Thursday, 14 February 2013

Getting away


I took my laptop with me, of course, I was determined to write every day, until I got there and determination became a thing of the past. As writers we are always on duty.  I feel as though I have to be a writer every minute of every day, it's like a chocolate ball and chain, it's always there and no matter how much you eat, the bloody thing's still there but you love it so much it doesn't matter, most of the time but it did last week.

I have one book just out, and one book which needs a lot of editing and one book I have just started. Now I know this seems an enviable place to be but it scares the hell out of me. Will it last?  What will I do if it doesn't?  What wil I do if it does?  I've been catapulted into social networking and everything that goes with it  and to my horror this week I bought the most beautiful telephone the world has ever seen.  I have never fallen in love with a telephone before but this is happy valentine's day for me and my new phone. It weighs nothing, it is supposedly pebble blue. I never liked blue before. Now I am a goner.

I had decided to go away. It's always a bad idea. I should be at home, I should be working. The laptop case is not that reassuring and anyhow I don't need a break. My book is out and I'm grateful and - dear God, I was tired.

The lions and the walkway which lead to the garden and to the two golf courses and to the view of the several hundred acres which belongs to the house.

Fifty minutes into the north here is lovely Northumberland with its endless fields and big stone farmhouses and best of all, a hotel which I had not heard of before now, the home of the Blackett family, Matfen Hall. I didn't know such places existed. Please God let me go back.

But really it wasn't just the hotel, it was the feeling of not writing. I took my new Kindle, that's another thing I am enslaved to and I read in front of a log fire. What I did the rest of the time I'm not sure but none of it was constructive. A lot of drinking and a good deal of eating and passing the time with the lovely staff and saying what a wonderful place Hexham was. I ventured into the village which is about two dozens steps away behind the church and had hot chocolate in the village store and I went into the church on Sunday to discover nativity scenes just this side of the altar. I think they were marble, half a dozen figures in each one. I really wanted to bring them home and also the two paintings in the hall of Matfen which were of shooting dogs but the Blackett family were very fond of the dogs so I didn't but I did bring home a semi renewed me and now the sun is shining and the snow has gone and I think oh gosh I am still a writer and I like it.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Inspirational Animals

My dogs, George, my labrador, pictured here when old and Timmy, springer spaniel and Jasper -I'm going to put him on now,  half and half

were  the inspiration for Hector and Ulysses the two black labradors who are big characters in Miss Appleby's Academy.  They play a very important part, well, Hector does anyway, he's one of the main characters, just as my three dogs were main characters in my life. I dedicated my book to them, they made us so very happy.
When I was a child we had dogs, cats, chickens, cattle, mice, rabbits and probably others which I have forgotten. I have not forgotten the day that my mother's cattle invaded the main street. There was only one big street. How they got out of the field we do not know. And the people who lived in the bungalows nearby were always complaining that our hens wrecked their gardens.
I hadn't known that such a rich childhood was going to be so very useful for the books I am writing now. I have had animals in my books before but none which played a major part and Emma Appleby understands dogs because she too had them in her childhood.
I can also remember one particular day when I was walking Timmy around the fields beyond the school where Katy went and there was an irish setter chasing some sheep in a field and the woman, its owner, was saying something like, 'Come to Mummy,' and instinctively somehow I stood there, all five foot four of me, let my voice fall as far as my boots and I shouted across the field,
'Come back here, you bloody dog!' and the dog got such a shock that it stopped immediately and came over and sat down beside us. I felt so clever, not something that's often happened.
Emma Appleby, my heroine in my new book, knows such things.  She knows that when a dog threatens you you don't run, you get down to its level, look it in the eyes and beckon in a soft confident voice. You get it to come to you. I've never known this to fail. It isn't a trick, it's knowledge. I saw my husband do such a thing a dozen times and people always thought there was something special about it and I suppose there was, he always adored dogs and understood them.
I was bitten twice when I was a child because I used to go up and cuddle other people's dogs and sometimes the dogs weren't too keen on it and my mother told me repeatedly not to and here I am in Durham City and every time I meet a dog I can't help being happy and if you give them half a chance they like you too. I get down and talk to them. Dog owners never mind and we are such doggy people here it probably takes them hours to get anywhere when they go into the city. And the dogs love all the attention.
It made me very happy too to revisit my dogs in Miss Appleby's Academy. They have been dead for a long time and my life has moved on but Hector and Ulysses restored just a little of it as I remembered how dear they were to me.