Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Small and independent publishers

Although I don’t take the magazine, I’m on the emailing list of Mslexia (‘The magazine for women who write’) and a couple of weeks ago I received a message from them about a new edition of their guide to small and independent book publishers (available from both Mslexia and Amazon). It was just the spur I needed to pick up my novel again.

I had to abandon the novel four years ago when I took over as editor of a local magazine but I resigned that post this time last year, about the same time as my mother died. Having taken a year off from everything and with the passing of the anniversary of my mother’s death, I began to think it was time to stretch my creative wings. The email arrived at just the right time, as things always do.

I can cope with a small independent publisher, I thought. Neither I nor my writing is ready for big international publishers and pushy agents. I’ll just zip through the novel and sharpen it up and then send it off.

That, of course, has not turned out to be the case. As I get into the novel I find that it needs more than a sharpen and is going to take me at least a month or two to pull into shape. It isn’t half fun though!

Because I’m not very clever I may not be able to work on this blog at the same time as working on the novel. The blog has however been a lifeline over the last year and I shall do my best to keep it up. Thank you for being there.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Anniversary list

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my mother’s death and I was all set to write a list of everything I liked about her.
    Frog and I had been spending all our spare time over the last two or three weeks pruning, hedging and clearing brambles in an effort to retrieve our views. Being outside so much had helped my mood and I decided that the time had come to be positive about my parents.

A trimmed (wild) hedge and the return of our westerly view
Pruned shrubs, cleared brambles and the return of our southerly view
Then at 3am I woke with a migraine. I dragged myself through the day, beating myself up for my backsliding, and the list didn’t get written.

Today, feeling a bit better, I went into Exeter to do some errands and got talking to my favourite Big Issue seller. His gorgeous greyhound George wasn’t there and, knowing how poorly George had been, I feared the worst. As he told me about George’s last days and how he’d buried him and how his mother had put a twig on the grave, and I talked about the death of our previous dog Penny, we both started crying.
    ‘I didn’t mean to cry,’ he said, ‘but you can always tell a dog-owner. They have an extra spark of humanity.’
    I bought him a coffee and walked away, somehow connecting what he’d said with my migraines. I'd always thought they were a sign of my lack of humanity, of being emotionally stunted, but maybe they were the opposite. Confused and angry I might be at the moment and often unable to see the way forward, but at least I am reacting to life.

So, thank you George, and thank you Big Issue seller, whose name I don’t know, and here is the list.

Things I liked about my mother

  • She let me watch and help her cook.
  • She taught me to sew.
  • She instilled in me a love of reading, by reading out loud to me and my brother when we were young and then going backwards and forwards to the library fetching us books.
  • She showed me by example and encouragement the importance of good food, fresh air and exercise.
  • She and I used to giggle helplessly together at the same inappropriate moments (eg in church or when eccentric relatives visited).
  • She was glamorous.
  • She had a tendency to dissolve into tears.
  • She was open about parts of the body and bodily functions.
  • Whenever she used a rude word (‘Hell’s bells’, ‘Like shit out of a goose’) she blamed her brothers.
  • She loved giving presents.(And here are two of them, which I'm using every day in the cold weather at the moment.)
Two soft warm scarves given to me by my mother - a pinky-red pashmina and a faux fur

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Happy families

Image result for robert hogfeldt

The picture above accompanied my childhood, sitting on the kitchen wall for as long as I can remember. I always loved it and knew without doubt which sort of garden I wanted when I grew up. (I’ll leave you to guess which that was, and whether I’ve achieved it.)

When my mother died (last year) and we children were clearing her house, I put in a bid for the picture thinking that no one else would be interested but discovered that every one of my four siblings was keen to have it too. Consequently, one of my sisters made copies of the picture and just before Christmas sent me one.
On the copy I noticed for the first time that there was a signature at the bottom of the picture and, through the wonders of the internet and after much trial and error with different combinations of what I thought the letters were, I discovered the artist. 

The signature on the picture
His name was (Gustav) Robert Högfeldt. He was born in Holland in 1894 but is usually considered Swedish because that is where he spent his working life. That fitted. My mother was half-Norwegian and I’d always presumed the picture had come to her through her family as I couldn’t imagine her buying it. Our particular print was called (in translation) 'Happy families'.

As children we used to go to Norway every summer and play on the beach with cousins. In my teens I went several times on my own, two or three times to ski and once in the summer again. I bought my mother two more Högfeldt prints on one of the visits (not knowing the artist’s name but recognising the style).
So now I wondered whether I could buy an early print of ‘Happy families’ for myself. I trawled the internet and saw many examples of Högfeldt work. Most of his paintings turned out to be humorous, not to say grotesque, and many of them have a folk-tale flavour with troll- and pixie-like creatures, fat peasants, mushrooms. Unfortunately I also discovered that he has fallen out of favour because of his cruel portrayal of black people*, and there was little to buy.

This summer Frog and I are going to Norway for a huge family party being given by my mother’s sister, who lives there. It will be Frog’s first-ever visit to the country and my first for about 45 years. Phew.
During the visit I shall keep a look-out for Högfeldt prints, in particular ‘Happy families’. But if in the meantime you can help in any way, do please get in touch.

*How many of his pictures this applies to, I don’t know. I only saw a couple of examples on the internet.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Anger is an energy

The title of this post comes from the autobiography of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), a copy of which has been sitting on one of Frog’s shelves for several years waiting to be read.

All last weekend I ranted and raved at Frog. We got into one of our dead ends and I let fly. I didn’t care any more. I said things I’d been wanting to say for years. I shouted so much I got a sore throat.
By Sunday afternoon I was exhausted. The anger disappeared and I bubbled tears like an over-full drain. We then went to Sainsbury’s for the weekly shop and I felt amazing. Free. Real. Whole.

Frog, bless him, although confused, had put up with it all. ‘The anger is important,’ he kept saying.


Since then I’ve had a migraine and a cold, but they’ve given me time to think. Anger is an energy. You need to acknowledge it. You need to do something about it and it doesn’t have to be destructive. Squashing it, as I was always taught to do, is so so wrong.

Anger is what protects us, and without it how can we be open with other people? How can we trust them if we don’t trust ourselves to stand up for ourselves? Without anger we are victims.

So now I have to undo a lifetime of bad habits, and welcome this energy called anger.

I’d never read the ‘William’ books by Richmal Crompton although Frog had always spoken highly of them, and for Christmas he gave me the first ten, a set of facsimiles of the first (1922) editions. I’ve devoured them.
In the face of appalling treatment by most of the grown-ups around him (did people really treat children like that in the 1920s?) William is cheerful, confident, selfish, unscrupulous, inventive and devious. I love him. He is my new hero. I shall model myself on him.

Saturday, 3 February 2018


The first anniversary of my mother’s death falls in three weeks’ time.
At this time last year I was too busy to get the winter blues. I was editing a monthly magazine and going up and down to Kent every few weeks to see my mother and to help my brothers and sisters with her care.
This winter has been for me much more difficult. I don't know what to do with myself and I don't see any future but ill-health and death. Am I grieving? Am I remaking myself, like Trish Currie in ‘What’s cooking’, who is also dealing with bereavement?
Will I feel better when I’ve passed the anniversary?
I hope so.

And here, because ruins seem to be a bit of theme at the moment, are some pictures from last winter of Burrow Mump in Somerset.

The ruined church on top of the 'mump' (hill), with me and the dog to the left. (Photograph by Frog.)

The extraordinary sky that afternoon