Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Friends

No, I haven't turned religious - this is the granite cross used as a navigational marker near Dodman Point - a walk for the new book last week.

When you live on your own you get used to not sharing a bed with someone. I have to say this is one of the things I really miss. Also eating alone. But it does teach you to be resilient. Ultimately you have only yourself to rely on.

I was a bit apprehensive, as I said, before going to Roscoff, as I didn’t know how we’d all get on, but in fact it worked so well and it was lovely to have people to eat with. To go to sleep in a house with other people.

We shared some very personal things which always brings you closer. I learned that I have some true friends, and I am so grateful for that.

Last week I had some unexpected news that really shocked and hurt me - particularly as it meant the holiday I’d been looking forward to whistled out of the window quicker than you could say ‘knife’, with no mention of an alternative date. (Why knife, I wonder, or am I mixing metaphors?)

A week later, the sense of being let down still sits in my gut in an undigested lump, too sore to think about, let alone prod. A cancer of my feelings, raw and bleeding, that I can’t go near.

A dear friend once said to me that friends are people who you would forgive, no matter what they do. I was discussing this with Anne, on a walk this morning and she said, “I think the opposite is true. A friend shouldn't need forgiving. If a friend lets you down, that is the ultimate betrayal.”

I agree. To me, friends are those who will always support you, who never let you down. They are people you know you can trust.

And while I might have had a kick in the guts, I’m so fortunate to have several dear souls who I am honoured to call friends. This, of course, being one of them...

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Roscoff

Well, having been a little apprehensive about our Roscoff trip, we had such a brilliant time! The night ferry over went very well, we landed in Roscoff and from then on the sun shone - some of the time - but most importantly we had no rain which, given the weather here, was a real bonus.

We walked miles every day exploring and found our way around the town, had some lovely food, good wine, lovely coffee, and brought some goodies back too. We have cemented firm friendships and all our French improved remarkably.

The only slight drawback was the ferry crossing on the way home which was - rough. We were all ill apart from our lovely professeur who took charge and looked after us all. And at least the rough crossing was on the way home so we could recover here rather than it ruining the holiday.

So here's to our next trip, next year! Here is one of the sculptures on the sculpture trail around Roscoff....

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Une petite vacance


When you look at this picture you might wonder why I want to leave Cornwall but as we all know, it's really important to recharge our batteries from time to time. I had hoped to do a recce for my novel, the end of which is set in France, but on receiving an unenthusiastic response from the friend I was hoping to go with, I tackled my French group. Well, I say 'group', but there are three of us in the intermediate group and that's including our lovely friend and teacher.

They said YES! And while we aren't going down to Pays de la Loire, which is the area I want to recce, we are going to Roscoff courtesy of Brittany Ferries leaving on Thursday - overnight crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff, arriving at 8am Friday morning. We have two and a half days there before returning on Sunday afternoon.

We booked it about a month ago, on receipt of an email offering 25% off ferry charges, and there we sat, crouched round my computer with a glass of wine each. The excitement was quite something - while I haven't had a holiday this year, you'd think that none of us had ever been abroad before!

Just to compound matters, it looks like the forecast is rain. And rain. And possibly high winds (ferry could be interesting) which wasn't something we'd considered, having had a long spell of dryish weather. But we have three days in Roscoff to explore, speak French and have a huge amount of fun.

I am now kitted out with a waterproof coat (all mine are from car boot sales and leak like sieves) and another friend has lent me waterproof boots. I'm also taking my waterproof trousers so I might not look tres chic, but at least I will be dry.

Moll is going to a dear friend in Penryn for a little holiday of her own, and I'm sure our reunion on Sunday night will be worth recording.

Eh bien - vive la France, et vive les vacances!


Friday, 20 September 2019

Heart and Barrie Cook

Barrie Cook's amazing paintings don't come across in photographs nearly as well as they do in the flesh, but I was fortunate enough to meet this man on Wednesday. I am featuring him in my new book, WALKS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CORNISH ARTISTS, and a kinder, lovelier man I have yet to meet.

And his talent - he has been spray painting (mostly) since the 1960s and is still working now, at the age of 90. Despite a track of ill health - including a lot of major surgery - he has retained his sense of humour, has no sense of ego and is refreshingly down to earth and unpretentious about the Art World.

Jac, Daisy, Mollie Dog and I did a walk round Ruan Minor (where his studio is), Cadgwith and Poltesco last weekend, in glorious weather, as a tribute to this wonderful artist - and Cornwall was looking at her very best.

On a more sombre note, poor Moll had the long awaited heart scans - ECG, ultrasound etc - on Tuesday - and I don't know who was more upset, me or her. As I hadn't expected them to do them on the spot, neither of us were prepared (probably just as well) but I felt terrible leaving her there, and apparently she made her displeasure known. (I pity those vets sometimes.)

Thankfully the lovely heart specialist rang later to say the results are OK - her heart isn't enlarged to any degree though that could be the meds she's on, and to keep her active and on the meds. I have to monitor her breathing carefully - I've got a chart to do this with - and to notify them if any changes at once. I won't go into the details of what could happen if and when her condition disintegrates, but basically she could well die the same way as darling Pip died, and I couldn't bear that. So they will do everything they can to prevent that.

So you can imagine how I felt. And it's one of those times being on your own is really hard. I kept busy at work, had meeting, then had a swim, and finally was able to pick her up. But the poor girl was so woozy and wouldn't let me pick her up, was obviously really disorientated and frightened I would imagine. I got her home and she couldn't settle - staggered from lying under the bed to behind the sofa and swore at me, growling ferociously. My god was I in her bad books.

I'm glad to say that by evening she was obviously feeling better as she had some food and cuddled up to me in bed and all was forgiven. But boy did I miss Pip then.
I am happy to report that she is back to her normal bolshie self, and hope she will continue to be for a long while...

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Next book

This is me (and Moll of course) doing our morning yoga...

It's not quite, though a better place to practise yoga I can't imagine. Having a lull work wise while I wait for my novel to come back from being read through, and a lull in work (worrying but not much I can do about it), I decided that, having signed a contract for Book Six, I'd better get on with it. So last week Heather and Moll and I set off for Coverack to do first walk for my new book, centred round Terence Coventry's sculpture park.

I first came across it about 8 years ago - literally stumbled across it, being set in meadows a mile or so from Coverack. And what a find - the most superb sculptures made by an ex-farmer whose first exhibition in London was at the age of 71. I interviewed him several times and was struck by how vital, focused and driven he was - and utterly his own man, creating work for himself, not driven by the dictates of some London art gallery.

His sculptures are big, some huge, and all inspired by animals, birds and the landscape that surrounded him. Here are a few.
That one's called "J'Accuse"....


It was a real joy and privilege to meet Terence, who sadly died a few years ago. I only hope they preserve his park as a place where one and all can enjoy his wonderful work.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Launch

Well the launch went so well, I couldn't have asked for a better night!

Despite being shattered before the event (for some reason I always am - nervous exhaustion probably), I walked down just before 6pm on a balmy evening to find a host of friends already there, including my dear friend Ali and the rest of the Ukulele Orchestra of Constantine, setting up. They played their fantastic music in the background while the art gallery filled up with lots of friends who bought books, chatted and drank wine. In short, it was great.


The lovely thing about having a party in a gallery is that it lends a different dimension - people can wander off and look at the exhibits and, as the Director said, the atmosphere changes with every exhibition. It also introduces the gallery to those who might not otherwise go. So it's a win win situation.

Afterwards a few of us went on to have a bite to eat - despite being exhausted, this is a really important time for me, I find, otherwise I go home feeling really flat. So it's great to have the company of good friends around me. And it made me realise what fantastic friends I have.

One of whom, Carol Rea, took the pictures, which are brilliant - though her work always is. If ever you want a good photographer in Cornwall let me know and I'll pass her details on.

So here's a big thank you to everyone who came, bought books, and generally made my evening so very special.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Walks in the Footsteps of Rosamunde Pilcher

Well, next Monday is the launch of this, my fifth book, and it all feels rather distant. I almost feel as if I never wrote it, though of course looking through it I remember each walk in detail - who I went with, what time of year it was, what we saw, ate, talked about. Each walk is like a person, with different characteristics, different flavours and values.

The weather of course plays a huge part - a walk in February at Pencarrow was cold but with that clear wintry sun that warmed our bones once we were out of the wind. A fascinating house we saw near St Mabyn that was part derelict, part refurbished - one half each. Very odd.

Whereas walking at Lanydrock in June in sweltering heat, we were glad to plunge into the woods out of the sun (difficult to imagine, as I write this with rain bucketing down in typical August fashion). We found a shaded place by the river to eat our lunch and where Moll could have a drink of fresh water from the River Fowey.

One in May over on the Lizard - the day Harry and Meghan married. We thought we'd be the only ones not watching the Royal Wedding, but there were many of us sampling the strong spring sunshine. Egg and tomato sandwiches from Mullion. Delicious in their simplicity!

A murky winter day where we discovered Restormel Manor, and the Duchy of Cornwall Nurseries. Prince Charles calls in unannounced, several times a year, apparently, to keep everyone on their toes. We had a cup of coffee at the cafe there and were astounded by the elaborate cakes on offer for High Tea. And the prices....

My walks books are more like diaries in a way - they record so much more than just the route that we walked, which is of course a huge part of it. But the places, the people, the friends and the food, the weather and the sensations of the day are all included. If you read any of my books, I just hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
This, by the way, is the view along Port Navas Creek from Trenarth Bridge.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Beach art

This recent spell of not feeling well has meant frequent trips to the nearest dog friendly beach and as many swims as possible. And I give many thanks for the fact that I am able to do so, without driving very far (driving any distance has been banned until my head stops spinning and the exhaustion has passed).

So Porth Saxon has been my place to go just about every afternoon. Normally Moll and I would be sick of doing the same walk all the time but there's something soothing, when not feeling well, about knowing where we can go for a swim (or sit on the beach). Knowing that we don't have to walk too far, and that it won't be too busy when we get there.

The other bonus about not being myself is that I have had licence to read. And, oh, have I read! Most notably The Red Notebook and The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris. All very different books but ones that have made their mark on me - in a pleasurable way!

Yesterday I went down there and walked round to the next cove with my friend Anne. I was really tired and feeling weepy but we'd stopped for a coffee on the way and had a biscuit so glucose levels were rectified, and when we got down, this was what we saw. Beach art.

I love the way these sculptures had been so carefully crafted. You see them all over Cornwall, but not often ones so large, or several all together. I thought of all the work and patience and talent that had gone into making them, and if you could see a hug, that was what it felt like. A visual hug.

We sat on the beach, Anne and I, in a stiff south westerly breeze, and deliberated whether to swim or not. The water was very choppy and we were both wearing contact lenses, so it wasn't advisable. Plus it was cloudy, so no sun to warm us up when we came out.

But we sat and admired the stone sculptures, and I thought once again how incredibly lucky I am to live in such a place where even feeling a bit grim is easier.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

In the wars


Poor Moll has had a few weeks - actually, a month, on and off, of an upset tummy (I'm being polite here) which, as any pet owner will appreciate, is incredibly worrying. To say nothing of incredibly expensive - three visits to the vet last week, including sending samples off to the lab - results awaited tomorrow.

However, this morning she seems a lot better, and while I am wary, I am also so relieved. I feel like jumping with joy - although the poor girl is on reduced walks and the most boring bland food you could imagine. You can imagine her expression - it looks like eating rice krispies and I'm sure tastes about the same. However, along with a good friend of mine who is a homeopath, the two remedies seem to be doing the trick so I am crossing fingers that it lasts.

The other thing was last week I suddenly became really dizzy, during singing. I thought Oh it'll pass, but it has got worse so I went to the GP who said it's labrynthitis. It's an infection of the inner ear but basically I have to rest a lot, drink plenty of water and do weird exercises which include lying down to the left and right, 15 times a day. No, it's not a weird joke but supposed to re-set the crystals in the inner ear.

But it's a pain. I've had to cancel most things this week, haven't been able to work longer than about half an hour before having to lie down. One minute I feel OK, the next it's as if someone's just pulled the plug on my energy and I have to go to bed. I dimly remember having this years ago and it did take several weeks to pass. So let's hope this passes sooner than that. It's very frustrating!

So here's from the two incapacitated ones, wishing you all a good week. This was taken several years ago now but Moll doesn't look a day older, dear of her.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

One of Those Days

One of the things I really love to do is explore Cornwall. Hence my books. And the joy of writing walks books is that it does take you to places you'd never normally go.

But although I'm not writing one this year, we have explored some lovely places nearer to home recently. The area round Porkellis is a favourite, and Carnmenellis, and over the past week, when it's been really hot, we've shortened the walks and aimed for dog friendly beaches. There are some really beautiful ones near here, and on a sweltering day, it's been bliss to walk down through the woods and jump into crystal clear water to cool off. Moll benefits hugely - she finds the heat a bit much - unsurprising given her fur coat - and she has taken to swimming in small circles, running out onto the beach and dashing back in again to rescue one of us.

Today I just haven't been able to concentrate, which is most unlike me. Lots of runaway thoughts, and I can't sit still either, have a yearning to be out and exploring. So having done the work I needed to do, as it's the afternoon, and it's hot and sticky, Moll and I are heading out to cool off.

And thank our lucky stars that we can do so, in such a beautiful part of the world.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Penzance Lit Fest and exploring


Our radio interviews went well, I'm glad to say, though Moll is quite the prima donna now - as you can see. She has taken over as my accountant. I never was good with adding machines....

One of the joys of living in Cornwall is going out to explore. Recently we've had some amazing walks and this was also covered in a talk I did with Steph Haxton and Matt Watts last Sat at the Penzance Lit Fest. Matt works for the Penwith Landscape Partnership, which is essentially a group of people and organisations who got together to "agree a vision for the Penwith landscape". Essentially it's all about preserving old sites, footpaths etc and using volunteers to do so as well as understanding the countryside through literature, arts and language.

It was great to be part of the Penzance Lit Fest, though I would have liked to have spent more time there. Sadly, my dog sitters were away and it was too long to leave Moll on her own, but next year, I hope to be able to actually attend other people's talks!

Matt's talk tied in very much with what we've discovered recently - that the public footpaths need to be used in order for them to survive Over the past few weeks we've done several walks that look exciting on the map, but having followed them, very often they come to nothing, or are too overgrown, or have just disappeared, which can be very frustrating.



However, even though the paths might not have been what we expected, we've had some lovely walks, and swims. It's been too hot for Moll till later on, so we've been setting off later and finding a stream or by the sea where we can all jump in and cool off. Walking's a lot easier after that!

We've found some lovely hidden coves, and yesterday, being short on time, scrambled over rocks (I was doubting the wisdom of this, but it was well worth it when we got there!). And we had the beach to ourselves, the water was amazingly clear and we had a brilliant time, nicknaming it Half Moon Beach.

And all this, a ten minute drive from home!

I do love this weather, though it does make it harder to concentrate, I find...

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Radio Fame

This afternoon Moll and I are going to be interviewed for BBC Radio Cornwall - they're doing a section on how much our pets mean to us, and how, as a writer, I am inspired and helped by Moll.

Well, there are so many ways. When she was a tiny pup, Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer - it was a terrifying time and we didn't feel like talking to anyone. But she kept us going. And as a result Pip lost weight, became more interested in life again. When he was later diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, she similarly bought joy into our lives. And so it's gone on, bless her, though now she's slowed down a bit due to heart problems and old age, I am more aware of how special she is.

And talking of media appearances, I am also taking part in the Penzance Lit Fest this Saturday, in the Penlee Coach House with Steph Haxton and Matt Watts. Unfortunately there's been hiccups in the programme so it doesn't look like we're taking part, but we are - so please do come along and listen.

In haste, off to be interviewed! (Interesting to be the interviewee for a change!)

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Confidence

I know I've written a lot about confidence, but it does make such a difference, doesn't it?

For the last few months I've enjoyed a wave of much needed confidence - in part inspired by a) regular, promptly paid research work (the promptly paid bit being a welcome rarity, as all freelancers know) and b) being in the wonderful creative flow of writing a novel again.

Well, once I finished the first draft of the novel, all that creative flow stopped. And it was as if my confidence dried up with it. All of a sudden I was stricken by terrible doubts, most of which amounted to the fact that this will never be published. I've written other novels in the past which haven't been published (though I did get shortlisted for the first three chapters for the last one). But we all know what it's like when the Confidence Gremlins creep in, and have a riot. Party time! They cry, running round, dragging every insecurity out and drenching it in doom till they lie, waterlogged and lifeless, like beached seaweed.

Of course being ill can be another reason for losing confidence, or losing a loved one, be that a four legged one or a two legged one. Reading reviews on Amazon I know has set many a writer off into a chronic wobble. DON'T DO IT!!

So what do we do? Well, I felt terrible for a week or two culminating in last weekend when, not helped by the fact that poor Mr B is feeling wretched, I had convinced myself that everything was DIRE. My energy levels were so low I could hardly get out of bed, let alone walk Moll, and I had lost the desire to write or do anything much except curl up in a ball and stay in bed.

But I felt it would do me a good to get a sense of place for where my novel is set (which had been lacking), so on Sunday afternoon we set off and despite the rain, had a good recce where I took enough photos to give me an idea of the setting. We then had a drink in the Blue Anchor on the way home, which is such a friendly pub, where all the locals look as if they've stepped off the pages of a Dickens novel.

Fingernail by fingernail I am clawing back. I have started editing the novel (first edit, long way to go) but by little steps we can all make enough progress to keep going. Baby steps.....

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

A Frog Blog and Moll losing Sight

To do this in reverse order, I had to take Moll to the vet yesterday and learned that while her heart medication is working, so her heart's working brilliantly again, she can't see much at all now - the vet shone a light into her eyes and couldn't see the back at all as her cataracts are bad now. I was so upset, and stood there with tears dribbling down my cheeks, but the lovely vet reassured me that dogs manage incredibly well without much sight, if any.

It's difficult to think of her not being able to see - and in fact I feel sure that she can see at least peripherally as she can jump into the van perfectly all right, she doesn't fall over and she doesn't bump into things. There are no signs that she can't see - though of course dogs rely so much on their noses, it's difficult to tell.

And for Moll, this isn't a sudden thing - she's presumably been losing her sight for years now as the cataracts have been there for a while. She isn't bothered, and therefore nor should we. And my lovely girl is still bouncing around like a good 'un, bless her.

So much so that yesterday we had another new walk out near Porkellis. The footpath was boggy so we ended up doing mountain goat impressions over a lot of it and then Mr B stopped, suddenly, looked at the ground. It was covered in what he thought were ants. But on second glance, they were millions of tiny wee frogs. Coming to a pond nearby, we noticed the black blogs all round the edges - these were the frogs just hatching (or whatever they do).

It was quite the most wondrous thing to see - millions and millions of these tiny little fellas, jumping around like nobody's business - their first entrance into this world. (Sorry no picture as they were too small and so well camouflaged you couldn't see them in a picture. So here's my amazing hanging basket instead.)

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Plymouth Ballet Trip - Knife crime?


Last weekend I ventured over the border - yes! - to Plymouth for the night to see Matthew Bourne's new ballet of Romeo and Juliet. As ever with MB, expect the unexpected, which not everyone likes. (This is the man who brought us the male Swan Lake, among many other different takes on classic stories.)

So of course R&J was going to be different. Av and I loved it - the sets are always excellent, but this was very stark and black and white which underlined the severity of the unusual setting - a psychiatric unit. The inmates wore white, the jailor (or equivalent) wore black, had tattoos and was very fond of the bottle. The dancing was amazing and the young lovers' passion was wonderful. And the music was all live, played with a 15 piece orchestra in the pit, as opposed to a 40 or 50 piece orchestra - and still sounded amazing.

As for the ending - well, as with most of Shakespeare, don't expect a rose tinted happy ending. In the original, I believe, Juliet takes enough poison to send her to sleep, Romeo finds her, believes she's dead and polishes off the rest of the poison. Juliet awakes, finds him dead and stabs herself.

In MB's version it's slightly different (no spoilers) and when I posted on Facebook, someone said they thought it was a shame about the use of knives, given the current stabbings.

So, what do you think? Would you tamper with the ending of a Shakespeare play and remove the stabbing? Would that really make a difference to the kind of people who tend to go and see ballet anyway? I would be very interested to know...

And lastly, this was seen on the fence near to our B&B. Looks like someone had a really good night out....

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Inspiring Women

Well I had to include Moll, didn't I?

But apart from her, I would list my grandmother, who was amazing, and recently I met Gail Muller, who you will find by the name Appalachian Gail on Facebook. Having endured years of chronic pain - which hasn't stopped her working full time, or pursuing just about every alternative treatment there might be on the planet, she has long been inspired by Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods - about the Appalachian Trail. He didn't finish it and in fact most people don't.

Over the past few years, Gail has been having treatment for her pain which has dropped from 80% to 10% so in just over a week's time, Gail is going to leave to walk the southern part of the Appalachian Trail - over 2,000 miles of it, running through 14 states, and most on her own. This is not for the faint hearted - very tough going: she could see her greeting bears, snakes and flooded rivers. She told me, ""More people have successfully summited Everest than completed it in the direction I'm going. Southbound is harder and has many less people attempting it than northbound. I may be the first Cornish to complete the AT, but I still need to do a little more research to confirm that!"

But she's going, aims to take 5 months, and I really take my hat off to her and wish her all the very best. She also wants to write a book about her experiences when she comes back.

My jaw was dropping when we met, particularly when she said, with a lovely big smile, "So what adventures have you got planned this summer, Sue?"

I said rather feebly, "Oh, you know. Got the launch of my latest book. Walks in the Footsteps of Rosamunde Pilcher."

Not quite the same, is it? Or at least, that's what these llamas thought....

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Last week was a busy mix of things, as ever, though this was taken when having lunch with a friend at Trelissick, and doing the Woodland Walk afterwards - rejoicing in the amazing buttercups!

First of all, Steven from Sigma sent back a few maps he wasn't sure about for the new Rosamunde Pilcher book which I hope to receive the proofs of any day now.... with publication shortly. At least I hope so - the whole point is to get the summer visitors, both English and German.

Secondly, despite the fact that the guy I'm working with is away for a couple of weeks, I've got plenty of research to be getting on with, and it's ongoing which is even better news.

Thirdly, I'm 84,000 words into the novel. This is only the first draft, but means the bones of the work is very nearly there - though I'm not entirely sure how it will all wrap up. I will know when I've finished!

Lastly, I've been worried about Moll recently. She's really slowed down and become very snappy on occasions. But I discovered that Ruth Collet, the amazing vet nurse who held the puppy classes that Moll and I went to, 14 years ago, has now set up on her own as an animal behaviourist. She came round to see Moll and gave me a lot of very useful information about how dogs age and can get frustrated or anxious, and what to do about it. She's going to send videos of some games we can play to help her and keep her mind active, and a report on everything we discussed. So knowing why she reacts as she does makes life a lot easier for us both, I hope. Though Ruth did say to cut her walks down - and go with what she's comfortable with.

After all that, I was so exhausted I slept for a large part of the weekend, and still feel as if I've been drugged. But the most important thing is to make Moll's life as happy as it can be for as long as possible. As my friend Anne said yesterday, "Of course. You're a team."

So here's to Moll. And everyone else who loves her. My team.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Fowey Festival and Little White Alice

First of all, the talk at Fowey Festival was fabulous. We had a great audience - full house, which amazed and delighted us. The whole thing was brilliantly organised, from the sound system, to the stage, lighting, book signing, microphones for Q&A - everything was extremely professional and worked extremely well. And having done a few festivals, it very rarely does go so smoothly! The audience were great, too, and we had several people tracking us down later - and the next day, in my case - saying how much they'd enjoyed it, and how interesting it was. So that was a huge boost to our confidence - as well as selling some books and Waterstones have asked me to do another talk in August.

I was pretty shattered after that and had a very busy week, as well as a fascinating meeting with St Petrocs on the Friday for a project I'm working on with Andrew. So come Friday afternoon I was in dire need of some R&R, so Moll and I set off with Viv and Titch to Carnmenellis where we were to do a review at the beautifully named Little White Alice. Arriving on a drizzly Friday afternoon in May wasn’t perhaps the best start to a weekend, but this once-derelict farm is now a haven of peace and solitude. “Almost spiritual,” said Viv, and that was before she’d had a glass of wine.

We were staying at Uath, one of several eco Arks made of timber, which is rather like a tardis - from the outside it looks like a small wooden chalet but inside was everything we could possibly need. A double bed was built up against the wall with a child’s bed at its foot. Next to that was a small sofa, which doubled as a sofa bed, another chair and a bar type table with high stools for eating. The kitchen area is small but well fitted out with sink and a full size oven with hob. The living room area even has a mini wood burner!

Next door is a snug pod with two single beds which meant that despite being good friends, Viv and I didn’t have to share a bed! All bed linen, towels and materials are very high quality and the beds incredibly comfortable. All the fixtures and fittings are wooden and ecologically sourced, and despite the ark being small, it in no way felt cramped inside.

We spent the evening watching a dvd and sampling the welcome pack provided - Cornish shortbread biscuits and home made brownies that melted in the mouth. For breakfast, we looked forward to sampling a large sourdough loaf, Cornish butter and four freshly laid eggs.

Uath means hawthorn, presumably because of the bushes of that name at the bottom of the neat grassed garden that is enclosed by a secure wooden fence. Outside is a large, sturdy picnic bench and tables with another table and chairs on the verandah which has a glass canopy, giving us the equivalent of another outside room when sunny.


The next day we spent several happy hours exploring the 28 acres consisting of a small holding with alpacas, lambs, ponies, chickens and goats as well as the residential very friendly dogs, all of whom are fed each morning at 9am. Simon and Rosie have planted over 2000 trees, we discovered, walking through the nature reserve, then later we sampled the beautiful little oasis of the Wild Spa where we enjoyed a sauna and hot tub, and you can also book a massage. Tea that night was provided by their own sausages, and we bought local honey as well - both delicious.

Judging by the exuberantly filled Visitors Book, this is popular with families but would also be perfect for anyone wanting a quiet spot - and particularly if you need time and space to paint or write. Carnmenellis is well situated for exploring all parts of Cornwall - in other words, it’s perfect for a get away from it all holiday.

We were very sad to have to leave after two nights but discovered that their off peak tariff is good value so we can’t wait to come back and stay for a week to completely unwind and explore properly.

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

Insecurities

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.