Woo hoo; girls jolly!

Woo hoo; girls jolly!

I’m off to Suffolk this weekend, with my girlies. We call it a girls’ weekend, but we go for four days, and none of us, it has to be said, qualify as girls anymore.

A big house in the country; shopping and hikes. Far, far too much wine. Ditto the food. We used to book adventure experiences, back in the day (we’ve been doing this for a lot of years), but we’ve grown lazy. The sheer consumption of food and alcohol is adventure enough these days. (Note to self; don’t forget to pack the antacids)

None of us will forget the weekend we spent on a barge. The living accommodation was  rustic (The Sister had to sleep on the kitchen floor, with her head in the fridge), and the only loo had a louvred door. I was born too old for that lark. I mean, how do you actually do your business when you can see six other people going about theirs? One of our number, I’ll call her Oooh!J (we’ve got a lot of J’s so I’m not giving much away), is particularly sensitive to her toilette surroundings. We inflated a rubber glove through the slats of the door while she was on the bog, and she didn’t go in there again for the rest of the trip. We opened both sets of lock-doors on one of the locks (too many cooks) and risked the whole bloody canal draining away downhill. And we crashed into some rowers. Good looking lads, we bumped into them again in the pub.

Oh, how we’ve laughed. Segways and four-wheel driving experiences, arts and crafts (Married-too-many-times-J painted a rabbit, and not of the furry sort.) We’ve dressed up for murder mysteries and belly dancing classes, boated and climbed, sculpted, shot arrows and played balloon games. You never recover from seeing your friends thrusting their groins against the wall to burst a balloon which is clasped between their thighs.

We’ve cried a fair bit too. We call it Suicide Sunday, when the booze and lack of sleep combine to overwhelm us and our traumas leak out. We’ve cheered each other off on new life exploits and mopped up after ordeals. Seven batty women with a horde of children (and a fair few grand-kids) between them, who chickened out of paint-balling when some men showed up in full combat gear. (Ok, so the men were actually 14 year old lads, but that was even scarier: Soft-J actually cried when she saw them). I said there were a lot of J’s. I think that particular escapade was our adventurous swan-song. We went and had fish and chips instead.

No photographs to illustrate this week’s blog. What happens on the girls weekend stays on the girls weekend. Thank the Lord. I’m thanking him, too, for my colourful, wildly indecent, loud, outrageously funny mates.

I might not be quite so thankful by Suicide Sunday, but here we go again. Hang on to your bladders, ladies, I predict a riot.

The Lake District – rustic romance to inspire

The Lake District – rustic romance to inspire

DSC_0296DSC_0297I’m blown away by the rustic romance of Cumbria this week. Even the barns are enchanting, and then there are the hills, the rocks and the lakes; forests and waterfalls. There are lambs in the fields (and on the narrow lane to our cottage); calves with doe eyes grazing behind dry stone walls. The foxgloves in bloom, poking pink flowers through bright green fern…

border-collie-191776_1920Catch your breath in amazement stuff around every corner. And I’m inspired. Land Rovers and collie dogs working for their living. Farmhouses and cottages, keeping centuries of stories behind stone walls. And a countryside so rugged that just getting by must be a challenge for the people who live there after the tourists have gone home. When the rain pours off the mountains and the lakes overflow, or the roads are blocked by snow drift. When swift cloud engulfs the rocky hills and valleys to leave you isolated in a world of mist.

landrover cumbriaAcross the field from our holiday home stood our nearest neighbour; a white-washed stone cottage with a grey slate roof and a wooden gate to the front. The red Mini Cooper outside, with it’s personalised number plate, tells me that this must be Hayley’s house. There’s no sign of children, so I’ve decided that Hayley is in her mid twenties. And she lives alone, because the house is empty when Hayley has gone to work. No regular visitors either, but one irregular one: Late in the evening a Land Rover parks beside the red Mini. It’s gone before dawn. A proper working vehicle, this, with winches, and muddy tyres. Long wheel based and laden with gear. No personalised number plate to help me out here, but I’m going to say that this Landy is driven by a man who works on the land. A farmer or a gamekeeper, maybe even a vet. Occupations which might explain why he turns up so late and is gone so early. Or could it be that there’s an altogether different story unfolding in that cottage…

Hmmm. I think I can feel a Cumbrian rustic romance coming on.

Road Trip!

Road Trip!

A quick one this week, because we’re off on a mini UK tour, and I really ought to be packing, or editing, or cleaning the house. Because you have to leave the house extra-clean when you’re not going to be in it, don’t you?

I’ve just spoken to the mates who are coming with us, and we’ve sorted our packing lists: Wellies, waterproofs, sun-cream and sandals. So, pack for all weather, basically. I’m glad the car doesn’t have a baggage allowance.

A pre-harvest jolly to Yorkshire, Scotland and the Royal Highland Show (which I’m weirdly excited about). Home via the lake district, by boat if necessary, seeing as nature is filling those lakes up as I write. I’d quite like to bring a Highland cow back with me, but only one that can swim.

I’m taking the editing with me (who am I kidding?) because I’m about to bust my latest self-imposed deadline, (final re-writes back to the editor before I go away, oh dear).  And I’m stressing about the ancient terriers, or stressing about the poor souls who I’m leaving in charge of them, actually. They’re standing outside in the rain at the moment (the terriers, not the carers), looking ancient and mighty bedraggled (I won’t humiliate them by sharing a picture here). But, for some reason which I really can’t fathom, they do come back in to pee. I might lay a shavings bed in the boot room , then the carers can just muck them out.

Here’s wishing for some sunshine, (and an England win tonight). COME ON ENGLAND/SUMMER (delete as required) – let’s be having you!

A shaggy dog story to start your week

A shaggy dog story to start your week

So, we went to the coast this weekend, with two of our oldest friends (the Bridesmaid and the Best Man actually, although that was thirty-plus years ago). Bear with me, the story gets funnier. We girls (I reserve the right to calls us girls, despite having given away the fact that, if I married thirty-plus years ago, I’m actually anything but) went potter-shopping. You know,  the sort that men hate, when we wander in to every shop, not intending to purchase, and end up with quite a lot of shit which we didn’t really want. The Bridesmaid got a new handbag, and some decoupage paper. I bought two, very luxurious, beds for my ancient dogs, and a clingy top (which I made unclingy by buying two sizes too large). It’s nice, I’m wearing it now. And the dogs have managed to find their new beds, without too much confusion. So, all in all, a surprisingly good result for a potter-shopping trip. My apologies to the charity shop (although I doubt they’ll have to wait donkey’s years to get their hands on those pet beds…)

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Anyway, let me back up a bit. We sent the boys (ditto, above) off to find their own fun, and they decided to hunt the coast for old military defences. (I’m not making this up, and you’ll get no comment from me, because at least their choice was less costly than potter-shopping was. Venus and Mars and all that…)

They had a successful trip; after a bit of a drive and a bit of a hike, they managed to track down a WWII Emergency Coastal Battery (I only know it’s called that because ‘we’ Googled it later.) Here’s some blurb that I’ve lifted from the Norfolk Heritage Explorer (link here, for those of you [men] who might be interested).

A World War Two emergency coast defence battery survives largely intact together with two ancillary structures on the cliff top … It  is also visible on aerial photographs; the latter indicate that it was constructed between 30 July 1941 and 4 January 1943.  It consists of two gun emplacements which held ex-Naval 6-inch guns, projecting off an integral, semi-subterranean accommodation and storage block. Three ancillary buildings (two of which survive, one as a garden shed) 

Phew! (I do like the bit about the shed though) here’s a pic:

Mundesley bunker

Very…symmetrical, isn’t it. Alas, you can’t get inside. Our boys peered through the teeny-tiny gap in the structure (if you look at the picture closely, you can see the mini spy-hole by the corner on the left-hand wall). Too dark inside to see anything, though. Undaunted, The Farmer and the Best Man took a snap through the hole.

Now, I really enjoyed my potter-shop, but I’d have laughed until I peed if I’d witnessed their reactions when they looked at the picture they’d taken:

Scroll down and take a peek if you dare

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Priceless.

Mood setting – painting a picture in words #amwriting #amediting

Mood setting – painting a picture in words #amwriting #amediting

As writers, we have a rich selection of words we can use to set a mood; an emotion; a moment. The art of good writing (and the joy of good reading) takes us right in to a time and and a place – and sets the mood of the moment – without telling us.

There’s a scene in the novel I’m editing (A Bed of Brambles – the sequel to A Bed of Barley Straw) where the hero (Alexander) is sitting above cliffs, recovering from the hurt of an emotional upset, and being soothed by the landscape around him. So, that’s me telling you what’s happening.

Amidst her pleas of “Show us!” My editor queried my choice of words in this scene – “would he be calmed by the waves crashing against the rocks?”

Good point; crashing and rocks are hard, angry words. How about “calmed by the waves washing across the pebbles on the beach?”

Here’s one picture of the landscape, similar to that which I’m seeing when I’m writing the scene:

Angry Anglesey coast

It is angry isn’t it? The waves are crashing against the rocks. It’s moody, and melancholy; in turmoil. Blacks and greys and an unsettled sea – all very Poldark! Passionate, oh Lord, there’s all sorts of angsty words I could use (and a risk of becoming clichéd)

Here it is in sunnier mood:

Sunny Anglesey-coast

Now I’m uplifted. The sun warming the cliff-face, ripples on the grey-green water… and I could talk about the clouds, but I mustn’t overdo it. I’m falling into that cliché trap again (frothy and fluffy, the ocean tumbling over the rocks).

The same coastline, different angle – let’s do serene:

serene Anglesey coast

I’ll let you chose your own words, I’m not sure Alexander is ever quite this peaceful, still, enticing. Oh, hang on, he is enticing, just not in such a clean way 😉

It’s a maze and a labyrinth, feeling your way to the right words. And that’s before I’ve even told you how he’s sitting on the bench… Is he leaning forward with his head in his hands? Is he lounging back against the salt-bleached wood with his long legs stretched out in front of him…

It’s a mood, a moment in the novel. It’s why editing fries your brain.

 

A poem for my Dad, and yours if you want it to be

A poem for my Dad, and yours if you want it to be

Our fathers

You thought you were leaving

You watched your body failing

And you tried to imagine a world which you did not exist in

You couldn’t, and neither could we

But now we know

There’s a branch on that tree still wearing the heat of your hand

That sand, by the edge of the sea, where those children play; the grains they stir shifted under your foot first

The dog on the riverbank circles back, to the place where you stood

They know too

And we, your flesh and blood

were wrapped in the cloak of you

The dust you left when you walked on earth settled on us too

We see you

You’re still here

Hippy adventures

Hippy adventures

My but the body is a resilient tool, and the mind’s capacity for adaptation is a wonder!

Three weeks on from my hip replacement and my skill on crutches has developed apace. I’ve almost got used to having no free hands, shuffling items from pillar to post until they reach their final destiny (I WILL position that cup of coffee next to my easy chair). I can use the crutches like chopsticks to move some things along, but the greatest amusement in my day is had with my long handled gripper. I’ve been honing my gripper skills with determined ambition; knickers from ankles to washing basket with one sweep of the arm. Target practice at the dustbin for extra sport. I can pet the dogs, or even prod them when they’re scratching at my carpet. What fun! A comedy of terrier confusion as they try to work out that one.

Life isn’t without frustrations. Tell me I can’t bend over and I instantly start dropping every thing I touch (not to mention a few that were sitting around minding their own business until that sweep of the gripper got them). I have been known to drop the gripper too, and my crutches. Proper stymied in those moments.

Support stockings have driven me close to madness. The surgeon chopped my leg in half, but it’s those bloody stockings that bug me. Erotic they aren’t. When I have taken the time to imagine a man kneeling at my feet freeing me of hoisery, this wasn’t the scenario I dreamt of. The only release I yearn is escape from their deadly boa constrictor grip.

I long for the loo to be a haven again, where I can sit in comfort. I learnt the hard way that slow progress to the dunny+lack of scissor leg action+more wasted minutes reversing onto the bog and dropping my troos (not too low!) is a receipe for disaster (especially if someone has put the lid down – thirty years of marriage when he didn’t drop the lid and suddenly he’s Mr Diligent.) Oh how we laughed.

Every cloud has a sliver lining. Housework has gone out the window, swiftly followed by the ironing. My mother filled the freezer with delicious home cooking. A joy for the first fortnight, but we’ve now fallen prey to a sordid ready-meal habit. The sister has been on dilligent standby duties, instinctively absorbing all the gritty jobs which I couldn’t ask anyone else to do (I won’t abuse you with detail). I baulked at calling even her when the terrier puked on the carpet. It was a weird sort of torture, observing the glorious mess from my seat, unable to clear it up. Now I never thought I’d miss the skills to do that job, but at least the farmer learnt something: don’t give old dogs eggs for breakfast without anticipating consequences. Even if we are out of Chappie.

As I type said farmer is washing the kitchen floor. Unasked and unprompted. And that my friends is an indication of just how low this house has fallen.

Six for five, three for two…or a baker’s dozen and a cappuccino?

Six for five, three for two…or a baker’s dozen and a cappuccino?

Our supermarket has had a makeover. The car park is fantastic. An entire level for blue badge holders (which, given the battle anyone has to park within a mile of our market must be a godsend for those less sprightly on their pins) AND there are always spaces!

Incredible, remarkable. But it may have something to do with the fact that you can’t find a bloody thing in the shop any more. If you can find the shop at all. The lifts have been reversed and you’ll see many a confused shopper (yes all right, me) stuck in the lift staring hopefully at closed doors while a trick-or-treat set opens and closes behind them. When you park the signage tells you that you are on level G+1. There’s a level G+2 and a level G-1 as well, but the buttons in the lift do not correspond with any of that (the stickers which the staff helpfully sellotaped up failed to stick). So your hallelujah joy at escaping the lift is short lived when you discover you have arrived at a floor which doesn’t exist, and you can’t even remember which town you are in any more.

Now I could be accused of being change averse, but don’t get me started on the shop’s new lay-out. In our uber-quaint market town, cafes and tea rooms are three a penny. There isn’t a combination of hot drink plus calories which you can’t locate within seconds of arrival. So why oh why did our town centre supermarket think it was necessary to add not one, not two, but three areas inside their shop where you can now get a coffee?

You fall over the queue for the first one as soon as you walk in. A coffee machine wedged conveniently (not) between Customer Service and Quick-Check hand-set collection. Slow quick-check hand-set collection (sounds like a line from Strictly Come Dancing.) Very slow shop, because nothing is where it used to be. Trip over second cafe in the bakery section, notice the seated diners judging as you try to buy cake covertly.

I fear there is a clash of customer versus marketing going on here. Me, I just want to do a grocery hit and run. Marketing wants me to be distracted by all the fripperies they have on offer. They succeeded in distracting me (before I got out of the lift) and they have well and truly slowed me down. Too many special offers for a befuddled brain to cope with…six for five, three for two…or a baker’s dozen and a cappuccino? Four backtracks to hunt out items I’ve missed and I still turf up at the ‘quick-check’ (note ironic inverted commas) with less than half of my shopping.

Cafe three, I see what they’re doing. You do actually need pit-stops to break up this ordeal. And…a security check. The final insult to prove it would have been quicker to grow the groceries myself. I remind myself to be polite. It isn’t the shop assistant’s fault, and given my now total confusion there is actually a very good chance that I’ve stolen something…three for two, seven for six, one for nothing? I smile at her sweetly, I may need her in a forgiving mood before this shopping trip gets a whole lot worse.

As it is, I’m out! Now I just need to find the bloody car. And breathe.

Improper use of the English language

Improper use of the English language

Too long since my last post here, because my head is firmly wedged into editing which I find can be even more all consuming than the actual writing is. Third pass on the draft manuscript and I may be changing the same words backwards and forwards but I’m also still finding typos. How do they hide so craftily? I changed the font style and size for this read through, and found five obvious errors in the first couple of paragraphs. Incredible given the number of times I have already read it, and scary to think how many more I might (will) be missing.

The error rate decreased as I moved on through the manuscript,  but this could simply be the result of my anticipatory brain adjusting to the new font. Should I change the font every two paragraphs? Phew! I ought to read it on an e-reader next, but I’ve already forgotten the formatting skills which would allow me to covert the Word document. I do remember that it took me a bloody long time to learn those skills the first time around.

Of course I wrote the words, so I know what they’re going to say. And that provides the eye to brain translator with a very efficient ‘ignore and correct’ reflex which is nigh on impossible to override. That’s my psuedo-science excuse anyway. Unfortunately the reflex doesn’t work on the reader who doesn’t know what’s coming next. I know this because as a reader myself typos and errors in other’s books are glaringly obvious (although I don’t scoff at them quite as much now as I once might have done, nervous empathy stops me.)

Note to self; first draft may be a brain dump, but next time at least try to brain dump with grammar.

It will actually be a huge relief to pass the manuscript on the professionals. The editors, beta readers and proofreaders who know what they’re doing. Me, I really just like telling stories. Having said that I know that I will be protective of my work, and overly defensive about any suggested changes. Foolish, because I loved how the editing shaped and sharpened A Bed of Barley Straw, taking my jumbles of impassioned phrases and tightening them up to form a proper (or should that be improper) novel.

I’m really excited about the cover design for the new book, which is looking gorgeous. (Reveal shortly!) Having a cover makes me believe that the book is actually going to happen (in a way that writing 100k words strangely didn’t.)

Oh the vagaries of the human mind. If there are any typos or grammatical errors in this post, kindly forgive them. I am all edited out (and I know that’s not proper use of the English language.)

A Very British Seaside Tradition – deck-chairs, ice-cream and sandy bottoms

A Very British Seaside Tradition – deck-chairs, ice-cream and sandy bottoms

There were seven of us on that first beach hut adventure. Six adults and one tiny-eight-week old baby. My nephew. We lounged in deck-chairs as we read our books, and brewed cups of tea. Strolled along the coast and swam in the sea. Twelve arms to share one precious bundle.

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Within ten years, the adults were outnumbered. Rumbustious kids, adventurous toddlers and sandy-bottomed babies. Buggys, pottys and sun-cream. We hauled a hand cart up and down the steep and winding path, heavy with picnics, towelling jackets, swimming suits. Buckets and spades. Saucepans, nappies and home-made cakes. Lounging became a dream of the past, forsaken to the glorious chaos of toddler pursuit, life-guard duties and feeding a hungry swarm. We cooked up fish fingers and baked beans on the gas stove in the hut, strung a mosquito net to fend off angry wasps. Embraced the weariness as we settled our gaggle of salty-haired offspring onto child-sized plastic chairs. As the beach cleared and the sun dropped, we sipped mugs of tea and smiled as they ate with an appetite born of a well lived day. Babies slept on impromptu beds spread on the beach hut floor. A weary-legged tramp took us back up to the top of the cliff. The sleep of the rosy-cheeked, sated child. Heads lolling in car seats, drunk on fresh air.

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Tots grew into children. Bikinis and body boards, chips and arcades. Windy days brought waves to ride and kites to fly. Even when it rained the beach never failed to work its magic. Sandcastles became more adventurous. Shells gathered for bracelets, plaits beaded in hair. Granddad’s faithful frisbee, beach-boules and cricket. Suntan lotion glistened on youthful bodies which had evolved between our visits.

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The whistle on the kettle changed its tune and more mugs were needed. We spread, our chairs spilling across the promenade. We took more than our share. Behind dark glasses teenage eyes watched passing talent. Youth swooped from angsty adolescent to playful child and back again with dizzying speed. Fireworks, air shows and smart phones. They might not want to come next year. Can they bring their girlfriend/boyfriend? But go without them, and oh they are pissed off.

cliff view

We must buy our fish and chips from the very same place. Park at the cliff-top to take in the view of our beach. Ice cream cones, mugs of tea and rock cakes are compulsory. Change is good, but who can argue with those traditions. We number sixteen now, there is a new tot on the beach. My great nephew – sandy-bottomed, salty-haired and very precious.