Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Talk and Growing Old



My talk at the weekend was a fringe event as part of the Falmouth Book Festival. It went very well, courtesy of the utterly brilliant BBC's Daphne Skinnard who is a very clever interviewer, and my friends Sam and Dave Pentin who run the Terrace Gallery in Penryn - a small but excellent place for small events. It was quite a novel experience (pardon the pun) being interviewed by someone rather than the opposite way round, and it's always interesting seeing what other people make of you.

To start with she said, "you have had a rich and varied life" - which is usually a polite way of saying that I never stuck at any one job. By my advanced years, however, this turns me into someone Interesting. Worth interviewing and writing about. Funny that - it's only when you're virtually unemployable that this becomes an asset rather than a liability.

But I digress. As I haven't written another walks book for a while and therefore haven't had a book launch for a few years (covid notwithstanding), I'd almost forgotten that I've written five books. It was heartwarming to see them all sitting there on the table next to me. My little family. And to hear that people were actually impressed by them was very good for my confidence.

All in all we had a lot of laughs, shed some tears (me) and I sold some books and had interesting talks with the audience afterwards. Which was fantastic and made it all worth doing. Who knows, maybe this time next year I will be talking about my soon to be published novel - that would be even better.

The downer to life at the mment is that my poor Mum isn't well. She's had a run of things recently - she fell and broke her shoulder, though that's finally healed. But she has been plagued by small infections which have combined to make her feel rotten poor thing, so I am shooting up there on Monday - we're only allowed to visit for 30 minutes - with a friend who I hope will be able to drive as I find driving incredibly tiring. If not she can talk to me to keep me awake.

It's been a few months since I've seen Mum so it will be lovely to see her and give her a hug if we're allowed. I'm going up again to see her mid November and then in December, so she will be fed up of seeing me by then, but at least will make up for any absences. She's so brave and stalwart; a real credit - so it's horrible seeing her struggle. Growing old really isn't for sissies.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

A Talk! For the first time in nearly two years.....

As you can see, this coming Saturday I am giving a talk as part of the fringe events of the new Falmouth Festival. I am going to be talking to BBC Radio Cornwall's Daphne Skinnard, about how I came to write walks and how that led to my walks books and from then on to my novels.

I don't mind speaking in public, though it's always easier when it's in front of strangers rather than people you know. So far, I have some loyal friends coming to give me moral support and that's definitely more nerve racking! Especially as the last talk I gave was early March last year, so I'm a bit out of practice.

Anyway, I am looking forward to it - though I will be very nervous on Saturday! - and hope that this first Falmouth Book Festival goes on to become a regular event.

Talking of which, I had a fabulous Zoom meeting with my editor yesterday. It's always good to put a face to a name and as I'd sent her two pages of notes on her three page critique, we were well prepared. (As ex-journalists, we have a fair amount in common). So after our brainstorming, I now know how to go about doing what I've got to do, she gave me loads of useful information and said to keep her posted and she's there if I need her - well, you couldn't ask for more, could you? So that was immensely cheering.

And many thanks to all the comments about our dogs. I don't think they actively dislike each other - I think it's more that because of lockdown, Lainy isn't used to sharing her home space with another dog. I realised that they hadn't had a spat for six weeks, so it can't all be bad. I know I am more conscientious than most but then Lainy is my responsibility....

Hoping that everone is enjoying this fabulous weather. This was my view walking Lainy this morning.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Getting to Know You and Cheering News



First my good news. The book I've just written is from a dog's point of view - Moll's to be precise. It almost wrote itself, because Moll was such a strong character, and I laughed and cried as I wrote it. Or she did.

But because it's very different from other books on the market, I wasn't sure if it was marketable, and if so, which agents/publishers to approach, so I asked a freelance editor to have a look at it and give me advice on how to go forward.

Her report landed in my inbox on Monday morning and she really likes it. She said some amazing things about it - every time I read it, I think - is she really talking about MY book? HOORAY!!! And I can't wait to start working on it with her next week.

This news cheered me up, because of a canine scrap at the end of last week. Which is similar to those of you with children/grandchildren who don't get on.

We don't like everyone we meet, and just because we like our friends, doesn't mean that we necessarily like THEIR friends. The same can be true of dogs.

Moll pretty much ignored other dogs - she was very self contained and in her own world, which meant there would be the odd snap but otherwise no conflict. Although we didn't often have other dogs in our flat because it's small, and this can be the difference. Dogs, like people, can walk together happily enough, but put them in a house for a while and if one dog sniffs another bowl, for instance, this can develop into an incident.

This happened last week with my fella's dog, and I felt terrible. I love his dog, who is the polar opposite of Lainy in temperament and doesn't fight back - just as well. Lainy can be unpredictable, and she's very fast, but looking back on it, I can see the triggers. I was appalled that Lainy might have hurt his dog - I was responsible, after all. But as M said, "We just need to plan it better, make sure it doesn't escalate" - for planning is the secret to avoiding any future disagreements.

I did everything wrong over the weekend - I worried desperately, felt really guilty, was terrified it would happen again. Though I have done a lot of planning for our next meeting, and am trying to take his advice, not worry, and make sure that we don't get future scraps. It's more upsetting for us than them, I think.

So the motto of this episode is Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring! Keep calm, watch our dogs carefully, distract them when necessary, and in my case, carry on writing....


Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Tiptoe through the Tulips

Yesterday I picked up my poor wounded friend from the hairdresser in the pouring rain and took her home where we had some lunch and for some reason the song Tiptoe Through the Tulips came up. "I remember my dad singing that as he watered the garden after work," I said.

"Wasn't that by Tiny Tim?" asked Jac, and, quick as a flash, found Tiny Tim's rendition on You Tube on her phone.

I'd forgotten what an incredibly high pitched voice he had - and as you can see Lainy was fascinated. She came over to explore the phone, nudging it to try and get at this extraordinary sound. If it's high to us, it must be even higher for dogs, as their hearing's so superior.

It reminded me how powerful memories are. In an instant I am transported back to my eight year old bed, where it's still light outside, and I'm wishing I didn't have to go to bed so early when there's so much fun I could be having outside. Hearing the clip clop of dad's shoes as he whistled his way around the garden, tending to his beloved vegetables and flowers.

Smell is of course another very evocative scent, and I can remember crawling into a wardrobe in the room where my maternal grandmother always slept. It's a very Narnia ish memory as I wrapped myself in the coat she'd left behind and it smelt of her cigarettes, her scent and her very personal Granny B smell. I can remember the comfort I got from feeling her around me, and I have a picture of her on my desk now.

The senses are so powerful - what are your most evocative memories?

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Accidents and The Importance of Friends

Last week a dear friend of mine had a bad fall from her bike and broke her shoulder in four places. I hadn’t realised what a bad state the NHS was in, particularly here in Cornwall, until she told me what she went through:-

Lying for two hours in the road because no ambulances were available because her injury wasn’t life threatening. Having been taken to A&E by the police, requiring gas and air to get her sitting upright, she then had 5 hours in A&E. She was sent home with an inadequate sling, inadequate pain relief and told that the x ray revealed she’d broken her shoulder in four places. She’d probably need surgery but that couldn’t happen for two weeks. The following day, Treliske cancelled all except life saving surgery. She was still in agony due to insufficient pain relief.

A week later, and several trips to the fracture clinic (a 2.5 hour wait yesterday), it’s possible that surgery may not be needed. Fingers crossed. But she will need an OT assessment for help at home and for physio.

She is an incredibly brave, tough woman, but for anyone, let alone someone who has worked for the NHS for 40 years, to be treated like this is just appalling.

However - and I found this when Pip was very ill - in the darkest of times, we find nuggets of pure gold. One friend of mine, who has only met her once, has offered any taxi service to hospital or picking up anything, as she is always driving her sons to and from school in Truro. This, one of the busiest, kindest women I know. Proving the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”. Or as my fella said, “If you want something done, ask a busy woman”…..

The flipside is that as her current work has been exhausting and badly paid (and I’ve been nudging her gently to give it up for a long while), this has forced the issue. There is other, more rewarding, better paid work, for when she is fit again.

So to me this really does go to show that while we are currently governed by inept politicians who don’t give a toss about our health service, or the social care system, what is really important is that we look after our friends. I will fight for those I love, and fight hard.

So watch out!

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Award and memories

Having had a particularly difficult day yesterday, I was delighted to check my emails late afternoon and find I am a finalist for the Page Turner Awards for my novel, HUNGER. Mind you, my euphoria lessened when I realised there are quite a lot of finalists, and the next step is to whittle us down to ten. Still, given that thousands entered, it's good to have got through the first round. So that cheered my day.

I'd also been for a walk and a swim with friends, two of whom are Lainy's favourite godmothers, so she had a wonderful Girls Afternoon, even if she didn't enter the water. She teetered on the edge, looking aghast at me entering this vast ocean, then emerging all WET, and was careful to only get her claws wet. I can see we're going to have to leave the swimming lessons till next year.

Listening to the radio this morning, they were talking about how sad it was that one particular school couldn't afford school trips any more, because they couldn't subsidise them, and I thought, well we didn't have any trips. But apparently other schools did all sorts of things. I was astonished to hear of schools going to other towns or cities, going to the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. To the theatre to see a play or a ballet. Even to the West End. We would walk down the steep hill, in crocodile file, to the beach for swimming lessons - does that count as a trip, I wonder? Once, some of us took part in the Paignton Singing and Music Festival, and it took me days to recover from the excitement of getting on a bus and going as far as Paignton. I also went to Plymouth for ballet exams, three times, and was in such a state of nerves and excitement (I'd never been to a city before) that I threw my train ticket out of the window.

However, I don't feel that we missed out by not having school trips. I explored in my head, through books, which gave me every chance to go wherever I wanted. I also explored on foot, outside, with my best friend Geoff next door, and also my other best friend, Lin. We played games with the farm animals inside when it rained and Geoff was always the Sergeant Major in charge of his troops (me and my brothers) when it was fine, in his garden. Lin and I would walk and run over Dartmoor, the beach and the sea, swimming, rollerskating and having a wonderful time.

I'm not against school trips - they sound a wonderful privilege, and I was very fortunate to be able to explore so easily where I lived. But I think the imagination is very underrated, maybe more so nowadays. It provides such a vast world, without borders or end. And I think that is the shame - that more people aren't encouraged to develop their imagination, to take part in this fantastic place that is accessible to all - and free.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Rescue dogs

As most people know, I have a Romanian rescue dog called Lainy who came into my life through a strange series of coincidences, very soon after losing my Moll, and this led to me writing my most recent novel, The Sixth Scent.

Lainy is an incredibly affectionate dog (Moll was not, though it didn't stop me loving her). Lainy just loves learning things - you can see the intelligence shining from her eyes, she is greedy (therefore easy to train) and showers those she loves with extravagant kisses. She will walk happily for hours, and because of her double coat, she is better equipped to deal with the heat, the cold and the wet.

So far so good. But, like many dogs, particularly some rescues, she has behavioural issues. These seem to stem from her first home where she wasn't treated well, and as a result she is nervous of many people, especially men, and can nip their feet and ankles. She likes to chase cats, cars and joggers and cyclists, though I am glad to say that she is much better about this now. Well, apart from the cats. She was terrified of black bin liners and footballs - again, with time and patience, she is curious now rather than scared. And she is still learning how to greet some dogs politely.

Other dogs have many other problems - separation anxiety, barking, biting, guarding food, to name but a few. I have to say, there have been times this year when I've thought - why did I take this dog on? But, as with anything worth doing, it's not always easy. And the rewards, when things improve, make it all worthwhile.

But it is a steep learning curve. I am fortunate in having a wonderful dog behaviourist, Ruth Collett, whose knowledge, patience and deep love and understanding of dogs is incredible. She is responsible for the improvement of so many dogs' behaviour in Cornwall! But that comes at a price.

I would always advocate rescuing a dog, rather than buying one that just makes the breeder money. But wherever your dog comes from, be prepared to work hard. Dogs need patience, time, understanding and love. They need walks and training. They can be a tie and are a very big commitment. They need vaccinations and vet visits, insurance and micro chips. It's not a cheap business.

So I would also say, don't take on any dog unless you're prepared to give them what they need, in terms of time, love and money. But if you're sure, you could belong to the Dogs' Owners' Club, which is one of the very best in the world. You may soon find your dog in the driving seat.