Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Happy Endings, New Beginnings

Blended families come with conflicting loyalties and at Christmas time nearly everyone has somewhere else they feel they ought to be. Throw partners into the equation and it gets even more complicated. Since Tom and I aren’t especially hung up about Christmas we’re happy to let our children go with the strongest flow, but I have to say it was a great delight to have the girls and their partners staying with us this year. When such moments are few and far between they become very precious.

My stepsons weren’t far from our thoughts either, not least because we had the very happy news on Christmas Day that my elder stepson and his girlfriend had become engaged. Congratulations Dan and Gill, here’s wishing you every happiness together.

Tom and I end a year that has seen the fruition of many years work, both of us crossing important thresholds within weeks of each other. I’m really looking forwards to seeing Turning the Tide published next year and it’s been so satisfying, after all this time, to become a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. In the meantime I have another OU deadline fast approaching so today’s post will be brief for that reason!

Whilst I have been fortunate to have a happy ending to my year, another family didn’t but they still managed to give the promise of a new life to Jessica Wales. Sometimes there’s hope in the darkest places.

Painting is 'West Coast Surf' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Something in the Hare

We travelled home the other night beneath a clear, sapphire sky with Jupiter twinkling on an invisible thread off a sliver of a crescent moon. Suddenly there was a movement in front of the car; a hare, pale gold in the headlights, loping in front of us before leaping into a bank.
‘Ooh,’ says Rose, when I tell her, ‘Isn’t that symbolic?’ So I look it up and read about fertility, longevity and rebirth none of which seem particularly relevant at first, unless I suddenly find I’m expecting octuplets in which case I’m straight off to the papers.

But then I start thinking about everything that’s happened over the last couple of weeks; certainly, so far as my writing is concerned, I do feel reborn. I’m overflowing with ideas and looking forwards to getting them down in the New Year. Tom, too, has crossed a threshold this week; he’s passed his degree and achieved a Diploma in Music some thirty-odd years after deciding, as a very homesick eighteen year-old, that university the first time round wasn’t for him. Along the way, as an OU student, he’s battled with two bouts of severe illness and personal turmoil, but has come through with distinction – I’m really proud of him.

We’ve had some lovely family moments too; sitting in a Caribbean restaurant with my stepsons and one of their girlfriends enjoying good food and laughter was, at one stage, something I wouldn’t have believed could happen. Today, Rose and Si join us and Lily and Russ are due tomorrow so our family has certainly expanded in interesting ways! As for longevity, I caught up with three of my lovely and enduring Ace Gang this week, though in our thoughts is our dear girl, Ju, whose mother is so very ill.

Yet it seems that the hare is also a paradoxical creature symbolic of opposing traits; yesterday I was absolutely thrilled to bits when my publishers, who have been a complete delight to work with, sent me the most ravishing box of chocolates for Christmas (it’s up there with winning a tin of chocolates at primary school so far as best ever writing moments go!). I have to say I did have a serious ‘Cor! I could get used to this’ feeling, but because it’s been so long coming I’m also wary of jinxing it so I’m trying to take it one day at a time and simply enjoy each minute.

Best wishes to you and yours this Christmas.

Painting is 'O Say Can You See By the Dawn's Early Light' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 14 December 2009

Boots, Jacket and Rellies

Ma greets the news that I am a soon-to-be-published-novelist with a variety of pigeon noises. I know she’s thrilled, but it’s just not the done thing for her to say anything that would make me or the Kid, too big for our boots. Her mother was the same; as soon as the news broke that I’d passed my eleven plus I got summoned before Nan and Grandad and warned about the perils of becoming a snob. Same again when I was offered a place at university. No lectures about sex, drugs or sausage rolls, just ‘don’t be a snob’.

Thinking about it, it was Dad who usually tackled the tricky stuff, like before my very first date assuring me that if I became pregnant I wouldn’t be turned out the house, but I ought to reflect on how it would ruin my life. Sheesh! Mind you, his tactic worked; for years I got a bit nervous if a boy so much as put his arm round me in case something flew down his sleeve and impregnated me.

Although Dad could deliver some dire warnings, he was always chuffed to bits when any of us had good news; his face would light up and he’d get a tad watery-eyed which always brought a lump to my throat too. My lovely daughters placed a star on one of the Royal Marsden's Christmas trees again, to celebrate his life - but I do miss him.

Whilst Nan would be pleased to know I haven’t outgrown my boots, I have had a really exciting week watching the progress of Turning the Tide. Funnily enough it was seeing the blurb that really thrilled me; I suppose it was the first step along the route of the book having an existence of its own. Next step, jacket design... hmm, I might have to watch my boots that day.

And finally...
We’re gearing up for the relly round; six whistle-stop days of non-stop food, drink and making merry. Whilst it’s lovely to catch up with everyone, it is a bit of a marathon – only with less running. Still, we do get a few days grace before Christmas when the girls and their boyfs arrive – and then we can all start again!

Painting is 'The Tomb of St Basil' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 7 December 2009

New Author for the Choc Lit Selection Box!

Do they mean me? They surely do because now there’s a press release from the lovely Lyn at Choc Lit to prove it! Honestly, I still can’t believe it’s happening; it’s a very strange feeling to think that something that began with an image in my head now has a life of its own.

I’m very excited to be joining Choc Lit (isn’t that a fab name?) because I had a Mystic Meg moment when I read about them. You see, it was winning a tin of chocolate at primary school in a national essay competition for my story My Life as a Cocoa Bean (a tragedy – I can still remember that ‘Oh, damn!’ thought when I realised there was only one ending to that particular tale) that started it all for me! It wasn’t just the name of the publishers that attracted me ‘though; I like to have fun when I write and I also really enjoy writing from my hero’s point of view so I felt that my novel would be a good fit for them, too.

Luckily Lyn, Choc Lit’s Marketing Director and the team at Choc Lit agreed and I’m thrilled to say that Turning the Tide will be out for the summer next year. Oooh, don’t wake me up anyone!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

First Steps

In July, I opened Book2Book’s ‘Book Trade News Digest’ for a quick scan and noticed that an author I ‘knew’ had just been taken on by a publisher I didn’t know. Popping over to their site to satisfy my curiosity, it only took a few seconds for me to realise that this was The One. I couldn’t imagine a better fit for my novel.

The novel had spent many months on two desks before being rejected with heaps of praise that were incredibly frustrating to read and left me wondering why, if they loved it so much, they hadn’t taken it on. This time, though, I was sure my book was a good match so I sent an email with a synopsis to the publishers the same day and was absolutely beside myself when I had a return email the next day asking to see the entire manuscript.

An amazingly prompt six weeks later I had my reply; they loved the story and characters but wanted some changes. Now, during its time on two desks, FTT, as I nicknamed it, had gone through a couple of metamorphoses, but this time the changes really made sense. I’d never been entirely happy with the opening of my novel but there were passages I really liked which, until then, had stopped me killing my darlings. Truly, one of the most important lessons you can learn as a writer is to listen to your inner bullsh*t detector. If you know something stinks then clear it up! I’d been ignoring the smell of my opening chapter for a long time, but as soon as the publishers pointed out to me that it lacked impact I got rid of it and it transformed the novel. By the end of a busy two weeks incorporating the suggested amendments I had a version of FTT I was really happy with and sent it off.

Again, the publishers were very prompt in replying and told me when I could expect a decision. There are worse things in life than waiting for a response to a manuscript, but one of the aspects I’ve really appreciated about working with this company is that they’ve done exactly what they said they would do when they agreed to do it which has made the wait so much easier. Even so, when the decisive email appeared in my inbox, I had a sudden, ‘Uh-oh, this is going to ruin my day’ thought as I fumbled to open it.

Since reading, ‘we would like to discuss offering you a publishing contract’, I’ve been trying to absorb this feeling of stepping over the threshold I’ve dreamt of crossing for so long. Even as I stood waiting to meet my publisher I was convinced that they’d say they’d made a terrible mistake, so when I was told, ‘everyone who’s read it loves your book’ I had a bit of a rush of blood to the head (mind you, the 5am start didn’t help). I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer and to have someone enjoy what I’ve written is a huge compliment and a wonderful feeling. I’m looking forwards to the next step.

And finally...
It’s also been my birthday this weekend and it’s fair to say we’ve done some celebrating. My thanks to Rose and Si for a lovely meal, Lily for a welcome break and Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf who arrived with gifts of Laurent-Perrier and crystal glasses. My thanks too, to Tom, as ever, for looking after me.

Photo shows me with my contract!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Whoops! I Did it Again!

How did, 'I'd like some copper lowlights, please,' turn into, 'Give me dramatic blood red. And a bitch streak.'?

Two lessons from this story:
1) Do not go to the hairdressers on Children In Need day when everyone's in fancy dress and very excited.
2) Don't try anything new before a special event. When will I learn my lesson? Sigh.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Variety Pack

Friday 13 November
Due to an inauspicious combination of phases of the moon, tides and storms it’s been impossible to get the boat out the water. With severe gales forecast for the weekend, this is our last chance to catch the beast. At the appointed hour Tom, his mate Roger, the Pirate King and his Merry Crew assemble so, naturally, the clouds open and rain of epic proportions descends. Since my only role is to provide moral support I decide I can do this just as well from the car. After many long and stomach-churning moments, which compel me to dance around on the shore achieving b*gger all, the boat is finally subdued and safe on land. All is well, apart from a scary Papa Lazarou moment when the Pirate King grabs hold of me and startles me with a big wet beardy kiss.

Saturday 14 November
We leave the house at crack of doom, negotiate floods and falling branches so that I can get to my OU Day School in Cardiff at ten. Tom meets me for lunch and we head for the new John Lewis where the staff at the Creperie are amazingly quick and efficient. Return to afternoon session on a carb and sugar high.

Sunday 15 November
Mr & Mrs Across-the-Road and their two daughters, aged three and a half and two and a half respectively, come for Sunday lunch. The girls are impeccably well-behaved at the dinner table and I am very taken with the very little one’s impressive Wenglish. For a little dot, she has plenty to say for herself. I’m very tickled when pudding appears; Tom makes wonderful profiteroles – a stunning combination of very light choux pastry, softly whipped cream and bitter dark chocolate, but Elin, is less than impressed. After eagerly pointing a fat little finger at the particular one she’s after, she chews thoughtfully and declares it to be, ‘Ach!’ as in ach y fi – yuk! Well, that’s a first!

Monday 16 November
Clean the house from top-to-bottom for Mr& Mrs Cash Buyer who are due to view the house. Something about their attitude makes my hackles rise instantly. Maybe it’s Mrs CB’s clipboard and lack of a smile, but I really don’t feel like showing them round.
‘Oh,’ says Mr CB in the front living room, ‘I see you have a damp problem with your laminate floor!’
‘No, we don’t’
‘There’s definitely a damp problem with the laminate.’
‘It’s a wooden floor on a concrete base. There’s no damp.’
Throwing me a look of disbelief, ‘Oh.’
And so it goes round the house. We end up in the kitchen which they are unable to find fault with.
‘Where do you do your shopping?’ Mrs CB asks.
‘Well, Tesco at Cardigan’
‘No. I mean where’s the nearest Marks & Spencer?’
The look of horror when we tell them the nearest M&S is at Carmarthen, an hour’s drive away suggests that they’re not quite ready for west Wales.
‘And if Chris wants to buy clothes we go to Swansea or Cardiff,’ Tom informs them helpfully.
The next day, the estate agent phones to tell us that Mr & Mrs Cash Buyer absolutely loved the house but not where it was. Ah, let’s escape to the country – but only if it’s close to an M&S.

Tuesday 17 November
Coffee and a lovely catch up with Preseli Mags at Newport. Have very thorough discussions about our mutual Cardiff half marathons and recovery programmes and a good natter about writing. Brilliant for us but probably not as much fun for anyone who happened to be listening. Arrive home to a pile of dirty sails by the washing machine, waiting to be spruced up for winter storage. The Pig Boat gets the last word. Again

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Is There A Place For Us?

‘Well,’ says Tom, ‘no one’s going to be buying this house before Christmas.’ The words have barely left his mouth when the phone rings. It is, of course, the estate agent who’s keen to send round some cash buyers in rented accommodation who are hot to trot (well, not that hot, they don’t actually want to view until next week). Just what we wanted – except now the prospect is filling me with dread.

I know the whole point of putting your house on the market is to sell it, but something’s gone badly wrong with our timing. Earlier in the year when we had a shortlist of three properties all of which fulfilled our brief (no near neighbours, a work space for each of us), we couldn’t find a buyer. Mind you, we were hardly spoilt for choice; our viewers included a geriatric couple looking for a manageable bungalow (perhaps we should have sold them the downstairs?), the ‘couple and one child’ family who thought our house was too small (hello? Five bedrooms??), but which I still think was more to do with me evilling their beloved child for throwing herself on every bed. And then there was the lady looking for a smallholding... Doesn’t anyone read the sale particulars? My star prize has to go to the punter who made an appointment to view the house, turned up outside and realised she’d viewed and rejected it (village location) previously. How is that possible? (And no, I didn’t twig that she’d been before because every other person in Wales has the same surname).

Anyway, now, when there’s chance we might have a genuine potential buyer I can’t see one house in our price bracket that I’d like to move to! Everything on our shortlist has been sold so we’ve been trawling the internet looking for alternatives. That means doing our homework; reading the details, clicking on Google Maps to see what else is in the vicinity and driving past... and that’s where the problem lies. Nearly every property with no near neighbours has a building plot next to it, or permission for small estate – everything we’re trying to escape from! At this rate the whole of west Wales is going to be concreted over and our previous house on the edge of the Downs will seem positively rural. Lovely Woozle who commented a few posts ago, said, ‘I believe in fate here. Your new home isn't ready for you yet, that's why you haven't sold. It'll happen when it's the right time.’ Oh Woozle, I do hope you’re right!

Painting is 'Coast - Winter's Day' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

OU Deadline Approaching!

With a deadline to meet by Friday, I must finish my essay, but there's just time to send a 'get well soon' message to my lovely Rose who phoned for some long-distance mummy advice the other morning.

'Mummy! A lump has come up on my neck overnight!'

'It's probably a gland.'
(Poor Rose got really clobbered by glandular fever as a teenager and it returned for a couple of repeat attacks afterwards.)

'You don't think an alien has laid its egg in my neck and I'll have to lure whatever's in there out with a piece of bacon, do you?'

'Er... no.'

A trip to the GP confirmed that no bacon is required, but that Rose's glands are doing a truly impressive job of fighting some lurgy.

I'm hope you feel better soon, darling.

Painting is 'November Sea' by Tom Tomos

Friday, 30 October 2009

Extreme Sushi

At a tad under 3000 ft, Aran Fawddwy is the highest British mountain south of Snowdon, but it’s relatively unknown because of its isolation. It’s also, from my point of view anyway, a bit of a pig! The walk begins and ends in the valley of Cwm Cywarch so there’s no leg-up; you have to gain every inch of that height through your own efforts.

The first stretch is a scramble over rock and streams.

You look back and reap the first rewards of your hard work,

but it’s only a brief respite before slogging on through very wet and boggy ground. There’s another scramble and then, some two and half hours after you’ve started, you reach the summit – and it’s shrouded in cloud.

Find some shelter and reward yourself with sushi and a Mars bar.
You descend out of the cloud base which is just as well as there’s a narrow ridge to cross with dramatic drops either side. As the clouds drift the sights take your breath away and make you feel utterly alive.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Food for Thought

The main news this week is that Tom and I went out for a meal. Ooh, big wow! Well, it is extraordinary because we so rarely eat out, (a) because we’ve shaken every piggy bank in the house to within an inch of its life (b) why would I want to eat something that has fallen off the Brake Brothers’ lorry and into a microwave – and pay for the privilege? (c) Tom is a really stonking cook so anything else seems a bit pants in comparison (consequently, I haven’t cooked for about a million years. Hurray!).

Anyway, Mrs & Mrs Next-Door have been telling us for ages that we really should try Cnapan (that’s the name of the restaurant, by the way, not some weird thing we do to pass the time in west Wales) and before we could fret about the cost, they booked a table. ‘It’s like your favourite granny’s country house,’ says Mr Next-Door. (Actually, I only had one granny who lived in a council house and wasn’t too keen on me. I suppose you can be a bit selective when you’ve got loads of grandchildren to choose from. Mind you, she wasn’t very fond of Ma either, although she did have a soft spot for my naughty ‘I’m-not-going-to-kiss-those-smelly-old-people’ little sister).

Thankfully, Cnapan was more like the fantasy granny house than the real granny house. In fact, it’s fab; a gorgeous Georgian building, plenty of squashy sofas to sink into, a sensible approach to pricing (£23 for two courses, £29 for three) and wonderful food. As far from the bottom of a freezer as you can get. My chocolate pud was totally brilliant, (so brilliant I refused to let anyone else have a swap – quit whilst you’re ahead, I say). With cooking that good it’s possible we may even eat out again.

And finally...
Stepson One is with us this week and we’re planning to get up early in the morning and head off to the mountains. Aran Fawddwy is the first choice, but that can be a right pig if it’s wet so we might just go up to Craig Cau on Cadair Idris instead. My half-marathon legs think that Cadair’s the better bet, at the moment... we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Oh, bum, Tom and Stepson One have just come in from the beach and where they saw a friend of ours with her new, nine-week old Patterdale terrier - and I missed it!! I love Patterdales; I shall have to hotfoot it round there and admire the new arrival.

The paintings, by Tom Tomos, are 'By The Cliff Edge' (top) and 'Craig Cau' (above).

Monday, 19 October 2009

Cardiff Half Marathon 2009

The beginning... 8811 of us started the race so it took several minutes to cross the line after the gun went off. We've barely begun here, but it gives you an idea of how packed the field is. I didn't expect to spot Tom in the crowd and I was so pleased when I did.


Along the way I almost fell, got caught in the unwelcome crossfire when a runner gobbed in the wrong direction (ewwwwww!) and had a terrible episode of Jelly Legs at about mile 9 when they just wouldn't do what my brain was telling them... but I got there. Anyway, here is Mrs Clumpy-Clumpison crossing the finishing line looking ridiculously pleased with herself just after the blurred bit (no, it wasn't because I was speeding so fast).


And the final result? A chip time of 2:10:53, some seven minutes faster than last year's time. 70th in my class. (No, you cheeky thing, there were more than 70 in my class, 138 of us in the high numbers managed to stagger round the course). Next stop? Llanelli 7 March 2010

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


You know when highly-trained athletes get struck down with a virus just before a big event and you think, ‘Oh, really?’ (Well, you don’t because you’re nice, obviously, but I can be a bit mean), well, it serves me right because I am currently struggling with the lurgy. My head aches, my throat is sore, and I’m snorting ‘First Defence’ and popping paracetamol in a desperate effort to ward off whatever I’m cooking so it doesn’t overwhelm me before Sunday. Sheesh! Wouldn’t it be frustrating if after running all those berludy miles through wind (mainly the weather, that is), rain and JRT attacks, I wasn’t fit to take part in the race?

Autumn Review PS
Since I’m feeling pretty damn sorry for myself at the moment this will be a short post, but, I do have a couple of post scripts to last week.

PS 1.
Back by popular request, well, Little Brown Dog and Calicokate actually, here is the transcript of my Ode to a Llama, first shown here.

Ode to a Llama
O lovely llama grazing on my land,
the sight of you each day makes me feel calmer.
You seem to know that I’m your biggest fan
and twitch your furry ears shaped like bananas.
To you, my little cria, I am your mama mia.

PS 2.
Ma and FTT – the bit with the vigorous horizontal romp.
Ma started FTT when she was staying with us and punctuated her read with little, what Lily calls, pigeon noises and comments of, ‘I can’t believe you’ve written this - it ought to be published, you know!’ Anyway, she took the rest of the script home, made no remark whatsoever about the VHR – but sent me a ten pound note in the post(!) as a down payment for the first published copy if and when that ever happens. Maybe there are some things that even Ma can’t talk about!


I got this from the lovely Debs, and have rudely snatched it without doing the stuff that goes with it, but please do go over to Debs and have a look (have a look anyway, Debs has always got lots of interesting writerly stuff going on... I am still jealous of her champagne lunch with Christina Jones) and consider it yours if you want to do it.

Right, now I'm going to throw myself on the sofa, try not fret about the fact I haven't been able to run since last Sunday and keep everything crossed that I'll be fit enough to race next Sunday. Oh, and love and good wishes to Preseli Mags who has entered the Cardiff Half, but hasn't made half such a big fat fuss of it as I have - good luck, Mags!

Painting is 'Beach - after 'Ill Met'' by Tom Tomos whose work you can see at Tonnau from this Saturday.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Autumn Review

Sheesh! There is nothing like announcing in the national press that you intend to complete the first draft of your current novel by the middle of October to guarantee coming a cropper. Ok, so the plans were scuppered by the arrival of the Big Project and whilst I’m still staying in touch with ‘Make, Do and Mend’, I’ve got to admit that its future is a bit dependent on whether the Big Project gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down (nooooo!). Following the completion of the BP, I’ve also taken some time out to catch up with family, which is no bad thing, and on Saturday A363 Advanced Creative Writing, my next OU course, officially begins. A215 was great for encouraging me to send more work out and try different genres (still flushed with success here after my runner-up place in the ‘Ode to a Llama’ competition - eat your heart out, Ted Hughes. And I even got ‘banana’ in, as a rhyme) so I’m looking forwards to seeing what A363 brings.

Various Plots Available
Oh great! The berludy farmer opposite has torn up yet another stretch of agricultural land and put a construction fence around it. Well, that’ll bring the punters in as we try to sell our house, won’t it? It absolutely beats me that although there are empty plots within the village and houses of all denominations up for sale, the planning authorities seem happy to stand by as this beautiful, precious land on the coastal fringe is torn up and paved over. The trouble is it’s happening all over west Wales so the likelihood of Tom and I finding ‘somewhere remote’ round here is also becoming less likely. Look closely at that cottage standing by itself and you’ll find that some clown is planning to build all round it. Houses we need, but not just anywhere or at any price. There’s no shop, pub, school or decent transport links in our village, for example, its attraction lies in its location and sometimes feels as if one or two people are determined to ruin even that. Not far from us, further up the coast, is a business park with no business, a spanking new road to nowhere and a new improved airport strip – all eerily empty.

Cardiff Half Marathon Preparation
With only ten days to go to the Cardiff Half Marathon, I’m keeping everything crossed that nothing will go wrong. Apart from the odd dog bite, one nasty outbreak of runner’s trots and a touch of back trouble, training – 269 miles of it so far - has gone more or less according to plan. I’ve just completed my longest week of the schedule, so now I’m gradually winding down to race day. My number’s 6668 (at least it’s not 666!) and you can see the route here.

From Saturday 17 October, Tom will be exhibiting a selection of his work along with other artists in Tonnau, Sea Gallery’s, Autumn Exhibition. Tonnau, at Pwlheli, approached Tom, after seeing his work online which is great, but I’m also really proud of Tom for conducting all of the correspondence in Welsh. Do take a look if you’re passing.

Painting is 'Aberporth' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Who's That Girl?

The girl on the left is Tina, painted by J H Lynch. Tina hung around for more years than was strictly fashionable, above Dad’s writing bureau in our front room. My parents adored Tina, but for me she’s powerfully evocative of the stomach-churning embarrassment of early dates because Dad’s bureau was where the only phone in the house sat. And, unfortunately, because it was the front room, it wasn’t just the phone sitting there; inevitably the date calls came when Ma and my kid sister were in the room too, keenly anticipating the opportunity for a bit of sport.

A discussion thread started by Faith over at Purple Coo on ‘Firsts and Worsts’ this week got me thinking about Tina and those first dates again. Before The Best Optometrist In the World and I became regulars at the youth club discos and learned to flee the dance floor before the last slow record was played and all the extras from the Thriller video emerged from the shadows to grab a snog (ooh, get me, Miss Gorgeosity with bad skin, bad hair, bad glasses and braces) I’d gone with another friend to my first grown-up disco.

The lighting levels in the church hall where it was held were so low that they wouldn’t be allowed now on grounds of health and safety, but when some bloke asked me to dance then, later, asked me out I felt quite pleased with myself for getting through a difficult rite of passage quite smoothly. Until that was, a few days later when my date turned up at the house. The fact that I had made lip contact with the person before me was made even worse by him declaring undying love. Arriving home to jeers and sniggers from Ma and Little Sister didn’t help and prompted me to write a hasty letter asking to be excused from our relationship forever on the grounds of too much homework.

Tina also reminds me of a time when Ma was at her most glamorous, she’s pretty damn good for her age now. We’re lucky to have Ma, Mil and Dil and having them to stay gives us a chance to check them for signs of wear and tear, especially since Mil claims to have everything wrong with her and Ma claims to have nothing wrong with her – both equally inaccurate. But, two weeks of back-to-back Planet Parent have been fairly exhausting. There are the three very different lines of conversation for a start; Dil’s tend to the entirely random, ‘Scotch eggs. Why aren’t they called Welsh eggs?’ (please don’t tell me, it’s Dil who cares, not me), Mil’s are dedicated to seeing all the good in the world, Ma’s to making lots of mischief.

And then there’s just the sadness that comes with seeing the effects of time passing. Sitting on the sea wall one glorious afternoon opposite Ma and Tom whilst we ate ice creams, I watched Ma’s eyes dancing with amusement. ‘I can smell a funny smell,’ she announced. ‘It’s not you, is it Tom?’ With her eyes crinkled up and her shoulders shaking with laughter at her own joke she looked more like a six year old than a seventy-six year old. The years may have taken their physical toll but it’s curiously comforting to catch a glimpse of that little girl and know that in some ways, Ma will stay forever young.

If any book can make you grateful for your family, friends and home comforts this is it.
My legs were shaking with fear at times when I read it, but it’s beautifully written and ultimately redemptive. An extraordinary read – although probably not a book for bedtime.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 13 = 25 miles.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Save Jess

‘Em’s on GMTV’ a text from Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf tells us. Em is Gorgeous Girlf’s eldest sister. Blonde, bright, articulate and vivacious, Em, sitting on the sofa chatting to Penny Smith might be there to promote her latest film or talk about her current book. But Em’s story is far more remarkable. Three years ago the damage to Em’s lungs caused by Cystic Fibrosis was such that only a lung transplant could save her life. The family, as Em’s other sister writes so movingly in her blog, were sat down by doctors and told to say their goodbyes.

Em’s story ended happily because in January 2007, the lungs became available that enabled her to have a transplant, become well and lead a full, happy life. Oh, hang on, ‘the lungs became available’- yes, another family put aside their own grief and turmoil so that a stranger could live. Lots of heartache and difficult decisions. Em and others have worked hard to address those issues and give a voice to those affected by transplant through ‘Live Life Then Give Life’, a registered charity set up to raise awareness of organ donation and the chronic shortage of organ donors in the UK. Today, Em is talking about what the shortage of people on the Organ Donor Register means to one person in particular, her friend Jess. Jess is currently in hospital, her lungs are failing and only a vital transplant can save her life. Until more people are prepared to consider organ donation, the clock is ticking for Jess and others like her.

Since last week we’ve caught up with my cousin and his family, we’ve had Ma to stay (I’ve been very brave and given her FTT to read, complete, unexpurgated and including the bit with the Vigorous Horizontal Romp –eeek!), we’ve helped Rose and Si move into their lovely new home, we’ve seen my sister and her family, Tom’s brother and his family, visited Stepson One in his flat, been to the beach with Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf, stayed with Mil and Dil (and brought them back with us on a kind of return-one-bring-two-back basis) and had tea with Lily on the way down and on the way home. We didn’t get to see friends in the south but, hey, everything being equal there’s always another weekend when I can catch up with them. For Jess, in her hospital bed, that may not be true.

Cardiff Half Marathon
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme week 12 – 14 miles. 4 miles lost due to travelling and bad back combo.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

She's Leaving Home

Rose, my baby, is moving into a new flat... and this time she’s taking her books. After a year of renting a room in a house (albeit one belonging to a fireman), Rose is setting up home with her boyf, the lovely Si. I’m really proud that my daughters are capable, independent women who have had the courage to make tough decisions; Lily’s path, carving out a life in the city where she went to university has taken her through some hard and lonely times to reach a place of happiness. Rose, too, had to make tough choices when she struck out on her own. I hope I’ve encouraged the girls; certainly I’ve always believed that the sooner you make your own life the more you’ll get out of it. But when Rose asked if I could bring her books with me when Tom and I head back to help with her move, I realised that my daughters had finally left home.

Books have always been special and I know how much Rose is looking forwards to having hers around her, but it still felt strange packing them up and seeing the chapters in Rose’s early life laid out before me; A Necklace of Raindrops, The Dancing Bear, Oryx and Crake, A Book of Middle English, Rough Guide to Tanzania, countless others too – such evocative reminders.

I’ve always been very protective of my own books (okay, you could accuse me of being a bit anal about them). I’m extremely careful with new books (I’m one of those people who never breaks the spine or folds the corners of the pages over) and I like them to be arranged in a particular order (no, not alphabetical – I have my own system, thank you). So when Tom and I moved in to our first home one of the first things Dad did for us was to fit some gorgeous ash book-cases into the recesses either side of the chimney breast. Tom looked at the book-cases, squeezed my hand and said, ‘I’m really looking forwards to putting our books out and seeing them all mixed together’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to wipe the look of horror off my face before he saw it, but at that stage I really felt quite faint at the all mixed together bit. There was quite a lot of reassuring to do and a few ruffled feathers to smooth after that, but we got there in the end.

We’re still trying to leave our own home – or at least the old one, although no one seems interested at the moment. In the meantime a series of ‘possibles’, including the pretty stone cottage in the middle of nowhere, have sold, so today we’re off with Ma to see what else is out there. After a wet, cold summer we’ve had some sunshine and it looks glorious out there today. Who knows what we’ll find?

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 11 = 24 miles. Lots of travelling to do over the next few days so I think the schedule is going to take a battering – hope my legs don’t forget what to do.

Image is 'Abstract 1' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Hard Day's Write

That’s it! After two weeks of solid work on the Big Project it’s done, polished and sent off into the big wide world looking its very best. My thanks to Tom who, as ever, has kept me fed and watered whilst I’ve been leading my alternative life and put up with my primitive conversational skills whenever I’ve emerged sounding (and looking) like someone who’s been in the dark forest too long. It’s Tom, too, who’s done his Mr Red Pen bit – even when I get scrappy if he challenges a word – and picked up my clumsy mistakes. Best of all it’s Tom who swells my heart when he says nice things about the plot, because I know he’d tell me if he thought it stank. Ta, darlin’, my very own Critical Reader.

Having two weeks to write is a luxury I’m lucky to have at the moment, but I’ve spent years trying to juggle writing with all the other stuff. One of those ‘thrifty’ tips in the paper this weekend reminded me of when I tried to buy myself some writing time with some redundancy pay. It wasn’t exactly a huge sum so I decided to stretch it out, not by returning to another office, but by doing something that would leave me free to think about my work. I became a ‘Treasure’ by morning, doing rounds of housework for nice, middle class people on a nice estate of ‘executive’ homes, which left me afternoons to write.

Well, that was the plan. I hadn’t factored in how knackered I’d be. ‘Doing’ for one family in particular was like the labours of Hercules; every week I’d walk into food-encrusted surfaces as far as the eye could see, pebble-dashed loos, baths with grey, greasy tide-marks and floors totally obscured by discarded clothes and toys. Every week I’d leave it gleaming only to return to repeat the process again. The red mist finally descended when the lady of the house left me a little note asking me to ‘make sure to do the corners of the kitchen floor thoroughly’. I thought it was a bit much in a house where you could use a pig as an air freshener. Even now I get a bit hot thinking about it.

Then there were, oh let’s call them Margo and Jerry, a couple in their early seventies. It was them I thought of when I saw the thrifty tip as Margo, who was rather grand, had embraced the idea a long time ago - unhappily for me. Margo’s money-saver was to recycle Jerry’s baggy white underpants as cleaning cloths. If it wasn’t bad enough doing the dusting with my hand down someone’s old Y fronts, worse still was that their previous occupant loved following me round the house chatting to me. Ewwww!

Actually, Jerry was a dear, dear soul which brings me to the point of this post. Jerry, an engineer, had overseen some exciting projects in many exotic countries so decided to write his autobiography. Tiring of pen and paper he’d bought himself a whizzy new computer, but didn’t know how to use it so I ended up doing less cleaning and giving computer tuition instead. At the end of one morning, Jerry who was sitting with a cup of coffee, looked up and beamed at me. ‘Do you know, Chris,’ he said. ‘I’ve had a very happy, very fulfilling life. It wouldn’t matter if I died tomorrow.’ Two days later Margo phoned to say that Jerry had died in the night. I’m glad that Jerry died peacefully... but I’m still haunted by the thought of the notes of that unfinished autobiography sitting on his desk. Another reminder, I guess, to make the most of the time we have.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 10 = 16 miles. One 7 mile session missed due to feeling unusually grotty.

Painting is 'Sunset - Bardsey' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Western Mail Article

I can't provide a link to the article, but thanks to Rosie who kindly scanned it in, I can show you what it looks like.

I'm still working on my Big Project, but will resume normal blogging and visiting as soon as I've finished. See you then!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Starring in a litter tray near you by the end of the week... but currently appearing on pg 6 of the WM section of the 'Western Mail' (not to be confused with pg 6 of the 'Country and Farming' section which features a very cute Bichon Frise Cross Pug) is, er, me. I'm in very good celebrity company today as Charlotte and Gavin are on the cover, except that they also made it to 'Hello!' and I didn't. Well, not this week anyway.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Summoned by Pants

I’m sorry if I haven’t visited your blog. I haven’t gone off you; it’s just that the Force of the Writing Pants is with me. My creative bits and pieces are flowing free and I’m working like a thing possessed. I only hope I’m a thing possessed by someone who can shift shedloads of books, not some mad eejit.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 8, a ‘dropping back’ week = 16 dog and trot-free miles.

‘It’s OK, I’m wearing really big knickers’, one of the fabulously funny Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

Thursday, 20 August 2009


Will anyone seeing the lazy-bum writer known here as Chrish please fit her with writing pants and return her to her desk immediately? There is WORK to be done, Chris. Do you really think you are going to become a successful novelist by THINKING about it? Hmm?

Stop Press!
Oh, berlimey! Never forget to be very careful about what you wish for; I now have some serious work to do which will require my strongest, biggest writing pants!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Looking Natural

Tom’s school friend, Mick, and his family have come for a visit. It’s a glorious day and west Wales is at its breathtaking best. Mick’s thirteen-year-old daughter lights up at the mention of dolphins and harbour porpoises in the bay. ‘Can we see dolphins?’ she asks. Now, the best time to see dolphins is probably not on a hot holiday afternoon when Mwnt is swarming with staycationers, but it’s our local beach so we brave the gridlock of folks trying not to scrape their expensive city cars in the narrow, twisting lane and find ourselves a quiet spot on the cliffs. With sun on their faces and spectacular views, our visitors are perfectly happy, but only Mick’s daughter really believes that dolphins will appear. And suddenly, exactly in the spot where we’ve told them to look, the miracle happens. One black fin appears and then another as two harbour porpoises break the surface. It doesn’t always work like that, but it’s a great feeling when it does.

The weekend brings my lovely Lily and her partner, Russ and – amazingly – more sunshine (it always seems to rain when Lily stays). We take the path along the banks of the Teifi, through the marshes looking for kingfishers. A short detour takes us to a secluded glade with a shallow pool where Tom and I have watched pondskaters and waterboatmen and jewel-bright dragonflies spangling the sunny air. Today presents a very different scene. A submerged ring of empty beer bottles encircles the pool, a cardboard crate is torn up and abandoned in the grass and, on the picnic table, the graphic remains of someone’s sexfest. Pretty it ain’t. We withdraw and I feel faintly murderous towards the selfish idiots who’ve desecrated this lovely spot.

By Monday I have a new concern; the Western Mail is sending up a photographer to take some pictures for a short piece I have written. Some coaching from cyber-friends and professional photographers Westerwitch and Dave Hunt has given me an idea of what to expect, but I’m still a bag of nerves. James, who has been up since the crack of doom photographing the Ospreys, is a very gentle and patient man who must feel as if he’s wandered into Wallace and Gromit territory with me since so much of his time is spent putting me in position. After posing on my sofa, in my porch and in my front garden (‘Just like a Timotei advert’ James tells me, not too convincingly) we’re done. I don’t know which of us is most tired, but I feel that James has certainly earned his money!

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 7 = 21 miles. A fairly smooth and uneventful week except for a near-disastrous attack of Runner’s Trots on my long run, (believe me, that’s all you need to know!).

Painting is 'High Preseli - Mist' by Tom Tomos

MeMeMe Award

Thank you, Gaelikaa for so kindly presenting me with this award. I'm afraid I'm skipping the meme as I think that I've aired all I feel comfortable with, but if anyone else would like to take it up the rules are over at gaelikaa's so you can check out her new-look blogs at the same time.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A Wife on the Ocean Wave

Crossing the bar at Cardigan is always something of an experience even in benign conditions. You surf out on waves breaking on the beach at Poppit and then bear right aiming at the rocks at the foot of the Cliff Hotel. Sometimes you can have conversations with your neighbour fishing off the same rocks as you pass. Once you’re out there’s nothing but sea and even on the calmest days the waters lurch and roll with the last of the Atlantic swell. In bad conditions there’s nowhere safe to run except Fishguard or Holyhead.

Today we’re off to Fishguard, it takes three hours motoring, because there’s no wind. We spend a blissful afternoon in the rare sunshine before watching the sun bleach to apricot and the amethyst clouds darken to pewter. Lights twinkle in Goodwick and we raise a glass of malt whisky to a good day.

The next morning we motor to Cwm yr Eglwys, a sheltered bay, where we drop the anchor and settle down for another peaceful day in the sun. Peaceful that is until two yachts from Cardigan appear and we get a visit from groovy old retired vicar, Godfrey. Godfrey’s one of the breed of what we call ‘Bloody Buggering Old Boys’ a term coined when the girls, Tom and I were berthed next to a crew of them in Cherbourg and had to listen to them shouting ‘Bloody this’ or ‘Bugger that’ deep into the night.

Actually, I’ve got a lot of time for Godfrey who seems to get roped in to conduct funerals for most of his chums. Tom and I were present when Godfrey conducted the funeral for our yacht club’s founding member, Ian, a long-term sailing friend of Godfrey’s. He must have been hurting terribly, yet his concern was all for others. Today, Godfrey doesn’t stay because he has plans for a light lunch on another boat but before he leaves he gives us news of another club member, Colin who is sailing round Britain. ‘He’s got as far as Scotland,’ Godfrey tells us, ‘simply by turning left and left again. He’ll probably write a little book about it.’

Next morning we’re up at six to catch the tide home. Although I don’t ‘do’ early even I can appreciate the beautiful pale lemon dawn. There are no other vessels in sight but we are visited by a harbour porpoise riding alongside the boat. A pair of gannets dive into the sea, straight as arrows, oystercatchers ‘kipkip’ as they pass and a gathering of Manx shearwaters cloud the surface of the water only scattering at the last moment. It’s times like this that make sailing worthwhile.

The Captain Prepares to Repel Boarders

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 6 = 18 slightly nervous miles since the dog bite. A 2 mile deficit (lost at sea). Backside on the mend. Rogue dog caged in with new fencing. Also given quite a scare by yet another JRT on the lonely farm where Lily once suggested they might keep me and turn me into sausages if they saw me. Plenty to keep me on my toes then.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A Bit of Trumpet Tootling!

Back from sea in one piece... with a Distinction in my OU A215 Creative Writing Course. Hurray!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Rump Steak, Anyone?

I’ve just returned from a trip to casualty. Not quite the ending to the morning run I expected. Less than a mile from home, outside a pretty little cottage the other side of the village, I was just congratulating myself on almost completing a horrid seven mile interval session when something took exception to my smug face. There was a very scary snarling noise, a sensation of being stabbed in the backside and then I was trapped by the World’s Angriest Jack Russell (yes, another one – I love them! I don’t deserve their hatred!).

I stood there wondering what to do whilst WAJR danced and snapped round my legs until a gate opened and there was a kind of Jack Russell explosion when two of WAJR’s mates appeared together, thankfully, with the owner. She looked very uneasy when she saw what had happened, even more so, minutes later, when having inspected my bum and found a puncture wound, I returned to tell her about the damage.

Then it was a quick shower and off to casualty. My tetanus jabs are up-to-date, fortunately, but the wound needed to be dressed and I’ve got strict instructions to return for antibiotics if there’s any sign of an infection. Tom and I differ in our approach now. Tom is incandescent with rage that I’ve been attacked and thinks I should report the owner to the relevant authorities. My view is that I’ve informed the owner that her dog has bitten me, so she should make damn sure it doesn’t do it again. I’m shaken, upset and my bum hurts. But never mind, we’re going sailing tomorrow...

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 5 = 19 miles and a dog bite.

Paiting is 'Blue Pool, Mwnt' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Ready For A Fright?

Doh! There is nothing like bragging in cyberspace about how brave you are to be put to the test. When Tom announced that both the weather conditions and the tides were ideal for a run in the boat I went a bit deaf and pretended it wasn’t going to happen. To be fair to Tom he was quite prepared to go out in it by himself, but that’s a bit of a slippery slope. Pushed to the edge, you discover each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how you work as a team (or not, if you’re going to the Antarctic with James Cracknell) and we’ve always done very well together at sea.

So there we were, the one bright, sunny morning
this week, sitting in the car. I was speechless with fear, trying to control my quivering bottom lip (and my quivering bottom) whilst Tom gently explained the plan. I still couldn’t speak in the dinghy, and sheer terror meant I needed a wee as soon as we got aboard. It was after I’d had a swear at the loo, because it’s so difficult to flush, and Tom, sounding rather sad and a bit exasperated, said that that he hadn’t had time to get round to easing the valves, that I felt a bit ashamed of myself and decided not to be so limp.

And do you know what? It was great! We had a very gentle pootle up the river to St Dogmaels and a little potter to the mouth of the Teifi estuary (but not across the scary bar) and then returned to the mooring where I was back on my usual picking-up form (I’m rather proud of my ability to pick up buoys). We sat in a rare moment of sunshine feeling the warmth on our faces, drinking tea and eating stale Milky Ways (well, something had to go wrong). I even managed to duck out the way of the oars when Tom folded the dinghy back in the car!

I also had a bit of a trial by flying dog this week. Some of you may recall that I had a close encounter with a farm dog when it slightly tasted me just before the Llanelli half marathon. This week I was chatting to Mair, across the village, who also runs. I’m not huge, but Mair makes me feel like the Jolly Green Giant. Comparing notes, I learned that the same dog had knocked Mair to the ground where she was trapped for half an hour before help arrived. To add to her fears, Mair’s four months pregnant. Confronting the owner later, she was told that the dog was perfectly harmless, and it’s sad that we both know that’s not the case. As I said at the time I’m fond of dogs but it’s always best to be a bit a cautious with lone dogs round here when there’s no one in open space to hear you scream.

With that in mind I was running through another farm this week, where the dog which used to chase me now thinks I’m a tedious old bat and no fun at all, so I was a bit surprised, to hear a blood-curdling ‘Let me get at you’ yowling echoing in the air. More worryingly, I couldn’t work out where it was coming from. That was until I passed a battered Land Rover and a small wire-haired JRT flew out the window and jumped up the back of my leg. Fortunately, it seemed as shocked to have got me as I was to be got. No harm done but it certainly raises the adrenaline levels.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World Smart Coach Programme week 4 = 16 miles, a dropping back week. The calm before a bit of a storm.

And finally...
The very kind Gaelikaa awarded me this which was lovely of her. Thank you so much, dear heart.

Painting is 'Newgale, Five Feet Blown Out' by Tom Tomo

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Seven Summary

Gaelikaa, whose thoughtful, reflective blog about her West meets East life always makes me stop and think, has tagged me to describe myself in seven words. Here goes:-

Tenacious. I will abso-berludy-lutely cling on to what’s important to me. Seven years ago my dear friend, Ann, got me into running. We joined Epsom Allsorts, a women’s group with formidable skills in talking and laughing whilst running. The club's highlight was the dreaded Hogsmill Ladies 5 Mile Race, which gave me my first taste of competitive running. As a novice runner I learned that by doing the work, hanging on in there and putting one foot in front of another you can achieve half marathons. It’s a lesson I apply to everyday life. Every novel starts with a single word.

Warthoggish. When my daughters were little they were very impressed by a nature programme about a mother warthog defending her young. ‘Ooh, that’s just like you, Mummy,’ they said. No one makes my babies cry and gets away with it as one or two horrid smelly boys have discovered along the way. Hurt my girls and you will find yourself cast out into deep space for all eternity.

Impatient. Doesn’t really go with tenacious, does it? But, I’m driven by a fear of time running out so anything that takes up too much of it drives me nuts. Trying to get my broadband fixed (you still haven’t conquered that dodgy junction box, have you BT?) nearly pushes me over the edge. I have huge admiration for crafty bloggers like Pipany, but I get very bad-tempered if I can’t make something quickly. No one comes near when I’m making curtains because the air is blue and one incident of pastry-making almost caused a fatality.

Inquisitive. I don’t mean nosy, I don’t give a flying fart about what the neighbours are up to, in fact I’d much prefer not to have any neighbours which is why Tom and I are trying to move somewhere even quieter than where we are now. What I mean is that I’m keenly interested in hearing the next piece of music that transports me, the next book I don’t want to put down, the next poem I can’t forget. I’m curious about what’s out there.

Brave. Are you allowed to say you’re brave? I am though, because I think anyone who goes to sea in a small boat is brave, especially when there’s seasickness to overcome as well. I do it because it’s important to Tom, so it’s important to me. I’m quite proud that we’ve sailed from Walton-on-the Naze to west Wales and across the Channel and back... even if my head was in a bucket most of the way.

Kind. Now I’m not saying I’m kind, but I try to be kind because what is the point if we don’t look after each other?

Fortunate. Like everyone, I’ve been through the wringer and seen some tough times, but so far as loved ones are concerned I’ve been very fortunate. You know who you are. Thank you.

I’m now passing this tag to Frances(sorry!), Little Brown Dog, Preseli Mags, Snailbeach Shepherdess, Mountainear, Milla and Edward.

The photo is me, at about seven, taunting my little sister, who is struggling to get her beloved car back. (Loving that chunky little leg, Kid).

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Flotsam and Jetsam

‘I couldn’t half do with a sit-down,’ says my hairdresser, . Not quite the words I long to hear when she has my hair in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other, but I’m sure it will be fine. It’s like a youth club in the salon today with the amount of school kids on work experience before going off to college in September. The trouble is they keep floating back to ask what to do before being sent off to arrange the shampoos or tidy the magazines. More worrying is that every time one of them hovers, my hair is in danger. As another child is sent away on a mission I have a fleeting sense that something strange has happened, but by the time everything’s been blow-dried and straightened, I’m lulled into a false sense of security... until I wash my hair. The ‘something strange’ is that several layers have appeared, especially in my fringe, and I’m now channelling Suzi Quatro. ‘It’s fine,’ says Tom, ‘exactly the same as usual.’ Little does he realise how dangerously he is living.

Meanwhile the boat is standing in the mud of the estuary. Fortunately the epic volume of rain beating down on the Cardigan coast has kept us apart. That, and the fact that her skipper has been mysteriously felled by some lurgy. A trip to the GP confirms he has mild shingles. I feel hugely sympathetic until he says that the weather could be good for a sail at the weekend.

On what used to be dry land the wish list of houses we might buy if anyone ever buys ours is looking a bit thin as the market starts to pick up. We’re not unduly worried as we’ve been quite lucky with houses in the past. Our first house was a Victorian end-terrace which people were turning their nose up at, but where Tom, the girls and I were very happy for seven years. We then took on an unattractive semi with huge rooms, fabulous views of the Downs and a garden like a park. Unfortunately the other half of the semi was occupied by an eccentric family and their incessantly barking dog. Driven mad, Tom once threw a potato at the dog which didn’t hurt it but must have surprised the neighbours when they found a stray King Edward lying on their lawn. Today we’re off to see a cottage which we first saw four years ago. At the time we rejected it for being too small, but our shopping list has changed since then, and the cottage has just come back on the market. I’m quietly excited so we’ll see what the afternoon brings.

Talk of moving house brings out all the guilt about living so far from Ma, so I phone to ask if she’d like to come and stay. No she wouldn’t. She assures me she’s fine and goes on to tell me about her regular trip to the market. Whilst waiting in the fruit and veg queue she hears the couple in front discussing boob jobs. ‘I think I could do with one of those’ she suggests to the stall holder. ‘Don’t do it, love,’ he advises. ‘You’d be wasting yer money – yours look fine to me.’ ‘And I got some extra cherries,’Ma says happily.

And finally...
Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach programme week 3: 19 miles
Weight: static.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Good Ship Floats Again

It's that time of year when I start thinking, ‘I’m never going out on that boat ever again.’ But sailing is what Tom loves to do. He’s just replaced the stern gland with a stuffing box (no, don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue) and generally fussing over her so, reluctantly, I decide to give her once last chance.

The launch gets off to an inauspicious start; we arise bright and early and go down to the estuary. The plan is that we will board the boat, still on its trailer, on dry land then The Pirate King and his Merry Crew, the folks who run the river here, will tow us, by JCB, deposit us in the middle of the channel and wait until we’re happy that the boat isn’t about to fill up with water again. But no, we arrive at the appointed hour to find that The Pirate King & Co. have arisen even brighter and earlier and dumped the boat in the river on a rising tide. Furthermore, the inflatable’s on board. Berludy great. Tom goes off to have words with The Pirate King whilst I wait on the shore gazing balefully at the boat. It starts to rain.

Just when I am feeling very pissed-off indeed, there is an engine roar and a JCB trundles over the horizon.
‘Get in,’ shouts Tom, pointing at the business end of the JCB. And so it is that after a bit of a struggle, we arrive at the boat, standing in the bucket of a JCB. Nice. My happiness levels lift a bit when we reach our mooring in one piece, although I am slightly miffed when I spoil my 100% record by failing to pick up the mooring buoy. By the time we’ve had a cup of tea and found the stash of chocolate and ginger biscuit, I concede that it’s not all bad; here we are in a loop of a beautiful, peaceful, estuary away from the madding crowd and prying eyes – how bad is that?

Back ashore we deflate the dinghy, Tom packs it up and I try to do helpful things with the tailgate whilst Tom shoves the dinghy bag and all its contents in the back of the car. Alas, we have a Laurel and Hardy moment, when Tom turns round suddenly and thwacks me across the face with the set of oars.
‘No marks!’ he announces. The pain suggests otherwise and, looking in the passenger mirror, I find two fat stripes either side of my left eye, reminiscent of David Bowie in his ‘Aladdin Sane’ period. Tom seems terribly hurt when his cheerful ‘Do we need anything at Tesco?’ receives a short, angry reply. Still, at least the boat is on the water and safe on her mooring. Back home, the weather forecaster tells us that heavy rain and strong gales will reach the west Wales coast this evening.
‘I think I’ll just make sure those mooring lines are ok,’says Tom.
Ah, sailing days are here again!

And finally...
Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner's World SmartCoach programme, Week 2 = 18 miles.
Weight loss = 1lb.

The image is 'The Sea', a print by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Doing the Write Thing

Write blog on plotting. Read blogs. Watch tennis. Give stern talk to self; must finish plot of Make, Do and Mend tomorrow and get writing.

a.m. Day 4, Week 1 of Runner’s World SmartCoach 16 week training programme which will take me up to the Cardiff Half Marathon. Run 6 miles, (one warm, one cool, four at tempo).

Continue reading blogs plotting. Eat quite a few Peach Loops (nothing to do with peach and everything to do with sugar and gelatine) whilst desperately trying to make characters play.

p.m. At last! A teeny little chink of light shines in the dark world of my plot. Congratulate self and eat several more Peach Loops (named after a fruit therefore good for me).

Easy run: 2 miles. Watch tennis.

Reach 5000 words. Worry about money and decide to enter short story comp.

Steady run: 7 miles. Week One total: 17 miles.
Go to dinner with The Axe Murderers aka a delightful pair of artists we met at the top of a mountain.

Week Two: Cardiff Half Marathon training. Rest Day.
Have a rare weigh-in and find I have put on weight. Resolve to lay off the Peach Loops.

Estate agent for the property at the top of our shortlist rings to tell us an offer’s been received on it. Nothing we can do. Bum!

Mslexia arrives. My poem does not appear in the competition winners (And why not? It was no worse than most of the shortlisted poems and a lot better than one or two.) My life writing is not in the 'Curious Incidents' section (ditto). Have a severe Pit of Doom moment. Wonder why the feck I keep writing, clearly have sad case of Compulsive Writing Disorder.

Begin short story. Curl lip at short story. Abandon short story.

Write 100 words of MDM. Feel better. Eat Crunchie. Feel much better.

Easy run: 3 miles
Spend afternoon with Alphie, my lovely low-tech retro writing gadget (not as retro pen and paper, says Tom) in order not to be distracted by emails and blogs. Have horrid moment of loathing every word I have written. Force myself to concentrate. Make slow progress and then words start to fall into place... I’m getting there.

Rest Day. No run.
a.m. Show another time-waster potential purchaser round house. Start writerly activities... and keep going! What a good girl!

p.m. Post blog. Away for another date with Alphie...

Painting is 'Ceibwr' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Plot Luck

This week, when not enjoying the company of Rose and Si (a lovely long weekend) or preparing the house for timewasters prospective purchasers (Octogenarian couple seeking small bungalow and new friends. One man and his dog having a nosey. Woman looking for small holding.) I’ve been thinking mainly about plot.

Now plotting is something that scares the bejesus out of me. It scares the bejesus out of a lot of people and there are folks who charge good money to tell you how to overcome your fears. I once attended Robert McKee’s Story seminar. I had a great time and learned more than I needed to about Roland (Fine Young Cannibals) Gift’s socks, because he kept slipping his shoes off, and a lot about what not to do when Robert McKee is talking, but if you buy Robert McKee’s book ‘Story’ it’ll give you the nuts and bolts about plotting without the socks and at a fraction of the price. For a simple explanation you could do a lot worse than pop over to The Blood Red Pencil and read Maryann Miller’s great post, Writing a
Synopsis Doesn’t Have to Kill You

as I did the other night when I was freaking out at the sight of blank spreadsheet optimistically entitled ‘MDM: Plot Analysis’. Having read Maryann’s post I was able to start filling in the gaps and felt back on track. There’s a lot of useful information over at Blood Red Pencil – Helen Ginger’s post Stumbling Blocks is definitely worth a read too.

The key to good plotting is knowing your characters really well. Some writers like to get to know their characters as they write and don’t do much in the way of forward planning. I like to have a bit of a path laid out before I begin. I think that’s to do with the way my characters arrive: very often a scene will come to me that’s so vivid I feel as if I’m an invisible bystander. Fighting the Tide, for example, started with an image of a young woman stepping out on to a balcony on a night full of stars and gazing across at a string of boats bobbing on the inky water below her. That was the easy part! The hard part was finding out who the woman was and discovering her story.

In the past I’ve got carried away at this stage and written myself out at about 20,000 words. Experience has taught me that it’s better to put the brakes on and do some navigation right at the beginning so that I have some waypoints to steer towards - even if the course changes in the writing. Last week I showed you the opening scenes I wrote after getting the first glimpse of Coralie, one of the female leads of Make, Do and Mend. This week introduces Alys, as I first saw her. It’s eight months after the wedding Coralie attended in the first chapter and Alys, the mother of the bride, is not in a happy place...

Chapter Two.
Things to do in February.

Alys Bowen tucked her white-blonde hair behind her ears as she crouched down in the shade of the stone wall to look at her favourite snowdrops. The dainty galanthus nivalis with its sweet honey scent was a welcome friend returned after a long absence. The pretty flowers with their trim green markings seemed to her to herald the end of winter. And it had been a long winter at Penmorfa with short days chased away by bitter winds and deep, silent nights.

Alys almost got up to fetch Huw. He’d be in the kitchen, just a few dozen yards away from her where he’d be making toast and giving the cats a gentle boot out the way when they refused to let him get to the Aga. The kettle would be whistling softly to itself with the teapot set to warm and a couple of blue and cream glazed pottery mugs waiting. At least that’s how it used to be. Alys had to place her hands on the wet grass to steady herself as the spasm of pain tore through her body and rocked her forwards. She took a deep breath as her hair swung down over her face and her eyes pricked with tears.

© Christine Stovell

Poor Alys! Now all I’ve got to do is find out what’s making her so unhappy.

Painting is 'Black, White, Grey' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Inspiration and Persistence

Or, how late it is, how late. With hindsight it sounds a bit pretentious to talk about a new ‘writing project’ when what I mean is that I’ve started a new novel. Sorry about that. It’s not even that new since I had the idea for it two years ago.

One of the downsides of writing a regular blog is that it’s all there; the hopes, the dreams, the plans - all laid out and ready to come back to bite you, especially when you realise how much time has gone by. What I hadn’t foreseen, when I originally said I’d started some new work, was that I would then do two rewrites of ‘Fighting the Tide’, turning it from a ‘light lunch’ to the ‘substantial meal’ an agent suggested, and then trimming 10,000 words out of it at the suggestion of an editor. Whilst there’s a danger in chopping and changing, the suggestions I was advised to make made sense and I’m happy with the version that’s out there. It’s now a question of waiting.

I’ve also completed the first year of a Diploma in Creative Writing with the OU and have signed up for the second and final year. What the course has done for me is to push me way outside my comfort zone and prove to me that I can produce good work even when the subject doesn’t especially inspire me or is so difficult that I want to walk away from it. By sticking with it I’ve produced all kinds of material; short stories, poetry, some life writing and surprised myself with the results.

I suppose what that demonstrates is that it’s not really about the initial spark for a piece of writing, but the keeping going. I don’t really have any problem thinking about what to write - ideas just arrive - the hardest part is choosing one and sticking with it. That’s not to say you should just start any old thing because if you don’t care about it you won’t want to write 100,000 words about it.

In October I’ll be back on my course and, no doubt, drawing on dark and difficult stuff and stretching myself again. But, until then, rather than agonising over which idea might be ‘best’, or trying to second guess what the market wants, I’ve decided to have some fun. I’ve launched into ‘Make, Do and Mend’, a novel with two female leads, Coralie, who makes green oak garden furniture, and Alys, who owns a small garden centre. It’s about making mistakes, doing something else and mending in the process. I’m going to see how far I can get by October. For now, it starts like this...

Chapter One.
Things to do in June.

That’ll be the one that got away then, thought Coralie Dempsey as the bride faltered in her progression down the aisle to cast a doe-eyed and melting glance at the man at the end of the row. Coralie didn’t know the bride; she didn’t know the groom either. Attending the wedding of a couple she’d met only fleetingly wasn’t high on her ‘to do’ list. She was only there because the bride’s proud parents had insisted and declining their invitation would have been hurtful after all their kindness.

Being tucked away beneath a leaded clear-glass window at the back of the church suited Coralie just fine. But if the man at the other end of the pew had also been hoping to avoid drawing attention to himself, his plan had backfired the minute the bride had her moment of doubt right beside him. Square-shouldered and stubble-jawed with the kind of rugged good looks that would have made every Brontë hero seem positively girly, he looked as if he’d had every woman in the church – except, possibly, the vicar.

© Christine Stovell

Stop press!
Oh feck! The postman has just delivered a rejected short story. Well that's ruined the good mood! Bum and ten bums in a row!

Stop press 2!!
Oh feck!! What is this? National reject Chris day!! I've just had another short story rejected by email... do you think I should step away from the short stories now? No, it's all right. You don't need to say anything!

Paiting is 'Camaes Head' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Back Home

This is what I did last week:
a.m. Run off steam before packing for trip to South. Leave home. Stop at Sarn Park retail outlet to visit M&S. Replenish underwear after knicker cull and world shortage of my bra size in west Wales. A really snazzy pair of yellow peep-toed wedges call out to me and say they want to go home with me. How can I resist?
p.m. Arrive at Worthing, Mil and Dil’s. Eat Chinese takeaway. Sleep fitfully in the Marshmallow Bed which flings me in the air every time Tom turns over.

a.m. Mil & Dil, in their new car (‘nuff said), follow us to deepest Surrey and Best Optometrist In The World aka my dear friend, Jill, as Mil is in need of a second opinion. Have lunch with BOITW. Bid farewell to Mil and Dil. Proceed to Ma’s. Inspect Ma for signs of wear and tear.
p.m. Over dinner, (Ma’s homemade steak pie) catch up with Kid Sister, Bil, and two nieces.

a.m. & p.m. Burst with prideiosity all day (see previous post).

a.m. Collect Stepson Two and Girlf, drive over to meet Stepson One and Girlf for coffee. Take Stepson Two home. Take Stepson Two’s Girlf to old folks home where she is currently working, bless her.
p.m. Arrive Fareham, lovely friends J & R who crack open first bottle. Much later, retire to bed a little fuzzy-headed and sleep like log.

a.m. To Port Solent, and J&R’s boat. Across to Cowes for lunch (how swanky is that?).
p.m. Ditto as above from ‘Much later... etc.’

a.m. Thank J & R for having us. Head back to Wales via Halfords at Salisbury so that Tom can buy new tyres for bike. Realise we are too shattered to attend concert we had hoped to go to that evening. Make appropriate phone calls.
p.m. Arrive Cardiff Bay to see Lily and Russ. Russ makes us a lovely comfort-food risotto. Drag ourselves off Lily and Russ’s sofa. Head back home.

This is what I did yesterday:

I picked Bethan Darwin's book from my Honno prize pile and sat down to read it with a cup of tea... and I just kept reading. 'Back Home' is a beautifully-written, engaging story with a strong cast of likeable well-drawn characters. Well done to Honno, yet again, for spotting a little gem.

And finally...
I've got that lovely frisson of excitement that accompanies a new writing project and I can't wait to start. It was lovely seeing everyone last week, but now it's lovely to be back home.

Image is 'Beach' a print by Tom Tomos