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.