Friday 31 December 2010

Learning curves

I have learnt several things in the past few days.

1. If you are having 27 family members to lunch, and they say can they bring anything, never, ever say "no - just bring yourselves!" This is daft, and you will live to regret it.

2. Do not buy a small nifty vacuum cleaner by a very well-known manufacturer. Yes, it's light and easy to carry about. Yes, it's quite pretty. But it does not - repeat not - do the business. There is no point in having a vacuum cleaner if you have to follow it picking up all the fluff it has decided to ignore. You can carry it up the stairs (we live on four floors) with one finger, but what's the point of that if it won't do what it's supposed to do?

3. When you wisely replace it with a bigger (heavier) one, get someone to show you how to put it together. True, there's a sheet of instructions with no words, just pictures and the word"click" written in various places (nothing clicks). There is also a helpline functioning practically round the clock (that in itself should arouse suspicion). But when the helpful operator tells you she's sitting with this same model of cleaner balanced on her knees and the wheels facing towards her, and can you see the little grey button on the left? trust me. You can't.

4. The thing (in this case, the vacuum cleaner) which fitted so nicely in its cardboard box when it arrived will never fit back in again once you've taken it out. It just won't. It's like some kind of Chinese puzzle.

5. Echinacea does not prevent colds (which is why we are not out partying this evening). By the way, has anyone else noticed that tomorrow will be 1/1/11?
Happy new year!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Da da!

By popular (well, Tim's and Teresa's) request. And yes. I've got much better (more important) things to do than take pics of my shopping trolley, but you must admit it's rather jolly.

Trolleys - Part Two

I've done it!

I wasn't going to. As I struggled to and fro laden with shopping bags (we are close to the shops, so rarely have to use the car) , I was determined to hold out against the shopping trolley. That little voice kept telling me I wasn't old enough; that a shopping trolley was the beginning of the slippery slope (together with thick stockings, big knickers and bubbly grey perms). But then I saw it.

It was bright and blue and cheerful, with yellow daisies. It was very, very cheap. and it called to me. In I went, and wheeled it about a bit. It was wonderful. It turned on a sixpence, was easy to park, and had plenty of room. So I bought it.

How did I ever manage without it? I wheeled it through the streets of Devizes (pulling, not pushing. You don't run so many people over that way), light as a feather (although by now, competely full) and wondered how on earth I had ever managed without it.

It is my Christmas present to myself (John's present to me is apparently stranded in Turkey, so I need cheering up). And I LOVE it!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Shortest day

I've just remembered that this is/was the shortest day of the year. "If winter's here, can spring be far behind?" (Shelley). Well, yes. But perhaps not that far...

On waiting

Waiting is one of the most difficult things anyone has to do. Whether it's waiting for someone to arrive (you can't get down to anything, because they might be here any minute), to waiting for a verdict (I had a breast lump once; waiting for the - fortunately ok- result of that was awful). Even waiting for a train to depart can be awkward, when you've said good-bye to the person you're seeing off, have nothing else to say, but still the train doesn't move.

We writers do a lot of waiting. We wait for an agent to reply, for a publisher to reply, for a book to sell. We (or should I say, I ) check emails, check the post, start hoping for verdicts long before they can possibly be expected to arrive. In a way, I find waiting paralyses me. I can't settle; I am preoccupied - even obsessed - wiht whatever it is I'm waiting for.

I know I'm not the only MNWer waiting at the moment, and I wonder whether they (you) are feeling the same way as I am. I can't settle to writing another book (after all, if this one doesn't sell, then there may be lessons to be learnt before I launch myself into a new one), so the creative part of my brain is jiggling up and down saying "come on, come on, COME ON!" but I have to ignore it. I am preoccupied with the waiting.

But never mind. There's Christmas fast approaching, sons arriving with and without new babies, snow to be shovelled (I have to get out and do it before our 80-year-old neigbour - who has the energy of ten of me - skips out with her shovel and puts me to shame), and today's list of Things to Do to be tackled. So I must stop faffing about and do them.

But once again, a very happy Christmas to all MNWers (and anyone else passing by). And if you're currently waiting, may whatever you're waiting for happen soon, and be just what you wanted.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Letter to Delia

Dear Delia

I like you. I really do. I like your wholesomeness; the fact that you are down-to-earth, and when you're on the TV you don't do that coy thing creeping down to the (studio) fridge in your nightie to pig out on something fattening; the fact that you remind us to put on our oven gloves in case we burn ourselves. You are a nice person.

But I can't get on with your recipes. I've tried. I really have. I know I'm in a minority. I know it's almost certainly my own fault. But there it is. Last week we had friends to dinner, and I tried your recipe for ratatouille. I followed the instructions minutely, cut the veg in inch-thick slices (which really went against the grain, but you are Deila and you know). Well, it was a disaster. Although I gave it extra cooking time, it was like chewing boot leather. It didn't work. I love ratatouille. It's one of my favourite dishes ("why didn't you stick to to your usual receipe?" asked my daughter. Good point. But I thought that because you are Delia, yours would be even better. It wasn't). So I shall put my Delia book away for a while. Maybe I'll try again one day; maybe I won't. At the moment, I need time to get over the humiliation of watching seven people trying to look as though they're enjoying something horrible.

But have a wonderful Chrsitmas, anyway, and no hard feelings, eh? After all, with so many fans, you don't really need me.

Friday 17 December 2010

A cat called Frances. Possibly.

My correspondent on death row has been waiting for ages to be allowed to keep a kitten. Prisoners are allowed to have a cat provided they can pay for its keep, and someone has kindly offered to do that for him. But there's a snag. The powers that be have decided that there are enough cats in the prison and they have said no. However, he has appealed, and is optimistic about the outcome. He wants a female kitten, and he wants to call it after me. I feel ridiculously pleased about this. No-one* has ever named anyone after me before, and a prison cat's pretty special, thoughI have to admit that Frances is a pretty silly name for a cat (its not that great for a human being, either, but I'm stuck with it).

*My daughter thought of calling one of her daughters after me (second name), but didn't want to upset her mother-in-law. Quite right, too.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Ho ho ho...

I went to our local Sainsburys this morning, and there were crowds of people, and the shelves were groaning with Christmas stuff, and a merry song was belting out, telling us all how jolly and happy we all were, and everyone looked soooo miserable. As I passed a couple, the man caught his partner by the collar and dragged her away saying, "NO! You DON'T need any more of that!" The poor cow probably has more than enough to do, and didn't need to be treated like that. Christmas can be a difficult time for women (my husband said that one of the nice things about being married was that he only had to buy one present).

I felt strangely cheered by all this because (a) it was quite amusing seeing all these miserable people buying things to make them happy, and manifestly failing, and (b) because I've pretty well finished my Christmas shopping (please note, Aliya), found some half-price Christmas crackers, and am feeling quite jolly.

I was going to finish this with a fairly amusing cracker joke from the newpaper, but sadly I've already forgotten it (I can never remember jokes, except for one that's so rude that there's hardly anyone I can tell it to).

Thursday 9 December 2010

But there are exceptions...

...especially at this time of year.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Every cloud....

I've always liked happy endings.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

The icing on the cake

This is what happened next. (It's an ill wind etc.)

Monday 6 December 2010

And even worse off still

We just missed this on the Today programme this morning. But it's worth sharing.

There's always someone worse off

I absolutely HATE this weather, can't ride the horse (who's out in a field eating snow) and am still toying with various plot ideas. We only have one elderly neighbour to look out for, and she's friskier than I am. Unlike Aliya, I haven't finished my Christmas shopping, and I haven't started on the Christmas cards.

But this pic made me realise things could be worse.

Saturday 4 December 2010


This was sent to me this morning. Amazingly cheering, (and takes the mind off the weather, snow, blocked roads, cancelled trains...).

Friday 3 December 2010

Second novel syndrome

I know of people who are so brimming with plots that they're spoilt for choice. As soon as they've finished one novel, they're on to the next. Some even write two or more at a time.

And then there are people like me. As someone once said, the plot for a first novel is relatively easy, since that's the book you've (probably) been incubating for years. Hence the notoriously difficult second novel. I seem to have second novel syndrome each time. It takes me ages to happen upon (that's usually how it seems) a good enough new plot. It's a bit like trying to get pregnant, without any of the fun. So here I am, wasting time blogging (between Christmas shopping, and making mince pies), and waiting for that plot to drop into my head. Which is quite frightening, since maybe it won't. Maybe I'll never have another plot or write another novel. I rather envy the NaNo people, who had the discipline to write a novel in a month. The imperative to write may well have inspired the plot. Too late for me this year (although there's no reason why I can't set myself a personal NaNo). I've got a vague plot about people stuck in ia lift, but is that enough for a novel? If I were an Ian McEwan, certainly it would be. Sadly, I'm not.

On a lighter note, I read in the paper today that a company is designing larger cat flaps for fatter cats, since apparently feline obesity is becoming a problem, and ordinary cat flaps are too small. This got me wondering: there must be a fine line between a fat cat and thin burglar. I hope they know what they're doing.

Thursday 2 December 2010


Or maybe this would be more suitable. One small granddaughter has been awake all night because she's so excited about the snow. I have not. Not being excited about snow is a sign of old age, I'm afraid.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Hats (a cheery subject for a cold day)

Talking of weddings (well, a lot of people seem to be) I just love hats. I'm not a dressy person; I spend most of my life in jeans. But hats - they're different. There's something splendid about hats, but all too few occasions upon which I can wear one.
Here in Devizes we have a magnificent hat-hire shop. Inside this charming, low-beamed building there is an entire rainbow of hats; big, small, fluffy, flowery - you name it, Joan has got it. You bring in your outfit, and she finds you the hat. And she's alway right. Having found the hat, she will attach little bit of things - feathers and other fripperies - to match, say, your shoes.
But sadly, apart from a niece's wedding next year (that will be a big hat day), there will be no other occasion in the forseeable future for me to visit Joan and her hats. The only other hat occasion I can think of is a royal garden party, and I would really hate to go to one of those (if anyone royal is reading this, please don't take offence; just invite someone else instead). The idea of having to dress up and trawl into London to have posh tea with hundreds (or is it thousands?) of strangers fills me with horror. That, and the fact that the hat would probably get squashed on the train (well, you can't wear a big hat on a train, can you? There's hardly room for the passengers, without hats).
Never mind. Just remember; if you are in the South West, and need a hat, Joan's your woman. Oh, and please can I come with you to help choose it?

Monday 29 November 2010

A grumble

Am I being sour and curmudgeonly* in feeling just a little thoughtful that Radio 4's new Book at Bedtime is "Dawn French's latest novel"? I like Dawn French, and her novel may well be magnificent, but it seems that unless you're a celebrity of some kind (or a very, very successful author) your chances of getting this kind of exposure are miniscule. And no. I'm not thinking about myself (although I certainly wouldn't say no!). There are so many gifted writers out there who could really do with a break such as this. But they're all at it, from those who use ghosts, to those who presumably write their novels themselves: Anne Widdecombe, Joan Bakewell, Jane Asher... people who are given a head start because of who they are (understandable, in that publishers know they stand a good chance of recouping their advances) but are then given further opportunities such as this.

Oh well. We soldier on.

*One of my favourite words. I told my six-year-old grandson about it, then unwisely bet him he wouldn't remember it. So every time we meet, it's the first word he says. Oh, that and onomotapoeia. He likes that one, too.

Thursday 25 November 2010

At last!

My agent has just come back to me (about Basic Theology for Fallen Women), and she really likes it ("enchanting and different" she said. Yay!). I don't have to tell any writer out there how relieved I am - you all know what it feels like - but there were so many things she wanted changed that I was really worried that I wouldn't manage them all. She reiterated that the market is very difficult at the moment, which I knew, but at least I have one (professional) person on my side.


(And good luck to others waiting, especially Alis and Aliya. I do hope you get your news soon.)

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Sponsorship and bees

I'm doing too much of this, but it's better than checking my emails every five minutes to see whether there's any kind of Verdict yet.

My little granddaughter phoned this evening to ask if I will sponsor her for a sponsored spelling test. I am on safe ground here, for this is a child who once spelled Tuesday "clak". No-one ever discovered what Tuesday and clak had in common, but my own theory is that because they have too many boring spellings to do she just thought: sod it, I'll write down the first letters that come to mind. Wise child. Anyway, I'm giving her 25p per word, but I think my money's probably safe.

This got me thinking about sponsoring in general. Sponsored spellings are fine, because spelling tests are dreary, so the sponsored person has to do something unpleasant - perhaps even useful - to earn the money for their cause. But when it comes to sponsoring people to, say, trek through the Andes or go white water rafting in Patagonia, that's a different matter. What you are doing is paying for them to have the kind of wonderful holiday you will never have and couldn't possibly afford anyway.

On another tack altogether, one of my sons is thinking of keeping bees in his loft (there's no room in the garden). This is an interesting idea, but I'm not sure whether it will work. For a start, the bees will have to get out, which means the weather will presumably get in. But at least it will keep the bees away from the children. Another son, who also hankers after bees (and who does things like making his own cheese and contructing a water bath for cooking food in) doesn't know about this yet, but I'm pretty sure that he too will want bees in his loft when he gets to hear about it. I'm not sure about bees, myself. There's just so much honey one family can eat, and I've always thought it rather unfair that we take the bees' honey and give them sugary water instead. Do they not notice the difference?

Tuesday 23 November 2010


I listen to the Archers. Not always; twice a week is usually enough to keep up, as the storyline isn't exactly fast-moving . I'm not the only Archering MNW, either, as I recently discovered, together with Alis's revelation that they use a one-moo-fits-all cow noise for anything from bovine birth to death.

My year is puntuated with the regular activities of the Archers; lambing in January (awfully early - they lamb much later round here), with much shivering and complaining in the lambing sheds, through summer and the single wicket contest (I've no idea what that means, but that's what the Archers do in the summer) to, finally, the infuriating Linda Snell's annual Christmas pantomime (every village has its Linda Snell. In our last village, she lived next door. Enough said).

One one, level, the Archers is deeply boring ("It is Monday moring, and Phil is opening his post." How my children used to hoot with derision at lines such as that one), but on another, it's wonderfully reassuring; a kind of aural security blanket. So long as people are making cherry yoghurt and delivering calves and drinking down at the Bull in Ambridge, life can't be that bad.

Monday 22 November 2010

Unwanted good deeds

In our society, we patronise the old and the disabled. I think this is partly guilt - because we don't really do enough for them generally - and partly because we don't know how else to deal with them and their problems.

My sister, disabled from birth and now wheelchair-bound, lives in sheltered accomodation. For Children in Need, the warden sat in a bath and invited the residents (nearly all elderly) to throw things at her. Amusing? Entertaining? No. Not really. Having got over the cringe factor, my sister gamely opened some tins of things and threw them at her, but nobody else joined in. You wouldn't do this to a group of, say, bankers, doctors, coalminers or whatever. But the disabled are fair game. At Christmas, this same establishment is visted by the mayoress, who distributes gifts of tinned food and teabags. Nobody wants or need these gifts, but (presumably) the mayoress goes away feeling all warm and fuzzy, becuase she has done a Good Deed.

And then there's my uncle, about whom I've blogged before. On his birthday, the home where he's a resident organises a cake (with candles, naturally) and crackers and paper hats, and we trog along and have a little party. This is equally cringe-making. He doesn't know how old he is, or that it's his party. He is bewildered, and thrown out of his (very limited, but safe) routine. His housekeeper, who adores him, thinks this is all lovely. But it isn't. It's awful. His 94th. birthday is in a couple of weeks, and I would ike to boycot the party and pay a separate visit instead, but that will hurt various people and make me very unpopular ("his niece never even came to see him on his birthday!"). I am his next of kin. It's expected of me. But this year, I don't think I shall go. Other people won't understand, but my uncle, when he had his wits about him, would have agreed with me.

Friday 19 November 2010

First square meal

It was time for a new pic to brighten the blog, and who better than Lucas having his first meal? (If this is becoming boring, please bear with me, because (a) this is one very special baby and (b) I'm still waiting....). He looks just like his father did at that age. Aaaaaaah!

Thursday 18 November 2010


I've dithered for months. No, years. Every Thursday, I set off to Devizes market, and come back laden with very heavy stuff; stuff I need, and, sadly, stuff I don't need (a huge bowl of lemons for £1? How can you resist?). But so far I have refused to buy a shopping trolley.

Shopping trolleys are for the old, the decrepit, those who can't carry all their stuff. In other words, shopping trolleys are for me. But I am in denial. I can carry my stuff; of course I can. And if it means putting seven heavy bags down in a puddle in order to pay for the eighth, well, that's ok, isn't it?

No. It's not. My arms are still aching from this morning's little jaunt, and the veg rack (Aliya, please note) is groaning under the weight of, among other things, onions as big as my head, which are far too big to be useful, and there are enough sprouts in the fridge to feed a small army. But rather than cut down on the shopping - I can't resist a bargain* - I am finally going to buy a shopping trolley. I actually went into a shop and looked at some this morning. They were hideous. And while I told myself that shopping trolleys aren't fashion accessories - they aren't in the same category as, say, handbags (I don't really do handbags, but that's another story) - I shall be getting one. Because it's the sensible thing to do.

But not yet.

*Someone once said that a bargain isn't a bargain unless it's something you want/need. Very wise, but hard to live up to.

Monday 15 November 2010

Grated cheese and tumble dryers

Some time ago, I had an idea for a non-fiction book: Short Cuts for Sluts (or similar). Katherine Whitehorn once wrote that no woman who has ever had to delve into the dirty laundry for a pair of tights because there aren't any clean ones can ever say she isn't a slut, so that's me in for a start. But my book never really got off the ground (or out of my head) because most of my short cuts involve either grated cheese or tumbler dryers, and that would be a bit monotonous.

First, the grated cheese. A while back, I discovered industrial sized bags of ready-grated cheese at our local market. This is great, because I keep it in the freezer, and if I need any, I can just dig out a handful or two. As a friend (who is even lazier than I am) said: "it's wonderful! You don't have to wash up the cheese grater any more" (I don't know what kind of grater she has the cleaning of which is more arduous than the actual grating. I didn't ask).

Tumble dryers. These are wonderful for purposes of "ironing" anything that suddenly needs attention and you can't be bothered to get out the iron. They are also useful for cleaning purposes. Last week I "cleaned" a very dusty pair of curtains by giving them a whizz in the tumble dryer. They look great. Of course, they probably aren't exactly clean, but who cares?

Why am I blogging about this? Because I still haven't heard from Agent, and unlike Alis, who forges bravely ahead with her next novel as soon as she's finished the last one, my brain is still stuck in what I suspect is still the WIP (or will be again, very shortly), and I need something to take my mind off it.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Toys and gadgets

John loves to order things he's read up about. He reads a lot of papers and periodicals, and when he reads about a must-have, he, well, must have it. He has various things he doesn't use, like a horrible hatchet thing he bought years ago to break up chicken wings to make stock. He has never, to my knowledge, made stock. He sent away for sausages - expensive sausages - which were nice, but no better than our local ones. And a very expensive thing which is supposed to connect our computers and back things up, but which doestn't work.

His latest purchase is a kitchen knife. This is used, he tells me. by the best chefs. Indispensible. This knife is very large, and very, very sharp. And (and this is the point of this post) every time I use it (yes. I am allowed to. "I see you've used The Knife" he says smugly, each time he notices), I cut myself. I just have to touch the damn thing, and I bleed.

It happened again this morning. In a rare domestic moment, I decided to make soup for lunch (I'm in waiting-for-Agent's reply mode, so need to keep myself occupied). And I used the knife. And I cut myself. Twice. And we're out of the right kind of plasters, so I'm bleeding all over the place, and into the soup. This thing should come with a health warning and a large first aid kit. But I shall continue to use it. Because it's very, very sharp.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Drafts, drafts, drafts...

I know I've posted about this before, but drafts...oh dear! Until now, I never did them. I wrote the book, went through it once, and Macmillan said yes (twice) or no (once). But now I have Agent, things are very different. "This," she said when I sent the WIP to her "is the first draft". Really? Yes. Really.

I've now been through it about three more times - does that make it four drafts? - and while I have quite enjoyed the process (partly becasue I hate saying goodbye to a book) I find more and more things to change. So when do I let go? Does anyone ever think (as I used to - oh, happy days!), that's it? Done? As near perfect as possible? Or do they feel, as I do in my new drafty state, that the more I change, the more I see that needs changing, from plot lines to using "but" twice in a sentence. Ad infinitum.

I've got to the point where I think it's as ready to go as it ever will be, but that moment when I ping it off into cyberspace will be really difficult. At least in the old days, as you parcelled it up, then walked to the post office, waited in the queue, had it weighed and stamped etc. you had time to change your mind...

Saturday 6 November 2010

Lucky day

Today, I am lucky. Very lucky. Why? Because I fell off my horse (entirely my own fault - my stirrup got caught in the catch of a gate, horse tore through gate, I did not). And - and this is the lucky bit - I wasn't badly hurt! So I'm lucky.

if I hadn't fallen off the horse at all, no-one would have told me I was lucky. When you come back from a ride (or a car journey, or even a walk) unscathed, no-one tells you you're lucky. But have an accident of any kind, and if you're still breathing, you're lucky.

Seven years ago, I broke my back. And boy, was I lucky! Everyone - but everyone - told me how lucky I was. I could have been killed, broken my neck, been rendered helpless or my brain turned to mush. But lo! I only had to spend weeks in hospital (and in pain), so I was lucky. So many people told me I was lucky that I began to feel that falling downstairs (I know. How unglamorous is that?) was a really lucky thing to do. But while I didn't mind saying myself that I was lucky, I really objected to people with lovely, whole unbattered spines telling me I was lucky.

I'm beginning to stiffen up now. Having caught the horse (who really was lucky since he'd wanted to go home anyway), walked (a long way) back to the yard where he lives, made sure he was all right, and got myself home, the bumps are beginning to make themselves known.

But I must keep telling myself: I'm lucky.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Masterchef - the last post

Claire won! I knew she would - she didn't put a foot (or even a tiny egg whisk) wrong. Her winning main dish looked like an Ascot hat - quite beautiful (apparently it tasted lovely, too, although taste seems to come second to appearance in these competitions). Even Monica liked it.

The previous night, one of them had "issues with their hoggets". I love that. It sounds like a medical condition. (A hogget - I had to look it up - is a yearling sheep or colt. I do hope it wasn't a colt.) And there was a strong preference for scallops and fennel throughout the competition (maybe scallops and fennel are in this year?). But I shall miss it. Now, when I try to do anything remotely clever in the kitchen (like mashing potato), I think of Monica and her rolling eyes, and I shudder. Being a writer is hard. But being a chef....

Tuesday 2 November 2010


The colours around here are stunning this year (this is a rather bad photo taken with my mobile and without my glasses, so I couldn't see what I was doing. But you get the idea).

I think "Autumn" would make a lovely name for someone.

Monday 1 November 2010

Too late for Halloween

I don't really do Halloween, but my grandchildren do. Here are Harriet and Phoebe (I've no idea what they're supposed to be) with Geoffrey the dog dressed up as a dragon. Well, they brighten up the blog...

(You need to click on the pic to appreciate Geoffrey's outfit, but even then it's pretty obscure)

Saturday 30 October 2010

To adverb or not to adverb?

I'm not a no-adverbs-at-any-price writer. I think, like exclamation marks, they have their place (although I believe Graham Greene would have disagreed). But I have just re-read a Dick Francis* (I'd run out of reading material), and he is quite amazing. Almost every piece of dialogue is qualified with an adverb, some of them quite astonishingly clumsy. In a random couple of pages there are the following; pleasantly, faintly, weakly, shamfacedly, suddenly, disbelievingly, thoughtfully, neutrally, passionately, swiiftly, advisedly. And that's just a couple of pages.

I notice these things much more now that I write more. Points of view, too. Some writers seem to get away with jumping from one POV to another, and it can be quite jarring. But would I have noticed before I had to examine my own writing so carefully? I'm not sure.

* I don't wish to be disparaging about DF; I read, and enjoyed, many of his books while feeding my 3rd baby. He's good holiday reading, and tells a pacy story.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Masterchef (cont)

It's getting REALLY exciting now. Only three left, and poor little Alice kicked out (I liked her). But Claire's still in, and I'd love her to win. Poor David got terribly nervous ("stop shaking, stop shaking, STOP SHAKING" the chef yelled at him. That's the spirit), and Len (who's
now out) overcooked and then undercooked the lamb in the posh restaurant, and I worried about what they'd do with all that wasted meat. After all, while shepherd's pie is one of my favourite things, it's not pretty, and it's definitely not "fine dining".

I have dealt with medical emergencies and cardiac arrests, and they don't bother me at all. But cooking for those judges, against the clock and with the cameras filming, just doesn't bear thinking about. But it's wonderful TV. Roll on next week, and the final!

But where was Monica?

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Rant on a wet Tuesday

Two things really annoyed me today.

1. Nick Clegg smokes! Shock, horror. How could he, when we're all looking to him to set a good example? What ridiculous, tabloid bollocks. Of course the poor bloke can smoke if he wants to. Why on earth shouldn't he? It's not illegal, or hurting anyone else (unless he blows smoke in the baby's face). I've never smoked, but I will defend - well not to the death, but I'll defend - anyone else's right to do so.

2. "Five-a-day"*. Why does that annoy me so much? I was reading in the paper something about a fruity drink, and was told that "it also counts as one of your five a day". Do they (whoever they are) really think we all sit around counting up to five, and then breathing a sigh of relief before reaching for the chocolate/cake/pork pie or whatever. It makes me want to eat anything but five a day. Three, eight, seventeen - anything but five. And how many peas (for example) make a helping? How much cabbage? Does half an avocado count? Does anyobody know? Does anybody CARE?

* For anyone who doesn't know (can there be anyone?), the government recommends that we all eat five helpings of fruit and/or veg a day.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Dead Ernest RIP

Late last night, I was browsing Amazon looking for a book, and decided to see how (whether) Dead Ernest was doing. I was shocked to find that, quite suddenly, it's gone. Finished. Sold out. There was the usual "we'll let you know when we have it in stock again" message, but both hardback and trade paperback have gone. So I tried Macmillan's website, and there was no mention of it at all. It might never have existed.

I should have seen this coming, of course. It was never brought out in paperback (Pan Mac) as it "lacked commerciality"(their words). It was just a matter of time before it disappeared altogether. But it was my first; the book that made me feel I might one day be a novelist; the Richard and Judy competiton runner-up (I'll never forget the jubilation); my first full-length literary baby. And now it's gone.

This hit me far harder than I would have thought. I knew I was being stupid; that I've written a second (and I hope, third) better book(s); that poor Ernest would inevitably sooon be out of print. But it felt like a little death in my (very small) literary family. There is still hope, as the screen producer who has bought the rights is still trying to make a screenplay, but while I very much hope this works out (for her even more than me, because she's put so much time and effort into the project), my book is dead, as a book. Unless I become very successful indeed, it won't be brought back to life. And I feel enormously sad.

Friday 22 October 2010

Bad sex and Tony Blair

Apparently Tony Blair has been short-listed for the Bad Sex Award for writing the following in his autobiography (the first non-fiction nomination, apparently):

"That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me," he wrote in A Journey. "On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct..."

I wouldn't really call that bad sex; or any sex at all, when you think what does get written. But there's something disatasteful about it, all the same.

To much information, Tony. Too much information.

Tuesday 19 October 2010


Well, here's my nice new award, courtesy of Teresa (thank you, Teresa!). I'm not exactly sure what it means*, but it's very pretty, and brightens up my blog, which needed a picture. And of course it's always good to have an award.

It's a very long time since I had one (an award, that is). In fact the last one was (I think) a medal for nursing, presented by the Queen Mother, a very long time ago. I had to learn to curtsey (harder than it looks). We all had tea with the QM afterwards, and as she only ate a tiny bite of her sandwich, I'm ashamed to say that the rest of us shared it (the sandwich) when she had gone. So eating the royal toothmarks is probably up there with having a novel published.

*Could you tell me a bit more about it please, Teresa?

Monday 18 October 2010

What's in a name?

I've alway thought book titles are incredibly important, and this has been brought home to me in the last few days because I simply cannot remember the name of the book I'm currently reading. It's a good novel, and I'm enjoying it, but the title? I've just had to go and look at it again (it's called East Fortune, by James Runcie), and in five minutes, I shall have forgotten it once more. So I'll never be able to remember it if I want to recommend it to anyone (quite important, that).

Take A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. A brilliant title, and I can't help wondering whether some of the novel's success is due to that title (I have to confess that while I enjoyed the novel, I enjoyed the title more). I've just read her latest - We Are All Made of Glue - and I think the title is much much better (or more memorable) than the novel itself. Likewise, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and (dare I say) The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night Time (thought I did love it).

How do people choose the titles for their novels? I can't remember for the life of me how I came to choose Dead Ernest (except that, obvously, it was about Ernest, who was dead). Birds and Bees was a compromise; I wanted something quite different; Macmillan suggested The Facts of Life (!). My WIP - Basic Theology for Fallen Women; not sure how I thought of that title, but I love it. It's probably the only thing I love about the book but it's a start (it's also the main reason I haven't abandoned it in difficult moments). And apparently it (the title - that's all there was of it at the time) went down well at the London Book Fair. Now all I have to do is make the novel as good as the title, which I have a horrible feeling isn't going to happen.

Friday 15 October 2010

What's it about?

Of course, the other question people ask (after - or sometimes before - they've found out what name you use) is what your book is about.

I find this question almost impossible to answer. Synopses are hugely difficult; the kind of mini-synopsis people are asking for is worse. Even trying to give a mini-synopsis of, say, Peter Rabbit would be bad enough ("well, there's this family of rabbits, and the baby rabbits are told not to go into someone's garden. No. Wait a minute. Their mother is going shopping, so they're on their own. She's a widow, because Mr. McGregor - he's the one whose garden they're not supposed to be going into - ate her husband" etc etc). To express the meaning/intent/plot of a WIP (or finished novel) is worse.

How do you sum up the plot of your WIP/finished novel? In a couple of sentences? Is there a knack? I'd love to know.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Masterchef addiction

Recently, I have become totally hooked on Masterchef (BBC 2). Which is odd, because it combines two of my biggest nightmares: posh cooking (as in dinner parties), and deadlines.

Here, you have pale, trembling contestants cooking fiddly, decorative little meals, against the clock, and with the judges literally leaning over their shoulders as they cook, clucking, rolling their eyes, and shrugging with dismay at each misplaced fragment or extra half-squeeze of lemon. Last night, they had to make tiny little souffles, plus a caramel sauce, in just 10 minutes. It was quite terrifying to watch. "Do you think your souffles will be cooked in time"? one of the judges asked gleefully of a miserable contestant, who was watching his pale, liquid efforts not rising through the see-through door of the oven. What was the poor guy supposed to say? Of course the souffles didn't rise; they never stood a chance.

The food in this programme is all fiddly food (I've posted about this before, but I have a bit of a thing about it). It's the kind of food which might do as an appetiser, or a subect for a still life painting, but it isn't a proper meal. I little mouthful of this; a small puddle of that; a garnish of tiny twigs...I simply don't see the point. As my eldest son (a very good cook, with a proper man's appetite) says: "people want pie". Exactly.

But I shall continue to watch this mesmerising programme, and keep everything crossed for the poor wretched cooks, and hope that, notwithstanding the extraordinary food, everyone manages to come out of it alive.

Monday 11 October 2010

An important week

This is global handwashing week. Oh, and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has written a novel with a heroine called Lyric. She (T P-K, not Lyric) has also eaten two diamonds (all this from the first 5 minutes of Woman's Hour).

Saturday 9 October 2010

Do we write under our own names?

It's a question we all get asked, isn't it: do you write under your own name? I've never understood why anyone wouldn't do so, unless, of course, s/he was ashamed of what s/he was writing, or had a very dull name, or wrote in different genres. A great-aunt of mine - a very black sheep indeed, especially considering the times she lived in - wrote a book about prostitution called "To Beg We Are Ashamed", which I'm sorry to say was almost certainly autobiographical. But otherwise, why would one change one's name? I think all MNWers write under our own own names , don't we?(unless someone's pretending to be someone they're not...)

But if I had to choose a pen name, it would be Matilda Davenport. She was my great-grandmother, and I think hers is a magnificent name. It has a touch of gravitas (which Frances Garrood most certainly does not).

Thursday 7 October 2010

Help, please.

A rather cardboard male character in my WIP needs a job. It (he) must be compassionate, not too well paid, terribly worthwhile, (fairly) interesting, and involve some travelling (so that he can have illicit couplings with one of my heroines. He's married). I've racked my brains, and can only come up with medical things. Has anyone any ideas, please? At the moment, he's an oncologist, but I don't think he's really got what it takes. I've been trying to solve this problem for about three weeks, and am totally stuck.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Full English breakfasts and new knickers

We'vejust been away for the night for John's birthday, and managed to get upgraded to the kind of room you (I) can only dream about. It was all wonderful. But the breakfast...

Why, oh why, do I always have the full English? Because I've paid for it, that's why, and because I think I'm going to enjoy it. But I never do. It's invariably too filling, too fatty and too fattening. So, every time, I swear that next time I'll have a boiled egg. I loved boiled eggs. They're one of my favourite foods. But every time, I succumb to the full English, because I'm greedy and I never learn.

And the knickers. We have no M&S here (or only a food one) so on the way home, we visited Leamington Spa, and I bought 20 pairs of knickers. Which sounds as though I have some sort of medical problem, which I haven't, but I got carried away. I just love new knickers. Sparkling, new, white knickers, £4 for 5 pairs. And there's a wonderful sense of freedom in throwing away all the old ones, which have gone grey in the wash. I'm really looking forward to it.

But just to raise the tone, I bought a shiny new ice cream scoop as well.

Sunday 3 October 2010

The joys of babyhood

Just a quick post to counterbalance the rather sombre one about old age. This (his parents assure me) is a smile. Well, he looks pretty contented. And, of course, he's gorgeous.

Back to the 2nd draft...

Saturday 2 October 2010


I have never done "drafts" before. I've always revised each chapter as I go along, and have never understood what 1st, 2nd, 3rd drafts etc are exactly for. Until now.

When I gaily (well anxiously) sent off the WIP to my agent, I expected her to say a simple yes or no (this is what has always happened before, with MNW). But what she said (after suggesting - no, ordering, though ever so nicely - a great many alterations) was: "this is the first draft". Which came as a bit of a shock.

I was reminded of this because several other MNWs, too, are apparently writing (or have just written) 2nd or 3rd drafts of their novels. Some have said they really enjoy the process. I, however, was not looking forward to it.

But now that I've started, I'm beginning to see the attraction. I have the structure; the beginning, the end and most of the plot have my agent's approval; so I can just work on improving the bits in between. I don't have to worry about what happens next - I know what happens next - I can just go on re-writing and re-writing until I get it right. I haven't got to think up a new plot. Not yet, anyway. And I'm still being creative.

I could get used to this!

Thursday 30 September 2010

The sadness of old age

This week, I visited my uncle in the nursing home where he is now a resident. It's a nice enough place, the staff are kind, and the care perfectly adequate. But I find these visits hugely sad. My uncle - David - is 93 (he keeps telling me he's 100, and that's probably the way he feels), and terribly confused. I have no idea what goes on in his head, but he seems to drift from one world to another, as though through a series of diconnected dreams. Some of these are sad, some not so bad. Sometimes he's chairing a committee (he's chaired a lot of committees in his time), or staying in a hotel, and at others he seems lost, and begs to be taken home.

He knows that he knows me, and enjoys a big hug (perhaps the only language he can now fully understand), but not always who I am. Thus, sometimes I'm my mother (his sister), older than he but long-dead, and he reminisces about how I used to take him on outings from his boarding school. At other times, I'm myself, or someone completly different. His hearing is all but gone, making his world even lonelier than it would otherwise be.

This is a common situation. There are thousands of elderly confused people, living out their last days in institutions. I have nursed some of them. But I find it quite heartbreaking, watching this vital, energetic, highly successful man reduced to confusion and incontinenece and (often) sheer bewilderment. Twice,he has nearly died, only to be rescued by antibiotics. Pneumonia used to be called "the old man's friend", and with good reason, but not any more. We may have defeated pneumonia (often), but not the wretched half-life that so many of its survivors lead towards the end of their lives.

So I shall continue to visit David; to write him messages in thick marker pen in the hope of getting some kind of message through to him, and to give him hugs. And to hope that his ordeal will come to a peaceful end sooner rather than later.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

To keep, or to give away?

Apparently the greatest number of books donated to Oxfam shops are by Dan Brown.

Does this mean that more books of his are bought, or does it mean that people don't finish them, or that once read, they're considered to be disposable? A kind of literary fast food? I keep books for diferent reasons. I'm not good at getting rid of any of them - even those I haven't enjoyed - because I love just possessing them. But I'm just about to get rid of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, because I couldn't finish it. So maybe keeping books I haven't finished reminds me of my own failngs (after all, one should finish a book in order to form a proper opinion, shouldn't one)? Whereas keeping books I've read but hated (eg A Line of Beauty) reminds me that I have at least some staying power. And keeping books I've never read at all, and probably never will, (the entire Pepys Diaries, for one) reminds me that all things are possible...

Friday 24 September 2010

Back to the past

The Globe Theatre; well-known, authentic, popular. Covered seating (benches, actually) for the luckier few; standing room under the stars (or rain) for the rest. It sounded rather romantic, and we were looking forward to it. It would be fun, interesting. And Shakespeare - who could fail to enjoy Shakespeare?

But it wasn't fun at all. It was extremely uncomfortable, and had it been raining, a lot of people would have got very wet. The performance was (we thought) mediocre, and many of the words gabbled. The benches were hard (that's what benches are. We should have known), and most of them had no backs to lean against. I'm afraid we left during the interval. John (glass always half-full) was perfectly happy to leave; I (glass half-empty) thought of all the money we'd wasted and all the expectations dashed.

What I don't get - really don't get - is the attraction of having things 'just the way they used to be'. Hard seats and open air and all that. (I feel the same about original pianos; they sound tinkly, and it's for good reason that the piano has been improved over the years, and yet many musicians love them.) If we really wanted authenticity, presumably we would all have been peeing in the gutter during the interval, and no-one hankers after that.

I'm sure lots of people enjoy this back-to-the-past thing, but I like my creature comforts. There are many things about the 21st. century that I don't like, but modern seating and roofs and warmth are not among them.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Writing to death row

As I think I've mentioned, I write to a prisoner on death row in a USA prison. Nothing particularly special about that. But - and here's the real difficulty - what do I write? My life is on the whhole happy and fulfilled. I have lots of friends, a lovely family, a good life. I am, above all, free.

Danny, on the other hand, is banged up, probably for many years, pending appeals (his first isn't due until he's been in prison for 8 years), and quite possibly for a crime he didn't commit (I've read the reports of the court case, and it sounds extremely dodgy). He is fed on reclaimed turkey meat, because (presumably) it's cheap (he says it's disgusting, and I can well believe that). He is in his cell virtually all the time, and is regularly placed under 'lock down', when he doesn't get out at all. This is usually because prisoners in another part of the prison have rioted or misbehaved in some way. It's never the fault of the death row prisoners as they have no opportunities to riot, even if they want to. He rarely has visitors, for although he comes from a very large family, only one sister vistis him. He has a daughter whom he never sees. His life is, in short, pretty hopeless.

So - what do I write in my letters? It's hard to find interesting things to say which don't also emphasise that my life is so much better (understatement!) than his. I reply to the things he says in his letters, but, sadly, he rarely writes now as he can't afford the stamps. And when I sent him a money order for his recent birthday, it was returned, as money orders are no longer permitted.

So, while my letters aren't especially long, I find them very hard to write, and I find myself scratching around for any little disaster or misadventure which might make him feel that my life isn't all sunshine and roses. Maybe this is the wrong thing to do. Perhaps he really would ilke me to rave about new babies and lovely visits from my family, and, like today, a trip to London to the theatre. But I think not.

I'm about to write to him now, and I've no idea what I'll say. But I do hope that whatever it is, it's the right thing.

Monday 20 September 2010

Writer's guilt

I suffer from something I can only call writer's guilt (note the position of the apostrophe; I'm not attributing this to anyone else!).

Having spent nearly all my adult life looking after people - nursing, bringing up children, counselling - I feel I should be doing something less self-centred than writing. Writing used to be a luxury; something I fitted in around all the other things I had to do. Nowadays, I can spend much more time on it (that I often don't is due to sheer laziness), and when I am writing, I often feel I ought to be doing something more "worthwhile". My husband says I suffer from "oughtism", and he's probably right. But even now - especailly now - as I spend (waste?) time posting this, I know that there are less self-indulgent activities in which I could (and probably should) be indulging.

If I were terribly successful, and made shedloads of money from my writing, I'd feel much more justified in doing it. After all, I could spend it on magnificent treats for people. That would be worthwhile, wouldn't it? As it is, I often feel quite uncomfortable about being writer.

Am I alone in this? Or am I just in the wrong job?

Saturday 18 September 2010

Dragons and house points

My grandchildren seem to get a huge amount of homework, much of which seems to be done with the aid of the internet (I think this is cheating, but apparently everyone does it). Triplet-sitting last weekend, I had a distraught Phoebe, who couldn't download a Welsh dragon for her homework on Wales, because the printer wouldn't work.

No problem, I told her (we'd had enough tears for one day). I would draw one (I'm a hopeless artist, but needs must etc). So I copied this dragon off the internet, and Phoebe painstakingly filled it in with bits of red sequin, and bingo - a sparkly red dragon. We were rather impressed with ourselves.

Yesterday evening, Phoebe phoned to say that we had been awarded not one but TWO housepoints for our dragon. I feel quite chuffed. Who needs to publish a new novel when they can get housepoints for Welsh dragons? (I do, actually, so back to work...)

Thursday 16 September 2010

Favourite books

Aliya has recommended some of her favourite books, and invites others to do the same. Here are ten of mine:

Brothers (Bernice Rubens)
A Fine Balance (Rohanton Mistry)
Doctor Thorne (Trollope)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee))
The Black Prince (Iris murdoch)
The Tin Can Tree (Anne Tyler)
How Many Miles to Babylon? (Jennifer Johnston)
Strange Meeting (SUsan Hill)
Small Island (Andrea Levey)
The Road Home (Rose Tremain)

Monday 13 September 2010

Sticky-backed plastic and burglars

I've spent the week-end looking after the triplets, which was great, except for the prodigious amount of homework they have (they're only 9) and the covering of books with sticky-backed plastic. I had never met or even heard of this awful substance (if you haven't either, think big selotape), but all their exercise books had to be covered with this stuff. By Monday. We managed to borrow some, and get help. And then just before bedtime, third child anounces that she too needs her books covered. So - we get out the last of the SBP, and roll it out, and it sticks to everything; hands, clothes, the worktop and, worst of all, in the best selotape traditon, itself. I managed to cover two books, badly, and there was no SBP left.

Then there were the meltdowns over the homework itself, and everyone - including me - managed at least one tantrum. By bathtime, I was reminding myself that no-one had died, on the whole it had been a lovley week-end, and nothing lasts for ever, but I never ever want to see SBP again.

And burlgars. On the way home, I heard the startling statistic that 84% of burglars are deterred by a house alarm. What I want to know is, how did anyone find this out? Presumably if you're a successful burglar, no-one knows you're a burglar at all, never mind gets to interview you.

Also on the way home, I heard someone using the word "premiumistic". What is the world coming to?

Thursday 9 September 2010

The agent replies...

Well, she's read it, and she likes it, but but but...

Apparently it needs "moving up a gear", and I know exactly what she means. And all those little things I thought she'd overlook? Well, she noticed every last one of them. Damn. But that's what an agent is for, isn't it? Therfore I can't really complain. So it seems that the WIP is a WIP once more. Didn't I say I'd miss it? Well, I shall be seeing a whole lot more of it before I'm done (Alis, I guess you were right to be shocked at my lack of rewriting. Next time I'll listen to you!).

The biggest problem is that I am lazy. I'm bad at getting down to writing at the best of times, and this is going to be hard. But at least she didn't tell me to bin it.

I'm writing this while waiting for her to phone for a chat. Wish me luck!

Tuesday 7 September 2010

New year's resolutions revisited

An odd subject for September, but I thought I'd have a look at the resolutions I posted in January, and see how I've been doing. The news is not good.

1. Write every day - no (unless I include this kind of thing).
2. Write to death row prisoner every fortnight - yes (almost).
3. Do one horrible job a week (clear out drawers; that kind of thing) - no. I just couldn't face any of them. Though I did wash all my jumpers today Ready For The Winter. I've never done that before. Must be an end of WIP thing.
4. Stop wasting time on the internet - no.
5. Cut down on alcohol. Hmmm
6. Keep a notebook to jot down ideas - no. Never even bought the notebook.

I'm rather disappointed, actually.

Monday 6 September 2010

Bad writing

While awaiting the (first) verdict on the exWIP, I have been wasting rather a lot of time, and I came across this, the winner of he Bulwer-Lytton (?) prize for bad writing. It it is by Molly Ringle, and describes a kiss. Here is a tantalising exerpt:

"...a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Now, what I want to know is (a) how did that get past an(y) editor (Will most certainy wouldn't have put up with it)? and (b) if that kind of writing is publishable, how come some of our own worthy literary works have fallen by the wayside? I feel quite insulted. I will never be a great writer, but I hope I would be hard put to it to write such tosh (ok, I may sound a tad bitter, but the argument still stands).

Saturday 28 August 2010

No holiday this year

So here's the scenario. John, just diagnosed with DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and I are being given The Talk. The doctor in question gives a lot of these talks, and is determined that we shouldn't miss a single word. We are shown a figure with blue lines for the veins, and red for the arteries (try to remember that. Blue for veins, red for arteries), and he begins to describe what's happened, in mind-numbing detail. I mention that I'm a nurse, and I know about DVTs, but that's brushed aside. We have to listen. To all of it. He is, he tells us, the expert, and no-one for miles around knows as much about DVTs as he does (GPs, apparently, know nothing at all). We say what about our holiday (which should start tomorrow)? He ploughs on. We must visit the hospital for tests on Monday, says he. But our holiday? Without treatment, John will be dead in seven weeks, says he (in the couse of the interview, he tells us this three times). John begins to lose his temper. The doctor announces that he, too, is becoming angry, and is taking ten minutes out to calm down. I lecture John on the necessity of keeping his cool, because (a) it's polite, and (b) we never know when we might need this doctor again (perish the thought).

The doctor returns, John apologises very nicely (as I have instructed him to), and we proceed. We are told again that we need to come back for tests on Monday (our holiday is brushed aside, once again, as is the fact the Monday is a bank holiday). We are shown horrific pictures of the worst case scenario (a man with what looks like a large, supurating black balloon on his chest; I'm still not sure what that was supposed to be). Our holiday? we ask. Again. That's ok, says he. We can go on our hoilday. What, flying? Certainly. But what about the tests on Monday? Ah. That's ok, because we can find a doctor and a hospital and get them all done when we're there (he hasn't asked where we are going; it could be Brighton, or Australia). We will be in Corsica, we explain. Miles from any hospital.

At last he hears us. No We can't go on our holiday (I thought not), but we must still come back on Monday for tests because otherwise John will be dead in seven weeks blah blah blah....

I cannot fault the doctor's patience, and I'm sure his knowledge is second to none But by the end of an hour I feel like going out and beating my brains to a pulp against the concrete in the car park (whose machines we have been steadily feeding with coins during the course of our ordeal). It is bad enough having to cancel our holiday, but this quite unnecessary lecture is the final straw. (As is the pile of lovely new books sitting waiting to go on holiday with us.)

Well, at least we can sit at home and read...

Tuesday 24 August 2010


The WIP is no longer a WIP (or nearly no longer) - it's a FWIP (or will be when I've finished editing it, but as I tend to edit as I go along, there isn't a huge amount to do). This is a serously scary time, as I love the journey (the writing), but the arrival is full of potential potholes. Firstly, of course, what will Agent think of it? This really matters a lot. And if she approves, will she find it a good home? A bidding war (dream on)? Even a two-figure bidding war would be nice, just so I could boast about it. (Actually, the French had a little bidding war over Birds and Bees, but a French bidding war isn't quite the same).

And I realised too late that not only have I done animal funerals again (as mentioned in a previous post), but human ones, too. What is it with me and funerals? Certainly I seem to have been to quite a few, including my first husband's (that was such a nightmarish day I don't know why I'm even mentioning it), and in another life I quite fancy the idea of being an undertaker (sorry. Funeral Director). But otherwise I wouldn't say I was over-preoccupied with death.

So. Very soon, The Wait will begin. Aaaaaaaagh!

Sunday 22 August 2010

Posh new website

I have a very nice new website courtesy of Danny (nephew-in-law, if there is such a thing), colour scheme devised by Lotte (niece). The original was designed by one of my sons in a great hurry, and I was extremely grateful for it, but I think this is cleaner and generally more professional-looking (sorry, Barney!). It seems to have stolen some of the photos from my blog, but someone is coming to help restore them. How I envy those of you who can do these things yourselves...

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Delaying tactics

I have been doing a lot of blogging recently, and there is a very good reason for this. I am avoiding the WIP.

I have reached the end. Nearly. And I am terrified that the ending (and the whole book, come to that)isn't going to come up to scratch. The more I think about it, the more worried I become, so I sign in and blog, and that is writing and feels like work (although of course it's not), and it takes my mind off the novel. I've written nearly 92,000 words (I was aiming for 90,000-95,000), which is a considerable investment of work and thought and, yes, love. Because like most (all?) of us, I love writing. But supposing it's no good? Supposing it joins the Failed Novel in obsurity? Will I be able to face this with fortitude, or will I just crumple and give up?

The other worry is, once it's finished, what shall I DO? Of course, there's plenty to do, but as all writing addicts know, if you haven't got something on the go, life loses much of its pleasure (and I, for one, become very difficult to live with). I'm not one of those writers who can start a new book straight away, although I'd love to be able to, so it's going to leave a big gap in my life.

Of course, there's still a lot of editing to do, but the fact remains; most of the writing is done. And I'm really, really not looking forward to it all being over.

Sunday 15 August 2010


Just to get away from grandchildren (I feel I've been overdoing it a bit), I thought I'd write about paint. Paint colours, to be exact, and their names. They are, after all, words.

I've always been interested in the names paint companies such as Dulux give to their colours. Pretty, whimsical names; names that often have little to do with the colour in question ("dawn"? "nightshade"?). But I wonder how important the names actually are? For instance, would someone be more likely to buy a green named "leaf", even though it wasn't nearly as nice a colour as (for example)the one labelled "dung"? Would "primrose" always out-sell "scrambled egg", even though scrambled egg might go better in the bedroom? A colour chart featuring names such as "blood" and "gloom" and "puddle" could catch on. It would make a change, anyway...

Don't drop me!

I'm sorry - I shall be very boring about this baby, but we've all been waiting for him for a long time. And since I'm being bombarded with photos, it's only fair to share them, isn't it?

Saturday 14 August 2010


I love talking to my grandchildren. I love the wacky questions and the weird conversations. I've just had two small grandsons to stay (aged 8 and 6), and we had some lovely chats, from why you can't bury a horse in your garden, to the following:

Freddy: Granny, what's the furthes away you've ever been?
Me: Africa.
Freddy: where in Africa?
Me: Zambia.
Freddy: why didn't you go to Chad?

Why indeed. I have no idea why I found this so entertaining. It could be that I've barely heard of Chad, or simply the inconsequential nature of the question. Or the fact that it's almost impossible to answer. Why didn't I go to Chad? Perhaps I should put that right while I've still got the energy.

Meanwhile the lavatory jokes rumbled on ("I've just done a poo in the shape of a woman!"). Why are these so endlessly entertaining for the under-somethings (not to mention one or two over-somethings)?

Friday 6 August 2010

Something to celebrate

One of my sons and his wife have had an appalling two years. A miscarriage at 12 weeks was followed by stillborn twins at 21 weeks. But at last there is good news. Lucas was born yesterday - all 9lbs 9ozs of him - and we're all celebrating. We've just got back from seeing him, and he's absolutely gorgeous!

Sunday 25 July 2010

Birds and Bees goes cute

This has suddenly appeared on Amazon. I'm not at all sure why, since I've already received copies of the French version, which was quite different. But I suppose it's rather sweet, in a Dr. Spock-ish sort of way. But it costs over £16 so I certainly won't be buying it.

However, I do wonder where it came from...?

Friday 23 July 2010

On re-reading old friends

I wonder whether I'm alone in finding that some books which I used to love no longer hold the same attraction? This can be very disappointing; a bit like going off a lover you thought you'd be with for life. My worst disappointment was The Forsyte Saga. In my early twenties, I absolutely adored this book, which runs into several volumes, and which I took everywhere with me until I'd finished it (them). But on trying it again a few years ago on holiday, I couldn't even get through the first chapter. What on earth had I seen in it which was no longer there? I will never know.

But some novels - reassuringly - elicit the same response from me as they ever did. I re-read Emma recently (for the umpteenth time, it has to be said), and still love it, and Sense and Sensibility was just as silly as I'd thought it was when I read it in my teens. And favourite children's books still hold their magic: The Secret Garden, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, Little Women. It seems that it's the books I read in my teens and early adulthood that seem different. Or maybe it's just that I am...

Wednesday 21 July 2010


This link was sent to us by a friend, and it really is worth the 20-odd minutes it takes to watch/listen to it, especially for those of us who write or do anything else that's creative, and for those who are parents. Do take the time to look at it if you can (it's also very entertaining).

Sunday 18 July 2010

How to write a best-seller

He is no. 1 in Amazon sales, he's being serialised in The Times and interviewed and reviewed just about everywhere, and his book signings are attended not just by punters but by photographers (serious ones, with those expensive cameras with long snouts) and reporters with fuzzy micrphones.

Are we all jealous? Of course we're not (well, we're not, are we?). But how has he done it? Well, without reading the book, but having heard about it and seen extracts, it seems that the recipe for success goes thus: firstly, you get a job in high political office, then you get sacked, then you return, get sacked again, return and are made a lord. Then (and here's the really clever bit) you publish your memoirs just when your old colleagues have lost power, slagging them off and reporting their private conversations, and hey presto! You have a best seller.

Now, why didn't I think of that?

Tuesday 13 July 2010

New word

I've recently discovered a lovely new word: gluckschmerz. It's the opposite of schadenfraude and means, literally, pain at (another's) luck. It's what we might feel when the man next door wins the lottery.

One of the nice things about the MNW blog is that it lacks either schadenfreude or gluckschmerz. What a lovely bunch we are!

Saturday 10 July 2010

The art of survival

In today's Times, there's a delightful article entitled 'a beginner's guide to survival'. It tells you how to build a loo (dig a hole etc etc, and then 'if you happen to have a small loo seat' you can use that. Well, who goes anywhere without money, keys and a small loo seat?) To make clean drinking water you strain dirty water through a sock and then boil it (the water, not the sock). To create a shower but ensure it's not too cold, you carry a bin liner quarter-filled with water around on your back all day, then string it up from a tree, attach a tube, stand underneath, and bingo. Don't you just love it?

All this put me in mind of Barney, one of my sons, when young. His favoured reading at the time was 'The SAS Survival Handbook'. It had all kinds of useful tips on things like what to do when your car starts careering towards a cliiff edge (roll into a ball and hurl yourself out), and things you can find to eat when out in the wild. We came home one evening to find him, handbook in hand, feeding toadstools to our eighty-something baby-sitter to see if they really were edible. The baby-sitter is now fit and in her ninetieis, but I reckon we had a lucky escape.

Then there was Toby, eldest son, who when aged about 7, carried around with him a 'survival kit' in a tiny tin. It contained a bent pin and cotton (for fishing) a match and various other indispensable items. He would never have known how to use them. This is the (now) man who tried to fit a cat flap. The cat gained entry right enough, but came into the house wearing the cat flap.

What was it with my children and this preoccupation with survival? Was it something we did?

Tuesday 6 July 2010


Some people walk, some think in the bath or shower, I'm sure others climb mountains or sail boats. This is where I go for inspiration. The wide skies and downs of Wiltshire are so beautiful that it's impossible not to feel calm and creative up there on a lovely day. Wiltshire is an unsung county; few people realise how beautiful it is.

I took this yesterday from the back of the horse (who was having a quick snack - we have a grass shortage thanks to the drought).

Monday 5 July 2010


Years ago, we were in a very expensive (for us) restaurant, and heard from a neighbouring table the fluting (and very posh) tones of a woman telling her companion: "that's where we sent Bunter for the quails' eggs for our party". We have always treasured this, and wondered whether Bunter managed to complete his mission, and whether he was invited to participate when the time came.

I was reminded of this this afternon in Sainsburys, overhearing two men in conversation. One said to the other: "she was probably pretty when he first started seeing her, but now she's on the turn". A particularly revolting expression, I thought, and not one that anyone would think of applying to a man...

Saturday 3 July 2010


Anniversaries are funny things. Most people celebrate wedding anniversaries as a matter of course, but there are other, more difficult ones, and I never realised thier significance until my first husband died.

That first anniversary was sheer hell; it was like being dragged through the whole experience all over again, but this time, knowing what was going to happen. But why? It was just another day. The children had to be got ready for school (it was in fact the birthday of one of them); things had to go on as normal. And yet there was a this-time-last-year thing running like a thick black thread through the whle day. It got easier as the years went by, and in fact the birthday helped, becuase my son needed his birthday to be celebrated, and we needed to celebrate it. But it was - and is - always there.

Tomorrow would have been our fortieth wedding anniversary, so I'm doing the this-time-forty-year-ago thing. I ought to be used to it; forty years is a long time ago. And yet it's going to be difficult. I suggested a party anyway, but the reactions were mixed, and my daughter promptly burst into tears. Not such a good idea, then. But I shall think of that day, and the flower arrangement that fell down at the last moment, and wearing the wrong shoes to the registry office (our real wedding - the nice one - took place later on, with the right shoes, in a Cambridge college chapel, which wasn't registered for weddings), and the fish and chips we had on the boat on our way over to France.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Nudity and publicity

Musing on the subject of publicity, I thought it might be interesting to have a MNWers' calendar. You know - photos of us all, one per month, naked except for a book or an iPad or whatever. To be sold in bookshops, naturally. We might even invite someone like Hilary Mantel to make a guest appearance as, say, Miss August, with her Booker Prize trophy (is there one?) covering...something.

So - if you were to take part, what item would you use to preserve your modesty? And which line (or two) from one of your novels would you choose as the quote of the month?

Saturday 26 June 2010

Recurring themes

Has anyone noticed recurring themes in their writing? I don't mean plots, but themes, phrases, subplots. Because I have just noticed a rather alarming one in my novels: animal funerals.

How could I not have noticed that in all three of my books (the two puboished, and the WIP) there is an animal funeral? But there it is. As I buried my third animal yesterday, I realised that I had done it again. and this is probably not a good thing.

I've no idea where these anmal funerals come from. I'm not a great animal lover; I'm not especially preoccupied with funerals of any sort. I suppose it could come from years of pet funerals, courtesy of the tendency of my children's small furry friends to meet premature deaths (as often as not, courtesy of the cat). I suppose these were quite moving occasions. I remember the funeral of Wilfred, a hamster who unwisely went walkabout (and met the cat), and was buried with this touching little note (miss-spellings the owner's own): "dear Wilfred. I love you and I miss you very much. I hop you have a nis time in heven". And there was another funeral, where my eldest son goose-stepped down the garden, carrying the tiny corpes in a shoe box on his shoulder. I'm not sure he was taking this entirely seriously, but the bereaved owner didn't notice.

And then there was the time I buried the cat.

It was February, the ground was rock hard, and I could only dig a shallow grave. To add to my difficulties, rigor mortis had set in. Of course, I should have waited for it to pass off, but I was in a hurry. So there I was, with this very stiiff cat, its limbs sticking out in all directions. trying to fit her into her grave. Every time I had three limbs buried, the fourth would still be sticking out. Poor Marigold. She had led a relatively blameless (and very long) life, if you forget about all those murders, but her funeral was not a dignified one.

So maybe that' s where this all comes from. But now what do I do? do I get rid of the third funeral? Does it matter?

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Of presents and charity

I love giving presents, and I love receiving them, but present-giving isn't what it was.

Take, for instance, this practice of giving to charity instead of giving a present. I'm all for giving to charity - I give to charity, of course I do - but when a friend gave me a water buffalo for an African village as a birthday present, I was seriously annoyed. I never got to meet the water buffalo; I don't even know what a water buffalo is (a buffalo that swims, presumably). I might, if consulted, have chosen a goat, or a pig, or a camel. But no. It was the water buffalo. I've no idea how this animal is, whether its recipients were more pleased with it than I was, even whether it has a name. Add to that the fact that my friend* presumably felt all warm and fuzzy, because she considered that she had given me a present, and she'd also given the Africans a water buffalo. This is cheating. If you want to give a present, give a present. If you want to give to charity, then do that. But don't try to combine the two, because it just doesn't work.

I was reminded of this because at my one of my grandchildren's schools there is a growing custom for the invitation to have this little addendum: "Michael (Josh/Paul/whoever) doesn't want you to bring him a present this year. Instead he would like you to give a donation to a leper colony (or whatever)". Like hell, he would. Poor little kid. The parents are trading their son's happiness for the warm fuzzy feeling.

* She's not a friend any more, but not because of the water buffalo.

Wednesday 16 June 2010


I'm escaping from the world cup again (South Africa 0 Uruguay 1 at this stage). This is a photo of my granddaughters dressed as Victorian tramps/orphans/whatever. I know, I know. Terribly boring, but it was this, the footie or the WIP, and I've reached a plateau with the WIP (exhaustion after all that sex).

Sunday 13 June 2010

Poohsticks - the advanced version

Another diversion from the world cup - an advanced version of an old game (you watch your stick for its entire journey through the slats of the bridge) as played by grandsons William, Freddy and George on a lovely picnic yesterday.

Thursday 10 June 2010

World cup - is everyone really interested?

The little flags are fluttering from cars, Wayne Rooney has already been very rude to someone, silly shirts and hats are selling like hot cakes (does anyone ever buy, never mind eat, hot cakes?). It's World Cup time.

I always assumed that this was for football fans; that the rest of us simply put up with it, or turn to another channel. Not so, apparently. My eldest son, who hasn't kicked (or looked at) a football since he was made to at school, who is totally unathletic, and whose interests are so esoteric as to leave me permanently baffled, is furious because he's missing the first World Cup match. I was amazed, and said so. "But everyone watches the world cup," he said. "Not me," I told him. "Don't tell me you won't be watching!" said he, shocked. But I won't. I don't want to, I'm not interested, I DON'T CARE.

In a vaguely patriotic way, I'd quite like England to win (although I'm told they/we haven't a chance), but otherwise I shall find other things to do. I'm always mildy entertained when we're knocked out, and all the little flags and silly shirts suddenly disappear, but otherwise I shall ignore it.

Does everyone really enjoy the World Cup? Please tell me I'm not alone (and where I can buy a Not the World Cup tee shirt).

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Truth v reality

Tim Stretton has posted on his blog Acquired Taste on the subject of reality, and it got me thinking. It seems that for some of us at least, the boundary between truth and reality is fragile, if not occasionally non-existent. We have all heard of people who duff up actors who play nasty characters on TV soaps, but I was amazed to hear on the radio the other day that thousands - yes, thousands - of people write every year to 'Juliet' in Verona to ask for advice with their love lives. A team of voluteers apparently deals with these requests (I'm not sure quite how), and the letters keep on coming.

If people confuse truth with fiction to this extent, how on earth do they conduct their lives without being in a continuous state of unbearable stress? For anyone watching Coronation Street this week (I know, I know. My son has just ticked me off. It's all utter rubbish, but I love it), and taking it seriously, the only solution must surely be to throw him/herself off the nearest bridge.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Monday 31 May 2010

Vegetable babies

Nouvelle cuisine. Don't you just love it? Tiny decorative portions served on a 'bed' of something-or-other, garnished with a pretty little sprig or two and and sitting beside a miniature brightly-coloured lake (or 'jus' to those in the know).

But what really irritates me is the 'baby vegetables'. Since when have very small vegetables been babies? My dictionary definition of a baby is 'newborn or very young child or animal'. Not a vegetable. So what's this all about? Is it anthropomorphism gone mad? Is calling them babies supposed to make tiny little vegetables more attractive? Our local supermarket sells 'babyleaf salad.' No. It's not baby leaf. It's just immature, small or whatever. A lettuce is NOT A BABY!

I had 'baby vegetables' at a posh lunch last week; carrots thinner than matchsticks, tiny little leeks like blades of grass, and a minute green thing which looked like a weed that used to grow on our lawn. It tasted nice, but what a lot of work. What a lot of FUSS.

Give me grown-up vegetables any time.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Interlude in a newsagent's

A small vignette of human life in a newsagent's yesterday. A woman trips and falls, everyone rallies to help, husband, who is waiting outside for her, is summoned. Having made sure she's alive (she's still lying on the floor at this stage, looking shocked and in some pain), he enquires whether she manged to buy the paper she came in for.

That's all.

Monday 10 May 2010

Trailing clouds of glory

My small granddaughter is currently very upset because she is being teased for being the only child in her class who still believes in Father Christmas, and it set me thinking about the fine line in the lives of children between truth and fiction.

Obviously Father Christmas is a myth that we (or some of us) feed to our children; it comes from adults. But the imaginary world of children is far more complex. Most children seem to be born with fertile imaginations ("you be Robin. I'll be Batman"), just as they are born with the ability to pick up languages, and these gifts seem to be lost as time goes by. The small child often lives and plays within his imagination; but how real to him are the cars and dolls he plays with? How much does he really believe in them? One of my sons, in common with many children, had imginary friends; lots of them. They peopled his life, and woe betide anyone who ignored them. If you closed the door before they had time to get in behind him, he was distressed. If you sat on them, he was outraged. Yet how real were they to him? How much genuine substance did they have in his mind, and how far were they from (my) perceived reality? Occasionally he actually was the imaginary friend. I remember the following exchange when he was about three:
Me: 'Come on, Joe. It's time for your rest.'
Joe: I'm not Joe. I'm Bob.' (Bob was one of his favourites).
Me: 'Bob, it's time for your rest.'
Joe (indignant): 'I'm not sleeping Joe's bed!'
(I might add that the grown-up Joe appears to have little imagination, and probably couldn't write a story to save his life).

Which brings me to my point. I really believe that we all are born with imaginations and the ability to tell stories. Good, realistic stories. Some of us continue, while others fall by the wayside. It seems such a terrible shame. At what point is the childish imagination stamped out, and how does it happen? And why?

Friday 7 May 2010

Double Dutch

'De bloemetjes en de bijtjes' is een algemeen bekend begrip. Grote kans dat dat waar het voor staat de reden is geweest dat je op deze review geklikt hebt. De titel van de tweede roman van Frances Garrood spreekt in ieder geval tot de verbeelding en hoewel het niet het expliciete boek is dat je zou verwachten, draait het in De bloemetjes, de bijtjes & andere geheimen wel degelijk om de voortplantingsdrift van de mens.


Tuesday 4 May 2010

Birthday week photo

Photographed this morning by my daughter in her local Tesco's - Yay!

Thursday 29 April 2010

Two pieces of advice

1. Most writers probably already know this, but I didn't, so I thought I'd pass it on:

Never write in any tense other than the one you're going to be happy with. I've just had to change thousands of words from the present tense into the past tense(s) . I'd forgotten how many irregular verbs there are in English, and in any case, it's an extremely tedious task.

2. For a sprained ankle or swollen foot, nothing beats one of those cold wine cuffs. Not even frozen peas. I won't bore anyone with the horrible accident which necessitated the use of said cuff, but I thought I'd pass on the tip.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Taking sides

Listening to a very dull serial on the radio, I realised that I was taking the side of the protagonist, although I didn't particularly like him. Which led me to think about the whole businesss of taking sides. It seems we are - or at least, I am - programmed to take sides. Whether it's a novel or a film, a goody or a baddy, I look for someone to side with. And if the book/film has no-one I can sympathise with, then I lose interest (unless the plot itself is exceptionally exciting). I hated The Talented Mr. Ripley for this reason; I didn't like the hero (I'm sure I wasn't supposed to) and I didn't really like anyone else in the novel, either. Similarly, in the Booker prizewinning A Line of Beauty, I thoroughly disliked the main character, and hence the book. It may have been well-written, but there was no-one it in with whom I could identify. I still don't know why I bothered to finish it.

And I suppose much of life is about taking sides, from gangs in the school playground - even friendly ones - to belonging to clubs, supporting football teams or whatever. Wars are about taking sides. The bloody election is about taking sides.

The election... And I'm still floating. Because I don't like any of the party leaders, so I'm not really on their side (but I shall vote when the time comes, because voting gives me licence to grumble).

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Paperback baby

Nothing quite beats the thrill of receiving the first of a new edition (or better, the very first edition) of one's own book. The paperbacks of Birds and Bees arrived today - ten of them (Macmillan are becoming very generous) - and they do look great. I carried one around with me when I went out, just in case I bumped into anyone who might be interested ( it was a wheeling- your-new-baby-out-in-the-pram-for-the-first-time thing), but I chickened out. So I'm telling my blog, instead.

Monday 19 April 2010

The writing process

I have just found this excellent description of how it feels to start writing a book:

"A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book." (The Ghost, by Robert Harris.)

This rang so many bells with me, and more or less sums up the huge dificulty I at least have in getting going. Because once the book has been started, it can never really come up to that perfect dream in the writer's head.

Or can it?

Saturday 10 April 2010

Pedant's revolt

Where language is concerned, we (husband John and I) are pedants. This is not always a good thing, because we are often too easily irritated. After all, language changes and develops, and that's the way it's always been. But there are things that really get to us, and last night we heard one that made us both leap from our chairs to yell at the screen. It was this:

"Everything comes to he who waits," said the speaker, a supposedly educated character in the film The Young Victoria.

Now, that might be forgiven in everyday speech. Just. But this film was (presumably) scripted and edited; the lines were learnt and rehearsed; and then the actor was filmed speaking them. How on earth did such a blunder manage to slip through the net?