Friday, 27 November 2015

Beyond The Comfort Zone

Our roller coaster year continues, hence the radio silence. Last week saw me back at hospital for what I hoped would be the final appointment for what’s euphemistically known as Women’s Troubles… though I daresay there have been moments when Tom might feel that this Woman’s Troubles have resulted in a few Man’s Troubles too. Tom and I are ushered into a small room with a male consultant and his male colleague leaving me feeling slightly outnumbered. The consultant introduces himself. His name is so wildly inappropriate for a gynae that I have to suppress giggles. We engage in a little ‘why we are here’ session and he asks how my libido is, explaining, in a low voice, ‘your sex drive’ just to make it clear, I suppose, that he’s not asking about the welfare of a small pet. ‘Fine,’ I assure him, resisting the urge to add, ‘how’s yours?’

The next step is a small procedure. ‘We’ll do another biopsy whilst we’re there,’ he says, momentarily rattling my composure. Another? Will there be any of me left? Ah well, it’s good to know that I’m being checked and double-checked. Having learned the drill now, I remember, once I’ve donned my hospital gown and fetching plastic bootees, to exit the theatre side of the changing room not, as last time, back to the consulting room which caused the theatre staff to think I’d done a runner (in a backless gown!).

I’m greeted by the Professional Hand Holder (you know it’s going to be bad when the NHS provides someone to hold your hand) who was so lovely to me last time only this time she’s down the business end with the consultant and his colleague so I have new and equally lovely Hand Holder. After several eye-watering minutes , and a few disconcerting moments when the consultant’s head pops up from my nether regions to give me a progress report, it’s all done and I hope very much that’s the last of it. I do have to say that throughout, I’m treated with great kindness and care and I’m truly grateful for all the staff involved for looking after me.

‘I don’t suppose you’d be interested in writing a piece for me?’ asks a dear, supportive friend in happier news. I readily agree since the piece is a lovely feature for a glossy supplement and I’ll be paid real money! I really enjoy feature writing, more so than fiction at times, especially after the heartache that comes after devoting blood, sweat and 90,000 words to a favourite novel (step forward Follow A Star) for it to be largely ignored. Discounting, that is, the dear lady who bothered to leave a ‘meh’ review on the same day the world was reeling from the Paris attacks. Who does that? Anyway, back to the feature, nothing not to love, although a little daunting because the deadline’s quite tight and it involves chasing people (very nicely!) for information. After a couple of sleepless nights turning it over, I deliver my copy in time and to everyone’s satisfaction - all of which considerably lifts my spirits. Not to mention, my bank account. Hurray!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Day of Contrasts

One of the joys of working freelance (and let’s not think about the downside of that fluctuating income) is being able to rearrange my own hours. I have two deadlines looming, but after week that brought news of the death of my 92-year old aunt (a good age, yes, but another member of that dwindling generation in my family lost) and saw my sister in A&E with concussion after she fainted and fell down a flight of steps at a station, we decided to make the most of a blustery, sunny day.

I’m not religious, haven’t been since I was little girl, but I love visiting cathedrals for the beauty of their architecture and all the skill and effort that goes into their making. St David’s is a favourite.

We then had a brilliant walk on the stunning beach at Whitesand where a passing stranger ‘complimented’ me on my hat. Cheeky b*gger.

And Tom and I grappled with the mysteries of the selfie.


It was one of those glorious days when the beauty of nature was almost sublime, yet a few hours later the images in my mind’s eye were juxtaposed with the horror unfolding in Paris. A day of extremes indeed.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Container of Our Years

We’ve had the pleasure of my younger stepson and his girlfriend’s company for a few days. Between jaunts, they’ve been meticulously tracing and compiling family trees, something I’ll never have the patience or energy to do. It’s not just the double and triple checking of hand-written entries in various logs that bothers me; I can’t help but think of the inconvenient truths that lie behind some of these official documents. Are you really who they say you are? Mostly though, it’s just that I don’t feel that those long-dead ancestors, whoever they were, make me the person I am.

However, when my stepson produces an old ordnance survey map for Epsom in 1912, I’m very moved to see the outlines of two tiny little squares which instantly fill with colour and life. One represents the small Victorian cottage on the edges of Epsom Downs where I grew up, where I watched the ebb and flow of the seasons in the racing stable opposite from the bedroom window and where our family was ruled by Zorba, our naughty miniature dachshund. The other, another Victorian cottage, represents the first home Tom, my daughters and I shared. Our financial circumstances meant we had to consider properties other buyers rejected, but we walked in and saw past the wall-to-wall battleship grey d├ęcor and fell in love with the place which became our very happy home.

Occasionally we’ll drive past these two houses; the first still bears the wooden house name plate my dad made, the curtains that cost me hours of swearing and tears still hang at the windows of the second, but what’s most important about these homes are the memories they hold, those are the real fabric of my life.

The last month has created many moments for reflection. We attended a funeral for Tom’s cousin, a much-loved man enjoying a full, interesting life who suffered a fatal heart attack aged just 62. My parents-in-law are adjusting to the after-effects of my mother-in-law’s emergency hip replacement. And, in contrast, I’ve had the utter joy of ‘row, row, rowing the boat’ with my granddaughter and making her giggle.

To return to houses and memories, my novella Only True in Fairy Tales was inspired by growing up on Epsom Downs and includes a Wurst, a badly behaved dachshund and Gracie, the dog I always wanted, a retired racing greyhound. Writing friend, Tina K Burton and her husband Paul, gave a home to greyhound Cherry after reading my novella and today sees the launch of their book Fifty Tails of Grey, a collection of true stories about how and why people came to own their first greyhounds. All proceeds from the sale of their book will be donated equally between The Retired Greyhound Trust and Greyhound Rescue West of England. Tina says in her dedication that their hope is to help present and future hounds find love and kindness – now, isn’t that a happy ending?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Many a Slip

Ah, why did I talk about light at the end of the tunnel? Less than two weeks after we gathered as a family to celebrate my parents-in-law being married for a magnificent sixty years, my poor MiL is in hospital recovering from an emergency hip replacement having broken her hip in a fall. Our immediate concerns are to help both MiL and Dil get over the shock and to do what we can to assist MiL’s recovery.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn Light

I had such plans for this year; writing plans for a novel and a novella, running plans for another Cardiff Half Marathon. But I hadn’t bargained on the posterior vitreous detachment, which temporarily knocked out a big old chunk of the central vision in my left eye, or the debilitating health problem which saw me fast-tracked then, thankfully, declared free of anything sinister. Just a couple of loose ends to tie up and all should be well again.

Perhaps things do happen for a reason; this year also brought the utterly amazing experience of being with Lily and Russ when their daughter was born, and with no deadlines to worry about, I’ve had the joy of spending unhurried time with our new granddaughter. Having Rose and Si move closer was an unexpected bonus and makes getting together a lot easier; a couple of weekends ago, for example, we had brilliant time at the Millennium Stadium watching Wales play Uruguay.

However, with my personal goals in disarray, there have been moments when I’ve questioned who I am. Am I’m still a writer if I don’t produce a new book? A runner if I’m not training for a race? Getting the all clear from the consultant put the spring in my step which has enabled me to really up my running mileage; I won’t be running the Cardiff Half this year but – fingers crossed – I’m going all out for Llanelli in March. And now the worry has lifted, I’ve started writing again too, because I want to and for the pleasure of it, not because I feel I must. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ that comes with being published that I don’t enjoy, like the inevitable stinging review and fretting about what everyone else is doing so it’s easy, in low moments, to be dragged down by it. Voracious reading has helped me regain my writing appetite, and this wonderful post by literary agent, Lizzy Kremer, reminded me that the only ‘right’ path out of the writing wilderness is the one we choose for ourselves, the one we take hopefully and with joy. There’s a little autumn light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Summer's Lease

Blue skies at Goodwick yesterday
‘Someone’s going to be busy,’ says the cashier at Wilko eyeing our bucketful of cleaning goodies. Summer in west Wales, like the roses outside our kitchen window, showed early promise before being battered by strong winds and heavy rain leaving only a glimmer of hope. But today, the sun is shining so what are we doing to make the most of this rare bright day? Why, we’re scrubbing the boat, of course!

Actually, one of the aspects of sailing that I really like is the ‘playing houses’ bit, making another home from home. We’re currently working our way through washing the teal and white upholstery covers, we’ve tackled the mainsail cover – which included The Thing That Crawled Inside, Cr*pped Itself and Died (discovered when Tom shook the mainsail out over me, Rose and Si when we were eating our sandwiches) – and now, I’m cleaning the inside whilst Tom sorts out power and water to clean the outside.

For a 23ft boat, Blue Nun’s surprisingly spacious with lots of headroom, which is one of her plus points. The DVD player with drop down screen in the forecabin (to watch what? A Perfect Storm? Dead Calm? Overboard?) is a questionable asset and the Porta Potty (bleurgh!) is definitely going to be replaced by a boat loo. To be fair, my sprucing up of the interior is more of a psychological ‘out with the old, in with the new’ kind of clean, but it’s when Tom turns the power washer on the exterior that the satisfying transformation begins and Blue Nun starts to regain her sparkle. All told, it’s been a good day!

Swabbing the decks!

It was a good day, with lovely weather, three years ago when Lily and Russ got married and now, of course, they have Bee! Congratulations to them and to my parents-in-law, aka MiL and DiL, who celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary on Thursday. Given that MiL’s had to overcome serious health problems this year, we’ll be particularly pleased to raise a glass to their continued happiness when we meet for a family party later this week.

And finally, a small celebration of my own; the German edition of Only True In Fairy Tales. I studied German for part of my degree and produced a very average dissertation after struggling through original historical texts, however I’m pleased to say that reading this delightful translation is banishing painful memories of those dry old tomes and introducing me to words that are much more fun to learn. My thanks to Choc Lit and to Heidi.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Please Release Me: A Blog Splash and a Gale

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog splash for fellow ChocLiteer Rhoda Baxter to celebrate the release of her latest book, Please Release Me, which has a rather unusual premise for a romantic novel. In Rhoda’s own words, “Please Release Me, is a contemporary romance with a touch of the paranormal, published by Choc Lit Ltd. It’s set in a hospice (granted, that’s not the most intuitive setting for a romantic comedy…) and features Sally, whose body is a coma while her ghost gets to walk through furniture; Peter, who reads to his comatose wife every day; and Grace, who is the only person who can see or hear Sally’s ghost. It’s a story about moving on in one way or another and about how people need each other, especially when they think they don’t.”

Something else you need to know about this book is that Rhoda’s generously donating half the royalties from it to Martin House Children’s Hospice.

When Rhoda invited me to take part in her blog splash she suggested ‘being stuck’ as a possible prompt because her characters are unable to move on. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just bought another boat that I thought of Veryan, the first and loveliest of our boats and when, on an early Epic Voyage, we found ourselves galebound in Ramsgate…

“To describe what I did this morning as ‘waking up’ would be stretching it. Although we were expecting a gale, it blew up really quickly” my sailing diary records. “One minute I was washing up in the cockpit and the next I was leaping ashore because the boat was jumping around all over the place. We felt very vulnerable on our mooring but couldn’t move because the wind was driving straight onto a pontoon. We did what we could to make the boat safe, then waited… and waited, but the gale didn’t stop. It blew throughout the afternoon, evening and all through the night making even the most innocuous sound seem threatening.”

Veryan (and her crew) take a battering!
However, there was a silver lining to that storm… 

“Last night was one of the worst of my life after one of the nastiest journeys, but it suddenly occurred to me that if the advice is to write about what you know that this is what I should be writing about! Some of the characters we’ve met here would fill several books …”

Well, two so far, Turning the Tide and Follow A Star (directly recalling that time in Ramsgate!) which just goes to prove that sometimes you need to be stuck to move on. And once we set sail again, next summer, who knows where those adventures will lead?

Please Release Me

What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after …

Please Release Me by Rhoda Baxter is out now and you can buy it here.