Under the influence

I’m tired. I’m so tired that if I were to speak I’d verge on the nonsensically incoherent. But I’m tired for  – as far as I’m concerned – the best of reasons. I was up until 4am this morning working on a story. And now, the day is almost done with, and I don’t want to go to bed yet. So I’m contemplating beginning a new story, whilst under the mellowing influence of Swedish pear cider. Which got me thinking about all those writers (who all seem to be men) known for writing under the influence: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Philip K. Dick (I didn’t want to refer to him only by his surname), Thompson, Carver… seriously, where are the women? Baudelaire, Kerouac, Burroughs, Huxley… and I did have a train of thought about this, but it wandered away. Probably because of the tiredness. And it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, because I’m ridiculously tired, and slightly mellow, I wonder – with many digressions with which I will not bore – if any of you use more than sleep deprivation and caffeine to fuel word bingeing?


It only hurts when I move.

Christmas, frankly, has been a bit rubbish so far. Starting Christmas Eve on a sleep deficit that would run into the small hours of Christmas morning (44 hours in total before my body and mind gave up fighting), before retiring early to bed after Christmas dinner – which I cooked (it was delicious, of course). Nearly three days later, somewhat less germ ridden, and bored with being in bed, I got up, and sping! My back went. 

Marvellous, isn’t it?

Still, I have managed to cook and eat some bubble and squeak, so Christmas IS now properly happening. (Finally!) It will probably be another two days before I need to eat again, so that’s a mercy. In the meantime, as painkillers aren’t really doing much of anything, I am cheerfully taking gin. We’ll see what happens when I try to get out of this chair.


It would be nice to start the New Year with some seasonal magic, so fingers crossed…

An incident with limes.

So, yes, it has been quite a while since last I blogged. I will rectify this now.

The summer has been long, and quiet, and not terribly summery. And I’m glad it’s over.  The autumn is proving considerably more invigorating. I have been devouring books (although you wouldn’t think so, to look at the piles of books still waiting to be read), I have been thinking – perhaps too much – and I have been to London for another dose of culture and escapism. All of which is food for further thought, naturally, and hopefully, will feed the writing that is yet to come.

London was a particularly full-on experience this month; I went to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain – despite having seen all the paintings featured in previous exhibitions – it was good to see them brought together in the context of their development and function within their own movement. There was a Millais landscape in particular that I was delighted to see again (although the linked image does not do justice to the colours and detail of the original). I also went to view the Tim Walker exhibition at Somerset House (a lot of the pictures can be viewed here); a lot of quite beautiful and arresting images. I’m hoping that if I drop enough hints, the accompanying book might turn up as a Christmas – or indeed, a birthday – present…

As well as gallery hopping, and shopping, I was out for three nights out of four. Dinner with my brother and his boyfriend was an absolute blast. Dinner and cocktails with an old school friend whom I’d not seen for sixteen years, was just wonderful. We picked up the conversation as if we’d last seen each other the previous week. And my last night in town was special in many ways, not least for going to the Soho Theatre to see a friend perform in Pandvani 108, high energy storytelling, and bumping into other friends in the bar whom I’d also not seen in ages. So all in all, it has been a pretty enjoyable week.

(That last sentence was an understatement.)

Oh yes, and there was, on the Sunday afternoon, a strange little moment outside my brother’s flat. I had decided to walk up to Clapham High Street to grab a decent cup of coffee (my brother Neal is not a coffee drinker), and it was raining. Neal had loaned me an enormous umbrella,  and as I was wrestling it to open (with my iPod headphones in), a middle aged man of indeterminate ethnic origin shuffled towards me from the cafe front where he likes to sit and watch the world go by. I had just become aware of him when he started to mumble something at me, whilst showing me, very proudly, the two  bright and shinily green limes he had in his hands. I think he was going to juggle them for me. They were very green, and very shiny, and he did seem so very proud, and eager. But then the umbrella decided to co-operate, and I was perplexed as to how I might extricate myself from the moment. And I was damp, and desperate for coffee. So I said, with my politest smile, ‘Yes, well done,’ and left him there, with only his limes for company. It was… odd.

(That last sentence was also an understatement.)

So that was November…

It’s been a long 30 days and nights. Some of them have been quiet, some of them have been odd. Some have been really rather wonderful, in unexpected ways. Some have been productive, and some have been sad. And then there have been nights in Paris, and nights of partying too.

NaNoWriMo I have had to let fall by the wayside this year. There has simply been too much going on, in my head and in my world, and too many nights have been taken up with other things, largely of a celebratory nature. I managed to scrape together more than 38000 words, which isn’t too shabby. Plenty of material to be mined at a later date for any small gems that might therein be lurking. Or not. We’ll see…

In the middle of the month I went to Paris, for the first time. It certainly will not be the last! This just happened to coincide with my 40th birthday, a coincidence charmingly contrived by my husband. Being 40 is actually ok (much less traumatic than 30!) and Paris… oh but I fell head over heels in love with Paris. In fact I should very much like to run away there, and sooner rather than later… The weekend after my Parisian adventure, there was a sort of gathering chez moi, involving much chat, laughter, and booze. Friends whom I had not seen in an age came and made merry with me, and things did get a bit silly. There was also much worshipping of shoes

But then there was the sad news that Anne McCaffrey had died. She was my gateway into Science Fiction, as Tolkien was my gateway into epic Fantasy. I first read Dragonsong when I was 8 or 9 years old, and that was it; I was in thrall to the idea of a world where love could bind people and dragons into a bond so deep that only death could sever it (the fire lizards were also particularly appealing). From Pern to her other novels – Restoree, and The Ship Who Sang in particular – these were a formative part of my reading experience, and my emotional development in the transition from little girl to early adolescence. I wrote to Anne when I was 14, I think, asking her all sorts of questions – I cannot remember them now – and she wrote back. We developed a small correspondence; she was incredibly generous in that way, and it is my lasting regret that her letters disappeared somewhere during the peregrinations of my early twenties. I cried, bitterly, over her death. She was a wise and warm human being, and she is missed.

And now it is December, and beyond knowing that for the first time in years I am not going to be called upon to provide a huge lunch on the 25th, I really haven’t begun to get organised yet. Time to start making lists then. And a Master List.

Random Wednesday

It’s Wednesday. Not only is it Wednesday, but it is the second day of November (All Souls’) which means that NaNoWriMo is once more under way. Yes, I am in its caffeine-kicked, sleep depriving thrall. And loving it, as always.

The other significance of this particular Wednesday, is that it means there are only sixteen days to go until I go to Paris. Having never been before, I must confess to being beyond excited. I’ve been planning what to do, where to go, what to see. I’ve been trying to remember the little French still left in my brain – which considering I haven’t had to speak the language since I was 16, isn’t very much. At all. (Don’t worry, I have a cd and book to remind me.) I have a fabulously dramatic pair of new shoes, new clothes, and a new haircut. The new haircut feels particularly good, because I hadn’t got around to having it done for 2 years. In fact the last time I felt so sleekly chic was for a wedding (my husband’s cousin’s) at Bovey Castle. It was an entirely splendid affair, where the champagne did not stop flowing. Every time I turned around, there was an attentive sommelier refilling my glass. Consequently I have no idea how much I drank. Then of course, there was a fine Barolo with dinner, then more champagne for the toasts. And then, during the lull between dinner and the dancing, I made my way to the bar and asked for a Cosmopolitan, and a cigar. The Cosmo was delicious, the cigar was decadent fun, and I loved every minute of it.The next morning I had acquired a vicious bitch of a hangover (vodka cocktails are very heaven; vodka hangovers are vile) and a series of bruises at mid-thigh level – at occasional table height. Clearly, I had been caroming into furniture. Suffice to say, I shall (mostly) be behaving myself in Paris …

That Monday feeling…

The holiday is over, normal life will resume shortly. Until then, I have been in a holding pattern of alternating tiredness and complete absence of brain. But the post-holiday laundry mountain has been conquered, the fridge restocked, so eveything else must fall into place shortly.

Two weeks ago today, we were taking the scenic route to Sofia after some sort of technical glitch brought Gatwick (catflap to the world) to a standstill, which meant that we missed our connecting flight from Budapest. We ended up being rerouted via Munich, arriving at Sofia nearly eight hours late. Our luggage caught up with us two days later, coincidentally when the weather improved from sullenly thundery, to clear blazing heat. The rest of the holiday went swimmingly, with good food, good company, too many mosquitoes, and plenty of good Bulgarian red wine. Dipping into Twitter occasionally via my phone, I learned that the UK was taking the fast track to Hell-in-a-Handbasket, and the Home Secretary throwing her weight about declaring all police leave cancelled. (A decision that was not hers to make, but rather the Chief Constables’, and not a decision that they backed; this amuses me.)

Apart from the food and drink thing, what did we do on our holidays? My husband spent a great deal of his time heaving the mower about the hayfield that is the garden at the house where we stay: by the time we left, there was even the suspicion of stripes. My daughter flitted about with her little cousin, or playing in her inner world of fairies, rabbits and The Hobbit; and I slept a lot, drank a lot, read a lot, and scribbled a bit. We went up the mountain, (and came down again), we caught the sun, watched the moon and stars, listened to the cicadas. In short, we relaxed. Bliss.

Next week my daughter goes back to school, and the routines will change again. My hours per week at the Bookshop will be increasing – hurrah! – and who knows, I may even begin the <whispers it> Second Draft?

No, it’s still not finished…

Things have been busy, and strange, and sometimes, strangely busy. Perhaps I am making excuses? Either way, the WIP is still awaiting the first stage of completion. Soon, I promise myself; it is coming together.

In the meantime, we’ve been to Devon, and had a lovely weekend of doing not very much apart from lolling in a hot tub with a glass of red while watching the swallows weave across the sky. I like to think that if we didn’t live in Gloucestershire, we’d live somewhere in Devon; two very different rural idylls. We did also watch the amusing culture-kitsch that is Eurovision; I have to confess to being one who doesn’t take it remotely seriously; I would rather have liked Moldova’s two-tone rapping gnomes to win.

Along with the glass-in-hand type of lolling, goes losing-oneself-in-reading, and I did. I got well and truly lost in the late 18th Century world of Dejima and Nagasaki as evoked in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and since emerging, have been wondering what on earth I might read read next. To immerse myself immediately in everything else David Mitchell has written, would I fear be a distraction too far… indeed, since writing that last sentence, life itself has been a distraction too far – I’m completing this post over a week after I started it <hangs head in shame>. Well, I say ‘life’, what I mean is someone else’s life, 8 years or so of Stephen Fry’s, to be precise. Having read The Fry Chronicles – out now in paperback in a bookshop near you! – I have since stepped back in time with Colette’s Cheri… but I will be girding the metaphorical loins, and writingwritingwriting. I bloody well must.

In the meantime, the inestimably lovely Claire King has posted a wonderful cheerleading post that has filled me – and a GREAT many others –  with heart and hope and other helpful words beginning with H.

I’ll be in London for a few days over half term, with my daughter; another thing to look forward to, another thing to take me away from writing…

That’ll do.