Saturday, 24 August 2013

Goat's cheese and welly boots

Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the blog front.While I was in London cat-sitting, I met up with friends and went to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition before it closed. It was the very last day and not too crowded, and I thought the selection of artworks was much more interesting than last year's. There were two paintings that caught my eye but when I saw that a print would cost £2000, I soon dropped the idea of purchasing one. There was also a mirrored sculpture which I would love to have had in a large room (if only I had one!), as it reflected light and shapes in a most interesting way.

I'm back now. I didn't do as much as I'd wanted to because my stomach was playing up again (it took a violent dislike to the goat's cheese tart I ate at the RA) and I slept badly and didn't have much energy. But it made me realise how much I miss the buzz of the capital. When I got home, I couldn't think of a thing to do except glue myself to the computer as usual whilst yearning to walk in Regent's Park or along the canal, nip down to Oxford St, visit the Kentish Town charity shops and the fabulous Fresh and Wild health food shop in Parkway, spend an evening at a poetry reading or at the Jazz Cafe... it's all there at your fingertips and I miss it so much. I also loved being able to have lunch with friends in north London and not have to give up all day to do it, as it takes so long getting to and from Hillingdon.

While I was there, I went to see a flat for sale, but it was hopeless. Huge, lofty, dark lounge and tiny, cell-like bedroom and a balcony overshadowed by enormous trees that plopped leaves, raindrops and pigeon poo onto your head! I am now toying with the idea of renting...

I have been commissioned to write up the story of how I found my daughter, for a store magazine. I think it will be in the Christmas issue, so I'll let you know. They want to do a tie-in with the Long Lost Family programme. Don't know about you, but I am addicted to it, and feel a surge of tearful emotion every time a birth parent is reunited with the child they had to give up. If I hadn't found my daughter by myself, I would definitely have applied to go on the show.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend, everyone. Hope those at the Reading Festival have taken their wellies!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Books old and new

A few days ago, I went to my storage unit, took out three boxes of books and brought them home to see what I could bring myself to live without. It was tough. Boy, was it tough. It was like waving goodbye to dear friends who were off to the other side of the globe forever. Yes, you could visit them (i.e. re-buy them), but it wouldn't be the same. Yet perhaps those books, like the mythical friends, belonged to another era of my life. Maybe I had outgrown them.

So out went the psychotherapy books I had studied for my foundation course in counselling. I never went on to take the diploma or the MA because at that point, in 1994, I was made redundant and couldn't afford the course fees any longer.  I kept the books for ages, thinking I might continue with the course one day, but now, out they have gone, together with the realisation that once you've reached your sixties, it's hardly worth the £10,000 investment to train for a new career when more relaxing pastimes beckon. Like writing.

When the books went into storage ten years ago, Google had hardly begun. Now, if you want to know the origin of a phrase or saying, or check a literary quotation, you just have to tickle the keyboard, so out went Brewers, a thesaurus and two books of quotations, plus some travel books, as I don't think I shall be going back to Corfu or Rhodes, or walking the Lycian Way with my flat feet and wonky ankle.

Four very dated books from the 1970s went, too, but I have hung onto the poetry books, even though some of them smell of mildew, having got damp when Mr Grumpy's workshop, where they used to be stored, leaked. Some are first editions of R.S. Thomas, and others compilations that contain some of my favourite verses and aren't available any more. But the copy of The Oxford Book of Verse, with gold-edged pages, that I'd had since my school days, was so badly mildewed and foxed that I was forced, very reluctantly, to bin it as I knew the charity shop wouldn't want it in that state.

Once a goodly heap had formed in the hallway, I crammed some of them into a doddery wheely case and trundled them off to the Salvation Army Community Store, our closest charity shop. It's over half a mile away and our road is not only very rutted but also dotted with doggy-do, so I had my work cut out, picking up the bag every time the heavy weight inside it made it tip over when the wheels hit an uneven bit of paving, and lifting it over the unpleasant deposits.

My right arm was strained in its socket by the time I got there, but I decanted everything and told them I was coming back in a bit with some more. Halfway down the road on my second trip, the bag laden with a heavy table lamp as well as books, and carrying a separate bag containing a bulky blanket and some clothes, my back and shoulders began to protest. Telling myself I would reach the main road in another five minutes, I carried on hauling. I crossed the road with the bag only tipping over twice, reached the door of the shop and was appalled to find it closed and the windows shuttered. I had only been there twenty minutes earlier. They knew I was coming right back. Why the f*** didn't they tell me?

By now the sun had come out and the temperature had soared. I looked enviously at all the people swooshing past in their cars and, for the millionth time, regretted the fact I had given up on my driving lessons. By the time I was halfway back up the road with my loads, I was sweating and my glasses were misting up. My limbs hurt and I was beginning to feel a bit woozy. By the time I got back, my head was swimming and I felt quite faint and had to lean on the wall, then stagger to the kitchen for a glass of water. My back was so sore, I couldn't bend and my arms were trembling from hauling the wheely bag. I was just exhausted.

Mr G, who was lying on the sofa as he had a bad headache, opened a bleary eye and said, "Why didn't you ask me to drive you?" "Because you weren't well," was my noble reply. It was partly true. The other reason was that until I met him, I had spent years coping alone. If something needed to be taken somewhere, I carried it. But I was 16 years younger then. On Thursday I paid £38 to the chiropractor to ease the pain in my back and neck. Now I have wrecked them again. When will it dawn on me that I'm not 30 any more?

There is still a big pile of books in the hall. I have snatched back two already. By Monday, the charity pile will have halved and my bookcase will have toppled over in an avalanche of words and paper, probably with me underneath it, muttering my own epitaph: In libris, mortis. On the other hand, I have just finished reading some books that can now be added to the Sally Army pile.

One is Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I had to persevere through the first chapter, pushing myself on even though I was irritated by Nick Dunne, the narrator, but this book has a slow fuse and once it really gets burning, the plot roars along and it kept me up till 3 am two nights running. I'm still not sure which is the stronger, the pin-sharp characterisation, or the clever plot and the way Flynn, like skilled rug maker, weaves together strands that were always there, but you hardly noticed them forming. It fully deserves the accolades it received.

The second book I finished in the last three weeks took me on a trip back to the Sixties, being Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall, which was focused minutely inwards almost to the point of self-indulgence. Much as Nick Dunne had irritated me, Jane, the heroine of The Waterfall made me want to slap her, she was so wet and wimpish and selfish. Yet how very well drawn she was. Her emotions crawled all over the story like drowsy bookworms, with insidious, almost hypnotic slowness. I was slightly relieved to reach the end, but felt refreshed by having dipped into a slow, literary style of writing which probably would be unacceptable to publishers these days, more's the pity.

Last night, I finished Growing Old Outrageously, the true story of the trips taken by two school friends now in their late sixties, Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies, who hadn't seen each other for decades and yet decided to team up and travel the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside stories of ghastly Russians and gallant gauchos, but felt the authors were being a bit restrained, a tad genteel, perhaps, compared to the book I could have written about the things a friend and I got up to in Turkey in our fifties (the baguette in the carpet shop springs to mind!). However, I know my friend would NEVER allow me to write the bare truth. (A novel, then? There is a wicked glint in my eye...)

I have been dipping in and out of Kathryn Marsden's Good Gut Healing and as a result, have started taking Aloe Vera capsules before meals and praying that they help calm my IBS.

Right now, I have two books on the go, a 'real' one - Margaret Forster's Isa and May (am loving it so far) and a Kindle one - the notorious The Cuckoo's Calling by Galbraith/Rowling, which is entertaining but a little shallow and patchy, a curate's egg of a book with some bits, if not actually bad, then decidedly dull. But I like it enough to plod on, catching a chapter while travelling on the tube.

Still on the shelf and settling me salivating each time I glance at it is M C Scott's The Coming of the King, the second in her Rome series. I love the way she doesn't flinch from describing bloody battles, and the wealth of imperceptible research that has gone into recreating historical scenes that reek and shriek of authenticity. I'm keeping it for a holiday. I have one coming up on Thursday, five days of cat-sitting in Camden Town. Hmm... there's lots of interesting things to do in Camden. Maybe there won't be time for much reading at all!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Perfect Lives latest

Perfect Lives is my spicy Young Adult two-parter that was supposed to be published last Christmas. Having gained release from the contract, I was about to self-publish the original chic-lit version in which the characters are all ten years older than in the teenage version, when my agent decided that, seeing as we had the YA version in PDF format, we may as well go ahead and publish that and then she could take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair and try to sell Foreign Rights.

I feel so battered by the experiences I've suffered since my erstwhile publisher asked me to rewrite it, first for the YA market and then for the New Adult market, that I will just be glad to see it in print in one form or another. I shall let you know when it's up there on line. I'm hoping the ex-publisher will allow me to use the same cover they had chosen for it. It was a very simple silhouette of a couple kissing.

Mind you, as the book has three female 'stars', perhaps it should be in triplicate!

Five weeks ago, I sent the revamped Sweet Temptation, a historical 'bodice ripper' first published by Futura thirty years ago (gulp!) to HarperCollins. I have yet to hear anything, so I am looking for other romance imprints to submit it to. If I don't hear back from HC in another three or four weeks, I may self-publish that, too.

Can any fellow authors advise me on income tax on American sales? I've heard that if you're not careful, you can be taxed in the States, then any remaining profits get taxed in the UK, too. Personally, having first-hand experience of the blood, sweat and tears that go into writing a book, I think your first £50,000 of sales (chance would be a fine thing!) should be tax-free. Who'd like to join me in lobbying the government?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Liverpool nil!

I was so looking forward to it but because my stomach problems are always worst in the morning, I left it till 11.30 before deciding I felt fit enough to set off. I got to my local station with my backpack, queued at the ticket office, asked for an off-peak return and was told that if I couldn't specify that I was getting the 13.07 (which I couldn't as there wasn't enough time to get there), it was going to cost me £89! I almost fell over. The website had quoted £51, which was bad enough, but I was prepared to swallow it because it was my fault (or my stomach's) that I hadn't booked in advance.

By now there was a line of impatient people behind me so I said, "That's too much, I've changed my mind, I'm not going," and stomped tearfully off. Then I rang Mr G who had dropped me off and asked him to come and get me. He was nearly home (I live 3 miles from the station), and I had to wait on the corner where all the drug dealing goes on until he appeared.

It was only when I was almost home again that I realised what I had done. Completely forgotten that I had a Senior Railcard! It arrived a few days ago, I put it in the safe and remembered to get it out this morning, but somehow hadn't registered the fact that I even had one, let alone had it on me. That would have cut the price down a bit. He asked if I wanted to go back again, but it was too late. The last off-peak train leaves Euston at 14.07 and I would barely make it, as it takes an hour and half to get into London from here.

It's really hot here today and I am sitting by an open window feeling a total idiot, a miserable failure. And no, I can't go up for the day tomorrow as Mr G will be out, so bang goes my lift to the station. That means leaving at 7 am, taking two buses to the local station, fighting through the rush hour into town, then rushing on foot from Euston Square to Euston, then having to pay a fortune to get a train at around 9, which is peak time. Anyway, my stomach is always terrible till around 11, so I can never go anywhere first thing in the morning. I had to cancel a 9.30 am dental appointment last week because I was in awful pain and couldn't leave the loo. This happens to me every day and the pills from the doc don't seem to be working.

Once, you could buy a nice,. cheap day return to anywhere - and buy it on the day you were travelling. That was pre-nationalisation, of course. Now, they just want to squeeze as much as they can get out of us. If only, if ONLY I had passed my driving test years ago. Then I could have hopped into my car and set off when it suited me, not had to get a train at a certain time as dictated by a rail operator. I am so fed up and instead of being sympathetic, Mr G makes it worse by telling me there's no point in my ever arranging to go anywhere because, "You know you won't go." I want to... I really, really want to. I just need to get my stomach fixed. But how? I think the doc has given up on me, too.

I started with stomach problems when I was four years old and was taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis, but they decided it wasn't that and I caught dysentery while I was in there and had to stay in isolation for a month. When I was a teenager, I was taking a bottle of Milk of Magnesia tablets every two days (I took an overdose of aspirin when I was 17, so that probably wrecked my stomach). In the 1970s, I was told I had IBS but no solution was offered other than to eat a bland diet. In the '90s, they found inflammation of the stomach lining and ulcers in the duodenum. I took pills, had the helicobacter antibiotics and felt a little better, but not completely cured,  But since I hit my late fifties, it's got an awful lot worse. Any bright ideas, anyone? I just want to be able to lead a normal life and not wake up feeling ghastly every day.