Wednesday, 28 July 2010


We had an unexpectedly gorgeous day (I'm talking about the weather here) on Sunday and took a trip down to Gunwalloe Cove on the Lizard, one of my favourite places and also a dog friendly beach. Cornwall really looked at its best, and that night I had a phone call to say that my oldest brother and his family are coming down next month and could we meet up? Of course the answer was yes – I can't wait.

We haven't seen him and his family for two years now, owing to their hectic lives. My nieces are now grown up girls – one's in her second year at university and the other is about to leave school, and my nephew is in his early teens. A lot can happen in two years. I think back to when I was their age and life was so different – I am showing my age here – but I'm sad that we've missed out on so much of them growing up. This will probably be the last family holiday they have, so the chances of seeing them after this are even smaller.

I miss my brother and his wife too. When the kids were younger we saw each other a lot more and had some wonderful times. I remember crying with laughter over various things; a tickling match just before I got married; a sunny barbecue one evening; sitting in their kitchen while my sister in law made plans to Get Me Hitched; putting the girls to bed when they were little. Happy memories.

Out of school activities can be a great opportunity for children and I'm all in favour of trying things out – at any age. I never knew I had much creative talents until – well, until my 30s. I spent most of my teens and 20s in a creative black spot and it wasn't until I left London that I realised I could write. Realising I could sing came later, and I did wonder the other day what I might have done with my life had I realised all this stuff earlier.

So what I'm saying is – yes, let's give children the best chances we can. But don't forget your family.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


This fellow was taken in Fowey when we were there in March and, as we all know, has a quick eye for any bits of grub going.

One of my favourite cold weather lunches is something I had in the States years ago - tuna topped with grated cheese on toast (apparently this is called Tuna Melt). It's easy to assemble, pop in the microwave and hey presto. (I say microwave rather than grill because we don't have a grill on our oven. Or if we do, it doesn't work. Another on the list of jobs for Himself.)

That smell of hot, stringy cheese always takes me back to many years ago when, for some reason, we were all at an Italian eatery in South Kensington. I must have been about 11 or 12 and so my brothers would have been 9 and 6 or thereabouts. Why we were there I can't think, as we lived in a small seaside town in Devon at the time. But I digress.

Dad took us to this Italian place which was in itself a novelty. Devon boasted fish and chip shops but we only ever had those for a special treat – like if the fair was in. We never ate out, let alone at a place with people who spoke a funny language.

But I can still remember the smell of that hot, stringy cheese on top of my pizza. The underlying, exotic whiff of what was probably oregano and who knows what other herbs. I can almost feel my teeth sink into the lovely chewy crust as my tongue burnt with the heat from the cheese. Feel that squidgyness as the tomato hit the back of my mouth. And watch in amazement as, forkful after forkful, that mozarella stretched in splendid yellow cords, like a tasty spider's web.

I don't even like pizza now – I find it too stodgy – but the memory of my first one will stay with me forever and always makes my mouth water. And that got me thinking of how much we take our senses for granted. Dogs have a sense of smell apparently 40 times as strong as ours. No wonder they get excited whenever food appears.

So I thought I'd see what I can smell now. Here goes while I sniff.

The musty scent of my rooibosh tea cooling next to me.
A faint waft of Persil from my fingers – I've just hung the washing outside.
The unmistakeable smell of wet dog – Mollie still hasn't dried out from her walk earlier when the grass was wet with rain.

What can you smell?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Ups and Downs

Life has been something of a rollercoaster recently, which has tested me severely. But as Himself said the other day, “Life is about how you deal with setbacks, not successes, Pop.” He's too right – but I've been floundering a bit recently which made me think I wasn't doing too well at this business called Life.

However, I now have some unexpected commissions which has boosted not only my confidence but my bank balance (or will when I'm paid), and my other novelist friends are back from their varying absences which means we can get our group working again and I can continue with the novel which does the soul good.

On Saturday we had the launch of The Suitcase Singers at nearby Miss Peapods in Penryn, and I have to say it was a great evening. Himself propped up the bar and applauded loudly, other friends came to join him as we sang, and afterwards we had a party in the bar. I would have joined in the bopping only I have a poorly foot, so perched on my bar stool, knocked back a few glasses of wine and had a lovely night.

Himself and I have had the same songs on our brains as a result for the last 3 days.

On that front, the poor fellow isn't feeling too good. He's back on some aggressive treatment for the cancer and is coughing like a trooper. We're seeing the lung consultant in just over a week and hope to get some help for his poor lungs which are being punished on a daily basis. But throughout all this, he is reasonably patient (just the odd swearing when he has a coughing fit) and deals with his illnesses in a very measured manner. I don't know that I'd be quite so calm about it all, and suspect that inside he's roaring. I admire and respect him and just wish there was something I could do to help.

But rather than end this on a note of gloom, I'm writing this looking out on my tubs where the Californian poppies (such a wonderful deep rich yellow) are waving in the wind and being splashed by a sudden downpour. (I don't mind the rain with a poorly foot as I don't feel so bad about not being able to walk far.)

I spent yesterday afternoon interviewing some Kittows (distant relatives) and had a fascinating time with them. A friend has just given birth to her first baby and is understandably smitten (hormonal snuffle from Flowerpot here). I have singing again tomorrow, and an appointment with the physio for my foot next Monday. We're meeting our cousins in Penzance on Saturday and I will take Himself for a famous Jelbert's ice cream afterwards.

Life is full of good things if you know where to look.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Making of a Writer

(Molls demonstrating that the road to becoming a writer is a long one. This was taken at Bedruthan Steps last week.)

I've been asked to give a talk at the forthcoming Penzance Literary Festival. At first, the idea filled me with a mixture of excitement followed swiftly by extreme terror. Luckily I've managed to persuade another freelance journalists to do it with me, which is much less scary, so the title of our talk is to be Becoming a Freelance Writer.

So far so good. I sat down yesterday and looked at the muddle of notes and tried to make sense of them. I started thinking about what made me a writer, going back to when I was a child. I thought of all those years and years of diaries I wrote as a teenager, and up until my forties. (Page after page of mostly incredibly boring monologues.)

I remembered the boss that had tried to get me into the newsroom as a journalist over 20 years ago (they employed too many cheap Antipodeans so why train me?).

I realised it wasn't until I left London – and thereby stopped trying to have a Proper Job – that I started writing properly. It was as if all those words bubbled up to the surface and had time to breathe. From then on there was no stopping them.

Except for when I met Himself. I think that was such an overwhelming experience that there wasn't room for anything else. My whole life turned upside down, inside out and back to front. I didn't write – couldn't – for about two years. Then when I decided to pack in a very stressful job, up bubbled those words again.

Ten years on I am proud to call myself a freelance journalist. The book(s) aren't published – yet – but I'm still working on them. They are another goal, but no less important.

Watching Wimbledon last week, it struck me that writing is like playing professional tennis (though not nearly as well paid). It's very competitive, you have to love doing it, develop a thick skin yet be sensitive enough to do it well. You have to understand people, build up good relationships with them and remember that it never hurts to help others. You have to have your ears and eyes open, keep your wits about you and go for it. Continue to try and improve, and never, ever give up.

The other night we watched the DVD of the Sound of Music. This is a digitised version of the film with Julie Andrews giving a little talk before hand. She considered several reasons why the film is still so phenomenally successful. The two that I remember were faith and perseverance. And you need both of those to succeed as a writer.