Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Talk and Growing Old



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Getting to Know You and Cheering News



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Tiptoe through the Tulips

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Accidents and The Importance of Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So watch out!

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Award and memories

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Rescue dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Support Networks - for Writers

The phrase 'support networks' has become about as overused as the terrible 'unprecedented', which has long set my teeth on edge. But we all need a group, or groups, of people who will give us support, when we need it.

When I first became a journalist, my editor insisted I join Facebook and Twitter, and there I found some amazing online support groups, some of which I still use today. I know there are increasing numbers of malicious people on social media, but there are also like minded people, many of which can give valuable support and advice.

My writing support network tend to consist, in the real world, of a collection of individuals rather than groups - at least, there are Cornish groups but trying to find a convenient time and place for us all to meet seems to be incredibly difficult. But I am fortunate in having several very talented writer friends I can ring up and ask for help or advice. And of course it works both ways.

In my personal life, I am fortunate in having some fabulous friends who I know I can rely on - and I am there for them, too. And of course, I count books as my support group as well. For what can be better, when we're feeling tired and need a pick up? Or fed up and need to escape? In need of instruction, and finding wise words...

Who or what are your support networks? I real life, on paper, or on screen?

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Mini break and Editor



A close friend suggested that we should have a campervan picnic - two of them - which then led to the Where Shall We Go, given that Cornwall is overrun with visitors, and the vans are both quite big. Then my friends were probably leaving earlier so I'd have to go in my van and meet them there. Then we decided to stay the night, which further compounded the problem of where to go.

Eventually we found a very small campsite which had pitches for us both, by some miracle, and so we arrived there independently on Monday. The problem I was worried about was not whether myself and M would get on - we know that we do - but the dogs. Lainy had a squabble with M's dog the week before and I was very concerned that this shouldn't escalate, particularly given that we were going to be living in close quarters.

So I did a lot of preparation, talking to Lainy's foster mums - we have a Whatsapp group as we all have rescue dogs, and can compare notes on any problems we encounter with our respective canine charges. In fact, I'm glad to report there were no squabbles, though poor M's dog had evidently had enough by yesterday afternoon, and went and sat in the car park in protest. I felt terrible - after all, we were the guests - even if Lainy had been on her best behaviour - but hopefully we can focus on the positives, of which there were many. Even if Twig might not have thought so.

It was really lovely to have just 24 hours away - we explored new walks, had a fabulous barbecue with our dear friends, enjoyed a few glasses of wine and all in all, I felt as if I'd been away for several days rather than just one. And we're going to plan the next break very soon.

The other cheery thing was that I got in touch with a freelance editor, who was highly recommended, to give me some advice on Sixth Scent, my most recent novel, and she came emailed back to say she thought it was great. Unique and quirky. So we're going to start work on that at the beginning of October. So that's another positive.

I'm also going to Devon and seeing my mum at the end of September. I know it's not possible to get away, or at least go very far, but as we found yesterday, even going six miles away makes a difference, and it's very important to have things to look forward to, isn't it?

Friday, 13 August 2021

More of me and Fern



Well, this was one of my moments of glory from last week's show, Fern Britton's My Cornwall.

I was all a-quiver beforehand because I didnt know how much, if any, of the two hours of filming would be used. fern and I talked a lot about Daphne du Maurier, Winston Graham, Rosamunde Pilcher, writing, inspirations - lots of stuff and I rather feared none would be used, but it was!

Three of my closest friends came round with a bottle of Prosecco, to watch it, and nerves mounted as the programme went on - and on - and still no me, though I knew I'd be at the end, if at all. And then, there I was! Jacqui had lent me the jacket that I was wearing to go riding, and her gloves (essential as my tiny hands were frozen), and another friend lent me the jodhpurs and boots, so I might have looked the part but that was entirely due to my dear mates' wardrobes.

We were so excited I don't think any of us took much of it in, but two of them took pictures off the screen, so I can use some for writer publicity stuff which is good. The above picture is from TwoFour Productions so that's the best quality.

As the programme ended, my phone rang and it was James, my neighbour, who I'd completely forgotten to tell. "Why didn't you SAY?" he said. "We're just sitting here watching telly, and then we saw Fern, and then - you! And we said, 'That's our Sue!'"

So that's my piece of fame for this year. The Tooth Fairy is convinced that the phone will ring with offers of TV programmes but so far it's remained decidedly quiet..... Another friend suggested this could be the start of my new career as a TV equestrian journalist.... The thing about life is that you just never know. Meanwhile, on with the day job and editing....

Monday, 2 August 2021

TV appearance

The above picture has nothing to do with my TV appearance, but I have no stills or pictures because any photography was forbidden during filming.

In April I was contacted by a TV production company to ask if I’d like to take part in a programme featuring Fern Britton in Cornwall. Would I?!!

To cut a very long story short, it involved me filming with Fern on horseback for several hours on Bodmin Moor and I loved it! This, despite the fact that I hadn’t ridden for 30 years, and then it was only for an hour - otherwise it was nearer 50 years. I did have a trial ride before hand and found that, to my relief, my muscles hadn’t entirely forgotten how to hang on or what to do

… I’m not at liberty to say any more until the programme has aired which will be this Thursday at 8pm on Channel 5. It’s entirely possible that my part will have been edited out completely, but will probably be reduced to a minute, if that.

But the producer was most complimentary about my knowledge of Cornwall, and its writers - I had, mind you, written books on the topics, but it’s amazing how quickly you can forget things.

Still, we will be sitting in front of the telly with baited breath on Thursday evening. As an optimistic friend said, “Who knows what this will lead to?” Probably nothing, but the experience was brilliant and I found something else I really enjoyed. If it does lead to anything, that’s even better.

Rather like Helen Glover said, on her recent experience at the Olympics, “it’s the trying that counts”. And like her, I’m not afraid to try.

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?