Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Swansea Market, Seasons Greetings

Our Christmas plans, for various reasons, have been kept to a minimum meaning a last-minute trip to do some shopping. Swansea, some fifty miles away, is our nearest large shopping centre, but we especially like the wonderful indoor market there.

We bought some lovely meat from the Gower Butcher...

The fresh fish is superb from any of the fishmongers...  

Anyone for cockles or laver bread?

And two good loaves from Jan Evan's Bakery - properly made bread with bite, substance and flavour...

This year’s had its difficult moments, but as we drove home through stormy weather I had plenty of time to reflect on how fortunate I am to have good food to eat, clean water to drink and a safe bed to sleep in. Wherever you are, however you’ll be spending the festive season, I wish you the same.

And finally...
Two writerly news items:
The result of the Coastal Romance Christmas Blog Hop has just been announced.  Congratulations to the winner, Lisa Wohlgamuth.
And, should you feel like treating yourself to some quiet reading time, a whole swathe of Choc Lit titles are currently on special offer across Amazon including Turning the Tide  for 98p or $.99 (not $99. as I mistyped earlier... not quite so bargainous!!).

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

A Christmas Treat

Here's a little something to help get you in the mood for Christmas.  My publishers, Choc Lit, are currently giving away twelve romantic stories for the festive season and today it's my turn with my beach hut inspired story, Present Perfect. Only another three stories to go, so get in quick!  Merry Christmas!

12 Christmas romances with discount codes for House of Dorchester Chocolates.
Simply email info@choc-lit.com with the subject heading XMAS TREAT! You can also add your Smartphone number and get a text each day telling you that your Xmas TREAT! has been sent - plus a link to read on line from your Smartphone. No ereader required.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

In a Flash

‘Yesterday,’ reads the email, ‘we came up with the idea of the Twelve Days of Choc Lit Christmas.’ Then follows an invitation to get involved by writing a 500 word ‘Chrismassy and romantic’ short story. ASAP.

This is what my dad would have called a ‘free’ job and, as a carpenter, he was never short of people offering him work without payment. Writers too, I’ve noticed, get a lot of free jobs which we tend to accept if there’s any chance at all of increasing our ‘discoverability’ (what a word). The fact is there are an awful lot of authors out there pushing an awful lot of books and a glance at my royalty statement, which also happens to come in this week, tells me I could do with increasing my discoverability quite a lot.

It’s fortunate then that the rewards of writing, for me, are to do with that alchemy of creating something out of nothing; locations that seem real to me, characters I live with during the writing process and who often remain with me afterwards. The sheer sense of satisfaction that comes when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. And the feeling when readers enjoy what I’ve written is pretty special too.

So, flash fiction – where to begin? I’m not a great believer in writing rules – those ‘always’ and ‘never’ lists seem to crush originality and stifle unique voices, but I do think stories, however short, should have a structure. I’m terribly drawn to fixing ‘broken’ people in my writing so my structure is to do with taking that poor broken character, helping them find ways to overcome their problems and, hopefully, leaving them in a much happier place.

I also begin with a strong visual image in my mind’s eye, like a ‘still’ from a film. For my Choc Lit story it began with a shabby beach hut – probably composted from my recent visit to East Anglia – but also linked to Little Spitmarsh, the sleepy seaside town that features in Turning the Tide and Follow a Star. In this case the beach hut was being buffeted by an icy winter wind which set the Christmas lights in the town swinging on their strings.  It was getting dark… and suddenly there was Tansy, bright as a spark in her enveloping orange coat, but sad, apprehensive and pondering on her problem. Then I got my first line; ‘You couldn’t exactly divide a beach hut in half, could you? ’

You can read on and find out what Tansy did next in my short Christmas romance, Present Perfect – and receive a free short story for every one of the twelve days of Christmas - by signing up here.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Coastal Romance Christmas Blog Hop

As a member of the Coastal Romance Facebook group, I’m taking part in our wonderful Christmas Blog Hop, organised by talented author, Annie Seaton. There are giveaways between now and Christmas Eve and a chance to win 26 great stories and a $100 Amazon gift voucher. But first this is what the coast means to me…

I’m far from being a natural sailor. I’ve sailed round half of Britain with my head in a bucket for the sake of a man who is never happier than when he’s surfing through molten glass waves with the wind filling the sails. I’m grateful for my creature comforts and that doesn’t mean a strip wash in a bucket or waiting for my teeth to stop chattering so I can pray for my freezing sleeping bag to warm up.
In calmer waters!

How strange then to discover that it’s only through being completely out of my element, sailing this beautiful and wild coast of West Wales, that I have felt most alive. The artifice is gone, the modern world recedes, the soft support systems stripped away; you come face-to-face with yourself. It’s long lonely passages at sea, nights at anchor, gently rocking under a sliver of a new moon which have brought me happiness and love, given me the space and peace to make clear decisions and enfolded me during the pain of bereavement.

Those memories also worked their way into my imagination and into my writing; Turning the Tide began when I ‘saw’ an image of a troubled young woman sitting by the water’s edge. Move Over Darling, my second contemporary novel, is influenced by the Welsh coast where I live and for Follow a Star, which will be published by Choc Lit next summer, I couldn’t resist returning to the fictional seaside town of Little Spitmarsh, the location of Turning the Tide. Here’s a bit about Follow a Star

Sometimes your heart’s the only navigator you need… 

May Starling’s had enough of her demanding career and even more demanding ex. Responding to a ‘crew-wanted’ ad, she follows her dreams of escape only to find herself at sea with red-haired Bill Blythe. 

Bill warns May that close-quartered living can create a boiling pot of emotions, but even May is surprised by the heat building up inside the vintage wooden boat. And when May and Bill tie up at Watling’s Boatyard in Little Spitmarsh, May’s determined to test her new-found feelings on dry land. 

But May’s dream of escaping her former life is in danger of being swept away when several unwelcome blasts from the past follow her ashore, all seemingly hell-bent on reminding her that it’s never that easy to clear the decks.

For your chance to win a bonus prize of a copy of Move Over Darling simply leave a comment below saying who you’d like to be marooned at sea with and I’ll pick one lucky winner on Dec 8.

And you can enter the Coastal Romance Christmas Giveaway here























Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Paths, Tracks and a Hop

Stepson Two and I are spending the day in Oxford whilst Tom attends a study day at the Faculty of Music. We wander into the Bodleian Library where there’s a small but rather lovely exhibition celebrating 800 years of Oxford’s contribution to the art and science of medicine. I’m particularly moved by the original manuscripts there; Thomas Sydenham’s careful and caring observations of his patients (written in John Locke’s hand), Dorothy Hodgkin’s letter to her husband as she worked to unlock the structure of penicillin, and a host of neat notebooks which convey a vivid sense of immediacy despite the faded ink and yellowing paper. 

At the Ashmolean museum, I take myself to see ‘Flesh and Bone’ a stunning exhibition which bring together works by Henry Moore and - a personal favourite - Francis Bacon. I enjoy the Bacon paintings very much but leave feeling faintly covetous and wishing I could take Pope Innocent X 1965 home with me.

There’s also plenty of time for Stepson Two and I to drink coffee, eat cake and catch up. It’s fair to say that neither Tom nor Stepson Two have done things in what is supposed to be the conventional order, which, I suspect is due to them both being very clever at whatever they turn their minds to. Stepson Two is now employed turning horrendously dry maths into beautiful, deceptively-simple apps, but some of you may remember when he had a record deal with a major label and an album which – thanks to the sudden upheaval in the music industry and a change of management - didn’t see the light of day. So here, for old times sake, is a glimpse of the path that might have been taken. And Stepson Two in a top hat...

At the weekend we’re joined for my birthday by Rose, Si, Lily and Russ. Two days later, it would have been my dad’s birthday too (Ma always joked I was her birthday present to him). Amidst the laughter, I can’t help but feel sad for all the growing number of people in the room Dad didn’t get to meet. But if he could have seen us, I think he would have approved. 

Knowing that it’s Dad’s birthday puts a spring in my step for my Sunday morning long run. All the bad health news this year made me decide that I’d feel much better running again – so I did and it’s great. I’ve entered the Llanelli Half Marathon in March 2014 and, thanks to Tom, I now have a neat little GPS watch that tells me all sorts of useful stuff like how far and fast I’ve run and how many calories I’ve used. Short of actually patting me on the back and saying ‘well done’ it’s a great way to stay on track

And finally, I’m participating in the Coastal Romance Writers Christmas Blog Hop. Do come back on Friday for details of how you could win a $100 gift card and 26 books!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Friends and a Farewell

Your blog,’ admonishes my dear friend, Julia, gently, ‘is appearing far less frequently. I settle down for a bit of ‘Chris Time’ and you’re not there!’. It feels a bit limp to say I’ve been busy when everyone’s busy now. A glance round the table at The Thursday Girls - my lovely friends of twenty-eight years - gives a snapshot of what we’ve been juggling between us; family illness, ageing parents, grown-up children, separations, reconciliations, bereavements, a house move, a house renovation, job applications, careers, new relationships, new babies, weddings and every emotion from the depths of despair to utter joy. 

Today though, the five of us are making the most of this rare opportunity to get together. After a lunch filled with laughter, Ann suggests a walk in the bright sunshine. The bright perishing-cold sunshine, as it turns out, in a truly bitter wind along a path which is suddenly crowded with hulking great schoolboys on a cross country run! Defeated by the savage temperature and the pounding of enormous feet, we retreat inside for a quick cup of tea before returning to our normal duties. I say goodbye with an armful of presents, a head full of memories and a heart grateful for the presence of these women in my life.

I’ve been in London attending a Romantic Novelists’ Association committee meeting followed by the Winter Party. To be honest, I used to feel daunted by RNA parties, but these days I realise that my fears of being a wallflower are groundless as someone is always happy to chat. On this occasion I was delighted to meet on-line friends for the first time, like new Choc Lit author Kathryn Freeman. It was lovely too, to catch up with friends who were so supportive on my journey to publication, writers Debbie White  and – for the first time after seven years of on-line friendship - Norma Murray.

Thinking about friendship has reminded me of Hong Kong and these three little maids from school one of whom drew the short straw of running up to ask very shyly but in perfect English whether Tom and I would take part in their survey. In return I asked permission to take their photo – isn’t it lovely? I wonder if they’ll still be friends in twenty-eight years’ time.

Another postscript from Hong Kong follows my trip to the fortune teller who having cast several sideways glances at Tom and checking three times to make sure he was really my husband, foretold that he would be a professor… well, perhaps that is written in the stars but this week Tom did get his exams results ... and, I’m very proud to say, gained his MA with Distinction!

And finally, to a friend who’s no longer with us, taken far, far too soon by cancer. This blog is dedicated to the memory of author Richard Masson. Richard and his wife, Margaret, and Tom and I met when we were taking shelter from gales and big seas at Ramsgate. Richard and Margaret were kind enough to admire our wooden yacht, but theirs, Hephzibah, was a real beauty. Richard and I were aspiring authors then, dreaming of being published. We both got there in the end, but I’m saddened that Richard didn’t have longer to enjoy his success. Thanks for all your support, Richard. May you rest in a peaceful harbour.

Our boat, Veryan, at Ramsgate

Friday, 1 November 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Shaking a Stick at Wong Tai Sin

After the studied serenity of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the drift of dark-robed nuns sliding silently to prayer, Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin Temple feels more like a grand bazaar with so many stalls selling aids to help prayers on their way. Bundles of incense sticks are best-sellers; clutched in hopeful hands, they send spirals of smoke up through spherical red and gold lanterns, past the terracotta flying eaves of the altar and towards the soaring white verticals of modern skyscrapers to touch the windows of everyday lives.
Before the altar, querents, me included, rattling our fortune sticks in bamboo tubes, seek answers from the oracle.  ‘You’re supposed to let one drop out,’ laughs Tom when embarrassment forces me to beat an early retreat. Ah. I decide to pick a stick myself instead. I mean, it’s not as if I believe in fortune-telling, I’m just curious to try something new.

But before rushing off to the soothsayer, we visit the Good Wish Garden where a notice expressly forbids the release of terrapins into the pond. No one seems to have told the terrapins though as there are plenty here already. Three of them skim the surface, blinking at a woman who crouches to croon at them. A baby one floats up close by, like a tiny green pork pie with a petit pois of a head, before submerging in the shadow cast as I lift my camera.

Pick a stick - but mind the floor!

‘English Spoken’ says the sign at one of the booths where the palm readers wait to interpret Wong Tai Sin’s predictions.  This, however, is not immediately apparent when the fortune teller and I try to communicate.  My luck improves with the return of her husband who has good English and a very kind face.
‘Three hundred dollars,’ he smiles.
Hmm. Tom and I only have two hundred between us.
‘Two hundred dollars,’ he nods, taking my hand.  ‘What do you want to know?’
‘I’m a writer,’ I tell him, ‘how can I help my career.’
‘Never give up,’ he tells me.  
Hmm. Sixteen quid’s a lot to pay for being told the bleeding obvious.  He continues, probing my hand with something that looks like a knitting needle and with many a murmuring of ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’ and other promising pronouncements.  Taking my other hand, he squeezes a fold of skin and tells me I’ve had a ‘little contact lens’ problem.  My startled reaction amuses him; I’ve recently suffered a troublesome bout of contact lens conjunctivitis and thought I’d be doomed to wear my thick specs for this trip until it cleared up at the last minute.
The good news is he can see I've got a novel coming out next year.  Even better, it's going to be hugely successful.  The bad news is that my nose is far too small for me to hang on to any money.  ‘Easy come, easy go,’ he tells me, smiling.
‘Well, that’s two hundred dollars gone already,’ says Tom as we walk away.

A few more dollars go up in smoke.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Part Four

Strolling through the indoor market by our hotel, looking at the impressive displays of fruit and vegetables it’s clear that the people of Hong Kong like their food fresh. Very. Some of the smallest ingredients in the meat section and nearly all the fish are still alive. 

Walking past little faces staring out with doomed eyes is a disconcerting experience, but then I feel exactly the same way in this part of the world when I see sheep peering out from lorries on their way to slaughter.

We’re not stopping here though, just passing through on our way to the MTR station. Neither of us is a great shopper but since we’re in Hong Kong, we both have a small wish list of things we might like to buy; I’d like some perfume and Tom’s after a bike computer. Away from the side streets and markets, the lavish shopping malls reveal a completely different aspect of Hong Kong’s personality.
On the spotless trains, exquisite girls and sleek boys, straight out the pages of Vogue, are glossy with head-to-toe designer labels. 4G networks across the MTR keep everyone busy on their Samsung tablets or texting on their smart phones where the keys correspond to brushstrokes to form Chinese pictograms - there’s not a book in sight! 

In what feels like miles of jewellery shops, there’s a brisk trade in eye-wateringly expensive diamond rings and luxury watches. Cameras, handbags, designer clothes are everywhere in this busy modern city with its huge appetite for the new and costly, but not my perfume - which was introduced in 2000 and is now considered out-of-date – nor Tom’s modest bike computer!

The queue starts to form...
Giving up on our purchases, we decide to have another try at eating at Din Tai Fung, a Michelin-starred Taiwanese dim sum restaurant, actually part of a franchise, which Tripadvisor loves. 

The problem is that everyone in Hong Kong seems to love it too; on our first attempt we were beaten back by the queues, but this time, amazingly, we’re shown straight to a table. And, oh my goodness, is it worth the wait! The food is utterly sublime; the service is fantastic and the bill is less than most British takeaways. What a treat!

Outside the glass...
Success! Dumplings, crispy chilli chicken and hot and sour soup!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Part Three.

Saturday 19 October
We’re on our way by cable car to see the Big Buddha on Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau. Now that we’ve got our Octopus cards, there’s no stopping us! Gliding upwards in a glass- bottomed cabin, I can see Tung Chung Bay sparkling beneath my feet and the green slopes of the Lantau Country Park ahead.

It might be an obvious tourist attraction, but it’s a good one and reasonably priced too for the breath-taking sky trail which takes the best part of an hour for the return trip. I’m not especially bothered by heights, but can’t help bracing myself whenever the cabin enters a station to turn; the sensation of the ground rushing towards me is quite unsettling!

At the summit in Ngong Ping Village there are plenty of ways for tourists to spend money, but we’re going to climb the 240 steps to see the world’s tallest seated bronze statue of Buddha.  I’m not sure I feel especially enlightened, just hot after climbing all those steps, but both the statue and the views from the top are spectacular.

In the evening, we set off again to the harbour to see the nightly laser show which is a tad ‘meh’. Frankly you’d be better off soaking up the atmosphere of the night skyline from the ferry, but then I’m probably biased. The crowds mean queues for the most popular restaurants so we decide to head back to somewhere closer to our hotel. Unfortunately we take a long detour in the wrong direction and are both pretty weary by the time it comes to choosing somewhere to eat. Not perhaps the best starting place. ‘This’ll do!’ we agree, picking the least scary Chinese restaurant which, we realise once inside, is, um, quite basic. 

I’m not quite sure if we’re the novelty act or simply ripe for the plucking, but we’re ushered to a table and an illustrated menu with English subtitles is waved only briefly under our noses because the waitress has her own recommendations. ‘Good’ she says, stabbing her finger at a photo of something that looks like crispy duck. Coincidentally it also happens to be the most expensive item on the menu. Okay, the subtitle also claims that it’s goose, but, what the heck, I’m tired. Crispy duck, crispy goose? Whatever. We also order some rice, some green beans and then Tom, for some crazy reason best known to himself, orders a noodle dish too. And a couple of beers.

Oh my goodness, how I need those beers! The goose arrives along with a couple of interested staff to tell us how ‘good!’ it is and watch us take our first mouthfuls. I’ve no doubt they regard it as delicious, but I nearly faint clean away at the sight of lavish pillows of white fat peeping out from tanned leathery skin anointed in grease like an ancient sunbather. I aim for something that looks a bit meatier only to find myself chewing on some grisly piece of what, I don’t know. The noodles turn up quivering with something gelatinous and I want to cry but have to put on a brave face for the sake of the staff who are so keen for us to enjoy our meal. I’ve never been so relieved to see a plate of green beans in my life – thanks to that, and the rice I can avoid bursting into tears and insulting everyone. ‘Next time,’ says Tom, who has gamely chewed his way through a goose, a plate of alien noodles and a fair share of rice, ‘we won’t rush when we’re looking for a restaurant.’

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Part Two.

Friday 18 October
Why not today?’ asks the concierge smiling patiently. ‘Much better you buy now.’ The debate is about when to buy an Octopus card, the smart card which covers fares on Hong Kong’s mass transit system and a whole host of other purchases besides. ‘But we like walking!’ we insist, ‘we’ll explore on foot today and buy a card tomorrow.’

Confident that we’ll prove that we’re made of sterner stuff than your average tourist, we step out into a beautiful, balmy day. Of course, the concierge knows best. Within a few blocks we’re wilting; the heat creeps up on you here, turning to a pleasant walk into a bit of a trek. Overcoming any slight apprehensions about trying something new, we head for the cool sanctuary of the nearest MTR station and after a quick, easy transaction we have our very own Octopus cards and are ready to go.

Conquering the MTR
We soon discover that this cheap, fast, efficient transport system is the key to our successful holiday. It’s the pulse that keeps the life blood of Hong Kong flowing and means we can travel anywhere we like for a couple of dollars. 

Something else that makes discovering the city a delight is the friendliness of its people who genuinely do everything to make you feel welcome. Pulling out a map here is not seen as an invitation for some freak to come up and offer to lick your shoes or sell you drugs, but for a polite, concerned, ‘Sir, madam – you appear to be lost. May I offer my assistance?’

At Kowloon Park we take time out to sit and enjoy an oasis of tranquillity amongst the hustle and bustle of the big city. There are fountains, fluting birds hiding in the trees, exotic butterflies drinking from hibiscus and when a group of adorable tiny school children pass us, I can’t resist taking out my camera. 
One of the teachers spots me, but instead of getting me thrown out the park, she has a word with her small pupils who wave and chorus, ‘hello’ and ‘bye bye’ to us making us feel like honoured visitors.

What I’ve really been keen to do though is travel across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry and, oh, when we do I love everything about it. From the green and white livery of the ferries, the old-fashioned sailor suits worn by the staff and the star patterns punched in the wooden seats, it’s the most fabulous, romantic way to see the waterfront. 

 Later in the week, we’ll take the Star Ferry across an inky-blue harbour under a full moon, an image that will always stay with me. The skyline is vibrant with electronic displays and on one of the soaring commercial buildings, I watch mesmerised as a series of white lights resolve themselves into falling leaves, leaping deer and finally spell ‘hope’. 

We need to work on our 'selfies'!

Monday, 28 October 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Part One.

The view from our room on the 21st floor. 
Thursday 17 October
While I’ve been sleeping, darkness has given way to a milky light. Some forty thousand feet or so below me, mile upon mile of snow-covered peaks rise up like islands through a sea of clouds. Siberia, I realise with a thrill. In a year filled with potent reminders about the brevity of life, Tom’s decided to make one of my long-held dreams of visiting the Far East come true by surprising me with this holiday. So let’s gloss over my initial reaction which, because I’m always worried about money, was as cold as those mountain tops and skip to the present as the plane prepares to land. The South China Sea is spread beneath the wings and I realise that after years of dreaming about it that very shortly I’ll be in Hong Kong.

Success! Our bags have arrived and we’ve been given a free map of the city. Now all we have to do is locate the minibus to the hotel. We’re mysteriously sporting stickers emblazoned with a large orange ‘k’ issued by a desk clerk who has pointed us in the direction of a seating area and told us to wait. For what, we’re not sure. Presently a small man in a blue and gold waistcoat bows neatly in front of us, tells us to follow him then takes off across the airport at a cracking pace. At an entirely random spot he stops abruptly, points at a petite young woman also wearing a blue and gold waistcoat and instructs us to ‘now follow her!’. ‘Follow me!’ she adds for good measure before haring off into the distance. Eventually, after a failed attempt to board the wrong bus and getting ticked off for it, we’re on our way. 

Hong Kong airport is situated on reclaimed land some twenty-five minutes’ drive from our hotel in Mong Kok. As we draw closer to our destination, the endless skyscrapers give a snapshot of how some eight million people crowded into such a small area are accommodated. I’m particularly struck by lines of laundry hanging from every window – and later, walking around, I also learn to avoid the drips from them! 

There’s a particular smell here too, a bit like the first smell of land when you’ve been offshore in a small boat, a musky, musty, slightly spicy scent with a hint of sewer which soon permeates our clothes and infuses every taste of food. 

We check in at our hotel, shower and head off to explore the immediate vicinity. The temperature’s lovely, t- shirt weather, and, to my relief - since I’m always slightly wary in unfamiliar territory in case I inadvertently offend some local custom - everyone’s too busy minding their own business to worry in the slightest about us. The local restaurants are, however, bafflingly Chinese and some of the street food looks a little too heavy in beaks, feet and heads for my taste so we take the easy option, eat in the hotel restaurant and wonder what the next day will bring…

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

When Fiction Becomes Fact

Matthew took one more look at the neat, black-stained, weatherboard buildings along the bank. ‘Just out of interest, who owns the boat yard?’
It’s always strange when a topic I’ve been writing about suddenly pops up in the news or is reflected by real life. Have I picked up something in the ether or is it coincidence? It’s even stranger though to discover incidents which have shaped my imaginary landscapes taking place in their physical counterparts.

The heroine of my novel, Turning the Tide, Harry Watling runs a boatyard which is not based on any one place in particular but owes a debt to the sleepy backwater on the east coast where we bought our first boat. It’s a proper ‘boaty’ boatyard with a gentle bustle of activity which is all about enjoying being out on the water rather than showing off.

In my novel, Harry wants to preserve and protect her business without selling out, but her problems begin when a property developer buys the old yacht club across the water and turns it into a vast modern restaurant. It was a bit of surprise to see that not only had a number of the old sheds been spruced up as I’d imagined them in my story, but also that a striking new building was rising up in the boatyard that inspired me!

Another theme in Turning the Tide is about reinvigorating lovely old faded seaside towns whilst preserving all that’s unique about them. The town behind the real life boatyard remains charmingly salty and brimming with character. I particularly enjoyed sitting on the sea front with Tom and Ma and hearing a woman chastising her two dogs as if they were naughty children. ‘Just give Teddy the ball, will you, Rupert!’ she shouted and I half-expected to see my characters Frankie and Trevor following along with their troublesome Jack Russell terriers, Phil and Kirstie.

In Aldeburgh, further along the coast, we went in search of Maggie Hambling’s shell sculpture where some of the residents are still less than delighted to see this monument to the composer Benjamin Britten. ‘The beach is beautiful without it,’ one café owner told us, ‘it doesn’t need adornment.’ A controversial artwork dividing local opinion is one of the threads running through my novel, Move Over Darling, but it’s no coincidence that I’m mentioning it here this week. Choc Lit are currently running a Goodreads giveaway for the book and you can enter to win one of three free copies here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Autumn Break, Last Part: Walking the Past

‘I don’t know how you managed to find your way around,’ says Ma, ‘I would have been lost!’. We’re at my old university, UEA, making our way up from the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts through the campus, retracing a little of my past. I seem to remember my eighteen-year-old self was quite baffled by the concrete maze I found myself in too! First year students were accommodated at Fifers Lane, a former barracks at RAF Horsham St Faith, a bus ride away from the main camp. A mist, shrouding the place for most of my first week, only added to the sense of isolation, as did the trek to the nearest payphone to ring home. My worldly goods fitted in one small trunk and cooking and laundry (also involving a long and often rainy trek) were more logistical nightmares to overcome.

UEA’s celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and although my memories feel as they belong to another life-time, it isn’t actually fifty years since I enrolled there! Even so there are changes; accommodation blocks have come and gone - though not the iconic ziggurats of Norfolk and Suffolk Terrace - and the brutal concrete is softened now by climbing plants and tall trees. It’s not just the exterior of the buildings that are looking greener either; it makes me smile to see a house-plant sale doing a roaring trade. Not quite what I would have imagined in my day!

Power to the pot plant!

Our East Anglia adventures conclude with a crab sandwich in Cromer and a slow drive back through Cambridge, stopping off to visit Stepson Two's former college, Fitzwilliam.  The weather's been kind to us all week; we've barely seen a drop of rain and - even better - very little blood!

Proving that Ma survived more or less unscathed.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Autumn Break. Part Two: Boats and Backwaters

Ma considers the charms of sailing
‘You’re not going to buy another boat, are you?’ asks Ma, stunned. Like Pondside and Frances, she vividly recalls the problems of the naughty Pig Boat, but for me and Tom (who needs no encouragement) distance lends considerable enchantment to our view of sailing. Oh, I know I was sick half way round Britain on our lovely Veryan, but what about the amazing sights we saw? Steering by a star (Arcturus) though the Looe Channel, following a moonbeam into Salcombe, being surrounded by basking sharks yawning in a still sea off Penzance… just a few of the moments that will always stay with me.

Today we’ve come to look at a fat little boat which might be just right for some gentle pottering. Even better, she’s in the sleepy backwater where sailing all began for me and at the boatyard which worked its way into my imagination.

Across the backwaters

At Ramsgate on Veryan

Size-wise, we decide, the boat’s doable, with enough headroom to stand up and enough leg-room to stretch out, though she certainly needs some tlc. Leaving Tom to look at all the technical stuff, I re-join Ma who’s been sitting in the sun. ‘Do you know?’ she says, ‘I can see why you like all this, it’s so different.’ I’m delighted she agrees because it is different here, a world away from gleaming gin palaces and the marine equivalent of a car park. Boats, for us, have never been about Musto jackets or Kevlar sails, but seeing the world from another angle, of taking time out to sit and think. So if the right boat comes along at the right time, who knows?

We head off to find a peaceful picnic spot overlooking the sea where a more intrepid traveller passes us by... now this is one activity I'm definitely not trying!