Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Christmas Walk

What we saw on a our early Christmas morning walk to the beach...
A little donkey


...and friends.


Roses in bloom...


and bright fuschias.




What's down there?


The recent heavy rain has swollen the rivers and created a magnificent waterfall.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Freewheeling

Sometimes it’s good to just follow your nose and see where the trail takes you. I’ve had a bit of time to do just that, letting the thoughts come and go and trying not to force the direction or pace. So here’s some of the ground, the freewheeling has covered.

Away
Our nearest big supermarket is at Carmarthen, 45 mins away, but for a wider choice of large shops, we’ll go to Swansea, an hour and a half away. If you’re travelling that distance, you might as well make an occasion of it. Our first stop, for a really good cup of coffee, excellent cakes and jolly staff, is the café in the unlikely setting of… Dunelm Mill, the home furnishing store! What my younger self would make of this, I dread to think, but during the whole nightmare of house renovations, it’s been enormously satisfying to eye up the curtain fabric from the mezzanine floor over a cappuccino and a bun. Not very rock and roll, but there we are.

Swansea market is always worth visiting for the food and the characters. There’s always something good to buy from The Market Plaice, but for eating in try Punjabi Tiffin; exquisite cooking and the best cup of Chai I’ve tasted. Lunch for two for about £7.

Last weekend, on Tom’s birthday we went to St David’s for a look round the cathedral, lunch in the refectory and a trip to a very chilly Whitesands Bay. It was our second visit to church that week, so for a couple of atheists we were doing very well. With some time to play tourists, we’d finally got round to visiting our historic local church, Llanifhangel-ar-y-Bryn – St Michael’s Church on the Hill. Apparently its circular churchyard means there are no hiding places for the Devil. I was also interested to see that romantic novelist Allen Raine is buried there. I have no wish to join her, but I wouldn’t mind catching up with her sales of more than 2 million books!

Home
Jeez! The relief of – more or less - reaching the end of the renovations! We’ve also got round to putting up some of Tom’s paintings and suddenly that unfamiliar, raw freshness of new décor is transformed into something that feels personal. After a hectic year it feels good to sit back and enjoy the place at last. 

Before...

During...

Finally!
I’ve been catching up with reading, again, following wherever my thoughts lead me. I’ve made a Roman blind for my study – which anyone who read my outpourings on Facebook will know nearly berludy killed me. And I also learned how to switch on the new oven and reminded myself how to bake.
Mince pies and Nigel Slater's chocolate flapjack


 As I write this, it’s still pouring with rain, but I’ve got two new poetry books to dip into, Gillian Clarke’s Collected Poems and Owen Sheers’s Skirrid Hill. 

Thank you for taking the time to visit Home Thoughts Weekly. May your Christmas be merry.

Painting is Christmas Morning, High Preseli, by Tom Tomos

Monday, 19 December 2011

Choc Lit Christmas Special Day One

I know it's a frantic time of year, but do find time, if you can, to pop over to Choc Lit's Author's Corner .  For the next twelve days we'll be sharing our thoughts on the festive season, beginning today with a discussion on when Christmas really starts for each of us.


And, since it's Christmas, there are presents!  Every second day, you'll have a chance to win something from the Choc Lit selection by simply joining in the discussion.  The best comment left over the next two days will win you a copy of my book, Turning the Tide.  I look forwards to reading your thoughts at Author's Corner.  Merry Christmas and good luck!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A High and Eyes



Well, I did it! When I finally sent my revised manuscript on its way on Monday, it was with some relief and a certain amount of satisfaction. It’s been a challenging year. This time, last year, Ma was lying in the grimmest of hospital wards waiting for an operation. Her progress might have better if that same arm hadn’t been injured again in August when she was struck by a dustcart riding the pavement. Then, you may remember, at the beginning of November she broke her big toe. Ma’s fine, as feisty as ever, but I do hope for her sake that she’s a lot less accident-prone next year.

Moving and then renovating the entire house has been a massive upheaval too, but we’re nearly there. In fact, if B&Q would only send us the hinges that failed to arrive with our loo seat, we’d almost be sitting comfortably.

On the bright side, we’re very happy in our new home; waking up and seeing the sea beyond the bedroom window takes some beating, believe me. And there’s been plenty of good news from our children too.

What’s made this year especially tough though, is that I haven’t been able to burn off all the negative emotion with a good run. In March, just after we moved in, I woke up to a strange-shaped floater, like a folded elastic band, in my left eye, and some disturbing flashing lights. I’m very short-sighted, with a big chunky prescription that makes even hardened consultants suck in their breath (usually with a pleased expression, I have to add, and comments such as, ‘my word, you are myopic, aren’t you?’) so my immediate fear was that my retina had come to grief.

Fortunately, it’s a far less serious problem, a posterior vitreous detachment, a normal part of ageing although in my case probably caused by my prescription and lifting too much during the move. It’ll be fine so long as I avoid high-impact exercise until it’s completely settled down. What’s especially frustrating is that it really seems to be taking its time, but I have to be patient.
Running or seeing – I don’t think there’s a contest, is there?

The photo was taken from my bedroom window today. And can I just say, I hate new Blogger, I just don't have time to fiddle with wretched formatting!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Choc Lit Goes to North America


I’ll be back with more Home Thoughts very soon, but this week brought the announcement of some exciting news that everyone at Choc Lit’s been eager to share.  We all had to be a bit patient until the news could be co-ordinated to suit both sides of the Atlantic, but here it is, the official press release...

Brand-led, commercial women’s fiction publisher, Choc Lit expand into North America with effect from 1st January 2012, represented by International Publishers Marketing (IPM).
“North America is a key market for our expansion. We already have a loyal following in the USA and constantly receive great reviews. Finding the right partner, who believed in our brand and could offer the right support was critical. We believe we’ve found the perfect match with Jane Graf at IPM,’ states Lyn Vernham, Director, Choc Lit.

Since launch, Choc Lit has published a string of novels that regularly hit the Nielsen’s Top 20 Small Publishers Fiction List. In the last few months, they have picked up three awards – Best Romantic Read Award from the Festival of Romance, The Big Red Reads Fiction Award and Best Historical Fiction Award. Never Coming Home, a debut from Evonne Wareham (to be published March 2012) was a finalist in the American Title competition, run by RT Book Reviews Magazine & Dorchester Publishing of New York.

Jane Graf of IPM says: “We are delighted to add Choc Lit to our portfolio of clients. The quality of the writing, as well as their high production values, and stunning covers will make them stand out as a romantic fiction publisher. Their brand and great strapline ‘Where heroes are like chocolate – irresistible!’ are unique and a strong selling point. We’re excited to see how we can grow and develop this publisher in North America.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Choc Lit Short Story Competition

CHOC LIT SHORT STORY COMPETITION         

Choc Lit are looking for short stories of up to 1,500 words in which the central theme is chocolate - eating it, drinking it, cooking with it, or anything else. Let your imagination take flight!

PRIZES
1st prize £200, publication on the author’s corner blog and a box of organic chocolates from Plush
A Runner Up will receive £50 and a box of organic chocolates from Plush

RULES
1.       Your entry must be a maximum of 1,500 words.
2.       All work must be your own and not previously published.
3.       The entry fee is £3 per story
4.       All entries must be received by 31st January, 2012.

JUDGES
Your judges are Choc Lit authors Margaret James (The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain) and Sue Moorcroft (Starting Over, All That Mullarkey, Want To Know a Secret? and Love & Freedom). Both authors teach creative writing for the London School of Journalism and have published numerous short stories, including in the Romantic Novelists' Association's short story anthology. Both have regular columns, Margaret in Writing Magazine and Sue in Writers Forum.

HOW TO ENTER
1.       Please post your stories to: Short Story Competition, Choc Lit Ltd, Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB. Please enclose a cheque for £3 per story - i.e. to enter 3 stories costs £9. Cheques are payable to ‘Choc Lit Ltd.’

2.       Or email info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject header ‘Short Story Competition’ and pay your entry fee by Paypal at orders@choc-lit.co.uk.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

What goes up ...


It struck me recently that for all this blog's claims to be about living and writing in West Wales, I tend to be a bit secretive about the writing part!  This year hasn't been plain sailing for all kinds of reasons, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel with my revisions... at least I hope it's light and not the train coming towards me!


What's been strange and wonderful, is that whilst I've been working on my revisions, Turning the Tide has been making a life of its own away from me.  Okay what goes up, must come down but  its current Amazon rankings have really cheered me up... apologies for the trumpet tootle.



Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Families and Fractures




 Friday 4 November
Arrive at Ma’s early evening after a long journey and some pretty hazardous driving conditions on the M4.  Ma mentions that she feels lucky to have escaped with just a sore toe after tripping over her Henry vacuum cleaner earlier in the day.  Her injury is soon forgotten though as we catch up with each other’s news over dinner which includes a ‘fecking eppel teyrt’ that Ma has served up in honour of our recent trip to Ireland.
Saturday 5 November
The afternoon sees us at a family party to celebrate Stepson One and his new bride’s recent wedding in Grenada.  I’m always a little apprehensive about Tom’s family gatherings, since, despite nearly thirteen years of marriage, there are times when I still feel like a ‘blow in’.  The past is a strange country with shifting borders, strong defences and prone to outbreaks of brief territorial disputes. Today, though, a whole new side to the family has entered the equation.
The new Mrs H, who is of Afro-Caribbean heritage, is a long way from her parents in Quebec, where she grew up, but her aunt, uncle and cousins are here today, along with a big group of friends. At first, both sets of families sit a little awkwardly in their separate groups, but Stepson One and Young Mrs H have done their utmost to recreate the spirit of their wedding day and soon all of us chatting and caught up in the event.  There’s a slideshow of sunny wedding photographs, music from the day and wonderful Caribbean cuisine.  I watch the new couple and their obvious happiness and ponder the nature of families; here’s my stepson and his wife – does that make Young Mrs H, my stepdaughter-in-law? Who knows?  What does it matter?  ‘I’ll see you again,’ smiles Young Mrs H’s uncle when we say goodbye, ‘now that we’re family.’ 
Families, I suppose, are what we make them, but what matters most today are the new bride and groom setting out at the start of their shared journey.  Here’s wishing them many happy years together.
Back at Ma’s, Ma announces that her injured big toe is feeling ‘very hot’ and I don’t need to take a close look at it to see that she’s in pain. Ma agrees that if it doesn’t get better overnight (some hope!) she’ll think about going to hospital.
Sunday 6 November
I pop into Ma’s room to see how she’s doing to find her fully dressed and looking very smart. 
‘Still hurting then?’ I say.
‘Probably a fuss about nothing,’ says Ma, showing me a black, hugely-swollen toe. 
In A&E there is a mass outbreak of foot injuries, but Ma is shuffled through the system in record time, emerging with her big toe strapped up like a sausage plait (which we promise not to bite) and an appointment for the fracture clinic.
Tom points out that it was after last year’s trip to Ireland that Ma fell and fractured her shoulder and arm so badly.  Indeed, she’ll be celebrating the anniversary with her latest fracture.
‘Next year,’ Tom says, mildly, ‘we’ll go somewhere different.’

Painting is ‘Coast near Dinas’ by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Before and After

Hotel H is bursting at the seams this week; the mice are still in residence - I'd like to think there are fewer of them, but Lord knows how many more are in search of a snug new home in a cosy loft - and we have visitors. The bathroom facilities here are currently,erm, basic, which is interesting, but we did manage to finish the kitchen just hours before this week's guests arrived. 

So from this...


Through this (when you think it's never going to be finished...)


We finally got to this. Hurray.


And now, I'm boarding up the study door and writing!

(But, before I do, another quick note about the font. Since the new improved Blogger interface thingy arrived, I can't make it work and I don't have the time to fiddle with it, so, dear Blogger, the restoration of my old template would please me no end. Thank you.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Strangers in the Night



It’s three in the morning and I wake suddenly, disturbed by the sense of something wicked happening a few feet away from me.  Paranormal activity?  Every nerve fibre’s pricking and I hold my breath and keep very still under the covers.  And there it is again; the tiny, but blood –curdling sound of claws scratching at plaster. Tom’s snoring quietly beside me, but I can’t bear to listen to this on my own.
‘Tom?’
Muffled protest.  He carries on sleeping.
‘Tom!’
Loud protest.  ‘What?’
‘Shhhhh!  Listen!’
 ‘It’s outside,’ Tom says, snuggling down.
It’s true that a party of magpies have taken to tap-dancing on the flat roof of the bedroom’s dormer window but they’re much clumpier.  The scratching becomes more insistent; now it sounds as if the horrid creature’s got a pick axe and is close to breaking through.
‘That’s not outside,’ I insist.
Eventually, Tom agrees that we are not alone.  It seems that the two dead mice found curled up so forlornly in a socket by our electrician in July have live relatives.  In July, however, when the house was being taken apart in the first stage of renovation, I could accept the occasional mouse or two might have wandered in to explore the cavity walls and ceiling voids.  Now that many of the gaps have been filled by new wiring and smooth plaster, I’m not at all happy at the thought of little teeth chomping through them.
‘Humane traps,’ someone suggests on Twitter, ‘take them to a field and release them.’
Hmm, maybe that explains how we’ve acquired our new guests; our house is surrounded by fields!  Clearly all the mice that other people have released there have skedaddled over and re-homed themselves!
Research in B&Q suggests that this is a common problem in west Wales; there’s a bewildering number of solutions – shelves of it.  I quite like the idea of the electronic repeller that uses ultrasonic sound to drive them from the house clutching their little ears, but it’s an expensive option so we reluctantly choose a more traditional method.  The next night there’s no noise.  At all.  Have the mice gone quietly or are they just playing hard to get?

ePainting is ‘Fuchsias’ by Tom Tomos


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Return to Ireland: Beyond the Mist


Friday 30 September

It’s our last full day at the cottage so, naturally, the mist lifts.  We seize the chance to take a look at the rugged scenery of the Ring of Beara and the spectacular Healy Pass.  It’s a bit of a whirlwind tour, but it’s wonderful to finally see the breathtaking views that are such a feature of this lovely county.  The fuchsia hedges that Fennie remembered from a trip to County Cork, and which are so characteristic of the area, line many lanes.

 
Ma wants to visit the wool shop in Bantry to see if she can find some emerald green wool to mix in with the blue she bought in Dingle last year.  Inside the shop, where wool tumbles out of every cupboard and shelf like a wool avalanche, she tells the owner what she’s looking for.
            ‘I have some baby blue,’ says the owner.
            ‘I’m looking for emerald,’ says Ma.
            ‘Beige?’ the owner offers, plunging into a woollen lucky dip.  ‘Brown?  Red?  Black?  Purple?’
            After Ma has rejected what feels like every shade of wool in the shop, the owner trots off and returns with exactly what Ma is looking for.  It’s as if she’s been testing Ma to see if she’ll weaken and take an alternative.  There then follows an almighty haggling session, the clash of two immovable forces, before the owner concedes heavily on the price of the wool, but gets her own back with the cost of the pattern. 

 
It’s market day in Bantry and we take a stroll to marvel at the stalls.  A man and woman are sitting on the kerb with their fat, jolly baby, a scruffy dog and a cardboard box that clucks and squawks.
            ‘Don’t go too far,’ the woman tells the scruffy dog which is sidling off in search of an adventure.  Meanwhile, the man is lifting his jolly baby into the air.
            ‘Sure, she thinks she’s at the fair, so she does,’ he tells us, when she beams uncertainly at us.  ‘Bejeesus, she says!’ he laughs.

Eating out is prohibitively expensive, so for our last meal in Bantry, Tom makes End of Holiday Stew, using everything left in the cupboard and we enjoy the other half of our fecking bargainous eppel teyrt with custard for pud. It’s a magnificent end to our stay.

Saturday 1 October
As we load the car, we finally get to see the view from the cottage, which turns out to be rather lovely.   



 
Having stopped briefly at Cork on the way down, we plan to explore more of the city at our leisure on the way back and take in a return trip to the Crawford Art Gallery.  

During our stay, Jack Yeats’s painting, ‘A Fair Day, Mayo’ has been bought for one million euros, making it the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction in Ireland.  Unfortunately, we’re not the buyers, since Ma’s lotto tickets turn out to be duds – not a winning number between us.  I do very much like Yeats’s work The Small Ring which hangs in the Crawford.  It depicts a young boxer looking at his felled opponent and I like it for the way Yeats captures the stillness of the moment. There’s also a magnificent but eerie sculpture gallery, the kind of room I wouldn’t care to be alone in after dark, although I’d happily spend lots of time in the Crawford Gallery Café.

Alas, the weather halts further exploration of the city; it’s absolutely teeming down and not much fun for walking. We seek shelter in the English Market, but everyone has the same idea.  It’s a fascinating market which has been trading since 1788, but it’s too full of hot, wet people to linger.

The rain hammers down all the way to Rosslare, but at least the sea state is calm.  We board the ferry and Tom takes Ma off for a hot meal. On their return, I order a toasted Panini at the bar and, after only a moment’s hesitation, a Jameson to go with it. ‘Is it for yesself?’ asks the barman.  It is indeed, all for mesself and it hits the spot very nicely.  Here’s to Ireland.


PS Apologies for any crazy formatting in this; I've struggled to get it to play!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Return to Ireland: Part Two

Tuesday 27 September, contd.
‘Stop! This is me!’our new friend announces some four very smelly miles down the road as we reach the village of Goleen. Tom opens the door to see him out and they shake hands.
   ‘What?’ Tom asks, climbing back in to find me and Ma sending him accusing stares.
   ‘I could have been knifed!’ Ma says, with ghoulish relish, even though she’s laughing.
   ‘Oh, he was mostly harmless,’ says Tom.
   ‘But smelly,’ I add. ‘I was nearly sick.’
   ‘Well, I couldn’t smell anything,’ says Tom, winding down the window to allow the lingering miasma to escape.
   'I just hope he didn’t have fleas,’ says Ma, as if we’ve picked up a stray cat.

At Barley Cove, Tom and I take a walk along the swaying pontoon bridge that conserves the dunes. Ma’s poor brittle back and injured arm mean that she’s too fragile these days to risk joining us, but she’s happy to sit in the car and wait, albeit still clucking about the low standard of boyfriend material we’ve procured for her.


Wednesday 28 September
As Britain basks in the steamy heat, we are still blanketed in mist. We drive through Ballydehob, Baltimore and Skibbereen all similarly cloaked in wispy fleece. At Skibbereen, we give up trying to see the sights and go shopping in Lidl. Judging by the amount of people filling their trollies there; it’s the thing to do. It’s a bit ironic then that this area was one of the worst affected by the Irish Famine.

Back at the holiday cottage, we meet the owners freshly returned from a weekend in Lourdes. They tell us that amongst other matters, they’ve been praying for success for the Irish team in the rugby world cup. I’m no expert, but I’d assumed prayers were meant for cures for cancer and an end to world poverty, not any ole stuff. And since, as I write this, the Irish lads are now on their way home, perhaps I’m not alone in considering the request a tad frivolous.

I put the kettle on and go off to find Ma, who’s sitting in the conservatory, lifting her face to a sliver of sunshine which has slipped through the clouds. I ask her if she would like tea and cake and her expression lights up. Ma has extraordinarily beautiful eyes – very clear with deep blue irises – and a gap between her two front teeth. Right now, her smile radiates a childlike joy and she looks about six. I drop a kiss on her hair and go off choked because she’s so pleased by something that’s so easy to do.

In the evening we watch RTÉ Prime Time featuring interviews with the seven candidates for the Irish presidency. The candidates include Dana Rosemary Scallon, sometime Eurovision Song Contest winner and Martin McGuinness, sometime IRA member, though not since 1974, he says. All are quizzed on what their unique suitability is for the post is and about their greatest personal weakness. They’ve all read the bit about turning a negative into a positive in the ‘Get the Job You Want!’ handbook, but it’s an interesting exercise for all that.  

Thursday 29 September
We take up our hosts’ suggestion and drive up through the mountains to picturesque Gougane Barra (‘the rock cleft of Finbarr) where a large lake in a glacial valley reflects the autumn trees and an amazing Cavalry is pale and startling against dark evergreens. Continuing up through the mountains, the mist descends yet again so we cut our losses and walk round the pretty, touristy town of Kenmare. Ma optimistically buys two lotto tickets.

Next... the mist lifts.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Return and Return to Ireland

Hello. I dropped off the radar for a while there, didn’t I? The trials and tribulations have continued at Hotel H, along with a dollop of heartache caused by a stone flying into the deep, dark Pool of the Past, creating quite a few ripples. We’ve also been hit by the great ‘BT Service Outage’, resolved after five days, not by technology, but by the application of a sharp object to the router. And we’ve also been back to Ireland with Ma, but this year’s experience has been, well, different...


Sunday 25 September
Wake up in Bantry, West Cork, to an abundance of soft rain. Somewhere outside is a view, although the mist is so thick it’s hard to tell what it might be. Never mind, the view inside is interesting too, with plenty of fierce ornaments to keep us entertained. The cottage is large and well-stocked, although the initial fridge-like temperature that comes from the place not having been occupied for a couple of weeks, means we have to burn a small peat bog to stop our teeth chattering.

Monday 26 September
Tom and I are exhausted from weeks of yet uncompleted house renovations and Ma’s recovering from her brush with the dustcart. We decide that a return trip to Killarney, which we loved last year, will help in our quest for the craic. A drive through the Cork and Kerry mountains and the stunning Caha Pass affords us tantalizing glimpses of wonderful scenery through the swirling mist and drizzle. We try not to think about the heat wave that we’ve left behind in Britain. The ailing Irish economy and a poor exchange rate have taken their toll on prices. Two toasted sandwiches, a slice of cake and tea and coffee for tea in the adorable Miss Courtney’s Tea Rooms, see off the best part of €30.

Tuesday 27 September
We trudge round Glengariff, famed for its beauty, in the continuing mist and drizzle along with a coachload of bewildered Americans blinking at the eye-watering prices in the gift shops. ‘Don’t even get close,’ we hear one man say to his wife as she’s about to pick something up, ‘that’s way beyond you!’

In an optimistic drive to try to see some of the scenery towards Mizen Head, we make a new friend. An Irish Rab C Nesbitt alike is standing in the middle of the winding lane, waving in a manner that suggests there is a large obstacle in the road ahead. ‘If you’re going to Goleen,’ he says, leaning in through the window when we stop to see what the matter is, ‘I’ll take a run along with you!’. It seems that he is the large obstacle.
‘We’re going to Crookhaven,’ Tom says.
‘Sure, ‘tis on the way,’ says our friend, climbing in beside Ma.

He wears the sweet, decaying odour of Eau de Farmyard, which cheesily permeates through the car and, taking no account of our shocked faces, he warmly engages us in conversation. He is amazed to hear that we’ve been as far as Killarney. He’s heard that County Kerry is very nice, but he’s never crossed the mountains to go there. Maybe if he gets a car, he says, he’ll take a couple of days out and go for a bit of drive to explore. He’s also something of an economist, our new chum. When we remark how expensive we're finding Ireland, he passes on his conversion tip, ‘being that it’s hard for you, since you’re Touristies and that,’ . He advises us to take a fifth off the euro price (he’s not quite up-to-date) and we’ll know what it is in pounds. ‘So if it’s five euros, you take a fifth off and you get...’ some time passes here, ‘well, call it about four pounds!’ he announces triumphantly. Warming to his theme, he gives us an example. ‘Say you have an apple tart (‘eppel teyrt’), that’s four fecking euros, so just take a fifth off and there you have it!’

Oh well, it least it explains the stampede for the eppel teyrt in Supervalu last night, when the price was reduced from four fecking euros to two.

To be continued... assuming BT plays nicely.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

First there is a mountain.


I once worked in a busy research department where I was very fortunate to be partnered with a lovely colleague, Maureen. Whereas I’m not blessed with huge reserves of patience and can get a bit ratty at times of stress, Maureen rarely lost her Zen-like state of calm.

‘First there is a mountain...’ she would say, when I was tearing my hair out, earning herself a look of sheer exasperation. What the heck did an old hippie song about a mountain that came and went have to do with my problems? Eventually, I grasped that the words weren’t about getting lost whilst hiking, but about the path to enlightenment. Or Path to Enlightenment if you’re that way inclined. I’ve heard Maureen’s voice many times this year which has felt like a constant uphill struggle and it’s reminded me to try to deal with the challenges as they really are, not as insurmountable peaks.

Renovating the house is driving me nuts; I hate the disruption and mess. But as we move from room to room using them in unaccustomed ways, I’ve got to know the place better and feel I truly live here. Seeing the flash of Bardsey lighthouse last night, and the blue hills of the Llŷn Peninsula reaching into the sea whilst we ate dinner in a different room made up for the break in routine.

One of my personal mountains this year has been a niggling health problem which has stopped me running. If I let nature take its course, I’ll be fine, so when I’m straining to get out and just burn up my frustration, I have to remind myself that there could be serious consequences if I do. It’s a valuable lesson in patience!

Work too, hasn’t been all plain sailing. After a real Second Book Battle, (first, there is a mountain) I delivered my novel in May, but with a couple of slight misgivings that I tried to ignore. Well, I’ve just received the report and now I see (then there is no mountain) that I’ve let a couple of subplots run wild, almost pushing the main characters off stage! Now it’s down to the business of putting things right (seeing the mountain with fresh eyes!).

And just as I was hoping that Ma was on the mend, she was in the wars again this week when a dustcart mounted the pavement, clipped her injured arm sending it flying upwards and caused her to punch herself in the face. My sister’s on the case with this one and we’re just relieved that Ma’s escaped with shock and bruising when it could have been so much worse. On a happier family note, we also caught up with Stepson One and his new bride and Lily and her fiancé, Russ. A wedding and wedding to come. Mountains, no mountains; life goes on.

Painting is 'High Preseli Mist' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Who lives...


... in a house like this?


Just before we moved into our new home, and after we’d signed contracts, I was given the happy news that the previous owner’s late husband had been spotted about the property. Not quite what I wanted to hear, despite being something of a sceptic, so when we moved in I visited each room inviting all previous occupants to leave. The mice didn’t hear me, but I’ve never been troubled by any ghostly presence, just a sense of sadness about the house which is disappearing as we make the place our own. One of the ways we’ve made our mark is by taking out the rather solid stone features either side of the fireplace, only to find that someone else has already left their mark on the wall!

Porky Pig, apparently.




Wednesday, 17 August 2011

From a Corner of the Spare Room


I’m sure there must be some equation about how the rate of progress on a house renovation reduces the amount of space available to its inhabitants. Clearly, those folks who go off and live in a caravan in their garden know this, but it’s come as something as a surprise to me, but then maths was never my strong subject.
The fitting of new ceilings has turned the ground floor into a building site and our utility room has become a makeshift kitchen, soon to be kitchen/bathroom. It’s a bit like living on the boat again but with running water. Famous last words.

For now, I’ve gathered up my essentials, found a couple of wooden blocks my dad ingeniously made to raise his bed when he was terminally-ill (although a carpenter, he said he drew the line at making his own coffin) to make my keyboard vaguely ergonomically sound and retreated to a corner of the spare room. However, with downstairs lighting due to be fitted at any moment, I have a feeling that the house renovation equation is about to make its presence felt once again.



Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Hill of Beans


To misquote the world-weary Rick Blaine, in one of my favourite films, Casablanca, my small concerns about renovating the house or waiting for the verdict on Book 2, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. In the main, this blog does what it says on the tin; it’s about living and writing in west Wales. Over the last few weeks, however, it’s almost impossible not to comment on the craziness in the wider world. Not to wonder about the wisdom of hounding experienced police officers from their posts over phone-hacking, or the constant criticism of police tactics as too forceful one minute, too weak the next.

And before we point the finger at every young person and talk about the bad, we should also remember the good. My daughter, Rose, started volunteering at school and still donates an evening a week, working with a charity which provides emotional and practical support to families who have a child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. Stepson Two’s Gorgeous Girlfriend is jointly running a campaign to get more people to sign the organ donor register. Sign Up, Speak Up, Save Lives is one of the projects featured on Battlefront, an award-winning Channel 4 online, on TV project that follows young campaigners trying to change the world. Just two of the good news stories that are easily missed.

And finally, and on an entirely frothy note. It fell to me to nominate the Wednesday Hottie on Choc Lit Author’s Corner today, a task that was made much easier by the lovely Kim the Book Worm and her very kind review of Turning the Tide.

Epainting is 'Study View' by Tom Tomos, and features the view from my desk


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Let Them Eat Cake. And Onions.

The rewiring and replumbing works at Hotel H have had an expensive domino effect on the rest of the house. There’s a gaping wound in what was the kitchen where the old boiler was ripped out. New pipes and cables sit behind what have become free-standing kitchen units. Artex ceilings, in the style of a sludgy snow scene complete with swirls round the ceiling roses suggestive of sledge tracks, have had to be replaced for practical as well as aesthetic reasons. The bathroom – always an eyesore – started moulting tiles in its haste to be reborn, and the carpets – never the house’s strongest selling point – have been buried under Pompeii-alike layers of dust and plaster. ‘It will be lovely,’ we say, through gritted teeth, scouring the internet for bathroom and kitchen bargains. But, gosh, it’s quite scary punching in the pin code for yet another payment with cries of, ‘Well, we’ve gone this far...!’


Our workmen have been terrific; arriving at the Crack of Doom and working like demons on a diet of bacon sarnies, chocolate and an impressive amount of cake. Once they’ve finished the ceilings and downstairs lighting (ever tried taking out your contact lenses in the gloaming of a couple of Poundland LED press-on lights?) it’s down to me and Tom to do the rest of the work. Gulp.

Still, we can always escape to the beach and even in the height of the holiday season, we rarely see anyone else when we go for our morning swim. The garden’s coming on nicely too. Just as well, since we’ll probably have to live on our vegetable patch for the rest of our lives. Here’s a few photos to show what’s going on.





The epainting’s by Tom, ‘Swim at Penbryn’.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Blue Notes, Green Fuse

Tom created this epainting sitting in bed the other morning, looking down at the blue pool of hydrangeas beneath our window. In March, when we moved in, there were no clues about colour in the withered husks of last year’s flower-heads. Now, in a few short months, here they are in full bloom, purple from a distance but blue as you draw close.

Looking at these flowers, I’ve often been reminded of lines from D H Lawrence’s ‘Bavarian Gentians’ written when Lawrence was so aware of his own mortality. The ‘darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness’. A poem suffused with beauty and sadness. There’s been too much sadness in the news this week, too many young lives curtailed. Locally too, the community is coming to terms with the death of a fifteen year old boy struck by a car when concerns about an unexploded WW2 shell diverted school children from their usual routes home and onto a main road. It’s all the lost potential that makes me despair.

This week, a hard-to-find John Martyn album I’d ordered to replace my worn-out vinyl copy finally arrived. Coincidentally, Chris Nickson’s biography of John Martyn, Solid Air, also became available this week. It’s a beautifully-written, lucid account of the man and the musician – not always, as Nickson reminds us, a comfortable mix. I love John Martyn for those achingly sublime moments, but there are plenty of tracks which fall short when the man sometimes got the better of the musician. John Martyn may have only been sixty when he died, but reading this biography made me keenly aware of how very young he was, just seventeen, when his professional career began and how much music he packed into his life. And whilst I’m on the subject of lost artists, there’s a wonderful tribute to Lucian Freud by Frances at her blog City Views, Country Dreams. Do have a look, especially if you think Freud was only about acres of flesh, and see his beautiful drawings.

On a happier note, the other poem that often comes to mind when I’m walking round the garden or feeling exhilarated after a swim in the sea is Dylan Thomas’s ‘The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’. Life goes on. This weekend, oblivious to lives being taken or changed, we had a wonderful time catching up with my daughter, Rose, and her partner Si. We walked and swam and simply enjoyed being together in glorious weather. Ma’s feeling rejuvenated too, after her brush with serious injury in December. Yesterday, she phoned to tell me that she’d booked herself up on ‘a computer course for wrinklies’ since she’s itching to buy herself a laptop. And finally, Stepson One and his fiancée, Gill, fly off to Grenada tomorrow to get married. Here’s wishing them every happiness on their wedding day and for their lives together.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Congratulations to Liz Fielding

I’ve dragged myself up at Crack of Doom for the electrician, my unwashed hair’s been piled up into a bun and the plug could be pulled on the power at any moment, but despite all this I’m at a party!

I’m over at my Welsh neighbour’s (well, we’re in next-door counties), award-winning romance writer, Liz Fielding. Liz and I are members of the Carmarthen Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and were also flatmates at the recent RNA Summer Conference. Not only has Liz been very generous in her support to me as a newly-published writer, but I can tell you that she’s very generous with yummy biscuits too!

Liz is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of signing her first contract for Mills and Boon for her novel, An Image of You and she’s just completed her – gulp! - sixtieth book for them, Flirting with Italian, which is out in December. How’s that for hard work and discipline?

I’ve just finished reading her latest book, Tempted by Trouble featuring the delectable Sean McElroy who turns up in heroine Elle Amery’s life bearing a pink-and-white ice cream van. Well, an introduction like that would impress me, but you’ll have to read the book to see if Elle’s so easily won over! In the meantime, do pop over to Liz’s celebrations and raise a glass to her. Congratulations Liz!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Of Mice, Romantic Novelists, Gok and a Cabbage

It’s 7a.m. on Day One of the home improvements at Hotel H and there is a cry of disbelief from upstairs. The electrician has opened the first of the old sockets – in our bedroom – to discover two dead mice curled up behind it. Downstairs, the heating engineer is flushing out the radiators and declares it to be his Filthiest Ever Flush. Nice.

Having only returned from the Romantic Novelists’ Association Summer Conference the previous evening, it’s all a bit of a rude awakening. Rather than doing something about all the writing ideas vying for attention after some very inspiring conference sessions, I’m dodging bits of ceiling – ‘You are replacing these, aren’t you?’ - choking on dust and supplying lashings of ginger beer, the workmen’s tipple of choice.

I have to admit that I wasn’t especially looking forwards to the RNA Conference, too afraid, I suppose, of being a Lonely Baloney*. In the event, I don’t know what I was worried about as I was met with warmth and kindness and some really lovely comments about Turning the Tide. Here’s a selection of Choc Lit authors before the Gala Dinner.


At Hotel H, it’s time to bale out and leave the workmen to it. Tom and I head south and catch up with a whole swathe of friends and family. Stepson Two’s Gorgeous Girlfriend has been very busy promoting her campaign, Sign up, Speak up, Save Lives for Channel 4’s Battlefront. Here she is in all her gorgeosity with – gulp – Gok Wan!

Home again, it’s evident that work is still ‘in progress’. The disruption’s a little dispiriting, but we cheer ourselves up by cutting our first cabbage and here it is. What a big ‘un!


*Family slang. Billy No-Mates.