Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fish climbing trees

Saying that I am bad with computers is like saying that fish aren't very good at climbing trees. I have the feeling that Einstein said that before I did but I'd be happy to take credit for it if that isn't so.
Writing is a full time occupation and I'm not talking eight hours a day. Every living flaming breathing moment it rears its head so I try to get away from it. I can't do that when walking, cooking or listening to music but I can usually keep the thoughts at bay when I attempt computer games.
I started a long time ago with Angry Birds and bought every one which came out. I have now run out of options, I'm so sick of it. I did play solitaire, spider solitaire, and freecell but this week I came to the end of my patience and decided that I must brave the Apple store and find another game to play.
I therefore downloaded Leo's Gold which is meant to be suitable for six year olds. I did think it was a bit advanced for me and this proved to be so because having paid for it and downloaded it I couldn't get it to start.
I went into Stormfront and they told me I needed an appointment.  I have spent two and a half thousand pounds with these people and I can't even get email on my main computer and the last three times I have bothered them - this is over a number of months, I don't think I'm a bloody nuisance - they have made life difficult for me. So I thought I should ring Apple and maybe they would help because I had convinced myself I had paid for something which was not working and it was nothing to do with my sheer bloody incompetence. I kid you not!  Talk about self belief.
After fifteen minutes I got through to some lovely American guy and we had a discussion during which he told me that he didn't have time for games. He had no idea what I was talking about, I think it was my lovely northern accent that defeated him. We did eventually get to the point where he said that he was the billing department and if I was not happy he could refund my £4.99.  My daughter thought I had lost my mind, fussing about less than £5. She was right of course but I cannot let go.  Eventually Michael put  me through to a lady whose accent I did not understand.
She tried to take control of my computer and either she failed or I failed because eventually I let her off the hook.
I couldn't really complain about this service because Apple rang me back three times the following day. In the meanwhile I had figured out how to work the game, cancelled my appointment so reluctantly made by the people in the shop and ignored their calls until they gave up.
I was very happy for the next two hours which I spent trying to get Leo anywhere close to his sodding gold and failed. Every time I picked up a gold coin and got fed up I had to start at the beginning again and I couldn't for the very life of me get past the first few obstacles and the trouble was that the skill was a stupid one - though presumably not by six year old standards. It was just a case of wiggling buttons until you got what you wanted and so on and so on.  And so on.
Bored.
So I tried for other things. I found a lovely game offered by Michigan university which is Grumpy Snowmen, that was fun but quite short so I got past that. I tried to download Krabby Kats and didn't understand a word of it and then a game with Birds. You are meant to get them safely to rocks and not on to the ground. I have never met anything as annoying. I wanted to throw my laptop through the window which is the whole point. They want you to buy to skip levels. Understandable and I would have considered this if I had been offered something similar at school.
So, I don't know what to do now. I could learn to play the piano which I seriously considered except that we're back to music. I could read. I do so much reading. I'm left with replaying Angry Birds while watching Eggheads and sighing that I may never get any further with my games. They look pretty, they are in full colour, how enticing except that I am bored with them.
At five o'clock this morning I woke up not feeing very well, shivering and blowing my nose and yet there it was, the first thought of the day and it was all the do with the book I am writing. Is there no escape?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

PTSD and what happens afterwards

If there is an afterwards. The trouble with mental conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the majority of people have never experienced it and I do think coming secondhand to these things is difficult. How could you imagine any of the huge experiences in life if you have never come through them?  How does any writer ever cope with stuff like childbirth, grief, sex? Yet our experience of such things is always unique.
I have used all my experience in my books and yes, secondhand and with observation many other people's experience too and I suppose that's what I writer does and that's what makes it so exhausting.
So should I  be sorry for all the things I have gone through?  How could I be when hopefully it changes and enriches my writing but the cost has been huge and almost killed me.
My agent said that one of the men in Nobody's Child, my book which is out at the moment is good. He has come back from the first world war with PTSD, of course it wasn't called such at the beginning but the reason that I write about it with confidence is that I've been through it. I know what's like when you cannot walk downstairs, when you look up at staircases and think you can never go up them, when your bed is the only place you feel safe, when the world is huge and full of terrors and you have panic attacks even in your own home which you thought was your defence against the world.
I know what it's like when your physical symptoms agonise you night and day and where the only place you feel anything positive is in your dreams. And that isn't necessarily typical. Many people have no refuge in their dreams.
In my new book The Guardian Angel the main bloke in it ( I hate the word hero) he's just an ordinary kid when he goes to prison for fighting with and inadvertently killing another lad or was it inadvertent, since he hated him?  The reader is left to decide which I think is only fair. Being born under the sign of Libra, even though I claim to hate such daft ideas, I have a balanced view or like to think I do of life.
I didn't know when I began writing that he was going to be a convict, I didn't know there would be a series of letters between Zeb and Alice, who owns the sweetshop in Stanhope. It was only when I read about what prison life was like then and it was so horrific ( this is in 1855 ) that I actually had to water it down to get what I wanted which was the idea that this man could actually start again.
Up to now I haven't been in prison, except two visits to launch books of somebody else and this was women in prison but I have no doubt that it is still a horrific experience. Back then people were hanged, transported, starved, beaten and died and nobody seemed to care very much.
Durham prison is just up the road from me so I used what I read from there and it was so awful that I couldn't imagine people doing such things to others. They still do of course, we live in a stone age, no matter how we believe that we are civilised. We abuse one another, kill one another, steal in all kinds of ways.
Hundreds of millions of people have no clean water. The most basic of human rights I would have thought. We lived in a ghastly horrible place in a ghastly horrible mess.
Writers try to interpret this. I found it very difficult writing about Zeb and his prison experience, what was left of him as a human being when he got out. He didn't understand freedom, he had forgotten kindness. He was only alive because he was very young when he went in. You can say what you like about fortitude in such instances but it's sheer bloody genes which ensures most things and so he came out alive but a mere scrap of a human being.
He is saved by other people and mostly by Alice Lee, the sweetshop owner, who is a decent woman among all the idiots around her. If it hadn't been for Alice Zeb would have chucked himself in the river and the river is so convenient in Durham.
He leaves behind him his friend, Eli, the rat and as Zeb says later, 'Rats are better than men.' Eli in some ways is the best person in book. He doesn't  betray anybody, he doesn't kill anybody, he would steal bread if he had to but Zeb shares. When I think about this book I think about Eli, sharing Zeb's bed in a tiny prison sell, and listening when Zeb pours out his woes. Eli sits there polishing his whiskers, no doubt grateful not to be a ghastly shitty little person as we all are.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Christmas is like haemerroids

God is it really that long since I found the strength to come here. I was away for most of November, let that be my excuse.  And now, deep breaths like in meditation, now it's Christmas. Christmas is like haemorrhoids, bloody, uncomfortable and always there. I used to love that saying, Oh God, it can't be Christmas already, I haven't finished paying for last year yet.
There we are queueing in shops,buying hundreds of things we don't need, watching the Salvation Army on telly scraping up the homeless, folk in Australia sweating over their barbies and then I hope for snow while I slosh around in the endless rain and the last of my roses gives up and makes a mess in the front garden.
Meanwhile we empty our bank accounts, buy a succession of baubles and wrap stuff and wrap stuff and wrap stuff. There are lunches and dinners and all those people who keep away from alcohol during the year think they are doing you a favour by giving you disgusting concoctions like sloe gin and ginger wine and they crowd into the bar swhile the serious drinkers stay at home, with endless cups of tea and take a few sighs of relief as new year retreats and the rest of the world goes on diets, exercises and gives up alcohol as though it was some kind of new hobby or golden life when half a bottle of wine would get them under the table on Boxing Day.
Morning television is debating whether people still make decorations. Excuse me?  When was this?  And whether we have traditional Christmas dinners and whether we like to snooze afterwards. Still, it's better than the alternatives, watching Donald Trump blow up the world and Nigel Farage with that smile which looks like glue has run out of its tube.
I talked to a woman in the co op yesterday who had spent £43 on cards. She could have gone to Spain for that price and sat by a pool for a week. Only indoors I suspect but still. I have whittled down my Christmas card list and now sit by the letterbox as the postman never stops because people have sussed me and think  If that bitch isn't sending me a card she ain't getting one. Okay. I don't care that much.
The trains are full of fat guys with big luggage ( and I don't mean Santa ). The toilets are blocked because people spend the journey drinking lager, the trolley has gone walk about and the seats are filthy when folk have apparently thrown up on their way back from yet another bloody party.
If it snows for Christmas I might forgive it at least for a few days but as one friend pointed out to me the other night it never snows at Christmas, whereas it always does at Easter when I'm trying to open up the caravan and sit outside contemplating the joys of sunshine.
I went to Nova Scotia in November and had thought they might have lovely sunny cold weather instead of which they appeared to be having a heatwave and I was sweltering. Meanwhile at home in Stanhope there were lovely snowy scenes. Now I'm at home its 13 degrees and minus 6 in Nova Scotia!!
I shall toddle off and heave sighs of relief as I wrap my last Christmas gifts and hope no enthusiastic bugger starts singing in the Bleak Mid Winter or I shall cry this afternoon. And a merry Christmas to you too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Goats , Stirks and Beehvies


When I came to write my new book, Nobody's Child, it was all about the things I did as a young woman, how I lived on a farm and kept animals.My husband was a the kind of man who looked on the world as something to be enjoyed and if not that at least started on . He was a lover of new ideas and doing things he knew very little about and had not come across before.
So he bought a goat.Not being one to do things by halves we ended up with several goats. I suppose it was the age we were. Things like that make me want to run back to the city now but we lived in an old farmhouse seventeenth century and had a lot of room, five hundred acres which nobody told us we couldn't move across ( we bought a trials bike and rode up and down the fields on it), huge buildings with nothing in them, so many that if the house took up one side, the buildings took up the other three sides. It was a complete square with a huge duckpond out the back.
I loved it right from the beginning. it was the happiest time of my life. When I was twenty nine Richard's father died and that was when things changed.  He had adored his father and found him dead in his workshop. He had been having heart problems but neither of us had lost anybody we loved up to then. It made us into adults. It also made us want a house of our own and a child of our own and things became very complicated.
We were happy after that but we had lost the innocence of youth. We also, I think, lost a lot of the ineptness of youth. Thinking back we made horrible mistakes with our animals and put them through pain through ignorance but we also tried to give them a good life in the country.
In my new book there is a big scene where Jake and Kath, the two main characters, acquire beehives which I knew a lot about because that was another of our ventures. They put them in the garden in the right spot ( it was so long since I had kept  bees that I had to read up about it ) but then a stirk leaps over the fence and knocks them over. In our case it was a goat and it was our own fault because she was on a long rope, as far as I can remember, and she managed somehow to get near the hives and knock one of them over.
We laughed about it so much later but the scene in the book is exactly what happened. She has long hair and the bees get caught up in it. He runs to the river with the dog, she goes after him and they have to wade through to the other side to get away.
The bees have to be brushed, dead, from her hair and for several days afterwards nobody can go anywhere near the beehives because the bees were so cross with us they would sting us.
It was difficult, we were living in a big caravan, building a house and couldn't leave the caravan for days. For the people in the story it was less serious. They managed to get the hive turned upright again.
Writing this was such joy. Also in the story they take the bees to the heather and we did this, we took them right up to the top of Weardale so that they could make heather honey. These are joyful memories and although I'm not taken to reading my own books I do like to remember where these  scenes came from and how happy we were and how much we had. We were young and rather stupid but our lives were filled with joy and goats and bees, ducks and sheep, pigs and hens, dogs and cats.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Fit and Sober, Dear God!!

I decided the time had come to stop drinking so much and start exercising more and I have and I feel better, and I've lost a little bit of weight and my shape is starting to change though obviously at sixty five, nearly sixty six I'm not going to achieve a great deal. But the worrying thing is that I have obviously not just lost four pounds and half a tummy but my entire bloody mind!
Tonight at a quarter to eight there I was out there in jeans ( which now fit me ) and a nightie which I put on earlier when I got changed and I was kneeling down on a tea towel clutching great handfuls of leaves so that the guttering would not get clogged and then staggering off to the green bin with them. I kid you not, who does that? I weeded and weeded. The pots look amazing.
At eight o' clock I decided to clean the top of the cooker with Brillo pads to the shiny bits. This is really sad. I never do such things. I have help. I have other people, lovely people who give me time to write but at the moment I am restless. Early in the morning - this is seven, I kid you not - I am in my trainers and off up to the wilds of Weardale or into the town and round the river.  It's exhausting. In town I talk to all the shopkeepers like a desperate old lady and they smile politely and think 'what the hell'.
Also now that I'm not drinking as much I have moved my addictive tendencies into shopping. Yes, I am the woman who this week has bought three pairs of shoes, a dress, a bin ( that's for the caravan and it needs it ) a radio - I already have two - three bottles of expensive olive oil, three lots of tricoloured pasta, ( lovely from TKMaxx), a new coat for the autumn, another dress,  forgot about that one, green and very nice. I suit green, it was goes with my eyes.  I bought a lamp because two had gone off, probably fuses but I didn't look, I put them in the cupboard so I couldn't see them, nine pens. They were on three for two in Smith's. My favourites, they are black ink, very important.
I must try to remember not to buy a house which I desperately want, preferably in Cow's Hill. I have visions of owning collies and mewing kittens and finding a man who smells of manure.  I want to live on a hillside and have the co op deliver and have smoke coming down the chimney when I put logs on to it. I'm going to make my own bread and keep chickens and have a shotgun behind the door.
The trouble is that that was where I started out, well, less the man who smelled of manure of course. I lived in the country and had chickens and dogs and cats and a small child.
The child is grown and the husband is long since dead and all the cats and dogs too and I don't really want the country, I want to want something I can't have. I love the city and my life but also I love to go up there on the tops where the wind tries to knock you over and the birds are circling overhead because they are afeared for their chicks. My family on both sides comes from up there and I can have it for mine and I can still come back here and and buy all those things I don't really need and stay mostly sober and fit but still essentially very greedy and very needy and very addicted to the cathedral and the pretty house where I live and the theatre and the cinema and all the lovely restaurants.
But up on the tops is my favourite place of all and I have to battle the wind to get there so I'm glad that I'm fitter and  more able even though I strive ever for perfection. The trouble is that when you write you never get anything close to perfection and that's the point. If you got it right you wouldn't ever do it again but you never do and I suppose if you did you wouldn't recognise it. You hope not to recognise it so if I'm having a good day when I think I m right have written something which is okay I know that tomorrow it will be another battle and I will not be happy about it and I will go up against the fierce wind in all kinds of ways and love my life the more because of it.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Goodies, Baddies and Assassins



 I hate baddies. I mean I don't believe in baddies.  Doesn't everybody do their best? Doesn't everybody think they are right? I know I'm always right. The trouble with writing fiction is that we are supposed include nasty people but I don't seem able to manage it. Take my present book. I really wanted to have this horrible bloke come up to Stanhope and upset everybody but the trouble is I quite like him.
I like reading about horrible people.  I love Mrs Proudie in the Barchester Chronicles because she is horrible to everybody but when you are a writer like Trollope you can make somebody fascinatingly vile and give them certain qualities which redeem them and this is always the way he does it. Mrs Proudie managed to get a good job for Mr Quiverful and his wife when there was little chance of it and Mr and Mrs Quiverful had fourteen children and badly needed the money. Go Mrs Proudie.

But my man Luke is proving to be rather nice and anyway he had an awful childhood. I haven't quite worked out what happened to him but oh dear me, poor lad. Try as I might he's up there doing his best.
In the book which has just come out I had a gorgeous traveller called Will Hern and he was absolutely ghastly to the two sisters but I did redeem him. I couldn't not. He got himself into all kinds of trouble and really was the pits but he learned his lessons and I was so relieved when I didn't let him die.
I remember in my first saga,The Singing Winds, I had the two main men die at the end. My agent was horrified.  She said, 'you can't kill them off, after all they've been through.'  I am notorious for despatching my characters. So many of them hit the ground that you stand there in awe and desperation. Has the whole of the north east been done in by a Liz Gill novel? By the way I resurrected them, the two guys in the Singing Winds. Phew.
In Snow Angels, my sixth saga there are so few people standing at the end that my friends took the mickey. I hadn't even noticed and yet carnage everywhere!
I have given up trying to make Luke the villain. I am trying to make him difficult and that's easy. We are all difficult so no doubt Luke will have many adventures before he gets to where he's going. In the meanwhile when I was walking in Rookhope this morning, ( I have become addicted to the app on my phone which tells you how may steps you are doing!! ) I found the perfect house for  Luke. It stands about three quarters of a mile beyond the village, halfway up toward the tops. It has a road to it but in those days it would have been nothing more than a track. It's a long house - the barns and outside buildings are attached and it's beautiful and white and it looks down over the dale sideways, no doubt it was constructed with its back to the prevailing wind. I can see Luke going there on his horse late at night in the winter when it's snowing and everything has gone wrong.
For some reason there is nobody there to look after him and since he's thirty, good looking and rich I'm not quite sure where he went wrong. So he gets there and since he loves his horse he looks after it. There is a moon of course, the snow has stopped, he needs some light, so he feeds and talks to the horse and stables it and makes sure it is comfortable for the night and then he goes inside.The house is freezing because he has not been there in months and up there it is silent. There is no sound like the silence of being alone in a house in the middle of nowhere. Luke is alone there. That's why I feel sorry for him and redeem him at least for the time being until I discover other things about him which may make me change my mind. He's going to cause trouble I can already see it but I haven't worked out what kind of trouble yet and that's the joy, the complexity of what Luke has done, what he may do, what he will do and how it will be received in Stanhope. He is needy and lonely and conceited and I do love him!


Saturday, 6 August 2016

Somebody's Great Aunt Lives Here.

I got  myself into a radge this weekend. Is that the right spelling?  Do I care?  I went into Marks and Spencers yesterday and storked round the food hall thinking,
'Do they have any decent food in here?'
That's when I know things are in a bad way.  I finished my book and now I'm waiting for my agent to pronounce it a load of crap. Of course she doesn't say but that's what it amounts to. When you have spent a whole year dedicating yourself to producing what you think at the time is the best thing since Georgette Heyer it's a nasty shock to hear it pulled to pieces and have to be put back together again at great cost to my ego and pain of all kinds.
The book before it is due out and now I'm not happy with it. I think it could have been so much better which is why I keep doing it again.  I look at it and think a ten year old could have done better.
So, I went out to the garden searching for the odd weed which Howard might have missed. Fat chance, he was here  yesterday and even the garden hose is neatly placed over the outside tap.
I moved books into different bookcases and I tidied the cupboards. I did the hand washing and hung it outside since it was such a beautiful day and then I got dressed and ventured into town.
Whittards is one of my favourite shops and the lovely young man in there is smashing and they are clever. They had teas to taste. Now I always think I don't like green or white tea. There is something about it which shrieks 'good for you' but this was the real thing. I bought extravagant Earl Grey, Goji Acai which is green but don't let it put you off. If Brad Pitt was a tea he'd be this one. All different colours and the lovely young man tipped it out, weighed it, put it in wonderful packets. It's the tea ceremony thing and it works. I bought a lovely see through tea pot and a warmer for if I want to strain and then leave it. I was in heaven. He gave me free samples and I thought this is what real shopping is all about. We chatted, he didn't try to get me to buy anything and I came out of there with the same feeling my lovely hairdresser Julie gives me. A new woman.
Okay, so it's a bit extravagant but I work hard and it's so nice to have things which aren't really necessary. I think I may be turning into the great aunt of Wooster fame who had no weeds on her drive.
I'm sure married people don't go on like this but when you are single ( and I've decided to call it that ) you have to create your day. It doesn't just happen.
I bought fabulous cheese, jambon ( or whatever the equivalent is here ) and garlic olive oil on a deli market stall and then to Body shop for stuff to pamper my feet. Lastly to M and S, and I'd sort of got over myself by then, I bought a newspaper (another addiction but hey, it's cheaper than cocaine), raspberries to go with cheese for lunch obviously, rye bread and then eggs. I did remember that Andrew Marr was on holiday so the start of my Sunday was ruined. I usually have bacon and eggs while he interviews the political world. Damn. Must he take holidays?
When the bus came I was very surprised for the driver to tell me that he had to go round again because he'd taken out the wrong bus!  The lady behind me was very upset and moaned and moaned and bloody moaned. I did feel sorry for her husband. He looked like he'd had forty years of her moaning. If I had a week of her I'd strangle her. Poor bloke. Anyway, back to North Road and the other driver was waiting.  Later we met up and he shouted at the first driver,
'Got the right bus then?' and we all had a laugh except the grumpy lady behind me who obviously laughs at nothing.
I came home very sweaty, went into my summer house with a large glass of ice cold fizzy and the I newspaper and was very happy.
Later I had the bread and the oil and the cheese and a small glass of sauvignon blanc and retired to bed to listen to Miss Marple solving stuff and I fell asleep.
This evening I have watered my pots. Very calming and then sat in the summerhouse and listened to Classic FM. Radio 3 in the late evenings tends to be very wordy.
I have made a list for tomorrow of the things I might do.
There was a big to do this week about how people living alone grew more. If so I should be an enormous tree. It's no worse and no better than any other way of living.  Sometimes I would really like somebody there but it would depend on the somebody. In the meanwhile  I'm very lucky in so many ways. I'm not like that poor man on the bus with a wife who never shuts up and I don't have to worry about the bills because I work and can afford daft things like white tea so I don't feel quite so arsey now. I feel that the gods have shone on me and grateful for it.