Friday, 29 May 2009

Striking a balance

First the bad news - I got my first rejection for FOUR LEFT FEET. It was from an agent who had emailed and asked to see anything new I had, and was very fulsome in her praise (lovely word, fulsome). So I had high hopes. Silly me. Having exchanged various emails, the rejection, when it came, was a standard rejection letter, signed by a secretary. I think you can all guess how I felt. Pah! To put it mildly. But onwards and upwards and all that, so I will send it out again ASAP.

Enough of that. I wanted to talk about striking a balance today. We all have things in our lives that cause friction and interfere with our work. Family, friends, money problems, ill health, falling in love, breakdown of a relationship, schooling troubles – the list goes on and on.

In my case, my problem comes from the two arms of my writing. On one hand (the paying hand) I am a freelance journalist, and on the other I am an unpublished novelist. (But So Nearly There, according to agents!)

I feel like these two aspects of my writing life are like two children. The journalism daughter is called Chrissie. She is extrovert, confident, cheerful and punctual. She will take on anything, loves meeting people, and is very good at meeting deadlines with efficiency and tact. She wears jeans and sporty tops, or smart suits. She goes hiking and walks miles with her bouncy dog. She shops efficiently for food and never runs out of anything. She is, if you like, the conscious side of my brain.

My other daughter, the fiction one, is Felicity. She hides behind me when we meet people, and is always off day dreaming. She lives in awe of her older sister, the confident Chrissie. But she can weave stories with her words, and draw the most stunning pictures that spring into life, making other people wonder at her great talent. She needs to be left alone. She can be temperamental and grouchy, has no idea of time. She will emerge from writing, ravenous, devour food and leave trails of destruction. She runs out of food and has to eat cornflakes. She has low blood sugar levels from her mood swings. She likes sloppy clothes, floaty dresses and long skirts. She walks her dogs for miles over fields and paths, sits enraptured by the side of the sea, drinking it all in. She is the subconscious side.

And me? I'm the mum in the middle, with these two girls pulling me in ever opposing directions. Sometimes Chrissie takes us off in one direction, and we have an action filled day and return full of life and zing. At other times Felicity takes us and we have a day in the country, picnicking and enjoying the quieter, purer things of nature – with the odd extraordinary adventure thrown in.

Life goes well as long as there is a balance between these two. If there is not, that's when the trouble starts. One starts shouting, the other cries and life is discordant, my sleep is troubled, and I feel pulled in too many directions, don't know what to do or which way to go.

These are my two children whom I love dearly, but I've learnt the hard way that it's so important to keep a balance between the two of them.

What are your conflicts?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Do you believe in Guardian Angels?

A few weeks ago our cooker died so we tracked down a second hand one and went down to St Ives one sunny Saturday to collect it. St Ives, in season, is one of my least favourite places, but in early May it was bearable and we even managed to park, having got the cooker, and had a couple of hours strolling round in the sunshine.

Despite the crowds of early grockles (tourists), the sun made it all bearable and there were plenty of glimpses of what a special, fairytale like places St Ives was, and why so many people flocked there to paint.

Back home we then had the problem of trying to heave the old cooker out onto the pavement (which is five foot above road level), given that I'm not superwoman and Himself isn't getting any younger. We managed it, with a lot of heaving, sweating and swearing, and left it on the pavement outside the flat. Next we got the sack truck and lugged the new cooker up as far as the bit of pavement opposite the house which is on a steep slope.

As we stood there, I suggested ringing a friend. “Rob would help,” I said cheerfully. Himself refused – of course (male pride?) and we braced ourselves for the next heave when a young fellow – in his mid 20s at a guess – came along the road, wearing jeans, a hoodie and with a sharp face like a ferret.

“Wanna hand?” he said.

“Thanks – that would be great,” I said, before Himself could refuse.

So our new mate stubbed out his rollup and picked up the cooker. Given his skinny frame I was surprised he could lift anything more than a packet of fags, but up came the cooker and the next thing we knew he and it were inside the house.

We stood and gaped in astonishment, but he shrugged. “Wanna hand with the other one?” he said.

Himself declined and I decided not to push it this time, but beamed happily as matey shuffled off. “Wasn't that good timing?” I said, thinking no way would Himself have accepted help if I hadn't pushed it.

He grunted, and I wondered if we should have offered tea, or a beer? I looked down the road - given that it's a long street, I reckoned he'd be half way along. I could call after him, offer him a coffee or something.

But there was no sign of him. I ran down the path, surely he must be at the end of the road?

But he'd gone..... just – vanished.

While I like the idea of guardian angels, I find them difficult to fit into everyday life. But now and then you get something that makes you think.....

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Piece of Heaven

Wonderful news - Cornwall Today has just won Magazine of the Year at the Press Gazette Regional Press Awards 2009!

Here is my latest walk, in the May edition, out now.

A coastal walk taking in Polly Joke beach, West Pentire and Cubert Common

My husband introduced me to Polly Joke shortly after we first met: he'd lived there with his uncle and aunt in the 1960s and was keen to show me “this bit of heaven”. It's now one of our favourite walks, but is best appreciated out of season.

On a clear, bright Friday morning I set off with photographer Rebecca, my husband and Mollie Dog with a holiday sense of excitement that only a trip to Polly Joke can bring. En route were welcome bursts of colour: daffodil shoots nudging green noses skyward; purple scatterings of crocus and miniature wild iris dotted the hedgerow.

At Chiverton Cross roundabout we took the A3075 to Newquay and continued past Goonhavern until we reached a small left hand turn signposted to West Pentire and Crantock. After Crantock village we followed signs to West Pentire, and at the end of the road found Crantock Bay Hotel on our right and the Bowgie (Cornish for cow shed) pub straight ahead. A public car park is just round the corner on the left.

From this car park we returned to the main road and turned left to go through a gate leading to West Pentire Head. Peering over the tamarisk hedges to our right, the sun glistened on the River Gannel estuary and the sand dunes of Crantock Beach. We continued along this path and reached the grassy headland of West Pentire that at various times of the year is dotted with cowslips and poppies.

Today our attention was distracted by a skylark above us that winged its way, higher and higher, singing loudly as it flew – they do this to detract from their nest on the ground. Rebecca and I watched as it soared up, before plummeting back down to the ground in silence. We looked at each other in awe, but our reverie was broken by a bark from Mollie. She stood with her head on one side and I could almost see the bubble over her head saying, “what are you DOING? Come on!”

Obediently moving on, we noticed feral rock pigeons swooping and diving under the cliffs. I rushed to restrain Mollie from chasing them and we followed the coastal path round to the left, looking out on an azure sea covered in foam. We headed downhill, past the spot where my husband buried some Cornish tin jewellery for luck, forever marked by stunted tamarisk trees that are windblown and sparse.

Looking down at Polly Joke was like stumbling across a cove in paradise, it was so perfect, so unspoilt. We stood in silence, then my husband said happily, “it's just sitting there quietly, waiting for us to visit.”

It seemed it was, so we hurried down to the beach. When the tide is out, there is a wide expanse of pure golden sand, dotted with secret caves of swirly slate. These rocks were apparently formed during the Devonian period, about 350 million years ago, and quartz veins can be seen running through them.

A wide stream bisects the beach, and Mollie tore along the sand as we followed, shells crunching underfoot. Families lit half term barbecues and played games of cricket with tennis balls – a sport that an uninvited Mollie joined in with great aplomb. As usual the surfing brigade bobbed in the waves like sleek seals and sheep grazed on Kelsey Head opposite, silhouetted against a deep blue sky.

After a picnic on the beach, we crossed a footbridge and Mollie disappeared into a thicket. Nothing happened for a few minutes, then a huge rabbit lolloped out, white tail bobbing confidently as Mollie followed, with no hope of catching it. Undeterred, she chased a few more rabbits before joining us on a narrow sandy path leading inland through a valley with white pussy willow buds emerging, while buzzards mewed above, searching for prey.

Passing through several gates we emerged into a small field that is a National Trust car park and stopped. Before us was Treago Mill, and Cubert Common to our right, where the winter sunshine cast swooping shadows over the marram grass. The only sounds were the rustling stream, skylarks tweeting above, and Mollie's excited panting. No cars, no sign of life in the deserted campsite opposite. Just us. Another moment to treasure.

We passed through another gate and followed a rough track through Cubert Common looking out for Bronze Age barrows. According to legend, if any of these are disturbed, disaster will come upon Cubert village. As they are all intact, it seems that legend is a good deterrent.

Reaching another gate we saw Higher Moor on our left which is where my husband spent many of his summer holidays. Now there is a fishing pond, where a lone fisherman enjoyed the winter sun, surrounded by a gaggle of Barnacle geese. Gorsebushes sprouted behind, sprinkled with gold bloom and in the hedge was a cluster of pale yellow primroses.

Climbing the hill, Treago Farm campsite sprawled on our right and at the top of the hill we came to a T junction and turned left along the road that we came in on that led back to the car park. We walked in silence, wrapped in our thoughts, aware that it was nearly time to go. Even Mollie was quiet as we settled ourselves on a bench outside the pub.

A visit to Polly Joke is always special, but that day was even more so, for the intense clarity of the light, for the unexpected sunshine warming our backs. I carry an image with me, like a favourite snapshot in the tattered wallet of my mind. Four friends (counting Mollie of course) sitting like sparrows on a bench, drinking in the perfect splendour before us. Vibrant spray crashing off Goose Island, long waves rolling up the Gannel Estuary, and the misty outline of Trevose Head in the distance. What more could anyone wish for?

Thursday, 7 May 2009

A Tag for the Taking

I've just been tagged by Wakeup so here it is:-

1.What are your current obsessions?
Writing I suppose. It occupies most of my thoughts. That and trying to get enough sleep.

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often?
I don't have a wardrobe! Jumpers and a few favourite tops.

3. Last dream you had?
About a young couple who own a bakery – I'm interviewing them in a few weeks!

4. Last thing you bought?
The local paper.

5. What are you listening to?
A car revving in the distance; Mollie squeaking as she dreams; Himself sneezing next door.

6. If you were a god/goddess who would you be?
God of Health, happiness and good sleep. (Greedy, moi?)

7. Favourite holiday spots?
Cant afford holidays.

8. Reading right now?
Re-reading Rhode Island Blues by Fay Weldon.

9. Four words to describe yourself.
Determined, over-sensitive, overly imaginative, unconventional.

10. Guilty pleasure?
White wine – such a shame about hangovers.

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you’re weak?
A chance remark.

12. Favourite spring thing to do?
Walk among the bluebells and smell the wild garlic.

13. Planning to travel to next?
Devon this weekend to see my mum.

14. Best thing you ate or drank lately?
Free range egg on toast for breakfast.

15. When did you last get tipsy?
Last night – our 10th wedding anniversary.

16. Favourite ever film?
Oh, so many! Last one I saw was The Young Victoria – a fabulous love story.

17. Care to share some wisdom?
Hang on in there. The bends take some leaning into, but the straight runs make it all the worthwhile.

18. Song you can't get out of your head?
Tapestry by Carole King.

19. Thing you are looking forward to?
Going to yoga again – I haven't been able to go for months for health reasons.

20 If money were no object, where would you choose to live?
Somewhere warm, by the sea, with a large garden and a spare bedroom for when friends come to stay.

I'm exhausted now! Please take this and run if you want.