‘Love’ is possibly one of the most indiscriminately used in the English language. Whatever do we mean – and what do others mean when they hear or read the word we’ve spoken or written?
Valentine’s Day Cookies
As the twin towers burned and fell, messages of I love you were sent across from desperately trapped employees of the companies who worked in those buildings. A child reluctantly writing a thank-you letter to a hardly known relative, for a badly-chosen present, learns to send love from …
We commit our lives to one another – or we express merely our lust of the moment … calling both acts prompted by love … There was once a popular phrase in some circles, Smile, God loves you …present-daypreachers constantly refer to God’s love or even God’s unconditional love …
We’re told we shall love or hate a film, a book, a political candidate’s agenda … we love chocolate, reading, your new hairstyle, your hat.
I also love belonging to ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) … and I loved being part of the first Hawkesbury LitFest back in April so much that I’ve committed to joining the ‘pop-up LitFest’ at the Hawkesbury Annual Show on 29th August …and we also love our cats … even on the desk (no, not on the desk…) …
Enough examples: we say we love, yet we deceive. We say we act in love, but act selfishly, or out of despair. We use loving our children both to protect them from harm and to push them academically.
We endlessly use the L-word as a reason, or excuse, for emotionally driven behaviour.
In the Mullins family story, book 3, I want to look at how our concepts of ‘loving’ is operating in Max and Jenny’s family and extended family, and in another family, their friends Shaz and Elliott, parents to Alice’s friend Charlie. Elliott is also a partner in Max’s medical practice. How does Elliott use love?
How do the characters ‘love’ each other? How does this ‘drive the plot’?
If you’re anywhere nearby, why not visit
Hawkesbury Upton Village Show, Hawkesbury Upton, South Gloucestershire -gates open 12.30pm Saturday 29th August 2015
Being ‘too busy’ is bad for creativity: I awarded myself a writer’s Retreat. A retreat from writing. To re-group the creative mind: to paint, bake cakes, encourage the garden.
Book Reviews are on hold.I’ve joined the 30 Days Wild project (http://www.mywildlife.org.uk/30dayswild/)… as anyone who’s read Baby, Baby or The Labyrinth Year will know, Jenny and Daze investigated wildlife as children, and so did I …
Probably un-clubbable like most writers, I do actually believe in joined-up-ness. As in joined-up projects, community activities, and making creative connections. It’s fiction-writerly thing: joined-up-ness yields plot. Getting back to really looking at nature is joined-upness with my childhood, having once been a child!
And after giving my computer an upgrade … coulduse another retreat from that techie, not writerly, project. After several days working on, and adjusting to, the upgrade, I’m back with the Wildlife.
The MyWildLife Project – 2 walks and what’s in the garden
The idea is that as many of us as possible get outdoors studying and relating with the natural world. They suggest many ways and your own choice: own choice for me is being out there to record what I see photographically, then do a bit of research to find out more.
Here’s the results for the past week: be prepared for creepy, crawly, things …
Oxford Evening Field Walk:
Fields and wooded paths run along the back of the University Parks, Lady Margaret Hall, The Dragon School, and Wolfson College, towards Marston Ferry Road. The paths run beside sports fields and a farm, and are edged with a huge variety of wildflowers and grasses.
Slugs:I was photographing a bee on comfrey, and nearby sat a large black slug. Our
garden slugs are usually tiny grey/white (British, and dangerous to plant life) or big and brown/orange (continental recent-ish newcomers, less of a pest). Joined-up-ness: I decided to take more than a destructive interest in our black slug and looked up Latin name and details (see right under photo).
Their vile mucus (quote Wikipedia, It is somewhat difficult to wash off) as well as helping them move along, is a defence. Apparently it stinks and tastes so horrible that they have few predators, and unlike snails, have never been added to the human menu, though hedgehogs well eat them. Bring back the humble hedgehog … we used to see them around here.
The wooded path home, lined with sycamores, filled in a knowledge gap from when I was a kid and observed how susceptible sycamore leaves are to an acne-like rash of small scarlet pustules. I used to find these creepy and never researched them. Joined-up-ness:
this time I’ve looked them up and discovered they’re “galls’” caused by a mite (official name Aceria cephaloneus). The females lay their eggs inside: the developing mites live inside them. (So what exactly is a mite? A bit like a tiny tiny spider which bites? Mites: ‘small arthropods belonging to the subclass Acari and the class Arachnida’ (Wikipedia)
Masses of wild flowers are out in June. Ragged Robin was a great find, I haven’t seen it around
Bracket Fungi were found on the trees.
East London Afternoon walk:
This was in Wick Wood, Hackney, a wood planted about 20 years ago on what used to be playing fields to provide a wildlife habitat, right beside a raised section of the A12. Two gatekeeper butterflies were flying around and settling on beech leaves.
The undergrowth – blackberry bushes – are flowering and come July/August anyone in the know will be able to pick berries and make jam.
Here’s a bee in one of the flowers: sadly not a worker making honey but some species of ‘bumble’ either solitary or maybe, as we found on another walk in Oxfordshire, a member of a ground-based colony living in a hole (possibly abandoned by rabbits or dug by a dog).
A clearing had been cut in the wood, and a hedge woven from branches. It’s probably part of a schools project. In Oxford it would’ve been made from the willows which grow everywhere here, but I’m not sure what had been used for this one.
Wild flowers were woodland types such as these blue comfreys which grew at the wood exit. The trees were mostly beech, there was an avenue of planes (good London trees): as this isn’t a natural wood, these trees were probably selected to grow happily in a polluted environment.
Yesterday’s observation and more to come …
(made seated on the grass as suggested in the Notes, and while eating a bun):
A large green, iridescent, beetle, busy eating the nectar in a rose… This seems to be a Rose Chafer, well known to eat petals and nectar. The larvae live on rotting wood and compost (maybe in our compost bin?)
To become a writer is to expect disappointment… wise words, from a wise writer. His quirky, lighthearted, semi-fantasy writings are deceptively wise. His name is Alexander McCall Smith.
And at a rather bad time in my life, a friend’s kindness was to introduce me to his wonderfully affirming stories.
An Indie Author Life seems about the worst idea in the world. Edit and publish your own books? Write, design, and print your own publicity? Promote yourself on social media? Find your own readers?
Fun at The Fox: the Hawkesbury Upton LitFest
One of many ways to promote our books is to follow up every opportunity to appear before an audience, willing to invite them into your stories by reading an extract or two. Thursday was World Book Night, and over a hundred people gathered at The Fox, Hawkesbury Upton, to celebrate.
It was a warm sunny evening, and the initial readings could be held outdoors in the marquee, giving the event a summery feel.
Later, after the official opening by Katie Fforde of the Romantic Novelists Association, a huge-er than imagined crowd meant we were packed in the Function Room like happy, book-loving sardines. Authors (gathered partly via our membership of ALLihttp://allianceindependentauthors.org/) were wreathed in smiles, locals curious enough to purchase a pint and join the fun gathered to hear a bit about the writing life. And more 5-minute tasters of Indie authors’ work.
Situated in a village rather than a large town or city, had a really cosy feel, and The Fox was providing not only the venue but dinner in the restaurant and/or B and B for some of us.
I was able to read from both my novels (Baby, Babyand The Labyrinth Year) about the Mullins family – Max the GP and his wife Jenny, genetic researcher – and my ‘Wannabe’ poem found a use illustrating the apparent romance of being writers … (see blogpost Trips and Tropes ... )
The LitFest Effect …
Friday morning was time to take a walk around the village: rolling green Cotswold countryside, wild flowers, a sloping lane bordered by woods, and the ancient, part-Saxon, St Mary’s church.
Where a friendly local dog-walker borrowed a key and showed us around. After a few over-busy months, and a series of appliance disasters in our house, elated by the country break, ‘Writing this now,’ I wrote on Saturday evening, with that quote from Alexander M S in my head, (Radio Four Saturday morning)t- ‘I’ve still got that now all the exams are all over feeling … ‘
It was actually time to affirm the whole quote …
To become a writer is to expect disappointment…until you remember that the glass that’s half empty is also half full.
Half full, half full, I am telling myself … Thursday to Saturday maybe it was completely full … but even if I (and others) sold nothing, the glass is not half empty (as here in this intellectual city we so easily think) … no, it is definitely half full – and it will be full again … Mma Ramostwe of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is so encouraging, as she says, ‘... it is well known …’
… Alice and Zoe, Max and Jenny’s children, are beautifully realised characters in their own right, not drawing attention to themselves, fitting into the story exactly as they should.
The conflicts begun in Baby, Baby of religious fundamentalism versus tolerance, scientific progress in genetics and fertility against the risks of new procedures, are more relevant than ever, and Mari Howard does an expert job of weaving these themes into her story without ever letting them weigh it down. In her wonderful, accurate portrayal of the different strands of Christianity, she shows how faith and science don’t need to be mutually exclusive …
It’s 1984. Daze, step-sister to Jenny Guthrie (of Baby, Baby and The LabyrinthYear) is applying to art college. Wandering around the Trewin Studio Sculpture Garden, St Ives, she discovered Dr John Guthrie, Jenny’s Dad, and a well-known fertility specialist. Now read on … (and if you didn’t, read Part One of the Extract earlier on the blog …)
Seated in a cosy café in Penzance, cocoa and Chelsea buns before them, Daze wonders what else she might learn. From or about Jenny’s father, whom she hasn’t seen since they were about ten, though Jen and her birth sister have been to visit in the States.
‘Daze,’ he says, giving her a long look then cutting his bun precisely in two, ‘There in the garden in you long skirt with the button boots and the mittens, you reminded me of Maimie.’
Who? Daze thinks. ‘Singer, is she?’
‘Kid in a book. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Our grandma read it to us.’
‘Oh Rackham. I love his work. But I’ve never heard of her.’
‘It’s the …’
‘Yeah, lost look, innit? Jus’ fashion … So, we share the gene toolkit with the animals?’
‘Different models, same biochemical switches to turn the genes on and off.’
‘Cool. Same hammer and chisel, different sculpture. But that doesn’t explain how the different shapes -’ She frowns, and sips her chocolate. The windows of the café are steamed up, the two women behind the counter chatting with customers buying bread.
‘Environment’ your clue there, adaptation. And very slight variation makes a hell of a lot of difference to the animals.’He counts them off on his fingers: ‘One, between species, and that’s fine.Two, between individuals – and that’s fine too.Three, when there is a mistake in the system – possibly in the toolkit’s functioning – say a heavier hammer or problem with the chisel’s edge – that’s when the problems arise.’
‘Maybe your animal won’t have the parts it’s meant to have properly formed, or formed but in the wrong places?’
‘Gross.So that’s how it happens … we found pictures in Caroline’s medical books…’
‘Jeez – she shouldn’t have kept them where you kids… ‘
‘Once we cut up a chrysalis to see how the caterpillar was getting on – with becoming a butterfly …’
John shakes his head, then grins, ‘Any more you want to know?’
‘What your actual work is?’
‘Well, we use a lot of mice and rats in our line of business, and to be able to produce a whole batch of mice who are exactly the same is becoming kinda necessary.So they’d react identically to identical stimuli?’
‘Any other use for cloning?’
‘Think about pandas. Then think IVF?You must know what that is?’Daisy nods. ‘If we could extract some DNA from an endangered species, and then, somehow produce offspring by – well, by some method faster or bypassing sexual reproduction – by cloning – we could increase numbers so they can breed and re-enter the environment?’
‘And d’you think that’s possible?My boyfriend’s into saving rare species –‘ Daze sparkles with interest.
‘Actually, I’m working on human infertility,’ John says.
Daze tries something out on John.‘Some people think we should let the environment alone so the animals can live proper lives.Humans have been on top for thousands of years, but take a really healthy dolphin, and a human with dementia.Which has a better quality of life? Should we sacrifice ourselves for them?’
‘You’ve read Singer, have you?Animal Liberation?’
‘Speciesism is wrong. I wouldn’t say we have to sacrifice ourselvesbut if somebody’s life isn’t worth living, then what’s the point? Someone who has Stephen Hawking’s disease but not his incredible brain?Can a person like that enjoy life?Or a person in a persistent coma?’
‘So – let the incredible intellect live – but if the ability to reason and communicate is lost – that kinda thing – then an animal has more intrinsic worth?’
‘I hear what you say.’
Crap frustrating answer: what is his line on this? ‘Suppose we could modify ourselves – would that be useful?’
In reply, he glances again at his watch. Bored now conversation’s shifted from admiration to discussion, Daze wonders, disappointed. Needs flattery: well, she wants interaction. ‘Sorry – gotta go – Daze, that should cover the check – nice talking with you – ‘
‘You make science interesting – my teachers never did that.’ Dose of admiration to finish up, whatever.
And he smiles, andplumps his business card down on the table. ‘Any time you want a vacation job – call me.I’ve some stuff going on in Colombia you might enjoy …’He shrugs into his coat as he crosses the café towards the door.
Meet Mari and other ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) writers at Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival on Thursday (23rd April)
Last week I so liked Debbie Young’s piece on her lovely Village Shop that I re-blogged it. The story of the warm sheltering shop for the kids waiting for the school bus; the concept of a shop serving a small community; a place people can meet and connect with others without travelling there first; the delicious display of new bread … The very fact that Hawkesbury Upton, unlike many, is a village whichhas a shop where residents can not only buy useful items but chat and relate … Too tempting to compare that with living on the outskirts of a city with appalling traffic, more estate agents than most people know what to do with, and franchised coffee shops …
Can’t have it all ways
However … back then, in retro-land, and for decades of the past, ordinary women did not, (on the whole) figure much in the creative arts. (Who knows what wonderful stories of daily life we’d otherwise have, by people who didn’t live in grand houses, travel by carriage, or attend balls at the Assembly Rooms?) We are in the age of ‘thing-led’ modern living. The almost-universal ownership of household appliances has freedus as much as any Equality Acts. With the laundry spinning away in a machine I multi-task daily at my computer … writing, relating, researching … Having that satisfying feeling of the Good Housekeeper as well, as the load flaps later on the line … a writer and a painter …
Until something happens that demonstrates our utter dependence on electricity, on-line shopping, deliverymen, and worst of all the computer! I am now without a washing machine. Ours ended the wash Saturday a week ago, with a drum of soaking wet clothes and an “F-21” display on it digital face. (Along with an ironic smile perhaps?) Just as we were about to go walking with friends.
So now, piles of washing in the basket … no space for the cat! And the store just rang today to say due to computer problems, they now can’t deliver the (abundantly necessary) new machine t ill April 1st …March 14 – April 1st in old money, washing-wise.
Thankfully, I know how to hand-wash, I only had to watch my Mum throughout my childhood.
And I don’t throw things away … we love this, even though it’s ancient, hideous, and clutters up the utility room. It’s a spin dryer, circa 1973 …
And then there’s been the kindness of friends, the load done in the neighbour’s machine … a blessing, (though maybe less amicable than down by a river, bashing the clothes on a stone?)
The ‘too busy’ that we all are
Looking back, how’ve I confidently become so busy? Middle of trying to promote Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, my 2 Indie-
published novels, (getting the hang of Amazon and Goodreads’ more obtuse and hidden-away pages, where you the author can promote your writing …); making notes about number 3 in the series. Then the family remember there’s an unpublished one, and in an area which has become a hot topic now. We rescue it from the attic: it’s good. It’s well written in a previous style and comes with positive comments from my creative writing teacher of many years ago. (A short course I’d forgotten about.) It’s highly controversial. It’ll need to be published under a different name.
For a few days, it is horribly tempting … it needs a revised ending … but …
And to the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. Beguiled not only by the chance for publicity and to read from my books but … the concept. A LitFest in a rural setting, run by locals, small enough to really meet other authors and even potential readers.
One of life’s puzzles …
With all the automated living in the world, choices still have to be made. I’ve chosen IAF and Hawkesbury Upton …
What would you chose … if your old novel found in the attic might’ve hit the headlines, but at the expense of destroying relations with readers of your first two? Just not ruthless enough, I guess…
You’re at a party: some of the guests don’t know you: ‘Meet X: she’s a writer …’
Others, friends from the past:‘Are you still writing?’
So, a bit of doggerel verse: if you’re a writer, do you recognise anything here?
Writer’s Block? I’ve just read another writer’s blog: she tackles the trope, then concludes ‘I’ve read enough to convince me that at best, it’s probably tiredness and at worst, a self-styled excuse to bunk off and not lose face. Plumbers don’t get plumbers’ block, I read, or heard, somewhere by someone …’ (http://bit.ly/1wZ9Gih ) But it’s established, bedded deep into societal writerly myth, so it must have a basis in reality… mustn’t it? Did Tolkien suffer from WB? Did Shakespeare, JK Rowling, or Dickens? Does Philip Pullman? (Send me your references if you know the answer!)
The writer loves solitude …
Wordsworth may’ve started this one, when he wrote of his Lakeland rambles: that daffodil scene which would later ‘flash upon that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude’. Though it seems that his wife, Mary, contributed what Wordsworth, later recalling the ‘tranquil restoration’ , called the two best lines in the poem, (Wikipedia article http://bit.ly/1m4qmOb)
Quiet, yes. Andpreferably away from the cats, who like to help by sitting on the computer. But solitude, beloved of writers, holds within its very sound, that hollow ‘o’ followed in the third syllable by that lugubrious ‘u’ , something empty, a feeling of isolation. Do any other writers find solitude actually a bit of scary concept? Solitary confinement, solitary child, sad associations with forced or unwelcome lack of society?
A welcome ‘solitude’ is to be alone but not alone, the family happy and busy son the other side of the door … not calling out or needing anything. A writerly FB friend, Carol Cooper, wrote a piece on her blog recently: ‘How to Annoy your Husband’ (7 March 2015, http://pillsandpillowtalk.com/). My kind of solitude is to be just far enough away that I won’t annoy mine by making a ratty response to being interrupted whenbrought food or tea with a big friendly smile to match. It can be so rejecting to be married to a writer.
‘How lovely, you’re a writer!’
The third trope is a trip down Memory Lane, to what many writers describe from their childhood years: I escaped into books. (read about it here: http://bit.ly/1m4qmOb)
Many children with solitary childhoods, through illness, disability, or being the ‘only child’ became, or are, writers … Robert Louis Stevenson (frequent illness, and an only child) C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien (both lost parents at a young age), Alice Walker (shot in the eye at age 8: she lost all sight in that eye. Alice retreated from social interaction for some years, though used the time to observe the behaviours of those around her, ‘“really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Walker.)
Others may escape to avoid noisy younger siblings or a controlling parent: not a surprise that Max, in Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year isn’t a writer: one of five children … father a fundamentalist pastor. Or that Daze, abandoned at age five, and step sister to two sporty scientific girls, developed solitary pursuits: drawing and surfboarding.
‘How lovely, you’re a writer!’ Isn’t it great that children who escape into books turn into adults who provide more books, for more escaping … into more books?
So, are you a writer?Would you envy those of us who are? Did you escape into books as a child?
A relaxing afternoon (especially with rain outdoors, and a fire within) should include both books and cat – though cat needs to understand that book doesn’t equal cushion, neither can book be read through furry bulk on lap, nor is cat a great bookmark.
So, a typical early afternoon in the living room: cat with books. (If you read right to left, or are more book-ish than cat-lover-ish, books with cat.)
When I first began writing fiction seriously, I said, I never read while I ‘m writing. Except facts, for research … Once I’d found my voice, it still felt too delicate a thing, and that like a person living in another country, I’d find myself imitating, without intent, other writer’s literary accents.
So I read only sociology, lifestyle, stuff about in vitro fertilisation and its history: amassing fascinating facts that now appear as a one-liner, a phrase, or simply a walk-on part, a hidden property, the leaves inside the on-stage teapot. Here are some: The Second Creation is probably where Baby, Baby was conceived, in its present published form – that’s another story.
Can’t keep a fiction addict away for too long: as BB was going into edits and re-writes, I began reading these: most of them stories of cultural clashes and alienation, from a traditional cultural heritage or by living in, fleeing to, or studying in, another country.
The clash and/or compromise of old and new cultures, the problems of living as an alien away from home, culture, family, and familiar landscapes, feels like it’s all around me, living in a multicultural city, and in changing times.
I especially love Kahlid Hosseini and Ahraf Soueif’s work. My favourites are A Thousand Splendid Suns, and The Map of Love. ALlhough maybe you don’t see it in the text, as a reader, these books underlie my writing and have played a huge part in the question ‘why do I write what I do?’
So what am I reading now, after publication of The Labyrinth Year, a second go at gently probing the unseen and generally unwitnessed problems of the cross cultural marriage of two western undergraduates from Cambridge university? A lot of what I’ve read in the past year has me ant exploring very different genres from these: genres I wouldn’t necessarily walk up to and explore in a bookshop straight away. I’ve been reading around the work of fellow indie authors in the ALLi group, (Alliance of Independent Authors), that’s been almost exclusively on Kindle. So none in the pile, but I’ve read novels by Alison Morton, Orna Ross, Philppa Rees, Francis Guenette, Carol Cooper, Jane Carling, Debbie Young, Ian Sutherland, Christina Nolfi to name a few.
Print books, I’ve read or am reading an eclectic bunch, mainly on holiday or bought on holiday: here’s a pile of each.
Among the to-reads some more not-usually-read genres. We have a family thing going since Christmas: one of our sons bought a pile of books for Christmas presents, distributed them in brown paper around the family, and the idea is we each read all of them, in turn. So far I’m nearly through (and enjoying) the Tove Jansen (The Summer Book) and Capital by John Lanchester.
A Christmas present game to try?
And topping the reading and to-do list, Mindfulness: the course book … while at the bottom, something which may – or may not- be helpful in writing novel no. 3.