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First an apology.

Old computers die.  New computers are full of exciting new software that doesn’t recognise the old familiar hardware that I used to attach to the old computer and finding the right solution takes ages.  I owe a debt of gratitude to The Magic Computer Man who made all the various bits talk to each other again and made my life feel saner as a result.

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These are the same flower photographed twice, first without a flash and then with one.  Tulips are like magic.  These ones were given to me by friends, arriving as tight buds that stood stiffly upright they have swayed and danced about, peeling their petals further and further apart until the are bursting to drop.  Other friends tell me that it is time I gave them to the compost, but I love every stage of their passing and cannot throw them out until they have lost all colour and are dried and curled beyond all recognition of the way in which they started.

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When Hoover and I are away from home we rise earlier than usual. Hoover needs her morning walk before we settle to work, even though that work may be fun and games. In the summer we are up after the sun and it lights our walk from the first moments, but as autumn creeps up on us so the sun rises later and we see versions of its rising that we haven’t seen for many months.

A first glimpse of the sun

A first glimpse of the sun

As we walked up the hill through the wood the sun was ahead of us, pushing its way through the clouds.
“Come on, Hoover,” I called as we crossed the railway line. The first rays split the clouds, turning the railway to silver.

Morning greeting

Morning greeting

As we head across the golf course the sun sends beams to light our way. They slip through the trees and give us pause for thought.
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The greennsmen are our only other companions as we follow the path across the fairways and past the bunkers. Rabbit, fox and bird prints are scattered across the sand and Hoover is keen to check them out, but I entice her back with biscuits. Mowers slip to and fro across the immaculate grass. If only I could get my lawn half as good as the fairways, I wouldn’t even hope to aim as high as a green!

Only once we have reached the far side do we catch a glimpse of any of the other dog walkers. A lycra clad man pounds the path as his dog runs circles round him. An enthusiastic wolf hound tows her mistress towards the pond where my brothers and I, as children, fished for tadpoles.

20130829_074633Slowly the cloud have retreated and now the light shines through the trees layering them with softness.

Brilliant blue  - a promise for the day to come

Brilliant blue – a promise for the day to come

By the time Hoover and I get back to the house for breakfast the sun has made its mark and beaten the clouds away.

Hoover settles down to a day of hard work and Mini Person guarding.
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There's a buzz to the day when it starts with clear blue ahead

There’s a buzz to the day when it starts with clear blue ahead

It was a slow start to the day, cups of coffee for builders, consultation about flints, spotting more bindweed that needed attention, but at last Hoover and I were free. The dry grasses rustled at us as we brushed past on our way up to the beckoning blue.

Are wild oats ever not sown?

Are wild oats ever not sown?

The wheat stood stiff and straight, rattling its heads as we passed, Hoover stopping to sniff who had passed before us. The oats shushed us, it’s wilder cousin standing tall above the heads of the short stemmed main crop. Planted late after the winter wheat failed in the sog of last winter, it is only beginning to ripen now. It’s going to be a late harvest this year, with one friend predicting that they won’t be finished until November.

Where the paths met we were joined by another friend, his dogs, feisty little terriers, skirting round Hoover, busy with their tracking and sniffing. It is always a challenge meeting him as he and his wife are long distance walkers, thinking nothing of 100 mile walks and he strides ahead so that I, who am usually considered a brisk walker have to step out to keep up.

We flashed past the fields, the abundance of the hedgerow flowers slipping into memory as the last bright yellow of late dandelions sparkled in the morning dew.  We strode up the hill to the top, pausing briefly to admire the glory of the hills all dressed in the soft ochres of ripening crops. Where fields have been harvested already new growth is busting through the freshly turned earth.

Hoover glanced about for deer, but her companions were busy searching out any holes they could dive down.

The canopy of the chestnut is still standing up to the attack of the leaf boring pests

The canopy of the chestnut is still standing up to the attack of the leaf boring pests

On our way back I was struck by the brilliance of the sun shining through the leaves of the old chestnut. Each morning as we start out we walk under it to reach the footpath up onto the hill, but the sun is behind us and on the way back I am often too busy negotiating the fragile gravel surface of the steep path to look up, my mind full of plans and ideas that are hankering after a page. This morning the dancing leaves caught me unaware, stopping me in my tracks. Hints of blue shone through the vibrant green, soft movements breaking and scattering the light. Hoover seemed to know that I would want to pause, turning back to me to see what I would do.

Only a few steps further on and the branch of a young copper beech stretched out and arm pointing up into the clear blue.
“OK,” I agreed. “Clear your head and keep the story crisp.”

The page is beckoning.

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Weighty decisions

Weighty decisions

 

It’s been a while, and I’m sorry for the long silence, but now I’m back on course. Summer has had us heading in all sorts of directions and added extra tasks to the general run of things, watering vegetables not least among them.

A long time ago I made the decision that I would work all the way through the winter, aiming to complete a book, at least in first draft form by the arrival of spring, giving me the summer to refine and edit. This spring found me editing one series, refining another completed book and racing round the country on family affairs. All good, all positive, but I had no idea how time consuming it would all be. And then there was another book looming on the horizon and I’ve had to take myself in hand and put it on the back burner to make sure that there is time to breathe.

Now I am finding my way into new rhythms and beginning to get back to some of the old familiar tasks, including writing to you!

Hoover lurking in the long grass, ever ready for a game of hide and seek

Hoover lurking in the long grass, ever ready for a game of hide and seek

Hoover and I still tramp the hills, sometimes rain splattered, other times sun drenched, always delighted by the views and surprises they throw at us. Hoover now has her own blog – hooverthedog.wordpress.com You can catch her there, with her own look at the world.

The natural world still teaches us fresh lessons every day. How we all loved the warmth of the sun, summer at last after what has seemed like years of rain and heavy skies. For some it has almost been too much heat. The fields turned golden with ripening crops that had barely managed to grow to full height. Where the soil was thin plants shrivelled and curled in dismay. Yet this morning, as Hoover and I ambled along in the rain I noticed that the grass is already producing new shoots of brilliant green.

Sprouting afresh, against the odds

Sprouting afresh, against the odds

Keep on going, it says to me. Even when it seems hard and the uphill struggle seems to be that alone, it will be worth it in the end. Never give up, keep on growing.  There is always a surprise around the corner.

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After long months of bitter cold and constant rain today spring has arrived. When Hoover and I went out this morning I left my jacket behind as I have done several optimistic times before. This time I did not shiver and we headed further afield to make the most of the sun before returning to work.

Fresh green emerging

Fresh green emerging

All around us spring was bursting out. Fat chestnut buds were stickily opening and buried in the undergrowth below them fiddle headed ferns were starting to unfurl their necks. There was a definite shift to green pushing its way through the brown coat of winter. The pale winter fields have a green blush that promises better than the winter wheat that sank into the sodden earth and refused sprout last autumn. It really lifts the spirits and both Hoover and I stepped out cheerfully.

Around us larks laughed in the clear blue. A flash of yellow caught my eye and Hoover darted over to check the yellow finch we haven’t seen for many months. A hidden wren’s burst of rowdy song almost stopped us in out tracks and we bent to watch the insects out collecting nectar from the first dandelions.

Dew sparkles on the grass after shy insects hide

Dew sparkles on the grass after shy insects hide

I have just completed a rewrite of the Baggage Stories. Now they are Me and My Boy, told entirely from Baggage’s point of view. I’ve been testing them on willing readers, collecting comments and criticism. It is hard to get across to family that criticism must be honest. My mother is my mother. I am a mother too: I am constantly amazed by the outstanding quality of my children’s output. She is a staunch supporter and wonderfully encouraging. But when my children laugh and tell me it is good then I am more convinced. And when a publisher asks me to send it to her as it sound so interesting then I am even more encouraged.

Now is the time to put my work out there; to look for the serious, non family criticism. The trouble is I know what a rejection letter looks like and it doesn’t offer any criticism, just a polite and blank no thank you. It is hard to build from that.

Fresh green of hawthorn

Fresh green of hawthorn

The hedge is sending out new leaves. Fresh hawthorn is brightest green and reminds me that it used to be called poor man’s bread and cheese. Apparently it is delicious, but I am more glad to see it on the black twigs than I am tempted to eat it. I suppose it depends on how hungry you are. The children in one of my stories forage for food and I now am catching glimpses of some of the food that they found. Fresh green stinging nettles are already sprouting, and this year I have promised Jay that I will make stinging nettle soup. I still wince at the thought.

The Wayfarer’s tree, hacked back by harsh flailers in the autumn is holding up it’s new heads of flowers. Still tightly closed against the late frosts they stand tall and pale against the blue of the sky. Mingled alongside them are the opening leaves of the elder. It won’t be long now ’til the hedgerows are covered in blossom and we can make cordial again.

Promises of things to come

Promises of things to come

Back at home two hard jobs are lurking. The first is the writing of the cover letter that I need to send out to my chosen agent, probably the hardest writing task I can think of. At The London Book Fair I was struck even more strongly by the two main categories of books that publishers are putting out for junior school aged children at the moment – the chick lit for children books, and the street cred town-based books. My writing doesn’t fit into either of those categories. One publisher, who hadn’t read any of my work, called it ‘slightly old fashioned’ because that’s what the country is. And yet there are lots of people living out here in the country, and even more that wish that they lived here, and consequently take their holidays here.

And the other daunting task – starting the next story. A blank page is waiting.

New lambs enjoying the first warmth

New lambs enjoying the first warmth

If nature can do it again and again every year, then so can I.

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I constantly hear it said that writing is a solitary occupation. People on the radio spend ages telling us what a lonely business it is.

I suppose, given the choice, I would choose to be in a room on my own, but all too often that is a rare treat.

A place to work

The quiet Zone – a regular writing place

I have spent a lot of time writing on trains, my fingers pattering away on the keyboard with strangers looking over my shoulder.
“You’re writing a book,” they tell me. “I couldn’t write a book; leastways, not on a train.”
Or if they are less keen that I should think that they have been reading over my shoulder “Is that a book you’re writing?” I suppose the lack of subject headings, charts and the frequency of speech marks is a bit of a give away.

Sometimes they are considerate people.
“I can see you’re busy; I won’t disturb you.” That usually means I’ve got a few minutes before they launch into a long explanation of the journey so far, or an impassioned description of the joys of train spotting – I have genuinely been on the receiving end of that monologue. Often I am glad that they want to talk; they are interesting people and their stories intrigue me, like the woman whose family had lived in Jamaica for the past 400 years… or the Director of The Dorset Steam Fair, who wasn’t a train spotter.

As I usually have Hoover with me on trains the other icebreaker is “Oh my goodness, that’s a dog!” After which I have been shown photographs of dogs, cats, horses and a variety of other well-loved, and all too frequently dead, animals. How much we love our animal companions. Even the naughty one. There are huge smiles from the owners who tell me how their dogs would cause mayhem on a train. I thank heaven they have been left at home.

All that said – trains are great places to write. I settle into my seat, Hoover rests her head on my lap and off we rattle for a few hours of focused work. Lots gets written and the journey flashes by.

Standing tall on its own

Standing tall on its own

Ideas never seem to come on their own. They may be outstanding, but ‘they come not solitary spies’. It is never one idea that comes into my head, but a flock of them, bustling in and swarming around, begging to be written. I keep a note book of them and should I have another hundred years of writing I would not run out of stories. Everywhere I walk, in town or out on the hills with Hoover I see things that beg to be slotted into the note book: overheard conversations, a sudden flash of colour, a vibrant shape or a sound that echoes in my mind. Why is that girl accosting all those elderly people with dogs? Where is the parent? What is the story? Why is the bored chef, who never speaks, still propped behind the bar pretending not to watch the door? Who leaves the hefty stones on the grassy footpath? That one I now know the answer to – they are left by The Stone Rollers Of Cheselbourne.
Some ideas stand out, others cluster together waiting for more detail. I may know that Stone Rollers are responsible for the flints, but why do they put them on the paths?

20130202_152902 And then the editing; checking and rechecking , changing a word for a better one, refining and then refining again. Always seeking to make it better, throwing away the dross whilst making sure that the essence remains and nothing vital is lost. And in all that coming back into contact with the people of the story; some that I like others, some that I love, some I know so well and others who slip in and out of the telling. There are the ones who make me wince or shudder, and others who make me smile in greeting.

Do other all writers laugh with delight when a word or idea fits like a perfect, soft glove, or cry when a character suffers? When big emotions hit the page I take myself off for a refreshing walk afterwards.

But solitary?

Solitary I am not. At the end of a writing session I am amazed not to find the people in whose company I have been not still sitting beside me when I look up from the page. My day has been filled with them, in and out of rooms, battling with their problems, winning out in the end. I have run along beside them, tripped and fallen, fought their demons and cheered when they triumph. I know every crease of each smile, what makes them tick, what makes them sad and I long for others to know them too.

So I can’t really say that it is a solitary business, and it certainly isn’t lonely. It’s hard work and can be frustrating, but I am surrounded by companions through it all.

And when I do emerge, then I’m very lucky. I have wonderful family and friends around me, who stand close, me helping my work grow, ready to stand tall.
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Wind carved puddles are crisp underfoot

Wind carved puddles are crisp underfoot

When Hoover and I set out on Tuesday morning a bitter wind battered us from the east. The sound of it crashed like waves against the hedge, it’s fingers reached through deer tunnels to tug at my jacket and wriggle into the chinks in my armour.

Hoover braves the icy blast

Hoover braves the icy blast

Hoover remained undaunted, glaring at the wind, collecting useful sticks and investigating the trails of other walkers. No bird dared sing, and the only sound to fall from the sky was the grumble of a small plane pinned like a trophy butterfly against the blue. With hunched shoulders and hands thrust deep into pockets, I hurried along in the lea of the hedge, thankful for its shelter, wondering if my cheeks

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would be permanently frosted. Still, the sun was shining and what could there really be to complain about? The last of the snow drops freckled the ivy on the banks of the cemetery reminding me of the determination of fragile things.

 

 

 

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Wednesday morning started with a promise of good things to come. The wind had dropped and though it still buffeted us and tugged at Hoover’s ears it was more affectionate. We walked the far side of the valley, up past the badgers’ sets, recently spotted by the county council who have decided to put up signs telling us that the footpath has been moved to where we have all walked for many decades and that we must beware of active badger sets. It is apparently perfectly possible for the badger sets to have been active since before the church was built, and yet now we need a sign warning us that they are there. Certainly they take up one corner of the field and when they plough that area the tractors skirt round the gaping holes. Not so Hoover. She inspected each spoil heap, and late evening summer walks are taken via another route to avoid any possible confrontation.

Hidden valleys sparkle in the winter sun

Hidden valleys sparkle in the winter sun

In the next valley the low sun threaded the Devil’s Brook with silver. Why the Devil’s brook? I wondered. It seems harsh to have demonised a stream that is so beautiful. Is it because it nearly dries up in summer, dwindling to a trickle that will not support cattle grazing nearby? I suppose a deceptive stream can not be seen as a good one, no matter how beautiful it appears as we look down on it now. Hoover had no answer as she tapped at frozen puddles, breaking the ice to release a drink.

And today?

Frosted rhubarb

Frosted rhubarb

Brilliant sunshine

Brilliant sunshine

The rhubarb that lingered in the shadow of the house as we set off was still doused in last night’s smattering of frosted snow whilst the daffodils in the yard were already tossing their heads in the sunshine, a speck of brilliance promising warmer times to come.

 

 

As we set off past the church yard the vicar was lighting a brazier in the church yard.
“We doing an explanation of Easter,” Sue explained. “It’s for the school children to throw their sticks into and get rid of their sins,” she added
“What? They can just burn up their sins?” I asked, wondering how big a bonfire I would need to make myself sinfree. Hoover chased two other dogs round some gravestones as I pondered the seemingly pagan rituals of the Christian church before we set off for higher places.

Don't you just long to climb over that style?

Don’t you just long to climb over that style?

The wind had dropped to a soft caress that stroked my cheek. Larks competed noisily for territory as tits and sparrows flitted through the hedges below them. The blue stretched clear and wide above our heads. I could have walked all day, but work beckoned and the burst of energy from the morning sunshine will infuse today’s work with pleasure. It is easier to think positively when I can hold that clear light in my mind.