Heading to Winter

While it is unseasonably warm, we are steadily getting ready for winter. Geraniums are going into the greenhouse and bulbs being planted. Apples and pears have been stored away with the surplus sold in aid of our local foodbank. We have plenty of help with weeding and the heavier jobs. This year, we hope to finish the pond which we began digging last year, then abandoned after our labourer became ill. He’s back now, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The big news is that our building work will begin this weekend. The guest suite will become reality within the next three months. Apart from smartening up, the front will look the same but behind the false garage doors will be a large bedroom with ensuite and at the back, a kitchen /lounge/diner and private garden. I will show progress photos.

What has fallen by the wayside is writing. I need to believe I can get back to it. It’s always harder to begin again after a break. Sometimes you need to force yourself to sit down at the computer and just write. It may be rubbish and all get deleted but the juices beginning to flow again is what is required to kickstart the process to get back on track. Now I have done my tax return, there should be no more excuses.

I have read two books recently, both of which I enjoyed. Wild by Kristin Hannah is a real page turner about a six-year-old girl who appears suddenly from the woods and the struggle to find a relative but also to get through to her. She really is wild and traumatised. It’s a great read.

The other book was Pigs in Heaven by Brabara Kingsolver, one of my favourite authors. The wisdom of Solomon transferred to Oklahoma and Indian rights. I was enthralled by the book and how much I learnt. She is such an empathetic writer and an enthusiastic supporter of the Native American Culture.

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What I Mean is…

We returned a week ago from a relaxing week in Mallorca, our first trip abroad in almost three years. It was an experiment to see how my husband coped with flying and walking, after a summer of pain with drop foot.

No one can fault the hotel, the food, the service or the small holiday resort which has been built for ease of use and safety of pedestrians. The problem was us longing for some sign that we were actually in Spain, the real Spain, not the sanitised version. I knew beforehand what we were buying, sun, heat, a pool and all the food you can eat. It’s our fault for growing older and knowing that cobblestones were a no no, as were hills and rough tracks and sightseeing in small villages off the beaten track. Can I bear the thought of never being able to explore old towns and taking a drive, letting serendipity take over as we come across another hidden gem?

At least I got plenty of reading done. mostly enjoyable but unmemorable books. I tried another Elizabeth Strout, Oh William. My first attempt at reading this raved over author was unsuccessful. I couldn’t pet past her wholly unlikeable characters. I quite enjoyed Oh William, for its gentle insight into a first marriage where the couple stayed friends but knew each other’s flaws, but I got tired of Lucy’s double explanations followed by ”is what I mean” – the character’s voice which became an annoying verbal tic.

Wholly better, in my opinion, was Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny, same subject, same setting – a second marriage in New York, but this time with an autistic son. Written from the point of view of the husband, with a cool, precise ex-wife, and a garrulous, spontaneous and younger current wife, I found the writing thoroughly engaging, hugely comic and deeply sensitive. There’s no great plot, as there wasn’t for the Strout. They are both slices of life to be observed, one that became somewhat tiring, the other – ooh, what happens next?

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Autumn Reads

I belong to a Facebook Page called Global Girls Online Book Club and from that I find lots of new authors and book recommendations, so here are some of my favourite books this Autumn.

I have just finished The Keeper of Stories by Salle Page. A woman who thinks of herself as cleaner and collector of other people’s stories, married to a man who thinks of her as ‘just a cleaner’. I fell in love with Janice’s characters, from Decius, the fox terrier, to Adam a twelve-year-old boy who has lost his father to suicide, to Lady B, irascible, ninety plus years and a former spy and Euan, a bus driver who somehow reaches into Janice’s life as a real-life rescuer complete with bicycle as trusty steed. It’s a heart-warming book but with an edge. There are plenty of side characters too, all finely drawn. The author is an observer of people, of conversations and behaviour.

Next are two books by Amor Towles. Judging by both these books, he is a new favourite author. I would go out of my way to read anything by him.

First The Lincoln Highway. It’s an American road book, an adventure set in post-war America, it’s a modern Steinbeck. Again, the characters leap off the page. The main character, Emmett, is released from a young offenders’ institution, not aware that two of his mates have secreted themselves in the sheriff’s boot as he is driven home after the death of his father. Emmett, together with Woolly Martin and Duchess Hewitt and Emmett’s young brother set out on the search for Emmet’s mother and money owing to Woolly Martin. Emmett intended to drive west to California, but he is forestalled by the wily Duchess, a swindler out for revenge. This being the first book I have read by Amor Towles, I loved it and the story with its references to Ulysses and it’s Steinbeck setting. It was only the final chapter which left me unsure.

But then I read reviews which said that it wasn’t a patch on Gentleman in Moscow. Oh my, Gentleman in Moscow will live with me forever. In 1922, Count Rostov is spared death by the Revolutionary Tribunal and confined to The Metropol Hotel where he had a suite of rooms. He will leave it only on pain of death. His suite is denied him, instead he is shown a bare garret. Het can choose items from his belongings to sustain him through his life sentence in the hotel while observing the absurdities of the Soviet Regime from the grand dining room, where he eventually becomes head waiter. How can I describe this book? It’s humanity and love, its gentle comedic genius, it’s forbearance and making the best of one’s situation. It’s a masterpiece and I love that it uses descendants of characters found in War and Peace. It also has a very satisfying ending.

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Boston and Beyond

The Boston Book Festival was a blast. I wished we had been able to book for more authors, but we did hear the Reverend Richard Coles on the Saturday evening. What a great speaker, so funny, so empathetic, so interesting in whatever guise he finds himself from number one pop singer with the Communards, to priest and now detective book writer.

My session, the following morning was in this lovely building.

I was in the American Room – a room dedicated to the connection between Boston Lincolnshire and Boston Massachusetts, and opened by Joseph Kennedy, his first duty as Ambassador, way back last century. A small gathering for my event but I loved it, and the feedback was great. I also sold a good number of books.

We travelled from there to Lincoln for two nights in a wonderful apartment south of the city. Our first trip to Lincoln Castle was cancelled because of the Queen’s funeral. But on the second day, our Bomber Command Memorial outing lived up to expectations. It opened as I was writing Sadie’s Wars and would have been useful to visit then. However, I was more than delighted to find my second cousin’s name on one of the memorial boards. I dedicated the book to him and the other 50,000 volunteers in Bomber Command who sacrificed so much. Tony’s sister, now 96, was delighted when I sent her these photos.

On then to our childhood home, Cleethorpes. So many memories. It was a great place to grow up, however, it has seen hard times over the last years. The shopping area where I once worked as a Saturday girl in a supermarket, is particularly depressing. The pier where I once performed at the Dance Festival is now a fish and chip restaurant. At least I was able to donate my latest books to Cleethorpes Library.

After a flying visit to Yorkshire, we arrived home to find that planning permission has been granted to turn our garage and workshop into a guest suite for family and friends. We are not allowed to rent it out so our guests will have free accommodation, can pick fresh fruit and veg from our allotment and will be looking out onto an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What’s not to like?

This part will be the bedroom and shower room. Around the back will be the living and kitchen area. So now I have a question. I am veering away from putting in a full oven and toying with microwave, slow cooker and airfryer – would that bother you if you were staying in a self-catering place?

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Boston Book Festival

Barely a week to go until we travel north, first for the Boston Book Festival where I will be talking mainly about my Lincolnshire based novels and the stories that made it into the books. It will be so good to get back to speaking to an audience of book lovers again. My slot is on Sunay Sept 18th at 11.00 a.m.

We have booked tickets to hear the Reverend Richard Coles on the Saturday evening. That will be a great treat. I used to love his radio programmes – and I must try his new crime novel.

Then it’s off to Lincoln for a couple of nights. At long last we will be visiting Lincoln Castle. How come we never had a school trip there, or even a trip with the family? It took Professor Alice Roberts to tell me the amazing story of the castle in one of her TV programmes a couple of years ago. A trip to the Cathedral may also be on the cards.

Photo by Mike B on Pexels.com

The following day we will visit the Bomber Command Museum, somewhere I have wanted to visit for a while. I am sure it would have been useful when I was writing Sadie’s Wars.

Then back to my hometown of Cleethorpes for a couple of nights. We’ll walk along the prom, have fish and chips on the pier, revisit the courting places of our youth like the Boating Lake. I may drop into the library and offer them my latest books.

It will be many years since we have spent so much time in our native county. I wonder if it will spark some more stories.

I am getting to grips with our new air fryer. Today, I am dehydrating pears, later, for dessert, I am going to try baked peaches. Our glut of fruit is making me find lots of ways of using them up. When will I ever get time to write?

Tonight’s dinner, aubergines and mozzarella. Yes, we have an aubergine harvest.

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Norwich – Unesco City of Culture

I have been busy writing and added to my planning for my new book and worked out that I need to visit various places in Norwich, not too far away and a Caribbean Island, much further. That would be nice, of course. Very little of my plot takes place in the Caribbean but smell sounds, nature and food all add to the setting. It’s something to dream of.

I have visited Norwich twice this month, the first as explained in my last post and the second this week when I took my grandchildren to watch the new production of Les Misérables. Wow! What a fantastic production and the singing was just sublime. My eldest granddaughter loved it, they younger one enjoyed it too, I think.

Norwich still doesn’t feel like my city as yet. I first visited when I was seventeen and looking to be a student myself there. Leap ahead twenty-five years and my next visit was when my daughter became a student there in the 90s, I don’t know Norwich though. To really know a city, you have to work or live in it, I think. I need to walk the streets on my own, understand the lay-out, take stime to study the buildings, learn more about its history, sit in cafes and imbibe the atmosphere. An autumn project for me. I have a booklet, Walking Norwich, the real and the imagined city. In the preface, I learnt that Norwich was the first city to implement the 1850 Public Library Act and the first place in the country to offer an MA in Creative Writing. Norwich should become my city,

Photo by Kristupas Kemeu017ea on Pexels.com

This week, we had a bat survey done – not something I would ever have thought I would write two years ago. Luckily our bat survey was negative. Bats are great, of course, but not in a building we want to convert. We hope that is the last hurdle before planning permission is granted. We will hear this month.

This week, I have made Mirabelle plum jam, tomato kasoundi and my husband has made Mirabelle gin and is about to start peach gin. The apple and Conference pear harvest has yet to get underway but won’t be long. The potato harvest is half-done and all of this with a far better crop than last year.

I have bought an air fryer to save on electricity costs, but then I discovered that you can use it to dehydrate fruit and veg. Sun-dried tomatoes are first on my list. Wish me luck.

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An Interesting Week

The National Centre for Writing is not only a beautiful medieval building in Norwich but also has some amazing courses and meetings for writers. Rather bravely, my granddaughter agreed to attend one of their workshops for children aged 11-14 and gave me an excuse to visit when I dropped her off there. I am very proud of her. She has always loved writing, was the inspiration and driver for my children’s book and in her first year at secondary school came top in her year for English. Her first article is about to be published in our local parish magazine about her experience at the Women’s Euro Finals, not bad for a twelve year-old.

Having dropped her off, I took the time to find out about meetings for writers and found that there is one called the Wrinklies Writers Group. There are also some courses run by the renowned UEA creative writing tutors and open evening meetings once a month. I look forward to discovering and visiting more.

Last night we had to attend our local Parish Meeting where they were discussing our planning application. More keeping fingers crossed as it goes onto the next stage and full planning committee. I hope that I managed to give a good account of our plans.

This book was recommended to me. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It’s a whopping book, nearly 600 pages, but I couldn’t put it down so read it in one day. Yes, I felt guilty because there’s so much that needs doing on the allotment, but still I read. It’s the story of growing up a homosexual in Ireland. Born in 1945 to an unmarried mother and adopted by rich parents who then ignored him, Cyril becomes obsessed by Justin from the age of seven. Running through the story, threads connect him to his real mother as they meet without realising. So much happens, violence and fear, prejudice and bigotry run through the decades. It is the story of Ireland as it begins to throw off the yoke and culture of the Catholic Church and the priests who instill fear into every walk of life. It’s going to be one of my favourite books of this year.

It’s our village fete on Saturday, the first for two or three years. I have been assigned to the book stall, There’s a surprise! I hope that means that I can pick up some goodies. Meanwhile, I had better make some more damson jam for the tombola.

People seem to have liked the prologue for my new book, which I submitted to my writing group in West Sussex. As I told them it’s early days. There’s a lot more to write, but it has given me an idea that I was lacking for the plot. I will get back to it soon. Watch this space.

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Easy to Distract

I need to get back into a daily routine of writing but the glorious ( quite worrying) weather distracts me. Now I am picking damsons by the kilo, courgettes, runner beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. Who knew courgette soup could be so delicious? I am distracted by thinking up new ways of using them. My favourite so far is a sort of pasta primavera with cream cheese and anything we have fresh from the garden. So simple but gorgeous flavours. Our builder has created a new roadside shop for us to sell surplus produce. The damsons, beans and courgettes at rock bottom prices flew off the stall. Our little bit for the local economy.

The feedback since we put our planning permission from the authorities is relatively positive so long as we don’t rent out our guest suite which we have never intended to do. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get the go-ahead in September. Then it will be all systems go. I can see more distraction from writing. I must do some before images in my next post.

Our new village book group meets today for the first time to discuss A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman. This is the third book I have read by this author, each very different but he has a unique style which certainly gets you thinking. I can thoroughly recommend his books. We’ll see what the other members think. I am looking forward to the film of the book with Tom Hanks playing Ove.

The Bluebird Brooch continues to garner positive reviews, still mostly 5* which is delightful. It’s only five weeks until the Boston Book Festival where I will be discussing it and my other books. I think I need to dip into them all to remind me what I wrote. I don’t want any tricky questions because I have forgotten some of the characters.

Last weekend we visited London for the first time since the advent of Covid in the UK. We met family which was delightful but we also met the granddaughter of Sadie. I was nervous. having written the fictional Sadie’s Wars, would her granddaughter be angry with the way I had written Sadie? No. We had a delightful chat about her memories of her warm and generous granny. I gave her the first world war medals that I believe were her grandfather’s. I wrote a chapter in the book around them. The following day, we took a canal trip down the Regent’s Canal and marvelled at the multi-million pound houses lining its banks before finishing at Camden Lock which was heaving with tourists.

My other distraction was being introduced to a local Ukranian refugee and realising that she had both a need and a thirst for learning English. A week later, we have a volunteer tutor to teach her and her husband, and I am joining with another neighbour for supplementary conversation sessions.

Next week, I promise myself, I will get back to writing.

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Happy News

Last week, I received the latest copy of Ingenue magazine with the review of my latest book which knocked me out. I was over the moon with the review and today, a reader emailed me to say how much she was enjoying the book. As an author that’s all I need to carry on writing.

With temperatures like these, the only thing to do is read and write. So this week, I settled down with Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. How did I not know that he had a new book out when his last one blew me away? It was a chance remark by someone on the Global Bookclub Facebook Page which drew me to it and with great good luck my local library’s Libby site owned it and I could borrow it immediately. All hail Norfolk Libraries. So here’s my review.

The story threads between an ancient fable, a public library in Idaho, the fall of Constantinople and a spaceship taking a group of people escaping from earth to a new planet 500 years away. The broad thrust is about the dreamers – people who seek that Cloud Cuckoo Land where their dreams will come true but which don’t turn out they way they expect, and it’s about the people who get caught up in other’s dreams only to discover nightmares. It’s about people who use others for their own purposes then cast them aside when they are no longer of use and it’s about the destruction of the Earth. What a Scenario!

This book reminds me somewhat of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. But, whereas with Cloud Atlas, I was left wondering what it was all about in the end, here Doerr ties it all together. Yes, it was difficult to get into it with so many threads, so many timescales and the oddity of original fable, but as I became more deeply involved in the story, I began to appreciate the breadth and intricacies of his storytelling. All the Light I cannot See is in my top five books, this one, not quite so high, but I have a suspicion that it will live with me. It’s an important book. I see similarities with the dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood, although only a fraction takes place in the future. If you have time, it’s a long book, and fortitude – read it.

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Summer Highs and Winter Blues

It’s cherry season. We have several cherry trees, sour cherries. Every day we have been picking and pitting. I am not jam making this year, I found that my jam last year was more skin than fruit. I have been freezing them for crumbles and my husband is experimenting with cherry gin and vodka.

I enjoyed reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee this week. It follows several generations of a Korean family who migrate to Japan in the twentieth century, living through World War Two and facing both terrible hardship and racism from the Japanese. It worked better for the earlier generations but became less engaging for the later ones, I felt. However, I learnt so much that I would happily recommend it.

From March through to October, I am in with love my house and garden. It’s not just seeing everything creeping into bud and flower, it’s the light. This time of year, it scarcely gets dark. There are still vestiges of light at eleven o’clock and the sun is back up before five a.m. Downstairs in the garden room, I live the day glorying in the everchanging skies. Occasionally, I have to work in the garden or the kitchen, well, more than occasionally, but I skip back to the garden room to look at how the sun lights up the pansies, gorgeous faces of blue, yellow, red and white on the deck. I love how the tall white daisies are lit by the evening sun and how the sunset turns the whole of the kitchen into an orange glow. I can’t get enough of it. It’s like a drug. A sunset drug.

The sunsets of winter are lovely too but they are over by five o’clock and the night seems so long. In summer, I may be up at six to watch the birds on the feeder while I do the crossword. In winter, I don’t use the garden room because I worry about using more electricity to heat it. This coming winter will be a nightmare as prices rise to over three thousand pounds to heat and light our homes. I worry so much for the barely managing. At least we have solar panels to offset the cost and a log burner. But this house demands constant feeding with logs or pellets. I do hope we can escape to somewhere warm for part of of the winter, otherwise I am dreading the four months ahead. Reminder to self – renew passports.

Planning permission has gone in for our guest suite. Much later than I had hoped but things seem to have got very held up with the local planning authority and the pre-planning advice we paid for never happened. Now we wait and keep our fingers crossed. I also have in mind that if we super insulate it and make it all electric, we could live in it ourselves in winter and heat a much smaller space.

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