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!