Friday, 30 April 2010

A true and steadfast friend

I often read the births, deaths and marriages column in the local free newspaper. Partly I want to see if I know anyone. Occasionally I do recognise a name. And also, these announcements often contain little snippets of information that can spark off ideas for stories. But recently I read something that really made me stop and think.

Someone had put in an announcement in memory of their 'true and steadfast friend'. I thought, what a wonderful thing to have said about you. I mean, your family are pretty much obliged to call you their beloved this or sadly missed that. But no-one is obliged to call you a true and steadfast friend - unless you've really been that in life.

Here's to true and steadfast friends everywhere. Just so they know they are appreciated.

Monday, 26 April 2010

More tulips

My tulips in pots are still doing really well. I can say for definite that these ones are 'Red Riding Hood' because I planted them myself last autumn.

Friday, 23 April 2010

My camellias and Monty's roots

I know I've already shown you a picture of my camellia, but I couldn't resist posting another. It's never been as full of flowers as it has this spring.

A friend gave me this plant for my birthday a few years ago, and what a wonderful present it has proved to be. Sorry I've lost the label and can't tell you exactly what variety it is, but the flowers are double ones as I hope you can see.

For more about camellias, their history and care I just found a good article by Monty Don here. By co-incidence this week I've been reading Monty Don's book 'My Roots'. It came out in 2005 and is a selection of Monty's articles for The Observer newspaper from 1997 onwards. (A previous collection 'Gardening Mad' covered his earlier pieces.)

I've always seen Monty Don as one of those gardeners who has soil in their blood, rather like the late (and still missed) Geoff Hamilton. So, I was surprised to find out from 'My Roots' that originally Monty wanted to be a writer. As a child he wrote stories, plays, poetry and a journal.

Maybe this is why he always communicates his passion for gardening so well. Several of the pieces in 'My Roots' are ones I cut out of The Observer because they were just so interesting or poignant that I knew I'd want to read them again.

One of those moves me every time I read it. It's about Monty's elderly farmer friend. One year he planted daffodil bulbs with his granddaughter, telling her when he was up in heaven she would be reminded of him looking down on her at daffodil time. Tragically the granddaughter died at nineteen, and it was the grandfather left looking at the daffodils, thinking of her up in heaven.

Another really sad piece is about Monty burying his dog. But I don't want you to think it's all doom and gloom as there is so much joy and humour too. Monty's chickens constantly seem to be escaping and ruining precious plants. He describes so beautifully those fleeting moments when everything in the garden is peaceful and right. I get the sense that Monty's wife and children are at the heart of everything he does. His son's sheds, his daughter's sweet peas, and the trampoline they all bounce on are as much part of Monty's garden as his hundreds of tulips or his box topiary.

His footnotes often poke fun at himself, when, with the benefit of hindsight, he disagrees with whatever he said in his articles. "Pure pontification" is how he now sees one point he made, and another is "terribly O.T.T.". At the time Monty was writing for The Observer, garden makeover shows like Ground Force were all the rage. Monty was pretty scathing about those, and quite a few other things. Again his footnotes add perspective, recalling how he upset lots of people including the B.B.C, the National Trust, the R.H.S, garden centres and bat lovers.

I discovered Monty and I share a favourite gardening book, 'Derek Jarman's Garden', and I also learnt some new things, especially about fruit trees.

Monty's slot at The Observer is now occupied by the equally excellent Dan Pearson, but it's great to have so many of Monty's articles gathered together in 'My Roots'.

Ooooh, I'm so looking forward to Gardeners' World Live!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Five questions (well, one of them anyway...)

A little while ago Suzanne Jones tagged me to answer 'Five Questions' about myself. Well, Suzanne, the weather has been so lovely I've been outside most of the last week rather than sitting at the computer. I've only come in today because that dog everyone thinks is so adorable broke through the hedge and escaped. Yes, I had to retrieve the retriever from next door! Talk about embarrassment.

And apologies again Suzanne, but I have such a lot to say about your first question that I'm not going to attempt the other four now. That question is: "Where were you five years ago?" Thank goodness 2005 was one of my more interesting years. Are you sitting comfortably? Because I just need to explain why my memories of 2005 really begin with 2004.

In summer 2004 I'd started writing again after a break of several years. I was unpublished, except for a handful of readers' letters. Of the things I still wanted to achieve, seeing one of my short stories in print was around the top of the list. When I submitted a story for the annual competition organised by 'Countryside Tales', a small press magazine from Park Publications, I expected another rejection. But I was wrong. Soon I heard that my story had won second prize of £25. To receive actual money for writing a story felt like a small miracle. But more important in the long run was the thrill of seeing my story printed in the magazine in the winter of 2004. I can't tell you what a difference it made to me. At least one person in the world believed my story was good enough to publish. That was all I needed to keep me writing and I will forever be grateful for that bit of encouragement.
So 2005 opened with me submitting more seriously, full of New Year's resolutions to prove my first success wasn't purely beginner's luck. But before the next significant event in my writing life, something completely different happened...

When I was a child my best friend lived round the corner, until emigrating with her family to Canada. For a while we lost touch. But through the wonders of the Internet I managed to contact her again in 2003. After 2 years of frequent emails, she invited me to visit Toronto in June 2005. The catch? I hate flying. It terrifies me. But I knew that if I turned down the opportunity I would regret it forever. So, I made myself get on the plane. I didn't exactly conquer my fear of flying, but I coped with it. And what a terrific holiday I had. Not only was it wonderful to see my friend and catch up on all our news, Canada was a fabulous experience. The C.N. Tower. Niagara Falls. Her dog jumping into Lake Ontario and needing 3 people to fish it out. (There's always a dog getting into trouble somewhere).

Travel broadens the mind, everyone says, and I am sure that it's true. I came home refreshed and with new perspectives. I wrote, wrote, wrote. And in September I had a phone call from Woman's Weekly. They wanted to buy a story. Gosh. If they bought it that meant I had sold it. Sold! I had sold a story! I was on some other planet whose name was Bliss. I know I'd had my readers' letters published, and my Countryside Tales story. But the truth was that I still wondered whether I was deluding myself that I could maybe write a little - you know - on a good day, with the moon in the right phase and a following wind. Wind? Was that the dog again?

Now I was on the shelves in all good newsagents, I needed to get organised. Personally I think that if you have a success with your writing, you should always treat yourself to some small thing to remember it by. Or even a big thing, depending on the size of the cheque. With some of my Woman's Weekly money I treated myself to a Filofax which I still use now. I'd like to say everything is colour coded and filed to within an inch of its life, but you wouldn't believe me anyway would you? But I do keep a list in there of deadlines, especially of competitions to enter and any publishers I've noticed asking for submissions for anthologies. For me, it's good to have deadlines to aim for. They help motivate me to finish stuff.
As for the rest of 2005, well, I was pretty much here. I applied for some jobs, went for some interviews, dug my garden and read loads of books. So all in all, life was good. I did have a different dog though, and I think the last picture should be his. Sam with his favourite Teletubbies ball. Much missed. (Sam, I mean. I still have the ball.)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Beautiful Blogger Awards

Often it's the small things that make me happiest. Finding a pound coin rattling round at the bottom of my bag. Chatting with the supermarket assistant about how broccoli looks like a tree. And, this week, receiving a Beautiful Blogger Award from Teresa Ashby at A Likely Story. It's on the top right of this page and it's very pretty, thank you.

Teresa has challenged me to pass on the award to ten other blogs. Which is harder than it sounds, actually. I haven't been in blogland as long as some, but I've got to know lots of bloggers who always have interesting things to say. A couple of the blogs I visit regularly have already appeared in Teresa's list of ten, but I just couldn't leave them out. So here in no order of preference are the latest recipients of a Beautiful Blogger Award:

L'Aussie at L'Aussie Writing

Kate at Trees Are Not Lollipops

Womagwriter at Women's Stories: Read, Write, Enjoy!

Old Kitty at Ten Lives and Second Chances

Pippa at The Old Bat

Helen at Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact

Sarah at Mercian Muse

Ruby Red Dog at A Red Dog in the Red Rocks

Joanna at Brightwriter60

Suzanne at Suzanne Jones

If those bloggers would like to spread the happiness around even further, they too can take up the challenge of passing on the award!

Monday, 5 April 2010

P is for poem

I hope anyone who knows me in person is sitting down as this may come as a shock. Yes, I know I'm always the one who says "I don't do poetry". It's not that I don't like poetry. I love reading it or hearing it spoken aloud. I just have no concept of how to write it. When an idea comes to me, my first thought is how to make it into a story. Not a poem, song, novel or article, but a story. That feels the most natural form for my writing to take.

In my horsey phase, twenty years ago, I confess I wrote a little ditty for the riding school's magazine. But it's been lost in the mists of a steaming pile of horse manure, and I'm sure Carol Ann Duffy is very relieved about that. Any other attempts to write poems have been brief. Two lines long, on average, before I think "Oh, this is too hard" and give up. Until...

Recently I had a rather horrible day. I went to bed with a single thought going round and round in my head. I remember thinking that if I was someone who wrote poetry, this was exactly the kind of thing I could make into a poem. Through continuing to play with the idea on paper the words somehow arranged themselves into what looked like a verse of four lines. I was quite pleased. But where did I go next?

The following day I received Liane Carter's email containing her guest post (below). Her words about throwing the truth onto the page were what I needed to push me onwards. To make progress with my poem I saw I had to go deeper into the idea and explore the emotion behind it. I kept on adding a couple of lines here and there. By last weekend I'd reached four verses. I felt like I had said what I wanted to say. Gosh. I had written a poem. It was a satisfying feeling, and a bit of a surprise.
Perhaps we all have mental blocks about certain things that we think we cannot do. But sometimes it's good just to try. Just to see.

I enjoyed writing my poem. Maybe I'll write another. You know... in twenty years or so.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Quote of the day

My husband to young assistant in bookshop: "Have you got a Penguin section?"

Assistant: "Have you tried under Pets?"