about writing and life and God

Two in one

I had some great pics for yesterday’s blog and some ideas for today’s – but ran into internet difficulties both evenings. Most weird. Anyway, internet connection appears to be back, so here are some pics from the last 36 hours:

First off, King Street United Free Church in Tayport where I found myself taking part in a Q&A about being a Christian writer. (The church is perfectly level: my camera clearly wasn’t!)

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Much more impressive than my contribution to the service was the wonderful rhododendron outside!

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Because the weather was so gorgeous,  my kind hosts took me off for a jaunt to Broughty Ferry and a fascinating amble round the Castle.

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We joined a long queue that snaked several blocks to get our genuine Italian ice cream afterwards. Vanilla? Chocolate? Those were available but also such exotic flavours as dragon fruit, and Scottish shortbread ice cream!

But all good things have to come to an end, and this morning they waved me off and I set course for England. Tonight, I’m at Wetherby after a 299 mile drive in roasting heat but surprisingly light traffic for a bank holiday. Probably another 250 plus miles tomorrow!



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If it’s Scotland, it’s not trespass

Well, we didn’t notice the ‘Private Road’ sign until we were halfway down the drive… and anyway a) there’s no law of trespass in Scotland and b) we’d just driven down for a wee look!

Today was a bit dreich but we braved the weather and took ourselves first to Ackergill with its pretty little harbour and amazing white shell sand.

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To the right, wonderful views of Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle (as featured in my novel Necklace of Lies) and the bright, white lighthouse at Noss Head.

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To the left, views of Ackergill Tower (late 15th/early 16th century, remodelled 1851-2, and now a luxury hotel and wonderful conference and wedding venue).

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From there we took a nostalgic drive to Alterwall and a look at the deserted croft where our grandfather was born, then to the Lyth Arts Centre in the old school where he received his education. Turning north, there are wonderful views of Stroma, and white-painted Canisbay church where the Queen Mum always went to church when she stayed at nearby Castle of Mey.

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The homeward road led us to Freswick, an area with long links to the Vikings. Sweyn the Pirate had his 12th century stronghold here, though the present house was built in 1791. Built into the old bridge is the ‘Cruelty Hoose’ used as a prison!

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The dovecote dates from the 17th century and the mausoleum is on the site of a chapel dedicated to St Madden/Moddan, who came to the area with St Drostan in around 561 AD.

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Tomorrow, plan A is time in the archives and a start on research for the next book!



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A northern Sunday

Sunday, so we go to church. Not such a nice day so I need my warm coat – and definitely not bare feet! My sister’s church family meet in the Episcopal church hall which is a cheerful, welcoming place, just like the Free Church of Scotland congregation that meets there.

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It takes me a few moments to get in gear with the beautiful unaccompanied singing of metrical psalms but soon find the concentration required enhances my absorption of the wonderful words, and the sense of reverence that pervades this service.

Sunday afternoon means walking, and so after lunch we headed off along the road south for Latheronwheel, a purpose-built village established in 1835. Originally called Janetstown after the owner’s mother, the name never caught on and the old Gaelic-derived name remained.

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First, we took a walk from the old road up the strath to the weir. Wonderful brown peaty salmon river underneath trees cobwebby with grey lichen:

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Then we crossed the main road and followed the course of the river through the Fairy Glen. This entrancing place is basically an estate of  fairy houses:

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Following the river took us to the harbour. Built in 1835 by D & T Stevenson – David Stevenson was Robert Louis Stevenson’s father – at the peak of the herring fishing, the harbour provided safe haven for 50 vessels.

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We rounded off the afternoon with tea and cake at Forse House. The lovely house was built in 1753 to provide more modern accommodation for the owners of Forse Castle. Now it is a luxury B&B, with craft shop and tea room.  And now, boots off, my sister and I are both yawning and relaxing!Another lovely day.

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Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

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Day Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.



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Day Twenty-five: Home

So here I am, back home. One thousand, five hundred and forty miles all told. The last lap was hard work with heavy traffic and squally rain showers. But the cat is pleased to see me. And I am pleased to be home.

The trip was enormously worthwhile – in so many ways. I met lots of lovely people – new friends and old. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain.

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I ate some of the best shortbread!

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I sang God’s praises alone in the car, in a beautiful Edinburgh cathedral, a quayside mission hall, two churches of Scotland and one precentor-led Scottish Free church.

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Wick Harbour Mission

And everywhere I spoke about my novel, I was received with warmth and appreciation.

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And the books sold out.


I’d love to do it again! But not just yet! Now I’m glad to be home…

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When is it time to write?

I haven’t written anything for ages. Writer’s block? Maybe. Run out of steam? That too. Mainly lack of motivation. Lack of seeing the point. After all, why write if nobody will see it? If nobody will  say something positive about it? If there’s no end-result?

Let me amend that first statement: I have been writing things for Sunday services. I don’t really count those as writing because they’re designed to be spoken. I tend not to do ‘sermons’ because I just do not believe that today’s congregations enjoy long spiels. They’re used to soundbites and commercial breaks and lots of visual stimulation. So that’s how I package what I do.

And generally, there are lovely people who think you need to be encouraged who will come up and say it was ‘lovely’. Even better you may get some brave soul willing to confront you for talking rubbish (as they see it!). At the very least, there is usually some kind of feedback.

But even when there isn’t, I can rest on what I was taught when I was learning to do the standing-up-front-at-church bit: my job is to do my job as well as I can — prep, study, delivery — then it’s God’s to do with as He chooses. One person sows; it’s someone else’s job to reap. So I spend an hour most Sunday mornings doing the sowing and not checking for green shoots afterwards. (As a peripatetic lay preacher, this is my privilege!)

So why can’t I apply this to writing and just write? I think one problem is that I’ve been living on my own for a long time now and before that I was used to a partner being at least slightly interested in what I was churning out and willing to read it. That audience of one was sufficient to keep me going.

But at heart, the dream was publication. I think the problem here is growing up in a paper-based culture – not only did I spend most of my early years with my nose in a comic/magazine/newspaper/book but I have spent a large chunk of my life working in the production of newspapers/magazines/books – so for me, the correct destination for words is print for other people to read.

My track record demonstrates I can do that with non-fiction. Nine books and countless published articles under my belt. But sadly they in no way compensate for the dusty piles of unpublished novel manuscripts under my bed!

I want to write fiction, published fiction! Or at least that’s what I always thought. I sent out the last two little lambs in February and then set myself to waiting in patience. I told myself I wouldn’t allow myself to get stuck into anything else till I got some kind of steer in the form of a reply. If the historical novel produced interest, I’d launch into the next one. If the contemporary crime novel won a positive response, I’d tackle the second one in the planned series. Meanwhile, I would not tinker, would not push on doors, would not be impatient…

Those of you who valiantly read this blog in the past know about my personal situation – my husband with dementia in a  care home. He has now moved to a full-on dementia end-of-life home where he is very happy and settled. He appears to think he’s in a country house hotel where a number of the residents are loopy (his words) but that doesn’t seem to bother him. He appears completely oblivious to the more severe cases. I continue to visit. And this is another situation where what I am doing is waiting, though here it is the timing not the outcome that is unpredictable.

I am not a patient soul. Maybe that’s what this is all about: God decided I needed to learn patience so here I am in a place where patience is badly needed?

Real life is complicated, a web of learning and receiving tangled with serving and giving. And sometimes one turns out to be the other at the same time.

So, back to writing: when is it time to write? When someone wants our output? When the cheerleaders are revved up and standing by? When Great-aunt Ann has left us enough money for self-publishing our magnum opus? Or is it when our soul cries out to sink into what we know comforts us and completes us?

I’m still puzzling over this one. Hesitating on the brink. Tippy-toe at the edge of the water. I think I want to dive in. I think I know which book to tackle… And writing this blog is that tippy-toe in the water.

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What do I need to give me the push? Do I need a push? Do you need a push?

Is it time to stop dithering and just jump in?



Vote, vote, vote… like Jesus?

Delicious coolth. (Well, if we’ve had warmth, why not coolth?) I zapped down to Southwold to pay my husband’s dental fees and the temperature dropped a degree every few miles.

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I hear the tap-dancing of welcome rain on the conservatory roof. But if I sensibly wear my jeans to weigh-in at Slimming World tonight, won’t I weigh heavier than last week when it was so hot I turned up in a thin skirt?

Bleh. Life is full of decisions. That reminds me of a joke about long-ago Communist Russia: two Communists agreeing democracy would be a bad idea because then people would have to make decisions, whereas Communism saved them the effort.

Sometimes, though, the only decision we can seem to have is  to whinge or put up with it – whatever ‘it’ is. The range goes from selling-off the Post Office, cancelling the 111 service, dismantling the NHS — OK, OK, I hear you. Too political for a Monday afternoon.

But maybe politics is on my mind after watching the one o’clock news. Depressing. But this evening the nine candidates for the five seats on our local council are appearing before the electorate to introduce themselves. Brave! I’m told they are a motley crew – sorry, diverse. Newbie firebrands and hardened politicos, familiar faces and issue-driven concerned citizens. It sounds like a good variety to me so I shall turn up to take a look at them.

The meeting is being held in our church. I think that’s good too. Jesus upset the Establishment in His time and, though we’re meant to be law-abiding citizens rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, we’re also meant to do radical things like loving our neighbour and not simply looking out for ourselves. Christianity is a very political religion, challenging the basis for policies.

Basically if you can’t see Jesus voting for it, we shouldn’t vote for it either. Simple as that.

Oh, the rain’s stopped. Already. Bleh.



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Mary, Mary, really rather contrary

I’ve got just about every window in the house open. There’s the tiniest breeze, and it is so welcome. But how is it that just a few days ago, it seems, we were complaining that there was no sign of summer – and now it’s almost too hot, too humid…

I sat at Suzie’s Cafe on Southwold beach this morning and could have been at any coastal resort on the Mediterranean!

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But I had to come home and get back to the big re-read. Strangely there was quite a lot of resistance. I think it’s fear that the good bits will come to an end and I’ll plunge into a deep dark hole of total tosh.

It’s really odd: this Sunday I’m not leading worship any place so I had the whole week available for the big re-read. But I have really not taken advantage of all that lovely free time. Next week, when I have a service to prepare, I’m sure I’ll get more done!

It’s the same about the weather. The only word for it is contrariness. We think we want something, complain when we haven’t got it, and then either don’t like it or don’t use it when we do get it.

Not quite the same thing but connected is a thought I wrote in my diary a couple of weeks ago: “If you don’t value what you’ve got at the true value that it is, then when it’s lost and you discover how rare and wonderful what you’ve lost was but now it’s too late, you’re going to grieve a lot harder.”

Maybe the moral of the story is summed up in the old hymn:  “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all His love.”

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One is one and what does the church do about it?

On Monday afternoon I had tea with a friend. Among the many things we talked about was the topic of identity. After the death of her husband – after the initial shock, the administrative stuff that simply has to be done, then getting through the bereavement process – she is at the point of considering who she is now.

When you’re widowed, you don’t simply spring back to who you were before you married, like a piece of elastic. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge and you are someone different. Hopefully more mature. Older, yes. Wiser, maybe!

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My experience of my husband’s dementia has propelled me willy-nilly through several changes of role – from wife to housekeeper to carer and now to care supervisor/visitor/finance manager/and so on. But as the illness progresses in its inexorable downhill way, I realise that not only has my role changed but so too has my identity.

I am not a wife in a marriage with a husband who knows me, loves me, cares for me, shares my life. I exist in, what is in effect, an amicable – albeit tragic – separation. According to a statistic I read today, 97% of white women in America who are separated from their husband will be divorced within five years. My husband was diagnosed with dementia six years ago and there is no knowing how his illness will progress. But we will never live together again. And he will never again be someone who knows, loves, cares for me or shares my life. Any awareness he has of who I am or what relationship we had will diminish as time goes on. It is already minimal.

Neither fish nor fowl – neither ‘really’ married nor divorced/widowed, it’s a most peculiar state to be in! As someone who lives as a single person, I relish my freedom to do pretty much as I like – while being on call 24/7. But as someone who is used to being married, every time I come back from visiting the care home is like another dose of bereavement – a reminder that the expected future of a life together, holidays together, someone to come home to and talk to simply no longer exists.

The word for it is loneliness. Something all singles of every kind must face and deal with. I’ve just finished reading Kate Wharton’s Single-Minded. It’s a most excellent book both for singles and for married friends, pastors etc. to understand how better to minister to singles.

It’s funny how singles get missed out in our churches, especially older singles. We have Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day, not to mention Family Services… (Oh please can’t we call them All-Age?) So often I hear people saying what the church needs is more young families – as if young Mums had the time or the energy to do much apart from raise their family!

The demographics are clear that older singles are a growing population in our churches and a wonderful resource – but they have social and emotional needs too, needs that the church can supply if they take their calling to love one another seriously. Maybe Kate’s book should be required reading!



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