Saturday, 14 November 2020

 How Did That Happen?

I checked my fridge today and discovered that I have an almost unused jar of Dijon mustard. When did I buy that? For what? I really can't remember. I had some hotdogs for lunch and applied a very thin coating of the Dijon mustard, because this stuff is hot or is spicy the right word? Anyway, it tasted good. I must have bought it for a very specific recipe as I'm not a mustard person, more a fan of mayonnaise which goes with everything, right?

Anyway, it reminded me of the need to de-clutter cupboards and the fridge and check the "best by" dates on everything. It's amazing what you turn up. In my spices and herbs section, I found a little jar of mixed herbs which was nearly 2 years out of date. Yike! But then, I thought dried herbs lasted forever.

De-cluttering is important to our personal lives, too, though. Like the Dijon mustard, there are things I think I like, or that I liked in the past, and now I'm not so sure. 

I'll be doing a big clean before I put up my Advent decorations at the end of the month. Now that's a tradition for me and one I am not going to change. 

Speaking of Christmas, I have a lot of fun writing my Christmas romance novels. Here is the latest one, available as Kindle ebook and paperback. Here's the link if you want to have a look: Christmas Romance at Windfall lodge


Monday, 31 August 2020

Who will write our story?

 I am currently reading SHADOWS ON MY HEART, the Civil War diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck of Virginia. It starts Christmas 1861 when the war was almost a year old. Lucy is 18, lives at Bel Air, an estate which has eight slaves (although she does not mention them in her diaries). There are 13 children in the family. Lucy educates the younger ones at home, her two eldest brothers go off to fight for the Southern states. Lucy is not a particularly gifted diarist but she does give us an idea of life at that time. 

Several things struck me as I started to read this book. In our current culture of hardly ever writing letters, how will anyone know how we lived 200 years from now? Yes, we have podcasts and blogs and Instagram and FaceBook, but do they give an intimate view of how we lived and felt in the year 2020? In another 200 years will we be able to reproduce podcasts, etc.?  Technology is changing - I don't say advancing because quite frankly a lot of the tweaks and updates are unnecessary in my opinion - so that we can have no idea how social media, books, phones, etc are going to operate. It bears thinking about.

I recently read somewhere that there is a current debate about prescribing reading lists for some literature courses and there is talk of not making it mandatory to read novels. Novels tell us as much about the current way we live as almost anything else and are far more entertaining than dry history records. One of the things I enjoy about Jane Austen's works, for example, is the glimpse it gives of how Jane and her contemporaries lived and thought. I also enjoy her use of expressions the meanings of which have changed over the years "nice" and "repulsive" being two of my favourites. No more Shakespeare? When I was at school we did As You Like It and for the final exam, Hamlet. In the interim we read Julius Caesar. I can't say I have ever felt that this was a waste of time. 

Letter writing is a dying if not a dead art. There is nothing more entertaining than getting a long letter from a friend or family member filling us in on what they have been doing. They were a life blood when I lived abroad.  At school we read some of the best essays (some of which I found boring, Ruskin, for example, and Edmund Burke except for his description of Marie Antoinette) but some of which are relevant to this day. Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son springs to mind, also Robert Louis Stevenson's cheerful style and Charles Lamb, especially on his two ages of man : those who borrow and those who lend. What a wealth of beautiful English phrases lies in these anthologies. 

I won't go in to poetry, although I loved it at school and still read some favourite poems over and over. Want to know which ones? Well, there is the mysterious The Listeners by Walter de la Mare with the "silence surged softly backwards when the plunging hooves were gone". Beautiful. And Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. But I won't bore you - just have a look at the writings of both these poets some time.

Even the humble full stop has been attacked and the idea circulated that we don't need it when we write. Grammar has always been a sticky subject. Where do you put the comma? What's a semi-colon for, anyway? It's not that hard. You put a comma where you'd pause for breath or emphasis and you stick a full stop where you want to finish that sentence. Why worry about it? In my opinion, (note the comma) people are intelligent and know what they want to say, lack of practice makes them shy of writing it sometimes and this shouldn't happen.

We have already lost a great deal by our reliance on smartphones and laptops and all things electronic. I know that my writing and spelling has suffered simply because the computer can do it all so much quicker and easier. But let's keep reading books, book in paperback and hardback, books to keep on your bookshelf, by your bed, on the coffee table: but books to be read, to be picked up and glanced through or snuggled up with. Books, simply.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Saying goodbye to your characters

 I have completed my last edit of my Christmas novel CHRISTMAS ROMANCE AT WINDFALL LODGE which I have written under my "Romance Writer" name Peggy O'Mahony.  It is time to say goodbye to these characters that I have been involved with since I started some months ago. I always get attached to them, their hopes and dreams and romances.

There are novels which I read over and over again - all of Jane Austen's with the exception of Northanger Abbey, for instance, just for the sheer pleasure of meeting those characters again, even if I know the story and the dialogue by heart!

I have just finished Ali Knight's novel BEFORE I FIND YOU.  A whirlwind story - I need something lighter for my next read so have picked EXCITING TIMES by Naoise Dolan. I have to read something. However, gone are the days when I ploughed through an indifferent novel just because books were "special" and you didn't discard them lightly. With so many talented writers out there, I feel it is a waste of time to read just for the sake of it.

But I digress. What makes a character - in anyone's novel - likeable? Hard to say, isn't it? They have to resonate with you in some way, even if they are not "good". The people in my novels just show up in my head when I am working on the plot. In my last Christmas novel, one character was not planned at all - see if you can guess which one - she insisted in insinuating herself into the story!

CHRISTMAS ROMANCE AT WINDFALL LODGE will be available from Amazon in October. Here is a preview of the cover. I hope you'll like the story.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Five Things I Learned in Lockdown

Lockdown made us all pause for thought. Here are five things I learned:

  1. Being over 65 means I am a vulnerable person, no matter how fit I think I am. I have to stop thinking I am invincible. I allowed myself to be helped.
  2. I do not need to buy summer tops. I have more than enough. In fact, I have so many that I made a parcel out of the ones I hardly ever wear and donated them. 
  3. I do not need to know the time. My watch gave up during lockdown. Only then did I realise how often I checked to see what the time was. I think I picked up this habit when I was working - have to get this finished before that meeting, musn't be late, make sure I'm on time to meet up for lunch/coffee with colleagues. Fact: I do not have to go anywhere.
  4. Zoom is never going to be a satisfactory substitute for sitting and talking face to face. I will hug my family more when we can all do this safely.
  5. There is nothing like having lunch out in a nice restaurant with a friend.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Know Your Tribe

I've heard the expression "your tribe" very often but have never really looked at it in relation to myself. There are so many modern and trendy expressions which disappear after they have been used or over-used.
Find your tribe we are told. What? Doesn't that just mean, know who your friends are? And who are your friends? Friends are people who are there for you in tough times, when you're in a bad place, when you've made a horse's rear end of yourself and can't laugh about it. They know you are more than the mistakes you made, the lousy relationship you're in or the super success of that promotion you got. They know you.
So if that's what finding your tribe means, it's not so mysterious or complicated. Everyone has loads of acquaintances, people they meet for dinner, for coffee, for a trip to the theatre. People they chat to when collecting the kids from school or sport, people who gossip with you at the water cooler. They are not your friends, although they could be if you got to know them better, if you wanted to get to know them better.
Have you been betrayed by people you thought were friends? I know I have, quite a few times. I discovered that someone who I thought was a close friend was going around bad-mouthing me to a neighbour - that neighbour was always so helpful that I was shocked to find out about it - so this was a double-whammy: a supposed friend and a nice neighbour who in fact couldn't say a nice word about me when they got together. I discovered it by accident because my nice neighbour couldn't resist starting to criticize my supposed good friend and when I objected she said "you should hear what she says about you" and she proceeded to tell me, making me realize that she had happily joined in!  I suppose, looking back with the clarity of hindsight, that both these women were unhappy about something in their own lives and they needed to point the finger at someone to take away their own hurt.
So, find your tribe. Be careful who you put your trust in, though. What did that song by the Eurhythmics "Sweet Dreams" say:  "some people want to use you"?
I firmly believe that most people are genuine, kind people. And I've knocked around in this old world long enough to come to that realization. Do I have a lot of close friends? No, I don't. I think that if you go through life and you end up with two people who you can speak every thought as it arises, who will tell you what they think but who won't judge you, you have hit the jackpot in the lottery of life.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Favourite Childhood Reads

My brother and I were reminiscing about our childhood books and films the other day. We loved the Bobbsey Twins and we even built a dam on a little stream near the house after reading one of their adventures. And there was Pocomoto, of course, and the boys from the T-Bar-T (I think that was the name) who I envied because they had their own horses to ride. I remember crying over Lassie Come Home and The Call of the Wild.

When I started secondary school, I read some of the Chalet School books, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and other lesser known novels such as Jill's Gymkhana and Fiander's Horses. Fiander's Horses gave me a lot of insight into the racing world and working in a racing stables. I love horses (I love all animals) and if I ever got rich (which I never will) I would love to own a racehorse.

I remember that the owner of the local news agent once told me that I "liked boys' books" because I bought Westerns, which I think she thought odd. I read The Oxbow Incident without perhaps really understanding all the nuances of this story. Zane Grey has always been a favourite, in particular Under the Tonto Rim, a book which reminded me and still reminds me of my childhood. Many years ago, when I lived in Germany, I wanted to read this novel again but it was only available in German which would not have the same effect, I felt. I wrote to the Zane Grey people in the U.S. (pre-internet!!) and asked if I could purchase a copy direct from them. They very kindly sent me a free copy - unfortunately I have lost the very gracious letter that accompanied it - and I still have it as one of my prized possessions.

I hear a lot about people discovering reading during covid-19 quarantine. That has to be one of the good things to emerge from this crisis. My mother used to say that even if you only read a "penny dreadful" as those cheap magazines were called, you still learned something. There is nothing quite like settling down with a book written by a favourite author.
What am I reading right now? One False Move, a Harlan Coben thriller published in 1998 which I picked up in a local store.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Stormy Weather

I love the Spring colours along the river bank. Today is cold with the wind getting stronger. There is a storm forecast for later on. The tide is coming in fast, that water looks very dark and menacing, not the blue, sparkling stuff of yesterday. And yet, I love stormy weather best. I love to watch the white topped waves racing each other to the beach. And the seagulls letting themselves drift on the wind. What a feeling of freedom!
I took this picture a few weeks ago when the river bank had not yet let go of winter. Now when I walk along here, I can see the swallows darting about and if I'm lucky catch a glimpse of the stonechats.
Spring is definitely here with all the delights of long summer days ahead of us.