Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Finally... out in print!

My excuse for not having blogged for six months is that I have been rather busy finishing, and now publicising, my first novel! Still can't quite believe that when I write it...

I have been writing fiction since I was a child, filling exercise books with excruciatingly bad stories complete with lavish illustrations, so I suppose it's no surprise that I have ended up being a commercial writer and designer. But my yearning was always to be a ‘proper’ writer, a writer of stories, a writer of novels!

My first novel, ‘A Sticky End’, is a joint effort with my old friend Joanna Sheen. We have attended many writing groups and writing courses together but never quite managed to finish a novel. I’ve written short stories, and even radio plays and some 60,000 words of a memoir that never got past the ‘two thirds sag’ stage – one of many nasty afflictions that seem to plague writers.

Joanna, who didn’t build up her own very successful business without being a bit of workaholic, announced last year that we ought to try and write a book together. I heard the smack of the thrown gauntlet as it hit the table, and I flinched a bit. Work together? I was not sure about that… we had collaborated on a radio play once before, and that had gone fairly well (although the BBC didn’t much like it)… but a whole novel?

Well, nine month later, it’s fair to say that had we not bullied and chivvied each other relentlessly, the novel would not have been finished. There have been tantrums along the way (mine), arguments about the cover design (me again) and last minute changes to the names of characters (I’ll hand that one to Joanna), but as a ‘process’, writing it jointly has definitely worked.

Next Tuesday, 1st October, Joanna and I are meeting up again to start planning book two in the Swaddlecombe Mysteries series! We’ve both got ideas about where Victoria and Albert go next, so much plotting will be taking place over Joanna’s kitchen table during the next few weeks… and then the writing will begin in earnest.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Signs of life...

Very protective mother and her lamb in Pond Field.
It's a grey and cold morning, but there are encouraging signs of life everywhere. The piercing cry of a buzzard cheered me as I toiled up the lane with the dog. I love watching them soar on the thermals, their huge pale wings and their sharp eyes. Their cry always takes me back to when I very first moved here and would lie in bed and hear them early on summer mornings, the sound still unfamiliar and slightly unnerving but an exciting reminder of my new life 'in the country'. I'd go to sleep to the sound of owls hooting and wake with a buzzard's cry - wonderful.

Primroses have been brightening the garden for weeks as have hellebores in their lovely understated way. Other than that, the garden is pretty desolate. But once on the farm, there's lots happening. Green shoots pushing through the dry and faded beech leaves and, of course, the bleat of lambs. These tiny little beings always stir such a mix of emotions in me. They are the sweetest things, so appealing and comical as they bounce and leap in all directly seemingly without any control over their legs. I think it was Alf Wight (AKA James Herriot the vet) who said lambs were the most gorgeous babies, but they grew into the most boring adults - or words to that effect.

Mr Mole has been busy. Farmer Greg will not be happy!
My enjoyment of the lambs is always tempered by the rescues I've had to perform over the years. Many are comical (lambs' heads stuck in fences, lambs legs wedged between branches, lambs in water troughs etc.) and usually successful, but there have been quite a few disasters too. Even after all this time, I am still soft-hearted and get upset when they die or are terribly injured and if it's one I've missed by not heeding a cry, or not going in a particular field for a few days, I feel so guilty. And they're not even my sheep!

But despite all that, the signs of spring are magical, nature stirring into life. The novelty never wears off and, I suspect the older I get, the more I appreciate it. This morning, evidence of a very industrious mole could be seen all over the top of First Park, Greg will be cursing and possibly even stamping on his hat - but that is usually reserved for the burrowing badgers. ("They beggars, why can't they dig in the hedge like they'm supposed to and not come rampagin' out here and diggin' in my fields?")

Poke your eye out!
Neil has been busy logging and tidying around the farm and dragged into the garden a large limb that had come off a willow. It was covered in catkins and, rather than watching them wither and I die, I produced a ridiculously large 'arrangement' (if you can call it that) which now requires careful 
manoeuvring around the kitchen table to avoid poking your eye out.

Later, I must nip out and start netting the veg beds. Already, shallots and garlic are sprouting well and the birds and next door's cat are causing havoc. It's all very competitive out there!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A rambling walk, or a walk while rambling...

Sunday 13 January, how lovely to see a clear sky and some winter sun this morning, it immediately lifts the spirits. Just as I went into the chickens’ run, the church bells from the town rang out, a good mile away, and floated down the valley. Their sound then seemed to be coming from the other direction, we get very strange acoustings in this valley sometimes! The fact that I could hear the bells meant a north wind. But did I go back inside and get a scarf - of course not!

The back lane and its beech leaf carpet.
The dog walk was lovely, with the crisp, golden sunlight throwing everything into sharp relief. The back lane, still with its carpet of beech leaves – they never really go, simply get re-arranged by the wind and rain up and down this lovely old sheltered path – was gorgeous to see. The beech hedge, bare now, was all texture and colour but then it has the capacity to look wonderful at any time of the year.

And it doesn’t just look wonderful, it also sounds wonderful. In spring, the new bright green leaves flutter gently like small wings. In summer it purrs and sighs as the full leaves move in the breeze. Come autumn it rustles and hisses as the paper-dry leaves rattle in then wind. Then, in winter, it roars and thunders as gales tear through its bare branches.

Cromwell's Knob.
As I got to the top of the back lane, the beech behind me, the wind kicked in and I regretted the lack of a scarf. My damp gloves - stuffed in my pockets overnight after a hideously wet and muddy walk in mid Devon yesterday - chilled my hands very efficiently!

At this point, the view to the left, down the Wray Valley is a favourite, the curious little hill I’ve christened ‘Cromwell’s Knob’ and then the valley fading away into the distance was this morning stark and dramatic.

Cormwell's Knob last winter...
will we see this snowy view again this year?
Cromwell’s Knob? There was a lot of activity in this area during the civil war - Moretonhampstead being dull old roundheads and Chagford, as you would expect, being cavaliers and making the most of all the flouncy clothes and flowing locks! Cromwell is supposed to have rallied his troops near here and I always think the little knoll would have made a good spot for his warty features to have been viewed by the locals as they gathered round in readiness to go and kill each other…

I digress. Marching down across Pond Field with Tilly running round like an idiot after the ball, in the distance, Moretonhampstead seemed hunkered down against the hillside, shrinking from the chill north wind. A bank of pewter cloud lurked over the moor threatening yet more rain. But to the south, it was still clear and sunny.

On arriving back in the garden, it was lovely to be greeted by the contented sound of chickens doing their morning ‘thing’. This involves scratching at the earth with great enthusiasm, viciously picking mites and other unmentionables off each other and generally ambling about in a vague manner. All this is accompanied by a delightful soft babbling of ‘pocking’ and ‘pucking’ sounds, like chattering old ladies at a coffee morning. Their different voices are fascinating - sometimes raucous, sometimes irritatingly repetitive - but today, in the winter sunshine, contented and gentle and happy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A weird harbinger of spring...!

Well, you have to give her 10 out of 10 for effort! None of my five hens has laid an egg for about two months - combination of short daylight hours, dismal weather and their old age.

Yesterday, after a few glimpses of sun, one of them heaved out this weird offering. When Neil first brought it in, it was whole, but with a patchy, sandy texture, and a curious bump on one end.

This morning, the sub-standard eggshell finish has cracked in the warmth of the house and the whole thing looks rather sorry for itself. Still, I will regard this as a harbinger of spring, even if a slightly unsightly one!