Sunday, 9 January 2022

Where I (Used to!) Write

I've moved house a lot over the years (I think I'm on my 12th house), so the 'where I work' posts on this blog have described several different rooms and views. There was the study that overlooked Snowdonia, the one that looked out over Penrhyn Castle, and then there was the last house, where my study had a lovely view of the bus stop!

In these posts I usually mention the story of how I wrote my first book in a tiny bungalow, with my monitor jammed into a cupboard and my keyboard on my lap.

And then last week I found this photo. Yes, that's me as a teenager, chuffed to bits to have my own desk and my own typewriter, and being A Writer. 

I grew up in a rambling Victorian house that, even shared with my large family, had a room no one else wanted to use. When my parents moved in they decided it would make a great playroom, to keep the kids out of the way of the grown-ups. But my brothers and I convinced ourselves the room was haunted by the little old lady who'd lived in the house ten years before us. We knew she'd used the room as a bedroom, as she'd been too frail to climb the stairs. So we decided her ghost was the reason the door would open by itself (this often happens in old houses) and we even thought we heard a piano playing in the empty room - it was probably a radio! We ignored the cold spooky 'playroom' and played in the garden instead!

Skip forward fifteen years when we'd all grown up, my mother suggested I could have the room for myself. It would be a fabulous place for me and my friends to hang out away from the adults (I'm noticing a theme here), but I was thrilled. Especially when,

Mum: You can decorate it however you like!
Me: I'm going to paint the walls black!
Mum: Absolutely not!

We compromised with grey walls but with my first pay cheque I bought a desk, two bookcases, and a small sofa, all in my favourite black. I probably imagined lying on the sofa and dictating my novel to a secretary, like Barbara Cartland, because that's what writers do, right?

Thirty-five years later (thirty-five!!!), I still have the two black bookcases but sadly the desk was taken to the dump just before Christmas. Although it did have a second life as my daughter's desk for a good twenty years. 

I'd completely forgotten this photo had been taken until I found it last week. As my husband said when I showed it to him (after he'd got over laughing at the 80s fashion), what advice would I give my past self?

Apart from 'Don't wear big earrings around small children'? Probably, 'Hang on in there' because it would take another ten years before I was offered a book contract.

And maybe suggest I get over my obsession with the colour black... 

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Monday, 3 May 2021

Spring Update

One of the things I enjoy about my daily walk around my village, is watching the subtle changes in the seasons. Winter wasn't much fun. There were no flowers or wildlife to look at, and there was more than one occasion where we were caught in a snow flurry! When the weather is like that, it's tempting to stay home with a good book!

By the middle of January we could catch the occasional glimpse of snowdrops in the woods and buds forming on trees, and the blur of a rabbit shooting back into its burrow. (Not the one above, he seems to like posing for photos!)

As we moved into February, those solitary snowdrops multiplied into carpets of pretty white flowers and soon blossom was appearing everywhere, even in my garden!

We originally began our daily walks during the first Lockdown, a year ago, and have managed to keep it up. My Instagram feels like a diary, where I can look back and see what I've been doing, and it has proved a useful tool to work out when the first goslings will appear and when the local churchyard will be full of bluebells. Spring occurs a little later here in the frozen North, so we have a few more days to wait!

Sometimes it felt as though the local geese spent most of April nesting, but right on cue the goslings have now begun to appear.

They are so sweet, like little balls of yellow fluff, but it won't take long before they grow and will soon be indistinguishable from their parents.

My Instagram has also proved very useful for working out which plants are out at what time of the year, because the book I am working on at the moment is set during late spring/early summer and the characters are spending a lot of time outdoors to escape from their feuding families!

As the weather grows warmer, I've been working in my garden. When I moved into this house three years ago, it was a new build with a square of lawn. Now we have a 'proper' garden. As well as flowers, I'm trying to grow fruit and vegetables. My gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes already have tiny berries and my pear tree is now in blossom.

I'm also trying to grow strawberries! As both my Dad and my great-grandfather were strawberry growers in Hampshire, it seems strange to be carrying on with the tradition all these years later. Although if my Dad could see my 'suitable for beginners' plants in my hanging baskets, he would think it was a very strange way to grow strawberries!

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Five Things I Learned While Writing Through Lockdown (Guest post for Juliet Greenwood)

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

O Christmas Tree...

This is how I spent my weekend...

I think this is the earliest I've ever put up my Christmas decorations but, judging by my Facebook feed, I'm not the only one. There is something about a Christmas tree that is immediately cheering (never underestimate the power of glitter!) particularly after the year we've all had.

Our tree is an artificial one but when I was growing up my family had always had a real tree. Our house had a huge bay window at the front and my parents were determined to fill it with tree, so they would always buy the biggest one they could find - sometimes the top would end up being bent over to fit. My mother tried every method she could think of to keep the tree alive and the needles intact until Christmas. The best solution turned out to be just sticking the tree in a bucket of water like a bunch of flowers. Christmas trees don't much like the heat, but that was never much of a problem living in a Victorian house!

When I was a teenager I decided I wanted my own Christmas tree in my room. I think I must have been heavily influenced by old Hollywood movies because I bought a white one from Woolworths and, copying the Harrods shop window from the previous year, decorated it in baubles of just one colour. Some people loved it, some hated it! I still have the tree but my daughter has claimed it for herself - it's 'vintage'!

When I left home I tried to recreate my family's Christmas traditions (you can read more about that here) but I eventually learnt that the best thing is to continue the traditions that work for you but not be afraid to create 'new' ones. My mother gave me a few packs of baubles to start me off but over the years I began to collect individual ornaments, a couple each Christmas, mostly from garden centres and high street stores. I can pretty much tell you where each one came from and the story behind it.

For many years the most famous ornament on my tree was the 'Harrods' bauble, which (as you can probably tell!) I bought in about 1989. It was hugely expensive at the time and it was a complete pain to get it back to Hampshire without breaking it, but it's still on my tree all these years later!

Several of my ornaments were bought for me by my friend Trisha Ashley. We both share a love of traditional glass ornaments. One memorable year we both bought each other typewriter baubles (Trisha bought the red one, I bought the black one) - great minds think alike!

I love fairy toadstools and mice and nutcrackers, so there are several of those sprinkled over the tree. I also love the way light shines through glass, so there are lots of glass ornaments too. About five years ago I realised my tree was stuck in the 1980s, so I no longer use tinsel. The poor tree seemed a bit bare until I got used to it but I've realised you can now see the decorations properly!

Sadly, my mother died earlier this year. When my brother and sister-in-law were sorting through her things they found a mysterious cardboard box with a note attached to the top which said, "For Louise".

What was inside? 

The family box of Christmas decorations...

If you'd like to know more about my Christmas decorations, my daughter has challenged me to post a festive picture on my Instagram in the days leading up until Christmas.

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