Friday, 29 October 2010

West to East: Every Picture

I don’t spend very much time looking back; the past is foreign country. Yet on the rare occasions I return to UEA, my impressions, initially, are always clouded by my teen-aged self and the shock of the new. Raw concrete under a leaden sky. Ladsun’s ziggurats slicing into sloping green. It all looks much softer today; climbers and tall trees blur the cutting edges, but the architectural puritan in me disapproves.

We’re visiting the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, taking the opportunity to catch up with some favourite pieces in the Sainsbury Collection whilst we’re in this part of the world. The best paintings, for me, are the ones that evoke an almost visceral response; a resonance like the hum of a tuning fork. Francis Bacon does it for me every time and there are some truly stunning examples here. Henry Moore’s touching images of sleeping shelterers move me too. Antonio Saura’s, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. It’s wonderful to see them again.

From Norwich it’s off to Cromer in search of another favourite image – the cover of Turning the Tide! Oh course, I’d have to go out to sea to capture it exactly and there are no rocks at Cromer for Harry to sit on - although maybe there are some at Little Spitmarsh, the sleepy seaside town in my book - but I can see enough to get that tingly feeling. Cromer and Little Spitmarsh both have a pier jutting out into the same sea, but they are not the same place. Little Spitmarsh is an amalgam of all the faded seaside towns that I love, but which are faced with uncertain futures caught between the need to modernise and the risk of losing all that makes them unique.

That dilemma’s at the forefront of my mind when Tom and I escape the rain and dive into a seafront cafĂ© for fish and chips. The place is tired, feels as if it hasn’t been decorated since the ‘seventies and, despite being almost empty, no one is eating. So whilst we wait for food we sit and drink tea and enjoy the most fabulous panoramic view of the coast. Part of me wonders what someone like Rick Stein could do with a restaurant in a spot like this – the other half wonders, like my heroine, Harry, in Turning the Tide, if I could still afford to sit here if he did.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

West to East: Girls' Night In at Waterstone's

After a seven hour car journey and a near-death experience in the Cambrian mountains where an oncoming driver is trying to create a dual carriageway in the narrow pass, we arrive at our hotel in Bury St Edmunds.
‘You’re in the chalet with the four poster,’ the receptionist tells us cheerfully. I’m less thrilled, ‘chalet’ being something I associate with Butlins not the lovely old building on the hotel’s website. Making our way across the courtyard I hear what sounds like an orchestra warming up from the other chalets; that’s because an orchestra is warming up in the other chalets. Once inside though the chalet is quiet, clean and cosy - if a little reminiscent of eighties suburbia. Still we’re not here to admire the decor, it’s a quick wash and brush up before heading into town for the Choc Lit authors (well, four of us) ‘Girls’ Night In’ at Waterstone’s Bury St Edmunds.
Stand by your Books! Sue, Christina, me and Margaret
It’s not true that all my nerves evaporate when Jen, the manager, greets me, but I’m certainly reassured that I’m in safe hands. Jen and her staff have done us proud, drumming up an audience of fifty, chairs from the coffee shop opposite to sit them in and plenty of wine and chocolate to keep everyone happy. My happiness levels receive another boost when I see the beautiful, smiling face of fellow blogger SuffolkMum coming towards me. We’ve never met before but recognise each other straightaway. Chatting to her is just like meeting up with an old friend. Lovely Lucie Wheeler and her friend Kate, Choc Lit reading panellists are there too and all the friendly faces really set the tone for a good evening.

Christina Courtenay, Margaret James, Sue Moorcroft and I all say a bit about ourselves and our books whilst Tom, the only man in the room, dashes round acting as official photographer. We then take questions from a really interested and interesting audience, leaving just enough time to mingle and sign some books. I hear some inspiring stories from some of the people who’ve been kind enough turn up to hear us and it strikes me, once again, how enjoyable it is to meet new readers. A wonderful evening and huge, huge thanks to Jen and all the staff at Waterstone’s for making us feel so welcome.
Christina and me - looking more relaxed now!

The next morning it’s up and away because Tom and I are heading to Norfolk to meet some friends. We leave our chalet, trying not to trip any members of the orchestra labouring under the weight of their instruments and bags, and look forwards to enjoying a hearty cooked breakfast in the old part of the hotel. ‘Sorry,’ says the waitress. ‘The kitchen’s closed today – didn’t anyone tell you?’ Ah well, I suppose it would be too much to expect everything to go according to plan.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Reflections on the Cardiff Half Marathon 2010

Sunday morning dawned with near perfect running conditions for my third Cardiff half marathon; dry, cold and still. And if the glorious sunshine was a little blinding at times, it was a price worth paying to see the city bathed in light.

Over eleven thousand runners took part this year, but I struck very lucky when the start was moved to just outside my daughter’s flat meaning I could avoid those loo queues! In theory this should also have made me calm and rested, but I was my usual gibbering heap before the race and still had a pre-race cry.

The new course was extremely congested in places, making it very difficult to get past walkers and groups of three and four running together, and I was glad to get to mile six when we were through the parks and had space to take off. However, the atmosphere was brilliant with lots of people encouraging each other along the way and great support from a fantastic Cardiff crowd.

What I really noticed this year was how many of us carry our loved ones with us. I cry at the start every race because I run for my dad and everything he’s missed, but as I moved through the crowds there were many runners who were not alone. Fallen comrades, lost babies, grieved-for parents and friends were there amongst us – I’m filling up now, thinking of the mum I passed, younger than me, running for her ‘beautiful daughter, Elle’- so many people loved and remembered.

It must have been thinking about family that made me suddenly look up at mile 12 to see Tom, Lily and Stepson Two all smiling and waving at me (the video clips shows how pleased I was to see them!). By the time I finished the race, Gorgeous Girlf had joined them too (she and Stepson Two had come all the way to Cardiff to surprise me) and although I was wearing my medal by then, the real treasure was all around me in the happy memories of the day.

Low point: Feeling in need of an energy boost at mile 6 and discovering that I dropped my Haribo bears!!! Disaster!
High point: Overtaking three young blokes and hearing one comment, ‘Bloody hell, she must be fit!’
Favourite quote: At mile 11 on seeing a runner ambling towards us wearing his finisher’s medal, hearing the man next to me say, ‘F*cking hell! Is he taking the p*ss?’

All in all, another memorable half marathon. Now, do I sign up for the Llanelli half in March?


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Summer's Lease

We’ve been gleaning this late sunshine, taking some time out after work to sit down by the estuary to soak up some summer warmth before the winter. This week has been something of an interlude for me. I was invited to write a short story for a monthly magazine and found it really refreshing to take a break from the work in progress to write something different. I’m pleased to say the editor liked what I sent her, giving me a boost to return to my current novel with renewed enthusiasm.

With the Cardiff Half Marathon on Sunday, this has been the week when the training tapers off with a few days rest before race day. I don’t run for a particular charity as I’m too afraid of not finishing or letting them down, but if anyone feels like dropping a pound in the nearest collection box afterwards, that would be brilliant. As always, I’ll be thinking of my dad on Sunday and organisations like The Royal Marsden,The Princess Alice Hospice, Cancer Research UK and Pancreatic Cancer UK, who helped to look after him in some way.

Good luck to all the runners taking part on Sunday, but especially my writing and running buddy across the hills from me,Preseli Mags.

Good luck too, to Tom who’s completing another year of academic work with an exam on Friday. Fingers crossed for my sister who, after a run of bad luck you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, can see a glimmer of hope on her house. And finally... (because how can I not mention them on the day that everyone’s been waiting for?) the Chilean miners (is there anyone who can watch those scenes without being moved?) here’s hoping they are all recovered safely.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My First Book Signing!

It’s a fine, dry day and there’s an Italian market in the square outside Waterstone’s. Good for a book signing? ‘Bad,’ says Tim. The stalls are blocking the view of the shop and the fine weather’s keeping everyone outdoors. Hmm, that must be why they’ve only put one small poster up for my event, I mean why waste the Blu Tack?
Tim demonstrates handing off the marauding hordes

After much refolding of a black tablecloth and a rummage around for some books, I’m invited to take up my position at the author table somewhere between ‘fantasy and horror’, children’s books and a poster of the next author, Bobby ‘Iron Duke’ Windsor who’s signing on Monday. Once Tom, Lily, my lovely daughter, and her partner, Russ, are all sure I’m not going to run away, they leave me to it, taking it in turns to make sure I’m all right and bring me tea.

Very soon, I notice a small boy watching me. When he returns with his family I learn that he would like to be a writer. His method, he tells me, is to rewrite his favourite stories, adding his own twists and new characters – amazing! It’s a brilliant start to the event especially when his family buy my book. I’m so grateful I feel like packing up and going home!

But then I would have missed the folks who made such an effort to come to see me; writers and bloggers, Liz Fielding, Preseli Mags and Fennie of Corner Cupboard and Linda, fellow student on the OU creative writing diploma course, all come in, some with family, to say hello. It’s an absolute delight so see so many friendly faces! I am quite charmed too, by the young Asian guy, who makes a bee-line for my table, gives me a sweet smile and passes me a hand-written note which reads, ‘Apollo Cinema’, then asks if I know where it is.

The author and her lovely assistant, Lily

Alas, Tim’s prediction about customer numbers is proved correct; it’s a quiet day and my ‘target’ readers are thin on the ground. However, those I do spot are happy to chat to me, interested in what I do and one or two even buy a copy of my book; it’s a huge delight and privilege. I’m relieved and Tim’s happy too. He invites me back later in the year because he thinks Turning the Tide will make a wonderful Christmas present (it will, it will!). And, who knows, if I’m very lucky, next time I might even get my own poster...