Thursday, 24 August 2023

Love is a many shaped thing

It always interests me, the fact that "Romance" is so often derided and sneered at, looked down upon as a genre of film/boook/play, when we all need to love and be loved. Furthermore, it is one of the most powerful emotions we have. People have been shot, hanged drawn and quartered (look at Henry VIII's wives), drowned, driven mad (Gaslight) and many other tortuous ways of ending a person's life when the other party involved thinks that it's over or love is unrequited, been cheated on, etc.

But enough of the gruesome stuff. There's enough of that going on in the world and I for one need cheering up. So I thought I'd look at the ways in which I, and my protagonists, experience(d) love.

First of all there was Pip. He was an interesting mixture - a solo adventurer, always lived on his own, always sailed on his own, until he met me when he was 56. Suddenly he decided he was going to share the rest of his life with me. Luckily I felt the same, though while he did, I didn't, hence my novel The Rescue.

He was a very brave man but also incredibly kind and thoughtful. Men admired him for his mad adventures, and his ability to tell a good story in the pub about them. Women liked him because he was charming in the best sense of the word. And having fallen in love, he wanted everyone to know it. He saw nothing unmanly in telling everyone about me, and would often say, "I love you this much," spreading out his arms. To which I would reply, "but I love you this much," spreading them even further - and on we would go.

I appreciate that few men are like that, but there are many ways to say I love you without actually speaking. I have so many pairs of earrings that say those very words. Meals and dresses, pairs of jeans and books.

But there are also those looks that say more than words ever could. Those tight, tight hugs. The kind gestures. Thoughtful statements. Meals prepared. Holiday paid for. Donation towards a secondhand car. Shower fitted. A hand holding mine at night.

Love is such a precious thing, and should never be derided in any form. We all express it in different ways, but every way is special.

Wednesday, 12 July 2023

Hunger and other eating disorders

I am lucky enough to have been one of the 46% of anorexics who have recovered. 33% partially recover, and 20% develop chronic anorexica, although these are statistics that I would take with a large pinch of salt. For anyone who is anorexic, or is caring for someone with the disease, I would urge you to read Hadley Freeman's excellent account of her own journey, Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia.

So much of it rang true for me, and I realised a lot about my behaviour, even now. It's taken me many years to be able to eat in a restaurant (and I still often panic when trying to choose what to eat). I find it difficult eating with friends, though my circle of Friends I can Eat With is growing now, I'm glad to say. There are so many things that stood out for me, and this book has given me a greater understanding of my fears and insecurities. So I would urge anyone - maybe everyone - to read this book.

I ordered it from the library in part out of curiosity and in part as research for my novel HUNGER which will be out next year. I wanted to write about what it must be like as the mother of an anorexic (god forbid) but also the daughter, so we have Jess's diaries, written to her dead father. I wanted to give some insight into what this baffling and terrifying illness is like, and to give hope that there is life after anorexia. It was tough to write, but I hope it will be worth it. (There is also a love affair and plenty of dogs, by the way, so it's not all doom and gloom.)

I've also come across Hope Virgo, another recovering anorexic, who is behind the BAN THE SCALES campaign and is visiting Number Ten and having talks with other government departments as well as BEAT, the eating disorder charity, to try and make sure there is more help available. At present, if you have an eating disorder and need counselling or any in-patient treatment, there just aren't the beds available, and people are dying.

So this might be a depressing topic, but it's one I feel very strongly about, and I believe that the more people know about eating disorders, the more understanding there can be, and more help for those that really need it.

Thursday, 22 June 2023

Balancing Act

Life is often a balancing act, I find. Trying to keep a good work/life balance or just good life balance can be really hard. And there are always those times when life tips me over, and I wobble on the tightrope, trying very hard not to fall off. I do, sometimes, and it can take a while to get back on again.

Bonnie Garmus, author of Lessons in Chemistry, gave a very good talk at the Poly in Falmouth a few weeks ago, and she said she found humour was a good way to add lightness to those dark moments in her book. (I find humour a lifesaver - where would we be without seeing the ridiculous in life?) Of course we need balance in our books, too. I wouldn't want to read a book where it was all gore and guts, or where nothing ever happened, or the characters were too black or white. And she achieves an excellent balance of underlining the importance of women being treated equally, celebrating women's excellence as well as their frailties, and wrapping it all up with some really engaging charcters, one of which was the dog, Six Thirty.

As a dog lover, and one who writes from a dog's point of view, it was gratifying to see how many of the audience adored Six Thirty - and if you did, there's a chance that you will LOVE Moll and Lainy in The Rescue and Lainy's Tail....

Elizabeth, the protagonist in Lessons in Chemistry was short on friends at the beginning of the book, but made her own "family" out of her select friends. And this made me think, as I often do, how vitally important friends are. My friends are my support network, and I value them all so much, so I hate if ever there’s been a misunderstanding, which there has been recently. Hopefully, we can restore that balance before too long.

On another writerly note, I went to the launch of The Red House by Roz Watkins last night, and what an amazing evening - as well as a Red House cake…!! It was lovely to meet some new writing friends and celebrate Roz’s new book in style.

So here’s to life balance, good friends and good books…

Thursday, 1 June 2023

Books, writing and gardens - the importance of all three

One of the lovely bonuses of being an author is meeting readers, and other writers.

This morning I had a text from someone I met through our blogs. She lives in Penryn and is a very talented gardener, and wanted to buy a copy of The Rescue, so I said I'd drop one round as I sing in Penryn on a Thursday morning.

And what a fabulous time I had. Her oldest daughter is an avid reader and writer, and sat and scribbled with quiet determination while we had tea sitting in the garden. Having talked a lot about books and writing, we turned to gardens, something I've come to late in life, but I find it a really lovely antidote to sitting in front of a computer.

It's different from walking, which is about being in nature, but sometimes exploring, often with friends, always with Lainy. But growing stuff is almost meditative, I find, and I can see why my dad got so much pleasure from growing all our veg as well as loads of plants. At the moment The Fella and I are growing spuds, onions and carrots. The former two look good, the carrots haven't deigned to make an appearance. I've also planted broad beans which are, touch wood, looking quite healthy. The perpetual spinach isn't looking very perpetual at all, however, and the rhubarb disappeared without trace.

It was fascinating having a guided tour round Lou's garden - she knows so much - and I left with several Californian poppy seedlings. I then got home and Mel gave me some sunflower seedlings, so I've had a happy half hour potting them all up and feel content in the sunshine.

Now it's back to editing....but as I start again at Chapter 11, I am thinking how lucky us writers are to meet other readers, and writers in the making.

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Great Expectations or Hope but Never Expect

(I can't take credit for this photo as it was taken by a friend, but it was taken in Falmouth, so I'm sure he won't mind me using it.)

The trouble with high expectations is that they are not always met. And, of course, the higher they are, the more unlikely they're met.

Take a successful first book/album/poem/photograph/tennis match* (*fill in with whatever you will). Having a huge success earlier on can be crippling, for how can anyone live up to phenomenal success like that? It's a huge pressure, and enough to kill any creative instinct.

Similarly, but looking at it from the recipient's point of view, if you've read a lot of brilliant reviews/seen trailers/read comments online, the chances are you will have formed an opinion or expectations of what you're about to see/read/whatever. This has happened to me several times recently, with books that I'd really been looking forward to. In several cases, I really enjoyed the writers' previous books and was looking forward to getting stuck in. Opened the book and after a few pages, I wondered if I was reading the one which had been the topic of so much hype and enthusiasm. I checked. I was. So it must be me. What was I not getting? Perhaps it would get better after a few chapters? And so on.

Last night we went to see the film of Harold Fry. I loved both Rachel Joyce's books in this series and will watch anything with Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton in, so I knew I would love it. Admittedly the seats were uncomfortable, and it was cold in the cinema, so rather than losing myself in the story, which I'd been looking forward to, weeping copiously as normal, I shifted from side to side. Put my coat back on. Wondered what the time was. Whether I should nip to the loo now or later? You get the picture (sorry, terrible pun). And while I enjoyed the film I wasn't knocked over sideways as I'd expected.

Now a lot of it might be one of those phases I'm going through where I struggle to really get lost in a book. Actually no, I've just finished "Lessons from Lucy" by Dave Barry which I think should be compulsory reading for anyone over 50. Brilliant and wise and so funny. But I digress. A friend told me, several years ago, "Hope but never expect" which is very wise but can also be difficult.

So maybe the motto of this post is - Don't believe everything you read online (of course). But also, maybe, look out the lesser known writers/films/artists. (I've recently bought a few prints from lesser known artists and love them.) They are often just as good if not better. And you can have the added satisfaction of being the one to bring their work to a wider audience.....

Tuesday, 11 April 2023

HUNGER - don't be fooled by this picture

A QUICK ASIDE - LULU I've emailed you about buying a copy of The Rescue but am not able to contact you via your blog for some strange reason. Please let me know how to get a copy to you! Best way is to email me - Over Easter, I read a brilliant interview in The Times magazine with @HadleyFreeman about her experiences with anorexia. Her book, Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia - Perfectionist girls who starve, is out this week and she is doing a lot of work to publicise it. As you do. Regular readers of mine know that I had years of anorexia, thankfully many moons ago, but reading extracts from her book brought it all flooding back. And she does write incredibly well.

I don't think enough has been written about the horrors of anorexia, from a personal point of view. It is such a terrifing illness, for the sufferers as well as their nearest and dearest. I found some letters from a boyfriend when I was 18, writing to me when I was back in hospital for the umpteenth time, and it really got me thinking. Several years ago, before The Rescue story kicked off, I wrote a novel called HUNGER, as I wanted to write about my experiences from a mother's perspective (how my poor mum coped, I cannot think) but also from the daughter's.

I mentioned this book to my editor some time ago and she was very keen to have a look at it. I think it's time HUNGER makes its way out into the world soon....

Meanwhile, back to normal life... My Easter felt a bit like the above picture. I'd sent the rough-ish draft of Lainy's Tail to my editor to see what she thinks and as soon as I did it I felt a) exhausted and b) curiously adrift. Having four days of Bank Holidays made the whole sensation feel more otherworldly, compounded by the fact that The Fella was away with his rugger mates and one of my best friends was due back but didn't make it.

So I rested a lot, slept a lot, read a lot and walked a lot. No chocolate in my house, because chocolate makes me very hyper, makes my brain spin and I can't sleep. So frankly it's not worth it. Also of course, I have Lainy who is hyper enough without any chocolate and it's not good for dogs either.

So I'm glad to be back at my desk, though the break did me good. I'm waiting, with baited breath, to hear what changes my editor suggests, and itching to get on with them.

Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Paul O'Grady, friend to all dogs, especially rescues

Image courtesy of Battersea Dogs Home

I woke in the middle of the night and turned on the radio, as I do when I'm sleeping at home (ie not with the Fella) to hear of Paul O'Grady's death. I stirred sleepily, thinking, What? But yes, he died very suddenly, yesterday. I was listening to BBC Five Live overnight show and was struck by how the callers who rang in to pay tribute were of such different ages - an 80 year old who praised his humanity. Several young men, mostly Liverpudlians, who were so proud of him being a Liverpool Man. A young woman who said he reminded her of her nan and the precious times she spent watching him on telly with her. So many different age groups who all had something really wonderful to say about him.

I often listened to his Radio Two show on a Sunday afternoon when driving back from a walk somewhere, and feel that I've lost a personal friend. He spoke to his listeners without pretence, no ego, but snippets of his life, his dogs and his colleague Malcolm, who I'm sure will miss working with him so much.

But for all his work, he was such an ambassador (a much vaunted word, but true in this case) for rescue dogs and cats. I've had rescue cats all my life, and now, as many of you know, I have Lainy, my Romanian rescue. He apparently fell in love with all of the dogs at Battersea Dogs Home and ended up giving many of them a home over the years, to add to his menagerie. But apparently it was the work he did behind the scenes, not in front of the camera, that was so impressive. Battersea must be devastated, not just because he was such a high profile patron, but because he helped so many other people realise the importance of giving these animals a home, rather than buying a puppy or kitten.

The world has lost a truly special person and I'mn sure all the animals he has saved with hold him in their hearts forever more. I know us mere mortals will. So here's a thank you from Lainy, on behalf of all the other four legged friends.