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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Muse news and an amuse bouche

The muse for my book The dog, Ray and I are waiting.

Waiting for news on the next book. Beezle (who says when we were waiting for his book it was muse news) has asked me how long his shelf life (The dog, Ray)is likely to be. So many books are published each year I suspect it may not be long. Unlike the wait which I think was something like four years after it was published in China and Taiwan.
Sometimes my daughter reports that she's moved my book onto the "BEST SELLER" pile in whatever book shop she happens to be in. I don't know how long before they notice - maybe they don't. I tell her this is what hype is. So Beezle says he has hype hopes that his book will stay on the shelves for as long as he is able to lie on the sofa. I'm sorry about this - Beezle has taken to puns in later life.

The book we are awaiting news of is The Dark Horse. I have written about this in earlier posts. The next best thing to actually writing it is writing about it. I had a great meeting with my editor Emma at Hot Key Books the other week and it looks like they may make an offer before Christmas. But until they do you can never be too sure. An accountant may well turn it down in the end. Most publishers are market driven and it doesn't have either the words Games or Hunger in it. If they do accept it I'll be sure to let you know dear readers in the form of an extra Christmas blog post with holly and stuff like that thrown in.
 Meanwhile this is our own Dark Horse snacking on the verge - having a sort of amuse bouche and a very beautiful one I saw in Morocco - probably having more of a water biscuit.

 So whilst I am waiting, me and the muse and her long term companion Pixie the wolfhound, are taking lots of walks. It's very beautiful around where we live with acres of sky above our heads with no light pollution whatsoever and masses of trees.

 As the philosopher (and muse) Beezle and William Blake would say - "The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way."

The rooks are still here - the babies - of which Cornelia should have been one -  have now grown and added themselves to the cloak of birds that swoop over the fields to rest up in those branches at night.

 I'll be sure to look out next spring for any other branchlings like my dear Connie (below) who -  those who are new to this blog  - sadly drowned.

I think that the book I'm writing after the one I'm writing now (sort of about foxes but I can't say too much as yet) will probably be about rooks or crows. A friend sent me a wonderful link to a book about a woman who lived in a wooden hut in the middle of the woods in Poland. I think she was a woman after my own heart. She had a lynx that she'd rescued that slept on her bed and a crow that used to steal things from the neighbouring village. Apparently it had a penchant for attacking girls on bicycles. One day, when an officer of the law came to the house with a summons, it flew down, picked the paper up and tore it into little pieces. The policeman shrugged his shoulders and the case (whatever it was) was dropped.

almost the last of the roses
The door

Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there's
a tree, or a wood
a garden,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog's rummaging.
Maybe you'll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door
If there is a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there's only
the darkness ticking,
even if there's only
the hollow wind,
even if
is there,
go and open the door.
At least
there'll be
a draught

Miroslav Holub

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Writer's Block

I guess it's that time of year where you might find yourself ordering things off the internet for Christmas to delay the moment when you know you have "writer's block." 
It's interesting how much time you can waste doing this instead of writing about the weather or putting "suddenly" at the beginning of each new paragraph. The last item I bought (OK it was an advent calendar} wouldn't register until I'd put instructions for delivery. After I sent it I realised instead of writing "Please leave it in the porch" "I'd written Please leave it in the pooch."

The pooch Pixie.
This was not a good thing. For indeed the pooch Pixie has already consumed items left in the porch. Probably her favourite one was Nigel Slater's book on food. It was wrapped up as well. But then Pixie, like her forebear Jai, likes anything to do with food. Jai ate the back of the sofa so she could lie behind it with her head on where the back had been and watch "Ready Steady Cook." on the t.v.

I am reminded of this because I have been re-reading some of my earlier blogs from a few years back. This is another sign of writer's block. Spending time reading what you have already written rather than what you should be writing now. I found myself yesterday re-reading the manuscript that is with my editor waiting to be approved or disapproved. I have read this so many times I can practically recite the whole thing by heart. It begins - "Suddenly ........."

 Another tactic is to do something else completely different. I have been planting sweet pea seeds for next year.

The worry about leaving it in the pooch is that the other day there was nearly a nasty pooch in a pooch drama. I never write about the people who come and stay in the Pink Tower as holiday guests but a lovely couple came with two tiny dogs which were so tiny they managed to get under the gate and into our garden. Pixie firstly didn't know what they were(I know the breed but can't spell it right now) and secondly didn't want two things she didn't know in her garden. Each dog was smaller than her head and as she may well follow the maxim "don't eat anything bigger than your head" I feared she was going to consume them. She barked a lot and they barked a bit and managed to wriggle back under the gate. My heart was in my mouth which was better than a dog being in hers.

 Something else you do with writer's block is to leave the house. There is a great natural history section in Bristol Museum where this wild cat is in a glass case.

 I showed the picture to Pocket (quarter Bengal) and asked him if he intended to grow this big but he was busy doing my paperwork and thought my question was silly. He reminded me I couldn't put cat food down as a legitimate expense. I told him I was writing about a cat in my new book (the one with my editor).
 The last of the dahlias (my favourite - Cafe au Lait} and the answer to writer's block - get in a cart and ride away into the sunset. Beezle has reminded me that he and Nietsche think that 'the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself, you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.'
I am avoiding both things - forests and caverns that is.

I suppose every writer suffers from it do they? Ted Hughes had the wonderful Thought Fox who inspired him. Reading his poems it's hard to believe he could ever have been stuck in a rut and I'm sure he didn't waste time ordering driving gloves over the internet. Actually I don't think there was an internet then.


in memory of Ted Hughes by Seamus Heaney

"And what was it like," I asked him,
"Meeting Eliot?"
                      "When he looked at you,"
He said, "it was like standing on a quay
Watching the prow of the Queen Mary
come towards you, very slowly."

                       Now it seems
I'm standing on a pierhead watching him
All the while watching me as he rows out
And a wooden end-stopped stern
Labours and shimmers and dips,
Making no real headway.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

writing is only a substitute for living

Writing is only a substitute for living - so says Florence Nightingale. I thought Florence was busy being a nurse but perhaps like a lot of people she had an unfinished novel in her bottom drawer and therefor knows what she's talking about.

Perhaps she is right. As a writer I think you should write every day - even if it's just thoughts or a shopping list and maybe one is so busy writing you're not getting out there nursing or doing other 'living' things. And also as a writer you must always read as well. As you can see from the picture below I am doing a lot of reading.

Actually this is Beezle and me doing that book signing in Waterstones - not my own personal library. It was a lot of fun - particularly when other dogs came into the shop. A friend of mine thought I'd do better if I changed the title of the Dog Ray to Fifty Shades of Ray. I think he made a good point.

One of Henry Miller's tips to writers is to keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it. I think this sounds good. As Beezle and Ray Bradbury would say " Writing is not a serious business. It's a joy and a celebration. You should have fun with it."

 Here are the dogs having fun down the yurt. I'm there too - busy writing in a corner. Oh no - a yurt doesn't have corners. Oh well - writing in the round.

Suddenly, I looked up what other famous people (by other I mean Florence not me) say about writing. Elmore Leonard says never start a book with the weather. Uh oh! The opening line to The Boy with the Tiger's Heart  is
"The snow falls heavily that night and in the morning lies in deep drifts ..........."

Still at least I didn't write "It was a dark and stormy night."

He also said never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

Someone else said if you'd don't know what to write next and the story is on the verge of being boring bring in a man with a gun.

Susan Sontag suggests that you know everything about adjectives and punctuation and make a list of words to thicken your active vocabulary. I like this. I've always thought if I was ever asked onto Desert Island discs the book I would take would be a dictionary. It would work like this:
To have puny, not just little, hoax not just trick, mortifying not just embarrassing, bogus not just fake. I could make a story out of puny,hoax,mortifying,bogus. They are a story.

Here is Pocket (quarter Bengal). Dreaming, he says, is the only real substitute to living.

I was suddenly reading Sylvia Plath the other day(I'm suddenly name dropping here) and she said that her desire to write came from a tendency towards introversion, begun when she was in the fairy tale world of Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins. I can relate to that. As a writer, I've often thought of myself as a cross between Cormack Mc Carthy and Enid Blyton.

Oh look - a man with a gun has just arrived at the door. 

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Big day for Beezle (and me!)!

Big day for Mr. Beezle the grand old man and inspiration for #thedogray! ! We're signing at Waterstones in Salisbury in a few minutes! 12-2pm . Do come and visit us please!

Waterstones ts at 7-9 High Street, Salisbury, SP1 2NJ if you are lost or have never been. @watsalisbury if you twitter #thedogray for mentions!
Pixie was very upset not to be coming but will gently sulk in the garden at home...
Here is me reading from the book at the launch party a few weeks ago with Mr Beezle in attendance what a gentlemen! I may be persuaded to read today. We'll see.

See you there today?

Friday, 16 October 2015

hawks, toads and biscuits

Last week we had the launch of my new book The Dog, Ray. This is a very special book to me - I wrote it quite a few years ago and at the time no publisher wanted it except the Chinese and a publisher in Taiwan. This is, I believe, because they believe in re-incarnation. But Ray's time has come and Hot Key books have done her proud.

 Beezle did me proud too. The book is his really, he let me into the ways of dogs and was the inspiration for the story and he came to the launch and followed me up to the stage and lay at my feet the whole time I talked and read from the book. (That's me reading from the book - not Beezle though he could have done if he'd wanted to of course. I did ask him but he'd forgotten his glasses.) He's thirteen now which I think is about ninety one. Actually what he really needs is an ear trumpet. He can't even hear the sound of the chews box being opened, unlike Pixie who gallops over in a flash. What a star he was though. (and still is of course.)

We made masses of biscuits in his honour and have only just finished eating the ones that were left over. The book was published on October 1st and I suppose it's out there in the book shops but it's such a strange thing when you have a book published because you don't really know what happens to it. Will anyone review it? Will anyone like it? Will anyone read it? I'll be doing a book signing in the Salisbury Waterstones next Saturday 24th october between 12-2 so if anyone is around please come and say hello. (and buy the book if you can stretch to it)Beezle will be there too. We'll both be signing but not if Beezle forgets his pen.

 In my last post I mentioned not putting up a picture of a toad I'd found swimming in the dog's water bowl recently so here it is along with another toad who was sitting on the water metre when I came to read it.

As Beezle and Shakespeare would say " Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like toad, ugly and venomous, wears a precious jewel in his head."

If you didn't see the post before last I'm putting up the picture of the sea eagle again. As I'd said, in Ireland recently we had the good fortune to see a sea eagle in the wild - it was sitting in a tree overlooking a lake and it is only thanks to an amazing lens on a very small and basic pocket camera that we can see the details so well. To our naked eye it looked like a huge post sitting high up on a branch. They are huge.

Back in England we went to a steam fair and saw a display of eagles and hawks. This is a sea eagle too - they have a massive wing span. One of the hawks - a goss hawk - decided it would fly off for a while and soar in the thermals above the trees. Two wild red kites flew over head, watching the hawk, it was a wonderful sight. The hawks owner seemed unfazed but told us the reason he didn't fly golden eagles was because they were prone to picking up little dogs in the crowd. I'd like to have seen it pick Pixie up.

On a horticultural note the dahlias are still flowering well and these gorgeous gladioli called Plum Tart.


Mary Oliver

This morning
the hawk
rose up
out of the meadow's browse

and swung over the lake -
it settled
on the small black dome
of a dead pine,

alert as an admiral,
its profile
distinguished with sideburns
the colour of smoke,

and I said: remember
this is not something
of the red fire, this is heaven's fistful

of death and destruction,
and the hawk hooked
one exquisite foot
onto a last twig

to look deeper
into the yellow reeds
along the edges of the water
and I said: remember

the tree, the cave,
the white lily of resurrection,
and that's when it simply lifted
its golden feet and floated

into the wind, belly-first,
and then it cruised along the lake -
all the time its eyes fastened
harder than love on some

unimportant rustling in the
yellow reeds - and then it
seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it
turned into a white blade, which fell.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Dog, Ray

On Thursday October 1st my new book is being published! It has another beautiful cover by Levente Szabo and I'm pleased to see that the dog on the cover looks very similar to our own dog Beezle, who inspired me to write the story and personally let me into the world of dog. We are going to launch the book with a great party I hope and some blue dog shaped biscuits. Beezle will of course be attending.

I'm not going to say anything else on this blog post (though I have a great picture of a toad who I found swimming in the dog's water bowl the other morning.} Instead I'm going to put up the first chapter of the book.
Hope you enjoy it but more to the point - BUY THE BOOK! Here is link on that website

Chapter 1

When my death came it was swift. Swift as a racing horse. It wasted no time. Like a conjuring trick. One moment I was in the car, the next on the road and then I wasn’t anywhere. And when I awoke from anywhere I was slouched in a chair in a room with yellow paint peeling off the walls and a table at the far end. Yes. My death was as fleet as the wind. Meteoric you might say. Mercurial, like quick silver. No floating above the body looking down on the grieving relatives. It was snappy, prompt, it was smart.

It’s funny, now I  come to think of it. The man who was driving the car always had a fear of horses. He was so afraid of them he would never get on one, nor pat one on the neck, nor let their lovely soft muzzles blow in his face. I know all this because the man driving the car was my Dad and my Mum told me how scared of horses he was.
“It’s unreasonable really,” she’d say. “He’s never had anything to do with them. It’s not like he was kicked by one when he was small.”
And that is what’s funny. Because the reason I ended up on the road was because a horse jumped over a hedge onto my Dad’s car as we were driving to the supermarket. So it had been a premonition. His fear of horses.

“You’d better hurry up dear,” said someone at the table at the far end. “or all the best jobs will be taken. We had a multiple coach crash just before you came in and most of the qualified jobs have gone.”
“Jobs?” I asked. “Why do I need a job? I’m only twelve.”
Were only twelve dear,” the voice corrected. “I’ve got you down as Daisy Fellows. Distinguishing features one blue eye and one green eye. Is that right?”
I nodded. I had longed to have one of those old passports with the bit about distinguishing marks. I thought whoever read it would have to look long into my eyes to make sure it was true and I would learn to perfect a blank stare so that they wouldn’t be able to see into my soul. But they don’t do that any more. The passport I got last year just had a little microchip in it which probably said everything there is to know about me including my bad marks in the maths exam.

A woman was sorting out a pile of papers on the desk and she glanced at me every now and then.
“Really my dear, you don’t want to get cold. You must go whilst you can. Now a new baby is about to be born in Spittalfields. It’s the only qualified job left. I think we’ve about two minutes so come and sign the form and then you must be off.”
“Off? I don’t understand.” I said, “I’ve only just arrived. And come to think of it I don’t even know where I am. Is this Heaven or something?”
“Heaven? Goodness my dear. What an old fashioned concept of death. You are in one of our Government run Job Centres. You are a soul are you not? Everyone who is born needs a soul. It’s just a question of whose body you take up. Look upon it as re-housing.”

She was just about to hand me a form to sign when a telephone rang at her side. She picked it up.
“Oh dear. Really? What a shame. Thank you for letting me know.” The woman looked at me. “The baby was stillborn. No need for you to go there.”
“Why is no one else here?” I asked, “six thousand three hundred and ninety people die per hour. I learnt that at school. Where are they all?”
“That’s an old figure my dear. Far more people die than that. But that’s not the point. The point is we like to treat people as individuals. There are lots of rooms in the building you know and queues of people waiting to come in here.”
“What about my Dad? He’ll be here won’t he?”
“I don’t know dear – what’s his name?”
“Dennis Fellows.”

The woman opened a draw marked F and rifled through it. “Fanshawe, Featherstone. Fielding – can’t see a Dennis Fellows, there’s a Freddie Fellows – any relation?”
I shook my head.
 “He can’t be dead then.”
Good I thought. Mum’ll be pleased. Just me then. No joint funeral. Thank goodness. I wouldn’t want to be buried to something by the Beatles. I thought about it for a moment. It would have been fun to have seen who’d have come to it– most of Year 8 I guess. I wonder if that boy from tennis club would have been there? Of course, technically I wouldn’t have had my funeral yet. I’m probably still lying on the road covered in a sheet. I expect there’s a crowd of people. They always stop and stare at accidents. I wondered what  had happened to the horse. Perhaps it was in the queue outside waiting to come back as a hedgehog.
“So Mum was right about her theory of coming back again as something else when you die?” I said. “She was a Buddhist.”
“It’s not about religion.” The woman said scornfully. “It’s about practicalities. Now you’re getting cold aren’t you? We must hurry. Ah yes. You needn’t sign any forms for this one – look upon it as a temporary job. And remember – no one will understand what you’re talking about so don’t waste your time trying to be understood. Off you go dear – through that door on the right.”
“But what’s my – er – who er – WHAT’S MY JOB? WHO AM I TO BECOME?”
“There’s a litter being born right now in a charming house. I’m sure you’ll like it. They’ll all be out but I’ll arrange for one to be stuck in the birth canal. That’ll give you about three minutes to get there. Remember – the door on the right!”

I just had the handle in my hand when the door flew open .It definitely seemed like sky out there and when I looked down a jagged vent opened up and it felt as if something had grabbed hold of my legs. Too late I realised  I had gone through the wrong door. I hadn’t seen the second door. I found myself falling, falling. And it was as quick as the wind. It was snappy, prompt. It was smart.

As I fell I remember shouting out “What sort of litter? Am I going to be a pig? A cat? A RAT??” But no one heard me and it wasn’t until I could open my eyes twelve days later that I could see, perfectly well that I had come back to Earth as a dog.

Monday, 31 August 2015

toad in the hole

This has been a month of animal sightings and escapes. I had a bit of a tidy up around the polytunnel last week, plunging my hand into a very small pot to pull out a weed. My fingers curled around something squidgy and lo - there was a toad, covered in soil, nestling right inside the pot. Sadly it wasn't a frog so I didn't kiss it.

Two animals not sighted however, were Jack and Roxy, two dogs belonging to a friend of mine, who four hours before we were due to leave for Ireland decided to go on the run. But ah - the power of Facebook! At 8 o'clock - the time we had to depart for the ferry it had been reported on FB that they had been seen on a main road 5 miles away - that the traffic had stopped for them but no one could catch them. The dog warden had had reports but that was all. Anyway - to cut a long journey short we eventually found them in a vets an hour away in the opposite direction and at midnight picked them up. Lucky all of us.
 We missed the ferry by the way.

When we did finally arrive in Ireland we saw this beautiful sea eagle. So very rare to sight one these days so we were thrilled. A lot of sea eagles have been released on the east coasts of Scotland and Ireland from Norway. Most of them flew to the west coast (where we saw this one) because probably - Norway doesn't have an east coast.

Beezle and Pixie who didn't run away - on the road not taken

Beezle contemplating inside the yurt
As Beezle and TSEliot would say "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
 You can't see it but the ducks have hidden a little suitcase behind the box ball. They thought they'd run away and go on holiday too.
Here's Pocket (quarter Bengal) looking a bit disgruntled as he'd just spent all afternoon with the shears on the box ball and their suitcase had put the whole thing out of shape.
Animals eh?

Toad dreams
That afternoon the dream of the toads rang through the elms by Little River and affected the thoughts of men, though they were not conscious that they heard it.--Henry Thoreau
The dream of toads: we rarely
credit what we consider lesser
life with emotions big as ours,
but we are easily distracted,
abstracted. People sit nibbling
before television's flicker watching
ghosts chase balls and each other
while the skunk is out risking grisly
death to cross the highway to mate;
while the fox scales the wire fence
where it knows the shotgun lurks
to taste the sweet blood of a hen.
Birds are greedy little bombs
bursting to give voice to appetite.
I had a cat who died of love.
Dogs trail their masters across con-
tinents. We are far too busy
to be starkly simple in passion.
We will never dream the intense
wet spring lust of the toads.