Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Today's fragments

I shuffled into the kitchen for my first mug of Yorkshire Tea this morning, where Dave was playing his guitar, as per usual. This morning he wasn't listening to the radio at the same time, thank goodness.

'Are you OK ?' he said. 'You seem fed up.'

'It's the election.'

'Oh. Yes.'

I filled up the kettle, switched it on, turned round and said: 'The carpet man's coming tomorrow. You're going to be here, aren't you?'

'Yes, if I'm spared.'

Now, he is out for the day, and I have been for a bike ride,

done some washing, and also completed my 14 page character questionnaire on Sally Howe, one of the four characters in my new book. You would think I would know her by now: she is the heroine in Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grown-ups. But no, she's required further investigation, and in filling out this questionnaire I've discovered a secret of hers, which is going to cause her some anguish. 

In order to answer some of the other questions - for example about her language - I've been reading Plotting for Grown-ups again. I've been reminded that she likes to use little French phrases such as "n'est-ce pas" and also that she calls people "chuck." It's really important to me to make the voices of my characters distinct. I've completed the questionnaires on two of the other women, Josie and Elaine, but Kate is so far a mystery. Perhaps that's because she's so reserved.

When I'm imagining my characters I like to have a picture of them in my head, and in order to do this I cut out photos from magazines of likely candidates.

Elaine looks like the woman in the middle, although she has a complexion like the one on the left.

The one on the right might be Josie, but I'm not sure yet.

And now I've written this blog post. Next up - more washing and pegging out, digging up my cosmos to make room for wallflowers arriving this week, and making a start on Kate's character and plotline. 

Chrissie, my crime writer friend, is amused that I start by developing my characters, when she starts with her plot. For me the plots emerge from the characters. And usually I don't care about the plot - it's just something to make readers keep turning the pages. This time I have a feeling it's going to be different. 

Every time I write a new post for the blog I change the header, but I have realised that if you read the blog on your phone you won't see the header.

So here is today's, taken by Isaac a fortnight ago:

Friday, October 25, 2019

Life and love and time

Yesterday we went to a funeral at the village church. 

We arrived half an hour before it was due to start and there were only three empty seats. Dave had to stand, and he counted 90 other people also standing. I was moved to see how many people were there to celebrate the life of a man who was much-loved in the village, a farmer two years older than me.

Roger was friendly, good-hearted, intelligent, fun, warm, sound, and so much more. He was born and bred in the village and wrote a regular farming column in the village newspaper.

We sang Plough the fields and scatter the good seed, Morning has broken and a local man sang a solo of A Farmer's Boy. The Bible reading was from Corinthians about the supremacy of love and someone read a poem called God made a Farmer.

We walked back up the lane under a cloudy sky feeling melancholy. Dave was ahead of me because I was looking for photographs. 

They weren't worth having because the light wasn't right.

But in the late afternoon the sun came out and I went back onto the lane.

It was a sobering afternoon, and has left me feeling that I don't want to waste a moment.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

At home

Each day the trees look more beautiful, which is some solace against the constitutional crisis and the shortening days.

This morning I went in the bathroom for a shower, and the morning sun on the silver birches was so stunning I rushed to get my phone.

In the bottom centre of the picture above you can see the new lawn Dave made this year under the plum tree.

I leaned out of the window and looked to the left and took these two pictures of the village, 4 minutes apart, and dropped my phone in the process. Fortunately it fell in the wash basin, not out of the window.

We had two new carpets fitted this week, and it's meant moving furniture around and all kinds of clutter have been exposed. When replacing the cuddly toys on the games shelf on the landing I decided that my twin dolls, survivors of the disastrous fire in 1996, should not go back. Children shrink from them, understandably, so they are going in a box in the attic, with their original clothes that I knitted for them when I was seven. The ones they are wearing now are the ones my mother knitted for them after the fire, as one of her loving contributions.

This morning Dave told me he had rescued four cardboard tubes from the carpet man because they will be a wonderful addition to our marble run apparatus.

Dave wanted to demonstrate the tubiness of them for a photo for the girls, so he's holding one up and looking down it. I don't know when the girls will visit again: I hope they won't be too old for marble runs.

You can see (can't you?) why we have a clutter problem in this house. They have now been processed and are in the attic and we've just realised they would be a safe-saving place to store the yoghurt cartons.

I should be writing this morning, but it's fine and still and perfect gardening weather, so I'm going to begin to tidy the garden for winter.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What I'd really really like

Do you know what I'd really like? have something like a book group meeting with my blog readers so I could hear your various views on EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU - on the plot, the characters, the use of the journal excerpts, the characters, the themes, whatever.

What made me think of this was talking to an old friend on Saturday who I hadn't seen since she read the book. She said she thought Jane was unkind to Joe, and we discussed that. I said "Well, she is an imperfect character. I always planned she'd be imperfect." She is judgmental and impatient and impulsive: there's three character flaws straight off.

Since then I've been thinking about other imperfect fictional characters. No-one is perfect, of course, but I've been thinking about those with striking imperfections, such as Olive Kitteridge. If you've never read the book, I recommend it. (The author Elizabeth Strout has a new book out at the end of the month called Olive, Again. I can't wait to read it.)

And have you ever watched Gilmore Girls? I have a love-hate relationship with this TV series because of the central character, Lorelei. She is physically very attractive, but she never stops talking and thinks she's awfully witty and clever, and she gets on my nerves, to put it mildly. But there is one scene in which she really annoys me. She is clearing out her fridge, which because she doesn't cook, involves pulling out box after box of fast food, such as half-eaten pizzas from a week before. She has the waste bin next to the fridge and she crams in the whole box, food and all, into the general waste bin. I want to shake her! I suppose they might not have been into recycling in small town America when the series was made.  But why has she never learned to cook? We are supposed to believe she is bright. How has she managed to raise a child single handed without knowing how to cook? How could she afford for them to live on nothing but fast food? I digress. I'm an old fart.

This week I have been tired after a 10 day visit from my beloved American family, plus various other happenings, but I've managed to get out on my bike on the Trail three times. The autumn colours are taking hold and it's beautiful.

p.s. Last night I dreamed that Marmee, one of my long time blog readers, rang me up. I don't know what we talked about. Are you OK, Marmee?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Back to writing

The dust has settled, the autumn is here, and it's time to get back to the main event - writing.  When I've just had a book published, as I have this summer, 

Cover photo by Valerie Dalling

I always say to my friends, 'Well I shan't be writing any more. What's the point?' and everyone laughs.

Dave is currently reading a book called Shoot for the Moon: How the Moon Landings Taught us the 8 Secrets of Success by the esteemed psychologist Richard Wiseman. Near the beginning of the book he gives nine long questions to ask yourself in order to identify your main passion in life. I asked myself the questions in a genuine spirit of wanting to know because I really wasn't sure. Guess what? The answer was writing.

I had a chat with an artist friend on Saturday night about having to do what we do - she to paint, draw and create, me to write - whether or not we get recognition or payment. That's the deal. 

So what happens now? I have had an idea for a book for some months now, and I've begun to make some notes and to gather material. I had in mind that this novel was going to be a fast paced comedy, but now I am not so sure. I'll have to wait and see what comes out.

I like this Charles Bukowski quote about writing:

"Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: 'What do you do? How do you write, create?' You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it."

and I like this poem of his as well:

so you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
there is no other way.

and there never was.

Photo by Valerie Dalling

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


They left the village yesterday at 5 a.m. on a horrid rainy Monday, driving down the motorway to Heathrow, and meeting a one hour delay on the M25. Poor Isaac. But they made it to the gate in time and now they're home in Colorado, and our house is tidy and quiet. 

Back to normality. I'm blogging in my pyjamas and Dave is in the kitchen, listening to Today and ironing. The guttering we keep for making marble runs is stashed back in the attic, along with the yoghurt cartons, and we're eating the oatcakes the girls made with Dave and couldn't take on the journey. We have a jar of conkers they collected and Cece's conker on a shoelace. Lux took one home to show the kids in school. Hey ho.

The girls were droopy with sadness to say goodbye. I was too tired to be sad, but now I'm bereft.

One of my favourite times in the week was going for a family bike ride on the Trail. I've waited so long to take the kids on there...

...but I have to say it's pretty demeaning when your 7 year old granddaughter shoots off into the distance and the only way you can catch her up is to shout her to stop for a photoshoot. Isaac tried to cheer me up by pointing out that Cece cycles at altitude at home (a mile high where they live) so is mega fit, and that's why she zooms off like a rocket. A noble effort but I'm not convinced.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Grandkids visit

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Letter from home

I am too excited to be in charge of a keyboard right now because Isaac and Wendy and the kids are arriving from the USA today - woo-hoo!

...and here is the quiet news from Hepworth Towers:

Dave has cleared out his yoghurt from the fridge to make room for family supplies. The yoghurt is now residing in a huge, covered, black plastic container on wheels outside the back door. 

Dave snapped it up at Aldi for £15 and because he was so enamoured, he dashed back and bought another one. We are currently arguing over whether he should be allowed to keep his clothes in it. Why did I encourage him to buy a second one?

This takes me back to when we first moved into Hepworth Towers after a warehouse fire had destroyed all our stuff, and we had to refurnish from scratch. I wrote a piece for the Times about it. Here is an excerpt:

It was a case of traditionalist with a penchant for period style meets radical minimalist who thinks that form should always follow function. What possible middle ground in clothes storage is there between someone who wants an Edwardian chest of drawers in satin wood, and someone who prefers a stack of wipe clean plastic boxes ?  
(for full version see here.) 

In other furnishing news, Dave persuaded me to have all my book cover posters framed. He has hung them on the landing and they look very fine. There is not yet a poster for EVEN WHEN THEY KNOW YOU -(my latest novel) but there will be soon.

The other news is that my wounded foot is much better for all the resting, and the abstinence has meant I had time to finish making my cardigan (which looks much nicer on that it does here)

while watching a film called I'll See You In My Dreams. This quiet and thoughtful film is about a woman in her sixties facing a change in her life - rather like my character Jane in Even When They Know You. I had some misgivings about the film, but I did like it, and am going to watch it again. The star is Blythe Danner. I recognised her from somewhere and couldn't think from where, and it was bugging me all through the film.  I found out on the net she was Hawkeye's long lost lover in M*A*S*H. If it wasn't for Google it would still be racking my brains and driving me bonkers.

Lastly, I may have been premature in telling you what my plans are for the next novel. Sally Howe might not be appearing in it. It might not be a comedy. I'm still thinking.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019


I am so excited about Isaac and family flying over on Saturday that I can't settle.

On the other hand, I've hurt my foot, possibly broken a toe, and I've been advised to rest it as much as I can. So I am trying to sit still with my leg up and concentrate on planning my new book. 

Those of you who have found the newest one too serious for their taste will be pleased to hear that the next one will be lighter. There are four main characters - all women - and one of them will be Sally Howe, of Plotting for Beginners and Plotting for Grownups fame. Before I start a book I do studies of all the main characters, with six page questionnaires to fill in on them asking questions like:

What does she think she wants?
What does she really want?
What is her biggest dream?
What is her worst nightmare?
What is her guilty secret?     etc etc

It's a long time since I thought about Sally Howe, so in order to answer the questions about her I've been reading Plotting for Grownups. This morning I came across this interchange she has with her brother Richard, which is pretty much a word for word record of a conversation I once had with Dave:

Richard called at lunchtime and I showed him a pair of jeans I’d bought in the Scouts jumble sale. They are just Richard’s size, and they look quite hip to me.

He tried them on and said precisely what I expected: “The waist is far too low.” Richard spends the entire day hitching whatever pair of trousers he is wearing up round his waist, and these wouldn't go high enough for his liking. They weren't the kind that exposes your pants, they were merely an inch lower than the M&S seconds he bought off Bakewell market five years ago. “I want something more robust,” he said.

“They are robust!”

“I'm looking for something more workaday. I need something that genuflects less to fashion and more to safety and comfort.”

“But you’re trying to look attractive to women, aren’t you?” I said.

He pulled up his sweatshirt and exposed the flesh above the waistband. “This low waistband is an outrageous ploy to dupe the consumer. Dickies don't skimp on material like this.” (Richard worships Dickies work clothes because “they are commodious, they shrug off stains, and they have wonderful pocketry.”)

“These jeans make you look ten years younger, Richard.”

“I don't think I'll be wearing them,” he said, vainly trying to hitch them up high again. “They look like a high risk trouser. Edgy.”

And talking about clothes, you know that dress I showed you last week...

...that I thought I was too old for?

Today's paper has a photo of Debbie Harry, aged 74, wearing this:

Maybe I just need to grow my hair long, bleach it, and wear dark glasses.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

from a lovely reader..

Jenetta, a long time reader of the blog has sent me this -

Thank you, friend. I love it.