Thursday, 30 August 2007

A wedding, three evensongs and a wild goose chase

Every year S and I spend a weekend singing at a cathedral with the fabulous Omega Consort, a gang of scattered old (and new) friends who meet to combine the joys of choral evensong and overindulgence. This year, we were based in Cheltenham but sang the services at Gloucester Cathedral. On Saturday, we had to duck out of rehearsals and miss the service to race down to Newbury for the wedding of an old schoolfriend. Our best-laid plans (picking up another friend on the way and using his hotel room for the final stages of getting ready) were scuppered by a misheard postcode and imprecise sat nav, which left us tearing round Berkshire desperately trying to find the right golf course, and being taunted by a succession of wedding cars. We arrived just in time, but had to stand at the back in what felt like the Naughty Corner due to a slight lack of spare seats. The stifling heat (what a shock!) was the only tiny flaw in an otherwise wonderful day. Although someone I know might disagree with me - he was pursued around the dance floor by a formidable lady who seemed to take the fact that he is gay as a rather amusing (for the rest of us) challenge that she would somehow overcome, possibly by wearing him down until he gave in just for some peace...

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

I've enjoyed all Kate Atkinson's books, especially the slightly surreal 'Human Croquet', but while 'One Good Turn' appears to be a more traditional crime novel it is quirky enough to fit in with the rest of her oeuvre. The murder mystery is enhanced by an unexpected twist in the final pages, but the real strength of the book is the range of point of view characters. For the first few chapters I did find it a little distracting, flitting from one character to the next, unsure as to whether the story had properly started (of course it had - the plot was deceptively tight), but once I had sorted out who was who it was satisfying to start making the little connections between the characters that were only hinted at in the text. I'm sure that there were plenty of overlaps that I missed, but I do love it when authors don't feel the need to spell out every subtle shade. It means that re-reading is almost more of a pleasure than the first time through, because you don't have to rush just to find out what happened.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


I defined my personal idea of heaven this weekend. It's the library at Chatsworth. Wall to wall books (many of which are ancient, rare and incredibly interesting), several squishy sofas, a grand piano, fireplace and plenty of friendly members of staff to make sure the ginger biscuits/coffee/gin never ran out.

While not fantasizing about the after-life, I also enjoyed looking around the exhibition about the 11th Duke of Devonshire, with a good audioguide which included interviews with friends, colleagues and his wife (Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire makes a daunting tongue-twister). 'Debo' is the only surviving Mitford sister, and numerous books about her fascinating family can be found in the well-stocked gift shops. Throughout the house paintings and photographs depict the Devonshire clan over many generations, and their art collection is pretty incredible, especially considering many gems had to be sold off to cover the 80% death duties when the 10th Duke died unexpectedly in 1950.

Though the weather wasn't particularly good (think November drizzle rather than August sun), the gardens were still lovely, with the low cloud eerily drawing in the horizon and damping down the noise of our fellow visitors. The variety of plants and settings is captivating, with an astonishing giant rockery of boulders and elaborate water features powered by gravity alone. A colleague tells me it is a spectacular place to visit at Christmas, with decorations everywhere, themed activities and music throughout, so I may have to try to persuade my little humbug S that a return visit would be fun, even if there may be Jolly People full of the dreaded Christmas Cheer around.

Friday, 17 August 2007


I've been rather frustrated over the last few weeks about my lack of progress on my embryonic novel, which I admit has been partly (OK, mainly) due to my crazy busy-ness at work. Still, I've been mulling around certain ideas, thinking that it's the right thing to happen for the story, but it just doesn't feel right. The main reason for the not feeling right is that the story happens at a particular stage of the main character's life and career, and the ideas I was having just weren't really relevant for her at that moment, and I didn't think the stakes would be high enough. But do you know what I've just realised? (And this is after, ooh, a month! They don't call me 'Lightning' for nothing, you know...) I don't have to keep my character at that age just because that's what my first idea was. The whole story is just what I'm making up. I'm in charge. So this weekend I'm going to be going back to the drawing board (or more accurately, Scrivener cork board), and adjusting things. And crossing my fingers that it will help.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Writer's Bricks

I don't think I ever have time to develop writer's block. When I'm writing, it happens in little snatches of stolen time, when I should doing something different or should be somewhere else. I do have a lot of problems getting things finished, but it's always because I have too many ideas, rather than too few. Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to set my brain to just one channel, so I've got notes on a hundred different exciting plots, interesting characters and speculative 'what if's, and I carry round a stripy Paperchase pad for this purpose (though unlike Helen it doesn't have a band to keep it closed, so its pages are rather squashed in places...). I've been trying very hard recently to concentrate on one particular idea, and have got over 5000 words, spanning about two-thirds of the plot, though of course it will need an awful lot of expansion. But I'm beginning to think that trying to limit myself is a bad idea. If I'm not in the mood to think of Phoebe and her complexities, maybe having something completely different on standby would help me in the long-run? But I do feel terribly disloyal having opened a Google Notebook on two other projects today, even if they've both been doing laps of my skull for over a year.


Last week I didn't post due to having scarpered to the countryside to stay with my parents. They have a beautiful garden but no broadband, so I was confined to sunning myself and watching out for the frog in the newly-cleared pond (it's beneath an apple tree which regularly sheds its fruit with a 'plop', resulting in a pond more like cider than water...). We read a lot, spent as many daylight hours as possible outside, ate a variety of cake and occasionally pottered off for a walk (to a pub). We visited the marvellous Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton, following a superb picnic on the top of the Downs looking out towards the Isle of Wight. We ate extraordinarily well at both The Brewer's Arms, Vines Cross and The Star, Waldron. My long-suffering brothers tried (and failed) to teach me how to bowl during the family games of cricket, which lost balls into undergrowth, trees and neighbouring gardens. I sometimes won at pool (usually on a technicality), but more usually lost dismally. I was (falsely) accused of cheating at Scrabble, due to a spectacular win. We visited my 98 year old grandfather, who gave us windfall apples, walnuts and some seeds between stories about cars and hitch-hiking nurses. I also snoozed, dozed and napped. A fabulous time was had by all. I can't believe that 10 years ago I was so entirely desperate to leave home that I felt like my mind was melting with every extra minute I had to stay. I am currently thanking the gods that I never have to go back to being a teenager...

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