Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Best Thing I Ever Wrote

The paperback of my book Far From My Father's House comes out on January 29th from Quercus. It is now available from Amazon as an ebook for 99p.

My agent still says this is the best book I ever wrote which is very frustrating because it means I'm not getting any better.  It was my second Saga and my new lovely publishers Quercus think it will sell in paperback. I do hope so. I chose the cover myself from a number of options because I think it looks like my mother and this book is partly about her.

She didn't like the book, she thought it misrepresented her and of course it did, it was my view of her early life and nobody can know what another's life is really like. She died fourteen years ago and by God, I miss her. She was beautiful, vital, dynamic and part of her is always there in the women in my books. The one I'm writing at the moment there my mother is, riding her horse down a beach into the water and being the outdoor person that I always wanted to be. I don't look like her, I don't think like her, on a good day I tell stories about her because it comforts me.

Annie is the main woman in the story, the man is David Blake. This was the first time I had made a man so important in my books, his voice is as complete as hers and the publishers have acknowledged it in that the audio will be read by a man in a northern voice. Oh joy!

I can't read some of the book because every time I look at it I want to cry. I used a great deal of my own experience. The funeral scene is my husband's funeral and what Blake goes through after it is the same hell that I went through when my husband died.  The nights where I never slept, the days when I didn't eat, the way that men would ask me casually if I wanted to go to bed with them, as though it was sex I missed and worst of all the awful loneliness which has never receded, raw and personal.

'Afterwards there was not a day in the rest of his life in which Blake could think about what happened without pain.'

That's me and that's why it's the best thing I ever wrote.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Alcoholic becomes shopaholic

My daughter sat me down over Christmas, when I had tonsillitis and was feeling weak, most unfair and she impressed upon me that I drink too much. I know, I know. I gave her all the explanations I could think of but it was no use. She was right. So I came home with the promise that I would cut down to half a bottle at night with a meal.
I'm sorry if this sounds pathetic. Don't read on if you are thinking 'what a stupid person'. On the plus side I thought it was my only addiction which is good because I have that sort of personality, unfortunate but true. I do everything I do to the nth degree. Very boring for other people, very boring for me as well but it's the way it goes.

I had antibiotics and didn't drink because I was quite ill before Christmas and that really would be stupid and then I thought, for God's sake, how ridiculous the whole thing is to let anything dictate your life to you but I can't bear the evenings. My dreadful empty evenings which I fill with work and food and wine. I know, I know, they say you should get out but my boredom threshold, part of my stupid depression, holds me in it so there are few things I can bear in the evenings. Every other time of day is manageable, evenings, forget it.

So there I am now, with my half bottle of wine stretching out until I go to bed and once there I can listen to stories and I like my bed, I'm happy there. The only thing now is I have much more energy in the mornings. Oh my God, I have turned into Tigger. I used to be Tigger quite a lot but life has ground me down. Here he comes again.  Boing!!  Boing!!  Boing!! Like bouncing on a mattress.

I get up and work at seven am, leaping out of bed to make tea first, I make soup at eight, I hit the shops at nine and boy, do I hit the shops. Yesterday I had to prise myself away from one of those cheese things that have mesh so that you can see the different kinds. This week I have bought sufficient groceries to keep an army going. I have rejected four different kinds of slipper boots which I do not need.  I have bought pyjama tops and pyjama bottoms - not matching, that's too easy. I have been to Sainsbury's as they opened and rifled through the sales there and I went to Next and bought a gorgeous new top in lots of different colours. I went to Wallis and Top Shop and Warehouse and then I went to Boots. I went to Marks and Spencer's twice and bought some very expensive make up. I bought six avocados at Tesco and special peppercorn sauce for my steak one night and my pork chop the next.
In Sainsbury's I kept the lovely young man who runs the fish bit of it in conversation for ten minutes - he had nothing else to do and was obviously impressed by my devotion to bream and sardines and trout, all fresh and all on special offer. I went home and finished off my already teaming freezer. I can get nothing more in there now, nor can I find anything. I don't even like fish!
I looked at shelf after shelf of wine because now that I am drinking less I am more discerning. If it's two glasses a night by God, it had better be good.
This is not a new year thing, I must say. I don't do new year things. I love food and drink. Giving up anything in January is nauseating so it isn't that kind of cutting down. My daughter wants me to live forever. I have tried to impress upon her that this is unlikely at best when my friends are being mown down by cancer all around me. I have already been wrecked by widowhood, being orphaned, had breast cancer, depression and swept aside my stupid family and most of the friends I liked very much but somehow couldn't manage.  I am ruthless that way but it's survival.
Today is Saturday and I have a plan. After breakfast, after making curried parsnip soup, I am going to Paperchase where the notebooks and the pens are on special offer, at least I hope they still are. I'm not walking into town, still a bit weak from blessed tonsillitis but I will take the car and wander the shops and wonder what else I can buy. I have rejected house buying, thankfully, I have a car and two new computers.  My garden has a new fence and my house a new coat of paint and my kitchen is less than two years old. I have walls covered in paintings and a wardrobe as big as John Lewis. I have bought furniture and tea towels. There are so many books in my caravan that the shelves are full. I have wonderful jewellery which my precious daughter buys me. Is there anything else?
Well, breakfast beckons now, soup has to be made and the shops are open. Can I get you anything while I'm there?  I know where everything is. You will recognise me. I'm the strange striped tiger rushing up and down the aisles, greeting everybody, smiling hugely, enthusiastic.
There is a lovely scene in the West Wing, one of my best ever favourite programmes, where the lovely president says to his sidekick something like, thinking of the economy, 'Would two weeks in the Caribbean have hurt you that much?' That's me, keeping the economy going single handedly. It's my duty to the country, getting and spending. Am I laying waste my hours? Should I be planning ahead? Or shall I just saunter into Paperchase and find all those notebooks. It's cheaper than cocaine, is shopping, it's better for you than smoking. It doesn't rot your liver like drinking and it doesn't expand your waistline like eating. So am I hoping for the best. See you in M&S.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Buried in Birmingham

This is a direct quote from Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her.

'A woman needs only one husband and mine is buried in Birmingham'.

This from one lady - and I used the term well because this is Trollope and all his women are ladies, when is receiving a proposal.

The title of the book is awful. It gives me heart. His titles are all awful but his books are brilliant and his plots so good and so relevant to our lives that they are ready to be lifted wholesale by lesser mortals.
To say that Trollope was prolific is like saying that it rains a lot in Manchester.  I am downloading his books on to my kindle, mostly for nothing or just a few pennies but best of all I downloaded Timothy West reading Can You Forgive Her.  I thought eighteen pounds a lot of money for an audio book but it's wonderful!

I fell asleep yesterday afternoon listening to his gorgeous voice and when I woke up after two hours ( I don't usually sleep during the day, I've had tonsillitis for the past three weeks and it's very tiring ) he was thirty thousand words on and Alice was still trying to make up her mind whether to say yes to her suitor, her cousin, George. I was so pleased I hadn't missed anything and yet I knew that I would be able to listen over and over again to the intricacies and I would enjoy each word.

Trollope does all those things which writers aren't meant to do. I don't know whether he just ignored such things but apparently Henry James didn't like Trollope's authorial intrusion. It's something I do myself and nobody's ever objected. It makes the story more intimate somehow rather than the other way about. Also unlike most other male writers, his women are incredible, so well drawn, so likeable, so funny on occasion, so wise as they consider and solve the problems which the writer sets before them. They are the best I have ever seen any writer tackle. Dickens pales beside him. A lot modern day male writers could learn a great deal from him.
He tells you what he's doing so that you don't get lost in the deep intricacies of his plots.  It's like gossip. It's all so delicious.

If you are new to Trollope I can't advise you better than to say download the audio of Barchester Towers. BBC Radio, God love them, presented this in play like form several years ago and it is funny, clever and highly entertaining, written apparently after a visit to Gloucester cathedral. The Warden was his first successful book.  Mr Harding, who is the warden of the hospital is possibly the loveliest character I have ever met and his two daughters are fascinating.

Part of Can you Forgive Her is set in the lakes, places I recognise and love, Penrith, Shap. Alice and Kate, the two main female characters go for long walks where their grandfather owns an estate and you feel as if you are there with them.
One of his characters, Mr Bot ( or possibly Bott, I haven't seen it written down yet ) is so awful and so aptly named. His names his characters for their characters very often. Mr Bot is from Manchester, a politician and monstrous tedious. Oh dear, I fear I have turned into Alice or Kate in my speech, strong, intelligent, honest women, they make their way through society disadvantaged in the ways that women were then, excluded from professions, sitting in the drawing room, finding husbands or not to the detriment of their futures, being kind to impossible men such as Alice's cousin George, who is Kate's dearly beloved brother. I fear that Kate betrays her cousin because of George. Alas.
This book is the first of the Pallisers, known as the Parliamentary novels. Trollope's books tend to follow his desires  and his lifestyle and he very much wanted to be come a politician. Early on he worked for the post office in Ireland and his first novels are set there.
I am so glad that I found Anthony Trollope. He wrote so much and I love all of it so far. I am reading Lady Anna, whose mother married a lord and then found out he was already married. What problems follow this!

So for 2015 I'm going to fill my reading time with Trollope and delight in the entertainment he gives me and learn about fictional relationships from him. And indulge in his plots which are like a good television series. I shall wait impatiently for the next exciting instalment.