Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Something made me drive the long way home this morning. I rounded the bend beside the estuary and saw that our old house was be-taped and be-coned, there were trucks parked on both sides of the street, and there were hard hats and hi-viz vests all over the place. No 391 is clearly about to come down.

I’ve long expected it. The house (which we sold nearly two decades ago) didn’t survive the early big quakes, probably for a variety of reasons. It was very close to the estuary; it was two-storeyed; it was burdened by really heavy concrete tiles. It’s been standing empty for the last three years, warning tape across the front, the garden overgrown, and the roof open to the sky.  Whenever I passed by I was sad to see its sorry state – and sadder still for the people who bought it from us.

Now it will disappear. Only the memories remain.

We bought it as a small two-bedroomed cottage. Bit by bit we changed it, both inside and out. A two-roomed sleep-out – as guest-room and studio/office – was installed at the very back of the section. We created a forgiving kind of garden – one that didn’t demand our undivided attention but remained cheerful and exuberant. And we added an upstairs to the house with two more bedrooms and a second bathroom. Then, not too long afterwards, we sold it.

I feel ridiculously sentimental about the old place. And I daresay I will again when this current house faces the same fate in due course – probably some time this year.  C’est la vie.

Friday, March 14, 2014


The BBC believes that people have only read six of the one hundred books on a list it has compiled, and challenged readers to tick off those they have read. I couldn’t resist the challenge and set off on a tick-fest.  I notched up 59 – which left 41 books I haven’t read. 

There was a Harry Potter one (can’t remember which) but I haven’t read any of them. I’m not too bothered about that, but some of the other gaps make me feel a mite ashamed. Books that I’ve meant to read but haven’t got around to, like Life of Pi and Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong.  Books that no one gave me as a child (although they gave me heaps of others) so that I grew up passing them by without knowing what I was missing: Narnia and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Anne of Green Gables.  

More grown-up of the not-yet-read is The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins, published in 1860) which is considered to be the trail-blazer for the modern detective story. That is definitely on my list, if I can find a copy*.  And Moby Dick too – that’s already in my Kindle but it’s a daunting prospect. Everyone knows that it’s about a great white whale, endlessly pursued by Captain Ahab, but it is apparently a “turbulent ocean of ideas” with “meditations on the shape and status of America – on democracy, leadership, power, industrialism, labour, expansion, and nature”. All that in one book?  Perhaps later.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children should be required reading for anyone in today’s world – of course it should. However I can’t cope at the moment with “huge and sprawling” but I’ve promised myself that the day will come. Come the long winter evenings with nothing on the telly, and Rushdie will surely beckon. Frank Herbert’s Dune?  It’s sci-fi so that could go to the bottom of the pile.

Four books that I’m ashamed not to have read: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Emile Zola’s Germinal, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude. They are all described as outstanding examples of their genres; all are books that most of us know about, even if we haven’t read them; all are on my list of will-read-one-day titles.

Four BIG TOMES. The Bible, Shakespeare’s Complete Works, War and Peace, and Crime and Punishment. It’s not fair that the first two were on the BBC list – hardly anyone will have read either all the way through. I have two or three copies of both, and DVDs of most of the plays of Shakespeare, but I didn’t count them towards my score of 59 books read.  The Tolstoy and the Dostoevsky?  I’ve seen the film of War and Peace so that will have to do for now, but life might be too short for Crime and Punishment.

However, on my shelves is an alarmingly thick copy of “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (New Burlington Books, 2006). Cheating, but better than nothing.

* Got it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I had to smile when I saw this. The mind of a writer, yes. Not sure about the terrifying part, and caffeine-addled is going too far: I’ve cut down, honest. But everything else is spot-on.

Isolated: No one around here to talk to that’s not covered in fur and fast asleep with their noses under their tails, so that’s a given. It possibly accounts for the neurotic part too – the company of other people can be intrusive when not wanted but it also goes a long way towards counteracting the introspection and the over-blowing of problems. Sensible people have absolutely no sympathy when you slap the back of your hand to your forehead and moan softly just because you can’t find the right words.

Crippled by procrastination: Yep. I’ve done more cryptic crosswords and killer sudokus in the last few days than I want to confess. I’ve had a hard job banishing the ghoul parked on my shoulder – that legacy of fourth form English classes where all traces of creativity and freedom were stifled, never again to bloom unrestricted by all the ingrained shoulds and mustn’ts of enthusiasm-choking, old school teaching. Out with the lot of you, I’ve told you before, now scat!

And then there’s the weather. Suddenly it got cold and then came a mighty storm. This morning I had to go out in the still-lashing rain and haul out the three metre high blackboy peach tree that had fallen across the lawn and several shrubs. That is probably the end of the tree, which had leaned precariously towards the house after one of the bigger earthquakes and had been cut down but which had re-sprouted bravely and, this year, produced three peaches. Can anyone expect me to write in those conditions?

Feelings of panic: Oh dear, yes. Looked at the date of the last blogpost – too long ago. The novel is stalled halfway through chapter thirteen – but on the bright side I’ve been reading over what I’ve done so far and it’s sort of OK – I think, but what do I know? I’ll never get it done …

Self-loathing: All writers question their ability, their judgment and their sanity at some time. All writers and  probably all painters, musicians, athletes, teachers, wood-carvers, lawyers, plumbers and you-name-it as well. That’s life. It’s part of the angst – the waah! I’m-no-good-at-this syndrome.

Soul-crushing inadequacy: It’s difficult enough to cope with the everyday, innate difficulties of being a writer without taking on extra ones that we impose on ourselves, like the in-built self-censoring, the doubts, the despair and the inability to ignore the great big sign that says “STOP! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?”   

And that’s on a good day:  Yes, I’m definitely having a good day.