Friday, September 27, 2019

Prescription for the mean reds

I had a night out last night watching a live screening of One Man, Two Guvnors, a hilarious farce starring James Corden. No news, no politics, a real night off.

And this morning I dismissed the forecast of rain and rode to the end of the Trail and back. Pure heaven. I recommend getting out into nature for a couple of hours if you've got the mean reds.

Right now it's the rosebay willow herb that's looking stupendous. I think I should have made more fuss about how beautiful it can be in the book (EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU) but then Jane was in Colorado in September so she missed it. This is an excerpt from August:

A light breeze ruffled the rosebay willow herb and it brushed her cheek. She pushed it away. Dante and Amy had lived with her and Alex until Dante was school age and they had moved away, and Dante, at the age of four, went through a phase of collecting sticks and taking them on walks to whack at rough vegetation.  One September she’d forgotten her stick and had picked up a dried-up stalk of rosebay willow herb and swiped at Jane’s face with it, and Jane had said ‘Dante! Don’t be so aggressive.’ The next time they’d gone out for a walk, Dante rushed to a clump of the flower and said ‘I want a gressive!’ It had become part of the family lexicon – a term only Jane and Alex used and only between themselves... 

Here are some pictures from this morning:

p.s. If you've read any of my books and have not reviewed them online, please will you consider doing so on Amazon and/or Goodreads? Two lines and a rating is all that's necessary and you don't need a PhD in English Literature to do that.

Why am I asking?
Because it boosts sales.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Hey ho

You know I struggle to keep politics off the blog, but today I'm going to try.

You can be sure I am all churned up about our constitutional crisis, hugely relieved by the unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court, and yet anxious and gloomy that Johnson and his cronies continue with their adherence to the Trump playbook, brazening everything out with more lies, and playing to the gallery of people who don't understand what representational democracy means.

Enough. I was going to allude to what's been going on in one simple sentence and out comes a paragraph. That's how anxious I am. 

Now for the trivia.

I speak as someone 

  • about to turn 70 (which weighs rather heavily upon me) 
  • who wants to dress like a rock chick next time around 
  • who watched and enjoyed Fleabag

What do you think when you see this picture? My immediate response was - "Good for her. Maybe she'll be able to afford a more modest dress in future."

I don't like this fashion for dresses that plunge to the waist and display the wearer's breasts to such an extent. Do you?

Am I being a prude? I have no problem with breastfeeding in public. None whatsoever. And I think it's really weird when breastfeeding mothers feel the need to shroud themselves and their babies under an apron. But necklines like the one above make me think of Phoebe in Friends saying to Rachel "Don't give away the farm."

What do you think?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Monday morning

I felt wrecked this morning after a bad night, and Dave is out with the car all day, but it's market day in Bakewell, and that's the only place to get my favourite apples - new season Coxes - so I cycled down the Trail to Bakewell. 

It's always quiet first thing Monday morning. What a joy.

On the way home I crossed over the footbridge and thought again how much the lovelocks deface it.

Bakewell is a pretty town and the riverside is particularly lovely, and we get oceans of tourists all through the year. It's a pity that so many of them want to hang lovelocks on the simple, modern, previously stylish bridge. It's happening to bridges all over the world and not only are the locks unsightly, the weight of them poses a risk to the safety of the bridge. I am as romantic as the next person but I loathe these lovelocks.

I am happy for Rachel and Jody and all the others, but I wish they would find another way to declare their love.

There may be a way. A Derbyshire engineer and his daughter have designed a lovelock tree. Read about it here. I really hope it catches on.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Scraps from my roller coaster week

It gets harder and harder to write the blog. And it's late this morning because my brother rang up for a chat in the middle of my writing it.

'Hang on,' I said, 'I'll just save what I'm doing. I'm just writing the blog.'
'About time,' he said.

I think my difficulty is to do with the turbulent times -  worldwide horrors, the constitutional crisis, the charlatan in No 10, my belief that whatever the supreme court ruling is on Johnson's prorogation it won't make a blind bit of difference - but it's also to do with an acute awareness of aging and mortality. Two good friends have recently lost their partners, and another dear friend will be facing death before too long.

And then there's September. The sunshine this week has been fabulous, but I always find September sunshine bittersweet. Is it related to the angle of the sun? I find that April sunshine makes me melancholy too, when I estimate the angle will be the same. At least in April the spring is springing: in September when the summer is dying it feels like the end of life.

Altogether it's been an emotional week. One afternoon in Sheffield I had an hour between appointments and I thought of going to sit on Mary's bench but I felt too sad, and rang a Sheffield friend to see if she was home and available and she said 'Come round!' She gave me a cuppa and a hug and a chat. 

There have been some lovely days when I wasn't sad, and there have been days when I've been acutely aware of my dodgy memory. On Thursday I couldn't remember Alan Rickman's name. Sacrilege.

I've spent time with my fabulous grandsons and their new kitten who is so small and black and quick she is impossible to get a good photo of, but I shall keep on trying.

I had a long sunny walk through the fields around the village with Dave on one day, and another walk yesterday with Liz through woods and fields near Chatsworth. Here's a roadside stream with the light playing on it.

We had lunch in a village cafe with a sunny courtyard. It was blissful. The only thing missing was a margarita. Liz and I began the morning, though, by attending our nearest climate strike, which was in Matlock, a small local town. 

Seeing these children holding their placards and imagining their future brought tears to my eyes. 

The Matlock strike was organised by young teenagers but surprisingly the majority of those attending were over 60. I expect the local secondary schools were not sympathetic.

Another day I decided to stop making quick scrawled notes of ideas for my new book and to get started on planning it properly. The sunshine had been holding me back, because I didn't want to be holed up in my study writing. I took my laptop outside... 

Dave went out on his bike after taking this photo, and I felt so sleepy I shut my laptop and had a nap on the sunlounger. It'll come, it'll come. There are six grey months of winter ahead when sitting at my desk inside making up stuff will be a treat.

While we're on the subject of the future, this is a dress I shall be wearing in my next life for one of my birthdays:

What do you think?

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Last week I watched a film about David Hockney. It focused on his return to the UK from California, to paint the Yorkshire Wolds. It was a fascinating film, showing him painting outside in all weathers and seasons, and returning again and again to a place he called The Tunnel - a green lane with trees running along each side. 

If you google Hockney The Tunnel you'll see a panoply of his paintings of the lane. His fascination and love for 'The Tunnel' reminded me of my feelings for the Monsal Trail, and my love of seeing it week by week,  following the seasons and the changing vegetation, and the different angles of the sun according to time of day and time of year. You'll find some of my observations in my latest novel EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU, but the novel is about people as much as it is about the healing nature offers.

Hockney said he got ‘intense pleasure from looking.’  I've never heard anyone else express the same idea. 

A couple of days ago I was sitting in bed drinking my first Yorkshire tea of the day. It was 8 in the morning and the sun was shining through the east window of the bedroom catching one side of the jug of sweet peas on the south facing window. The jug is wide and squat and glazed a pale green - halfway between pale sage and eau de nil. Zoe made it and gave it to me. I love it. I looked at the sweet peas in the jug against the backdrop of the trees outside and didn't want to stop. I know exactly what Hockney means. I feel just the same.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ah - Wensleydale!

I'm sorry I've been away for so long, but I've been in Wenselydale with my sibs, and life has been non-stop catching up, taking the air, loving the scenery, banter, eating pork scratchings, keeping up with Johnson's shenanigans, and trying to lure our brother who lives up there to take more than one day off work to spend with the rest of us. Here he is on his village green showing us how to play quoits. 

"Pork scratchings?" you say?

Yes. They sell some of the best in the dale, and my big brother bought two boxes to share - as he usually does. Jen and I have both taken a box home from previous visits, but oddly they didn't taste as good at home. We can't decide why  - is it that when eating them alone the guilt overrides the pleasure?

Here's a tiny sample of the beautiful scenery... 

and here are two my big brother took...

The village green at Bainbridge

Sunday, September 08, 2019


I’m on holiday in Wensleydale with my lovely siblings and just read two of them this great new review of EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU because I am so so chuffed with it, and my big sister Kath said “Yes! I want you to write a sequel! Are you writing something now?”

“I’m planning something, so beware. I’m already collecting material.”

We’re staying in a converted chapel in Bainbridge:

This is the view from the garden:

Friday, September 06, 2019


When we lived in Sheffield, and the family member who declines to be named went back to school in September, I would cycle up to the Mayfield Valley (the beginning of the Peak District) and pick blackberries. It was a marker, the beginning of a new chapter.

Yesterday I was getting ready for my sister visiting, and was cleaning. I HATE cleaning. I got to a point when there was still much to do but I couldn't stand it any longer. It was a fine blustery day, so I got on my bike and cycled up the Monsal Trail. It was the end of the afternoon so there were very few people about. In any case, the summer holiday crowds were gone. It was heavenly. 

The margins of the Trail were edged with dried leaves, and the wind was chilly enough to require an extra layer of clothing, and it was clear the autumn had arrived. Surprisingly, I didn't feel wistful. I relished it, but not because I want the summer to end or that I like the autumn. It was rather that I felt overtaken and embraced by the natural world and it's unstoppable, overarching 'plan.' With all the tumultuous politics going on right now - down there in London -  it was refreshing and comforting to be in a space where none of that was relevant - at least for two hours. I relished the breeze, the clouds, the sunshine, the shadows in the valley, the open views - it was magical. I came back on a high. 

I love living here.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Under the radar

It's a quiet September morning and the rays from the rising sun stream through the bedroom window and all the way down the landing. It does this when we're nearing the equinox. I love it that I could make a good guess at the month of the year just by looking at where the sun comes up.

I haven't posted recently because I've been doing things I can't tell you about, such as spending time with my teenage grandsons. I would LOVE to tell you about their progress but I'm forbidden. I understand. I expect that soon Lux (9)

and Cece (7)

will be laying down similar prohibitions. 

I asked a question on Twitter recently and no-one answered it. I retweeted, and still got no response. So I am asking you. Is literary fiction (i.e. the kind of novel that is entered into big competitions such as the Man Booker) supposed to merely engage the brain? Or is it supposed to engage you emotionally as well? I don't often read this kind of book because they usually sound so unappealing, but I am two chapters into A Visit from the Goon Squad and am so far not enthralled, emotionally or intellectually. Do you recommend that I carry on?

Second question - do you ever read a book that entertains and grips you, a book where the inside front covers are full of positive reviews, and you race to the end and put it down and think 'So what?' I did this with Amanda Craig's The Lie of the Land, and last week with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. I'm not complaining about the writing. And as I said, they are both entertaining, and there is a heartwarming streak in the mermaid book. It's just that I don't find there is anything to take away from either of them. They are both books I will give away, rather than keep to reread.

I welcome your thoughts.