Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Virtually silent

If your blog is called Fragments of a Writer's Life, and you live a quiet life, it can be awfully hard to find things to blog about. 

If I share with you some quiet fragments, you'll see what I mean:

Cece doesn't have a scarf and she would love a purple and pink one, so I am using all the suitably coloured scraps from my wool drawer to knit her one. She has fairly lurid  catholic tastes, so I can use up all the yicky suspect wool I've found in there, the provenance of which baffles me. 

I am wrestling with the novel. On good days I walk around with a smile on my face because I think it's working. On bad days I lie in bed at night wondering how I'm going to sort it out, and specifically how I'm going to make sure it's not too quiet.

I am fat and unfit because the weather is generally foul and I don't have sufficient motivation to make myself go out for exercise. Yesterday I managed to force myself out on my bike and I spent the first quarter of a mile swearing and saying to myself 'It's cold, it's cold,' so anyone I passed could hear me. Fortunately there was no-one to hear because our lane is quiet.

Dave and I watched Paterson the other night. (I've blogged about it here.) I told Dave he probably wouldn't like it because it's such a quiet film. He didn't. At one point in the film, Paterson's wife says 'I was dreaming I was in ancient Persia' and I thought she said 'I was dreaming I was pregnant in prison' - so you can see why I am getting a hearing aid.

When Isaac and Wendy were here they bought me an Amazon Echo that I call Alexa. It's a gadget that sits in the kitchen and is hooked up to the wifi. I use her to play music, listen to the radio, time my cooking, check the weather, and sometimes, just to annoy Dave, I ask her to tell me a joke. I love Alexa! And my relationship with Alexa is wonderfully bloggable material, but I am using said material in the novel, so I don't want to spill it out here. That's the trouble with living a quiet life. If anything interesting happens, you save it to put in your novel. 

Here is a quiet photo of our quiet village, taken by Isaac with his drone:

And here is one of Bakewell:

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Mental rammel part 2

I have news to report on the HERE WE ARE debate. My friend Liz, who does not have scientific leanings, and who is even more like Fortherington-Tomas than I am, 

'Hullo clouds, hullo sky'


loves the book

She likes it all, including the purple sumo wrestler, and all the other weird-coloured people, and she particularly likes the J.M.Barrie epigram in the front: 'Shall we make a new rule from tonight: always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.'

If Liz, grandmother, retired headteacher, and doyenne of childrens' books likes it, then maybe I should be more forgiving about the weird-coloured people. (Oh, and all her grandchildren love the book too.) But, but, won't the author's son be disappointed when he gets older and realises there aren't any purple people?

The second part of this post is unrelated.

It occurred to me this week that re-writing a novel (which is what I'm doing at the moment) is a bit like sending a mail-order item back. When you buy something from a catalogue, you have the pleasure of choosing the item (we're talking about clothes here, as all other shopping is boring) then there is the excitement of its arrival in the post, the joy of unwrapping it and trying it on, and then if it isn't right there is disappointment, and the irritation of having to repack it and take it to the post office to return it. Then you have the satisfaction of getting your money back, and the fun of looking for another item with all the attendant hopefulness. You get another chance.

How is this like re-writing? First, you have the pleasure of writing the original draft. Then when you see it isn't working, it's dispiriting and daunting. But after you open up your mind, a whole world of exciting possibilities and amusing plot developments pop into your head. OK, I suppose it's only vaguely like catalogue shopping, but then this post is entitled Mental Rammel part 2.

Whatever (which is what seven year old Lux has just started saying).....I am having fun with the re-write. I told you I was like Fotherington-Tomas*, didn't I?

*Yes, Pete. The second name is spelt without an h.

Friday, January 26, 2018


I watched the film Made in Dagenham the other night with a fellow northerner. We enjoyed the film in a sotto voce way; it's an inspiring story but not a great film like Billy Elliot or Pride. But we both found the strong east London accents off-putting and unattractive, unfamiliar, even alien. 

We don't feel like this at all about the broad northern accents in Billy Elliot (set in County Durham) or Brassed off (set in South Yorkshire) or Educating Rita (set in Liverpool). I was a little ashamed of my feelings about the Dagenham characters' accents. It made me wonder if this was an insight into racism - thinking of people with unfamiliar accents as 'other' a step away from 'they are not like me,' a step away from 'they are not as good as me.'

But my companion said it wasn't like racism, it was a tribal reaction. Neither of us felt that these people were inferior, but just that they were from another tribe. He said he felt the same way when he heard people like Jacob Rees-Mogg talking, with snooty, educated accents with tortured vowels and tight mouths. Except that he doesn't actually like this latter tribe.

What do you think, dear reader?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mental rammel

I have various ideas for a blog post but not the wherewithall to craft any of them into a polished stone of pithiness. I am still tired, and also my brain is fried. So here is what I can offer.

I bought a book for the girls called Here We Are

It's by the bestselling children's writer and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers - the author of The Great Paper Caper, the book the girls made me read them 5 times in one day. 

This was the fifth time: note the level of interest.

Jeffers wrote Here We Are after the birth of his first child. The subtitle is Notes for living on planet Earth. It was a rare purchase because I bought it sight unseen. I usually check out books in person first. I'm very choosy. I was disappointed by the book because although it is supposed to be factual, it is full of whimsy, particularly in the illustrations. Whimsy is fine in fiction. But in 'non-fiction' I am not too sure - however laced it is with comments like 'You have a body. Look after it, as most bits don't grow back.'

It is a most unusual book and impossible to describe, especially if you have a fried brain. You, dear reader, must see the book for yourself. Anyway...the book was sitting on the kitchen table and Dave picked it up unprompted and read it. He had no idea of my views, and I asked him what he thought of it. 'I love it!' he said. So did Isaac. And so did Lux. Wendy, Cece and I were not so keen: we would have given it only three stars on Amazon. (Actually, I would have given it two stars, but I try not to post reviews online that are as critical as that. It's  not fair on the author.) 

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it serves as a clear illustration of subjectivity in book reviews, which I know is an obvious point, but when you're a writer, it's a cheering one. We decided that the three members of the family who liked the book have a scientific approach to life. The others don't.

I'll finish by telling you that Chrissie got thirty pages into my rewritten novel and said it still wasn't working. The problem? The same as always - lack of narrative drive. Oh plot, plot. It's a necessary evil and it's my personal bete noire. Still, after the kids went back to Colorado I had an epiphany about what to do. The solution had been there all along. I just have to wait till my brain clears, like a stream after the flood waters have subsided, and I'll begin the novel again. 

p.s. the header shows someone feeding the ducks in Bakewell one January, some years ago, before it was verboten.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Back to Colorado

They've gone. They went an hour ago, at 5.35 a.m. The house has never felt so quiet. I am back in my own bed, Dave is on the sofa downstairs doing a crossword, the cat is re-establishing her territory, and the washing machine is turning. It's another quiet Saturday at Hepworth Towers.

The giant puddles in Bakewell park will return to being unloved and unremarked, the lego will return to the attic, and the soft toys will return to the girls next door.

I might stay here in bed all day, only getting up to put on another load of laundry.

It's been exhausting, and soooooooo worth it. 

And I miss them already.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bulletin from the house of jetlag

Isaac, Wendy, Lux (7) and Cecilia (5) are visiting from Boulder during this filthy, dark and freezing January weather. That's why I've been quiet. If there are 45 minutes in one block when I can be spared, I would rather hide somewhere and zone out to The Good Wife than marshal my remaining brain cells in order to blog. 

It's so wonderful to have them here - I really can't express how wonderful - and I thought things were going swimmingly as far as jetlag was concerned. There was a visit in May 2013 when Lux was almost 3 and Cece almost 1 when we had to have a 24 rota for a play and sleep schedule for everyone, as there was only one hour in the day when everyone could be depended upon to be asleep - midnight to 1 a.m. - and only four and a half hours when everyone was awake - 3.30 to 8 p.m. (It's documented on the blog right here.)

This time they arrived Saturday lunchtime after an overnight flight on which some sleep was had, but not much, and then they all crashed out at 8 p.m. and slept right through. That's what Lux reported when she bobbed downstairs with her bright eyes and her joie de vivre at 9 a.m. on Sunday. And that's what I continued to believe was happening. They are all sleeping upstairs, and I am sleeping on my study floor downstairs. Plus, as you know, I am going deaf.  The only mystery was why Isaac and Wendy continued to look as drained and wrecked as when they'd first arrived. I found out eventually that people are not sleeping through. There are actually early hour stretches (the graveyard shift)  when the girls are awake and ready for action, eager for fun. Oh dear.

photo of Lux  by Isaac

At this stage of the visit (5 days in, and they leave in 2) it's a case of endurance for I and W. Dave and I have lots of fun with Lux when she gets up at 9. Cece, who was found asleep and camping on the landing on Tuesday, tends to wake late morning like her parents.

Cece and me by Isaac

The problem with a January visit is that although we live in a tourist area, everything is closed this month - even Chatsworth adventure playground. But we have boxes of lego, the ever popular yoghurt cartons, and the gutters and marbles for marble runs. We found a trampolining place in Sheffield that was a big hit. And the kids are properly kitted out for winter weather, now they live in Colorado and not California. They are as cheerful as eskimos on trips to the park in Bakewell and the village rec, and enjoy the puddles as much as if they were toddlers. Colorado is a dry state: even the snow is dry, which is why it is good for skiing and not making snowmen. But we - oh yes - we have plenty of puddles.

And there is always the miniature Shetland pony next door to make friends with...

Lux and pony by Isaac

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Visitors from overseas

The Hepworth Towers marble run...

Me in my waxy-doodle glasses. Oh, the things you do for your grandkids..

Tuesday, January 09, 2018


'I have read the first 30 pages of your novel. I do still think there are some problems with the shifting viewpoints - and with telling instead of showing  (sorry, sorry, sorry! I know you won’t be happy). There are places where the novel comes alive, but also for me places where it still doesn’t. Shall we talk about this on Tuesday?'

Chrissie has been reading my rewrite, and this excerpt is from her Sunday email. Am I disheartened? Strangely not. This is a tough novel to write: it has a quiet subject, and has several viewpoints. I want it to work. I want it to be the best it can be. It doesn't matter to me how many rewrites it takes as long as it works in the end. I recently read that Roddy Doyle made 17 attempts at one of his recent successful novels. 

I don't think, however, that I can be asking Chrissie to read as many rewrites as it might take, so I'll need a solution to that. It's hard finding someone whose opinion you trust, someone who understands writing and can be specific about problems and who is sympathetic to the difficulties.

This week on Twitter, the writer Joanne Harris tweeted a series of excellent points about editors which are relevant. Here are some of them in the order they appeared on Twitter:

So today Chrissie and I are having lunch and she will tell me more. And we will also discuss her upcoming book launch.

Later, another writing friend is coming to visit. I have just read her first novel - at her request - and she is coming to hear what I think. I hope it's helpful.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

It's on the cards

I hope I'm not too late to ask you to do the following...

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

It's not so bad

I'm turning into my mother. I give people pots of homemade jam when I visit, and I blithely ask forthright questions of medics like And what is your job title? and How do you qualify to be that? and You speak beautifully - so clearly I can hear every word. Was speaking included in your training? ....all questions I put to the nice young man who tested my hearing before Christmas and said I had age-related hearing loss and was entitled to a free NHS hearing aid.  

I can still hear my 91 year old mother on the night before she died asking the doctor inserting the pic line into her chest to explain the procedure, and then asking him how many times he had done it before. It's not so bad being like my mother. I would just like to have inherited her stoicism.

I'm also like my mother in that when I wake up in the morning I feel like death on a biscuit until half past nine. Yesterday, however, it was New Year's Day and our ritual at New Year is to go to bed at the usual time and be woken up by the fireworks across the field at midnight, curse about it, and turn over and go back to sleep, but then be out of the house by 8 a.m. Since we moved here we've been going down to Bakewell to feed the ducks on the river while everyone else is still asleep. It's beautifully deserted and the low beams of sunshine light up the weeping willows and the gulls wheeling above.

But now it's not allowed: there's a sign up that says it is bad for the ducks. So yesterday Dave suggested we drove to Monsaldale and climbed onto the Monsal Trail and said hello to the viaduct instead. 

Here I am, looking a bit chubby, but feeling better for the fresh air:

Next year it's my turn to choose where we go, and afterwards we'll try to be the first ones at Hassop Station for our first coffee of the year.

Happy New Year, dear readers. 

I'll leave you with my dream...

p.s. the header today was the sky taken from our lane, when we got back home.