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Christmas, New Year dips, friendship, lovely books and walking.

Christmas, New Year dips, friendship, lovely books and walking.

2017 is sliding to a close. In February I sold my town house and moved to the country. All summer I wrote the first draft of a book and experienced the euphoric highs of being back in the country.

I watched a close friend battle courageously with cancer. I reveled in my first spring here. Walking with a friend through the gorse and hawthorn, exploring the coastal paths, looking down on hidden coves of aquamarine sea; meeting lovely neighbours, making new friends and experiencing a sense of a community.

Summer, although it largely passed me by, as I was working, was wonderful.

I could watch the sun rise at the back of the house in the morning and the sky catch fire and spread ripples of scarlet and gold over the sea at nightfall.

From my windows I could look across the garden and see the sea crashing onto the rocks below me. I could stand in my garden in wonder at the roll and catch of ever changing light on the water, as subtle and abrupt as a mood change.

Out of the corner of my eye I could sometimes spot a big silver fox run along the field wall in the dusk and experience the wonder of looking up at buzzards and sparrow hawks hovering over the fields like exotic shadows

I had to watch a close friend battle courageously with cancer. She came and sat in the garden, delighting in the peace and the view, holding her face up to the sun and to life. We talked of safe things and what we would do when she was better. Her wrists were a child’s and her long thin fingers as fragile as twigs.

Autumn came and the leaves were blown off the trees before their time. My friend lost her battle for life quietly, without fuss. It was how she lived her life. She chose happiness. Every small event was a story, every simple joy a celebration. She was a wonderful Fine Arts Restorer who renovated neglected ancient church panels as well as restoring portraits and paintings. The beat of her life was her beloved music. She went to her choir until she could no longer stand.

Years ago she told me about a small figurehead she was restoring in the old chapel in St Agnes. It had come from a British shipwreck off Newfoundland and ended up in Canada, and now it had been shipped back home to England. She was the bravest person I know.

Fascinated, I drove over to look her sitting in a corner of the chapel with a wild overgrown garden outside. Where had she been, this little figurehead? What was her provenance. My imagination was fired. That is how ANOTHER LIFE was born. I owe that book entirely to my friend and it is dedicated to her. She not only gave me my story, but she was so generous with her expertise for my fictional picture restorer.

Now winter is here. The weather can be bleak and close in like a relentless blanket. Sea mist creeps in with the speed and silence of a snake. It can linger for days shutting the world out and you in. Coastal paths become dangerous and inaccessible. The wind, straight from the sea is unbelievably ferocious. It blows in like an express train and sounds like one. It hurls large plant pots and wooden benches across the garden. It lifts and whooshes doormats into the bushes. It steals into every crack and moans and whirls round the house like a dervish.

Large trees in my garden groan and bend and crack, dead branches fly everywhere. The sky becomes a purple bruise filling the sky. Below me the leaden sea churns and sprays upwards, warning, threatening, taking no prisoners.

I knew my first winter would be challenging as I put a house to rights, and so it has sometimes been. Windows leak, taps fall off, heavy kitchen cupboards fly to the floor narrowly missing me, or the cat.

The new gate, made so heavy I cannot open it in a wind, (there is a real danger of being crushed by it -and death by a gate is not romantic) broke and hung off in the latest storm, swinging and squeaking eerily like the pub sign in Jamaica Inn. Everything needs attention and as I am trying to finish a book, sometimes I quail and crumple.

But, I know that my windows will not always leak. I will have a bathroom with heating. Spring and summer will be round again. I will make a garden. Friends will brave the rutted track and puddles to come again and sit in the sun and walk the paths.

When I take flight going to the dustbin, or aquaplane in my poor, muddy, little mini, through the ruts and puddles, when I wonder what I have done, I look out of my ‘office’ window, past the red and pink camellia bushes to the sea shimmering or boiling below me, and, in the silence and peace of a life I have chosen, I know exactly why I am here.

Storm Ophelia

Storm Ophelia

As I write, the wind is wuthering around the house and through the bent, protesting trees, making a noise like a wailing child.   The sea is a frothing mass of white waves, crashing against the rocks and spewing up in great dramatic arcs. I cannot capture the power of the elements on my mobile phone, the camara flattens everything as the strength of the gusts blow me sideways. Small birds have gone to ground and the larger ones are flapping and anxious.

The phone lines were the first thing to go, but miraculously connection is now back. I am woefully unprepared for a sassy storm that did not want to be demoted. I dread the electricity going down as I have a log burner, but I am out of logs and would be wary of lighting an unreliable old stove in these winds.

I only moved a few miles yet I am experiencing weather so much more exaggerated and  extreme than a town house that I might as well have moved to another country.

It is exhilarating to watch a storm raging from a warm, sunny room, behind glass, but I realised, when I only just had the strength to shut the back door against the wind, how terrifying it must be to be caught in a real hurricane. Powerless, small and utterly helpless as your house and possessions are blown to smithereens in seconds.

I live by the sea but I am not (quite) perched on a cliff top totally exposed to the elements, yet this storm has made me realise it is wise to be organised for extreme weather at all times, especially if you live down a long rutted track lined by large trees and you drive a Mini.  Maybe, a permanent stack of logs, milk and bread in the freezer and a little camping gas stove… just in case.

I have delivered my completed book to my editor and I am in that strange post-finishing book trance of slight exhaustion and vague unwillingness to address all those boring domestic tasks that have been on hold- while I await an edit and a fresh pair of eyes…

Books!

I much enjoyed The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson.  (Court Of Lions is on my beside table)

As is, The Lost Estate by Henri Alain-Fournier.

Good Behaviour, by Molly Keen ( A little master class)

I am listening to Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough. It is riveting!

I am loving Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson. It was a present and all the more precious for that.

New books and Bookshops

New books and Bookshops

Jane Johnson gave a great talk last night at Waterstones Truro.  Her fabulous new book Court of Lions is out. The talented staff at Waterstones gave her the most beautiful window display I think I have ever seen.

It was a lovely event. History, intrigue, little Morrocan rose-almond pastries, wine… welcoming staff… and books…

As Jane signed her books I roamed a blissfully empty bookshop. A novel experience! Shelves and shelves of books all to myself. Oh joy. What utter heaven. I circled and circled like an excited magpie while a lovely member of staff tempted me with so many wonders I had to rein myslf in or go bankrupt. There was an amazing selection of nature writing I shall return for, but last night I came home with

Inside The Wave by Helen Dunmore

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson. ( I am already reading Court of Lions)

Cove by Cynan Jones

We returned home in the rain and I fell into my house in the middle of nowhere very happy. Apart from the fact I have had no broadband to post this…

Just to remind any readers, Come Away with Me is on a special Kindle offer of 99p for all July and August.

Come Away With Me

May, London, and the process of making books

May, London, and the process of making books

Last week I made a flying visit to London to meet my new editor at HarperCollins. I was given a wonderful welcome and shown around the new enormous sixteen storey HarperCollins building on a beautiful clear sunny day. ( Getting in and out was akin to airport security) The Shard loomed exotic, almost within touching distance. A panoramic, breathtaking London lay shimmering below.Tugs on the river, London bridge, a glittering of steel and shadowy shifting reflections in glass. All alongside ancient buildings in every direction.

I was fascinated by the huge open plan interior in which everyone at HarperCollins works.There were small areas with sofas and tiny glass rooms for quiet interviews and discussion. Desks interweaved with each other like a complicated Lego art form across the entire floor. Editors sat companionably at their computers for the long process of editing and producing the mouth watering crispy books arrayed everywhere. I felt like a child in a sweet shop, eyes swivelling from one title to the next.

It was intriguing to see the process of a book- here the editing, there the graphics for covers.  Writers are one little cog in a wheel of producing a book. We write our stories, sometimes, in the middle of nowhere. Here, in the middle of the city,  editors read and edit and polish and prune until a work is ready to put between a cover.

My book is partly set in Pakistan and I was taken to a happy and fun lunch at the wonderful Arabica in Borough Market. Delicious, middle eastern  food and interesting talk with my agent, Broo and editor, Lynn and assistant editor Charlotte

Chatting about my time in Pakistan re-kindled some almost forgotten memories. I heard the echo of my friends voices from Karachi and it made the time I am writing about immediate and real once more as I saw it through other people’s eyes.

Writing is solitary. I sit in a tiny room facing my garden and spend more time with my fictional characters than I do real people.  To sit and talk to editors who are enthusiastic and intuitive is a wonderful thing. While I am writing, someone professional  is directing the course my book will take. This felt so validating, enabling and energising.

I returned home to a house disappeared in sea mist. To an arctic wind in May. It was possible to think I might disappear too. It is vital, I believe, this necessary relationship with editor and agent, to stay grounded. I feel  very blessed and lucky.

The icing on the cake was the gift of two lovely books.

I opened Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, on the train back to Penzance and I cannot put it down. It is a joy of a book and is going to do incredibly well. It is out any minute and I cannot recommend it enough.

( I look forward to reading The Kicking the Bucket List by Cathy Hopkins  next)

Photos: Beautiful North Pakistan. Me at Karachi Literary Festival. The Mohatta Palace, Karachi. My lovely lunch with Lynn, Broo and Charlotte.

The cover of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Moving House and Book deals

Moving House and Book deals

I have finally moved house and a whole new world has opened up for me. I can walk straight out of my front door down through the fields to the coastal path. The sea shimmers blue through the emerging leaves of the trees that edge my garden. I watch the small crabber down on the point as he checks his pots. I spot seals off the rocks and small white and rust sails as they slide past

In the evening the sun plunges dramatically into the sea leaving a wash of red and gold. As I rush out with my camera a beautiful fox leaps over the wall, bold and proud. The world is magic and I am enthralled by spring unfolding outside my door. Waking each morning is an adventure. I cannot wait to leap out into rainbow days of changing colour and texture.

In the first months here relentless winds bent the trees in half and drove through the garden like a hurricane making all untethered things fly past the window. The camellias, great shiny green bushes of rose red, pink stood bravely in the lea of the storms and their blooms blistered cruelly. Then, suddenly, the winds softened, the storms were over. In a day it was summer, the birds sang in my overgrown jungle and the cat howled to the moon to be let out. The weather here cannot go unnoticed, it is as fickle and moody as a teenager. One day it is like like Crete, another day as bitter as a Scottish Island.

I find if I get up early to walk then I can happily move to my desk and write for six hours at a time without feeling deprived. I have set up office in a  tiny room facing the garden. It is like a rat’s nest for I have no shelves yet. But it is my space and  I can write in utter peace. The only thing I can hear are the soound of  birds and in rough weather the roar of the ocean.

The only flaw, so far, is the sound of raw and cruel nature. This is Paradise on earth for my beautiful cat who has turned into a psychopathic  killer. Many mornings are punctuated by the screams of baby rabbits. It is deeply upsetting. I save as many as I can but it is not a battle I am going to win

Just before I moved I signed a two book deal with HarperCollins. My new book is due to be delivered in July.

I took a bit of a gamble moving out of a small town and buying a house down an unmade road in the middle of fields. I feel so lucky to have found such a serene, happy and perfect place to write.  I am ignoring the unpacked boxes, the dust and untidy rooms; the work that will need doing to the house, my Mini that is having trouble with the potholed track. In two months I have to finish and deliver a book and just writing that sentence induces a frisson of fear and excitement.

Moving back to the country feels like coming home after a long journey. It is like taking a deep, wonderful, powerful life enhancing breath.

My World

Books Books Books

Books Books Books

I am moving house and as I pack a frightening amount of books into boxes I have been reflecting on our enduring and intimate relationship with them. I shuffle through the pile I know I will probably not read again. I find an inscription from a long ago friend or a dead aunt and memories surface like bubbles. I am back in a childhood garden reading on the grass and enraptured by the author. Into the box it goes.

Inside a book called Color of the Sea by John Hamamura, I find an unsent bluey addressed to my son in Iraq in 2008. Beside it is a cutting from a newspaper about a young American Marine called Merlin German.

A bomb exploded on a dusty road in Iraq leaving him with burns over 97 percent of his body. He is flown home to Texas so his family can say farewell.

But he does not die as everyone expects, he fights and fights and fights. He endures over a 100 operations and inspires other burn patients to fight their pain too.

He even goes home for a while, then, just when everyone thinks he is over the worst, he goes in for a small routine operation and he quietly dies.

‘I think all of us believed in some way, shape or form he was invincible,’ says his surgeon and friend. ‘He had beaten so many other operations… It just reminds us, he, too, was human.’

On the top of the cutting my son has written ‘How cruel life can be.’

Indeed. In a Cornish house full of boxes I shiver. I am back to the times of blueys and sleeplessness and prayers in the night for a son in uniform who also walked a dusty road in Iraq.

Then there is the old Beverley Nichols book of my mother’s called ‘Down the Garden Path’

It begins…I bought my cottage by sending a wireless to Timbuctoo from the Mauritania, at midnight, with a fierce storm lashing the decks…

Wonderful! Into the box it goes.

My packing is agonizingly slow as I re-acquaint myself with books as precious as friends. Books that have sustained me in unlikely places, warmed me on cold nights, saved me in bad times and given me joy and the excitement of discovery. I am afraid I am taking far more books than I am leaving…img_2622img_2617

Come Away With Me

Come Away With Me

The end of summer is always hard to bear, but the lovely thing about autumn is the thought of log fires and tucking in with books…

There is a wonderful one day promotion for COME AWAY WITH ME on Kindle today.
amazon.co.uk/Come-Away-Me-S… @HarperCollinsUK fb.me/4p0lDjXfO

Two mothers, a life-long friendship and a lie that will tear them apart…
Thanks so much to all of you who have discovered my books on Kindle and written such lovely emails.
Happy reading!

July 11th 2016

July 11th 2016

It is post referendum and a changed world. Take a break from twitter and Facebook, work for a few hours and a new dramatic saga has unfolded. Never have more people been engaged with politics or glued to screens big and small. Deep gloom is tempered by morbid fascination. What the hell is going to happen next!

The summer seems also strange; as if it is hanging there not quite making up its mind whether to blow in or blow past. Into this strange, uneasy July came the Penzance Litfest and very welcome it was too.

Writing is solitary and it is wonderful to spend time with other writers, listening to their work and sharing the same concerns. It does not seem to matter how successful or popular a writer is, we all seem to suffer from imposter syndrome.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Katharine Norbury talking about her first book THE FISH LADDER. She was a compelling speaker and I am absolutely devouring her poignant and beautifully written book.

It was fun meeting Amanda Jennings and I’m really looking forward to her latest book ‘in her wake.’ Her parents live in Zennor so she isn’t a stranger to Cornwall.

Lastly, but not least, I bought Andrew Miller’s THE CROSSING. He was an engaging speaker and spoke with charm but gave little away about his latest novel. This makes it all the more intriguing and I cannot wait to read.

What is more delicious than three crispy books on your bedside table…

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As I am talking about books…  ANOTHER LIFE and SEA MUSIC have a special promotion going from July 8th until the end of August. So if you have not yet chosen your summer reads head to Amazon. This is the link.http://amzn.to/29aIeae

Have a lovely summer reading wonderful books!

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June 22nd 2016

June 22nd 2016

June 22nd 2016.

The day before the EU Referendum. The day before we know if our world is going to change for ever. Remain or Leave? Are we going to be precipitated into an unknown and scary future or are we all going to settle back into a tentative and nervous normality.

I cannot think of a time in my life when political debate has been so raw, vicious, passionate and sometimes destructive. It has brought out all the very worst in human nature. Smug certitude; an inability to listen or respect an apposing view; well versed mantras clutched at, rather than explored.

This referendum has brought to the fore incipient racism, personal insult,  uninformed argument, unedifying anger and violence, based on emotion not facts.

Democracy is the freedom to have a voice and the ability to cast a vote  for an outcome you believe in.  It is a wonderful and precious thing. We are all united  in our fear of  losing it. It is one of the many reasons it has not been a simple decision for many of us to choose to remain or leave.

Feeling passionate about your beliefs combined with an ability to put them across articulately and coherently, changes opinions. Insulting and shouting down a person with an apposing view, does not.

Watching politicians and people on the street verbally abusing each other over this vote has been a daunting and upsetting experience. This debate has divided friends and families. It has driven wedges between communities and colleagphotoues.

Many of us feel their democratic rights are threatened and eroded by people with power and an agenda that is not the same as ours. There is bewildering acknowledgement that we are not at the heart of our own destiny anymore.

I wish this referendum had had some moral issues at the heart of it. I wish we had had more of a debate about who and what we want our country to stand up for. But, I fear this government has only one God. The Economy. Humanitarian issues, refugees, the horror and plight of Syria seem peripheral.

Britain and the world have stood by and watched a nation decimated, watched families  flee for safety and we have given them little. We could have given them so much at so little cost to ourselves.

The tragic killing of Jo Cox, a young and passionately involved MP stunned the world and made us all step back in horror. I watched her husband, Brendon Cox,  being interviewed last night. He was articulate, powerful and searingly dignified. It was heartbreaking.

Jo Cox believed in fighting every inch for a better world, not just for us, here, on this island  but for everyone without a voice, a home, a country. That means Remaining In.

Spring

Spring

It is far too long since I posted here. I am not sure where the time goes. Christmas came and I planned to post some New Year thoughts, but somehow time slipped… Now it is March and I realise how bad I am at fitting in writing with social media and blogs and answering emails and all the other stuff of modern life. Each year I start with good intentions. One morning for this. One afternoon for that… but it never seems to quite work out as I planned.

There is a two week FREE kindle promotion on Amazon at the moment for ANOTHER LIFE so if you have not read it or are looking for a holiday read, do head for Amazon and download.

It has been an endlessly grey wet winter but here in Cornwall spring comes early and colour is everywhere. As the daffodils begin to fade the magnolias and Azaleas are bursting with life in the gardens. It feels like emerging from a long hibernation. Life suddenly feels full of possibilities…

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