Changes, and Ideas – and a New Story!

And so, the Summer is almost done, for which I am grateful. Autumn is beginning to pick leaves off the trees, odd ones here and there, to get us used to the idea that soon they will be drifting down with a sound like falling rain. So change must come.

In the meantime, I only went and had two stories accepted (At last! At last! And there has been bouncing and squeaking and even a celebratory glass of prosecco or three), the first of which can be read over here at Ink, Sweat And Tears as of today.

Anyway, thoughts have been thought, and ideas come up with, and sometimes retained, but mostly discarded. And the ones that stick I will discuss another time, because it is getting late and I have to run away for the school run. Literally, in fact.

 

 

 

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Thursday March 7th, 2013

So yesterday was World Book Day (in the UK – think about it), a day for celebrating all things Book. It was Thursday. It was also a cold, dreary damp sort of day. The sort of day that makes people want to avoid going outside as much as possible. The sort of day that keeps even the weekday shoppers off the High Street. The sort of day when independent bookshops are quiet, unless the browsers are particularly hardy souls. (You can tell I was at work yesterday.)

But thinking about books, in both the professional and the hobbyist sense, set me wondering about my reading habits. At the end of 2011 I posted this. I was going to write a similar post at the end of last year, but when I gathered together the books I had finished, the books I am (still) reading, and the books waiting to be read, the only pile that had shrunk was the pile of books I’d finished. Which was depressing. But also, in a way, a significant achievement nevertheless, having spent so much of last year struggling to concentrate on anything. It still is a struggle. But in the spirit of celebrating reading, and because I enjoyed reading them so much, and because I think you all should too (that good, yes, although I had some reservations about the ending of Sweet Tooth), I herewith present the books I finished last year, and the ones finished this year so far.

Tadah!IMG_2537Not visible is Dan Purdue’s short fiction collection, Somewhere To Start From. That lives in my iPad. Do read it. In your own e-reader variant, of course. Also missing is Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate, which is on loan to a friend.

Tonight, the stars shine for me.

Today, for the first time in a long time, the year has felt like it is at last where it should be. Today has been one of those idyllic July days; infinite blue sky, heat without humidity, the scent of cut grass, good coffee, lingering honeysuckle. All that was missing was the old fashioned tang of creosote – it was a good day for weatherproofing your exterior woodwork – the thock of leather on willow, and the low hum of a light aircraft crossing from there to elsewhere. And neither unfeasibly wet, nor unseasonably hot. Really, that’s how good it felt, like one of those perfect days that seemed to last forever when I was a child.

And the night has been a good one too. I went to see The Dark Knight Rises with my friend Nina. We loved it. I’m not going to bore you with any attempt at a review – there are enough both glowing and detracting out in the wilds of the net if you want to judge by other people’s opinions. All I will say is that it hit square on all the plot points it needed to hit with the character ensemble, and it did it loudly, and stylishly. It made me – and a large number of the other audience members – jump in our seats. It pulled no punches. But some of the little details… the minor things that niggle, or distract you from the full suspension of disbelief… come on Hollywood; you don’t have to get such simple things wrong. And that’s all I’ll say on the matter. That, and that I REALLY want to go and see it again. Now, preferably.

I enjoyed it so much in fact, that I danced all the way home along Slad Road. It helped that my iPod shuffle threw me Hallogallo; vintage krautrock doesn’t come much better than this. And walking away from the orange streetlamp glare, into the tall shadows cast by dark houses, high hedges, framing the night sky away from urban light-spill, the stars shone clear in all their millions, strung across the sky. The night breeze and the stars, and the music and me. The kind of night where it would be so simple just to keep on walking, into the darkness until the sky turns light again. And I stopped, mid-step, and gazed and gazed. And I saluted the sky. I did. And then I carried on dancing. And yes, there was a lone cyclist who doubtless thought me completely mental, but I really don’t care. Because all during that homeward dance, I was perfectly happy. And the stars shone, for me.

Last night…

The benefits of standing barefoot in the garden in the rain are not to be underestimated. The decking, rain-slicked yet still holding some of the day’s warmth, and flecked with fallen rose petals; the pergola, smothered with hundreds of tiny, dark pink roses; lemon balm and thyme spill over from their respective pot and bed, a warmly medicinal scent, clean against the deeper sweetness of honeysuckle and philadelphus. All these things offer a simple restorative to a turbulent mind – and especially if one manages to avoid treading on a slug – when night thoughts grow too dark to bear.

But there is something better. To stand in the garden, skin bare to the night rain’s cold caresses, roused to a state of almost wanton wakefulness, is both stimulating and soothing, as I discovered last night. And if it rains again tonight, do not doubt but that I will be doing it again.

White Midnight

It is almost a quarter to two in the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of peppermint tea, and the fire blazing merrily. I am very aware of my ears.

I am aware of my ears because they are still cold. It is snowing in my part of the Cotswolds, and I have been out for a midnight walk.

There is something peacefully exhilarating about wandering out into the darkness, leaving the lights of the little town behind me. For in the snow of course, the darkness is never quite complete (and I take a torch with me). All is cold and clear and calm, beneath a heavily blank sky. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the crystalline stutter of falling snow, and the brook deep in the valley below. And my footsteps, crunching in the crisp blue-white blanket. When I turn to look back the way I have come, my footprints stride back beyond the bend in the road, already blurred by the fresh fallings, and crossed here and there by the tracks of a fox following the line of the road before he skulks down into the fields.

I stay beside the road, for the undulating valley is treacherous when you can’t see clearly how to place your feet, and I am known for being clumsy. I have no wish to be stranded in the freezing shadows with a sprained ankle. It is enough to share the valley with the fox, and the trees, and the few sleeping houses. It is enough to pause beside the blanketed camber of a dry stone wall, and stare across to the rising slope, the outlines of fields and trees marked black against the wide white covering. I stop often to stare, to drink it all in. I am well wrapped against the cold, and the wet, and my long coat swirls with the wind, and billows behind me with a pleasing sense of drama. (I know.) I am sure footed in my sturdy boots, and stride in a comfortable rhythm.

I walk, and I walk, and I stop, and I stare. The cold pushes thin fingers past my coat collar turned up to half cover my face, and the steady breeze blows through me. I feel as clear as glass, and wildly happy.

I walk to the next village. It isn’t far, but it’s far enough.

Returning, the path always seems shorter. Walking back towards the lights, away from the small freedom of being alone in the darkness, it is tempting to take a slower pace, to stand and stare some more. But my returning stride matches my outward bound pace, as I can tell by the faint indents where my feet trod before. The cold is penetrating deeper beneath my layers of warmth,  searching for my skin. Snowflakes are catching in my lashes, and matting on my shoulders. And my ears, I am very aware of my ears, even beneath the woollen protection of my hat.

If the snow lasts – and if it deepens – then I will venture out at midnight again.

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?