Saturday, July 26, 2008

I'm off

I'm off to Brittany today.

I am not taking the laptop: I'm trying to prove to myself that I'm not addicted and I can live without it grafted to my hip. (I can, only because I've got my trusty Blackberry...)

I'm going to read, write, socialise with family, eat too much bread and cheese and drink too much wine.

Back next week.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Taste of my childhood.

My parents live next door to a big field that used to be a cherry orchard in my youth. Every summer a family of travellers (I am fairly sure they were the same family each year though my memory may fail me) would purchase the rights to the fruit. The whole extended family would move down and live in caravans, in time for the fruit to begin ripening.

Of course selling the cherries was the aim, but that wasn’t all there was to the job. As the cherries began to ripen so the birds had to be kept away from eating the fruit and they used several methods for this. One was to have several weasely dogs that ran around the orchard yapping; another was scarecrows and the last device was what I knew as ‘cherry bangers.’ Quite simply this was what sounded like a cross between a shotgun firing and a very loud clap. I’ve no idea how these were set off but they went off all day, every day. Visitors would remonstrate but we hardly heard them any more.

By way of compensation for being next door to what they worried was a nuisance, a large bucket full of cherries would be passed regularly over the hedge for us to consume.

They were lovely people. On the day of my maternal grandmother’s funeral they closed up shop for the day, out of respect. My mother was so touched.

They put a sign on the gate, saying ‘No cheeries today.’

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I must NOT buy any more books

Whenever people say 'I must not buy any more books' I think: 'Why?' I've always felt no harm would come if I went on buying books. I mean, I read them and as long as I'm able to pay for them... it's okay, isn't it? Until now, when I am wondering how I am going to take my purchases home. I brought five books with me from Bangkok and now . I have acquired many books in the three weeks that I've been here. All of them are essential, obviously.

Anyway, there's been a photograph your bookshelf meme thing going around and mine is interesting (possibly only to me) because it consists of what I brought with me and what I've purchased while here. A little snapshot, then, of what I HAVE to travel with and what I must ACQUIRE.

Five books were brought from Bangkok with me.

And then I have purchased:
research books for WIP
non-fiction books of interest
charity shop bargains
two for Husband
two more ‘how to’ manuals
One to read before my writing course in September with the Literary Consultancy because Kate Mosse is a tutor there.

Not in Provence

As a kind of follow up to the hopping story a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting to show what’s been happening in some of the fields in Kent in recent years.

I had heard that lavender was being grown here, but it was kind of theoretical only; I’d never actually seen any until coming down to Kent on the train from London, I passed by an amazing vision. Three or four consecutive fields, stretched out and undulating away from the railway track, were Lavender fields in full bloom. Several of us on the train exclaimed out loud at the shock of seeing such an image from the train. I jotted down in my notebook the name of the station that we went through next so that I could look up where it was with a view to driving out to take some pictures.

Lavender, with all its old lady connotations, has always been one of my favourite smells. Not only has it a divine aroma, but it’s also soporific, and ever since my children were tiny I would drop it on their duvet or pillow to help them sleep.

Husband and I drove out to Castle Farm the day after we got home from Manchester and I talked all the way about where I envisaged us living when we moved back from Thailand. Poor Husband, he had no idea where my fantasy planning had taken me and he had an awful lot of catching up to do.

Every time I look at these pictures I can smell a wonderful whiff of lavender: divine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Manchester: in a nutshell

Oh we had such a lovely time in Manchester. Turning up before our friends were home from work, we let ourselves in and it was just like arriving home. These guys are our ‘chosen family’ – the people we choose to be related to – and leaving them has been just as hard as leaving real blood relatives. Although the children and I have been home each summer, and been to Manchester, Husband hasn’t been home since Christmas 2005. (Our chosen family came to visit us in Thailand during Christmas 2006 – which was wonderful – but all eight of us getting together in England was long overdue.)

As well as spending time with our chosen family, we spent time with these boys:

On Sunday we split up: HPoP took all the children swimming, The Archivist, Husband and I went to Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery to see Anne Desmet’s exhibition, Urban Evolution, which included print images based on the decline and regeneration of Manchester’s Victoria Baths which was the winner of the BBC’s Restoration series in 2003. We also saw ‘Neverland: Rediscovering Child Art?’ which showed child art alongside famous artists trying to capture the spontaneity, naïveté and vibrancy of children’s art. (I’m not sure that they did.) Both of these were brilliant, but I particularly loved Anne Desmet’s work, and really wanted to buy one of the prints, but made do with two postcards.

Resistant to admitting that our weekend was over, on Monday, we went for lunch to the most gorgeous café, Cup, which the Archivist, was encouraging me to go to two months ago when I was in Manchester; coo, I wish I had. Lots of tea sets and cups to ogle, not to mention t-shirts and funky posters (oh how I wish I’d bought a ‘Make Us A Brew’ poster…) I bought this rather wonderful tin of tea which I’ll use as a caddy when I get back home to Bangkok.

And I scored this present from HPoP even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas or anything... but just because she's lovely.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I’ve been working ... before my friend arrives any moment now.

Tomorrow Husband flies in and we all go to Manchester.

I can’t decide whether to lug my pc up there with us. I may. I may not. That’s what makes me unable to decide.

My contact lenses still haven’t arrived. Instead of engraving them, they’ve made a whole new pair. I am still wearing my glasses. Sigh. I don’t like glasses.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shooting rabbits

I’ve bought myself a new camera – I’d been planning to do it for a while hoping that I’d suddenly become imbued with more talent…

I’ve become obsessed with photographing the frolicking bunnies on my parents’ lawn; this is the cache from which HP (not for Hannibal) the cat has been murdering rabbits and feeding them to Flicka the dog. I went out to take pictures of the rabbits yesterday and despite a much stronger zoom, they still looked a long way off and my shaky hand skills meant they weren’t exactly sharp. Anyway the lovely fluffies scarpered the minute my foot hit the gravel so I sat on the lawn instead for 40 minutes hoping the rabbits would think I was a tree or something and venture back out. Flicka sat with me – I got so bored I photographed her, a blackbird and some daisies. I'll spare you the daisies...

Flicka is a bit daft. She doesn’t seem to associate the rabbits with the dead things that Hannibal, I mean, HP offers her and which Flicka then devours whole. Actually perhaps I’m maligning Flicka. Her ancestors weren’t bred to hunt … she’s Alsatian cross Collie so she tries to herd us all and she’s very emotionally sensitive. When any of the household gets upset she comes to comfort them, and often cries quietly alongside them until they forget their woes and tickle her tummy.

The new camera’s lovely but I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s not a miracle worker. I will shoot a blasted bunny before my holiday is over. I think photographers world wide are safe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm not worthy

The lovely Pacha has awarded me the Arte y pico which is an award for blogs that show "creativity, design, interesting material, and who contribute to the blogging community, no matter what language they are in.’ Thank you Pacha.

Of course I instantly feel unworthy. I hate the way that I feel so unconfident about my creativity. Growing up I was ‘the academic one’ and my sister was ‘the creative one’ and despite the fact that I must be a bit creative (for crying out loud, I’ve got a fine art degree!) one doesn’t have to dig very deep down to discover that I don’t really believe it.

1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award-winning, has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) Award-winning and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "Arte y pico" blog , so everyone will know the origin of this award.
5) To show these rules.

I'd like to bestow this award on: Uphilldowndale - I love her photographs and feel dreadful, unattractive jealousy that I can't produce pictures like them; Rachel at When the Dogs Bite - the blog is a relative newcomer, but I love the subjects and I admire Rachel's eye; Laurie at Three Dog Blog - I'm not sure that she 'does' awards, but I love going there. I get the vicarious pleasure of her life with dogs (without the poop scooping) and her stories are wonderful too. Finally Helen at Redders Ramblings for whom I am eternally grateful for getting me writing again with her creative and inspired 100 words a day blog.

Bulleted Updates

  • I am up to date with my blog reading now, but my commenting is sadly lacking. I am very sorry.
  • What a lovely weekend. I stayed in a hotel in Monmouth Street, London on Friday and Saturday night; the hotel was nice but the area was lovely. I would be very happy in a tiny wee flat in any of the streets around there. Living in Bangkok has obviously changed me from a ‘I’m not a city girl’ into ‘I’d very much like a city pied-à-terre please.’ I must remember to buy a lottery ticket.
  • On Saturday morning I rushed to buy a postcard of my MC’s mother – see this post – at the National Portrait Gallery and then went over to Waterstones in Piccadilly for the Novel Racers’ 2nd Meet. I saw people who’d been to Manchester and met new faces too. It was lovely. Those of us that were there made a donation to a kitty to buy Lucy Diamond and Kate Harrison (who started the Novel Racers) a book token which we presented on behalf of Novel Racers all over the world. We wanted to thank them for starting the group as they have made a huge difference to so many of us. Some of us had fairly serious practice already but for others (me) it has facilitated making our writing practice more serious.
  • I left London on Sunday morning for my parents’ house where Leigh and her children were coming again for lunch.
  • I haven’t been writing as aswell as being in London, I've been involved in some domestics, but I’m going to get back to my 100 words a day ASAP, though not tonight because I’m a bit wiped out by the domestic dramas. Still, it’s all rich research material, eh?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Garden of England

Normally I tell you about life in Bangkok. Today I’ve been driving round, taking pictures and I’m going to tell you about where I'm staying now, coming back here makes me feel I’m a bit in love again.

I grew up in the Weald of Kent. The name derives from the Anglo Saxon for ‘forest’ or ‘wild’ and actually stretches from Hampshire, through Surrey to Kent. I don’t think any of these areas are particularly wild anymore, but it’s very beautiful: Kent itself is known as the Garden of England. Where I live is a farming area, crops mostly but animals too. Living in Bangkok, I miss a lot of the landscape but the oast houses are among my favourite part of the landscape and I have a desperate hankering to live in one.

Oast houses are farm buildings in which hops are processed. Hops have been grown in this area since around the 16th Century – in the last fifty years they have almost disappeared from the landscape although they were grown all over my immediate locale during my childhood. Hops add bitterness to beer so there are more hops in ‘bitter’ than in ‘lager’ and as lager has gained in popularity so hop farming has declined. The hop fields have almost entirely disappeared here now, which I think is a tragedy, but we are left with these amazing buildings most of which have been converted into homes. You really can't drive 3/4 of a mile without seeing one in the distance or just over the hedgerow.

Hop bines grow up to five feet, up coir string supported by permanent poles and wires. They’re harvested in September in a 6 week period, and traditionally casual workers from London’s East End would bring the family down for a holiday in Kent to pick the hops. They are picked and dried out in the oasts – they build a fire at the bottom on the building, spread out the hops on a grid and the white top – the cowl – turned in the wind to circulate the air.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Warning: Cat below

Ketchup, sister to HP (of the headless rabbit saga) needed to go to the vet. Daughter wanted to take her so I agreed to go too. The family chuckled and told us some tales which we did not heed. ‘She’s bitten a vet’ we were told; when she was spayed they couldn’t give her anaesthetic so they had to stick her in a box of chloroform.

Still, we didn’t heed the warning.

Ketchup is the laziest, most docile pussy cat ever. She should be called ‘Sloth’ as she’s a dumpling that allows my daughter to maul her, she doesn’t hunt, she eats, sleeps and poops (if she can get away with it, in a corner of a room rather than going outside.)

We took her to the vet and in the waiting room I put my finger in and stroked her paw. She growled at me.

I withdrew my finger fastish, but I didn’t heed the warning.

We took her through in the basket to the surgery. I told the vet that my folks told me I should warn her, but I didn’t believe it. The vet said ‘she’s got a warning on her records.’

We opened her basket; she cowered at the back. ‘She should be called Apathy’ I said, putting my hand towards the open basket, ‘I don’t mind a nip.’ She screamed at me and made to open several of my arteries.

She is Jekyll and Hyde cat. Thank god for the vet. I’ve come home for a lie down.

This is post vet visit. She's a bit pissed off.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

To talk or not to talk

After Leigh’s recommendation at the weekend, on Monday I found a copy of ‘Teach Yourself: how to write a Blockbuster’ by Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner. I’m not sure I’m aiming exactly at the blockbuster market, but I reckon some things - great storylines, ace hooks etc - go down well in any genre. Not to mention of course, that I’m utterly addicted to ‘How to’ books… and you can always learn something.

In it, Weatherly says that one shouldn’t talk too much about what you’re writing – new writers tend to, and professional writers don’t. Inexperienced writers, having talked to all and sundry, sit down to write it and ‘they’ve talked it out of their system.’ I so understand what she means, and I don’t, on the whole, talk much about mine – though you’ll all know I’ve dropped little snippets on my blog lately. But I had something I wanted to talk to Leigh about on Sunday (will the reader accept this?) and I’ve talked to my Mum since I’ve been in the UK and I’ve found it helps to talk a bit. While I talk, I realise things … and it does help that they don’t mind when my face glazes over and I say ‘Oh my god, she thinks the baby is his…’

And then I’m all inspired again and I have to disappear to write some more …

I just wish I could bottle this feeling - how much money would I make? And I could use it for the next time I'm in dumpsville.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Brain blurt

  • The UK is doing its best with the torrential rain storms to persuade me that I’m still in the tropics.
  • Just as I said ‘I’m having some days off …’ I start writing again. Bizarre.
  • It’s my Dad’s birthday today. He’s 79.
  • I didn’t blog about the third funeral I saw in four days. These are villages with a funeral every now and again … apart from the last week it seems.
  • In the post this morning I got a totally gorgeous ‘artist card’ from Rachel. I love it. I’m reciprocating when I get back to Thailand.
  • Lovely Leigh came to lunch yesterday with her beautiful children. She read some of my words and I told her the bones of the story and I’m feeling all fired up again. (Although I have to say, I’ve been feeling mostly fired up anyway…)
  • I opened the Sunday Times ‘Culture’ supplement this morning, and saw the mother of my MC staring back at me: Wyndham Lewis’ portrait of Edith Sitwell.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Easy does it...

Right, I’m trying not to castigate myself about ‘my words.’ I have had a couple of days off – I might not get them done today, and I might not tomorrow as I have someone coming over for the day.

I’m struggling a bit with family politics … I’ve found it interesting that living overseas I am a long way from doing things for family. It might be expected that you ring once a week or whatever, remember birthday cards, but you can’t DO all the things for people that you would if you lived locally. But when you come back, you are expected to pitch in; and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course I want to do things to help, but so do I want to write, and wander about in a bubble of nostalgia. In Bangkok I run my life without thinking of those things – intrinsically selfish perhaps.

I will try to get back to the words. If I haven’t by Tuesday, will someone appear here and give me a big shove up the backside? Thank you.

In the meantime, I’ve moved my computer to my bedroom, and I leave you with the view through the window.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Another funeral and my contact lenses

Thank you for your comments. I’m feeling a little happier today. I have an article due so I will think about that and apply my words to that instead of the novel. Then I will do some research on the novel. When I am stuck I often find that research is the answer … for me; I don’t think this works with everyone.

So update to my spooky funeral story from Tuesday: the village to which my MC returns is an amalgam of several villages/small towns that I know here in Kent. The town that my opticians is in (do you remember the saga of my contact lenses?) has leant itself to my fictitious place – particularly the road layout. Yesterday I returned to the opticians for her to check the contact lenses that she fitted back at the end of April (the saga is ongoing… I was wearing my lenses in the wrong eyes! I am such a klutz. Not trusting myself to keep the right one in my right eye, we are sending them back to have a ‘ler’ (L) and a ‘reh’ (R) engraved on them.)

Anyway, I’m in this lovely little town with Sister, and we’re walking along the very road that in my story I’ve put the church in which the father’s funeral takes place. The MC walks from the station, around a kink in the sloping road to see the silhouette of the funeral procession about to move into the church. So there I am with Sister, and WHAT do I see? I see another hearse, in the midst of a funeral. I am now officially freaked out.

Uh oh

I’m having the day off 100 words … I hope that’s not a mistake. I’m an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person and I’m a bit worried that if I give myself the time off it’ll be easier to do that again.

However, yesterday was a terrible struggle and today is proving to be too. There’s too much upheaval of coming home – family etc. I feel panicky and anxious about writing today so instead of trying and getting more and more upset about it, I’m giving myself the night off. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hi honey; I'm home

The weirdest thing happened to me today but first I have to tell you how my book opens:

MC lands in the UK after approx 10 years self exile in Thailand. She’s come home for her father’s funeral and although her mother and her sister know she’s coming home she hasn’t let them know when. She walks into the village to the church where the funeral has just begun.

Today I landed at Heathrow airport from Bangkok and took a train to Paddington, a taxi to Charing Cross and the next train from there to the village where I spent my childhood. I phoned ahead to tell them the train was on but no-one could meet me (sniff, sniff, I’ve only flown 6,000 miles to see them…) so I got out at the station to walk home. I walked up the hill past the graveyard and outside the front of the church was a hearse, four undertakers and the vicar in robes.

Freaked? Me? Nope; alright yes a bit. Spooky timing eh?

Anyway, I leave you with some lovely architecture at Paddington Station. I love train stations.

I barely slept on the 'plane and my eyes are propped open with matchsticks, but I've got to go and do my words because I will not let a day go past ... Ah, dedication.