As I have a few days’ break between modules 5 and 6 of the novel-writing course I’m doing (www.fire-in-the-head.co.uk) I’ve been tackling those jobs that keep sinking to the bottom of the list such as – gasp of pain – filing.
In the process however, given that my files date back several decades and my filing tray at least a year, I’ve uncovered some interesting bits and pieces, interesting to me at least, including a folder of my poems.
I’ve never published them, but here's one now. Be kind, please.
Because our garden used to be an apple orchard (a long time ago, way before we came on the scene), it is enclosed by proper Devon hedgerow. This is probably many centuries old, if not a fragment of ancient woodland, and is rich in flora and fauna. One thing it’s not good at however is containing a determined puppy.
When Ellie arrived, Adrian from the village (who has laid the hedge for us beautifully in previous years) came over and put up a gate for us as well as fencing to cover gaps in the hedge. Since then Frog has covered other gaps with fencing and we’ve plugged yet others with prickly cuttings. Still she absconds.
I’ve always believed that the more you walk a dog, the quieter they will be at home. Frog however (who is not a keen walker himself unless tempted with a pub meal en route) believes the opposite. The more you walk a dog the fitter they become and the more they want to walk.
He is wont to quote Dickens at me, the Beadle in Oliver Twist in reply to the undertakers when they complain that the orphan they’ve acquired in order to work to death is not behaving properly. ‘Meat Ma’am. You’ve been feeding him meat,’ says the Beadle, instead of the gruel which would keep him weak and servile.
On Sunday I took the dog for two walks, nearly three hours in total. After the second walk, and giving her supper, I left the kitchen door open so that she could potter round the garden if she wanted to. Two minutes later she had vanished and we heard the children next door calling her name.
‘Your turn,’ said Frog, who was making pizza dough and had his hands covered with flour.
When I arrived next door Ellie was running in and out of the house with pieces of packaging in her mouth, obviously filched from a bin somewhere. She wasn’t in the least tired. What she was, was over-excited. What I should have done after the walk was shut her in her crate so that she could calm down.
Maybe Frog is right after all, at least partly.
And maybe it’s me who needs the walks in order to keep calm.
My head is still full of novel so not many words today. Just two pictures which I took last week while walking Dog.
The blue (speedwell) field belongs to a neighbour. She keeps her horses there and I’m sure she doesn’t use any chemicals on the grass. The red field has been farmed organically for the last few years. Two years ago the display of poppies was so spectacular that half the village turned out to have a look.
One day as I walked past two Americans were filming it.
‘It’s like the Wizard of Oz,’ they exclaimed.
I’ll let you know if it reaches the same heights this year.
Did you happen to watch the recent BBC drama ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’? It was the best thing I’ve seen on television for ages. There was a plaintive letter in this week’s Radio Times from another fan asking why no one else had written in to say they’d enjoyed it, so I emailed (firstname.lastname@example.org) to say that I had. If you enjoyed it too, do let the BBC know so that they are encouraged to put on more quality dramas. If not, do catch any repeats.
An intense, multi-layered story of myth and magic and their place in contemporary life (I think - I'm only halfway through). His brilliant The Chymical Wedding won the Whitbread prize in 1989. Read either or both – they’re like nothing else.
Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes
Dismissed as ‘chick lit’ (whatever that means – books for young women? What's wrong with that?), but her books never shirk the darker side of life – addiction, divorce, domestic violence. This one is about grief. Nobody however makes me laugh more than she does, or cry – in a good way. Her fabulous Rachel’s Holiday (my favourite, I think) was chosen as one of the dozen or so books to be given away free under a recent scheme to get people reading more and more widely.
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
I adored his scurrilous novels about life in Australia and as an academic (Coming From Behind, Peeping Tom and Redback) and his (non-fiction) account of a journey round Oz in a van, In the Land of Oz, so I thought I’d try this, his latest novel, which won the Man Booker prize last year. The same outrageous observations and superb writing. Such dry wit. Perhaps not quite enough plot for my taste though with this one (my failing, I’m sure).
Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Also dismissed as ‘chick lit’, this series was thoroughly enjoyed by my late aunt in her mid-eighties, so not just for ‘chicks’. This is the latest in the series, but it doesn’t really matter what order you read the books in. A sweet endearingly-fallible heroine, surprisingly complicated plots, and gentle humour.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
I don’t usually enjoy books recommended to me by my mother but this was an exception, even if parts of it are almost unbearably sad. ‘Filth’ stands for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong, and the book is about an elderly lawyer (who worked in Hong Kong) as he remembers his past. In particular he remembers his childhood as a ‘Raj orphan’, one of so many whose parents worked in different parts of the British Empire and who were sent ‘home’ at an early age to be educated.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Her books Surfacing and The Handmaid’s Tale have both made lasting impressions on me. She is the sort of writer who stuns you with the depth and accuracy of her writing, but she never comes across as ‘literary’. This won the Booker Prize in 2000. I’ve only just started it so can’t give you my complete reaction but I think it’s going to be good – and another book that jumps back and forth between the present and the past (which is something that currently interests me as that’s what I’m doing in my novel).
The pictures show a neighbour's glorious wild garden which is a riot of pink and yellow at the moment - yellow flag iris, buttercups, red campion and raggged robin.