Owls in the night – my “Go To” list.

It was the owl that reminded me of my lifetime list. You see, what happened was this. On my “To Do” list (what other people might call a bucket list but I find that a bit morbid so I’ve christened it my “lifetime list”) was “See an owl in flight at night”. This has been on my list for YEARS ever since I was about sixteen, only holiday with my family and my father had a close encounter with a barn owl. I wanted to have one too. I lurked around the farmyard (we were staying on a farm for a week) but I never saw the owl. So I was determined. I was going to see an owl. I looked out wherever we went; just about everyone else in the family had close encounters of their own (my daughter spotted an owl asleep in a gutter at her school one day!) but still I saw no owl. Until one night during the summer. We had the windows wide open because it was so hot and I was woken by a loud hooting. Finally, this was it. It was so close, this had to be the day … or rather night. I looked out – nothing. No movement, no hooting, no owl. I sadly closed the window, once again I had missed my chance … at which point the owl, which had been sitting on top of the dormer window right above my head all the time, promptly took off right in front of my eyes!

Owl, Camouflage, Wildlife, Bird Of Prey

A large part of my list is places that I want to go; many of which I have read about in books.  There were ten places on it, and, admittedly some of them are overseas and therefore unlikely ever to get to the top of the list, but four out of ten are British and after ten years only one has been crossed off. I did make it to the Globe Theatre (though I STILL haven’t seen a play there) and I guess it’s Shakespeare connections just about qualify it as a literature related destination.

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There’s another theatre on my list too – the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, an open air theatre perched on the side of a cliff. I’ve wanted to go there for nearly as long as I wanted to see an owl but I don’t somehow think that I’ll find the Minack Theatre unexpectedly perched on a roof above my head.

Minack Theater, Cornwall, South Gland

It seems an impossibly romantic setting for a theatre, (or even for a novel!) and it must be an amazing backdrop for a play, but Cornwall’s a long way from Yorkshire. I haven’t been to Cornwall since I made the list. I did go once, many years ago with my parents, on a literary pilgrimage (perhaps part of an earlier list of places that I had to go to) inspired by the works of Daphne Du Maurier. I wanted to see the real places behind the fiction. Fowey was beautiful but to my massive disappointment I could only peer at Menabilly, the setting for my two most beloved Du Maurier novels, Rebecca and The King’s General, from a long, long way away.  Maybe I’ll get to visit Cornwall again one day, and get to see Minack for myself – possibly when I’m least expecting it – after all, it was that holiday in Cornwall where my dad saw his barn owl; that’s got to be an omen, hasn’t it?

Cornwall, Gweek, Estuary, River, Boats

Pictures from Pixabay (freely available), except for the Globe Theatre which was taken by Daniel Taylorson.

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New directions

I’ve been thinking a lot about books  and what I like about them over the summer as we visited York, the Lake District and Northumberland in the campervan, which gave us time for relaxing and reading

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My lovely husband relaxing in “Big Blue” who is not very big and only partially blue.

And it came to me, one cold, wet, windy evening in a field near Keswick , that what I like most about reading is being taken somewhere else.

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A cold, wet, windy field near Keswick.

 

 

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Somewhere else.

The most vivid example of this I can remember was over 20 years ago when I was on holiday in Turkey. Picture the scene, similar to the one above; I’m sitting in thirty degrees of sunshine, beside the pool, I’ve got a cup of apple tea in one hand and a book in the other. But one of my clearest memories of that holiday isn’t the pool, but what I read. I was reading “The Shipping News” by Annie Proulx and I spent a couple of days of my Turkish holiday mentally  in Newfoundland. Which, in my imagination, was somewhat colder than Turkey, but just as memorable.

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Newfoundland. Slightly colder than Turkey.

Then I thought about my own writing. The first thing I do is always create a setting for my characters – as yet I haven’t used any real places though. I’ve created fishing villages, stately homes and now I’m working on a Lake District valley. Each new place has to have its own architecture, geography, history. It has to have the right name, and I have to create a map or a plan. Once I’ve got the place right, the rest follows.

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Runswick Bay, one of the places that inspires me and that features in “Little Church …”

So I thought it made sense to spend a bit of time thinking about places in fiction, real places and imagined places in my own fiction and that written by other people. I’ll be writing some posts about places that have inspired me, some posts about places in my own novels and reviewing some novels by my favourite writers which have a strong sense of place of their own. I might even ask some of my writing friends to tell me about the places where they set their novels.

And who knows where else “Big Blue” might take my imagination?

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“Big Blue” in a field near Keswick.

 

 

A bit of a knit.

Sometimes it can feel like life is passing you by here in Nunthorpe. It’s a typical suburb where not much happens. It seems like people get up, they go to work (somewhere else) they go to socialise (somewhere else) and they come home and go to sleep. Most of the time, it feels very far removed from the places where real things happen. Sometimes this is good. I’m not in a hurry to be at the heart of an inner-city riot or a far-right protest march, but sometimes it can make you feel a bit left out of things when all the good things that bring us together as a nation and a community happen a long, long way from Nunthorpe. image2 (1)

 

Then the knitting started to appear! A few years ago the station was yarn bombed for the first time – I’m afraid I can’t remember what the event was, possibly the 2012 Olympics? but since then the secret knitters have gone from strength to strength (and given the amount of media coverage they’ve had, they’re no longer quite so secret!). We’ve had seasonal displays – Christmas, Easter, Valentines day  and particularly Remembrance Day when knitted poppies appeared all over the village, not just at the station.

And it’s not just seasonal events that get a mention. Yesterday when I walked up to the shops, I found a row of these attached to the station fence:

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And today, the seasonal summer sheep display had gained a new addition:

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I know that the knitters’ aim to bring people together and improve that sense of community: “Some of our knitters were battling loneliness, depression, isolation or just getting over a really tough time in their lives. Our welcoming groups where the natter is just as important as the knitting has, in their own words, ‘saved them’.” (Nunthorpe and Marton Knitters Facebook Page).

But it does more than that. It gives everyone who passes the station and smiles a feeling that somehow in our own way we are all part of something bigger.

In fact, at the recent Royal Wedding, it did more than that. The knitted display brought in media crews from all round the region – and beyond – to feature the knitted balcony scene that the knitters created. It even made an appearance on the main coverage, as the knitters raced to complete a replica of Meghan’s dress. royal wedding knitting

So I’d like to commend the Nunthorpe and Marton Knitters – a fine example of how even a small and far away place like this can become a bit more tightly knit!

GDPR compliance

I don’t wish to store any data of people who look at my blog. I have therefore turned off comments so that from now on my blog will not be collecting any contact information this way. That’s step one. I do not currently use any plugins, I do not have a newsletter to sign up for which would store personal details, I’m trying to delete my contact form or add a checkbox. I shall be writing a policy on data compliance as soon as I can find one I understand to copy and implement. I’m tempted just to turn the whole thing off. I’d rather be writing.

 

 

Happily Ever After – what a trip to Disney World did to my creativity.

I had an unusual experience at the beginning of the year. Usually I find my main inspiration for writing is the places that I visit, but for the first time, I found myself totally demotivated by having the best holiday ever!

We went to Disney World in Florida at Christmas, and it was the most fantastic holiday. We ate some wonderful food, we went on some thrilling and spectacular rides, we were awed by the amazing customer service, the ambience and the design of everything we saw. Everything was done for us, it was so easy it was positively magical. Like living in a fairy tale. Really! And I’m one of the world’s biggest sceptics! We came back with a mountain of photographs and memories, and I came back totally demotivated. Nothing in reality could compare with the magical escapism of Disney World, it was like holidaying in the legendary “happily ever after”.

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I’d like to say that I came back buzzing with ideas for new writing, but in fact the opposite was true. Everything had been too perfect, too fairytale, too pretty. Because  stories and life need a little imperfection to be interesting. Even in Disney films, the prince and the princess might meet and instantly fall in love, but something needs to get in the way of that perfect love to make it a worthwhile story. If there isn’t a wicked stepmother, or a curse or a poisoned apple there isn’t a story to tell. It’s the conflict that provides the story. And that’s what happened with Disney World; the happily ever after isn’t an interesting part of the story.

So it’s back to British reality. Cold, miserable weather, home-cooked food that at least one child will refuse to eat, laundry and cleaning and definitely no fireworks at the end of each day. But, as I keep trying to tell myself, at least there are story possibilities round every corner.

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(Photos all taken by myself or my husband. No Disney material was used in the production of this blog post.)

Nothing to report

It’s all been a bit quiet. That’s the problem with writing a winter themed book, once winter is over, there isn’t much call for books about winter. And spring is definitely here now. I even saw a daffodil in the garden today!

So, what have I been up to? Well, lots of research and writing of book number two, currently with the working title of “The manor on the moors” which I am now editing frantically. It features a crumbling stately home, a family in decline and a nervous PhD student with a thing for a long-dead artist – “the bad boy of the arts and crafts movement”.

Starting soon, I’m going to be blogging a bit more about places that inspire me. Places are usually the starting points for any story, even before the people who inhabit them. I find a place and think “what kind of person might live here”? and that’s where my stories begin.

 

I’m going to start with considering the inspiration provided by a recent trip to Walt Disney World, Florida although I will not be using that directly in any of my novels – I suspect the mouse would sue me. it was, however, like walking into a storybook for real! And if you’re wondering about the giant cinammon loaf I’m eating in the photograph – yes, that was at Disney World and no, I didn’t manage to finish it …

Marian’s mulled wine

What would Christmas be without a glass or two of mulled wine? Well, considerably more sober, as Cass finds out after a night at the Ship Inn, where Marian’s mulled wine has a secret ingredient – that she has kindly allowed me to share with you!

[Anna and Cass] were making their way beneath the criss-crossing strings of lights, across the quay and up the steps to the pub. Inside the fire roared in the hearth, the smell of mulled wine spices was heavy in the air, and every possible item in the bar was bedecked with holly, ivy and tinsel, standing out in bold colour against the dark wooden panels of the walls.

Cass found herself a safe corner where she could watch what was going on as she drank some of Marian’s home-made mulled wine.  It was good to be there watching, in amongst the life of her parish, while Anna came and went, catching up with some of her old friends, animated and luminous in dark green velvet.

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