Thursday, 20 December 2007

christmas news the way it really is!

Carol’s Christmas News
I would have texted this, but the doctor said I’ve got to rest my thumbs, ‘cos my wrists are so painful I can barely open my giro without taking a valium first. Still, it means I can claim disability for a while, and the nice bloke down at the DSS helped me fill in all the right forms so I could get everything I’m entitled to. We’ve become good friends over the years, and he always sees me right when the old man’s away – and he’s been away for nearly five years, so it’ll be lovely to have him home again in February.
So, here we are with another year gone and a new one on the way. And what a year it’s been. As you all know, we had to move from the old flat because we were being victimised by the neighbours. This new estate is much nicer, with a big car-park so the kids can race their cars and meet up for a drink and a bit of mischief in the evenings, and a play-ground for the little kiddies where the Rotties can go and do their business in the sand-pit. So much easier than me having to drag them out a couple of times a day.
The older kids had a lovely bonfire on the fifth of November, with fireworks and everything. It was just unfortunate that they set fire to the community centre, but the fire brigade came and put it out eventually, so no real harm done.
The new flat is a bit small, but ever so nice, and the social has kitted it out lovely with a leather suite, new curtains and carpets and a fridge and washing machine so I don’t have to go all the way downstairs to the laundry. If any of you come up to Brixton, then pop in for a fag and a coffee. We’re on the fifteenth floor, and the lift’s always out of order, but the exercise is keeping me fit, and I managed to get into that leather mini-skirt again. You know the one – pink, with the slit up the front – my Harry will be ever so pleased when he gets out, he always liked that skirt.
I’m ever so proud of our Wayne. Not only did he organise that firework party, but he’s finally got an ASBO. He was feeling really left out, ‘cos all his mates have got one, and now he’s strutting about like a turkey cock, and there’s talk of him being the leader of his little gang. Bless him. He does remind me of his dad.
The twins, Charlene and Kylie, left school in the summer, and they’ve both got really good jobs in Soho. They’ve grown into lovely girls and their boss, Mr Smith – who owns several establishments in the area – is very pleased with them. I always knew those gymnastic lessons would lead to something, and it’s amazing what they can do with those poles. But I do worry that they’ll catch a chill in those skimpy costumes, you know what girls are like – won’t be told. Just like me at that age!
Dean is coming along with his art, and we’re all really proud of him. He did a fantastic murial on the estate walls and the railway underpass, but I had to spend three hours down at the cop-shop the other week trying to persuade them that his artistic talents should be encouraged – but they wouldn’t listen. He’s due in court in the new year, and his probation officer isn’t being at all helpful.
Apart from having Harry home soon, my other best news is that Shaz is having another baby. We can’t wait to see if it’s a little brown one, but we hope so, ‘cos that’s what she’s always wanted after having the other three. Leroy seemed such a nice bloke after the awful plonkers she’s been with before, so it was a shame he turned out to be married – but Shaz doesn’t seem to mind, and she’s got lots of other men friends calling round to the flat, so I reckon she’ll cope. Some of them are ever so generous. Her flat’s like a little palace and she’s got a wardrobe full of clothes. Her headmaster said she wouldn’t amount to much, but I reckon she’s done all right for herself, seeing that she’s only sixteen.
We’re having a real family Christmas this year – just a pity Harry won’t be here – but then he’s missed so many one more won’t hurt. The twins’ dad is coming up from Portsmouth, Wayne’s dad is bringing the booze he got cheap from some warehouse, and Shaz will bring the kids. Dean and me will visit Harry – they do a lovely spread on Christmas Day, but we won’t stay too long because Wayne and his dad get up to all sorts of mischief if left for too long, and I don’t fancy coming home to a burnt-out flat, not now I’ve got it so nice.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my news, and that you all have a lovely Christmas and a happy new year. I’ll text you when my wrists are better.
Cheers, Carol

Seasonal Greetings

Hi there, long time no see, but the back is still playing up and him indoors is getting rather fed up with the whole thing. Poor chap has to lift things, hoover and dust - on the orders of my physiotherapist, and generally has to do all the dogsbody stuff I usually cope with at this time of the year. The supermarket has become a wonderland for him, but I do have to watch what goes in that trolley otherwise we'll end up with too much booze and no food!
It's very awkward being out of shape with one hip protruding to the left, the ribcage off to the right and my head telling me that yes, I am upright and straight - but hey, after the first hour in the mornings when the whole mess of muscles in my back decide to go into cramp, I ease up and so do they and I can hobble about. But everything has a silver lining and I am ensconsed on the couch with a large gin and tonic while him indoors sweats over the dinner and falls over the cat. Bluey just loves prawns and turkey and chicken and everytime the fridge door is opened, he's there, waiting hopefully. Him indoors spoils him rotten and I suspect that's the fourth packet of prawns he's smuggled in for Bluey's consumption. No wonder the pair of them are getting so portly!
Anyway, enough wingeing, it's nearly christmas, the tree is sparkling with lights and I've wrapped all the presents. with a house full of family it promises to be a happy one, so I wish you and yours a wonderful time, and I will speak to you in the New Year. With all best wishes for the season, Tamara

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Fireworks are bad for backs

Hello! Yes, I've not been writing this for a while and yes, I do have an excuse. You see I have a back - a bad back - or to put a finer point on it, I'm crippled and my hip has decided to go walkabout all on its own, sticking out in a most unbecoming fashion and making it almost impossible to walk. Him indoors has ideas of how to cure this problem - men are so predictable aren't they? Unfortunately if I tried doing what he suggests we could both be stuck for hours - not that he'd mind of course - but I feel it's undignified at my age, and what if we are discovered?
Anyway, I digress, as I'm wont to do. The back began on the night of November 5th, fireworks night, Guy Fawkes night, bedlam night, call it what you will. Him indoors suggested we go to a local bonfire do, but of course I had grander ideas and decided we hadn't been to Lewes in a while, so it was time we paid the place a visit. Now I should explain for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about. Lewes is the sort of capital town of the county of Sussex. It is very old, with a castle on a hill and a very steep main street. There is a brewery in Lewes, which is why him indoors agreed to go in the first place, and this brewery has been there since about the fifteen hundreds. There is a giant chalk cliff on one side of the town, which overlooks a meandering river - which floods frequently and washes people and houses away - and lots of ancient old houses, shops and market squares. Right, so you get the picture.
November 5th is celebrated every year in Lewes, and it is customary for the different bonfire societies to burn effigies of people who have p***d them off during the past year. This can be as diverse as the pope - in memory of the bad old days when catholics were considered politically unsuitable - various politicians, Guy Fawkes himself or the odd bishop or two. This year Cherie Blair was chosen, and very fine she looked too!
These effigies are hauled up and down the streets by vast bands of people all dressed up in costumes as befits their particular bonfire society. There are marching bands, burning torches and burning barrels, and as a great deal of alcohol is imbibed, a great deal of noise.
Imagine, me and him indoors on a pavement which is thirty deep. Completely wedged in, the police are trying to push us further back because of the risk of going up in flames as the barrels and torches go past. I tell you what, if I'd been any closer to that man behind me, we would have had to get married!
The parade started - and went on for four hours. There were vikings with a viking ship, drumming bands, moors and their ladies, indians, both red and from Bombay (not really, they were Sussex people in costume) chinamen, african warriors, cowboys and canadian mounties - you name it, they were all there, and as the hours ticked by my back started to complain. Well it would, wouldn't it? I'd run out of alcohol, there was nowhere to sit, and despite the flat boots, my hips were starting to tighten up.
We finally escaped, only to discover we were again stuck because one of the biggest societies (about five hundred strong) were making their way past us again on their way to their bonfire site. Another hour. Getting thirstier - to the point I would accept water - that's how desperate it was. Then freedom. But the walk to the car took half an hour - we'd parked outside the town - and by the time I'd reached home all I wanted was a cup of coffee and a lie down. How the mighty are fallen - how age withers us and takes away the joys of life. I can remember (in my youth) of being in Lewes all night and not feeling a twinge of pain, and that wasn't due to the amount of gin imbibed either.
Three weeks down the line and I haven't been able to get straight, so it's off to the manipulator. It's most peculiar having to strip off to your underwear in front of a complete stranger - so many thoughts go through your head. Does my bum look big in these pants? Do they cover the essentials even when my left leg is being hauled up in the air? Is my bra see-through? Do my feet smell after wearing those boots to get here? But the thought uppermost, is - will it hurt? Yes, and no. He's very gentle and most polite when he asks if he may put his hand inside my knickers to get a feel of my back - but as it's all in a good cause I agree. I just want to be pain-free again, straight again. Christmas is coming and I've got shopping to do, food to prepare a house to clean.
Back from the chiropractor, and I've got to get on. Still crippled, but not as bad, and the pain is managed with pills - but the house is filthy because I've been writing and left it to him indoors whose idea of putting things away is storing them in the corner on the floor, or spreading acres of paper across the kitchen table - all in neat piles you understand, but very annoying.
Will write soon, but if you don't hear from me in a while, you'll know I've got better and have hit the shops. I love Christmas!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Taxi!

Back again in England after a trip to Austria. Of course things didn't run as smoothly as they could have, but then that's not surprising - nothing ever does when I'm involved.
We left home and caught the train to London, stopping overnight to view a friend's art exhibition in Earl's Court - land of the Australians - or so I thought, the Italians and Greeks seem to have taken over - but never mind. After the debacle of the rugby world cup, I suspect most Aussies have crept out of sight until it is all over.
Anyway, I digress. The flight was on time, we got an upgrade to business which was great, so arrived in Vienna raring to go. A taxi should have come to pick us up, but we waited and waited - and carried on waiting and still there was no sign. A telephone call from him indoors who had come with me, informed us that we weren't on the taxi firm's list, so to catch a cab, keep the receipt and get the money back later. Some hope. I know the form, give the receipt to the cab firm and they will deny all knowledge - give it then to BA and they will say it is the cab firm's fault. We paid up anyway, and the receipt is still languishing in my handbag.
The hotel was very odd. The reception area was grand, as was the dining room and bar, but upstairs was a shock. The room we were given was long and narrow, with two single beds placed end to end down one wall. There was a bathroom, a wardrobe and a dressing table, with a window that opened directly out onto a busy street that had a sign pointing to Bratislava! I felt as if I'd returned to the dormitory of that nightmare called boarding school - but single beds meant I got a good night's sleep, because him indoors fidgets and snores and generally keeps me awake when we share a double.
We then discover this particular hotel is nowhere near the centre of Vienna, and that everything is shut. It is a strange phenomenon in Europe that the streets of towns seem to be deserted, we drove the length of France and Italy and barely saw a soul - and it was the same with this part of Vienna.
The next day we had to go by train to Tulln - a small town on the Danube (called the Donau in Austria for some reason) where I was scheduled to do a book signing. Him indoors decided it might be a nice idea to go earlier than planned, check out the hotel and town and then ring our friends who were going to meet us and tell them we had arrived.
The train journey was fast, on time, and the train itself was immaculate - why the hell can't BR take a leaf out of their book and at least try to appear to run a proper public transport system? Anyway, we arrive, with two large holdall, my handbag - which weighed about the same as the holdall, and one small bag which contained necessities like contact lenses, books, spare shoes, makeup - you get the drift. We exited the station, followed the sign we thought said taxis and kept walking. When we realised we were actually heading towards a park, we stopped and asked a couple of men the way. They were lounging outside the railway station which actually looked like a pub - their response was as helpful as if they'd been imbibing beer for the entire morning. They had no idea where the taxis were, hadn't heard of the hotel, and couldn't tell us where the road was where the hotel was sited.
Him indoors was getting very red in the face and pink around the ears by now. Those bags were heavy, he hadn't had a cigarette for over an hour and he was getting cross. We asked a woman with a bike, and luckily she seemed to be better informed about her town. With a mixture of halting German, pidgin English and lots of hand movements, him indoors decided he knew where we had to go and set off.
Half an hour, two roundabouts, one major road and a bewildering amount of street signs later, we see the bookshop which is supplying the books for that evening. We go in, get the most wonderful welcome, and a taxi is ordered to take us to the hotel. Bliss. My feet are killing me and my handbag is beginning to drag on my shoulder. Poor him indoors feels as though he's been weightlifting for the entire morning - and he has - you should have seen what I packed.
Well, you know what it's like, girls. A dress, a suit, a couple of jackets, trousers in case it's cold, shoes for walking, shoes for dancing, shoes that can only be worn when one is sitting down for long hours at a time but look fantastic.
Our taxi arrives, we get in and are immediately gassed by the driver's lack of hygiene. I long to open a window, but there is no handle and the driver has the switch up front. I try to hold my breath, but the journey's longer than I thought.
We arrive at the hotel, fall out of the cab, take a deep breath of fresh air - actually it's not that fresh, but better than in the cab, and stagger into the hotel with our bags, to find it is the most lovely place and the owners are delightful. Set on the banks of the Danube (Donau) it is newly refurbished, and our room is positively luxurious compared to the one we'd had the night before.
I don't want to explore the town - I want coffee and to put my feet up. Him indoors has left our friend's phone number and address at home in England, so has to look him up in the phone book. His announcement is greeted with horror - he had planned for someone to come and meet us at the allotted time, and the lady had even cleaned out her car in our honour. But never mind, he would come straight round on his bike, and then take us on a guided tour of the town.
We end up in a restaurant - where they still smoke - everyone smokes in Austria and there are ashtrays everywhere - so civilised. Strikes me as odd that we run around like headless chickens obeying EEC rules, when most of Europe don't take a blind bit of notice!
I digress. Brigitte is lovely - she is the lady who cleaned her car - she buys us lunch and takes us on the tour of the town and into the most amazing church. From the outside it is grand enough, but inside there is enough gold and murals and ceiling paintings to take your breath away.
Then it was back to the hotel, bath, change, make-up, posh frock and jacket, hair etc., to be picked up by Brigitte and taken to the evening venue. What a fabulous turn-out, and so many lovely people who were determined we should enjoy ourselves. Gerhard Fidler and his wife were great, and we got along well even though we couldn't understand a word either of us was saying, the bunch of flowers were magnificent, and the food that was laid out quite marvellous. I of course didn't have to speak, which I expect was a huge relief to everyone, but I did sign lots of books and managed to get understood by some. The wine for the evening was supplied by a reasonably local vineyard, and I can definitely recommend their chardonnay!
Next day, having recovered from the flashing of the cameras the night before, we said our goodbyes and got a cab to the station. The train took us back into Vienna, and we approached a taxi rank. Him indoors showed the driver the letter heading of the new hotel we would be staying in - and rather worryingly, the driver got out a large magnifying glass to read it! Yes, a magnifying glass - I know, it could only happen to us. We arrived safely, and he asked if we wanted him to wait just in case our booking wasn't confirmed - we assured him it was - he didn't look too certain - but he knew of a very nice hotel that he could book us into. We left the taxi and trailed into the hotel. Bliss, lovely room with balcony, a tram-ride away from the centre of Old Vienna. Twenty-four hours of doing as we please - shopping!
Vienna has lots of shops, all of them well known and mostly designer labelled - heaven for girls, not so much fun for our men. But at least he wasn't hauling heavy holdalls about. We were too late to see the Lippizana horses, but I reckon we managed to walk the length and breadth of old Vienna in those two days - our feet were proof of our labours!
The taxi was supposed to arrive at a quarter to five - this is the same firm who had lost us on their list when we arrived - this time we made sure we were on it and phoned them up beforehand. I digress - again! They were supposed to come at quarter to five. We had walked Vienna, were sitting down for coffee at four, and they turned up - hurry, hurry, must get to the airport. No chance to argue as our bags were loaded up and we were firmly shoved into our seats.
Arriving at the airport three hours early, we tried to get upgraded again, but BA were having none of it. The flight was then delayed - and again - and again - and five and a half hours later we flew out of Austria. I was hungry and so was him indoors, and when the smiling stewardess handed us a sandwich and a chocolate biscuit, we both stared at it in horror. Two glasses of wine eased our hunger pangs, but we weren't happy bunnies.
Arrival at Heathrow, caught the coach to Gatwick by the skin of our teeth. Arrival at Gatwick, missed the southern train by one minute and had to wait for an hour until the next one. It was now close to half past eleven at night, and we'd been on the move since four. I managed to feed him indoors with a cornish pasty to keep him quiet.
Arrived at our local station at five to one in the morning. Guess what? No bloody taxis!!!!!
Found the nearby taxi office, sat down and waited for three quarters of an hour for a taxi. Got home at one thirty in the morning - knackered, in need of coffee, food and sleep, not necessarily in that order. Fridge empty, milkman hadn't delivered milk - but the bed was made-up and looked most inviting.
Thank you Tulln for a wonderful chance to see your lovely town - my advice is to move that sign which seems to say taxi, and organise a rank outside the station. The people of Tulln are lovely, helpful and oh so nice, and we had a great time. But next time we visit we will go by car, then we can be assured of not having to walk everywhere!

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

winter warmer

I am sitting in my office, waiting for inspiration. It's cold outside, actually, it's cold inside, because I have the window open. I could turn the heater on, but it's a bit early in the winter to do that, so I'll wait until I can't feel my feet and nose, and then do it.
I seem to have spent most of my writing life sitting in the cold. When I began this writing lark, way back in the dark ages of the late eighties, I was as poor as a church mouse, and couldn't afford to turn the heating on at all. I would sit at my desk wearing a very odd assortment of clothes - not fashionable, and certainly not sartorial - but they were WARM! Slippers, socks, leggings, trousers, two t-shirts, one jumper, a jacket, and a scarf, and if I was lucky, a warm purring cat on my lap to add to heat. Those were the days - actually, nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be - I was horribly miserable, cold and usually very hungry!
Why was I poor, I hear you ask - it is a long story, but suffice it to say I was in the middle of a divorce, bailiffs were banging on the door, not for me, but for HIM, the house was in negative equity and there was a recession on which meant I couldn't sell it because there were no buyers. Luckily for me I didn't have to feed, clothe and heat my children, for they had flown the nest and were living the life of Riley in London. One thing about poverty though, it keeps you slim, and boy, was I slim - but then I was on a baked potato and a bit of greenery once a day, so it's not surprising. Whoops, here comes that nostalgia again - if only I had the will power to avoid chocolate!!!!
Talking of chocolate, has anyone out there tried the Green and Blacks bitter cherry dark chocolate - heaven.
But I digress. Writing is what I do, and I prefer to do it in the winter. There are just too many distractions in the summer and spring, and my excuse is that although I appear to be lying on a beach, I am really doing all kinds of research in my head, plotting stories and dreaming up my characters and what they look like. When the first sign of autumn appears you will find me locked away here in my office, looking out of the window at the garden as leaves are blown from the trees and the horses in the paddock whinny in disgust as the sheep try to stand firm against the howling gale that threatens to bowl them over. I am not dressed in the rag-bag collection of those past years, but I have resorted to jumper and boots, and there's a coffee machine on the windowsill to keep me perked! Now all I have to do is WRITE. I do not have the company of a warm, purring cat, poor old Woosie is long gone and I miss him. Blue, his replacement is a surly sort of chap, with ginger and white fur and a bad attitude. He doesn't do laps - not unless it belongs to him indoors - and certainly regards spending any time in my office a great burden - unless he's nipped in overnight and nicked my chair to sleep in when it's raining outside. All in all, Blue is not the most sociable of cats, and although I love him, I have been seriously considering getting a female tabby to call my own. I feel outnumbered.
Must get on, the story awaits, my office grows colder and there's the promise of a bit of chocolate after supper as a treat for being so fabulous. I know, I know, but someone has to say it, and I'm sick of waiting for anyone else to do so. If you want a job done, do it yourself, is what I say. I'm off, the characters are waiting for me impatiently, as I've left two of them in the middle of the outback of Australia, two of them in the middle of an argument, and one of the children facing a dragon of a housekeeper. Bye. Tamara

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Writing's not for Sissies

So, the second part of the Oceania Trilogy has finally gone off to the printers, and my editor and I have sighed a deep breath of relief. Not that it was particularly hard going, but because 'experts' added their fourpenny worth and things had to either be explained, added to, deleted or changed - a job no author really wants to do, but then there is always the clever person out there only too willing to point out that the author got it wrong! And we do, quite often. Not because we're careless or ignorant, but because during the writing of a book the author is so taken up with the story and the way it is being told, that minor things (or even some major ones) cease to be really important in the scheme of things. But then of course I am supposed to be writing the history of Australia, and should know what I'm doing. But as the months of writing are followed by months of editing, page changing and chapter fiddling, things get lost or missed in the furore, and not even the most dedicated author or editor can really be blamed.
Enough already! I get things wrong, I admit that!
So book one is out, book two is at the printers and book three.... Well that is a work in progress, or at least it should be, but I seem to be stuck at about fifty pages in. Not because I've suddenly lost the power of imagination, and not because I have writers' block - but because of outside influences which seem determined to knock me off balance.
First there was a birthday party - not mine, but a young relative's - and this involved a house full of youngsters who came in at five in the morning, got up again at ten, ate hugely and went off to the pub to start all over again. This lasted for four days, and although I barely touched a drop they seemed to weather the storm far better than I did. You should see the bags under my eyes!
Secondly I discover I am expected in Austria.
The suggestion was made at the beginning of the year that I might like to attend a book and art presentation in Tulln, which is about half an hour outside Vienna. Okay, I said in a mad moment, thinking what a good chance it would be to actually visit Vienna for the first time and have a bit of a break.
I heard nothing from January to September, so assumed - always wrong to assume anything - that the whole idea had been shelved. Then I get an email on Friday - in German - which includes a programme of the event. Heck! Now I've got to stir myself and sort out flights, car hire and hotels, and I've only got a couple of weeks to do it all in. The problem with dealing with people from other countries, is that I'm incapable of any language other than English, or at least the Australian version of English, and therefore unable to communicate with them. There are questions to be answered. What am I expected to do at this presentation? Who is organising it? Why won't anyone answer my urgent emails? And has anyone thought to arrange for some of my books to be there? I'm not lugging hundreds of books onto a plane, and anyway, they'd be in English, which is a fat lot of good in Austria, where it appears no-one can speak English. I have passed over the problem to him indoors. He teaches English as a foreign language now he's semi-retired, and most of his pupils are Austrian, so perhaps he will have better luck than I.
Not really, as it turns out. His contact's English is about as good him indoors' German, and as he tries to write down addresses as they are given over the phone I can tell he is rapidly losing his patience. The reddening of ears is a sure sign!
Anyway, he will book the flight this afternoon, and we shall arrive in Vienna on 9th October, barring tsunamis and the crash of the Bank of England. If anyone wants to join me at the Buchprasentation und Vernissage, Wustenrot-Beratungsstelle Tulln, Frauentorgasse 87, 3430 Tulln, they will be made very welcome. The event will start at 19:00.
I hope there will be some of my books there - the German translation - and I will be delighted to sign them for you. Other than that I can't promise what the evening will bring.

Monday, 10 September 2007

I'm a legend, and it's official!

During my research in Cornwall I discovered something rather wonderful. It was after I had given a talk in the Looe Library, and we were sitting about having a cup of tea and a chat, that one of my guests told me about the legend of Tamara. Well, you could have knocked me down with a ferret - I was a legend - or at least named after one. But Tamara is a Russian name, or so I thought. How on earth could the legend be Cornish? Unfortunately my informant didn't know very much about the story or how it had come to be, so being an author, and very nosey, I decided to investigate.
It took me a year to unearth a book that actually told the legend of Tamara, and here is the story.
The lovely nymph - yes, nymph - Tamara, was the daughter of earth spirit gnomes. Born in a cave, she loved the light of day. They chided her for visiting the upper world and warned her against the consequences of ignoring their advice. The giants of the moors were fearsome, and they wanted to protect their child from them.
Tamara was beautiful, young and heedless (just like the author of course) and never lost an opportunity to look at the sun. But Tavy and Tawrage, the sons of Dartmoor giants had seen the fair maid and longed to possess her. Tamara led them a right dance, over mountains and moor in playful chase, she teased them mercilessly.
She was hiding under a bush one day when Tavy and Tawrage decided it was time to make her choose between them. They used every persuasion, though what they were is unclear, but I suspect they flattered her - it usually works.
Now Tamara's parents realised she was missing from the cave and went in search of her. They found her seated between the sons of the giants whom they hated. Her father cast a spell on the two young men and they fell asleep. Then he tried to persuade Tamara to return to the cave.
Tamara, being stubborn, refused.
With a terrible curse, her father cast another spell. Tamara dissolved in tears, which became a beautiful crystal stream that flowed to the ocean.
Tavy eventually woke from the spell. Tamara was gone, and he fled to his father to tell him what had happened. The giant, wanting to ease his son's torment, transformed him into a steam. That stream rushed over rocks, ran through morasses and glided along valleys. Tavy still goes seeking for his lost love Tamara - his only joy being that he runs by her side, mingling their waters as they head to the eternal sea.
Tawrage also woke, and realised what had happened. He went to an enchantress, and he too was changed into a stream. But he mistook the way Tamara had gone, and onward, ever sorrowing, he flows away from her forever. Thus originated the Tamar, the Tavy, and the Taw.
I hope you enjoyed that little story, and if anyone knows the origins of the tale, or how the name Tamara seems to have travelled from Cornwall to Russia, I would be most interested.

Summer holiday? I've come home for a rest!

Hello there. I'm back! So, you didn't notice I'd been anywhere? Well, I have, and now here I am sitting in my office in the middle of the night listening to him indoors snoring. It's not conducive to a good night's sleep, listening to that racket, so I thought I'd write my blog and tell you about our month away in Cornwall.
We set off to drive to Cornwall to the sound of furious yowling from the cat who was firmly locked in his travelling basket. We've been prepared for this ever since the first time we took him for such a long journey by car, and we know that he will shut up once we get to Worthing, which is about an hour away. Whether he goes quiet because he's bored, or because he's got a sore throat, or even because he realises there's no escape from the hated basket until we arrive at our destination is unknown to us. All we do know is a huge sense of relief when he packs it in and goes to sleep. We have also learned that he hates us being overtaken by lorries or noisy motorbikes, and absolutely detests him indoor taking corners too sharply. This proves a problem when we drive through Chichester, Worthing and Bournemouth, for the powers that be in those towns seem to have a fetish for roundabouts, and him indoors can't resist pretending to be a racing driver at each and every one of them.
Cornwall is ablaze with sunshine, the garden is overgrown and him indoors has a glint in his eye as he checks his chain-saw. Oh, no - it seems the lumberjack fetish has struck again. What is it about men and machinery? The cat is just delighted to have arrived, and heads straight for the place where his bowl is - well it would be - but we haven't unpacked the car yet! To sharp howls of anguish, we swiftly attend to his needs. Two seconds later the plate is empty and he's gone exploring. How's that for gratitude. Not many cats have a second home in Cornwall for goodness sake! Doesn't he realise how privileged he is?
As the sun is shining I've dared to put on shorts - yes, I do have the legs, but the rear-end is a little suspect, so I add a long t-shirt. Gardening is a great therapy and I soon get stuck in, weeding and hoeing and generally fighting the ivy and tangled creepers that seem to insist upon strangling anything that's attractive in the flowerbeds. Him indoors has revved up his chain-saw and has set about a massacre of the nearby hedge. He's planning to replace it with a fence, but I don't think our neighbours are going to be too delighted to have their sunny days shredded by the noise he's making.
The decking has been extended - but not enough - and him indoors spent the rest of his time - after the chainsaw massacre, banging nails, swearing at bits of wood and his tape measure, sliding down the bank as he tries to dig holes for the uprights and generally having the time of his life. This is his decking, and his summer house - and when it's all finished, he's promised me he will sit down and enjoy it. But not yet. There are more important things to consider. Like there's now electricity in the summer house, and he's the proud owner of a two-ring gas burner - and he has a kettle, a frying pan and even fridge so the beer will keep cool. You've guessed it. Him indoors is now the proud possessor of a shed - every Aussie man's dream - Pom's too, I've realised. Each morning, before the sun rises and I'm still in the land of nod, he sneaks out to this shed and sits on the deck watching sun come up. It soon becomes a meeting place for several of our neighbouring husbands, and they could be found drinking coffee and eating bacon and eggs as they watch the sun rise and discuss the pros and cons of football, cricket, rugby and any other sport which involves muscle, sweat and muck. It has to be said that we wives were quite grateful. It let us off breakfast duty, allowed us to snatch another hour under the duvet, and gave us a chance to have our coffee in peace in the kitchen.
I say we went for a rest, but actually it turned into a marathon. From breakfast on the deck, to lunches on the deck, to afternoon teas and evening drinks and supper on the deck - to full blown drinking session that just managed to avoid getting out of hand. But we had fun. Now I'm going to detox for a month just to get over it.
I suppose the most memorable day we spent - off the decking - was when we went out on a friend's boat. The sea was like glass, the sky blue, the coastline etched in all its splendour against the turquoise. We motored out into deep water so the men could go fishing, and there just a few yards away was an enormous pod of porpoise. There had to be twenty or so, diving in and out, chasing the vast school of whiting that were feeding off the bottom. Needles to say the men pulled in their lines and the only thing we caught that day was a camera full of memories. Absolute bliss.
Sailing into Fowey - pronounced Foy - the Cornish make a habit of cutting out the middle bit of any name - a quirk I quite like - we joined in the armada of boats gathered there for the Fowey Water Festival. As the sky darkened this armada was lit up with coloured lights, flags and lanterns, and accompanied by music from a band on the quay, the fun began. There were huge fishing boats, little fishing boats, row boats, canoes, sailing boats of all sizes, speed boats which caused chaos, and one small dinghy that seemed to be going backwards. It was chaos, with everyone getting in everyone else's way, nobody going in the same direction and some very near misses. As they finally cleared the river and found anchorage the fireworks started, and what a display, superb.
Now, I have a fear of heights. It's not a fad, not something I put on to seem interesting or different. I simply hate heights and freeze rigid if I have to be more than a foot off the ground. We left Fowey that night in thick fog. As we headed at speed towards Polperro harbour I could see the fog coming across the land, and feel the wind driving us on. The tide was against us, and we were forced to tie up in the outer harbour. The wind was battering the boat against the grey stone wall of that outer harbour, and it was a struggle to keep the fenders in place to stop the boat from getting damaged. It was then that I learnt that I two choices. Sit it out until three in the morning when the tide would allow us to creep into the inner harbour. Sit it out until two when we could ease our way through the larger boats moored in the outer harbour and boat hop to the shore - or climb the metal ladder that we'd tied the boat to, to get up onto the harbour wall.
I looked up at my nemesis. The ladder was metal, old, slimy and covered in rust. It was so high I couldn't see the top of it. No way. I'm not going up there. I'll sit it out until two, three, I don't care. But I will not climb that thing.
An hour later and I realise I don't actually have any choice at all. Boat hopping is now not an option as the big boats are in danger of squashing us as the tide rises along with the wind. It's pitch black, and the great points of rock on the left of the harbour are sticking out against the night sky like something from the Hound of the Baskervilles. There's even a full moon. It's the ladder, or sit here until morning, and I'm starting to feel sick.
Him indoors is very understand. He's promised to stay behind me all the way, just in case I fall, freeze, or have a coronary. I make up my mind. I'll do it. Now. Before I have a chance to think any more.
Edging along the narrow side of the boat my host takes my hand and I step out over the abyss of churning water to place my foot on the iron rung. I'm wearing sandals - not the best footwear for mountaineering. I daren't look up. I don't want to know how far I will have to climb, and I know it's a long way because the top is still out of sight. Neither do I want to look down. It's pitch black, and I can hear the sea crash against the wall.
I grab the ladder and put the other foot on the rung. Him indoors is now outdoors and right behind me. He makes some daft remark about the fact I'm wearing trousers and not a skirt and I want to punch him, but all my concentration is on my feet and hands. One rung at a time. One hand, one foot, another hand, another foot. My foot steps on my husband's hand and I swear at him. He backs off and waits - wise man, I'm a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown and if I stop I'll never move again.
The climb feels endless as I continue, and then I'm at the top. I stumble to the safety of a lovely flat, broad quay and know just how the Pope felt when he kissed the ground every time he got off a plane. I don't look down, don't wave to our hosts - I just want to go home. Five minutes later my legs go weak and I have to lean against a shop window. That was quite an achievement, I realise - a first. I will have to write it down in my blog. See I was thinking of you all the time I was going through that torture - no I wasn't - my mind had gone numb!
So with all the heroics, the dinners and lunches and teas and the drinking and sailing, porpoises and mountaineering, the holiday was certainly not boring, but I've had to come back home for a rest.
Well, actually, no. I have a ton of work to do. A ton of research to get to grips with, and I've had to hit the ground running to keep to my writing schedule. Him indoors is going back to Cornwall with his mother for a whole week. Yippee, peace, quite, no snoring, no worrying about dinner and breakfast and lunch - who the hell eats lunch in a working day anyway? I'll miss him, but it will mean I can work all day and all night if I want to and the brain holds out - can sleep til ten, write until two am, watch all the soaps and get really stuck into the third part of the trilogy. I know the ending and the beginning, it's just the middle bit that's a tad troublesome.
Who ever said life was easy? It certainly wasn't an author. But at least this author has conquered a fear - well almost - I probably couldn't have done it in daylight - and certainly couldn't have managed going DOWN the ladder!

Friday, 3 August 2007

a proud day

I've been working hard, which is why you haven't heard from me in a while. And although work has been the most demanding thing during the past few weeks, there have been some lovely incidents that I want to tell you about.
Him indoors got all romantic and booked us into a smart hotel just outside Le Havre for three days to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Great - or it would have been but for a couple of minor glitches. It was raining, not a light drizzle, but stair-rods coming in off the sea horizontally. But when you're feeling romantic, what is a little wet weather? Fine. Only problem was, he'd booked us in for dinner on the first night - he likes his food - and the restaurant is highly recommended, with a very interesting menu. Shame. The ferry was cancelled. We could get another one, but it didn't leave until after seven that evening, which meant we would get to our hotel late at night.
Off we set, the crossing was fine, I'd taken my tablets so I wouldn't go green around the gills and ruin the entire journey. We arrive in France at close to midnight. We don't know how to get to the hotel, for we have been deposited in Dieppe, which is at least an hour further east than we'd wanted. The rain was coming down, him indoors - who was driving - I don't do the left-hand thing - was getting redder by the minute. I can always tell when he's losing it, his ears go pink.
We arrived to find the poor owner sitting waiting for us. The room is wonderful, the view from the balcony lost in the black of night and the rain. We go to sleep.
Next morning, it's still raining, but we can see the sea, and a wonderful gothic house perched right on the shore. It has turrets and tiny windows, little round rooms sticking out, and iron birds hutched at the pinnacle of rooftops. Weird, and a little eerie, if the truth be told, but as an author - or simply someone with a heated over-imagination, I began to think up all sorts of stories about this house. There was a tiny window in a small round turret that could have come from a fairy tale. Think Rapunzel and all those poor fair maidens who needed rescuing.
I needed rescuing, and so after breakfast we visited Honfleur, which was gorgeous, so gorgeous that it actually stopped raining. Lots of wine later, and with far too much good food inside us, we came to our last day. Or what should have been our last full day. The ferry was cancelled again, so instead of leaving La Belle France at eight thirty in the evening, we had to race to Dieppe to catch the lunchtime one - it was either that, or a much later boat to Portsmouth. Still, we had a lovely time, and although it was a bit of relief to get home, the romance was still in the air, so some good came of it all.
My proudest day came shortly afterwards. My daughter had passed her diploma course in psychiatric nursing, and her graduation day loomed. Mother, father, father's new wife, mother's new husband - we all turned up in our best clothes to celebrate. The Corn Exchange in Brighton was the venue, and we shed tears, drank champagne and generally had a wonderful day. The four of us left her to it and caught the last train home, happily tired, rather tipsy, but still with tears of pride in our eyes.
I'm off for a while now, leaving my desk for a bit of rest and recuperation before I begin the third part of the Oceania Trilogy. Have a lovely summer - keep everything crossed that the rain has stopped, and that we will really have a summer at last - and send me your comments. love and fluffy things, Tamara

Monday, 9 July 2007

Meet the author? Maybe.

When I first started out on this writing lark, no-one warned me that not only would I have to produce wonderful books that had to be sure-fired best-sellers to even stand a chance of being published - but that I would have to turn my skills to pr and promotion, self-publicity and public speaking. By nature the writer is a solitary being. She or he sits alone for hours staring at a computer, or lost in a world that only they can inhabit. Their world is in the imagination - the real one either doesn't come up to scratch, or they simply prefer the one they've invented because with the press of a button someone really irritating can be erased. Therefore it is daunting to be faced with the prospect of meeting strangers, or standing before an audience who have come to listen to your words of wisdom, and hopefully not start chucking things at you when they get bored. This hasn't happened to me yet, although an elderly lady did once drop off to sleep and fall off her chair with a mighty crash in the middle of a women's institute talk that I did. It took some time to get her off the floor, and luckily she wasn't hurt, but it brought a dramatic end to my talk as everyone went off for a cup of tea.
I have been in this business for almost twenty years now, and have learned to take deep breaths, to remind myself that I am giving a performance, and that the audience is there because they want to be, and not just to chuck eggs and shout derision. I find it fascinating that people actually want to hear what I have to say - that they are interested in my travels and my research, and in the influences that have inspired me to become an author. But there are pitfalls, and when doing a 'meet the author,' session I have learned that I should never take anything for granted - to show no reaction such as shock or dismay, and to smile sweetly however sorely tried by the one person who tells me proudly that they have never read my book, let alone any other, but they want to talk endlessly about an idea they've had for a book of their own. This is where bookshop managers come in very useful, steering them politely to one side after a few minutes so that others can take their turn.
I have done signings all over England and Australia, and have discovered that the only thing I can expect is the unexpected. Here are some examples.
Alice Springs is a pleasant little town in the heart of Australia. The main street still looks much as it did in the early days, with the locals sitting in the shade of the trees and passing the time of day. I had driven down from Darwin on my way to Uluru - Ayers Rock - and was asked to do a book signing in the large bookstore on the main street. I arrived on time, suitably attired in a cotton dress which kept me cool in the blistering heat. The manageress met me with a smile and a long glass of iced water, but there was an edge to her smile, and she looked a bit shifty as I glanced around at the empty shop. Where is everyone? I asked, for I had never seen a place so deserted before - I thought I might get one man and his sheep dog, but no sign of either. 'Oh, they won't come in now you're here,' she said breathlessly. Her blue eyes were definitely avoiding me now and she seemed desperate to tidy up the already neat pile of books stacked up on the table.
I tried not to look too stunned by this announcement, but I knew my smile was faltering. 'Why?' I dared to ask - knowing I shouldn't, but unable to resist.
'People are shy around here,' she explained. 'They feel intimidated by someone famous like you. But they're all outside somewhere, just waiting for you to leave so they can come in and buy your books.'
Okay, I've heard it all now. I peer through the window, spot several likely looking customers hanging about and wonder what they would do if I suddenly shot out of the shop and approached them. I decide it's too hot to do anything so rash, sign all the books she's put out for me and take my leave. From the safety and anonymity of my car I watch as a slow trickle of people emerge from surrounding shops and cafes and from under the trees to go into the bookshop. The trickle becomes a flood, and I'm gratified to see that when they re-emerge, they are carrying plastic bags that are obviously filled with books. I just hope they were mine.
The Outback is a wonderful place, filled with marvellous people who love the peace and tranquility and live out their lives in one of the harshest places on the planet. They are shy, yes. Friendly and warm once you get to know them, and I can understand why they might find me a bit odd - for goodness sake, my husband finds me odd at times, so why shouldn't they?
On the tablelands of Queensland, up near Kuranda, I had been asked to speak to a group at the library. It was summer, and of course there had been tropical rain falling gently onto the verdant palms throughout the night and that morning. With overcast skies and the humidity steadily rising, I drove to the library expecting perhaps five or six people waiting to hear what I had to say. I was met by the librarian who was in a definite twitter. 'Would you mind waiting for a bit? Only the Mayor and the town council are in session and they want to come and hear your talk.'
I begin to feel nervous, something all too familiar. They offer me a drink, and I decline. Nerves and the necessity to give a speech don't mix well with alcohol - but I have to admit, a gin and tonic would have gone down very well by then. The library is new and vast and fantastically stocked - but outside in the garden there is a shock waiting for me. Row upon row of seats have been placed on the patio. A lectern and microphone put carefully at the front. The nerves are really kicking in as the Mayor and the counsellors arrive and photographs are taken for the press. I can hear a low hum of noise coming from outside, and as the Mayor, who was very gallant, steered me towards it, I realised that there had to be two hundred people waiting for me. Thank goodness I didn't have that drink. Two hours later I finally come to the end of the talk and the questions that follow. Almost dropping with nerves and the adrenaline that has been pumping through me, I realise that actually I enjoyed it - that the audience enjoyed it - and that I'm getting the hang of this public speaking at last. But oh, for the safety, silence and solitude of my office where I can dream and drift and let my imagination run riot.

Friday, 29 June 2007

A Soggy Interlude

After the euphoria of the book launch, I went with him indoors up to Edinburgh. It was very lucky that we took a plane, because the floods in the midlands would have made the journey impossible.
We flew into Scotland and drove straight out again, heading for Berwick on Tweed. It was raining. The reason for our visit was to celebrate a friend's sixtieth birthday, and he didn't know we were coming.
Found the campsite - yes, I was going to have to camp for three days, and him indoors knows that can only spell trouble where I'm concerned. Give me a hotel any day. It was still raining, and there, hiding beneath the awning were our friends. The champagne was open, the beer flowing and the rain chucking it down with a vengeance. Much later, after a game of pool - not the watery one, but the one involving long sticks and coloured balls - we retired to the caravan. The rain was thundering on the roof, and I actually found it rather soothing, for I began my life in a caravan on a site at Bluff Beach in Devonport Tasmania, and the sound of rain on a caravan roof took me back to my childhood. Enough of that soppy stuff. It was chucking it down so loudly you couldn't even hear him indoors' snoring - but then perhaps that was a blessing.
Morning dawned. Actually, it didn't. It was still raining. Nothing for it, but to sit in the awning and drink even more champagne.
It stopped raining. We got everyone together and headed for the beach. The beach? In this weather? Only the English would be mad enough. So, off we trot. It's blowing a gale and there's definitely more rain in the offing. The sea is broiling, crashing onto the sand, rising in great plumes on the rocks and almost dwarfing the lighthouse that stands so precariously on the end of the jetty. A quick walk. Several photos. An ice-cream. Yes. Well. This is England, and I'm as mad as the rest of them. Back to the caravan. The rain has returned with a vengeance. There's mud everywhere, and I'm sure the caravan was further up the hill when we left.
More champagne, more beer and then a stagger through the downpour to the clubhouse for a steak. Greatly refreshed, and somewhat unsteady on our feet we emerge back into the rain. Horrors. The caravan has shifted. In fact we can see it slowly descend into the mire. Him indoors and his mate wrestle with it, shoring it up with anything that isn't already soggy, and after stating that it won't dare sink any more, we retire to bed.
The rain is thundering, him indoors is snoring - as is his mate - and I feel the soft, but steady sinking feeling that only comes when a caravan has had enough and has finally collapsed up to the fender under the deluge. I snuggle back under the blankets. It won't go any further now - it's as low as it can go.
Come morning we discover said caravan has slid several feet down the gentle slope and is resting quite peacefully against a tree. Much swearing and sweating goes on as it is hauled back and tethered very firmly - which of course means we have to open even more champagne to cheer ourselves up and replace used calories.
Camping's a weird practice. You get out of bed and dress so you can walk across a field in the rain to a bathroom where you get undressed, shower, dress again and walk back, getting even wetter on the way. I had warned him indoors this was not my thing, but because we were staying in a caravan he didn't class it as camping. I'll just say this. If I'd been forced beneath canvas for those three days I would have killed him - unless the rain drowned the pair of us first.

Book Launch Blitz

The sky is darkening as the day finally succumbs to clouds and the threat of rain, and as the final pale tendrils of light disappear beyond the horizon comes a sound that is older than time. The deep, reverberating throb of the didgeridoo and the enticing beat of the African drum breaks into the stillness of the garden and silences the chatter the hotel. One by one we emerge into the night, drawn perhaps by the primal urge of the music that our ancestors once heard.
A blaze of flame soars into the sky - and then another. Two dancers appear with their flame-sticks and so begins the courtship of night and fire and music. Sensuous, mesmerising, their slight figures weave in the flames as they juggle and dance. It looks so easy, so effortless - and yet we know it's not.
Several of the male guests are taking lots of photos - hardly surprising as the girl is scantily dressed and almost feline as she dances with the poi. The ladies of the party are eyeing up the young man beside her. He's tall, dark, tattooed and shall we say perfectly proportioned. All in all, everyone enjoyed watching them both.
So now it is over. I can breathe a sigh of relief that I could manage to get into that skirt. That the rain held off. That nearly every guest arrived, and that I sold lots of books and had a very good time.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Life Gets Really Complicated

You'd think a day at the races would be a simple pleasure, wouldn't you? WRONG! It takes organisation, travelling, worrying about hat, shoes and handbag never mind the dress, Jacket etc., because I'm talking the first day of Ascot here, and that is never simple.
Having agonised over what to wear, I changed my mind a dozen times, then saw a hat. THE hat, which of course didn't go with anything, so, oh, dear, had to go off and buy a dress and shoes to go with it. Finally sorted, I was wizzed up to London to a lovely B&B. The day of the races dawned, and the promised rain has been banished by a blazing sun. Breakfast is eaten, and I wait to be picked up. I carry on waiting. And waiting. Three quarters of an hour late, my hostess arrives in her usual state of panic and we're off. No we aren't. Have to drop the dog off first, go to another friend's for champagne - and then we'll be off. No we aren't. A last minute panic over hair. Up, down - what. Tights, no tights. Which handbag - what about the shoes. Hair again - hat - you get the picture. I feel I must have forgotten something as I sit in a lovely garden with a glass of champagne. I check. Hat, shoes, bag, dress, jacket, nails done, camera, money - yes all seems in order.
Two hours later and WE'RE OFF! A bit like Frankie De whatsit, we're tearing down the motorway, the people carrier working like a thoroughbred as we head for Ascot. Traffic jams and the air conditioning doesn't reach that far back into the car and it's stifling. This is not helped by the perfume being sprayed liberally about and the smell of different makeup as it is applied along with the nail varnish that had been forgotten earlier.
We're here! At last. Two glasses of champagne and we head for the Royal Enclosure. Uh, oh, someone's already got blisters, so what should have been a quick trot across the field turns into a stop go affair. The gate we need is in sight - I can smell the strawberries and pimms. But we aren't going in there, someone has decided that we HAVE to go in the front entrance, which involves a mile trek over lumpy ground, dodging all kinds of nasties on the way. Not easy in high heels.
We've made it. Champagne again, sun beaming down - and the sight of so many hats and some bizarre outfits is wonderful to see. I do love people watching.
We were supposed to get a place by the bridge where I could see my Queen - I am a loyal Commonwealth subject of hers, and I know she would have been pleased to see me - but the champagne took over and we nearly missed her as she arrived in a coach. I got a photo, but she's so small, she's almost invisible.
The weather got hotter and hotter. The viewing stands in the Royal Enclosure were full so we couldn't watch the race, and I managed to pick the one horse in each race that came in last. But the champagne was good, and after waving to Frankie and getting a whoop of delight in return, we repaired to the car and had our picnic. There were some very sore feet and we were all hobbling by now, so as we sat on the grass there was a collective sigh of pleasure as bare toes were wriggled in the sun. No, wait a minute, the sun has disappeared. Oh, Gawd, it's starting to rain and if this hat gets wet it will be ruined. Back into the car - back onto the motorway - back into traffic jams and a return to my host's house for more champagne. There will be sore heads in the morning - but that doesn't matter. We all had fun, and the memory of daft hats, corny outfits and men sweltering in top hats and tails, plus waistcoats, will live with me for years. Now, what do you think I ought to wear next year?

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Book Launch Trials

Don't let anyone ever tell you that the life of an author is easy. There is very little time to sit about and contemplate your navel - no time to dream away a warm afternoon thinking about what to wear for the launch party - and definitely not a minute to spare to go to the gym so that the body is toned so that the new dress will fit! Telephone calls, missing books. Fire eaters who might or might not turn up. Didgeridoo players with asthma. You couldn't make it up. Did I want sandwiches, canapes or a four course dinner? Are there vegetarians or vegans expected? Will everyone really need a bottle of wine per person - or can we get away with less? My head is spinning, my inbox is overloaded - I know how it feels - and all in all I wish I hadn't started this. But it's too late now, the party is a week away and the steamroller that is the organisation is way out of my control! Who said a book launch was a doddle - it certainly isn't in my book. That was a pun, sorry, but the brain is in overload. A launch should be simple, and usually is. A group of people are invited to come and drink cheap plonk and eat soggy sandwiches or stodgy sausage rolls while they stand about talking nonsense, or trying to outdo each other in one-upmanship. This usually happens in a back room of a restaurant - can't have authors making a show of themselves - the middle of a very busy book shop where the customers stand about open-mouthed wondering what all the noise is about - most writers seem to be able to make a great deal of noise, must be all the time we sit in silence, so that when we get the chance we rabbit on and on! I decided long ago that if I'm going to invite people to a party, then give them a party, and so of course that means having to sort one out. I've had dancers to do a cabaret, even him indoors sang for the karaoke we had one year - he and his son did a dodgy version of House of the Rising Sun - but we prefer not to discuss it. I've had mad DJs yelling and dancing and generally overacting, with music so loud the ears are still throbbing six hours after it's all over, school bands which were brilliant and discos that brought back all the lovely memories of those days when the feet didn't hurt, the head didn't throb and the skirts could be as small as pelmets over a tight little bottom. Days long past, unfortunately. Anyway, to move on to this year's bash. I decided that because this is the first part of a trilogy, and because I have a lovely new publisher and a fantastic couple of editors, I would really push the boat out.
Now the first thing is the venue. A lovely hotel in the heart of the Sussex countryside, with antique houses leaning about on all sides, an ancient church and a river running through. Perfect. Books are an integral part of the launch, goes without saying. We very nearly went without - but after a fraught three weeks and far too many telephone calls, glasses of gin and tonic and a promise of a heartattack, we have the books ordered with a promise they will arrive on time. Entertainment. It's the longest day of the year, so why not have fire dancers to bring in the sunset? With the sound of the didge and the drum in the background, it should be awesome. Music? They don't have their own music. Sound system at hotel? No. Oh, Gawd, I give up. I'm off to the pub for a drink, him indoors has just come home and I'm in need of G&T and TLC> Bye.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Cornwall

Having written myself to a standstill, I decided to leave the office here in Sussex and go down to our cottage in Cornwall. Him indoors - the one who doesn't really know what's going on but is game for a laugh - came with me, and we were both accompanied by our cat, Blue. Now, it isn't easy travelling with a cat, but Blue is getting used to it, and by the time we reach Worthing he's given up on howling and being pathetic, saves his vocal chords and goes to sleep. Mind you, he has been known to suddenly wake up, vent his fury on basket and blanket, and yell his head off which makes us jump, but on the whole he's an okay cat.
Blue has featured in several of my books - he's a wonderful subject, funny, brave, cowardly, belligerent, snooty and sometimes as naughty as a spoilt child, so he's good copy! Blue is a ginger tom with attitude, and the minute he arrives in Cornwall he sets about sorting out the local felines and checking out the bird status. There are a lot of seagulls in Cornwall, and from the first moment, Blue decided they were bigger than him and so leaves them alone. Unlike the cock pheasant that strutted across the lawn one morning.
Blue got down, poised to pounce, tail flicking, ears flat, bum twitching. He advanced, slowly, carefully - then.... That's a big bird. Not only does it look strange, it doesn't seem to be frightened. Think I'll back off. Slowly though, carefully, because I know I'm being watched and I don't want to look like a fool. Backing off, slowly standing upright, the nose up, the ears perked, and with an air of nonchalance, Blue departs. He didn't want the bird anyway. He was only messing about.
The cottage in Cornwall sits on the side of a hill - there are many hills in the west, which involves a great deal of clambering up and down, which is supposed to be good for you, but actually it's just exhausting. It's a tiny cottage with two connecting bedrooms upstairs, and a lounge, kitchen and bathroom downstairs. The beauty is that we have a good garden - on a slope of course - on which we have decking that affords us a magnificent view over the sea to Rame Head. It is said that if you can see Rame Head it will rain, and if you can't it's already raining. That was sorely put to the test during the past ten days, but on the whole we managed to escape the worst of the weather and basked in sunshine.
My husband, him indoors, was out of doors playing lumberjacks. We'd had tree branches cut off some pine trees at the back of the house, and these had been left in heaps all over the bank. Chopping, sawing, swearing and sweating, him outdoors was heroic. Mind you, the author - me - had to risk life and limb to hold logs as the chainsaw went through them. I never realised how much sap comes from pine, or how sharp the needles are. But they burn magnificently, and with the neighbours joining us in several glasses of sloe gin, we warmed our cockles and watched the blaze. Blue was not impressed and sat grumpily on top of a fence and looked snooty - but then he's good at that.
Cream teas, pasties, delicious sea food in lovely restaurants, sunshine, sand and sea - I've come back four pounds heavier but relaxed and ready to rock and roll. Now for Ascot, the book launch of Lands Beyond the Sea, a Rod Stewart concert and a polo match before flying up to Scotland. June is going to be a very busy month - and amid all the partying, I have another book to write. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Not Crocodile Dundee

Well hello again. It's late, Mel Gibson's on the tv - a film I've seen before, but he's still lovely to look at - but I'm knackered after working all day.
Now you may think that sitting in front of a computer telling stories is a doddle, but believe me it isn't. There's the research to do, the putting down of the tale clearly and with as little waffle as possible, and that's all after I have worked out how to use the computer. There are times when I could throw this infernal machine through the window. Why is it that when it's needed the most it goes off-line, crashes, has a menopausal day, or simply just doesn't like Mondays? Better not push my luck, it's working today.
I was going to tell another story, but as it's late it will have to be short.
I was in the Northern Territory in Australia, travelling down from Darwin to the Alice, when I stopped at a servo - petrol station - to fill up the car, get a good slug of coffee and something to eat. Like all good Aussie servos the place was spotless, with plenty of tables and the delicious smell of coffee wafting in the air. There are two girls behind the counter, and one man in front of it - but he's not a customer, for he's wearing a badge which says manager.
I order coffee and a sandwich and pay for the petrol.
The man eyes me and winks. 'Reckon you must be a Pom.'
'Not really,' I say with a smile. 'Born in Australia, but lived in England for so many years I learned how to talk like them.'
'Jeez, you musta come a long way. Why you over here?'
This is the point where my husband pipes up. 'She's a writer. She's over here to do her research for her next book.'
There are times I could kill him, so after kicking him hard on the shin, I smile sweetly and try to ignore the man who is now wide-eyed and eager to talk.
'Jeez, you must have to know a lot of words to be a writer,' he says.
The plump face and beady eyes are glistening.
I nod. I have to know how to spell them too, I think, but concentrate on my coffee.
'I wrote something once,' he says proudly.
Okay, so I'm going to play along. 'Really? How lovely? What did you write?'
'I wrote a story for the local paper,' he says. 'It was going on the front page and everything.'
I'm delighted for him - a fellow writer, who has managed to get front page coverage. Now that's impressive. 'That's brilliant,' I reply - and mean it.
He shook his head, his expression doleful. 'It didn't happen though,' he said sadly.
'Why?
He shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets. 'Cos some bloody woman got eaten by a crocodile and they put her story on the first three pages and I didn't get a bloody look in.'
There's no answer to that, is there? I try to look sad, but actually I daren't meet my husband's eyes, because I'm about to collapse with the giggles.
'Reckon I betta get back to work,' he says gloomily, eyeing the girls who so far have managed very well without him behind the counter.
'Nah, you're right, Vern,' one of them calls. 'We aren't too busy.'

He shakes his head and smiles. 'Lovely girls,' he says admiringly. 'But it's better I go and keep an eye on them, they can't really manage without me.'
We say our goodbyes and watch as he strolls back to the counter and leans against the wall. The girls raise their eyes heavenwards and get on with what they've been doing while they walk around him. Poor Vern.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Hi there, apologies for not writing before, but life and work has made its demands, and I've been up to the ears in trying to sort out both. I have been told that certain aspects of my writing life would be very interesting to read, so this blog will be a sort of diary of the pitfalls, the adventures, inspiration and funny events in the life of an author. I hope they amuse and entertain you - if they don't - let me know!
I live in England, in a tiny village that is nestled in the South Downs of Sussex. It is peaceful here most of the time and the perfect environment for an author to settle down to work with a pastoral scene beyond the window. But writers do have to leave their desks occasionally, otherwise the broad beam we are all famous for will only get wider! I'm lucky, for I escape my office and Sussex and shoot off to Australia most years to do my research, visit the family, show my husband how wonderful my homeland is, and get inspiration for the next book.
My husband doesn't always come with me, so I've taken my daughter, and a girlfriend. It is the holiday spent with my girlfriend that I will tell you about first - as I think you might enjoy our strange and rather frightening experience with a Russian cab driver in Sydney.
The driver is Russian. His English is appalling and as he's only been in Australia for a matter of weeks, has no idea of how to get to our destination.
He sits in the cab as my girlfriend and I struggle to get her large suitcase in the boot. I stick mine on the back seat and clamber in beside the Russian. The conversation turns out to be similar to one I'd had a few days before with Syrian cab driver - but this time I'm prepared.
I talk slowly and clearly and give him the name of the industrial estate where my car is waiting to be collected. I even have a rough map of the area with the Transport Company clearly marked with a big black X.
I needed have bothered.
We set off at a great pace, going in the wrong direction. Screeching to a halt at the traffic lights he peruses his own map of Sydney, realises what he's done, and when the lights change, crosses three lanes of traffic so he can do an illegal U-turn and go back the way we came.
We pass our hotel and head through the early morning traffic towards the airport.
Now, I have a bad sense of direction - rather like this Russian - but I could have sworn we should have turned left back there. But I keep my thoughts to myself. Surely he can't be that wrong?
He is. We've done another U-turn, have passed the hotel for the second time, and are now heading away from the airport and racing through suburbia.
'I know where is,' he says, rolling his r's and eyes. 'I just forget one moment.'
'That's all very well,' I reply. 'But the meter's ticking and I'm going to have to pay you for getting me lost.' I check my map. 'Turn left here.'
'I drive this car,' he says, lifting both hands off the wheel to emphasise the point. 'You English, you know nothing.' He goes straight past the turning, drives for a mile, pulls up at the kerb and looks at his map.
Oh, God. This is the drive from hell. Now he's roaring off in the wrong direction again.
'Turn the bloody car around, go back to those last lights, then turn bloody right where you should have turned bloody left.' The Australian accent has returned and I'm losing patience.
He eyes me belligerently, turns the cab around and does as he's told.
'Now right,' I say, my finger firmly plastered to the spot on my map. If I'm wrong about this he'll have me sent to some gulag - he looks mean enough.
He obeys, obviously realising you don't mess with a woman who's been, literally, driven around the bend.
Straight down her to the roundabout and then take the third exit.' I'm getting quite excited at the thought of seeing my car again. It will be a relief not to have to deal with cab drivers.
He takes the third exit far too fast and we shoot past the entrance to the Transport Company and through an open gate into - a wasteland.
'Stop.' It's a shout from the heart from me and my friend.
He slams on the brakes and glares. 'Is nothing here,' he mutters.
'That's because you've come down the wrong track,' we shout. We're women on the edge of reason and he's in dire danger of being hit over the head with our handbags.
The dockland area is awash with rain, the deep pits and holes in the tarmac lurking to entrap any unwary driver and snap their crank-shaft. A railway line snakes between the silent warehouses and our Russian is drawn to it like a moth to a flame - it seems he's been gripped by a death wish.
'No!'
It's too late. The cab is now running smoothly along the railway lines - and we're heading for a tunnel.
'Get off - now!'
'Is wrong way,' he mutters, shaking his head. 'Is wrong, is wrong.' He's almost in tears.
At least he's finally been right about something today. 'Stop the car, calm down and get us off these lines.'
He yanks the wheel, rams his foot on the accelerator and we career off the rails - and into a pot hole. The shriek of metal crunching on something hard means he's probably lost part of his exhaust. Undeterred, he keeps his foot to the floor and we are again tearing over the potholes - but in the wrong direction.
'Not that way,' I tell him through gritted teeth.
He does a turn that Nikki Lauder would have been proud of and sets off, the cab bumping and jolting and rattling its way over the rough ground. He's obviously furious, and so are we.
He takes a right turn.
'Left!' we shout in unison.
'I know which way,' he shouts back. 'Is here, here - see?'
It isn't here. In fact it has now disappeared and is way behind us. 'Turn round, drive slowly and I'll show you exactly where it bloody is.'
He lifts his hands from the steering wheel, and with a great sigh and much rolling of eyes does as he's told.
'I'll pay you when you get the cases out of the car,' I tell him as he finally pulls up outside the Transport Company Warehouse.
He meekly unloads the cases, grunting as he lifts my friend's - it's huge and weighs a ton.
I pay him two-thirds of the fare.
He looks at me with soulful eyes - but I'm not moved. 'You not pay me right money,' he mutters.
'You not know where you going,' I reply.
The Russian climbs back into his cab, slams the door with all the venom he can muster, and roars off - in the wrong direction.
My friend and I look at one another and burst out laughing. It could take a while for him to get back to Sydney, for he's heading for the railway lines again.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Welcome

Hi, welcome to my blog. It's new, and hopefully you will find it interesting.