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