Monday, 30 June 2008

travelling, phones and food

What a great few days - except for the awful book agents....let me expand. Spent Thursday with my brother who is now going AWOl which I think is great but not sure what the wardens - sorry nurses - at his brain injury unit think. We were supposed to meet his support worker and we waited three quarters of an hour and when she didn't show I phoned her - and then she tells me she ain't coming because she doesn't feel well. That just ain't good enough, says I... but it falls on sick ears and I seeth.

But Friday and Saturday was great -spent them at Winchester talking - which comes naturally to me more than others - and finding out all sorts of information. Look out for quite apart from the name, it's a new networking site for writers, small publishers, and readers, to exchange ideas and well, keep in touch. A sort of netmarket for all things literary - I was impressed.

WE sold some books, chatted and I bought a fantastic old edition of Mallory's Morte D'Arthur with Russell Flint illustrations which is wonderfully evocative of my childhood when I used to devour the few old books left on a side shelf - apart from that it was the News of the World on Sunday and the Mirror in the week. I part swapped my novel The GAwain Quest for it which I'm sure will be as well known as Mallory's writings (Ok you've never heard of it....) in time.

I came back totally exhausted and fell asleep - nearly - in Dr Who and am totally peeved that the BBC powers have decided to make it a three parter with the denouement coming next week when I'm in Bruges...just hope the TV will get BBC1. Fat chance.

Sunday was another DAvid day so the less said....
But today, and the reason I'm writing this now, is that Irene, dear friend, has made the final preparations to Luther's Ambassadors (the text) for the printers. Just waiting for the cover to turn up and it can go - my second baby, about to depart into the world, to founder and then walk tall....It's a tale of Anne Boleyn (yawn, not another....) but this is different. This time she's mixed up with some French guys who's faces will be familiar to anyone who has visited the National Gallery - those wonderful men painted by Holbein, the Ambassadors. And we get to know what she did as a child, and the psychology behind that cold determination to marry Henry....

Now to plan the book launch....

So now I can move on and nurture the next baby.

Oh, and the book agents; saw two (nameless) at Winchester at the writers' conference. One asked 'so where will this fit into the bookshelves?' of my submission, and the other one turned up half hour late, flustered, unshaven and totally non sympathetic; I let him get on with his life, while I get on with mine....When I told my husband about the 'where will it fit?' He said: 'where does Ishiguro fit on the shelves?' Answer me that one, 150 words, only. I have come to the conclusion that the whole publishing world is crazy, but that there is a new uprising going on; look out for small publishers, like Goldenford, or new ways of marketing, for we all know that publishers pay bookshops to strategically place their books at the front of shop and how many of us could truly say that those 3 for 2 offers really make good reading? enuf, its near to my bedtime - I love waking at the dawn which is about 4 at the moment, and starting the day but as it drifts off into greyness now I can feel slumber coming on.....

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

JUne 25

I’m back with a new body! Was it really 11 May that I posted? So long - but now I'm back with a pristine new body, all silver glitz and bright front - but the inside needs getting used to. Of course I'm talking about my new computer - after trying internal wireless, three new wireless adaptors, carrying my laptop upstairs and trying cables, I came up with the tentative suggestion to the computer expert(?) that it might just be my laptop that was not working - it did get very hot where the wireless equipment was situated and it worked Ok first think in the morning when it was cold but then, as it hotted up, I lost my internet connection. Does anyone else realise how much we rely on this window on the world; I wrote a poem to my laptop some years ago, when it was working properly. Here it is:


Oh, how I love you, laptop
not only for your shape
and your light weight
but for all that is in you.

There is so much that you give me:
your connection to the outside world;
the words you let me play with;
the pictures and photographs you keep safely.
You even help me with my banking and household accounts.
You keep me in touch with my far-flung relatives, with friends;
instantly we exchange messages through you.

Oh, my computer, my precious, my love.
I’ll never forsake you

unless I have to upgrade you!

Well that’s what I’ve done but now it’s a learning curve. Good old bill gates (he doesn’t deserve capitals until he helps me out!) improves but deletes important tools like the filepath I used to put into my documents in the footer – anyone out there know where it is in Vista, the most up to date (and most frustrating) word package?

So if this is not posted it’s because I haven’t worked out how to get it into the blog, if it is and you’re reading it, well, I feel as if I’ve made one giant step and I know I’ll beat the system in this laptop eventually.

So apart from having nervous breakdowns, screaming at computerpeople, him indoors (not his fault but he got in the way), and generally feeling very grumpy what the hell have I been doing for the last six weeks? The most exciting was going to Freiburg – twinned with my home town of Guildford – to market Goldenford books to the Germans, who turned out to be extremely accommodating and friendly despite what my father used to say about them. (He worked in the docks in the East End of London throughout the war and used to watch the bombs dropping – he described the vivid red and black of the sky and the loud bangs and whining noises (doodlebugs landed and caused devastation when the noise stopped) So perhaps he was prejudiced. Anyway, we had a great time with the Anglo German group and sold some books as well, including a few Gawains. And Freiburg is a charming town, the entrance to the Munster is a must.

I’ve also been working on the cover of my next book Luther’s Ambassadors which should be published in the autumn, and one of the joys of being in charge of your own books is to choose your own covers. I have very defined views on this, wanting to have something that is different and will stand out – it is along the lines of Gawain’s cover and is based on a ceramic made by Iris Davies which I’ve now had framed as it is beautiful – if I had the knowledge of the technology in this laptop I’d reproduce it but sadly I need time to learn that bit.

The edits of the text have been flowing back and forth between me and my colleagues – we try to maintain the highest standard in the editing but it is not easy. Even when the books are published someone will find a typo or mistake – keep the comments coming as we can always amend these because we use POD and it is easy (although it costs a bit) to amend any errors with the next print run.

Apart from that I have attended two wonderful weekend courses, one on Gawain and the Green Knight, on which The Gawain Quest is based, and the other on Christopher Marlowe. These courses were based at Madingley at Cambridge which is a dream of a place to attend but like all heavenly places, is threatened by government cuts. I’m writing to my MP but unfortunately she is on the other side so I doubt if it will do any good. This government has a sinister plot; it is cutting back on access to justice by lowering the legal aid rates so much that nobody will be able to use a lawyer in the future, you might be able to be locked up for 42 days without being charged,(and if you think this won’t apply to you think about local governments using anti-terrorist laws to fine people for overfilling their dustbins) our education system is being eroded, and any ability to attain an education in adulthood is being cut back – what does this read to you? I would suggest it will make a compliant, uneducated population that can become the slaves of a government which will brook no argument. The labour party realise that only educated people challenge the system. One day there will be no more elections and we will only wake up to the fact when it is too late. Remember 1984 was 22 years ago....

So if you know about Madingley can you write to your MP about it? Indeed write anyway about the cutbacks in adult and extra mural education because everyone needs some mental stimulus and if this comes from lifetime learning and benefits society it should be funded by the government mainly. Here endeth my political fury.

Going back to the Marlowe course, this too was wonderful, run by two tutors no less, with interesting facts about Marlowe which I can incorporate into the complete, but unedited, story which is the third of my trilogy, called The nine lives of Kit Marlowe. Out in the spring I hope – and with a cover based on a ceramic by Iris Davies who is working on it at this very moment.

And finally, we also had the launch of Jacquelynn’s book, Tainted Tree in the wonderful village hall at Pirbright. This is a mid-thirties hall with a touch of the Lutyens; it was a glorious summer day (the only one I remember this year but perhaps I’ve been too preoccupied trying to goad my computer into working) and the assembled company was great. A buffet lunch for the attendees persuaded them to buy and we had a great sales day.

And another finally, well almost, I am working on going to America in early November for a book-signing, presentation, visit and on Guildford Book festival events. So keep looking....

In the meantime, and not really finally, I still visit my brother in the Acute Brain Injury Unit – every time I go there are issues but the main ones are:-

At Whitsun he threatened to punch a member of staff. Oh dear – I then find out that while he was watching the grand prix the television was turned off by that nurse – and I think to myself, well, if someone did that to me, I might well threaten to punch them (it wouldn’t be the grand prix but possibly Wimbledon, but you get the principle). I’m given three different reasons for the incident and I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable – is this a matter of the staff being impatient with David?

The latest incident, only yesterday, was that I was notified that he’d gone out at 3 and was still not back at 7.30 –then he returned at 9.30. I’m not worried. He might have ‘executive dysfunction’ but he knows his way around, will do what he wants to do but will always return to his nest for feeding eventually; but I know I’ll have to discuss strategy with the unit – or the next place he is moved to. It’s a strange thing when a person can’t make a decision about what food to eat or decide to have a shower but can recite any piece of information about London – facts, travel information, free concerts or a free drink! He also has a Beano sense of humour – for instance, when his arm is playing up, he will explain, ‘just tell them that David is ’armless.’ Or when someone asks him if he is allright he will answer, ‘No, I’m half left,’ which is a very old joke from our childhood. So he’s quite good natured.

But he finds the unit quite difficult because some of the other patients are aggressive or noisy. At the moment they have a tiny Indian lady whose memory has been wiped out by a brain haemorrhage and sometimes she moans and wails very loudly – the staff are nowhere to be seen but I speak softly to her, say hello, and she stops and looks at me, smiles sweetly and glides away in her elegant sari. Then there is the Pole who was only over here for a few weeks when something happens and he ends up here – speaking only Polish but he responds to a ‘hello’ as well. Rob, who’s been in there as long as my brother was obviously a hard nut before he went in – he’s tattooed down each arm and had a motorbike accident. The first time I spoke to him he told me to ‘F-off’ in a nicely rounded way, but now he smiles and walks on....weekends are the worst, sometimes when I walk in there’s an air about the place, and people are walking around, clearly agitated – it was like that the day my brother flipped and threatened to punch the nurse. All this makes it difficult for me to go there but I do because it must be infinitely worse for David whose locked up there. So when he escapes for a few hours, I am not worried.


Thursday, 15 May 2008

early morning 16 May

So have I told you about my problems with the internet? I suddenly lose it and despite pressing the ‘refresh’ button it just won't come back sometimes I can pick up emails (on three separate addresses) – sometimes I can’t but can get on the Internet. Sometimes I can pick up my compuserve addresss emails (reserved for close friends and lovers) and not my publishing emails; and sometimes I can pick up the ‘work’ emails and not the privates… what the hell is going on? I’ve had two people look at my laptop since January and they have fiddled around, put in new wireless adaptors, assured me that my laptop has its own wireless connection, checked my routers from which I pick up my signals and even travelled around the area where I live connecting me to other computers (just for a short while, honest) and it keeps jumping off....and it is driving me nuts. I have now worked out the pattern of my laptop’s behaviour – when the computer is first started in the morning, it is fine but by coffee time its beginning to get erratic. If I leave it alone for the afternoon to have a little snooze (on off, not hibernating) it might just let me connect in the evening….

I have put forward my theory; it gets hot and doesn’t like working the internet when it’s hot so it decides to take these little rests. Or there’s a dead spider in there which is roasting…..or a little numskull man who is giggling at me as I try to put this on my blog but my computer experts look at me as if I ought to be locked up ….if anyone can come up with a solution they will immediately be sent some virtual reality jellybeans – a ton of them, as a thankyou.

I’ve been so busy the last few days so can’t really say what I’ve done – you know that feeling, when your head is buzzing so much with all the activity and rushing around and phones ringing and people asking questions and expecting immediate decisions to be made and the expected not happening and having to chase and the unexpected happening instead…..except there’s a little gem come on the radio as I drive home from a professional CPD meeting…well a powerful soul enhancing gem, Mahler’s 5th Symphony. It is so so difficult to get out of the car. Sometimes I will just sit there and let the music surround me and blow the time, but tonight I have to see a client and it’s already 6.38 and I’m going to cook dinner and I want to do some writing. (this was written last night but, guess what, I couldn't post it because of the internet probs.)

On Wednesday three of Goldenford Directors gave a talk at Guildford Institute about how our roots are hidden in our writing, or some such title, and it went down very well and we sold quite a few books AND also had an invite to talk at Farnham Barn in the future….and we’re giving a talk at Woking library on the 28th May so things are looking up. The fourth director, Irene, is on jury service and its been going on for weeks and weeks: please, criminal justice system, can we have our director back soon?

And I’ve just heard she’s been shortlisted for the prestigious Bristol short story prize, winner to be announced on 28 June….

Sunday, 11 May 2008

11 May

So the sun is still shining but the sky now has a tidal wave of cotton wool clouds - despite that being a cliche, that is what they are....which drift towards me like a threat. Is it because I don't keep up with this blog? Is there a malign influence out there which drifts closer and closer to entwine me in its malevolent grip and squeeze the details of my life out of me for everyone to see? Will I end up as a dark spot on the ether of the web drained of all I can give?

Enuf: I will come clean on what has happened since I left for Gloucester....we stopped at Chicklade for lunch and chose The Vale to lunch in - wood floors, friendly publican who said hello and then disappeared to play golf leaving his sidekick to serve us, blackboards advertising gazpacho soup (yuck) but when I went to the loo I knew this was the place for me. A painter had been left to express himself on the walls, the doors were painted like the branches of trees and there was a medieval wooden seat stretching the length of the loo to sit on, the gents loo was decorated like a boy racer's room with racing cars on the walls and a mock circuit circling the weeing area.....and the food was good as well. Fortified with smoked salmon and scrambled egg (me) and a ploughmans - yes there is still a pub in the world which supplies ploughmans (him) we set off for Chegworth,, a Roman Villa. Disappointing after Brading on the Isle of Wight but still worth visiting to enjoy the ice-cream, and peace and quiet of a NT place in the week. Supposition has it that this might have been a sort of monastic retreat - I reckon it was a low class brothel but then I always did have that sort of mind. In my youth (when people wore flowers in their hair if they were going to San Francisco) I took part in a dig at Camulodunum (look it up if you didn't do Roman Britain for o-level(sorry GCSE for all you youngsters) and, at the end of the three week session, the administrator took us to one side of the site and pointed out what we had found - a brothel just outside the city walls! And all I had seen was red dirt being scraped away by my four inch pointing trowel.

Back to Gloucester - the cathedral rates 9 out of 10 on my Cather scale (which I will use in future to describe the cathedrals I visit purely for secular and architectural reasons) but the city itself sadly lacks good restaurants. We managed to find a Greek restaurant (OK but will remain un-named because I choked on a hard bit of my afelia) after wandering around for twenty minutes and asking a friendly native. She expressed surprise at us asking for restaurants, and said the pubs were good.

Then we met up with our CWRS mates - lots of kisses and cuddles as we greeted and a dinner for 20 was quickly organised in the hotel because of our research the night before, not worth going into town to find an eaterie that could cater for us all. One of my favourite people is Will Hutchison who has written a novel based in the Crimean War, called Follow me to Glory - we swapped novels last year so I got a copy of his for a copy of my Gawain Quest. I am not into battles so I had to report I hadn't got very far but he assures me that if I read Chapter 20 then I'll get the romance bit....

Will has learned his craft, like me, by going to lots of workshops and seminars and explained how he writes dialogue - he writes it straight, without any 'he saids' or 'she saids' asides, and then, once he's got it all down what he wants his characters to say, he might put in some 'infill.'

He has suggested I go to the American Historical Novel Society's conference next year and so I will....

Other books were also on sale - Helen Rappaport was the keynote speaker and I was proud to see that she gave the spouse a mention and acknowledgement for his help in her latest book, No place for Ladies about those females who managed to get to the Crimean War - not just bleeding heart Florence Nightingale - there are loads of others, on all sides....

And then Kathie Somerwil-Ayrton (a Dutch member) also wrote about the spouse's research capabilites in her dedication of her book to him, which is called The Train that disappeared into history - a serious work about the Berlin to Baghdad railway. Are you still awake?

Also visited Winchecombe with the intention of visiting Sudeley Castle (Tudor connections to follow up on my Anne Boleyn novel, Luther's Ambassadors, out later on this year - published my Goldenford)

So, a stimulating and wonderful weekend - making me even more determined that one day I'll write a novel about Mary Seacole whose whole life seems to be novelistic - it's just crying out for the treatment...

Now to work and finish off those entries for the Winchester Writers Conference as if I'd never been away.....


Thursday, 8 May 2008

Thursday 8 May

The birds are singing and the computer is humming as I type. The farmers' market was a great day although both I and my co-director of Goldenford Jacquelynn Luben - see her new book Tainted Tree published last week on Goldenford's website and pop it into your Paypal basket - got burnt. Normally I'm neurotic about the sun - wearing large brimmed hats, 35 factor sun cream and staying in the shade but the deception of England conned me - it was just warm, wasn't it? My fear of the sun developed when we went to New Zealand some years' ago and arrived in the middle of National Melanoma week with lurid ads on the T.V and children running around like Maori with pretty coloured patterns on their faces which turned out to be their parents' way of making sure they always went out with sun cream on. NM week in NZ will turn anyone off....
We sold some books, chatted to the other stallholders all of whom are great people and wandered up and down Guildford High Street. We were visited by friends and some of my clients who took a double look - not quite believing that their solicitor was a stall holder. I have great fun with this - people's perceptions of how you are defined are very rigid. Solicitors are boring old farts aren't they? From my acquaintance with my professional colleagues this is not always so - and the joke is that most of them spend their professional lives trying to get out...

Am now working on my entries for Winchester Writers' conference - a chaotic affair which both lifts and depresses - all those people who rush from one seminar to another and hope to become professional writers and all those stalls like ours which hope to sell books and the writers just ignore us! - its a conundrum.

I'm preparing three novels (first three pages and synopsis); a couple of short stories and, if I am brave enough, some poetry. My poetry is very personal and I'm not sure it's any good but hell, everything is submitted under a pseudonym so if it doesn't win no-one knows who you are....

Had some brilliant news yesterday - I'm going to Freiburg in June with my Goldenford co-director Irehe Black - she of the Moon's Complexion and if you enjoyed that, look out for Darshan to be published later this year - for their summer festival. We will be talking about Goldenford and our books - luckily Irene speaks some German but all I'll be able to say is ja, nein and Dankeshon (and don't even know it that's spelt write) - but I have a month to learn some more. Freiburg is twinned with Guildford although I've only just found that out! Shame on me.

Have to close now as we are going to Gloucester (that's me and spouse) for the Crimean War Research Society's annual shindig. Yes, I know, I was a bit 'do-what?' at first but they're a great crowd and we have lots of fun, good wine, good food and loads of conversation. Sometimes we have contingents - see I can get all military - from the Ukraine, but usually have delegates from the U.S. and the Netherlands. I've been to the Ukraine twice and loved every minute of it.
I'll spend my time looking at the Cathedral and generally moseying around while the AGM is taking place - I'm just a camp follower and don't take part in the proper events. I get a lot of ideas while I'm doing this which I keep for future reference.

So don't tell me off if you don't hear from me for a few days - my first duty when I get back is to visit my brother as I haven't seen him for some days and all I can think of is that he's in this double locked ward in this beautiful sunshine with few visitors....

Now how do you say goodbye in German?


Tuesday, 6 May 2008

6 MaY 08
I’m getting told off because I haven’t blogged since April 6 and apparently that’s an internet crime but I want to ask how others manage to keep up with their blogs – why aren’t they living? Apart from the usual things like working, doing the washing, eating (which is wonderful) and sleeping (wonderful again and not getting enough of it) don’t they have the normal disasters to contend with like a flat tyre miles from home, a tin of gloss paint that drops off a chair onto a carpet that’s less than one year old, and contending with burnt kippers because there was that phone call just as they were ready for breakfast on Sunday?

Since April 6 I’ve attended a case review for my brother where they confirmed that no funding is available for him because the NHS says he’s not eligible for their funding, despite brain damage which leaves him with something wonderful called ‘executive dysfunction’ and the social services were not told so they haven’t been looking for a placement in something called ‘supported living’ – don’t ask. In the meantime he’s still in a brain injury rehabilitation unit in Blackheath south east London and, because he’s been there since last August, I’ve discovered the joys of Lewisham shopping centre; great for Primark, Pontis and Thorntons assorted icecreams but M&S is crap; (although in posh Guildford M&S is great); the joys of Greenwich (fearfully tacky but with some interesting side roads, with tiny terraces which, last year, were probably selling for half million but now? And then there’s Blackheath itself; upmarket, trendy, and where I had the best doorstop bacon sandwich ever.

We walk a lot and he tells me every time that he’s going to learn the guitar and he wants to get back to his old life – where he spent Mondays at Islington Music forum which sounds great and the rest of the week sloping around different community centres or at the Festival hall for one, where he would enjoy the free concerts. Despite his executive dysfunction he has a phenomenal memory for places all over London where you can get a free meal, free music and free company.

In the meantime have spent the glorious may day weekend painting and decorating one of the rooms in my office - well my husband did while I supported him with cups of coffee and cleaning up afterwards - does anyone know how to get filing cabinet drawers back.....hey ho back to work today - have just sorted out the office and am now going to Guildford farmers market to sell some of Goldenford's excellent books

hope to report back sooner than June 6....

Sunday, 6 April 2008

So it's early Monday morning and I am determined to post a daily diary of life in the suburbs of a country town - forget London and learn to live again as I will tell. The snow settled in and I was in a wonderful fairyland, expecting the white prince to ride to me, his horse's hooves being the first to mark that virgin snow. Instead I opened the door to my friend Irene who was patient with me while she taught me the rudiments of this useless activity, blogging. What is it about the human psyche that makes us want to tell about our lives to the rest of the world? Perhaps without it we do not exist. If we sat in an empty room with nobody around and no outside communication then we would not, would we? Now I exist because of the information on this blog.

As the snow melted along with my dreams of rescue by the handsome prince, I settled in to what is the second thing I love doing the most (the first being the actual writing) - editing my completed novel Brother's Keeper, taking out all those useless colons and semi-colons, cutting long sentences (I love long sentences, clauses, sub-clauses and convolutions) and making sure the action scenes work. Having wallowed in history for my first three novels, which are in the process of being published by Goldenford Publishers, I have jumped to a novel set in the last fifty years, basing it on family myth and stories. The novel will need another few edits and checks - does anyone know, for instance, if boys from Uppingham (the Catholic public school) go to Cambridge?

Spent a good half hour having a chat with my oldest friend (well, not in age but in time known - we went to infant's school together) catching up on her family and moaning about mine.

I use the snow as an excuse not to go and see my brother in the Acute Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit in Blackheath - a round trip of over 100 miles - but feel guilty all afternoon and some of the evening, until the wine kicks in, because he has very few visitors, I'm his closest relative as he never married and has no children. More about him and the wonderful NHS as we go along - I'm writing a faction about our experiences since February 2007 when he was first diagnosed with a brain tumour. My first piece of advice relating to the NHS: don't go near it, it will make you ill.

Then in the early evening I decide to cook experimentally. I don't do cooking, having a wonderful spouse who is creative in that area, but he's mummy-sitting at the moment - more later - but this recipe is great, an adjustment from one in a magazine, because I don't have any of the recommended walnuts and I like garlic:

take half of a peanut pumpkin and cook in oven until soft (about 45 minutes)
when soft, grill in a non-stick frying pan as much bacon as you think is appropriate to eat with the pumpkin, with some garlic, then when the bacon is cooked, thrown in as many flaked almonds as you want (or the walnuts if you have them) then pour over some sherry-vinegar (buy in the Deli in FarnboroughSurrey - a fantastic shop) and when all is sizzling take the pumpkin out of the oven and pour over the bacon mixture - and eat piping hot with some salad or green veggie.

You can see I'm all for throwing anything in and letting it rip....

Ended the day reading some of the Sunday supplements, and listening to Mozart's sacred music which put me in a melancholy-happy mood. And so to bed.