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.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Pat, the party girl and Liz, the dancing queen

It's true what they say, I am turning into my mother. My daughter always points out that I could be turning into somebody less attractive, less likeable. It was anniversary of my mother's death this week and I went to her grave to leave her a claret coloured rose. She loved flowers but she once had a gardener who was addicted to fuschias and he put hanging baskets everywhere. She cursed him as the summer went on and she went around watering the damned things every day.
My mother unfortunately was a lot better looking than I am, I have the broad flat face of the Gills and my mother was Irish looking, we have Irish ancestry, so much so that when she was born her dad said, 'What a little Pat,' and she remained Pat all her life even though she was christened Bertha Anne. She had waving black hair and keen blue eyes whereas I have brown hair and green eyes, just like my dad.  It was like the old song, 'your Daddy's rich and your Mamma's good looking', we were lucky that way. I blame my mother, if she'd given me a hideous childhood I would have been a better writer but the trouble was that we had such a good childhood the rest of my life hasn't really lived up to it and I go around grumpy and resentful, that I don't have a rich respected husband, a beautiful house with lots of help and I can remember when my parents went to dinner dances, my father wore tails and black patent leather shoes and my mother wore glorious glittering dresses.
Those were the days. People don't dress up nowadays. I do. I find it fun to wear pretty dresses and coloured shoes and if I stick out from the rest well, all the better. It was good for my  mother and it's good for me.
My mother was a party girl. Her favourite saying was, 'Let's have a party.' She loved gin and tonic, she smoked cigarettes in the evenings and would sit on a bar stool or lean against the edge of the bar and I can remember my Dad winking at her from across the other end of the bar.
She got her own car when I was quite small. It was green. I don't remember my father ever driving it. It was hers alone.
One of the things I hate about my life is that for years now I haven't been able to go dancing. Like my parents I love to dance. Nobody dances any more, nobody dresses up, nobody drinks gin. It's all about giving up things and keeping fit and my God, it's dull.
There aren't many things that used to be better, I know that, but things like dinner dances, drinking, getting dressed up and all those beautiful cars are several things that didn't improve. What a sorry lot we are, going to the gym and drinking green smoothies.
I suppose that if you go through a world war you don't worry too much about dying, your priorities are not about living forever and being nine stone when you're seventy. To my wonderful mother each day was a party and lived her eighty five years like that. My God, I miss her.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Men of Harlech

For years and years I haven't liked Wales. Isn't that ridiculous?  I think I had very bad memories of a three storey cottage in Dolgellau and the enormous spiders who lived in the loo. There was a small spade in there to kill them with. Also I had the idea that the cottage was haunted and if I wanted to go to the loo in the middle of the night I would wake up my poor husband and make him come downstairs with me.
After that I do remember how beautiful Conway Castle is, one of my favourites and then I have visited friends in the same area but still I persisted. I think it's because one of my best friends went to live in Wales and I was so miffed she had moved that I took up against it.
So when my daughter decided she wanted to go to North Wales for a week and wanted me to come with her all I could think was that I didn't want to go.
For a start it's a helluva long way from Durham and there are all those signs that I don't understand.
So three hours on the train, Saturday, packed, everybody coughing, squashed in before I got to Knutsford so I was already in a bad mood. My daughter and her ever eager labrador picked me up at the station and we set off.
That's when it started to get better. We had lunch at KFC on the way and on the way to Wales from Cheshire is so blindingly beautiful that I was really happy and after that the happiness became a sort of tidal wave falling all over me all week.
I hadn't been to Porthmadog before, couldn't spell it or pronounce it. My daughter had found a cottage in a tiny village on the sea a mile outside the town.
It was a bit like Staithes, you came down this bloody great bank and there it was, perfect and stunningly beautiful. Borth y Gest.
We had had a slight argument about the whole cottage thing. I don't do scrubby. I don't do cheap. You get too old for these things. She said the good places were too expensive but I held out and boy, was I glad. Right on the front, just across the road from the sea was this great big house. We had floors one and two. The rooms were huge and the sitting room took in the whole bay. The kitchen had everything, we had a bathroom with a shower I wanted to bring back home, I had a king sized  bed next to the bathroom, Katy had a gorgeous room upstairs. Even the dog had her own room which meant that she slept all night.
Oh boy, that dog found paradise on the beach and we also found Black Rock Sands, fifteen minutes on a coastal path. Long, wide and nobody on it. She swam for the first time.
Borth y Gest has a wonderful cafe called the Sea View Restaurant. First of all we had lunch there, then after a trip to Black Rock Sands, we had breakfast. Later in the week we had take away afternoon tea and twice that week we had dinner. The wine was incredible, the scones too and Izzie was happy sitting outside on the decking, barking at anybody who came near her restaurant.
Porthmadog has a fantastic bookshop called, The Browser's Bookshop. We had a lovely time in there and I bought several history books about the area and could bore for England - well, or Wales now, as I am here. There is the Big Rock cafe where the pastries and the bread make you weep with pleasure. The department store lets labradors inside and it has very good chocolate and the guy on the market sold us gorgeous dresses which we wore to the Sea View restaurant. I haven't bought a red dress in fifteen years.
And I must mention The Australia, where Eddie, the Scottish barman, reigns. They sell local Purple Moose beer and we bought beer from the Purple Moose shop. The story goes that it is called the Australia because a locally built ship went there and the crew didn't come back ( possibly from an Aussie night out ) and Australians crewed it back and went to the pub. Isn't that lovely?
The beer was fantastic and Izzie had her own lunch.
Borth y Gest has become ours. The people there were just great. Everybody we met was kind and friendly and so many big blokes kept coming over and cuddling Izzie.
On our last day we went to Harlech. They began letting dogs into the castle at the beginning of the year. So I sang Men of Harlech and Katy and Izzie peered down at the village below the castle. Perfect.
I have promised that we will go back. Sometimes you need new places to go to so that they become yours and this is definitely ours now.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Do You Eat a Lot of Fish, Jeeves?

That's P.G.Wodehouse on brains. I began eating fish when I was in Majorca. It was warm of course but everything at the wonderful hotel was freshly cooked so I had fish for lunch and fish for dinner and veg and salad practically coming out of my ears. When I came home I mostly went back to my normal diet which included a lot of meat but I've lost the taste for it. I'm sixty five and things are changing. I started drinking coffee this week. I haven't drunk much coffee since I went on to tea when my daughter was born thirty five years ago. Isn't it odd?
I think also you become more discerning, I taste things differently now and wouldn't be seen dead eating a sausage. The only processed food I eat is Marks and Spencer's Hollandaise sauce which comes out of a bottle and is irresistible. I told the lady on the check out I was addicted and she said it was cheaper than cannabis. I panic if I don't have Hollandaise sauce in the larder.
Getting older does make you odd. Or me, anyway.
Less is of course more. I had steak this week, perfectly cooked. I haven't had steak in months and it tasted divine.
I rarely eat pudding but also this week I had elderflower pannacotta with raspberries. Wow, it was good.
I've started going to a little diner in Durham called The Kitchen. Last time I was there the lady who runs it offered me a taste of the quiche she had just baked. I never eat pastry, it gives me terrible indigestion but I didn't want to upset her. It was possibly the best quiche in the history of the world, the pastry ( which my father always referred to as timber. Too thick ) was thin and light. It was wonderful and my stomach was perfectly happy with it.
Also sometimes I can't eat eggs but last week at a lovely pub, The White Horse and Griffin in Whitby, I had a pheasant egg on asparagus and then a full English breakfast at the B&B and I was fine! So you obviously had to keep giving things a go.
Cheese is my downfall. If I gave up cheese and wine I'd be nine stone. Less in not more with these things. I can't do without lots of both.
Also I love rye bread. I used to make it. I still make bread sometimes but I've become slightly idle about these things. What smells better than  baking bread. Last time I made it I went outside a couple of times just to come back in again.
On my kitchen windowsill I have various pots of rocket and other salads that I am growing and it's just great to chop at them for lunch. I'm growing mint - yes, I've got lots of it in the garden now but in the winter it was just lovely to have for fresh mint tea. And, very proudly, I'm growing my own basil, it's shooting away in my little garden room. Also oregano. I love the smell. Delia Smith used to say it made your kitchen smell like Greece.
My parsley will go into the garden when the frosts are over which is any time now, followed by the mint, repotted since it's going mad and the basil will be left on the kitchen window ledge unless we have a hot summer.The first year I lived in Durham I grew African Grey Basil outside. It must have been a hell of a summer. It was two foot high by July that year.
Apparently keeping a pot of rosemary on your desk makes you think better so I must try it. Rosemary is my middle name and I have lots of it in the garden. Goes well with lamb. I'm not eating lamb any more, having had a bad experience. It was me, not the lamb, panicking but the association is too Best of all perhaps I had gin this week.  I never drink gin but it was a special evening. It was Durham gin and the gin and tonic was mixed by an expert hand and he put into it mint, coriander, cucumber and three juniper berries. I could have died quite happily after that. And juniper berries are great crushed with pork chops, which I don't have any more but just in case you like pork chops ...
I am now going to have rye bread, lovely butter and Cheshire honey for brekkie. Eat well.