Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Camping - and a tick saved the day

We had a lovely break up near Cardinham on a quiet campsite encircled by tall trees, looking out over a tapestry of fields, woods and two elderly donkeys. A perfect little place with very friendly owners and visitors.

I was a bit apprehensive about how the dogs would get on, but luckily there were no mishaps - forward planning has a lot to answer for - although on the Thursday Twig went missing at the end of a long, hot walk, and we didn't find her for about 45 minutes. You can imagine how we felt, then the huge relief felt when a dirty little face burst through the brambles. It was worth getting stung all over, to get her back.

Then that evening, Lainy had a pop at the Fella. He was only going to give her a cuddle but he did get a bit close to her face which is a real No No in Lainy's book and we were both shaken, mostly I think because we were exhausted and worried sick over Twig, so I burst into tears and he was worried at how upset I was, and what might have happened if she bit a child.

There are potential dangers with any dog, especially a reactive one. But as Lainy always wears a muzzle in public, she can't inflict any damage, and I am super careful whenever we're out, especially round children, so I do my best to rule out as many disasters as possible. Even so, I was very shaken and we were both a bit wary of her the next day.

On our way home, the following day, I discovered a tick on Lainy's leg. The Fella said that Vaseline helped smother them, so I put some on and then had to try and get the tick out - no mean feat. Most people would have let me struggle on my own, once a dog had tried to bite them, but he suggested we got her on her back, and he calmly held her while talking to her soothingly. She looked a bit startled, but she obviously trusted us both and just stayed utterly still while I poked and prodded at the darn thing till I got it out. She then jumped off his lap, shook herself and ran round the garden a few times. Job done.

It has to be said that neither Twig nor my Moll would have behaved so well. They would have growled, bitten and been utterly impossibly terrified, so hats off to Lainy for being such a star patient. And to the Fella for being so brave. We've all learned from the experience and moved on.

It's ironic that it took a tick to save the day.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Research into self publishing

I have been sending out submissions for novels and a possible walks book to various agents and publishers and several have got back to me suggesting self publishing. In addition, I have met several people who have self published their books and all of them recommend the process, though it is complex and selling books is hard. Well, I know that from my walks books so there's nothing new there.

But after I met with another journalist friend and she very kindly talked me through her entire process - who she'd used for editing, typesetting, printing, distribution, book covers, formatting for Amazon and the marketing process, I realised two things. Firstly, that if she's done it - and actually made a profit from her novel - and be so very kind as to share her contacts, I could do it. Secondly, yes it is complicated, but with advice from other people, it's by no means impossible.

Since then I've had several other word of mouth recommendations for designers for the book cover, for printers/publishers and all sorts. This is partly terrifing and partly so exciting that I think I might burst. I need to research book covers, fonts and font sizes. Layouts. Line spacing. So many, many things that are essential in making sure my books would look professional, and not the kind of thing cobbled together after a few glasses of wine over the weekend. And then after that, the hard work is to actually sell the book and encourage people to read it, but at least some people know me from my walks books so that's a head start.

Self publishing used to be seen as something people would do if their books weren't good enough to be taken on by a traditional publishers. Life has moved on and so have attitudes. Of course, there are a lot of companies out there designed to rip people off, and trying to make headway through that is mind-spinning. But there is a way through. I have a Zoom call tomorrow to talk through possible options, and my novel goes for a last copy edit at the end of the month. Either way, I could set the ball rolling soon.....

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Planning - and unusual jobs

The above sculpture is at Princess Pavilions, where I went on Sunday for very good brunch from their community kitchen, before a long stomp at Constantine, and then a visit to Sasha Harding's Open Studios near Penryn.

I love her paintings - which are mostly of people and dogs/other animals but with a gentle and sometimes wicked sense of humour. How Mum would have loved these paintings! I particularly loved this one, which reminds me of The Fella's terrier....

She's also written and illustrated a wonderful book called A Brush With the Coast, about her walking the South West Coastal Path with her lazy and narcoleptic dog, Jess. As both were very unfit when they started the walk, it was a challenge in more ways than one. And it turned out that she self published the book, and said she would thoroughly recommend the process, so we had a long discussion about self publishing, and she said to get in touch if I wanted more advice, so that got me thinking...

As I'm researching for my next novel, I recently asked for suggestions for unusual hobbies for a man, and the response has been fascinating. I'm also thinking about what he does for a living, but I know, deep down, that he's a boat builder, because that requires a certain type of person.

My dad was always in despair as I kept changing jobs when I was younger. I have a low boredom threshold and in those days it was easy to change jobs, so I did, about every six months. I worked as a computer clerk at Saatchi and Saatchis, at a new product development company which developed the likes of the Black and Decker Workmate. My job was as receptionist and secretary to the head of the creative department - which was interesting as I couldn't type. Believe me, I learned - fast, weeping into my typewriter till 10pm most nights. I also moonlighted (moonlit?) as a masseuse at the RAC Club in Pall Mall, on ladies days as the masseuses there were men, and they didnt allow their Ladies to be massaged by men......

I've worked for the Youth Justice Team in Devon which involved looking after children going through the court process - a gruelling job that I always said was the best contraceptive of all. After that I ran the accommodation office for an arts college which turned into a university. And there were lots of other jobs in between. After my last Proper Job, Pip and I did up the flat where I still live now - and I have a rather wonky left big toe from where I inadvertently dropped the lump hammer on it while trying to excavate the living room fireplace. I checked people onto cruise ships and also did a lot of cleaning with a friend - we were going to call ourselves Scrubbers R Us until we realised it might give the wrong idea...

After that I did an online journalism course and started working as a journalist, then an author. And I haven't been bored since.

But what about you? What strange jobs have you had?

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Old Loves and New

Those of you who know me, know who this is - the stroppy, indomitable, grouchy, charming Moll. I know those adjectives sound contradictory, but she was, and like most dog lovers, I loved her with every inch of my soul (if that's mixed metaphors, I don't care. I did.).

For the last 18 months though, since Moll's death, Lainy has wriggled into the canine shaped space in my heart and, despite significant challenges, has made herself a comfy nest and has to desire to leave, it seems. Nor would I wish her to.

However, I have to say my heart wobbled this morning. After an early appointment at the dentist, I took Lainy for a walk at College Woods in Penryn and on our return to the car, bumped into an old singing friend, Jilly, with her young dog, Eric. I daren't show a picture of him here, but suffice it to say that he looked so like Moll I could have scooped him up and taken him home. Instantly Thankfully, Lainy seemed unaware of the adulterous nature of my heart, and continued to sniff around for scattered items of food on the ground. I feel guilty just writing this, for it has nothing to do with my love for her, but oh - Eric. My heart is yours. though of course really it's Moll's.

That got me thinking about how life can trip us all up at the most unexpected times. And while it can be profoundly distressing, the flip side of that, once we've got over the kapow! moment, is to remember the good times we had with our loved ones. Whether it's husbands, mothers, dogs, ex-partners , sisteors, brothers or whoever, I like to think of that warm place they all occupy that is still very much a part of me.

After all, who was it said that grief is merely love in a different form?

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Mum's Service - and My Special Friend

This was the setting for our family gathering for mum's memorial service - or rather, this is where we all stayed. An amazing rabbit warren of a 13th century pub that is now run as an Airbnb - so we had to provide our own food and drink. In fact I worked here as a teenager, carting trayfuls of soup and rolls through swing doors, down a flight of steep steps, through another swing door, through the dark corridors and often out into the garden over the road, which was part of an old orchard where apples lay hidden in the grass, just waiting to trip me up - and spill the soup. But that's another story.

Jac and Lainy and I arrived on Thursday late afternoon, were met by my brothers and shown to our rooms which were huge and full of light, very peaceful given the only traffic was from the field of cows outside our windows. Various members of the family arrived through the evening and Lainy coped gallantly from the safety of her crate, interspersed with long walks down grassy lanes of ancient orchards, a 13th century church and silently grazing cattle. Very bucolic.

The next day was all go - the interment of mum's ashes into dad's space was done by the vicar while we stood around on uneven plots of grass (not good for wearing heels - I sank several inches) but was made more bearable by the children shrieking and laughing in the playground next door. Then came the service attended by about 80 people, maybe more.

My brothers put a lot of work into this and so did the vicar but for someone who isn't religious, I felt that while it was important for them, the mum I loved wasn't there, in the chill of the pews, nor the feeble sunlight straining through the old, stained glass windows. My mum is in the spaces between chapters, in the pause between thoughts. My mum is in my every day, not in a cold church where sorrow mixed with guilt for those who hadn't seen enough of her, and realised it was too late.

More walks for Lainy then we had a family dinner that night which I was very apprehensive about but in fact I enjoyed it, and Lainy coped admirably. Another walk in the gathering gloom, as she'd been in the car for a few hours while we ate, then she settled in her crate while I caught up with one of my nieces.

Jac was introduced to one of my nephews as "Sue's Special Friend", so when talking to my brothers that evening about my anorexic past, she was able to say, "Well, as Sue's Significant Other, I can assure you that she eats more than me now"......There's a lot to be said for Special Friends.... We arrived home the following afternoon after a brief visit to Totnes, I had a night at home and then went down to the Lizard to see the Fella. By this time I was feeling quite dizzy, having spent no more than 2 nights in one bed for the last 10 days. I would have stayed at home for a while, but I had a meeting with the Fat Apple Cafe at Porthallow who are now stocking my books which is great news. They also gave us coffee and cake which was most generous, and we had a fascinating conversation as the mother and daughter are also writing books that they are trying to get published. We decided to help each other, which has to be the best way to do things.

Now I'm back home, trying to remind myself where I live, and glad to have some time to myself, to catch up with work and friends, and concentrate on my books once more. To my delight, these daisies that self seeded, have burst into bloom while I was away, and I just love their cheerful little faces as I walk up the steps to my front door.

Monday, 9 May 2022

Two Devon trips

My dear friend Av and I meet every six months, and as she is what Mum called "my second daughter", we would meet near mum's care home for the weekend and take Mum out every day. We booked last weekend months ago, and Mum was really looking forward to it - as were we, but of course life - or rather, death - decided otherwise.

It was very strange driving up the oh so familiar route, arriving in Dartington and turning the opposite direction to where Mum was. While lovely to catch up with Av, there was a nagging awareness of something missing. It wasn't acute but a dragging sensation of loss that lingered below the surface, and simmered while I slept.

We had some great walks though, and as Av said, "Lainy is so much more confident in herself" which was lovely to see. We had to navigate Totnes High Street on Saturday morning, which was understandably busy, and she was brilliant - took it all in her stride, which she couldn't have done the last time we met Av. I got Lainy a new muzzle which is too big so we went to ask Steve the Cobbler if he could put a few more holes in the back strap so it fitted better. He did so, chatting all the while and wouldn't take any money for it. Then on to the jeweller as I couldn't put the pin back in my watch strap - he put that to rights and wouldn't take any money either.

Both wished us a lovely weekend and said what a good job I was doing with Lainy, which was very heartwarming. Mum didn't know much of Lainy's troubles, but I know she'd be delighted at her progress, though Lainy has so far always been very calm and understanding around the elderly and the ill.

I got back yesterday and on Thursday my dear mate Jac and I are off for Mum's memorial service on Friday morning, followed by drinks in the pub, and a family meal in the evening. It will be a very emotional time for us all, and well out of Lainy's comfort zone (and mine), but she has me and she regards Jac as a second mum, so while she will need to spend time in the car, we will make sure she gets lots of excercise and we will keep her as quiet as possible and I'm sure she will be fine.

Not being religious, the church service won't have as much significance for me as for others, but it will be interesting to see family that I haven't seen for thirty years, and may not see again. I know Mum would be glad that we're all meeting up, even though it's sad it's taken Mum's death to bring us all together.

There's also the fact that the day we all remember Mum will be Friday 13th. But we won't go into that. I'm sure there will be plenty of fodder for my next novel...

Wednesday, 27 April 2022


I am, The Fella says, an Optimist. Having suffered from chronic depression in the past, it certainly wasn't a tag that would have applied to me then. But now? Yes, I suppose I am.

By that, let me qualify optimist. For me this is someone who would rather concentrate on the cheerful or joyous things in life rather than the multitudinous horrible things going on in the world.

I am not going to get political, but I am not optimistic about how the current situation with Russia and Ukraine will work out. However, I do think Zelenski is the best possible example of not just a politician but a human being. He makes most other men, let alone politicians look shamefully lacking.

But back to more day to day matters - or MY day to day matters. I am trying to get two novels published. I am considering writing another walks book. These efforts involve a certain amount of self belief - something that most writers struggle with at the best of times. It also involves perseverance and an ability to develop a layer of thick skin - neither of these sit well with dodgy self belief. Most writers, artists, actors, comedians and other similar professions will probably know what I mean.

In order to keep on trying, we all need hope. This is akin to self belief, of course, but we need to believe that one day someone will love our book(s) as much as my editor does. That someone will fall in love with our most recent painting; that we will be picked for the next TV drama, or Netflix funny.

There are days, when my energy levels are low, when hope goes into a nosedive. Since mum died, I haven't been able to think about starting my next novel. I know what it will be, but I can't go there just yet. And that's OK. Losing a parent is a Big Thing and something that will, no doubt, appear in the next novel, or short story, or piece I write.

Other days, I am fired with enthusiasm. I re-read the lovely words my editor said about The Rescue and I believe that the right person will agree with her. Until then I will keep trying because I believe in my story, and I believe in hope.

For what is life without hope?