I don’t think I got past page 50.

The book I most often give as a gift:
Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees it Through: funny, touching, and yet the lightest of reads along with charming illustrations.

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to keep sane when the world is falling apart

Don’t watch or listen to the news. Read it once. This means your horror/despair at the state of the world is not renewed throughout the day.

Find something immediate, local and practical to do to make the world a better place. This should be something that suits your personality, your interests and your deepest concerns. Focus on this work.

Give money to the good causes that tear at your heart.

Write to your MP about your political concerns, even if your MP’s views are far removed from your own. (But this is a tricky one. Sometimes the satisfaction I feel after writing to my MP evaporates when I receive his complacent deflecting replies, and I feel even angrier than I did when I first wrote.)

Clear the dead leaves from a gully that’s blocked down the lane. See the water flow unimpeded and feel the satisfaction. It’s fun playing with water, and you have made a difference, if only minimal.

Watch Neighbours or some other mindless, harmless telly – twenty minutes a day. It takes you away from the real world and lets you unwind.

Listen to your favourite piece of calming music. 

Pick up litter.

Practise a skill you are trying to master.

Play with and talk to children. Their joie de vivre and innocence are refreshing, and inspire hope.

Indulge in bracing, aerobic exercise: release some endorphins!

Get out in the fresh air and under the sky for at least an hour every day, but more if possible. Associate with trees. They are calming and healing and strong and beautiful.

‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

….So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.’
Herman Hesse

photo by Isaac

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

In limbo

Here I am, waiting for feedback from two writer friends on the second draft of my new novel. I have cleared the boring admin tasks in my in-tray, tidied my desk, dusted my study, cleaned several windows inside and out (what?), and am half way through washing the kitchen floor - a job that Dave usually does when we are expecting visitors.  I am halfway through it because Dave and his dirty feet came home when I was in the middle of the job. He's out today and I have an empty house and rain is threatened so I will finish the job and then perhaps do some sewing, or I might clear out some of my mother's old papers that have been sitting in a suitcase under the bed since she died, nine years ago. Actually I think that latter job is a step too far. Ooh, just remembered, Liz is coming later - that will be nice!

Since I've been in limbo, the weather has been kind enough for me to get back on the slackline after two years off it. I mowed a strip in the lawn around it so my bare feet don't get so cold and wet. My record of steps on it before the break was 13. I got up to six this week.

Here is an old photo for those of you who don't know about me and my slackline. It's low slung, because it's the balance I'm interested in, not the height. Anyway - come on - I'm in my late sixties, what do you expect?

I've also just read Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, a book you could describe as pianissimo. I enjoyed it, but not so much that I would recommend it to all my friends, as I have been doing with Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night. And I am just a tidgy bit put out that MacLaverty has two quotes in his novel that I also have in mine - and I wrote mine before I read his. 

But the best news is that improvising on my sax has become good fun, and it continues to improve, so that Mel, my teacher, was delighted with my progress last lesson.

Sunday, November 05, 2017


Long-time readers of my blog will know that my novel BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU was written from my personal experience of being married to someone with Asperger syndrome, my husband of 47 years, Dave. There are others in my family who are autistic, but Dave was my muse.

Sometimes friends ring me up and say Turn on the radio! or Switch on the TV! There's  a programme on about Asperger syndrome/autism and I thank them and carry on with what I was doing. My instinctive unspoken response to such  suggestions, which I know are meant to be helpful, is "I live with autism I don't want to listen to yet more of it on the radio."

However...I recently heard a programme on BBC Radio 4 about autism and communication which I thought would be very helpful for people who don't know much about the subject. It was an episode of Micheal Rosen's Word of Mouth and you can find it here

Someone in the family who has Asperger syndrome (not Dave) told me I should watch a BBC TV programme called Aspergers and Me because it was very good. Chris Packham, the well-known wildlife broadcaster, who is in his early 50s, was talking about growing up with Aspergers and being diagnosed with it in his forties. I watched this. It was good.  You can watch it here if you live in the UK and have a TV licence. It's available for another 17 days.

But now I want to make a recommendation of my own. I've just finished watching ATYPICAL, a comedy drama series on Netflix about a teenage boy called Sam who has Asperger syndrome. 

There is some controversy in the autistic community as to whether the programme is both true to life or helpful, but I love this series on three levels - as a writer, because it is so well written, as a viewer because it is so entertaining, and as someone who has several aspies in her family and can recognise a lot of what is going on, both in terms of Sam's behaviour, and the reactions and behaviour of his family.  I especially like it because it has helped me imagine what it is like to be an autistic person experiencing a meltdown. The writer alters the sound and lighting in these scenes to great effect. 

I just read an aspie's critique of the series in which he criticises the laughter at the behaviour of Sam. OK, I get this, but from the point of view of a neurotypical who has lived with and loved an aspie for nearly 50 years, it is the humour - added to the kindness, honesty, reliability and intellectual stimulation - which has been the saving grace in my marriage.

p.s. a long-time reader of this blog, Marmee, mentions in the comments below a blog about knitting, on which there is some information about autism. I found a page on this blog which explains simply, briefly and clearly, what autism is. It's here.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Too tired to write

I am too tired to write, so here are some November photographs from my archives.

The gate next to our house:

The view in the other direction:

My favourite sycamore:

Dusk through our window:

Wensleydale farm gate by Rosemary Mann:

View from the Monsal Trail:

The river Wye at Rowsley by Liz McGregor:

             Cecilia  (November 2016)

                    Lux   (November 2016)

The Monsal Trail: