Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas afterglow

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I had a really lovely Christmas. It was quiet, just myself, Mr Grumpy and a friend of his, who I shall refer to as Mr Double-Grumpy (D-G for short). Mr G gave me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. Remembering how hurt he was (and still is) that I still haven't started using the HTC smartphone that he game me LAST Christmas, due to an attack of extreme technophobia which culminated in my being so cackhanded at working the touch screen that I managed to delete not only most of the icons but also some of the inbuilt instructions that made the thing work, I knew I had to make an extra effort to master the Kindle.

And I did! I managed to RTFM (Read The F---ing Manual) and download some books. I still haven't connected myself to Facebook, Twitter and email on it, but, having read five chapters of Eileen Thornton's highly entertaining ebook,, I declare myself up and running and a fully-fledged member of the Kindle generation.

I gave him a Trail Camera, aka a Stealth Camera, one which you stick in the garden to photograph passing wildlife, as it's movement-activated. With any luck, it will capture the evil faces of would-be burglars, too. And the padded gilet I also gave him, in a khaki shade to blend him in with the foliage, will allow him to watch the camera watching the wildlife, and with any luck he will lurk among the bushes for so long that I will be able to watch all my favourite TV progs in real time, for a change!

Seriously though, the turkey he not only prepared and covered in herbs and spices down at his friend the butcher's, but cooked, too, was absolutely delicious, as were the roast spuds and parsnips. And my sprouts and carrots were okay as well. As Mr G doesn't drink, and D-G was driving, I drank all the wine by myself, then stuffed my fat face with chocs, as I was given a Thorntons hamper by my lovely employers at Writing Ltd. Yesterday was a non-day. Bilious was an understatement. But today I feel fine and am even looking forward to my New Year job of toning down the sex scenes in my book. (Any bids for the unexpurgated version, anyone?!)

Happy New Year to you all!

 (photo by Joan Byrne)

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Peter Pan

Last night I went to see Peter Pan at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian Beale in Eastenders, was Captain Hook. In my opinion, he wasn't nearly scary enough. He played the role using his supercilious, smug Ian Beale smile, he camped it up for an adult audience and didn't connect with the kids, of which there were tons.

I made the mistake of not buying an expensive programme. I didn't think it was a mistake at the time, but now I find myself unable to heap praise on the actors who were the real stars of the show as I have been unable to find a cast list online anywhere. A pretty girl with a wonderful voice played Wendy, forced to wear a ghastly nightie while all the other young girls wore a variety of pretty, skimpy costumes. Peter Pan himself was played by an elfin-looking youth with amazing red hair and endearing charm. But, for me, the true star of the show was Smee, a barrel of a man who projected and connected with everyone, old and young, who skipped, danced, sang and clowned and had a personality that filled the entire hall. If only I could find out the name of the actor. I suppose I'll just have to go back and buy a blasted programme!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Charlie the Outdoor Cat

He must have fur like a husky to withstand the temperatures we've been getting, but he seems quite happy to sit and survey the frosty garden from his perch beneath the stand on which I grew my tomatoes.

We think he's been sleeping under a shed a few doors away, but as he comes here for his meals, Mr Grumpy cut a hole in a big box, wadded some paper underneath to keep the base off the cold concrete path at the side of the house, where it's sheltered by a plastic canopy, and I put Chi Mimi's old cat bed in it. He seems to have taken up residence.

Only problem is, Chi Mimi's owners are going away for Christmas and we are feeding her, her brother Junior and their mum, Mimi (a devil cat who attacks everything and everyone!). What this means is that Chi Mimi, who loves company and pines if she's not with humans, will move in here and will, of course, look for her old cat bed. I can foresee a major dust-up and a few scratched noses.

Heirs and Disgraces

I've just been watching Heir Hunters and it got me thinking about the difficulties the hunters have had if I died intestate. I found it interesting that they assume an heir's relatives would still be living in the same area where the deceased person died. How would they have coped with me? Born in Liverpool, lived in London for decades, one child who was adopted and now lives in Devon, and one sister who has been married three times - all those different surnames! - and now lives in Cumbria! It's lucky I've made a Will, isn't it?

I had no idea that heir-hunting was such a cut-throat business, with firms vying to be first to track down the heirs, like a flock of vultures - though the ones I was watching this morning had a pleasant, soothing manner with the deceased's family. I wonder what percentage they take? If it's ten percent and the estate is only valued at £10,000,  a grand doesn't seem much for all that sleuthing and dashing about the country, petrol to pay for, wages to pay. But why should the government snatch somebody's life savings? That doesn't seem fair at all. It's a bloody disgrace! It would be far better to give it to charity. What do you think?

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rights and wrongs

In the absence of any further suggestions from agent or publisher, I decided to contact the Society of Authors. I had a very nice reply from one of their lawyers, saying it was a highly unusual case and she'd never heard of anything like it. She has asked for a copy of the contract and correspondence between myself and the publisher, but the trouble is the only emails I kept were those containing editing instructions. I didn't think to keep the ones that asked me to make the sex more graphic. If I had, I may have had a good case for... for what? I've had two-thirds of the money and can't expect to get the third I was to receive on publication..

I suppose all I can push for now is to get the rights back so I can publish the damned thing myself. Or to ask to be paid a further advance in order to rewrite what will in effect be a very different book, with all the smutty jokes and talk and raunchy references taken out, as well as the sex scenes themselves. Any views, anyone?

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Breaking the Moulds

An apology from the publisher would have been nice. A bottle of wine would have been even better. But Sweet FA is just insulting. Maybe they are licking their wounds.

So I have been getting on with appraising a manuscript by a favourite author of mine. His name is Clifford Peacock, he's 80 and I hope he won't mind my blowing his trumpet for him. After we had worked on his first book together, Robert Hale offered him a two-book deal. He has now written a memoir of his years spent as a District Officer in Kenya in the 1950s and it is such a fascinating and absorbing read that I am finding it hard to break off for meals. The sense of time and place is just terrific, the anecdotes are a mixture of dastardly and entertaining and I just don't want to it to finish - though it's nice to know that I still have 40 pages left to work on tomorrow. It's called Donkey Down the Well and I hope it will get published, as it deserves to be out there on Kindle and on the book store shelves.

I have just finished reading Hilary Boyd's Thursdays In The Park. One reason I enjoyed it so much was because it contains references to Waterlow Park in Highgate and even the coffee bar that I used to frequent. It was good to read a heart-warming romance about older people for a change. I tried to place a Gran Lit book for ages, but agents and publishers told me there was no market for it - just as they told me I was too old to publish a book (!!!) and they'd have to hire a model to pose as me for publicity purposes (how insulting is that!). So thank you to both Hilary Boyd and Clifford Peacock for breaking the moulds.

(Clifford can be found at:

Monday, 3 December 2012

Bad news about my book

I am writing this in floods of tears. I've just heard from my agent that my two books, that I gave up other work and holidays for and slaved to complete in ten weeks because of the publisher's ridiculously tight deadline, are not going to be published after all, as Amazon have refused to list them because they have deemed them too sexy for teenagers.

I have been paid for the first one, but that's not the point. Originally, the book was written as a soft, sensual romance for an adult readership. Then I was asked to lower the characters' ages and put in lots of explicit sex, which I did. This required writing two brand new books to take the place of the single 85,000 word original. Only last Friday, I had an email saying if I could find any places to add even more sex, please do so.

Now I am being asked to rewrite both books and take out all the sex and change it to dreamy romance. That loses the whole point of the books. It also negates one of the characters, who is a raunchy, bouncy girl full of dirty jokes. I am too exhausted and dispirited even to contemplate it. I have discovered that the whole sex thing was driven by the French publishing market, who wanted steam. Now they have back-tracked. So I have the Frogs to blame for the whole thing.

I was so happy about becoming a published author again after an eight year hiatus. I felt that at last I had my identity as a writer back again and had something to look forward to. All my friends were poised to buy the book. I'd even told Margaret Drabble about it when we met on that coach journey last week! I had bought the champagne to drink on publication day. I had a lunch booked with my agent in the Midlands tomorrow and had bought the train ticket and now that's been cancelled as she says we've got nothing to celebrate. She says that if they decide to ditch it and the book needs re-selling for the adult market, then she can't handle it because she is purely an agent for children's literature, so I will be left high and dry.

I can't tell you how upset I am. I feel as if my world has fallen apart - and to cap it all, I have toothache again, in a different tooth this time. If the world ends on the 21st as the Mayans predicted, I don't give a stuff, the way I'm feeling right now. I feel as if mine has ended already.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Today 'The End', tomorrow the rewrites

Yes, as anyone who is a Facebook friend of mine will already know, I have finished Book 2 of Perfect Lives. I am in two minds about what the publisher is doing, but hell, a contract is a contract. Book 1 ends on a kind of a cliffhanger, where you don't know if one of my heroines will ever manage to find the love of her life, who has disappeared. You have to read Book 2 to find out. I just hope that people won't mind paying £3.99 twice over to discover what happens in Book 2.

I am now in that odd state of limbo which I'm sure other writers know ever so well. I have sent off the final chapters and closed the door on my lovely characters and am missing them already. But I have been warned that suggestions for edits and changes will come my way shortly, so I can say a brief hello to them all again then. It's weird the way the characters still live on in your head. Already, I am wondering who will get engaged, married or separated, or have babies, or move to another country. I never introduced readers to the gay brother, and we'll never know if another character's mother has a change of heart (I think she will, as I have planted the seeds).

I have another book that is three-quarters written. It's called Half a Rainbow. Those poor characters were left dangling in space three years ago and it's high time I rescued them.

When I have a publication date for Perfect Lives, I'll let you know. It's so exciting being published again, after six years in the doldrums. (Hmm... what exactly is a doldrum? Looking it up... Ah. An Equatorial calm area. That place where the wind don't blow and the ship don't go. Now I know!)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

More bad luck

On Saturday, I found the perfect house, walking distance to the tube, lovely big rooms, wonderful neighbours, one of whom I already knew and I immediately put in a full asking price offer. Today the agent rang with the news that I can't have the house because they are selling it for less money to a couple they had a cup of tea with and struck up a relationship with. So it was just sod's law that they weren't in to offer me a cuppa when I went round. I am absolutely gutted and am writing this in tears. They wanted a quick sale and I was a cash buyer who could have moved in by Christmas.

Why, oh why, do I have such bad luck? I have been trying to find myself a home for three years. I haven't had my own space for seven years. I haven't seen my pictures and lovely art deco pottery in all that time. My mattress has probably been eaten by the mice that infest the storage unit. I am having to write all cramped up in the freezing, draughty bedroom and finally, I thought I had found my new home and everything was going my way. Any day now, I shall have to pay the storage people another £210, which I have been paying out every month for seven years. Do the math. I am so depressed...

Monday, 19 November 2012

The oneness of things

A friend recently send me a fascinating email which I have reproduced at the foot of this page. It gave me lots of food for thought. When I was a child, I used to feel that I shared my atoms with everything and a neighbour's old wooden gate drooping on its hinges and swaying in the wind made me sad, because I felt one with that gate. Later, I used to hate throwing away old slippers and worn out socks because, to me, they were still 'alive', still corporeal, still made up of atoms, and how would I like someone to pick me up and throw me in the bin?

By the age of 14 or so, I had grown out of my over-empathy for all things and had developed a barrier between the group of atoms which shaped me, and everything else. But one part of being as short-sighted as I am is that when I take off my specs, even the most solid objects look as if they are composed of millions of  tiny dots, so I feel as if I could part the atoms of a wall and jump through, like the cat in the Dreamies ad on telly. I still feel that, on some basis, everything is linked and energy is shared. When I read Peter Mathiesson's wonderful book, The Snow Leopard, years ago, I recognised a kindred spirit, someone who was journeying through Tibet on two levels simultaneously, the terrestrial and the transcendent. For anyone interested, here are a couple of reviews of this book,which I have bought and given away so many times to people I felt would appreciate it:

"A magical book: a kind of lunar paradigm and map of the sacred. There is a sense that the book has trascended the usual limits of language." Jim Harrison, The Nation

Simply as a step-by-step account of villages entered, peaks crossed, the enormously elating business of survival, The Snow Leopard is stunning....It is also Matthiessen's attempt to stand beyond modern time, and the extreme beauty of this radiant book lies in the fact that he fails....He has expressed with uncommon candor and no prospect of relief, a longing which keeps the soul striving and alert in us all. That is the profound humanity of The Snow Leopard, a book fiercely felt and magnificently written." Terrence Des Pres, Washington Post Book World

And here, at last, is the quote that sparked off this post...

On a purely higher spirit level, the level of Ain Sof, we might well be all one - one with the earth and universe too, one with the worms and the viruses, one with the mountains and the clouds, with the tigers and the ants, with Hitler and the Dalai Lama. But on the incarnate earth level, we are not all one. We are different in some respects and similar in others. We exist in both planes - and many others in between! - and pretending that only one of them exists and 'we are all one' is a misunderstanding of spiritual work and of how the spirit and material realms function. It's also a means by which people repress their pulsions (drives; psychoanalytic psychotherapy) and shadow selves, every bit as effective as Victorian morality used to be. Because they repress, these come out in all sorts of angry, judgmental ways - including "I hate negative people" or "I can't be friends with someone who eats meat" or whatever else.

A few years ago an interesting book came out called 'The Dark Side of the Light-Chasers', in which the author, Debbie Ford, examined that problem. Forcing joy, love and light all the time is unnatural - and results either in resentment and anger or in depression. It's quite different from someone who has gone through fire and faced his shadow and come out the other side, joyful, loving and full of light, naturally.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Generosity v. stupidity

In the unlikely event that my new book is a bestseller, I've been indulging myself in an imaginary spending spree. I have drawn up a mental list of what I would do with the lolly and always, my friends in need come top of the list. Trouble is, by the time I've helped this person and that, and bought my daughter a house, and renovated the house of another friend who can't afford to mend her roof, there's never anything left for me. I can't help it. I'm just generous by nature and was brought up always to put the needs of others before my own.

Years ago, long before I found my daughter, I consulted a psychic medium to find out if I ever would find her. He told me I would, and he told me a lot of stunningly accurate stuff about my parents, who had recently died - stuff even I hadn't known but which, in retrospect, turned out to be true. One thing he mentioned more than once was that 'them upstairs' were getting tired of trying to help me, because whenever they put anything my way, the chance of a bargain, a premium bond win, I never used it on myself.

He gave me an illustration: 'They guide you to an amazing painting which you love and buy, and which would prove a valuable asset in the future, and what do you do? A friend comes along and says how much they love it and the next moment, you're giving it away to them.' This is so perfectly true. I don't feel any great attachment to 'things'. I would happily give away my telly, my hi-fi, my clothes (apart from my tiger-striped wellies, which is another story); form an orderly queue, folks!

So what I now want to know is, at what point does generosity stop and sheer stupidity begin? Perhaps I was meant to be one of those hermit poets who live in a cave in some wealthy aristocrat's garden. Or a nun. (No, I don't think so; I like food and wine and the pleasures of the flesh too much.) I've tried to change my nature, but I just can't. I'm me, take it or leave it. No, I mean take it or take it!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Sometimes I hate being a writer

Writing will not let you sleep.
There's just no point in counting sheep.
They'll jump in ones and twos and threes
and develop personalities
and then instead of a lovely snooze,
you'll be dreaming up plots about rams and ewes.

Writing will not let you doze.
Your characters keep you on your toes.
They'll wake you up at some ghastly hour
saying, "I don't want to marry that girl from Gower
and the shirt I was wearing in Chapter Two
suddenly changed from white to blue."

Writing will not let you rest.
Of all the stimulants, it's the best.
In the midst of a dream of love and rapture,
you'll wake up knowing your latest chapter
over which you wept and sweated blood
is absolutely no effing good!

Writing will not let you dream.
You're scared your plot's run out of steam.
You've typed and typed till you're ready to drop
but still the climax is a big wet flop.
Bet your life the solution will form
at three o'clock tomorrow morn.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Violent sunset and sexy words

I took this three days ago. It heralded the change in the weather from 'Will we get that Indian summer?' to 'No, we won't!'

Half an hour ago, Mr Grumpy announced he was going to give the grass its last cut of the season as the cold wind was drying it all out nicely. I had just popped out to replenish the bird feeders and came back and told him - with, I admit, a slight smirk in my voice - that it was, in fact, starting to rain. Undeterred, he ventured out with his petrol mower and as the rain picked up, I sped out with the brolly I gave him with the rude finger sign on it and he finished mowing under cover!

The book is coming along well. I have written 20,000 words since a week last Sunday, though I am constantly revising and rewriting. My task today is to change a text message sex conversation to an actual telephone one as I am sick and tired of trying to think up abbreviations for rude words!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Grotty gloves

A fee months ago, I purchased a pair of smart black and red neoprene hand support gloves online. When they arrived, I soon discovered I couldn't type in them as they were too bulky. I had ordered Medium but they were a bit big, too. However, I decided to keep them, sure they would come in handy for something.

When my fingers were particularly bad last week - it's typing under pressure that does it - I sent off for a pair of compression gloves for arthritic hands. They have now arrived and while they are much thinner and expose enough of my fingers to allow me to type, they are simply too big (one size was supposed to fit all) and, far from compressing and supporting, they look like Norah Batty's stockings, wrinkling around my hands, and are also an ugly shade of old lady's corset beige.

At a fiver including postage, I couldn't be bothered sending them back, so I had the bright idea of wearing one inside the neoprene glove. Perfect! I can now do household chores with enough hand support. Which leaves my typing fingers still sans help. However, on Saturday, I did loads of Googling and found a much more expensive pair - £17.99 - in a woolly-looking grey. The reviews raved about them so I have ordered them in Small this time, instead of Medium. Let's hope these do the trick. If not, I shall just have to wear them in winter with my grey scarf and hat!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Veil of Death

That's the only title I can come up with for the nightmare I had last night. In it, I was a young woman with two others, searching for Gothic, Halloween-type clothes in a second-hand store. Up on the first floor, hung haphazardly on rails or lying in piles on the dusty wooden floor, were the old clothes. One of the girls grabbed a black lace dress and a white veil with clusters of black and white feathers on either side of the head part. Somehow, I knew there was something evil about the veil and I begged her not to buy it, but she did, and later that evening she was killed.

Then I knew that the veil brought death and that it chose its victims, always young women because its previous owner had died a virgin on the morning of her wedding day. In the dream, I was lying in bed and heard a whispery, slithery sound and saw the veil sliding under my bedroom door. It was coming to get me and I was to be its next victim.

In horror, I grabbed the thing and hurled it out of the window and blocked the gap beneath the door. Thinking I was safe, I returned to bed, went to sleep and awoke to hear that sinister slither again and there was the white veil sliding like smoke through the air vent in the wall.

I woke up, heart thudding, to find the sound was my silky bedspread sliding off onto the floor. But what a dream! I think I might be able to make a short story out of it. It took me right back to a horrible, spooky experience I had years ago on the Greek island of Spetses, but then, it was dark, shadowy fingers coming through the slats in the shutters, not a white veil. And the Vampire of Spetses is another story...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Book 1 finished!

I had to rewrite the past chapter, then the editor tweaked the last paragraph, but it's finally done. With rewrites, I have probably typed 80,000 words in the last four weeks. On Tuesday and Wednesday I felt dreadful - well, 'deadful' would have described it better. I had aches and pains all over, I felt sick, I had a headache, stomach pains and my fingers were so sore, I thought I would never be able to type another word again.

And then the commissioning editor dropped a bombshell: he wanted Book 2 finished and on his desk by 9th November! I burst into tears when I got the email, as I knew I just couldn't carry on writing at this pace without a break. I emailed him back saying I just couldn't do it by that date... that I needed a couple of weeks off to recover and recharge my batteries. Fortunately, he has agreed, so it will probably be the end of November.

The provisional title is the title I gave it when I wrote the original book about seven years ago: PERFECT LIVES. The new version bears little resemblance to the first manuscript. Even the writing style is different. All that remains of the original are the names, the basic plot and a couple of paragraphs I have been able to copy and paste into the new book. Hachette, the publisher, plan to release it as an e-book at Christmas and follow it up with Book 2 in the New Year. The price will be £3.99. If there are sufficient downloads - 10,000 is the target, they will then publish a print version. I really want to see it in print, so I hope people will buy it, and that will depend on what kind of publicity they give it.

Mr Grumpy is buying me a Kindle for Christmas and birthday combined, so I can read my own book - and, of course, buy all the e-books my friends have written! I've been dying to do that for ages.


On Tuesday I took my painful fingers to be looked at by an orthopaedic consultant at Hillingdon Hospital. What a performance! Having waited half an hour to be seen, I was sent off for an x-ray. I came back, waited to be seen again, and lo and behold, they wanted my hands x-rayed at a different angle. So back I went again, waited for the x-ray, came back, waited to be seen again... and that wasn't the right angle, either. so back I went to x-ray again... Finally, with the right x-ray having been sent to the consultant's computer, he had a look, shook his head, said my hands are horribly arthritic and he could only give me a new finger joint on one finger, even though I have three that need one urgently as they won't bend any more. Not only that, he said unless I was prepared to give up typing and playing the piano and anything else that required using my fingers too much, it wasn't worth doing it as it would last less than two years and he wouldn't be able to re-do it.

So that's that. Sooner or later, my fingers will fuse in a rigid position and then the pain should stop. I have thought about Speech Recognition Software, but someone I know used it to write a book and said it never managed to learn his voice properly and the amount of corrections he had to do meant that it would have been easier to type it in the first place.

For the last two days I have been smothering my fingers in Glucosamine Gel and putting arnica gel on at night. Today, they don't feel too bad. In fact, I have just typed out a timeline for Book 2. Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A race against time

Sorry you haven't heard from me for so long, but I am writing like a demon, trying to finish the book by Tuesday so there will be time for final tweaks before the Friday deadline. I was just steaming away when I hit a brick wall (sorry about the mixed metaphors) and realised that, in altering my synopsis to end Book 1 on the note he wanted, the commissioning editor has completely wrecked my plot by making something that should have been teased out until the autumn (in the book, that is), happen in July instead, leaving one of my characters with nothing to for the next six months!

I have just emailed him (hope he'll be in the office tomorrow), suggesting the only thing I can think of, which is that her flight gets cancelled and she has to come back instead of flying off to Brazil - which is the thing that shouldn't take place till the autumn, after the plot strand involving her long-distance romance has been teased out. It all worked so much better in my original book, before I had to change everything around and relocate a whole plot section from Italy to Rio. Oh dear...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tears and cheers.

Yesterday, I went to my friend M's funeral. He was only 55, had been in hospital since July 1st with a streptococcal infection that had damaged a valve in his heart and sadly, he didn't make it. He has been the partner of a close girlfriend of mine, G, for twenty-years and they have a beautiful daughter. He was a Sikh and she is half Chinese and the funeral was the first fusion funeral I have been to, incorporating M's favourite music, Bob Dylan and reggae, and Sikh prayers.

Many people got up to read tributes, there were lots of tears, yet it was joyful and uplifting, too, especially with the beautiful, moving Sikh evening prayer at the end. It lasted an hour and there were so many friends and family members there at Kensal Green Crematorium that quite a few had to stand. As a friend and I had nipped to the loo, we came in late and I would have had to stand, too, if a kind Asian gentleman hadn't offered me his chair. The end of the coffin was covered in a beautiful photo of M on a boat with a fishing rod. He had the biggest smile you've ever seen and he was smiling in the photo, as if he was bidding us all farewell.

When I got home, feeling very sombre, I switched my computer on and there was an email from my agent to tell me I'd got a two-book deal with Hachette. I thanked M, as I felt sure he'd had a hand in it. Luck like that doesn't normally happen to me and I haven't had a publishing deal for twelve whole years! I had to wait until this morning for another email giving me all the details, but my first book is to be published as an e-book at Christmas, and the second, a continuation of the same story, will come out in the new year. If they have enough downloads, the books will be published in a print version, too. So, having been glued to the keyboard for the last month, I think I am going to be there for a few months longer.Only bad news is, the arthritis in my fingers is getting worse from all the typing and I am seeing a surgeon on October 9th, and I've done something to my right hip and am hobbing around. How can you damage a hip just from sitting? I suppose it's a ligament or muscle. Hey-ho, writers' injuries. Shame I don't have insurance!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What literary agents want?

Just came across this interesting article explaining what literary agents are looking for. It boils down to that same old thing they've been telling us writers for decades - a good story, well told.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

More bad dreams

What did I eat last night? If I recall, it was one single sausage and a blob of herby mashed potato. It certainly gave me some weird dreams - three, to be exact. I usually only remember one, so it was quite remarkable that I can remember all three. Another remarkable thing was that, looking back now, I can see that each dream related to something that had happened that day.

The first - arachnophobes, leave the page now! - involved a lecturer and a spider. I was sitting in the front row when my eye was drawn to something on the wall. I had taken it for a light of some sort, but when it began to heave and unfold long, striped legs, I realised it was a huge spider, the size of a plump cushion and that the lecturer, who had raised his arms to make a point, was lowering one onto the spider! I tried to should a warning but it was too late. His arm made contact with it and it bit him and the next minute he was lying dead on the floor. When the medics arrived, they told me the name of the species and that one bite was fatal to humans. (I can't remember the name now, worse luck.) Yesterday morning, I had been photographing stripy garden spiders (none of the photos came out properly as I still haven't mastered the art of macro photography), so it's fairly obvious that this is what sparked off a spider dream - though why the lecturer and why the fatal bite? Perhaps my imagination just embroidered it because it needed to create a proper story.

The second was rather more bizarre as I came walking into a room with a dead, stuffed fox in my arms, its pelt beautiful and glossy. The next minute, 'our' vixen came trotting through the door. She saw the dead fox and stood on her hind legs to sniff it. I laid the dead one on a shelf and the vixen climbed up to the shelf below it, lay on her back with her legs in the air just like Flad does, and I started feeding her small cubes of chicken. End of dream. Thinking of it today, I remember that I fed Charlie, the ginger stray who is exactly the same colour as a fox, cubes of leftover chicken last night and later, I ventured out into the gloom to throw the rest of the scraps out for the wildlife and something ginger, which could have been Charlie or a small fox, went streaking along the side of the hedge behind the pond at a rate of knots. But why the dead fox? I have no idea where that came from.

The derivation of Dream 3 is patently obvious. Our friend with the five boys tends to get involved in conversations and leave her horrors to their own devices, which are invariably destructive, if not downright dangerous. For the last two weeks, her partner's shop, our local butcher's, has been closed for a transformation into a farm shop and Mr Grumpy has been down there all day every day, sawing, making rustic shelving and laying laminate flooring. You can imagine what that did to his ankylosing spondylitis, osteo arthritis and the rest. I gave him all my tubes of pain-relieving gels and creams - Biofreeze, Arnica, Ibruleve - but, as usual, he preferred not to use them and to be a typical man and sit and moan and grumble instead.

Yesterday, he came in quite shocked at the fact that the toddlers had been picking up sharp knives in the shop and their parents had been too busy to notice and he had had to step in and stop a massacre happening. So when I dreamt that the two-year-old had stabbed himself in the privates with a splintery piece of sharp wood and I had to take him to hospital, where he was found to have jammed other objects up his nose and down his ears... well, it's obvious what sparked that dream off, isn't it?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Anxiety dreams

The earliest dream I can remember having is one in which I was drowning in noisy, crashing waves. I can't have been more than four. Looking back, I wonder if it was a memory of what it felt like to be born! Since then, I have had five distinct types of dreams. Horror, of the mad axeman or baddie with gun type, probably born of watching too much TV and movie violence; erotic (not enough of those! And the first happened when I was eleven and I dreamt I was a female cat who had sex with a tomcat, became pregnant and gave birth to a litter of kittens; was I a cat in my previous life?); nonsensical - those fragments which don't make up a whole story or even an episode; significant - dreams which are more vivid than normal and turn out to be either clairvoyant, or someone who's passed on trying to tell me something; and finally, the anxiety dream.

The most widespread anxiety dream, apparently, is the one where you're in a public place minus your clothes. I can top that: I have dreamt I was naked, perched on a loo in the middle of Piccadilly Circus! I've dreamt I was on stage at the Albert Hall, the orchestra was striking up, I was seated at a grand piano, hands raised, and realised with a nasty jolt that I had no idea what I was supposed to be playing. Then I've had the dream where you're lost in a strange town that is almost familiar, but not quite. Nothing is where you expect it to be, the streets bend in different ways, and you have no money, and the language the other people are speaking isn't quite your own.

Last night, though, I had a new one. I was back at school and it was May and I'd cut a class, thinking, 'I'll be leaving soon, it doesn't matter'. The other kids were wading through heaps of papers which they were taking from shelves in the corner. I asked one kid what the papers were and he told me they were revision sheets for the A-levels. I took some off the shelves and realised I hadn't even been to some of the classes, especially French and I hadn't read any of the set books. Then one of the kids told me I'd be sitting my A-levels too, and I got into a complete panic.

"I can't do A-levels, I've got a book contract, I've got a deadline," I said, but a teacher said I still had to do them.

"But I've already got four A-levels, an S-level and a degree!" I protested (true, in case you're wondering).

Yet they still insisted I sat an extra set of A-levels for which I was totally unprepared and sat staring uncomprehendingly at the questions, unable to answer any of them. Do you think this means I feel out of my depth, struggling neverendingly with this damn novel, the editor returning time after time asking for 'more introspection' or 'more sex'? Think it's time for me to have one of those erotic dreams again!.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Fingers and flat

I went to see the doctor today and she agreed that my fingers are in a very bad way ("They shouldn't be this bad in a woman of your age," she said) and she promptly went onto her computer and found me an appointment with a finger specialist at my local hospital. I expected to have to wait for at least four months, if not longer, but the appointment is for 9th October. Oh God! I shall still be writing the book then. But I couldn't turn the opportunity down, though heaven only knows what, if anything, they can do. If they suggest surgery, that will certainly put paid to my writing for a while. For several months, I would imagine.

After my hassles with the mortgage company, I rang the estate agent today and guess what? The couple who are selling the flat have found their dream house in Windsor, had their offer accepted, and now the wife has lost her job and they can't get their mortgage until she's found an other one. It could take ages for her to find another, with the job market being like it is, but I am so desperate to find somewhere nice and warm so I don't have to freeze here all winter. Part of me wants to tell them I'll wait, and the selfish part of me is telling me to ditch it and find an empty, chain-free property that I can get into within a few weeks.

I really don't know what to do. Every time I have tried to buy a flat or house in the last two years, something has prevented me. It seems Fate is trying to keep me here. But why? So I can keep taking care of Mr G, Charlie, the foxes, being a surrogate mum to Step? But why should all this mean I have to suffer Mr G's irrational outbursts, the cold, the fleas and the constant interruptions to my work? Where is the balance, the middle ground? When will the day come when I can be me again?

Sorry, it's another self-pitying post which I promised I wouldn't do. Oh dear...

I've written 27,000 words of the book. Once I get to 30,000, I shall feel able to take a day off. Or half a day, at least. Hope I get a contract at the end of all this work, I really do!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Just a quickie

I don't think I should post another blog entry until I have something cheerful and positive to say. You must all be getting very fed up with me.

When not writing, I have been catching up with all the TV I have recorded and leching after the 1940s coats and skirts in The Bletchley Circle and loving the interplay of characters in Downton. But... I missed Dr Who tonight and Professor Brian Cox (drool) was in it!!!

Can't remember when I last had a walk of longer than ten minutes. When and if I finish this book, not having had a holiday for so long, I think I'll go off to a spa. Wonder if I can find one somewhere where the weather is still warm and I don't need socks and a hot water bottle?

Friday, 21 September 2012

The weight of the world...

Sorry I haven't written much lately. My poor friend died at the weekend, the one who had been in hospital since the start of July. He was only 55 and it's a real tragedy, especially for his family, but he was well loved by so many friends and colleagues, too. The funeral is on October 2nd.

I am also battling against two impossible deadlines and keep bursting into tears. My book has to be completed by October 12th in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair but the publisher (a very big one) is refusing to give me a contract until they've seen the reaction at the Fair. I'm not even halfway through and am working day and night and it is meant to be light-hearted, sexy and amusing and I'm just NOT IN THE BLOODY MOOD!!!

Especially as I have come up against an impasse in the form of a certain well-known building society. It took me ages but I finally managed to find someone to give me a mortgage at my grand old age. I needed it to buy a flat I'd seen which was in the right block, the right place, on the right floor (the top one), with a view and a south-facing balcony. So... I got the offer but then they sent an email asking for proof that I'd got the money. Last time I was going to buy somewhere, it took me two days to get the passwords on six different online accounts to work. I had to ring up, ask for help, and eventually I managed to print out my statements.

I still had them, so I scanned them all, having to wait till Mr Grumpy was out, as I don't at this stage want him to know about it, and emailed them off. Well, I've just had a call to say they can't accept them because my name is not on the same page as the amount. Sorry, that's the way the websites work! My name is on the Welcome page, then you key in your password and eventually you get your statement on a different page, but not your name. They declined another because the printer had missed http:// off. I ask you! And they want everything by next Friday or I have lost the mortgage offer.

There is no way in which I can both write the book and spend hours fiddling with internet accounts and having to wait till Mr G goes out so I can scan them. The reason I don't want him to know is the scorn he pours on my head every time a purchase falls though. He scoffs, he sneers, he reduces me to tears. So this time I want to be able to present it as a fait accompli.

Now it looks as though I shall have to give up the perfect flat in order to finish the book... which I may not even get a contract for at the end of the day. But when it comes down to it, my writing career has to come before finding a home. But oh, the thought of a seventh freezing cold winter here is unbearable. Last year I told him that if I spent another winter here, it would kill me! How do I get into these situations? I think I must have done a lot of very bad things in my previous existence.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Abandoned streets

On Sunday, a friend and I set out to visit the WW11 RAF Command Centre bunker at what was RAF Uxbridge before they moved out a few months ago. Some of the buildings are still in use, though, and we were greeted by a spotty cadet who informed us that there was a TWO HOUR wait to see the bunker because the open day was so popular. It was part of the British heritage open days that are happening all over the country.

We didn't want to sit in the car and roast for two hours (it was the last sunny day of summer) so we parked and disembarked and my friend, hobbling with a stick following her hip replacement six weeks ago, decided we should try and find the public footpath that bisects the camp and comes out in central Uxbridge. We soon found it, but it wasn't a proper footpath any more, just a section of roadway that was cordoned off with chainlink fencing. However, it took us through some interesting sights.

The first two were a glorious meadow with a river at the far side (the Pym, we think) and a stile right in the middle. There must have been a fence or hedge there at some time. On the other side of the road was this wonderful wild field with an empty bungalow at the far side where I would love to have lived.

About ten minutes further on, we came upon this eerie street full of abandoned houses. Apparently, most of the grounds have been sold to developers and these gorgeous houses are going to be demolished (shame!), but for now, they are being used by a film company so keep your eyes peeled. It looked quite creepy, with broken windows and lots of ivy, so perhaps it's a horror film.

Later, we spotted this fabulous house which would have made a great restaurant, or even a theatre (they are going to build one somewhere on the grounds), but I guess this is scheduled to be razed to the ground, too. I think that's where I'd really like to live!

PS I'm probably not supposed to have taken these photos. I only achieved them by poking the camera lens through the chainlink fence. So if you don't hear from me again, it will be because I've been arrested by the MOD!

Friday, 31 August 2012

A Perfect Poser

Today, I went to meet the friend whose partner is gravely ill in hospital. The quickest way to get to the hospital in question is to turn right out of the station and walk through the cemetery, an unfortunate and macabre juxtaposition. Halfway down the path, I bumped into another friend - Joan Byrne, whose excellent blog, Joan Byrne Snaps, is well worth following - and found her gazing at a stone angel with a perfectly posing pigeon on top. I was glad I'd brought my camera.

We also came across this unusual green tombstone. Green marble? Or is it faced with copper?

As you can see, it was a glorious day, if rather chilly for the last day of Summer, and we had a fantastic and remarkably cheap lunch (£7.95 for three courses) and a wonderful Turkish restaurant in Fulham. I hope that, with our laughter and reminiscences, we managed to cheer up our friend if only for an hour or so.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Prayers and prose

I have 11 days left to write four light-hearted, sexy chapters, plus a new synopsis, plus do loads of research about Brazil, because the book's foreign location scenes have to be moved from Italy, which the commissioning editor says is boring and has been done to death. (Pity: I did tons of  research on Italy when the book was originally written.)

Meanwhile, an old friend who has been in hospital for the last six weeks has taken a definite turn for the worse and we have been told that it is 'a waiting game'. So I am trying to write sexy romps whilst reading heart-breaking text messages and emails from my friend's partner and bursting into tears at intervals. It is a sad and uncomfortable and extremely ill-timed juxtaposition of art and life and all I can do is be like an actor and don the comic mask over the tragic one. I feel like giving up and telling the publisher I just can't do it, but that would mean blowing the biggest chance I've had in the last 15 years. I am praying for my friend, even though the situation seems hopeless. Perhaps you could join a prayer to mine.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

On the edge

I heard from the publisher at last. Of all my ideas, the one they like best is the complete book I sent them, which I wrote a few years ago and stars three young women in their twenties and thirties. They want the ages changed, the locations changed and lots more sex put in, and I have a deadline of 3rd September. That's two weeks away. If I succeed and they decide to go ahead with the book, there is the possibility of a series.

I thought Mr Grumpy might be pleased for me. After all, my writing career has been in the doldrums for the last seven years. Ever since I moved into his house 'temporarily' and he had his two strokes. We writers don't ask for much. Just peace and quiet, and to be left alone while we're working. But is he prepared to give it to me? Is he hell! He has commandeered the only quiet room in the house for his own office, which he sits in downloading movies and pieces of software. He keeps the front door on the latch, which terrifies me, and his loud, shouty friends barge in and out - and I am working in my bedroom right next to the front door, with traffic roaring by.

Now I am under this terrible time pressure, I find myself tense and in tears. I asked him if he could possibly postpone the party he is planning just for a week, in order that I may have that weekend to work, and he went mad. "So you're asking me to put my whole life on hold, are you?" he railed, then I got the 'it's my house and I'll do what I want in it' tirade.

I've been offered a flat to rent for a fortnight, but it has no internet access and my publisher wants us to bat chapters back and forth, which I can't do if I have to find an internet cafe each time. Also, without a car, I can't transport my desktop computer with the big screen, that I need for my appalling eyesight. Wish I could persuade Mr G to go away for a fortnight, but there's no chance of that. Oh, and I don't have a smart phone with internet on it. Though I don't think I could send whole book chapters on that.

My head is in my hands... and so is my writing career.

P.S. 9 fleas were in the water dish on the bedroom floor this morning. Bloody useless flea-bombs!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Oh no!

I have set off flea bombs in Mr G's bedroom, the guest bedroom and the room in which I sleep and work, which houses all my clothes. At last, I thought, I can relax and not have to glance down and inspect every itch and tingle on legs and feet, to see if it's caused by a flea that I must grab instantly and dunk in the flea-drowning jug, which contains a goodly squirt of 'agent orange', which finishes them off instantly.

Then just now, sitting in my room on the telephone, I glanced down and spotted something black on my trousers. I approached it with a finger and PING! it bounced, across the room. It was another flea, and a very lively one at that and now it's about to infest my room all over again.

I can't de-flea the other downstairs rooms because they are used by Mr G all the time and he hardly every goes out. He refuses to be barred from his living room and kitchen for two hours, so the fleas that are lurking there are bound to infest the bedrooms all over again and are probably comfortably reproducing IN MY WARDROBE! AAARGH! What on EARTH am I going to do?

By the way, I had a survey done on a cottage that needed a quick sale and guess what? The damp treatment and roof repairs are going to come to over £10,000 so I am going to have to withdraw my offer and yet another estate agent will be horribly rude to me.

Ever felt like packing the proverbial spotted handkerchief and running away? (Though that's probably got bloody fleas, too!)

Monday, 13 August 2012

The Long Wait

If you're a writer, there is nothing worse than the silence you have to endure after you've sent something off. It's bad enough if it's a short story, but if it's a whole novel that took you months, maybe years to write, the waiting period is pure agony.

You veer between optimism and despair. You scan your emails constantly, or pace impatiently as you wait for the postman to arrive each day, crossing toes and fingers that what you'll get is a letter-sized envelope rather than a large jiffy-bag addressed in your own hand. I have several of those jiffy-bags lying around in dusty corners, with their years-old rejection letters still inside. I am almost superstitious about them; it's as if touching them, or taking out those rejected manuscripts, will act like bad magic, draining all creativity from my system for ever and ever.

In this latest case, I sent off some synopses and outlines, having been - gasp - invited to do so by a publisher. How rare and lucky is that? The publisher in question actually tracked me down on the internet, having once worked for another publisher for whom I wrote six or seven books at least twelve years ago. I decided not to go away last week in case... well, in case I had that email saying, "Please could you write three sample chapters by Friday, when we have our meeting with the sales and marketing people." It's the S&M department (should I call them Fifty Shades?) upon whom all acquisitions depend. I have been warned that even if I write my sample chapters, I still might not get them accepted. But who wouldn't be willing to have a go?

Is no news good news? Well, it won't be if I have a nervous breakdown due to the sheer stress of waiting! I can't concentrate on a thing, I'm on an emotional see-saw, Mr Grumpy doesn't understand and wonders why I'm so moody. The only living creatures who sympathise are Flad and my fellow writers. Good luck to us all!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Fleeing the fleas!

Our dad used to work for the Elder Dempster shipping line in Liverpool, where,. if I remember rightly, and perhaps my sister Merrylegs can correct me on this, he held the post of Assistant Chief Victualling Superintendent, responsible for food, drink, carpets and curtains and the training of the stewards on board ships like the Oreol, the company flagship, the Apapa and the Accra ( for anyone interested in shipping history; the company closed in 1985).

The boats plied between the Liverpool docks and West Africa and I well remember Dad bringing home, on different occasions, coconuts which he bashed with a hammer to break into them, pouring out the milk which was peppered with bits of broken hairy shell), sackfuls of peanuts still in the shell, and on one wondrous occasion a bright green Praying Mantis, which scuttled up the living room curtains and lived there for a while, before starving to death, poor thing, because we didn't have a clue how to feed it and just hoped it could catch enough spiders and flies.

Amongst the treasures brought home by Dad was the occasional flea. At the first sign of any of being bitten, the Hunt the Flea ritual would commence. It involved filling the bath tub with a few inches of water then going into the bathroom one at a time, stripping off each garment in turn and shaking it over the tub, until the flea appeared, swimming for its life. It would then be dispatched to a watery grave down the plughole.

These were human fleas, black, round and shiny, not like the reddish cat flea. The cat flea is a cunning b*****d. It lurks in soft furnishings, carpets and crevices in wooden floors, having hatched from eggs that fell off the cat when the next flea treatment was slightly overdue, and multiplies at a rate of squillions squared. In terms of cars, the population can go from 0 to 50 in a millisecond, beating the fastest Formula 5 racer. And they are in my bedroom... and the spare room... and the kitchen... and despite my daily sprayings and vacuumings, they still hop on my feet the moment I get out of bed in the morning.

I have now bought some flea bombs. You let them off in a room, close the door and flee for three hours. Apparently they smell like moth balls. So if that 'old lady' smell reaches your nostrils over the next few days, look around and you might spot me. And hopefully the spots left by the flea bites will have gone!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Charlie the Stray

This is Charlie.

He ran away from home in May and his owners leafleted the area and we were able to tell them that he was paying frequent visits to our garden. To get here, he had to cross a busy road and cut through the horses' field, then push his his way through brambles and nettles, but this didn't seem to deter him. We frequently found him with his head in the fox's dish.

His owners managed to lure him home but he soon absconded again. Apparently, he didn't get on with his feline mum, who also lived there. She bossed him around something terrible, and he, being a big, strong, three-year-old adult male (well, almost...), just wasn't going to put up with it. So he ran away for good this time and is living rough and his former owners are no longer responding to our text messages about him. From being utterly distraught, his 'mum' is now acting like a woman scorned.

He looks pretty well fed and we suspect he's sneaking through every cat flap in the neighbourhood and taking what he can get. But he is wearing a tight collar, the end of which dangles and must really annoy him, so my aim is to get the thing off him.

The last four nights, he has appeared just before 10pm and meowed outside the patio door, so I have been putting some food out for him, though he was so nervous that if he so much as saw me looking at him,. he would run away. I had to peep round the kitchen door and watch him covertly.

Then tonight, I had a major breakthrough. I put his food out, left the door open and crouched down. He buried his face in the food and I slowly extended my hand until I was actually stroking his head very gently. And he didn't run away. I think within a few nights I shall have that collar off him.

His human mum told us that he is supposed to be on a special diet as he has a kidney problem and crystals in his urine. We have seen no signs of distress or ill-health. His coat is glossy and he certainly isn't thin. I rather think he has designs on being household cat number two, if Flad will permit it. There has been the odd outbreak of hissing, but Charlie defers to Flad, backing off if Flad decides to eat Charlie's dinner as well as his own. Maybe they could be friends one day. I hope so.

Friday, 3 August 2012

All Change!

Well, two problems have solved themselves instantly. The offer of my friend's flat in Highgate has been withdrawn because a family member needs to stay there (gutted; was really looking forward to it and had booked up lots of property viewings which I shall now have to cancel as it's too far to keep going there and coming back to where I live - two hours each way on a variety of trains and buses).

The second is that my sister will be having a mad week next week. Not only does she have her art show, which entails hanging all her paintings and getting the last few framed, but she is being filmed for a TV documentary next Thursday - don't know the details yet - and has various climbing friends staying. So we won't be able to have any quality time together, which is what I long for, not having seen her for two long years! She's going away on another long trip on Aug 31st and I have yet another dental appointment on the 21st, so I hope we can get together in one of those 'windows' and have a spa day. I really do miss her and I get horrible flashbacks to my friend Louise, who I didn't see for 18 months because of my infected tooth - I was getting abscess after abscess and didn't feel up to going on holiday to Cornwall, and then she suddenly died. If that were to happen to my sister...

No! Mustn't think such doomy thoughts. Wouldn't have had them at all if I hadn't made a nasty typo in my email to her last night. Instead of 'Dear Sis', I found I'd typed 'Dead Sis'. 'Oh my God, it's an omen!' I thought in panic. But even though it was just me being silly, it's made me all the keener to get up to Patterdale as soon as possible, to see my 'dear Sis'!

Here are two paintings of hers which I have hanging on my bedroom wall. The first is a watercolour of Striding Edge in Cumbria, near where she lives, and the second is a little pastel drawing of two Long-Tailed Tits in the snow.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Keeping balls in the air!

So many things are up in the air at the moment that I think I had better go on a juggling course. I have book ideas out for consideration. I am supposed to be visiting my sister in the Lake District next week but I also have the offer of my friend's flat in Highgate for the same week, which would be most handy as a jumping -off point for my property search, but will my sister have time to see me the following week instead?

I have a couple of jobs in, and sick friends to visit, and the old lady next door who keeps pressing her Careline button in the middle of the night, so we have to go round and put her back to bed (she's blind, deaf and 98 and if she gets up to go to the loo, half the time she can't find her bed again; how she finds the loo is beyond me!!!).

I have lengthy emails from distant and much-loved friends to answer in kind, I have yet more book proposals to dream up... and it's all busy, busy and I'm not even finding the time to watch the Olympics on TV. I am going to the Paralympics in September, though, and am really looking forward to strolling around that super park.

Tooth is still troublesome, but I'm going to have to take the plunge and head for sunnier climes at some point this year, October maybe. I'm quite keen to visit Gumusluk in Turkey because I've heard it's full of arty old hippies like me. Maybe I'll find a beardy weirdie and never come back!

Friday, 27 July 2012

It gets worse...

Mr Grumpy has had awful pain in his back and shoulder and thought it was to do with his strokes. But he had an x-ray and got the results today and he has ankylosing spondylitis (sure I've spelled that wrong), osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in his neck and spine. No wonder he's in pain. There's nothing the doc can do except dish out painkillers. He was offered meds for the osteoporosis and refused them. He's looked up AS on the web and is now convinced he's going to end up paralysed. Oh God. Will I have to push his wheelchair? Nope, I shall buy a Shetland pony and give him the reins!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Domestic disharmony

I'm sorry but I can't write nice, cheery blog posts at the moment. Everything is too grim. Mr G and I are rowing all the time, I am crying every day. I have book ideas to come up with - my last chance of reviving my writing career at the age of 67, not having had anything new published for eight years - and he won't leave me alone, in peace. Won't stop inviting people round which means I have to instantly drop everything. He won't even tell me when they are coming.

I have a manuscript appraisal of a long, serious book to do, which entails annotating the manuscript on the screen, plus writing a minimum of 2,500 pointing out faults and suggesting improvements, my horoscope column to write AND the book ideas to think of, before I go to my sister's for a week on August 8th. I haven't seen her for two years. I wanted to leave the weekends free to concentrate on the books. There are only two weekends before I go away. He knows this.. and now he says he's going to throw an early birthday party on one of them. It's not his birthday till September. And I've lost yet more precious time that I desperately need for writing. Oh, and now he says he's invited friends over this coming weekend, too, and again he didn't consult me. I just can't cope any more. I am trapped here. I can't find anywhere to move to and even if I did find a house or a flat to buy, so I could get my stuff out of storage at last, the process takes weeks, or even months. I don't know what to do, I am completely unhappy and I can't cope.

I am sitting typing this with fleas hopping up my legs and biting me. I wanted to get the whole house fumigated but he won't let me, because it's HIS house and the fleas don't bother him. (Yes, we do put stuff on Flad, but there's a stray that keeps coming in.) I've just found one in my bed! I have sprayed and sprayed, Hoovered and Hoovered. I can't relax because I am constantly on red alert, trying to catch the buggers before they bite me. And then there's my tooth. Can you imagine having three and a half years of only being able to eat on one side? The antibiotics have helped a bit. I have another appointment at 12.30. I shall probably infest the surgery with fleas.

Mr Grumpy is home all day and doesn't work, apart from doing the odd driving job for his mate the butcher. Of course he wants his friends in. I, on the other hand, am still working and need him to show some respect for my office hours. There is a lifestyle clash going on here. But I still think he could show me a little consideration. He's known me for 15 years. He knows I'm a writer and editor. I don't need to retire just because he has.

This morning's row was because I put the washing-up bowl, dish drainer and sink tidy in the dishwasher for a quick wash, as they were filthy and greasy. He came in just I was taking them out and told me off. I shouldn't waste energy putting just a few things in, and Quick Wash isn't hot enough (they came out perfectly clean, so sucks to him!). I then made the fatal mistake of reminding him it was my dishwasher and surely I could wash things in it if I wanted to. I kindly got it out of storage and let him use it when his died three years ago. Now he says he's going to buy a new one, disconnect mine, leave it standing in the middle of the kitchen and I can take it back to the storage unit.

How the hell am I supposed to do creative work in such a disruptive atmosphere? I really think this relationship is over. Yet... he has said two or three times, very accusingly, "I wouldn't abandon you if you'd had a stroke.! So what am I to do?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Foiled again

Yet again, I found a perfect property. Yet again I offered the full asking price and was the first to do so. Yet again, the agent has decided to hold a blind bidding session to see how much more money he can get for it. This is even though the downstairs neighbour, who I chatted to at length about his wonderful cat, recommended me to the seller and said he hopes I get it.

Bur I shan't as I can't afford to pay any more, and it's just not fair. I feel as if I am trapped in this noisy, flea-ridden house for ever.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Willy Cake!

Mr G's step-daughter is chief bridesmaid for a friend of hers. She had to organise the hen-do tomorrow and didn't know what to do for a special cake. So I had a bright idea. A willy cake! Our friend A, mother of the five boys, makes cakes so I rang her and she said she would be only too delighted to have a go. Here it is.

I think it's almost too realistic! Step drew the line at my suggestion of filling it with cream that would squirt out at the touch of a knife, simply because there will be some relatives of the bride-to-be there who might be a bit straight and lacking a dirty sense of humour. I said in that case she could turn it the other way up and say it was meant to represent a bouquet of pink flowers, or a cupid in pink angel wings. No? I didn't think so, either!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Writers' blog and summer washout

The writers amongst you might be interested in the following blog which a friend told me about today. She follows it on Twitter. It contains a load of good advice about various aspects of writing.

Sorry I haven't written a new blog entry for a while. The last one wore me out! I spent about two hours on it,  including finding and scanning old photos. It's great fun to do that once in a while though, isn't it? Especially when it's part of your own personal history.

I'm wondering whether to splash out to my local carnival today, or whether it will be rained off. I've got some wellies. It's two bus rides away. My other choice is to accompany Mr Grumpy to a kids' party which he is going to as official photographer. There could be 30-plus nine-year-olds screaming about in a giant marquee.   On second thoughts, I'll take the carnival!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Why you'll never see me on a bike!

I was looking through some old photos the other day and realised that there wasn't one of me on, or even with, a bicycle. My parents were keen cyclists. They met through being members of the CTC (Cyclists' Touring Club) and their honeymoon was spent cycling round the Isle of Skye on a tandem, Dad with boils on his bottom and Mum with a heavy period. Not the most romantic of times! Here are some old photos of Mum and Dad with their bikes.

Definitely lost!

No cars around in those days

Wet, wet, wet!

Soggy bum from Scottish rain?

When I was small, I had a tricycle, which my sister inherited. (There's a photo of her on it somewhere, but darned if I can find it!). Once I had outgrown my trike, Dad gave me a blue two-wheeler which was cheap because it had been cobbled together from parts of dead bikes. I didn't care. Once I had learned to balance and ride it - I can still remember the heart-stopping moment when Dad gave it a push and let go, and off I wobbled under my own steam - I could cycle round to visit my friends, who of course had bikes of their own. 

Everything was fine until the day when I hit the patch of gravel in Brodie Avenue, skidded and came off just as the bus was bearing down on me. I shall never know how it stopped in time. I remember people bending over me - maybe the driver or conductor was one of them - and asking if I was all right. I was only two minutes from home, so I hobbled off, bleeding from the gravel grazes, pushing my bike. Arriving home, I pushed it into the garage, which was a store for everything including Dad's collection of newspapers going back to the war years, and vowed never to ride it again. I think my sister inherited it. I must ask her.

Scroll forward seventeen years. On holiday in Paris, I met a sporty American called Joel, who was working in Paris. He was the complete opposite to me. Where I sat up till all hours quaffing wine, strumming the guitar and smoking illicit substances, he was up at 6.30am every day, working out in the gym before work. This was the 1970s, for heaven's sake! It was the post-Hippie loon pants era, yet this guy was ahead of his time, with a work and fitness ethic worthy of the 1990s.

We spent a night together in a brothel, which we thought was a hotel, but that's another story. The purpose of this one is to continue the story of me and bikes. A year after our Parisian bonk, Joel rang me and asked if I would like to come on a sailing holiday in Loosdrecht, Holland, with him. Loosdrecht is a beautiful part of Northern Holland featuring several wonderful lakes (see below).

The idea sounded great. I was looking forward to a repeat bonk in beautiful surroundings, so I booked myself on a flight and Joel met me at the airport. It was raining. It rained the next day, too. Not just rain, either, but howling gales that whipped the lake up into a veritable Camargue full of white horses. I would have been happy to stay in bed, emerging only for food and drink, especially alcoholic, but superfit Joel had other ideas. 

"It may be too rough to sail, but we can still cycle," he said, opening the boot of his car and producing two collapsible bikes.

My heart sank. Cycle? Me? My lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious, but I was desperate to look good in his eyes, so onto the bike I got, and we cycled... And we cycled... And we cycled some more. We went to Hilversum. We came out the other side. We rode through woods, down roads where barges sailed above our heads on raised canals. And all the time, as I lifted each knee up with my hand and thrust it down onto the pedal, as it was incapable of independent movement, I kept thinking, 'We've got to do the same distance home.' I raised my eyes to the skies, praying for an alien abduction, but none came. All I could see was Joel's bum on his saddle, a mere speck in the distance, and his bronzed hairy legs pounding up and down, leaving this unfit English weakling far, far behind.

I'll never know how I got back. The furthest I had ever ridden before was a mile and a half to the riding stable and the same distance back. That day, Joel told me we'd ridden a mere 50 kilometres. When we finally arrived at our hotel, I got off the bike and crumpled to the floor. He had to help me indoors, whereupon I crawled up the stairs on my hands and knees and collapsed celibately into bed. I have never, ever, ridden a bike since. Talk about aversion therapy!

There is a P.S. to this story. Next day dawned bright and clear. Stiff and aching though I was, Joel hired a sailing dinghy like the one you can see in the photograph. I had never been in one before. Of course, Joel was an expert. While he manned the sails, I steered. What a joke that was! Within half an hour, helped by the wind that was blowing everything sideways, I brought us too close in to shore, where a tree branch speared the sail and left us dangling at a 45 degree angle. We had to be rescued and he probably had to pay for the damage to the sail.

I have never been on a sailing boat since, either! Nor did I see Joel again. Indeed, he packed me off on the plane next day and I have never been so glad to get back to London and a nice, safe, unhealthy bottle of wine.