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Friday, 30 May 2014

The Wonder of Words

Last weekend I read a really good article by the DJ Chris Evans about the value of reading bedtime stories. It was a story told from the heart and one of the things he said was that he wished he knew more words and knew how better to weave together more magical phrases. He felt that he was too late to join the 'word party'. Actually I don't think this is true. But why is it that some words and facts are easier to remember than others? In my cloakroom I have a map of the United States and I am trying to remember all of the state capitals. Some stay in my memory quite easily but others are elusive. I think I have remembered them but they slip away and lurk around some inaccessible corner of my mind. Why, when I drove through Salem, Massachussetts last October, can I not remember that another Salem is the state capital of Oregon? Yet, Helena, Sacramento, Carson City and many others sit in my mind more easily.

My mother was a brilliant gardener and she was also adept at remembering the Latin words for plants. Again, some come easily to me. A few weeks ago I planted some Hordeum Jubatum seeds. This is an ornamental grass also known as squirrel tail grass. Although it doesn't look like much at the moment (my husband keeps likening it to twitch grass), it should (if it stops raining and doesn't drown!), develop beautiful, feathery, pink fronds which glisten in the light. I find these two Latin words Hordeum which means barley and Jubatum - crested, quite easy to recall. I also have a lovely, small flowered, palest pink fuchsia called Magellanica Alba which trips off the tongue. But in my front garden I have a swathe of snapdragons.



And lately I have been struggling to recall their Latin name, Antirrinhum, which I have known for ages. Is this the first sign of a memory problem I fret, as words which I have known for years suddenly play hide and seek? Or is it just that I have too many other things swirling around in my head. I hope it is the latter.

At the moment I am reading a wonderful book, actually probably one of my favourite books of all time.



 I first read A Gathering Light a few years ago and on a second reading it is just as wonderful. The main character, Mattie, loves words. She tries to learn a new word every day and most of the chapter headings are words - 'som-nif-er-ous, de-his-cence, ico-sa-he-dron', fabulous, wrap-around the tongue words. Mattie is a perfectly drawn character. For a writer she is a masterclass in how to not only build your characters in depth but also how to give them a strong, authentic voice.

I'm not learning a new word every day but my task for this week is to memorise the Latin name for my pink cow parsley.


Chaerophyllum hirsutum Roseum. Hmm! Could be a tall order but like Chris Evans and like the character of Mattie in A Gathering Light, I know that I'll never stop loving words and trying to learn new ones.

Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a week filled with heart-warming words.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A Walk and a Talk

Last weekend all of my family were together for a time which is a rare and precious thing these days. We had coffee and cake in the garden while my granddaughter played on the grass beside us. Later that day my husband and sons left for their game of cricket and my daughter and I went for a walk.


The lanes were bedecked with cow parsley, it's musky scent wafting on the air.


 We stopped to admire a magenta coloured climbing rose on the front of a stone cottage and watched some brown woolly sheep munching in a field.


.The sun was hot, the sky was blue, the people and dogs we met were generous with their greetings. It was one of those perfect afternoons when all seemed well with the world. And while we walked, we talked.

Last week I spoke of us being on the cusp of change. My daughter had decided some time ago that she would like to take a gap year after university. Not to do anything particularly adventurous but just to give herself some space after years of academic restrictions. She planned to get a part-time job, (which she has already done), and explore which direction she would like to take next in her life. She wants to give herself time to think.

I also have a sort of a gap. My next YA book for Templar, No Going Back, is to be published at the beginning of July.

With the publication of this book my relationship with Templar is ending for now. Their parent company, Bonnier, has decided that they will no longer publish YA fiction. There is no guarantee that they would have taken my next YA novel but there was at least a possibility they would have looked at it. While I am sad to be no longer working with such wonderful publishers I do have a burgeoning sense of freedom. Whilst I intend to continue writing YA there is no immediate pressure. I have other projects which I would like to devote time to, an adult romance, some more young fiction, a back-list to resurrect.

So as we walked, my daughter and I, we talked of our hopes and dreams, of decisions to be made and those to be put on hold. We could have done this sitting down over a cup of tea but there is something about the act of walking which clarifies the thoughts. The pauses to revel in the scent of lilac overhanging a wall or a telephone box full of books can lead to insights and ideas which might otherwise have lingered just out of reach.


This morning I read a quote which had been written in my diary some time ago;-

'Change can be easy and uncomplicated if you don't look back.'

It seems a good place to end this blog and a good place to begin the weekend and the week ahead.

Thank-you for reading and I hope your days to come are easy and uncomplicated.







Friday, 16 May 2014

Letting Go

On holiday in Scotland last year we stayed in a delightful little lodge which once belonged to a big estate. The rear garden was sheltered by a wood and from our bedroom window we had a direct view of the bird table. We had a variety of winged visitors but on the fourth day we were honoured by the presence of a red squirrel. We have pesky grey squirrels in our garden at home, which dig up my bulbs, vandalise the bird feeders and this year took all the buds from my tulips. I'd never seen a red squirrel in the wild before and he was delicate, glossy, shy and beautiful.


I was thinking about this squirrel because I come from a family of hoarders. Historically we  have had a tendency to squirrel things away for a rainy day. I am married to someone who likes a good clear out from time to time so on that domestic front life is a constant compromise. Last week, at my school visits in Hull, I talked to the students about the value of writing a diary. In the past I have found that writing things down, especially when you are going through hard times, can help to clarify feelings; by giving way to anger, grief and despair on the page it can help you to pick up the pieces you want to keep of your old life and plan for new beginnings.


There has been a sense for some time that our family is on the cusp of change. This afternoon, (I am beginning this blog on Thursday 14th May), my daughter has her final exam and today is officially her last day at university. After approximately 26 years all of our children will have finished their 'education' in the traditional sense of the word.  As parents there is a sense of relief that we have got through these schooling years so well but also a little wistfulness too. My daughter has got a part time job in her university city so, for the first time, will not be home much over the summer and although my husband and I are looking forward to this new phase in our lives we know it may take us a little time to adjust.


Maybe it has been with this in mind that I have begun to go through my old diaries. They have dated back almost twenty years with tens of thousands of words between the pages, some happy and some sad. It has suddenly seemed the right time to let them go. Some of them I have not been able to bring myself to read, others have been useful where I have written musings about plots and characters. These latter pages I have torn out and kept. The remainder have been shredded. And it has been immensely cathartic.The house feels better for this initial de-cluttering and my husband is happy too.

Whatever you are doing this weekend, whether de-cluttering or bringing new things into your life, I hope it brings happiness.

Thank-you for reading.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Hull Book Awards

Last week I went up to Hull. I'd never been there before and it is the sort of place which is easily by-passed as geographically it is quite isolated  It is situated in Yorkshire where the River Hull meets the Humber Estuary and, although it is a city, the people I met all said that it had an intimate, smaller town feel to it. Those that had moved there from other parts of the country had forged roots and developed a deep affection for the place.


Last Chance Angel had been short-listed for the James Reckitt Hull Book Award and, prior to the voting ceremony on Thursday, I spent two days in schools. I talked about the book and where the idea came from, my love of reading and writing, inspiration and observation amongst other things. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and I met some lovely people, teachers, librarians and students. I hope they enjoyed the experience half as much as I did.


I also got the chance to meet other writers. The other short-listed authors were as follows:-


 C.J. Flood - Infinite Sky

 Andy Mulligan - The Boy with Two Heads

Phil Earle - Heroic

Tom Becker - While the Others Sleep


Many congratulations to Chelsey Flood who was the winner and went home with a lovely engraved glass award. Apparently the voting was very close between all five of us which is nice to know and although it would have been nice to win, it really is the taking part which gives you a boost. I think that talking to other writers, hearing of their ups and downs, learning about how they structure their working lives, gives you an opportunity to re-assess your own. Just being with people who love books so much gave me a real boost and seeing how much the students appreciated being able to talk to the authors was also incredibly motivating.


So this week it's back to doing some actual writing and quite a lot of thinking about projects which I'd like to make more progress with.


Thank you for reading and I hope that whatever you are doing this week you make good progress.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Treasure the Days

It's been a good week on the whole. A week to be thankful for. Nothing incredibly exciting has happened but for this writer excitement can be de-railing so I'm not complaining about that. Here are some of the things which have made it a good week.

I went to hear an informative and fun talk about A Midsummer Night's Dream.

My husband played his first cricket match of the season. The horse chestnut trees which edge one side of the ground are in full bloom and horses and lambs grazed contentedly on the other side. In such an idyllic setting the fact that the batting collapsed didn't matter so much.

My tulips have given me a lot of pleasure this week, especially these which are in a pot near the washing line.
 


I made cranberry and orange flapjack. I enjoy having the time to bake.

A friend invited me over for a cup of tea one afternoon and I saw her delicate, inspiring calligraphy.

This same friend introduced me to her favourite poem - The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats. If you don't know it, please find a little time to take a look. It is absolutely beautiful.

Outside my kitchen window the orange azalea, which my grandmother bought for me many moons ago, unfurled its petals.




My daughter got a job.

I met up with some writer and artist friends for lunch.

At this lunch I tasted the most heavenly meringues which just melted on the tongue (a Lorraine Pascale recipe which I am planning to try).

I got lots of writing done this week. For the time being I have put my YA novel to one side and returned to some adult romantic fiction. My hero has taken shape and I've really got into the swing of it.


But sometimes an event colours your week. It can happen far away to someone you have never met. It can cast light and shadow over a great distance. It can move you to tears. Two events this week have had that effect on me. The death of Ann Maguire, the teacher who was killed at Corpus Christi School in Leeds has cast a long shadow over the whole of the U.K. She was, by all accounts, an outstanding teacher and a wonderful person, someone who had devoted a large part of her life to her students. I first heard the news of her death while at my writing lunch. Our hostess, Josephine, has a brother who works in that same school. We had been laughing, chatting, sharing our news and our food. In an instant, our moods changed. Josephine speaks to her brother nearly every day. They ask each other 'Any news?' She says that often they reply 'No, nothing happens here.' How she wished they could say that to each other on Monday. How we all wished that. Later Josephine sent us all an e-mail saying 'Let us treasure the days 'nothing happens'. Wise words indeed.

The light has come from Stephen Sutton, a young man, terminally ill with cancer, who has so far raised more than £3.1 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Yesterday, against all the odds, Stephen was discharged from hospital, describing this as 'quite remarkable'. You can find out more via his 'Just Giving' website.

I would like to finish with Stephen's words:-

 'The simple things we take for granted are all blessings...'

Thank-you for reading. May your week be full of blessings and wherever you are be safe.