Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Isolation



I often wonder, as I listen to Desert Island Discs, how people would really cope with isolation.

We've all had our fair share of it during the past 18 months or so, to varying degrees, but I'm lucky having a dog as an excuse to go out and our walks have become my social life, too.

I can only deal with so much isolation. So far, I haven't had to, for Covid reasons but I dread that more than being ill. For practical reasons, mostly - Lainy is too nervous to walk with anyone else, so what would happen to her? I couldn't leave her for 10 days without a walk. And how would I manage not seeing my friends, my support network. My lifeline? This is another reason for being very careful...

Much has been said about the benefits of walking, but I don't feel I've had a Proper Walk unless I go somewhere quiet, with grass or turf or sand beneath my feet. Where I am away from other people - preferably not seeing anyone, or other dogs. I'm not unsociable, but I pick and choose my friends and when I see them. I need Quiet Time, to unwind, and process what I'm writing, what's been going on in my life, and I get very crabby if I don't get it.

Being a writer for me means writing in isolation. I can't even have a radio on in the house if I'm writing, or I can't concentrate. I know lots of writers to go cafes and other busy places to write, and I can do that for short periods of time, but for in depth writing, I need my own space, and quiet. I also get awful back ache sitting at a cafe chair.

I write in my bedroom - my desk looks out on the back yard and my neighbour's garden where, looking out now, Joe is filling up the bird feeders on the tree outside their door. Their nasturtiums are creeping along the branches of the bottle brush tree, showing their beaming yellow faces to the sky. The wind is flapping my sheet and duvet on the washing line. The sun is creeping round to bathe the back of the house. Mel is hoovering in the distance, a low whining sound. Silence, as she stops. The muted tones of a radio.

It's a good exercise, I find, sometimes, to pause for a minute, listen to what's going on outside my window. See the wildlife outside, against the blue blue of a July sky. It must be like meditation - it brings me back into myself. Which for a writer, is vital.

Where does everyone else write? And what is your view?

Monday, 19 July 2021

Heatwave

So how is everyone in this heatwave? We're not used to it, are we? And though I'm lucky because I live in a Victorian flat which is nice and cool, I pity those people who live in houses that are too hot.

Last year I used to go down to a certain beach not too far from here which is dog friendly and involves a cooling walk down through the woods. But Lainy's quite nervous of strangers still, and doesn't like the water, and we figured that the past weekend would have been swarming with people near the sea anyway. So yesterday we had a lovely day in a friend's (shaded) garden, planned our next holiday and then took a cool walk in the woods nearby. What a lovely day, and Lainy loves having a proper garden to play in and sunbathe in. And today I'm going to run down the hill when the tide is in and swim there.

Having had a few weeks not being able to do any editing, it has been lovely to get back to it, and proves that a bit of distance can be a Very Good Thing as you can see your work more objectively. I'd been concerned about two of the characters, and suddenly realised that one of them is redundant. So he can go! Oh, the power of the writer - just like "Off with his head"!

When you read a really good book, it's hard to find another to take its place, isn't it? AFter the Mike Gayle book I featured last week, I've re-read The Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Berniere for our book group, but didn't enjoy it was much second time round. I find this quite often with books - a few years can make all the difference between enjoying and not enjoying something.

We have Mavis Cheek's The Lovers of Pound Hill to read for my next book group meeting and it's one I haven't read before. As I love her books, this will be no hardship. I particularly loved her early books, which made me cry with laughter.

So that's my reading while the weather's hot - what about you?

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Another review



My local library has reopened and what a joy it is to go and browse again. I was the only one there, so maybe people aren't aware that libraries are open again - I do hope more customers make use of it, for it would be a terrible loss if they were to close.

While I was there, collecting a book that I'd ordered, I came across Mike Gayle's latest novel, All the Lonely People. What a joy this book is - refreshingly honest, and so important in tackling one of the worst problems of our times - loneliness.

Hubert Bird, an 85 year old widower, lives in Bromley in the house he and his wife bought many years ago. But in his weekly phone calls to his daughter, Rose, in Australia, he tells of a busy retirement, packed with good friends and fun.

But in reality, Hubert talks to no one other than Puss, his cat. He shuns company and has no idea how isolated he has become. And then Rose announces that she is coming over to see him, and Hubert panics - how can he conjure up a bevy of close friends and a fun filled life out of nowhere?

The arrival of a young single mum and her daughter on his doorstep, begging for help, set in motion a whole new way of life for Hubert that at first he stubbornly resists. Ashleigh is a determined character, who brings joy and richness to Hubert’s life, and it’s a joy to see how their relationship develops.

The novel is told in the present day, with flashbacks to Hubert’s life when he arrived in England from Jamaica, desperate to find work, and then meets Joyce, who he soon marries. But Gayle doesn’t flinch in telling of a cold and wet London where people are rude, prejudiced and incredibly racist.

Gradually Hubert realises the value of friends - of all ages and walks of life - and becomes aware of just how lonely he has become.We hear the truth about his son, David. Of his beloved daughter, Rose. Of the long love affair he had with his wife, Joyce, and how he slowly loses her.

He renews an old but vital friendship, becomes involved in a community scheme that aims to end loneliness for good, and even stumbles across a second chance of love. I fell in love with Hubert, for his kindness and compassion, his way of always finding a way through life even when it was incredibly difficult, and his desire to make things better for others.

This is a moving look at life, race, old age and friendship that I found incredibly touching and uplifting. We can all relate to all or some of the problems addressed in this book, but above all, the message is the ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference - if they just have a go.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

A Visit to Mary Wesley's home town

Tomorrow I am off to see my mum in her care home and also meet up with my dear friend, Av, whom I haven't seen for 18 months now thanks to lockdown, so it will be a joyous reunion.

We are taking Mum out for lunch, then staying at a B&B in Totnes - a new one for Lainy who will, no doubt, be a bit wide eyed at it all, but I'm hoping that with her familiar things around her, and me, she will be fine. Av has already fallen in love with her, albeit through photos, so we're looking forward to a few quiet walks and some picnics with Lainy.

Totnes was also the residence of the great Mary Wesley, whose novels I have read time and time again - my favourites are The Vacillations of Poppy Carew, and Harnessing Peacocks. I never tire of the wonderful characters that jump off the page, the fantastically intricate plots, and her completely unique approach to novel writing. No one since has ever come close to her stories, I don't think.

My mum used to work in a second hand bookshop at the top of Totnes many years ago, and Mary Wesley would often call in there. She was quiet, very modest and always interested in books. Very different from the characters that she wrote about.

So while we are there, I will take time to think about her work. About what made her books so special. And try and take heart from the fact that she was 70 when her first adult novel was accepted. Let's hope I make it before then!

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Daughters of Cornwall

I heard Fern Britton being interviewed a month or so ago about her novel, Daughters of Cornwall, which was coming out in paperback, so I made a note of when it would be available and bought it.

All of Fern’s books that I’ve read so far have been contemporary so it was interesting to read this which has three timelines - First World War, Second World War and present. And Fern has put a lot of research into this book.

What I found fascinating was that this was based on her own family’s secret: that her grandmother had given birth to a son that no one knew about.

It turned out her grandmother became pregnant when she was eighteen during WWI but because she wasn’t married, her son had to be fostered. She saw him in secret and sent whatever money she could for his keep, but when she met Fern’s grandfather and had a family with him, communication ceased. She didn't want her husband to know, because of the shame, but she evidently spent the rest of her life missing him, for just before she died, she told Fern’s mother that she’d been very wicked.

When Fern was 23 and working for Westward TV in Plymouth, a man got in touch asking if she was Ruth Britton’s daughter, and if she had a grandmother called Beryl. When she said yes, he replied that he thought he was her uncle: that her grandmother was his mother.

It seemed such a shame that her grandmother had carried this guilt around with her all her life, and never seen her son as an adult. So this formed the inspiration for Fern to write this novel, although a lot of it is fictionalised. She says, “I wanted to show that my grandmother had nothing to be ashamed of, that she had done nothing wrong. I hope I’ve done her story proud.”

The descriptions of the wars were often horrific but gave a true sense of what really happened both for those fighting, as well as for those who were left at home.

She also dealt with some of the mental health problems that occurred - a man’s dependence on alcohol to help him deal with the horrors that he endured and witnessed - and the help and care he received to help him overcome his problems. I fear too many didn’t get help and carried on suffering all their lives.

These are all strong women - loyal and hard working who proved they didn’t need men. I liked the strong link between mothers and daughters that was woven through the book, as well as the fact that most families have secrets. What secrets do we all tell in order to survive, and protect those we love? Like many good stories, it is about how these characters survive love and loss, and keep their heads above water.

I like the way the cycle of unplanned pregnancies is broken at the end, and by he way we are drawn into the lovely warm community of Callyzion. So if you're after a good read this summer - here's a recommendation. Even better, knowing that it's based on Fern's grandmother.

Monday, 7 June 2021

First draft completed

Apologies for long delay but I had a week's caravan trip in Coverack at the end of the month, which was a lovely break. The weather left a bit to be desired on several days, but it was good to have a change of scene and different walks. I also had the unexpected addition of meeting up with a new addition to my life every other day, and it was good to spend more time together.

But sleep was in short supply, not helped, I think, by my reading matter. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, is an incredibly clever book that examines what would happen if there were an infinite number of choices of how to live your life? How she thought about constructing and planning that book makes my head spin - there's no way I could do that. And some of the content was harrowing, which probably didn't help my sleep pattern. In fact, Jac told me firmly to Stop Reading That Book, so I did.

Instead I read Fern Britton's Daughters of Cornwall which is based on the true story of what happened to her grandmother's son, ie her uncle. I will report back and review that in another post, but wondered if anyone else had read it and what they thought?

But back to the title of this post - you see how easily I am distracted. This morning I finished the first draft of the novel I am currently working on. I know it needs a massive amount of work on it, and I can't decide whether I'm pleased or not, as I'd kind of written the ending as a short story some time ago, so I knew how it would end. Anyway, I've decided it is an achievement, though I feel it will be much harder to edit it than write it. The good point about that is that courtesy of my journalism years, I actually enjoy editing now, whereas I never used to.

I've just started reading PUSH, a very interesting book about motherhood by Ashley Audrain. Excellent so far, and I'm only a few chapters in.

I might also have some work using a different type of writing, but I am waiting to hear on that. So as I return from my break, it's lovely to have several new things to look forward to. Spending more time with a new friend, working on editing both novels and a possible new writing project.

Hope is in the air. I hope.....

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

A book Day

Yesterday I had a 5am start for a really exciting morning that took me way out of my comfort zone. It was work but of a different kind than I'm used to, and I always think that experiences that make me do unusual things are very often the best, and often with unexpected benefits.

I'm not able to give any details at present, but I promise that in a few months all will be revealed. Anyway, it was a fascinating experience that I absolutely loved. I was very glad that a dear friend drove us there, though because I was incredibly nervous, and even though we allowed two hours to get there, we only just made it in time owing to a) traffic and b) sat nav taking us round in circles. However, we finally got there at 2 minutes to 9. Phew!

Sadly, Lainy decided that despite walking with my friend and me on many an occasion, she wasn't keen if I wasn't there. Despite copious amounts of sausage, she just wanted to get back to the car and wait for me. I'm hoping that once she gets a bit more confidence, she'll be happy to walk with my friends, but you can't rush a rescue dog.

Anyway, after we finished, I was desperate for a drink and as we were near Lanhydrock, we thought we'd call in there for a coffee, and sat in the sunshine before continuing on to Fowey, to Shrew Books, which I hoped would take my books. We left the sunshine and drove towards black clouds. And I mean huge, thunderous black clouds that decided to deluge on us just as we reached the main car park.

The rain appeared to ease, so we set off, then my poor friend slipped on a manhole cover and - bang - landed on her side, putting her hand out to break the fall. Being an ex-nurse, she knew what to look out for, and feared she'd broken it at first. Then perhaps sprained it. Boots supplied a tubi-grip which helped, I called into the bookshop to leave some books, and we headed back to the car park.

From there, already a bit wet, we headed off to Coombe car park on the outskirts of Fowey which is one of my favourite walks in that area, down towards Poldridmouth or back towards Covington Woods. Once again, we were caught in another deluge, and dived into the woods. We got soaked anyway, and Lainy was less than amused, but then the clouds blew over and we were able to walk and dry off a bit for the rest of the walk.

This was a real book day - the morning session was all about books, then a dive into Shrew Books in Fowey, and our walk which was all around where The King's General, by Daphne du Maurier, is set.

So for a literary road trip it was great. And, I hope, successful. As for the morning session - I will be allowed to give more details in the summer. But for now Lainy is having a Quiet Day to get over the excitement.....