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.