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)