Saturday, 2 August 2014

A joint post between my blog and my words for the wounded blog. Enjoy

Over this gloriously sunny summer, WforW have been busy putting together the new writing competitions. This year we are raising money for individuals, Forces Support and as usual, the creative arts at Tedworth House.  The competitions will be ready for November 11th and the excitement is building amongst the grannies! We will let you know all the details at the end of the summer, but be preparing those self-published novels in readiness, as well as brushing off your flash fiction skills.

We are also arranging a brilliant LitFest day for April 18 2015 at Downley, High Wycombe, so do keep the day free. Once we have all the speakers set  in stone we'll let you know the details, but so far we have some belters. 

Thanks to Granny Annie who took my place on the skydive for the kick up the wotsit to go for it!

The 'grands' have excelled themselves this summer.  Josie arrived after school a couple of weeks ago with something held behind her back. It transpired she had written a speech which she proceeded to recite. 'Me and my friends at school made some bracelets out of loom bands to help raise money and we raised over £11 but some was stolen, so we now have £5.27. We raised this money because you are all an inspiration to me and my friends.'  She revealed the bag of money. 

The bag actually contained £16 because Meg had done the same at her school and they'd put all the money together. I think it's the most valuable £16 there has ever been... And more, Josie and her friends just kept going each time the money was stolen, (which it was, twice). They really do feel that the wounded need every penny.

But that's not the end of it:

Meet CHUM - 

The grands have created, and show us in a selfie, the WforW mascot. CHUM, stands for charitable, homely, unique mascot and CHUM will be present at anything we do. Thanks girls. Love the selfie!

Now we hear from Elizabeth Buchan. We've known one another for more years than either of us care to remember and not only is Elizabeth a fantastic writer, but HUGE fun, and one of the busiest people I know. I see she's been interviewed in the brilliant on-line Frost Magazine, and I do hope Frost will be reviewing I can't begin to tell you They write such comprehensive and detailed reviews. I have enjoyed all Elizabeth Buchan's novels, and have a favourite in The Lilies of the Fields which won the Romantic Novel Award 

I Can’t Begin to Tell You
By Elizabeth Buchan
Some years ago, I wrote a novel about a female SOE agent going into occupied France during the Second World War. It was a fascinating project to research and to write – and, as the family helpfully informed me, I became an obsessive.  Soon after it was published, the phone went and a voice asked me if I was the author of Light of the Moon as she used to work for SOE’s F-section and she had liked the book?
         We became friends and, over the years, Noreen Riols (who has recently published her own remarkable memoir, The Secret Ministry of Ag and Fish) and I often discussed various aspects of the SOE. Such is her generosity, she invited me down to Valençay to celebrate with French veterans and descendants of SOE agents the seventieth anniversary of the first parachutage into France.  It was an extraordinary day. Princess Anne arrived in a helicopter, the town was en fete and the service conducted with banners and music at the memorial was poignant and unforgettable.
         Over my writing life, I have found that I like to circle around a subject, often returning to it to write another novel from a different angle. I knew one day that I would return to the SOE. However, in the interim, many other writers have seized on SOE,  particularly F-section. I needed to rethink and to find a fresh approach. Someone said: ‘why don’t you look at Denmark?’
         I took their advice and found there was actually a new area in which to roam as the writer. Denmark had had a very unusual war – it had been annexed peacefully and the Reich had bestowed on it the status of a ‘model protectorate’. This remained -  more or less - the case until August 1943 when the order went out to round up the Jews. From that moment, the situation in Denmark changed.
         A novel is not a history. It is fiction and fiction tries to explore emotional truths and human behaviour. So what was I writing about? At the early stage, I thought it would be about the tensions and problems of someone taking a decision to enter this infant theatre of war – i.e. the covert and undercover. Why would they do it?  How would they manage?  The novel would also be about lies. An agent must live on many levels and not only has to construct a charade for the enemy but for friends, lovers, spouses and family.
         I thought further around the subject. Do women make better spies and undercover agents? If so, why?  Actually, if you are the right temperament both sexes are neck and neck on that. Where women had an advantage in the Second World War was the Germans weren’t expecting women to be spies or agents.
         What else did women do? Some of the answers were also to be found in the SOE. There were women coders and decoders – such as my character, Ruby Ingram, brilliant mathematician and angry feminist.  There were also the listeners, such as Mary Voss, the FANY,  who listened out day and night for the call signs of the agents and, although they had no idea of their sex or their names, grew to know their agents simply by listening to their ‘handwriting’ or ‘fist’ as they tapped out their messages in Morse from whatever hiding places they could manage. Who was to say that the coders and listeners didn’t cherish and love these agents and strove always to protect them – even if it meant taking on the bosses?
         Even in relatively peaceful Denmark, life was difficult and loyalties were conflicted and bought much suffering. Searching to find the plot of the novel, I read histories, memoirs,  biographies and  then finally … I stumbled across a biography of an English woman who worked for SOE during the war while her Danish  husband tolerated the occupation. They lived in a house with a lake in front of it.
         I had my story. 

 I Can’t Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan (Michael Joseph Hardback & E-Book, £14.99, 28th August 2014)


Saturday, 28 December 2013

My trip to Tedworth House, which I felt I should put on my personal blog, as well as Words for the Wounded

I have let my blog go since August and here I am, back again. Part of the reason is that pressure of work has kept me from my blog but the new novel for Random House is now being copy edited so it's virtually off my hands. I am up to date with Words for the Wounded blog and Christmas is over. New Year's Eve is looming so good intentions are coming to the fore.

I want to tell you about the trip I took recently to Tedworth House in Tidworth. This is the recovery centre to which the funds raised by our writing prize will be sent. Do enter, or donate. These recovering service men and women need every penny we can raise and Tedworth House is a wonderful place.

Tedworth House - Tidworth is one of four Recovery Centres run by Help for Heroes, which forms part of the Defence Recovery Capability.  Tedworth House aims to inspire the wounded, injured and sick and returning veterans to lead active, independent and fulfilling lives, which will enable them to reach their full potential and to support them and their families for life.   It is a place of opportunities providing education, training, sport and adventure in a relaxed, understanding and caring environment.  State of the art facilities and dedicated staff aid the path to recovery.

This opening paragraph describes Tedworth House and it seems there is little more to say. But of course there is. 

When the W4W team had a look round last year it was still a work in progress, so off we went again at the end of November. This time supporters and patrons joined us to find that Tedworth House is absolutely and fantastically finished. 

True to form, we started at The Boot Inn, Shipton Bellinger. We found this great pub on our last visit and this year Sally and Lee were patient and helpful as the group booking changed almost hour by hour, as always seems to happen on these occasions. Our trip was so long in the preparation that naturally some of the party  found they were unable to come after all. Not a problem as their places were snapped up by others eager to see where the proceeds of Words for the Wounded 2nd writing prize would land.

One of our group, Barry Mazey, kept an eye on the time over lunch and herded us off to Tedworth House in good order! He knew I would probably be too busy talking to keep my finger on the pulse. What's more, as an army veteran he has an inbuilt clock. 

Simon Dyer's work
Tucked away in glorious grounds Tedworth house seemed to have grown since our last visit. We walked from the car park to reception, past Simon Dyers evocative sculpture and then on  into the majestic foyer. There is the most beautiful chandelier and stained glass window  in this area and looking at these Barry remembered coming for dinner when it had been an Officers' Mess about 10 years ago. Indeed, last time the W4W team did the rounds it was explained that Help for Heroes wanted only the best for their mates and that the house would be as splendid as it had been when it was a private house and then an Officers' Mess. They have succeeded. 

After tea or coffee we listened to a presentation by the Centre Manager, Giles Woodhouse in which he explained the ethos of Help for Heroes, focussing as he did so on some of their inspiring recovering personnel. He underlined, also, the need to continue raising funds. Did you know that many of the wounded are aged between 20 and 24 and will continue to need back up for 50 years if not more? Not sure I had totally taken this on board. Added to this is the fact that the troops will be out of Afghanistan soon, and probably out of the public eye, but Giles made clear that the needs of the recovering must not also fade. So we all have work to do. 

After the presentation we joined the lovely Susan Gibbings - Front of House Team Leader for a tour, nipping outside first. Bit parky it was too! To the rear and right of the picture is the playground for the children of those staying or visiting here. I gather that the personnel make full use of the woods - something to do with den building, and this that and the other. I think I must be going deaf. I missed a bit here and there.
As we tripped around the outside it became clear that indeed Tedworth House has grown just as I thought. The facilities are numerous and wondrous, honestly they are. There is a ski slope, a swimming pool, both 'resistant' so it must be a bit like going down an 'up' escalator. You have to work really hard and work against the current.

Jan, one of the W4W team, is an avid skier and had to be held back. The gym was perfect, so too the basketball pitch on which many other games are played too, from the sitting position of course. On and on we went. We even glimpsed an equestrian centre  then back into the main house and a look at the rooms. As well as the single rooms beautifully furnished there are family rooms and privacy is ensured with the provision of a nearby kitchen so people can come and go as they please. The doors and corridors of the house are as wide as they have always been but they are easy to open with the use of some sort of hydraulic help. Everywhere there are cheerful painting and prints on the walls, all of neutral subjects which won't trigger unpleasant memories. Nothing has been left to chance.

There is a creative arts room where all sorts of activities  take place including creative writing workshops. It is these activities that we are supporting in this year's competition.
 I was particularly delighted to meet another member of the public on the tour. She is a member of the FANYS, the volunteer First Aid Nursing Yeomanry which has existed since 1907 and though civilian they are in support of the military. She lives in High Wycombe as I do, and was eager to spread the word about Words for the Wounded amongst her fellow FANYS. Thank you, Philippa!

And that about wrapped it up. It was a thought provoking experience and made us even more determined to continue to provide opportunities for writers on the one hand and funds for those who need them on the other. Tedworth House Recovery Centre is utterly essential to the recovery of our wounded - physical and emotional. It made us more grateful than ever to those of you who donate or/and enter Words for the Wounded writing prize, our patrons, and our supporters, including Writers' Forum who are publishing our winners again. Thank you so much from us all.

Monday, 26 August 2013

After the Storm is off to a flying start, and Maeve's Afternoon Delight is soaring as well.

It's interesting to see Maeve's Afternoon Delight selling well, and people asking for the follow on. This will be written next year.
I  confess that it gives me huge pleasure to see After the Storm doing well too. It was my first novel, absolutely the first thing of any length I had written.
I entered it for the Constable/North West Arts novel competition. It didn't win but it was one of the 22 best entries. This was heaven for an aspiring author and I thought I had it sorted! Well, no.

Five years later I had worked my way through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and reached H. I knew I had only a short time to get it published as my youngest child was 5 and about to start school, at which point I'd have to get a 'proper' job. Someone at Hamish Hamilton liked it, but not enough. He suggested his own agent, which was an act of huge generosity. His agent took me, and knew Heinemann had just lost Catherine Cookson and were seeking a novel set in the North East. Mine was. And so, careers are launched.

That wasn't the end of it though. I met the brilliant Sue Freestone and Amanda Conqui for lunch who suggested a few changes - publishers do. Basically I needed a sub plot, and to double it in length, and to do this in six months. Crikey. They wanted the sub-plot to be headed by Annie Manon's brother, but I could see more potential in Tom, the step-brother. Publishers aren't dragons, and if you can give a reason behind your thinking they are usually amenable. Or have mine always been lovely? And so, Only The Wind is Free was born, which is now published as After the Storm.

The reason it has an emotional hold is that the character in essence is my mother, Little Annie Newsome, as she was known in Washington Station, where she lived in a shop in Brady Square with her father and step-mother, brother and step-brother. This train would probably be the one used by the colliery to transport the coal to the mainline. But maybe it is the mainline. I just don't know, and never knew that it ran so close to my mum's shop. But which side is her shop? I don't know. So many questions.
Many of the incidents in After the Storm are those that took place in my mother's life, but I know her brother in real life was lovely, and I never knew her step-brother Rex. I'm not sure now that I'd stick so closely to actual incidents and use a brother when there is a brother, because I would hate my uncle to have thought I meant him, as I explained. Writers live and learn - to be more careful.

I am returning to Washington in September to add to my research for the new books I am doing for my publisher, Random House, set back in a mining community before, during, and after the 1WW. I will be visiting Beamish Living Museum (I've been before - fascinating) and going on up to Ashington to see the Pitmen Painters' standing Exhibition at Woodhorn Museum. If you haven't seen the play 'Pitmen Painters' you must and try and get hold of Robson Green's TV programme on them.

My real treat though will be to spend time in Washington. The weekend I am there is the heritage weekend at F Pit, (the pits were given letters of the alphabet) and I have contacted the fantastic Washington History Society who have sent me all sorts of photos of Brady Square and are trying to find out more about my mum. I didn't ask the right questions in her lifetime, and realise that I want to know all about her and her family. Dave has been amazing and has contacted the Sunderland Echo who are putting a feature into their Historical section in the hopes that there is someone who can fill me in.

I used to spend some school holidays with my Uncle Stan and Auntie Isobel and absolutely love it in the north - the people, the history, the countryside. I feel my roots are dug deep and I'm very excited at the thought of my trip.

Incidentally, Barry Unsworth, who has won the Booker twice, told me that I was 22nd in the list of 22 best entries. Thanks Barry - I think. And how we miss him and his writing. I particularly love The Quality of Mercy

I willreturn from my travels on 16th September and will  let you know how my trip goes!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Gloriously warm week and some great book jackets sent to me for the reprints

19th July

I can't remember continuous fine weather like this for ages. I'm told it was in 2006. It's been glorious though I have to say I've been shade hopping. Can't cope with the heat of the sun these days. The sweet peas have been fantastic but are already shortening their stems and it must be the weather. The roses have bloomed and then drooped. Again the weather.

Dear old Only the Wind is Free has been renamed After the Storm by Random House with a smart new jacket. It comes out for a 2nd showing  in August this year and it will be interesting to see how it does. I'm very fond of this book as it was my first and I based it pretty much on mum's life. I always think of her when it's mentioned
and can see her so clearly. What I hope it contains is the essence of her. She was enormously gutsy - well she had to be to survive. In fact I have the main character going into captivity in Singapore in the 2nd World War, which mum avoided as it fell before she arrived, but many of her friends were less fortunate and I wanted to show what it was like.

I've just seen the jacket for Annie's Promise which retains the old title. Phew, less chance of confusion. It is similar. I was talking to Matt about the change in title and he made a good point. He suggested that fashions change and what worked in 1988 might not be appropriate for today. Presumably Annie's Promise has travelled better!

Otherwise I had a short story to write this week for a Sunday newspaper magazine who would like to use it in a December edition when they mention Annie's Promise. It was fun and I used Maeve, from Maeve's Afternoon Delight, my ebook. Nice to work with her again.

Today my lovely mentoring group and I went for lunch after our last session for this term. We ate in the garden of the local Downley pub and it just seemed perfect. Weather makes such a difference and talking about something we're all interested in is the icing on the cake.

Fingers crossed this weather lasts for longer. Kris and Lee do the triathlon for W4W on Sunday and I don't want it as hot as it's been. I don't think it's good to do hefty exercise in such conditions. Fingers crossed on that too.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Maeve's Afternoon Delight Excerpt and a catch up. About time too!

OK, I know it's practically a year and I said I'd get to it weekly. I've been busy, you see!

I promised the 1st Chapter of Maeve's Afternoon Delight and here it is, a the bottom of this post. I do hope you enjoy. I brought it out myself as my publisher had enough of this sort of thing, but instead I've been doing another for them. That's the way publishing goes. One door closes and another opens.

I'm just waiting for the amendments and then will start researching the next one. I'm loving it. I had a long break from writing because I'd run out of steam I think. Didn't like it, and had nothing I wanted to write about and now the ideas just keep coming.

I have a reprint of Only the Wind is Free out in August, but under the title of After the Storm. There is a disclaimer on the back mentioning that the title has changed. I suppose title fashions alter and that's why this is happening. Not sure really but I like the jacket and it's good to see my first novel out and about again. 

We've been busy with Words for the Wounded too but you can catch up with that on  . Suffice to say that it's been a magical journey and we've been so impressed with the entries, and moved beyond words. We donated £1800 this year, and hope to build on that next year. We launch the next in November but I'll do more about that nearer the time.

Otherwise all well here in High Wycombe. I seem to be in London a great deal, lunching at The Wellington on the Strand, and then onto exhibitions and theatres. For someone up from the west country it is sheer heaven. London is such a beautiful city and I didn't realise how much I had yet to discover. 

Here's Maeve, bless her. If you like her you can buy her on kindle on 

See you next week.  Over to Maeve. 

Chapter 1

Monday April 16th 2012
Maeve stood on the porch examining her front door. It looked as faded as a middle aged groupie. ‘You need a makeover,’ Maeve said aloud as she shifted the weight of the hand fork, watering can, trowel, and plastic pail of chicken poo that she was taking to the allotment. She loathed brown, faded or not, unless it was soil. And this door wasn't soil.
She felt the sun shafting past the honeysuckle onto her shoulder. The honeysuckle clung to both uprights and sprawled across the roof of the shallow porch. Fresh air and sun was the enemy of the door, of course, but over muesli at breakfast she’d decided to take action regarding Acacia Avenue’s front door rule. Just like that. And sod the lot of them. It had been Geoff who had signed the Residents’ Association agreement, not her. And Geoff, bless his little cheating heart, was no longer the man of the house.
She felt her stomach twist and for a moment she sagged but looked again at the door. No, she simply wasn't having anymore of that nonsense. It was a year to the day over breakfast that she’d discovered she had become redundant to requirements and it was time to step away.
With the sun still slanting on her shoulder Maeve felt her stomach start again. She stood tall. Grief, shock and downright bloody rage would only stall her for a year she’d promised not only herself but her mother on that first day of panic, pain and loneliness. No husband, no best friend. ‘Well, worse things happen at sea,’ her mother had said as she always did, to the point where everyone in the vicinity wanted to strangle her. But she had also said when Maeve had stopped her intermittent caterwauling on the kitchen floor, ‘You’re right. Give yourself a year to work through it, then kick ass.’ 
Her mother had hugged her and set to in the kitchen to make her recipe for any crisis, a fruit cake with a double portion of glace cherries. She also told Maeve’s father not to stand there like a rabbit stuck in the headlights but to get them all a gin and tonic, with far more gin than tonic thank you very much. ‘Unless he took the booze too, the pillock.’
Maeve touched the brown door. It was warm, and she could feel the flaking paint as she laid her palm flat against it. ‘April 16th, same breakfast, different Maeve. You’ll be made over, oh yes you will.’ It would be as good as running up a flag which said, ‘Stand aside, I’m comin’ through.’
She bounced down the two steps and onto the crazy paving path. In the summer the camomile she’d planted in the cracks would waft wonderful scent but for now it was all just springtime promise. The same for the lavender which lined the path though the perennials behind were revving, and damn it, what stars the Sweet William had been, flowering and casting scent for a couple of weeks. The bulbs were in full flood too.
To the left the small apple tree was not only budding but blossoming. Small little thing it was but deliberately so.  A large tree created too much shade. There was nothing to compare with apple blossom and the plum to the right wasn’t bad. Would she win the plum jam competition at the WI? No, Daphne would do that but she might pitch up a close second. All things were possible now. 
She walked briskly to Betsy, her red bike, which was chained to the flowering cherry that she and Geoff had inherited from the previous owner.
She patted the tree. It was this and the potential of the four bedroom mock Tudor semi that had initially grabbed her by the throat. She turned and gazed at the house. We did you proud, didn’t we, inside anyway? Outside had been left, and perhaps it was as well. It had given her something to do, something to nurture, something to build upon as even her old working life disappeared.
She dumped her tools in Betsy’s basket, removed her helmet from the box over the rear wheel and into it stuck the watering can and the chicken poo. She turned her attention to the security chain, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she did so. It was too curly to hold any style other than its own. But it did hold a colour, thank heavens, a brown just a step on from beige that sorted the grey completely.  Good grief, almost 44 and already with a dose of grey. It was her father’s fault. He was white by fifty. Her mother?  Heaven only knew – it was many years since anything other than various shades of riotous auburn had graced that head, bless her. She put on her helmet. Not pretty, but necessary.
Crouching she fed in the combination. No covetous hand had ever been laid on Betsy but should it happen it would be one of the worst days of the thief’s life. Betsy had been her first acquisition after Geoff had scooted and she loved her. A custom made sit up and beg with all the gears. 
The combination was her date of birth because anything else would be forgotten, it always was. In all the years she had run the plumbing manufacturing and supply business with Geoff, memory had never been her strong point.
She wheeled Betsy down the last few yards of the path, eased open the picket gate and out she went without a backward glance as it clicked shut behind her. Just a quick left and right and hi ho silver, she was off, across to the other side of the lime tree lined avenue. Up and over the traffic calming bump she pedalled heading towards the T junction, her longish cotton skirt floating above her wellingtons and well clear of the chain.
Her neighbour, the immaculate Leonora, probably thought it an affectation to wear skirts all the time. Well, perhaps it was. Maeve had once lived in jeans but Geoff’s words had rung true – time had indeed taken its toll in more ways than one, and her skirts hid the dumplings and didn’t impinge on the digging in any way, shape or form.
Furthermore, six months ago Geoff had dropped round for the first time since he’d left. She was in the garden mowing the lawn and Tilly the British Blue cat was watching from a safe distance. He’d said, ‘Surely you don’t garden in that skirt?’  She had revved the engine to drown him out, tempted to run him over and realised what bliss it was these days to do as she pleased without comments from him indoors.  Since then skirts had become even more of a priority and so had crossing off the days because she knew after his visit that she was well on her way towards the end of the tunnel.
As she pedalled she felt as always the cool breeze soaring through her, much as it used to when she was on the swing as a child. The sun cast luscious dollops of shade that evoked the change of season from winter to spring and soon into summer.
Glancing to left and right she checked the front gardens of the villas along her road, all with the same ghastly brown doors. How had it come to this? How had so many come under the thumb of just one little front door monitor who chaired the Residents’ Association and decreed brown doors. Well, look and learn Acacia Avenue.
She grinned and changed into a lower gear because the avenue rose gently to meet the B road leading to the allotments. Sidgeworth Allotments lay to the west of the small suburban market town. The T junction was busy.
She stopped and waited, and there, bustling around the corner was Archie Meadows with his Daily Mail in his carrier bag. She did wish people wouldn’t use new carrier bags every time. Why didn’t he just stick it under his arm? ‘Come on, come on,’ she breathed aloud to the traffic. The last person in the wide world she wanted to chat to was the door monitor, particularly today. But…
‘So, hello there, Maeve. I assume you had a good weekend?’ Archie stepped into the road and placed his hand on Betsy’s basket. She’d now have to ride over him, or wait.
‘Very pleasant, thank you.’ Maeve twitched the handle bars but Archie, his blazer as immaculate as ever, stood firm. Had he never heard of personal space? Was it her imagination or were his buttons gleaming daily ever brighter? And there was something different.  She was puzzled for a moment and then realised. Yes, he looked naked without his clipboard. It was a clipboard which contained all that needed to be known about the Residents, his Residents. Somehow he always said it as though there was a capital R.
‘Archie, I’m in a rush I’m afraid.’ She didn’t look at him but craned forward.  Damn. There was no gap and she needed to turn right against the traffic. Perhaps he’d get the message, though she knew he wouldn’t. Archie didn’t get messages, he just created and delivered them. He was a man groomed by his father to be a chairman of a small committee.  He wasn’t ex-services or anything like that, though she felt he longed to be interpreted as such with his short hair, neat moustache and highly polished shoes and a sort of coldness in his grey eyes.
He had been full time at the council until his parents died. They had left him comfortably off and he slipped to part-time. Before that, he had been window monitor at school in year 3, her school, her class. He was harmless but an irritant on a par with scabies.
‘So, you received the circular?’ He loomed, the man positively loomed. She craned further into the road. Could she be more obvious?
‘Yes.’ She couldn’t very well deny it as he’d stuffed it through the letter box himself, delivered by hand neatly inscribed on the left hand corner with a tick to show he’d done just that. She kept craning, but there was no deliverance just a stream of white vans, saloon cars, and a bus.
He smiled. She instinctively took against people with gaps between their teeth.  His milk teeth had been OK but he was one of those people who’d never grown into his adult teeth. Not only gaps and but also protruding. Imagine kissing him. No, she shook her head. Don’t even go there. Not now, not ever.
He said, his hand still owning her basket, owning her space. ‘It’s spring and time again for all front doors to smarten up. Appearances are everything. I have the Residents’ Association’s brown paint in my garage, so I will drop off your requirements. Geoff paid up for two years. So…’ He was a man who used ‘so’ a great deal.
Maeve stared at him, not seeing him, but seeing Geoff. Bloody hell. Not only had he whizzed off to pastures new but left her paid up on paint at the R.A. which is what she called it, because the full term gave it some sort of reverence.
Another quick look. A gap.
She wrenched the handlebars putting her foot hard down on the pedal. Archie lost his grip and was forced to step back as she surged forward. ‘Don’t bring the paint round,’ she shouted as she left him behind. ‘I’ll buy some, don’t worry.’
She tossed her head. Let him make what he wanted of that. She was going to get tough with the hard clay soil, wreak havoc with the weeds and pretend it was everyone who had ever aggravated her. What’s more, she’d give herself a treat and look across at Larry from time to time. Young Larry who was even better than George Clooney. After that, fully revved, she was going to the DIY for paint, her choice of paint. But then she had second thoughts and called over her shoulder. ‘I have some left from last time.’
Wimp, wimp, she called to herself but no. It would deaden any inkling he might have of rebellion in the ranks. Archie was calling something. It sounded as though he was asking her about an exotic marigold hotel. She ignored him.
She whizzed along in the cycle lane. For a small Bucks market town,  Sidgeworth did its cyclists proud. They had a fair to middling green council which was trying to keep cars down to a minimum and encourage pedal power. It was a bit like being in an exercise lane at a swimming pool, stroking along knowing that no-one was going to bump you. Not that she stroked along in any swimming pool.  She didn’t care for water bleaching out her hair colour.
She turned left into Middling Lane with the allotments tantalizingly close on her right behind the stone wall, with the narrow river on the other side of the plots. There was no way in until the entrance was reached unless of course you wanted to clamber over the river bridge wall. She didn’t. On she went for another 100 yards and only then could she dismount and push Betsy through the gateway which was wide enough for a tractor. The sight of the allotments lifted her heart as they had done since she started work on her plot almost a year ago. It was not just the sight but the sound. The birds seemed louder here, the bees too. She pulled off her helmet. It did her no favours and made her feel like something from Dr Who.
She waved at Old Sam working on his allotment. He was on the committee and part of the Shed Club, a men-only Wednesday lunchtime gathering. His No 3 plot was an example to everyone, as was he. 86 years old, funny, lovely and he dug like a dervish, breaking wind frequently and very loudly. He had made her a wooden cart which she could hitch to Betsy to transport her cakes to the WI Market, after he heard that she had to make several trips because her rear wheel box didn’t actually stretch sufficiently. 
Her plot was No. 13. Some wouldn’t take it because of superstition. She had grabbed it. Life was too short and the list too long for nonsense like that. Geoff had heard and said that he wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. She said that a barge pole would be a fat lot of good on an allotment so it was as well he wasn’t going to get anywhere near it. It was not one of her more grown up moments.
Slowly slowly she was beginning to understand the seasons, the rotation of crops, the pleasure of working with the other allotmenteers. All that was missing was chooks and the odd pig for it to be truly artisan. But other councils were allowing that, so perhaps it would come.
‘So, let’s get at it, Betsy,’ she murmured and set off along the grass path. She passed Emma Walker who was digging trenches for her potatoes. Emma returned Maeve’s wave, sweat beading her forehead. She had two small children and a husband who ‘worked away’ but was in fact in clink for something to do with shady car dealing.
Maeve called, ‘So, busy today then?’ So? So? Good grief, had Archie infused her?
‘Always,’ Emma grinned, stretching her back. ‘I pick ‘em up from playgroup at 11.00 so I have to take every opportunity.’
Maeve wheeled Betsy on down the path examining the allotments she passed. Some were neat, some were not. All were productive. Then on to her own little kingdom and down the path to her shed where she propped Betsy against the water butt. She took the tools from the basket and the chicken poo and watering can. She lifted her face to the sun and breathed in the fresh air but instead there was the smell of bacon cooking. She looked around, almost groaning with desire.
Cottages faced the allotments on the left of the road. Perhaps it was bacon butty time at Iris Cottages, or was it the Shed Team from the allotments down by the five barred gate? No, that was on a Wednesday.
‘Hi Maeve,’ Larry her allotment neighbour called. She must have shoved Betsy straight past his plot without looking up which was a first because he was quite lovely and made her heart beat just that little bit too fast. She looked now and there he was, frying pan in hand, standing in the doorway of his shed. Blue eyes, tanned, strong jaw, shame about the woolly hat.
‘So, it’s you, is it?’ she called, ‘making the world hungry. Have you a pig sty now?’ She grinned at Larry, who must have only been 30 something, and that something was pretty modest. Her mother would have said that he was in the morning of his life, whilst Maeve was definitely in the afternoon. Her mother’s cut off was 40. Apparently there was no evening, or not one her mother was prepared to admit.
‘Wouldn’t that be a treat? Will pigs and sties ever happen do you think? Will pigs ever fly?’ He grinned, and waggled the frying pan again. ‘Early lunch or late breakfast, whatever turns you on.’ He heaped the bacon onto a slab of bread he had placed on a plastic picnic plate lying on the bench outside his shed. Bacon butties were new to this end. The Shed Club had been cooking them for some time down by Old Sam’s, though it used to be strictly forbidden in the small print of the allotment rules but the committee’s attitude had changed when Archie resigned as Chair after the mandatory 3 years.
Maeve smiled towards the bacon butty but avoided looking at the lovely Larry. Did a waggle of the pan and ‘whatever turns you on’ constitute an invitation or was that just wishful thinking? He’d invited her for a cuppa several times before and it had seemed too early in her recovery, too intimate, a sort of crossing of the man/woman safety barrier she’d built since Geoff had gone. Bacon was a step further, he was even more delicious and she was becoming flustered. Shut up, shut up, there was only one plate and he was just passing the time of day. She resorted to scrubbing her hand fork, focussing on the Allotment Committee which was a safer bet.
Things had eased when Archie’s term as Chair of the Allotment Committee had come to a conclusion and Daphne took over the tiller. It transpired that the constitution stated that as long as a proposal had the agreement of the local council and a majority vote, changes could be made. The Shed Team had wanted bacon butties. It was agreed. Archie and his clipboard had shaken in outrage and he hadn’t spoken to anyone for a month after the decision and what’s more, he neglected his plot.
For many months afterwards he had voted against anything that appeared too adventurous but then, salvation for the allotmenteers. He’d taken over from his father as doyen of the Acacia Avenue’s Residents’ Association and the Avenue’s bane had become the allotment’s blessing. 
Maeve sighed, still scrubbing. When she hadn’t seen Archie for a while she felt sorry for him, so inadequate was he. When she met him she wanted to slap him.
Her fork was more than pristine. She took up her trowel, squatted and levered off the lid of the chicken poo. There was enough for her purposes today. For a moment the smell of the manure drowned the bacon but not the image of Larry. She knew little about him apart from the odd snatches of conversation they had shared. Apparently Larry was an out of work something or other in the City who had let his flat to pay the mortgage and was getting to know the world of vegetables and common sense. Or that’s how he put it in his rather lovely deep, young, well modulated voice. She hadn’t shared with him that they were in the same redundancy boat.  ‘I should get on,’ she murmured to herself. But she did so hope he would rephrase with clarity and ask her to share his butty.
She guessed he had moved in with a girlfriend which was an advantage because she mustn’t become silly over someone so young. Unfortunately he had a fancy for woolly hats which at first sight make him look as though he should be camping up a tree to stop developers doing unimaginable things to woods. He was clean shaven. She liked that. She didn’t care for beards.  You never knew what was in them especially where eating was concerned, or kissing.  Shut up.
She snatched a glance. He gestured to the bench, lifted his plate and sat down, whacking another slice of bread on the top of the bacon. ‘Join me?’ Well, if that wasn’t explicit she didn’t know what was. Something still held her back. He looked up, squinting into the sun. Maeve hesitated.  He and she wedged onto the bench? Still she hesitated. Pull yourself together, you idiot, it’s only a bit of butty. Today’s the start of the rest of your life. Straight out a self-help book, that sounded, and it would serve very well.
Thank heavens she was in a skirt. Cellulite in shorts next to taut muscular tanned thighs didn’t make the heart sing. He was squinting more energetically as he looked up at her. ‘Move to the left Maeve and then I’m not looking straight into the sun and I can see you. Sure you won’t have a bit?’  He tore off a piece of his sandwich and held it up to her as though he was tempting a nervous bird. He’d obviously been digging, but it was clean dirt as her mother would have said. His eyes were unfeasible in their blueness.
In a dither she was pretty sure she would have a bit and dropped the trowel, not giving it a backward glance as she edged along between her gooseberry bushes, and then his winter cabbage and sat down, ramming herself against the end of the bench. She left a good 4 inches between them and took the torn piece of sandwich from him. ‘Thanks.’
The blue eyes twinkled. She’d never actually seen eyes that did that.  But there were bags beneath and lines deep from his nose to his mouth. Redundancy did that, she knew it did. Hers had not been lines but grooves she thought would never fill, but they had, or were doing so.
The bacon was crisp and there was rind. She never knew what to do with rind.  She played with it in her mouth for a while. Larry grinned, ‘For goodness sake, woman, take it out and toss it down for the birds.’
She smiled in return and did just that, leaning back and slowly slowly relaxing, feeling her shoulder drop from under her ears. He said, ‘I keep meaning to tell you I like your bike. Red is a good colour, and I like ‘sit up and beg’ too. You have gears?’
She nodded, ‘Oh yes, and a saddle post with an integral shock absorber. No hardship needed for this…’  She had been about to say bum, but instead back pedalled.  ‘I’m not a youngster anymore.’ She could have bitten her tongue out.  ‘Well, I’m not that old, but…’  Shut up, shut up, she seethed.
He laughed. ‘I have never seen a saddle that so much resembles a sofa.’
She looked across at Betsy. It had taken her many many hours of playing around with foam rubber beneath the jell cover to get it just right. 
And he had said nothing about her age. 
Get it together, Maeve Archer.
She dusted the crumbs from her hands. ‘Why not, I seem to spend a fair amount of time on it.  I don’t have a car, you see, not at the moment. Don’t need one.’
Larry rose and disappeared into his shed. Was it over? Did she wait? Had he moved onto other things? She started to rise as he came out with two mugs.
‘Room service,’ she murmured, subsiding. It was stronger than she usually liked but good. The unexpected often was. There was no sugar and just the right amount of dried milk. How did he know?
He said, ‘I heard you and Mr Fairweather talking last weekend about how sweet tea was so awful it would bring you out of shock like nothing else could.’ 
He sat again, his shorts were those that came mid thigh with all sorts of pockets, most of which were usually for decoration. His were not, and bulged with string and all sorts and the buttons were undone. He had nice knees. Nice legs. Her skirt was lifting a little in the breeze. Her boots were not a thing of beauty but were the thing for allotments. This young man should get a life. He didn’t have enough to think about if he remembered the conversations between her and her other allotment neighbour.
‘Do you always over-winter your broad beans?’ His face was earnest as he nodded towards her patch. He had a frown between his eyebrows and a bit of earth smeared on his neck. Ah, so that was what the bacon butty was all about and she was half relieved. Allotment advice. Fantasies should remain just that.
She looked towards his March sown row. ‘Someone told me that it helped with black fly. But if there’s a windy winter you’re in danger of losing them so you pays your money and takes your pick, really.’
He nodded sipping his tea, though actually slurping it, quite noisily. It should have grated but it didn’t, something to do with al fresco. So many background noises anyway. She listened to the birds and the wheeze of a lorry as it braked to take the corner just before the allotment turn. ‘Next year I’ll follow your lead,’ he said, looking at her over his mug.
She started to say, ‘Well, I might not…’  She stopped.  Don’t be bloody daft, she was right. It was what the book said, what Old Sam said and look at the darned things. She gazed across Larry’s allotment to her own. Triffids they were. She began again. ‘Why not?’ It warmed her to think of anyone following her lead.
‘What’s on the menu today?’ he asked, nodding towards her plot. 
She checked her watch. Yes, he was probably itching to get on, itching for her to start whatever it is she’d come for and vacate his bench. ‘Planting out beetroot, summer cabbage and parsnips, and weeding.’ Now she was slurping her tea in her rush.
He put his mug on the ground. He had finished. So must she. ‘Yes, I did my parsnips yesterday.’
She hadn’t been down on Sunday. Andy had said he’d come but then cancelled. Sons were like that. He probably had a hangover, so instead she had tackled paperwork.
‘My dad always said they should be in before Easter.’ Larry was taking the mug she offered. 
‘Dad’s are often right,’ she said, rising, thanking him and heading for her own plot, calling over. ‘Mine always says to put in spuds on Good Friday, which I did. Look, when I have a camping stove, I’ll return the favour.’
‘Now you’re being silly. We don’t have to take turns.’
She nodded, turning away, seeing Mrs Stanley from Plot No 8 looking across and smiling. Maeve waved, feeling extraordinarily cheerful as she reached for the rake propped up inside her shed. Somehow there was a promise of other cups of tea, a promise of an allotment chum and one that was easy on the eye into the bargain. Yes, a chum. She’d settle for that. For a moment she allowed herself to miss Rosemarie but only for a moment. She allowed herself to miss the thought of Larry as a significant other but only for a moment.
Maeve liked the sound of the rake, the sense of gently stroking the earth and the click of stones as she raked before chucking them into a pile. After a while she pulled weeds before making the drill for the parsnip seeds.  As she shook them into the palm of her hand she marvelled as always at the flatness of the seeds and then fed them into the drills. She covered them. ‘Grow well,’ she murmured.
There was just a slight ache in her back. Her hands were a disgrace, her nails beyond awful, but she preferred not to wear gloves. Now it was time for the beetroots. It was all a tad late because the weather had turned cold and she had been busy baking cakes for the Craft Fair stall and the WI Market. The procedure was repeated, and she thought of nothing else, of no-one else. Here, with the earth and the fresh air, it was enough.
Eventually she checked her watch. Soon be lunch time. One thing she had learned was that she needed to eat regularly or she became short tempered, and no-one likes a cross-patch. Also, Andy had said he might be over. Only to use the washing machine, she was sure, but it would be good to see how the university vacation was going. 
She scanned the weeds near the broccoli but there was insufficient time. So back into the shed went the rake and as she dusted her hands she looked across at Larry’s patch to call goodbye. No sign of him. She checked her watch. 12.30. Crikey, she still had to buy the paint.
She pushed Betsy along the path, nodding to the allotmenteers who had arrived and were hard at it. She mounted Betsy on the road, making short work of the trip to the DIY. She zoomed into the car park and over to the cycle rack. She dragged the security chain from the basket and clicked it on. The store was buzzing. It seemed that spring brought out the decorating as well as the planting urge because it was like swimming amongst a sea of many other fish all of whom were a bit goggle eyed.
She thought she had decided on the colour but found herself collecting up the seductive charts again and pouring over them as she leaned back against the shelving. She knew that using paint of her choice was going to cause ructions, not just with Archie, but probably with some of the other residents. Therefore it must be absolutely the colour of her choice. It would hold her steady in the face of incoming fire. A face that was always Archie’s in her mind. She was tempted to take the charts home, prevaricate, put off, forget about it all.
Instead she grabbed what she needed; paint stripper, paint, brushes, sandpaper, three grades, and held onto the colour charts because the hall could also do with a facelift. She queued at the checkout, finally reaching the tills, feeding in her pin number, and whisking out of the doors, all without hesitation. It was done. The sun was still shining.  Betsy’s basket was full and so too the box. It made the steering heavy but nothing she couldn’t manage.
She headed for home. Would Andy be there? Oh, she did hope so. The worst part of any outing was returning to an empty house. She’d almost decided to buy a dog, one that would leap in excitement at her arrival but no, Tilly was her soul cat. It was enough when one amber eye lifted in welcome as she lay on the footstool in the sitting room.
The colour charts and the paint lid caught the sun. She’d say nothing to anyone, not even Andy. They’d know soon enough.
                        *          *          *          *          *

Archie had watched Maeve zoom across the road, his heart in his mouth. He did wish she would walk to her allotment as the roads could be perilous and now that she was on her own there could so easily be a future for them both, together. He wanted nothing to spoil that.
He smiled to himself as he walked along the avenue. He loved the spring. It was when the world seemed brighter, cleaner, positively gleaming. It was when he polished his blazer buttons with even more vigour. It was also when the doors were painted and the whole of Acacia Avenue looked spick and span and in symmetrical order.
Yes, it was a fair bit of work for him to keep everything under control and synchronised but that was his role in life. He almost felt like waltzing into his drive, such was his pleasure, but of course did not. He examined the privet hedge that surrounded his front garden. He would need to trim it again soon. March 31st was the first clip of the season and from thenceforth, every three weeks, on the dot.
His father would be pleased if he kept to the schedule drawn up during his time in charge. Archie moved along the hedge, peering into the inner depths, seeking nests. He didn’t care for birds because they woke him too early in the morning, so, the obvious solution would be to have a cat but he cared for them even less. Just to think of them made him become hot and the noise to build in his head, so he thought of other things. The flower bed in the corner would be a good place to start weeding and planting.
He bent over to examine the bed more closely. So, the slugs had been at the hostas again. He would need to put more pellets down. He didn’t buy those that were kind to pets since it saved him a job if some ghastly cat gobbled down some pellets and paid the price. He examined the pansies which were rather weedy after the dry winter. They would perk up soon and the perennial geraniums would bunch up nicely too.
He pulled up a few weeds and cast an eye over the small square of lawn. It was splattered with worm casts. He so loathed the creatures for besmirching his garden. Agreed they did good work beneath the soil but that’s where they should stay. The lawn needed mowing every two weeks, according to his father. So of course that was right.
Life, it appeared, was truly just beginning for him. Maeve was obeying the order of things; insert semi colon she was available, she was perfect with her hazel eyes, her hazel hair. They would make a team in a way that his mother had been unable to achieve with his father. His mother? No, he wouldn’t think of her. He almost whistled to himself as he walked round the side of the house, and peeped at the back garden. Yes, all in order. He returned to the front door and let himself in. So, oh yes, life was promising to be very good indeed.
Why, Maeve might even leave some more vegetables on his doorstop as she had done last year. He didn’t like courgettes actually but the thought had been kind, and an indication of her feelings. He closed the back door and soon began to list the houses he must visit during the morning to assess their needs vis-a-vis brown paint. He snapped the list onto his clipboard on top of all the other data and began his housework.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Winchester Writers' Conference and the Words for the Wounded team.

An amazing weekend.

Barbara Large, suggested that I bring the charity Words for the Wounded which raises money for the rehabilitation of wounded service personnel through writing prizes,  to Winchester Writers' Conference 2013. So the 4 'man' team embarked wearing T shirts bearing the legend Give us a flash ... 400 word limit. Some were more keen than others on the wording! Barbara is a valued patron of ours and we are just so grateful to all at Winchester Writers' Conference for the opportunity to tout our wares. I was teaching and speaking there so the team, Tracy Baines, Penny Deacon and Matt Pain, our founders team had to hold the fort but quite frankly, it was a fantastic experience for them, and me.

We had a fantastic day yesterday. Lt Ian Thornton, one of our Words for the Wounded patrons rounded off the plenary speaker's hour. And what a triumph. Tears in the audience and the heartening news of his family's charity, the John Thornton's Young Achievers Foundation, created as a lasting legacy and in honour of Ian's younger brother John, who died in Afghan. Ian has put together Helmand: Diaries of Front-line soldiers published by Osprey and it's flying off the shelves. Ian talked of his brother, the charity, the diaries and Words for the Wounded. He was magnificent. He perfectly complemented Julian and Emma Fellowes discussion. Julian as always so erudite and amusing, and Emma so intelligent and charming. A glorious hour.

Barbara had suggested we had a collection for W4W so we rattled buckets like crazy as people left the Stripe auditorium and then retired to our charity table. Penny Deacon, Tracy Baines and Matt Pain took up position and I came and went, as I had speaking commitments. We wore T shirts 'Give us a flash... up to 400 words' Can't say we looked elegant but it was fun.

We raised over nearly £300 from the generous delegates. How amazing people are to dip their hands in their pockets in difficult times but our wounded servicemen need all the help they can get, and made lots of contacts. Great stuff.

So, home now. T shirt put away for now, but not for long. We have many plans in the pipeline so are rolling up our sleeves and getting ready to get down to it all again.

I have been invited by Caroline Redman Lusher, founder of Rock Choir to go to the Rock Choir 02 Concert on 6th July. There will be a write up on Words for the

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Heavens, how time flies!

We have our charity number now for Words for the Wounded. We have a larger team - Penny Deacon another author who took over from me at the Yeovil Literary Prize and Matt Pain who is an extreme marathon sportsman who also writes.

The good news this weekend is that Writers' Forum will be publishing the winning entries in their magazine. Totally thrilled by this, and thanks to Carl, the editor.

Great thanks too, to Dick my husband who is in the last stages of putting together the website. What a star as it is an all singing, all dancing effort which accepts entries on line.  It would have cost far too much to get someone else to do it, and Words for the Wounded would never have happened.

We are at the stage where we are gathering up patrons: Military and arts.

And sponsors and we'll take them from anywhere.

It's just a question of plodding on, ticking off the jobs as we go.It will all work out.

We intend to launch and open for entries on November 11th for obvious reasons. We close to entries on 11th April, and winners will be announced on 6th June, the anniversary of D Day. Or that's the plan so far.

What else has been happening?

Maeve's Afternoon Delight is finished. My agent loves it, so does the editor at my old publishers but with publishers virtually closing their mid list it's a bit of a dead duck I think. We will wait until Sept/Oct and then decide what to do if I don't get a contract. I think I might just put it onto ebook myself and sell it through my website and Amazon. This is a perfectly respectable course of action these days, so all you aspiring authors out there, remember this.  Also remember that ebooks are outselling print by 20%.  This will increase and so will the independence of authors.

I will be putting the first chapter on the blog and website and if anyone want to read on then they can buy it as an ebook for very little.

I am still doing my afternoon twice a week at the charity shops but this will become less once the charity gets underway. What a brouhaha anyway. Sadly the volunteers at one of the shops have been invaded by some newbies who have formed a clique and are causing all sorts of trouble by writing and complaining about other volunteers when they have no grounds. It is worthy of a novel. Perhaps I will be the one to write it.

I am researching another novel, set back in pre-WW2 and concerning the Fascist movement in the UK. The research is chilling and fascinating. Whilst researching this I will start Lady of the Leylandii which has been stewing for ages. I love Audrey Simpkins already, bless her heart.

What about the Olympics? How great has it been. Dick and I took Mabel the five year old grandchild to BT Live in Hyde Park and the atmosphere was tremendous. We are going to watch the paralympic marathon and line the road as we have been unable to get tickets for any of the Olympics. Not to worry, the TV coverage has been great.

I have a mid summer resolution - to keep this up to date. So I'll be here again in a week.