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.....

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Ovarian cancer tests


I heard on the news today that long term tests for ovarian cancer haven't resulted in any decrease in deaths from the disease.

This topic is close to my heart, and one that I've written about before, because of my brush with cancer 7 years ago. I noticed a lump by my right hip bone but it didn't hurt, so I went along to my GP just because it was unusual. To my astonishment, she booked me in to see a consultant the following week, plus blood tests etc.

When I got the phone call from the hospital to say that the appointment was with the Gynaeocological Oncology Unit, I was terrified. And well, it got worse from there - endless blood tests and scans later, I was told I had to have a radical hysterectomy and, because the tumour was so big, they couldn't do keyhole but would have to basically unzip me (not any medical term, to my knowledge), and recovery would be at least 12 weeks.

You can probably imagine how I felt. But thankfully having taken the tumour out and done biopsies, it was found to be abnormal cells rather than cancerous so I had check ups for 5 years and now have the all clear.

But imagine if I hadn't gone along for that check up. Well, I wouldn't be here now. Survival rates for ovarian cancer are low because it's not often detected early on.

As a nurse friend said, if I was bigger than I am, I probably wouldn't have noticed it. If I'd seen another GP who hadn't thought it was urgent, I might not be here now. So many ifs and buts - life is full of them. And they form such a part of writing, too.

So often when writing - and reading fiction - we may get to the end of a chapter, or a scene and think - What's going to happen next? What if she hadn't met X outside the tube on a rainy evening? What if she'd got the bus home? What if I hadn't been sitting in a friend's house when Pip had walked in? If I hadn't gone to that writers' evening, I would never have met the dear friend that looked after me when recovering from my hysterectomy. If I hadn't noticed a certain person's dog I would never have sent him a message.....

Life is so full of strange What Ifs. But to bring this full circle, if you have any worries about anything unusual going on in your body, please go and see your GP. Covid tends to have knocked cancer and many other diseases out of the limelight. But it could be the difference between being here - and not.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

A break and an old marriage



Last week I was able to get away for four nights in a caravan in West Cornwall and my, what a brilliant time we had. The weather wasn’t perfect, as it’s still pretty cold but we had some glorious sun, managed to dodge most of the rain and had some of the best walks I’ve had for ages.

The friend I went with hadn’t read for 5 years and so I took a book she liked the sound of - and she read the whole thing in a few days. And loved it! So I was delighted to be able to share my love of that particular book with her - and now she’s reading again…for a book lover like me, that means so much.

It was so good to have a change of scene, even if only for four days, and it gave me a bit of headspace which I badly needed.

On a different topic, yesterday my youngest brother sent over a digitised version of our parents’ wedding. There’s no sound, but it doesn’t need it. The pictures of my parents, so young and happy, are so touching to see. The way my dad puts his arm protectively round his tiny bride (he was 6’ 4” and mum was 5’ so she really was tiny, and so beautiful. Very like the Queen at the same age). The way my mum dips her head when she talks - she still does that now and it’s so characteristic of her, and yet I’d never really been aware of it until now.

The way Dad laughs hugely with his best mate, Ian, his best man, on the lawn outside the marquee. The easy way Dad picked up her train when they were walking through the garden. The shared glances between my mum and dad that say more than words ever could.I'm so glad Ben found it and has been able to digitise and share it. It's a piece of real magic that I will treasure.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Equality for all

The recent conviction of Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd is welcome news to many Americans, and may be a step forward in race relations - maybe not. I would like to think so. What made me sad was wondering why there was such segregation in the first place. It got me thinking of my first job in London.

All this is background to the daughter, Jess, in my novel Hunger, though she doesn't have a stint in London. Well, she may in another book - but I digress. I was 18 or 19, anorexic and desperate to find a job in London to pay the rent so I went to an employment agency called Brook Street Bureau, where I was attended to by a bored girl who had little interest in me. She was pregnant, I remember, and wouldn't let me smoke. (This is so dated it makes me laugh, thinking of it.)

She got me a job as a filing clerk at Saatchi & Saatchi Garland Compton, as it was in those days, and I can't even remember what we filed but i know it was boring. I made friends with a girl a bit older than me, called Donna, and she was a good friend. She was engaged and later married her fiance and I was invited to the wedding, which took place the other side of London where I was living - out near Crystal Palace, I think. I know it was the other end of the Number 12 bus route, and seemed to take forever to get there.

When I got to the huge hall where the wedding and party afterwards took place, it was frantically busy, and I knew no one. However, everyone was so friendly, and made me welcome, made sure I had somewhere to sit and something to eat and I remember feeling very at home there. This was unusual as being anorexic makes you feel like a stranger on a different planet, but I remember their kindness and warmth, 40+ years on.

As I trundled back on the bus that evening, I can remember reflecting on what a lovely bunch of people they were, welcoming me into their gathering as if I were part of the family, and I hope that Donna, who will doubtless be a grandmother by now, is living happily with her large family by now.

The only thing I was aware of was being stared at for a minute when I arrived. I was used to that. It's like when someone dies - no one knows what to say. 'Why are you so thin?' isn't the greatest conversation opener. But no one mentioned my size. (Though they did ply me with food.)

Looking back over the event that is still the best wedding I've ever been to, I thought, 'Oh, come to think of it, I was the only white person there. Was that it? But no, surely not.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

A huge void



Most of us have lost someone dear to us, and that thought has been very much in the minds of everyone following the death of Prince Philip. Regardless what anyone may think of the monarchy, I think of her as someone who has lost someone she spent nearly all her life with. I know what it felt like when I lost Pip, but to magnify that sensation a hundred times over - well, I can only say that I have an inkling of what the Queen is going through.

As I seem to like writing about difficult topics, I decided to tackle loss in my novel, HUNGER as well. I remember, shortly after Pip died, I was having a walk with my friend Anna, who was telling me about a friend of hers (are you following?) whose husband had left her. I thought, 'Well, at least my grief is pure and simple. It's agonising but it's straightforward. And I know that I was utterly and completely loved. Whereas in cases like Anna's friend, it's so much more complicated. Which means it's much worse to try and live with all the ensuring emotions - grief, anger, jealousy, lack of confidence, hatred, to name but a few.'

All of this is rich fodder for the writer, of course. So the circumstances in HUNGER are very different to the ones I found myself in. But grief is grief, and there are no clear cut paths through it. Everyone has to find their own way, as I discovered.

When a dearly beloved dog dies - well that is just as bad as losing a person. Moll had to be put to sleep but that wasn't a choice I found difficult to make. I will not see any animal I love suffer, so it is their welfare that comes first. Pure and simple. But again, I chose to tackle dog problems differently in my novel because it might help other people - and also, of course, it's a more interesting read.

Much has been written about grief, and I read a huge amount after Pip died. It was such a horrible time that I wanted to move the process on as quickly as possible. It gnaws away at you like a greedy monster. It moves in, leaving room for little else. Getting out of bed was a major achievement, let alone walking Moll, or getting through the day. A dear friend who was nursing in ICU the day before Pip died gave me some wonderful advice. Her son had died young so she spoke from experience. "The sooner you can accept what's happened, the sooner you can move on," she said. "Otherwise the grief is so much more difficult, and lasts much longer."

I'm sure the poor Queen needs no advice, for she will be living with the rawest of grief for a while to come. But friends and family - and the nation - can provide some comfort for a life so well lived.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Hunger



On one of my many trips to the hospital to have my eye checked, I was talking to a nurse who asked me what I did. When I said I was a writer, she wanted to know what I wrote, and I said I was editing a novel and writing another one, and of course she wanted to know what they were about.

My novel, HUNGER addresses several issues, but the main one is anorexia. I still have some of my diaries from those days and I regret to say they are incredibly boring for they are obsessed with weight (or the lack of it) and food (or the lack of it), low mood, lack of confidence - they really don't make uplifting reading.

But this nurse said, "Oh, we really need books about that sort of thing. I know so many mothers who have anorexic daughters. My late husband was an alcoholic and it's the same principle. I would love to read it, and I'd tell my friends to buy it too."

As you can imagine, that was very confidence boosting, and this morning I was having a dog walk/meeting with another writer friend who is a mother to two sons. We were discussing Jess, the daughter in my novel, and the lack of communication that often occurs between teenagers and their parents, and I suddenly remembered a time when I was working in London and hadn't seen my parents for a while. I would get the bus from Victoria to Exeter, and one of my parents would pick me up from the bus station.

As I said, I hadn't been home for a while and my Dad came to meet me, ushered me into the car and when we were sitting down, he said, "What have you DONE to yourself?" I was mortified, seeing it as a criticism, and didn't know what to say. We sat in silence for the 45 minute trip home, which was agonising. I didn't know how to break the silence, and fled to the safety of my room as soon as we got to the house.

Looking back, of course, my poor father must have seen his only precious daughter looking like skin and bone (literally) and was utterly horrified and terrified. Not only because he had no idea why I was relentlessly starving myself, but maybe more importantly because he couldn't fix it.

Like any problem, when you can't fix it is when it becomes really frightening. Thankfully nowadays there is a lot more awareness of anorexia and other mental health problems, and help is out there, although not as much as we would wish.

The message I want to get across in my novel is that yes, anorexia is a terrifyingly complex disease. It can kill in extreme circumstances. Every individual has their own reasons for developing it, and it is vital to understand these reasons in order to let go of it. But my point is that it is possible.

My lowest weight was below five stone. My organs were in danger of packing up. My hair was falling out. My periods had long since stopped. I was a very ill teenager. But it is possible to recover. In my case, I needed to regain my faith in myself and my abilities. I have been leading a happy and healthy life for decades now but like most with problems, I needed the love and support of my loved ones. And in my case, of course, that includes my dog.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Short but Sweet



My dear Mum moved yesterday into her residential home and I so wish I was there to help things along. However, Lainy is a bit of a loose cannon at the moment and it would have been too much to have an anxious mum, an anxious dog and two hulking great brothers marching around. So I am here and constantly on the phone to my brothers who are doing an amazing job.

As you can imagine, it was very emotional to take her to the home yesterday, but we talked a lot later, and my other brother arrived to help with the massive clear up. It really tugged at me to see them walking round a rapidly emptying house and think of all the times that Mum had there, and to think that we will never see Mum there again, and never stay there ourselves.

As Mum was being taken over there yesterday, a friend and I had to go to B&Q (I couldn't concentrate on writing) and I spotted a catering van outside afterwards. 'Do you fancy a bacon and egg bap?' I said hopefully. So we had our bacon and egg baps in the sunshine, then went to Argal to get a coffee to wash it down with, and this was the view. Which helped towards a difficult day no end.

Mum has asked me not to ring till Saturday. SATURDAY? And it's only Thursday.... but the boys are going to see her later and I've rung and left a message for her and will talk to the boys later. I think it will probably hit us all in a big way soon, like a tsunami, but that's life for you.

And meanwhile, it's a breezy but sunny day and Lainy and I are off to meet my Pen Friend. We started emailing just after the beginning of lockdown and for obvious reasons haven't met. But he doesn't live too far away, so we are meeting half way for a socially distanced walk. And I am very nervous. He has a rescue dog, too, so we won't be short of things to talk about. I only hope the dogs get on, as Lainy can be a bit reactive with new dogs, particularly females.

Life does this, doesn't it? Nothing happens (especially in lockdown) and then life throws loads of Stuff at you and waits to see how you deal with it. As Pip said to me once, "life's easy when things are going well, and you're successful. It's when everything goes wrong, that's when you learn about yourself, and learn to be strong."

Thanks, darling. Boy have I needed strength this year...!

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Tales of the Unexpected Cornish style

I remember reading Tales of the Unexpected (Roald Dahl) many years ago, but also the TV series which is on one of the many channels and has a very distinctive theme song. The Tooth Fairy made the mistake of humming it on a walk recently, and we both had it as earworm for days afterwards.

But life is so full of the unexpected, isn't it? And it often comes all at once. It's been very stressful trying to sort mum out and reassure her, and look after Lainy (you can see she was riveted looking out of my bedroom window up there) and then a friend behaved in a very strange way that was very upsetting.

Just to top things off, one of my best friend's dogs died yesterday which was very sudden and brought back all the memories of losing Moll six months ago. We were due to go on holiday in May - well, we still will, but without our lovely Daisy, so my heart goes out to my lovely friend. It's such a hard time when you lose your best four legged friend. So my thoughts and love to her.

Anyway, our trip to my Mum was well worth doing, and as always, involved books galore, though I'm now panicking that I didn't vet the books I gave her carefully enough. In times of stress (and boy is this a hard time for us all, but her most of all), she likes Large Print and a Happy Ending. Who can blame her? But I have a nasty feeling a few of the ones I selected don't fit into those categories. Well, none of them do, so I'm busy selecting some more from my huge Mum pile in the hallway and will send those by post for when she moves into the care home next week.

Much has been written about the move into care homes, but it hadn't really hit me until I spent time with Mum. She's very good at hiding her feelings, and it wasn't until the carer told me how upset she was that I had to dig a bit deeper. We all hope that this next step will provide her with more friends, more things to do, and an active time for the next chapter of her life. But even so, it's daunting.

Because we have to clear the house by the end of next week, she was very adamant that I should take whatever I want - both my brothers have, and we have a spreadsheet of who wants what so it's fair. But living in in a one bedroom flat, I have no room for furniture, I've got lots of paintings, and so I've ended up asking for the microwave (I know, great inheritance) but Mum said it's too old and she'll give me the money for a new one. AFter that, I have some lovely Mary Rich pottery, and - yes, books....

I came back with The Wind in the Willows, The Good Master, Mary Poppins in the Park, The Ponies of Bunts and Susanna at Boarding School. She also gave me the pick of a bag of books that she's finished reading, so I can wade my way through them. But it got me thinking about comfort reading.

I love Frenchman's Creek, though it's more escapism than comfort as I always cry my eyes out at the end. I also love Fay Weldon's Rhode Island Blues which I haven't read for ages. The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is a more recent book that I really enjoyed, and too many others to single out. What about yours?

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Childhood books



My dear mum has to move into a care home in two weeks, we found out last Friday. This is all due to the sale of her house which is to exchange today and complete in two weeks. Of course once mum is moved we have to get the house cleared, with auction stuff going in one direction and other stuff in another, and cleaned and all the other things that have to be done - with very little time. So I'm very fortunate in having two brothers so we can spread the load of tasks.

This is obviously a really difficult time for us all but mostly my poor mum. But I will see her tomorrow, and when I asked if she wanted me to bring anything, she said, "books, please".

My mum instilled her love of reading in me from the age of 4 when, out on walks, I would stand in front of signposts and refuse to move until I'd pronounced each syllable to spell the word out. (Try figuring Kingsteignton...) From there I discovered the library and devoured books at a voracious speed. What joys to discover a whole new world out there to match my overactive imagination!

And so our joint love of books has continued throughout our lives. Whatever differences we may have had, we could always discuss books. And now I will take her a bag of second hand books to accompany her to her next home. Well, knowing her she will have read them before she gets there, so I may secrete another bag to keep her going.

When I was little I read many of the books my mum had had as a child: Susannah of the Mounties. Susanna of the Yukon. O'ny Tony's Circus. The Ponies of Bunts (you can detect the four feet theme here), Tom's Midnight Garden. The Jennings books. A Traveller in Time. Stig of the Dump. The Little White Horse, and many, many others.

I re-read quite a few of these during the recent lockdowns. They're like comfort food - soothing and good for the soul. With a promise of happy ending (usually).

So, what are your favourite childhood reads?

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Timing



I'm glad to report that I am vaccinated for my first dose - no side effects, thankfully - and the stitches are out of my eye wound and although it is a keloid scar which means it's raised and lumpy and therefore not what I want to have near my eye, at least it's healed and I'm using silicone strips to try and flatten it. (This is preferable to having steroid injections near my eye which I do not want.) I'm probably more aware than most of what it looks like, as those friends who have seen me, haven't noticed, so that's a bonus.

I can also wear my contact lenses for the first time in a month which makes life so much easier.

And then, oh joys, we had a weekend of SUN in time for my birthday. Very happy me after the last two weekends of torrential rain. So I had a really lovely weekend, despite lockdown. One of my presents was hair dye - I have never in my life dyed my hair and it took a bit of persuasion but I thought well why not, so I am now dark brown (again). I'm not entirely convinced but those that have seen it like it, so...

I started this week full of birthday optimism and then got a phone call that blew me out of the water. It's to do with one of my books and not good news. I won't say more at this point until I've decided what to do, but it caught me completely unawares and I was in such shock that I shook for ages. My confidence plummeted and I just didn't know what to do. However, after a day of reeling with it all, I started making phone calls. I am very fortunate in having some fabulous friends, so I've got three meetings lined up for next week all to give me the advice I need as to how to go forward.

The Tooth Fairy said he was amazed at how proactive I am. I don't like that word but I said, "Well, doing something about it gives me back control. If I sat and did nothing, not only would I get depressed, but I would feel I had no power over the situation."

I know it's not always easy to do take action, and it might take time, but it always makes me feel better. And then this morning, as I drew the curtains in my bedroom which is also my office, the entire curtain rail came down with a huge CRASH. So I'm off to B&Q this afternoon to try and replace that. Thankfully one of my bubble will accompany me as I am very bad at choosing anything to do with the house. I am clearly missing that Domesticated Gene...

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Rosamunde Pilcher and Thank you NHS



Because of my own Walks in the Footsteps of Rosamunde Pilcher book, her publishers contacted me and sent me A Place Like Home, a new collection of short stories, originally published in women's magazines many years ago. The stories are a wonderful romantic read - written with her usual passion and warmth. They transport us to a time when life when there was no social media, or mobile phones, and seemed a lot simpler.... or was it? Whatever, it's a perfect read for lockdown, so enjoy it.

I am about to have a day tended to by the NHS. The wound near my eye hasn't healed properly, so I am off to the clinic at Treliske this morning to see what can be done about it. Fingers crossed they can help sort it, as it's three weeks now and I'm fed up with it! Also I can't wear to wear my contact lenses again...

Then this afternoon I am having my first Covid vaccine, with my second in early May. Hooray and thank you NHS! You are doing a fabulous job and all workers deserve a huge pay rise. ( I wish, and I'm sure they do, too.)

And lastly, I am going to meet my pen friend for a walk next week which will be exciting. There was a lovely piece on Radio Four the other day about a woman who wrote to a male friend who was undergoing chemo etc for cancer. She wrote for two years, during which time they became very close friends. Such a lovely thing to do.

In this case, we have been emailing for about six weeks. It's a real joy, particularly in lockdown. We started adding a few pictures when out on our walks (we both have rescue dogs). Then last weekend we actually spoke! And again yesterday. So we are going to meet for a socially distanced walk next week. When will partly depend on if we get any reactions to our jabs - he's having his tomorrow, but also on the weather, which is forecast good at the moment.

I'm sure we will get on well, but as both dogs are rescue, and a bit nervous, we will have to introduce them carefully. But either way, it's lovely to have some things to look forward to.

If you feel so inclined, do take the time to ring or send someone an email. It could make all the difference to their day. And you never know, it might make a big difference to yours....

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Accident

Life has been partly on hold over the last few weeks because I had an accident that resulted in a wound just above my left eye.

To cut a long story short, I looked like I'd been in a fight with a real shiner of a black eye (it didn't actually hurt but it looked impressive) then, because I wasn't given antibiotics when it happened, it got infected. So I had to go to Treliske to get it properly cleaned out then stitched up. That didn't hurt either, and the whole thing took 20 minutes and no waiting!

I've never - touch wood - had many accidents. The odd bump and scrape like us all, but I took it in my stride. Then the second week it started to really get me down. Not helped by the fact that last weekend it deluged, non-stop. And that we're in lockdown (though as I don't really want to see anyone looking like this, that's probably a bonus). My eye looked like it was getting better, so I thought oh good, I can wear my contact lenses again. So I put them in but they didnt feel right. And a few hours later I took them out. My wound started swelling up again and a bruise formed and I thought oh NO.....

Isn't it typical that just one thing going wrong can knock your confidence, send it tumbling like a card house? I started doubting my ability to write, to train Lainy, to do anything. I was really worried about driving up to Devon to help sort out my Mum's house prior to her moving. About how Lainy would react to a strange environment with lots of strange people. In short, I started worrying about everything. Which again, isn't like me.

By Monday morning I was crawling along the bottom. But it had stopped raining. Hooray! I rang the hospital and they said come up, we'll look at your eye and it was just bruised, no infection. PHEW. Then I had a lovely long email from my Pen Friend on the Lizard. Yes, in these strange times I have a lovely Pen Friend who also has a rescue dog and loves walking so, as we can't meet, we exchange plentiful emails. They are keeping me going, too.

I was too short on sleep on Monday to write anything, but I realised that and gave myself the rest of the day off. I made notes but didn't actually try writing, and rested and read. So by Tuesday I was able to write again. My eye is healing - just more slowly than I would like. And today, although the forecast for Friday and Saturday is horrible, today the sun is shining.

We really do have to be grateful for the little things in life at the moment. Even going to Treliske was An Outing...... So to all of you out there having horrible days, I do so feel for you. We are all going through it at the moment. But we just have to remember, spring is coming. The days are getting longer. We won't be in lockdown forever. Keep going.....

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Heroes



Well, I think the whole world is mourning Captain Sir Tom Moore who embodied everything that we love and admire. He was brave, optimistic, funny, had a great twinkle in his eye and, to misquote Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, "he makes me want to be a better person".

One of the things that Pip hated was people Being Small, as in small minded. Tom Moore was about as big minded as you could get, by the sound of things, and listening to the news this morning, he had an indefatigable curiosity about how things worked - apparently he was fascinated by the film crew who first came to film him, and wanted to know all about the editing process. He wanted to know all about the young reporter who interviewed him: what was her background, what she was doing now. And was she warm enough?

If this were a book, Tom Moore would definitely be the hero, regardless, or perhaps because of his age. But he's a certainly my hero, and I think his views and outlook could be adopted as a benchmark. While this country - and the world - seems to be becoming increasingly divided, wouldn't it be amazing if we could all think a bit more about how Tom Moore treated people?

There could be a Tom Moore Guide to Living, and if we were ever in doubt about what or how to do something, we could stop and think, "How would Tom Moore do this?"

So here's to Tom Moore. Our hero, who sounds like one of the best people you could ever meet.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The Wee Things



As you can see, Lainy is unaffected by lockdown and having a fabulous time on the beach the other morning. In fact, she seems such a happy dog that she cheers me up no end. She has stalwart common sense, a trait that I like to think Moll passed on to her. She has also got Moll's greediness but is way more affectionate, and at the moment, there's nothing like a cuddle.

Over the last week or so I've become increasingly insular. This happened at first in Lockdown One, and didn't last long, I seem to remember. It's been brought on by fear of infection, of course, and the worry that some people don't keep their distance when walking. Covid has spread paranoia among most of us, and it's not pleasant. But it is necessary, or I feel it to be.

For someone who's usually very sociable, I am finding my own company to be enough. Admittedly I have a lot of stuff to keep my brain busy: sending out Book One to agents, writing Book Two (which is pure escapsim, I love it) and also trying to find non-Covid related grants for our business. So in the weekdays I am busy. I have a structure to my days which I find essential. Get up, walk Lainy, at my desk, work then walk her again at around 3pm. Maybe more writing later. French on Wednesday nights via Skype. Book group via Zoom. Phone calls to my Mum and friends in the evenings.

Yesterday Lainy and I went out in the drizzle. I was tired: I'd finished another chapter of Novel Two and it was muggy weather but I don't mind that. We decided to strike out along a footpath I hadn't tried before, and that led over big, open fields, muddy of course but it lifted my spirits no end. Nestled in among the ivy we found an old Lister engine, one that I knew a friend would love as a money making opportunity (?). (I sent a picture - he got excited as I thought he might.) The walk was pleasant: we met few people and I didn't want to talk, preferred my own company and that of Lainy. As we drove away, at the end of the road was a stall selling organic eggs - 6 for £1. That really cheered me up.

And later, the only good bit of news on Radio Four was that in an attempt to cull the grey squirrel population, hazelnut spread is being used, laced with contraception.

That really made my day.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Brave New Year



For some reason my computer has decided not to unload pictures from the last month so apologies if you've seen that one already.

Well, 2021. Not the start to the year we all hoped for, is it? But here we all are, in lockdown and hoping for a better life ahead with vaccines being rolled out. My mum has had both hers, but of course I'm not able to see her for a while, so in the meantime I keep ringing her and sending her books.

I've been paralysed with fear over the rising cases. By the time we went into lockdown I was a jibbering wreck and the first week was just horrible. I couldn't watch the news nor could I listen to it on the radio or I would get terrible anxiety. I know there's the argument that we all have a responsibility to know what's going on, but I think we do, don't we? (And if not, how the hell have you avoided it?) So I would just say, if you can't deal with it, don't. It won't make any difference to ignore the news for a week, or two, as long as you behave sensibly and stay home when you should.

As we settle into week two, I thank god that cases are coming down here. And for the last two weeks, Lainy and I had a bit of online training which was a terrific distraction. It was her Christmas present as she just loves learning, so we had a Zoom session every Friday and throughout the week we had different exercises to do every day. And we had a Whatsapp group where we could exchange when things went horribly wrong (which of course they did) and where they went right - which they did as well.

As I said, it was a great way to break up the day. I'm used to working from home but I get a very stiff back if I don't get up and move around every 20 minutes or so, and this was good for us both. Plus we were both learning and keeping in touch with other dog owners. So I would thoroughly recommend it.

On the book front, I got two rejections from two agents last week, but sent the last novel straight out again. Then I got on with writing the current one which I'm really enjoying. I count myself exceptionally fortunate to a) have Lainy and b) to be able to write. It's kept me going.
One of the best pieces I've read recently was by Bel Mooney, who talks a lot of sense. She encouraged us all to cut down on our screen time, ditto social media and, as well as keeping safe, to KEEP STRONG.

So to everyone out there, keep writing if that is your wish. Keep walking and KEEP STRONG. We will get there...