Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Fowey Festival - and public speaking

Well, this was me back in 2016 - though it feels like yesterday, giving a talk at The Great Estate Festival at Scorrier. Tomorrow I'm giving a talk with Steph Haxton, friend and historical novelist, on Writing Cornwall's Past. At least, that's the title of it, but really we're going to have a chat about how we write.

I'm lucky in that I don't mind giving talks - in fact, I quite enjoy it, but then I always did enjoy amateur dramatics when I left school. Other people cower and look frankly horrified at the idea of speaking in public, but I usually think, well I'm talking about my books, not me - and there is a big distinction. It also helps a lot if you've got someone to talk with. I've done many a talk in the past using photos that I take for my walks books, and there are loads of instances when my laptop hasn't worked. Or the host's laptop hasn't worked. The power goes off. You name it - anything can and has gone wrong.

So really, when there are just two of you - and we have had several meetings and know roughly what we're going to say - there is less to go wrong. There's always the awful feeling that no one may turn up, but there's not much we can do about that. I always go expecting no one and then if anyone does turn up, it's always a pleasant surprise.

And you can never tell with audiences. I went to give a talk at a day centre in Hayle once, and the average age was 86. But they were a fantastic audience, really interested and interesting, and bought loads of books for their children/grandchildren/nephews/nieces etc, so it was a brilliant afternoon. We were then taken down to the antique centre in Hayle by this lovely lady who had had surgery for a brain tumour, and was very forgetful. She kept introducing me to all the different stallholders saying, "Oh, Jim, this is -" and turning back to me, would ask, "Who are you?"

We've often gone back there since, so it just goes to show, you can never judge an audience by their appearance.

So think of me and Steph tomorrow - 11am at the Fowey Festival in the Town Hall. Please come if you can, and if not, encourage others to come along. For there is little more dispiriting than giving a talk to no one! And, of course, we want to sell our books...

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

White van etiquette

Despite the weather forecast groaning that this was the coldest May bank holiday - it wasn't in Cornwall, she says smugly. Usually when the rest of the country has a heatwave, we don't, but while there was a bit of wind, we had glorious sunshine and a few good spring walks. I was also lucky enough to sing at a 100th birthday party/climate change protest on Sunday on Gylly beach so for all those watching Spotlight on Sunday night - yes, I was there!

We bought a van - oh, it must have been about 12 or 13 years ago now. The idea was to go camping in it and also use it for Pip's tools, as he was doing maintenance and odd jobs for a friend of ours who had a business letting houses to students. Oh, and to collect wood for our woodturner.

Well, we did go camping around three or four times but as it's not a designated camper van, when we wanted to go to bed we had to remove everything from the back, put it all in the front (which meant piling things up all over the place) and in the morning reversing the process which, as Pip wasn't feeling too good by then, was a pain. So that was the end of the camping. But it remained good for everything else and, as I have a very long back, I find it much more comfortable for driving.

When Pip died, my dear Mum said (hopefully), "So you'll want to get a car then?" to which I replied, "Oh no, I like the van." Which indeed I do. Plus, of course, it was and is a link with Pip.

Someone else, on first meeting me, said, "Oh, you could get a nippy mini or something more suited to you as a journalist." I said again, "Oh no," thinking, well you don't have much idea of me at all... Those of you who do know me, realise that image is not something I am interested in. I remember delivering something to Cornwall Today, in the days when I did a lot of work for them. Editor Kirstie Newton looked out at Pip, in the driver's seat, and said, "It's very.... industrial" which I took as a compliment. After all, it was once a South West Water van.

After Pip died I was still very nervous about driving but there was no one to drive me to interviews or whatever, so basically I had to do it. Which was terrifying, but I managed and also in a van I feel safer as I'm higher up, with better visibility. So I have the van to thank for keeping me safe.

Everyone always moans about White Van Man, but as a White Van Woman, I have become aware of White Van Etiquette. We give way to each other at cross roads and roundabouts. We smile at each other (especially when they realise it's a woman driving a white van) and acknowledge each other, so altogether I feel much happier as well as safer driving my white van.

So next time you see a white van, check if it has a blue stripe down one side (only). If it does, and it's an old van it could well be me. In which case I will smile and wave, probably let you go first. I just hope my dear van will continue to look after me for a few more years yet.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019


Well, we all have them, don't we? And when writing or reading books, it's what makes our characters interesting. People with no flaws would be incredibly boring, and why should we care about them, or how they overcome their personal demons? Or live with them?

Like most of us, I've had my fair share of ups and downs, and have come to terms with my wobbles. But there's something about being with family that catapulted me - and I suspect a lot of us - back to the insecurities of my anorexic and post anorexic years. That is one place I don't like to be reminded of.

The last time we had a family gathering in Devon was - we were trying to work out - 20 years ago, we think. Pip and I were about to head off to get married and, because we wanted a quiet wedding, we incorporated this with Mum's 70th birthday party. At least, I was 41 so that would fit. Apart from being very happy at the prospect of marrying the man I'd lived with for the last 3 years, and being able to see my family before doing so, it was really lovely to have some moral support.

Let me explain. Despite being the oldest, I've always been the unconventional one. The one who never quite fitted in (like many writers and 'creative' types.) My older brother married young, then they went on to have children. Then my youngest brother got married, and he too had children. And all the while, each time, I was thinking, well this should be me. And it wasn't. Admittedly I did have years of anorexia to work through, then redundancy and things, but even so, every time we got together as a family I became more and more aware that I was very alone, with no partner or family of my own.

So you can perhaps understand how lovely it was to have Pip there as moral support - someone to give me a quick hug, exchange a wink, share a bed with, exchange a post mortem with - you know the kind of thing. We might not have had children but we had each other.

This time - Mum's 90th birthday - was a bittersweet occasion. She looks amazing, her brain is still rocket fuelled sharp and I know she loved having us all there. But boy did I wish for someone there to give me a hug, to lie in the dark discussing the events of the day. Moll does her best, of course, but it's not quite the same. Hell, it's not at all the same.

I know lots of us suffer from wobblies with our families but it's a lot less painful when you have someone to share it all with. So as I lay there in the dark, Moll snuggled up against me, I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful, next time we have a family get together, to go with someone who would giggle and wink at me. Stop me from getting too melancholy about it. Make me feel loved.

So that's what I shall put into my novel.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Making Time

Last weekend, Cornwall, like everywhere else in the UK, was drenched in the most wonderful, out of season sunshine. And it was fantastic. I have been bemoaning the lack of any holidays this year but I really felt as if I was on holiday, and just soaked up the heat which was much needed. We also did some amazing exploring - three or four new walks around the Constantine area, which were all magical. It was lovely to get away from the crowds, go off piste and explore inland Cornwall, so the weekend found us walking over fields on untrodden paths, following the OS map with more or less success. By which I mean we got lost but not often...

But I digress. What I wanted to talk about was making time. We all have busy lives, but by the end of last year I felt jaded. Journalism was proving increasingly difficult, and I felt something was lacking in my life. I've written five walks books and needed a breather, to do something different. But what? And then I was talking to another journalist friend, Glynis Kozma, who said, "I really miss writing fiction." And that was it. OF COURSE!! But not having written any fiction for ten years, I felt rusty. And my confidence was on the floor. So she suggested doing a course.

I did a lot of research and finally found a novel writing course with the London School of Journalism which provides 14 assignments which can be done over up to 18 months, and the tutors are selected according to what type of novel you want to write. Having done an LSJ course 10 years ago (though on journalism) I knew them to be good value and so I told my publishers I wanted a year off writing walks books, and signed up with the LSJ Novel course.

And it has been - and still is - brilliant. The only people that know anything in detail about it are my tutor and Mr B, with whom I have had endless plotting sessions over breakfast in Wethers. (I should qualify, I haven't had any brekkies with my publishers - they're in Wales.) I don't want to talk much about it for it's too precious, too vulnerable. A flickering candle flame that I need to nurture.

Another digression - at the beginning of this year, I had two offers of work - one for an architect in Falmouth, and one for several commissions from an editor I know well. I was so excited, thinking, what a brilliant start to the year. And then they both fell through. To Say I was deeply disappointed is putting it mildly. But I buried myself in beginning this course, thanking god I had the distraction.

And then about a month later I showed someone the flyer I had written advertising my professional services and he said, "I need a researcher," and it has gone from there. Really interesting work that fits in with everything else I do and I'm really enjoying. And he pays promptly which, as most self employed people know, is a massive bonus.

I started off saying that I am writing this book purely for me. Which of course I am. But as it goes on (65,000 words so far), I am getting increasingly keen on not only finishing it and doing the endless editing necessary, but sending it out into the big wide world. I am in love again, with that magical art of weaving stories from a tangled brain onto paper - or in my case, a computer screen. So far...

And in a way, that's all I need. Knowing how much hard work is involved in promoting and selling books, I am daunted by the idea of actually getting this published. It would be terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. But books expose you, leave you incredibly vulnerable for people to criticise your creations - and our characters do become part of us. However, if I were to get an agent, and a publisher - well, you can imagine how I'd feel...

So sometimes we have to make space in our lives for something to happen. It might not happen when we want it to, but sometimes it does. And very often not when we expect it. Which makes it all the more wonderful.

But for the moment I am continuing to love the journey of putting words down, creating people that live and breathe and react and fall in love and are cruel and do wicked things. And of course I am most in love with Boris. The dog.

And last week, as we were going round Rosudgeon car boot sale, I suddenly thought - I have an idea for the next book. And I had such a thrill, it lit up my day.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Tales of the Unexpected

On my birthday, over a month ago now, I received an email via my website, from a friend who I haven't seen for over 20 years. We'd lost touch - I'd moved, then got married, widowed, etc - and life goes on. Last time I saw her was to stay with her and her American husband near NASA - he was one of the chief rocket scientists for NASA and I was there to see a rocket launch which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far.

She's a highly intelligent pilot but has also worked as a nurse, bus driver and many other roles and we were very close for a long while. So I do hope we get to meet up though she is now training in Belgium, though her British base seems to be near Birmingham airport. Not that that's exactly local to Falmouth, but it would be brilliant to meet up and see what on earth has happened in the interim!

I've had more comments from friends saying they were unable to leave comments - please do try again as I love hearing from you. In haste as had a long and exhausting day and going off to last French class for a few weeks as Corinne is going on holiday. Actually just about everyone is going on holiday except me - though we are planning on doing some exploring this Easter weekend as the forecast is good....

And Sandra, if you read this, I hope we catch up soon!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019


Anyone got any ideas where this tower is?

I've had problems with technology recently. The shower in the top flat is being fixed, and dear Joe has fixed the hole in their kitchen ceiling, but the next day my phone, kindly donated by a friend, died. As in - just wouldn't work. Two days followed of running round Falmouth phone shops and then Andrew, who I'm doing some research for, kindly gave me an old one of his to tide me over. It took several hours of running back to the phone shop in Falmouth where a lovely fellow called Jon got the phone started, and then I took over, sweating over the phone and googling How To.... to get it going, but it is, after a fashion. By which I mean I can make calls and texts but anything else requires upgrading of the phone to some new technology - at which point I wore, very loudly, and gave up.

Then I tried to watch a DVD the other night and it got stuck, with the result that I can't get it out. Mr B has spent several hours trying to get the thing out, but the DVD channel doesn't now work at all so he's just loaded it into the van to take to the TV repair shop in Penryn.

As that's sort of three things, I'm just hoping that nothing else goes wrong too soon.... But now the sun is out, I've spent the morning working on my novel, and I'm just over half way. And car boot season has started, so hopefully we'll get rid of some stuff and make some money at the same time.

And in the spirit of spring, we decided to take advantage of the Scilly Locals Special, and have a day break over there - in May, when it's a tad warmer....

Happy springtime everyone!

Thursday, 4 April 2019

I'm Back!

I had, I must say, sort of stopped thinking about my blog. As I wasn't getting any comments on it, I presumed that no one read it. Until recently, when several people have said, "Why aren't you writing your blog? I really miss it!"

My reply was that doing Facebook and Twitter posts for book purposes take up time, but actually that's a pretty feeble excuse. And if people out there like to read this, then that's great. Let me know! So - to Av, Rose, Col, John and Paul, and anyone else who does like to read this, I will make an attempt to write this once a week. Again.

But how to catch up over the past eight months? Well, the break up mended, after a lot of tears and heartache. By which I mean we got back together again, but those of you who read this will know that by now. Anyway, just for the record.... Then my dear tenant who'd been in the top flat for 16 years had to move into a home. He hadn't actually lived there for months as he was unwell but it took many months to sort the flat out, clear it and redecorate. A young couple finally moved in but they got a job in Bristol so there was another gap, then a lovely couple have moved in last week. And to welcome them, the immersion heater then the shower broke. Then last night we had a huge hailstorm and Mel and Joe's kitchen ceiling came down. Don't ask.

So there are times when being a landlady is a real pain. Oh, and my phone stopped working this morning so I'm trying to sort that out, and everything else, by email rather than ringing them.

But those hiccups aside, I have some good things going on in my life. Firstly a Belgian friend has started giving French lessons. We meet in the back room of the Seven Stars in Falmouth - a quiet little place with no music, where we aren't disturbed - and she is fantastic! It's so popular she gives two lessons at the moment, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and we have such fun and learn a huge amount. She is very patient, mind you, gently corrects our mistakes - of which there are plenty - and takes notes all the way through, then types them up afterwards, so we have a full account of each lesson. I am amazed and delighted by how much I - and everyone else - enjoy it. I did a bit of French 20 years ago so it is slowly coming back, but most of the others didn't learn French at school, so you can imagine the steps learning curve. And it's fantastic to use our minds to learn as well.

Also, I have some research work which I am really enjoying and is ongoing for at least the next month which is also good for the grey cells as well as the bank balance. And lastly, I am writing another novel. And I'm half way through. No, I'm not going to say what it's about but it is set in Cornwall and I am so loving writing fiction again.

So that's me for the moment. How about you lot? Dear Andy has finished my new website so please take a look and let me know what you think - www.suekittow.com

A plus tard!