Sunday 27 February 2011

A catalogue of inventions

Today, we received one of those little catalogues full of things you never thought you needed. There are, among other,things, a 'long reach lotion applicator' for applying cream to your back, and bullet-proof nail varnish. Past catalogues of this ilk have included such necessities as a personalised gear stick cover and a bewildering little trolley for wheeling your house plants from one room to another.

Does anyone actually buy these things? Apart from the numerous appliances for removing 'unwanted hair' (these publications are always much exercised over the problem of unwanted hair, so there must be a lot of it about), who in their right mind would contemplate making a purchase? Take the trolley. Presumably if someone is fit enough to convey a plant onto the trolley, it would be a lot easier for them just to carry it. And the nail varnish. If I were unfortunate enough to find myself under fire, my nails are arguably the part of me I would mind about least. Bullet-proof face cream or shampoo, perhaps. But nail varnish?

In little sheds and workshops all over the world there must be mad inventors creating gaps in the market and then trying to fill them. When there are real problems to be solved (like how to prevent duvet covers from swallowing up everything else in the washing machine), I suspect that most of them are wasting their time

Saturday 26 February 2011

Dream sequences

I always think that a dream sequence in a novel is a cop-out. Literary dreams hold up the narrative, are often irrelevant, and are usually rather boring. Take this, for example:

Woman lost in London. She's meant to be at a concert with her husband, but has lost him. She's forgotten where she lives, and has only keys and about two pounds in her pocket. It's dark. She's crying. She meets her neighbour, and asks where she (they) lives. "January," says the neighbour sharply. "But I asked for the address!" "January!" the neighbour repeats.

That's it. End of dream.

Are you bored yet? I am. And it was my dream. Last night. John had a much more interesting one about three men ("who might or might not have been triplets") who were all thriller-writers. That's a bit more like it. But even that would badly interrupt any story, wouldn't it? I think people put dreams into novels to play for time, or to entertain themselves.

(My most interesting dream was many years ago, and I dreamt that I was collecting jockstraps. That's right. Jockstraps. Including a Jamaican wrestler's jockstrap. I dread to think what that said about me.)

Friday 25 February 2011

Sausage quota

We're always being told what to eat, right? Five-a-day, no chips, no fat, no fun. And drink (one glass of wine. Red, of course). Well, now it's two sausages a day. That's what's recommended. No more than two sausages a day (or two rashers of bacon), or "the equivalent". What is the equivalent of two sausages a day? Why two? Why sausages?

The world's going mad.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

The value of feedback

Like all writers, I sometimes receive lovely emails from readers (I've yet to receive an unlovley one, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time). I came home today to find this:

"I'm writing this through very damp eyes, and sniffing. Dead Earnest is a brilliant book. I read your other book first and loved it so much, I had to get Dead Earnest.

That's all I want to say, really, except that I hope the new book comes out really soon."*

She added that she had never contacted a writer before.

Given all that's been happening recently, this kind of email is especially heartening, and I am always very grateful when people take the trouble to make contact. Writing is often like dropping books or stories into a void; one has no idea what happens to them, whether people like them or hate them, or even who reads them. Family and friends are invariably kind, and any criticisms couched in the gentlest of terms, but a message from a stranger is somehow especially welcome.

Years go, when I was a student nurse, I was so taken with the Strangers and Brothers series by C P Snow, that I phoned him up to tell him how much I loved his books. He was very surprised (of course he was. What can I have been thinking of?), but pleased and polite, and asked me what my job was. I've never forgotten that phone call (I doubt whether he did, either!).

* So do I!

Monday 21 February 2011

University Challenge

I just had to tell anyone who's interested (and probably several who are not) that I got 14 - yes FOURTEEN - questions right during tonight's University Challenge. Some people go through life hoovering up facts (I have two small grandsons who do this), and others, like me, manage to bypass nearly all of them. Hence, my general knowledge is beyond hopeless. So I am always amazed at the sheer scope of the knowledge of the contestants, and wonder how it is that such young people can have packed so much knowledge into their heads in such a relativley short time.

John and I compete to see who can get the most questions right (usually he does), but tonight he's out playing bridge (another thing I can't do) so I was on my own, with no-one to impress. I usually get the classical music ones right, but not much else. Tonight, I excelled myself.

Dorothy Parker

In a comment elsewhere, Aliya asked whether Dorothy Parker always told the truth. I've been thinking about this, and have decided that the answer is almost certainly no. Can someone be a great wit, and also entirely truthful? I think it's unlikely. It's a bit like having a sense of humour but always being charitable. Dorothy Parker was very funny, but rarely kind. An example (a book review):

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

But I admire her, and I envy that sharp, quick wit. She managed to say the things that most people only think of days later, when the moment has passed. However, I'm not sure I would have wanted to have her as a friend.

Sunday 20 February 2011

More walkies (Geoffrey again)

Geoffrey is a very slow learner (or his owners are...).


I am not an aficionado (aficionada?) of the fashion pages, but I've noticed a distressing trend. Clothes are no longer referred to as clothes; they are "pieces". This may not be new - perhaps I've only just noticed - but it strikes me as terribly pretentious. I mean, does anyone wash, iron, fold, shop for their "pieces"? Of course they don't. In any case, I'm sure my pieces don't even merit the name. My winter pieces consist invariably of jeans, shirt and sweater (we won't go into underpieces); my summer pieces, ditto, only with tee shirts.

So maybe it has always been thus; perhaps it's just me. Maybe I'm just not a pieces person. But as I type this with frozen fingers (waiting for Himself to finish the Sunday papers and come and do something more interesting, like open a bottle of wine), I can't wait to put away the sweaters and get into my summer pieces (I don't have spring pieces; I've never seen the point).

Thursday 17 February 2011

Birthday party!

Nevets and I share a birthday, and it's tomorrow. So I thought I'd throw a blog party for us both. Nevets wanted grated cheese, but I think we can run to something better than that; a few canapes, some smoked salmon, a few bottles of cyber-champagne. That kind of thing.

Fancy dress, please. Your favourite literary character would be fine. And it would be nice if you could bring a favourite quotation/short poem to read aloud (I'll do it for you if you're too shy).

All welcome!

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Breathless excitment in Ambridge

Camilla (HRH) visted Ambridge today, and it was all terribly exciting. She had tea at Grey Gables, and thought the shortbread was delicious, and she talked to Clarrie. But Linda Snell was sooooooo disappointed because she (Linda) had been in the loo, and missed meeting her (Camilla). But on her (Linda's) way home, the chain came off her (Linda's) bike, so she had to stop. And as she stood there, the royal car passed by and (wait for this) Camilla smiled and waved. Just for Linda!

I shall have to go and lie down.

Lovely house in Devizes, anyone?

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Tuesday 15 February 2011

Enough already

This is the showshoe hare. It changes colour in the winter. It adapts. Well, good for the showshoe hare. I'm very pleased for it. But I don't adapt, and I've had enough of this winter.

The year is divided into four seasons; right? Twelve months divided into four = three months each. Fair enough. But this winter has had its three months - and some -and is now being greedy. The birds are beginning to sing (albeit rather nervously) and one or two green things are poking recklessly out of the soil, but IT IS STILL WINTER. We need sun. We need spring. It's my birthday this week, and my mother (who had been known to embelish the truth, but never mind that) used to tell me how I lay in my little cot beside her in hospital under boughs of prunus blossom that someone had brought in (aaaah!). Well, I certainly won't be lying under boughs of prunus - or any other kind of blossom - this year.

Monday 14 February 2011

Moving house...?

I hate moving house. I hate everything about it. The planning, the upheaval, the throwing things out and cleaning things up, the packing, the saying good-bye - everything. My mother loved it. She said she preferred it to spring cleaning (I don't do that, either, and I don't think she did) and my parents were the only people I've ever come across who actually lost money on every house they bought.

When we last moved, we swore we'd never move again. We've been here eleven years and we love this house. It's a tall terraced Georgian town house (that sounds posh, but it isn't at all) with lots of stairs (it's a 72-stair up-and-down trip if you're at the top of the house and you've got to go and fetch something from the bottom) and no storage space and only a tiny courtyard (I love gardening, but have got very used indeed to not having to mow a lawn).

But it looks as though we may be moving on after all. We miss our children and grandchildren, and want to be a bit closer. I want to be able to go to nativity plays and sports days, and have them for a day as and when I (and they) want. But they all live in commuterland, and can we afford commuterland? Probably not. We're having the house valued tomororow, and fingers crossed that it's worth a lot more than I think it is. Otherwise we'll be moving into something very small indeed.

Now more than ever I need to produce that bestselling novel. And soon.

Saturday 12 February 2011


This evening, my daugher phoned and told me that some child's horrible mother had told Phoebe (her daughter) that there's no such thing as Father Christmas, and I've just recieved this heartbreaking little email:

"today i found out that santas not real. we are crying but i know that he is ot real because nobody apart from 4or3 peolpe belived in santa bye

Since starting this post, I've had a hysterical phone call from Pheoebe, beside herself with distress, and hardly able to speak because she's so upset. Apparently the other two (triplets) are also in tears.

I always had a rule: never discuss either Father Chrsitmas or sex with other people's children. It is NOT YOUR BUSINESS! So now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to avenge a much-loved granddaughter, and rearrange that bloody woman's face.

* Not the greatest speller in the world, but who cares?

An anniversary

Today is the nineteenth aniversary of my first husband's death.

You never forget anniversaries. I didn't realise this until it happened to me, but as the years roll round and we come yet again to February 12th, everything comes back .

I remember so clearly the phone call (he was in hospital at the time), the mad rush to get someone to take our two younger children to school, the fact that the car wouldn't start (our cars never started in the winter), the crazy dash to the hospital. And arriving too late.

There are little things, too. The flowers - so many arriving almost at once, that we had to borow vases. Someone phoning to ask if there was anything they could bring (more tissues, please), the crowds of people sho suddenly seemd to appear. And worst of all, telling the children.

Two were at school, and they were brought home by a teacher so that I could tell them myself. But two were in London, and I had to find a kind friend to track down my daughter, so that she didn't have to be told by the hospital authorities (she was a student nurse). I am still appalled that she cried all the way home on the train, and no-one - no-one at all - stopped to ask her if they could help. I remember a neighbour who had come round saying "she wants me to light a fire, but she doesn't really need one, does she?" (why on earth did I want a fire lit?), and the birthday cake my small son made for me (my birthday was the day before the funeral) but which nobody ate.

The funeral was huge. He had been a headmaster, and the entire school turned out for it, but we also had lots of friends and family, too. We didn't want black cars, so my brother-in-law drove us. The car had heated seats; I'd never come across those before. I remember the lovely funeral director saying "I've got children at the school. I only sent them there because of Dr. Garrood". And there was the tiny bunch of snowdrops - our special flowers - that I dropped onto his coffin; and the mud and the wind and the cold of that day, like a funeral in a film.

And then the long, long journey afterwards; finding out that with grief, there are no short cuts. The evening when I drove out into the country and screamed and screamed and screamed. That helped. The journey the children had to take; a different one for each, because they were different people at very different stages of their lives. One of my sons checking on me at night, to make sure I was still alive. And all those anniversaries.

We are all right now. We have survived (we had no choice, really), but we have all been affected. I have married John, who has been wonderful, and the children are all well and happy. But for all of us, the scar is there; not as painful, but there. And sometimes it flares up, reminding us of the huge gap he has left. And one small granddaughter still weeps for the grandfather she never knew.

Friday 11 February 2011

Who are you?

Blogs are funny things. We write them for all kinds of reasons (I know I'm in overdrive at the moment because I'm waiting for direction from my agent as to what to write next). My blog started off as part of a (rather unsuccessful) publcity drive, but now I enjoy it for its own sake, especially as I don't keep a diary.

What fascinates me is the visitors. Yesterday, I had about 60 hits, but where from? Who are these (very welcome) visitors? They seem to come from all over the world - Latvia, for example - but very few leave comments, so I've no idea who any of them are. It's a bit like finding out that 60 people have come to your door (or maybe even one person 60 times?) while you were out. The wonderful Nevets is a regular vistor, and always comments, and others comment as and when they want to. But there must be a vast majority who never comment at all, and I'd love to know who they (you?) are...?

Thursday 10 February 2011


This is my daughter's dog, Geoffrey, going for a "walk". He's being taken past the house of his favourite dog walker, and wants to call in, but sadly, there isn't time.


Does everyone go overboard for Valentine's day? The cards appear as soon as Christmas is over, all the staff of the Rover's Return on Coronation Street want the night off, and today, the Times is giving recipes for twee little Valentine suppers. Do people really want to eat heart-shaped pies and (wait for this) "heart-shaped cinnamon toasts with rhubarb and red orange compote and honey yoghurt"? Does anyone have the time to fiddle about constructing these romantic little treats?

But I do have a soft (if nostalgic) spot for Valentine's day, for my first (and sadly, late) husband, whom I barely knew at the time, wooed me most successfully by posting me a Valentine arrangement of fresh snowdrops on damp moss in a tiny tin.

Who could say no? I didn't.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Knowing what's wanted

I think that all of us who write struggle with one big question: what do readers want? And it's a really difficult one. No-one knew that readers wanted Harry Potter until Bloomsbury finally picked it up, and no-one could have predicted that Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves could have become a runaway bestseller. Truss's book had a small initial print run, but it just went on selling. A wonderful and deserving book, but it was genre-less, and no-one could have expected so many readers to want to read a book about punctuation. So her follow-up about modern manners - Talk to the Hand - should have sold well too, shouldn't it? But it wasn't nearly so successful. Then there was Stephen Hawkin's A Brief History of Time; another bestseller (although apparently most people never managed to get through it; it was far too complicated. I knew better than to try). And the lovely No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series; hardly a conventional read, but very successful indeed.

So maybe we don't know what readers want quite simply because they don't know, either; that is, until they find it. And then they realise that that's exactly what they wanted all along. As a reader, I can understand that. But as a writer, it's of no help at all!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Russian babies

I'm overdoing the blogging today, but there was a very entertaining piece on the news this evening about the Russians, who apparently have taken to swinging their newborn babies around by one leg in order to increase their brain power (or something)*. Apparently, it was on YouTube, but it's been banned. Because of the safety issues, you understand. Well, I say that if the Russians want to swing their babies around (and those babies don't mind too much), why not? And aren't they lucky not to have Big Brother spoiling all the fun?

I wonder whether they got the idea from Michael Jackson?

*There's a special name for this practice - of course - but I've forgotten what it is. Maybe someone should have swung me around by my leg when I was a baby. To late now, sadly.

"Write what you know"...?

Of course, writing what you know can mean two things: writing based on pesonal experience, and writing what you know about, which presumably can include research (eg for historical fiction), and second-hand experience. Sci-fi and fantasy are different again; more imagination, perhaps, but still some experience (of feelings, emotions, behaviour etc).

I think I tend to write from personal experience. Because I've worked closely with people most of my life - nursing, couselling - I am fascinated by relationships, and I suppose they lie at the root of all my novels (that also explains why I'm hopeless at writing about crime. I've been there, and failed). But looking at my writing, I seem to have a preoccupation with death - there are funerals* in all my books - and this has happened almost unconsciously. Some years ago, my parents, in-laws and husband all died within ten years, and I'm sure now that all those deaths - all those funerals, all that grief, and all coming in such rapid succession - have infiltrated my writing, although I never set out to write about the experience, except in my first book (and I suppose first novels tend to be the most personal, because the first is the one that was been brewing for all those years when one was saying "I think I'll write a novel some day..."). For my next novel, maybe I should deliberately exclude all funerals, just to see if I can...

*Animal funerals, to, but I've blogged about those before!

Monday 7 February 2011

What's in a name - pen names

Actually, his name is Lucas, he doesn't need a pen name (yet) , and he has nothing whatever to do with this post, except that proud dad has just sent it to me, and it's a lovely pic for a grey Monday morning.

I have had a (vague) discussion with some MNWers about pen names, and would welcome more thoughts. For instance, why do successful writers use two names (Ruth Rendell, aka Barbara Vine, springs to mind)? Why do people choose particular names? Do you use a pen name, and why? When my first book was published, Macmillan wanted me to use my married name, but I preferred Garrood, not least because my children are Garroods (so is Lucas - so there is a connection!), and it's unusual, so easy to Google (if anyone wants to). But as I've already mentioned, I do hanker after my great-grandmother's name, not least because it's beautiful (I'm no longer saying what it is as Len has already threatened to pinch it!). Does anyone else have any thoughts?

Saturday 5 February 2011

The pleasure of a real book

There's been qutie a lot of discussion on blogs and elsewhere about e-readers versus real books. I can see both sides of the argument (if there still is one). E-readers are handy, convenient, clear, light to carry. What's not to like? John found his invaluable when he broke his arm - it was easily managed with his good arm, and page-turning wasn't a problem. He will certainly take it on holiday.

But today, I was reminded yet again of the sheer pleasure of a real book. A new book* arrived this morning (courtesy of a Christmas Amazon token), and as I flicked through it, glanced at the reviews and the biograhy of the writer, felt the lovely clean, tight newness of a hiterto unopened paperback, smelled that new-book smell, admired the rather nice cover illustration, I knew that, for me, there's no comparison. I may yet acquire a Kindle, but it won't be the same. It will be like, say, drinking from a plain china cup rather than a beautiful porcelain one. The drink will be the same, but the experience just won't be.

*The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, as recommended by Alis!

Thursday 3 February 2011

Beware of elderly people...

I hate the word "elderly" almost as much as I hate being, well, elderly (I still can't quite believe it. It's one of those things that happen to other people, like marrying Prince Charles or being blown off Ben Nevis). But the icing on the cake has to be this road sign ("Elderly People Crossing", in case you've just landed from planet Zog).

A writer to The Times suggested that it could just as well depict "beware of pick-pockets", and he certainly had a point. But there has to be a better way of portraying older people, hasn't there? I mean, not only is it deeply insulting; it's soooooo sad. And they could at least be standing up straight.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

I am an airhead

I have come to the sad conclusion that I am an airhead.

I have just been glancing through the books on John's side of the bed, and they include: Why Us? by James le Fanu ("how science discovers the mystery of ourselves"); The New Machiavelli by Jonathan Powell ("how to wield power in the modern world"); State of Emergency by Dominic Sandbrook ("the way we were: Britain 1970-1974"). There's also The Tommy Cooper Joke Book (probably a Christmas present) and Andrea Levy's The Long Song (which I want him to read because I loved it).

On my side, there's The Summerhouse Trilogy (Alice thomas Elis); The Beginning of Spring (Penelope Fitzgerald); Why We Ride ("women writers on the horses in their lives") ; Writing Magazine; and a book and CD on improving my French, which I've had for a year and have hardly looked at.

Oh dear.