about writing and life and God

Day Seven: To the end of the earth

That’s what it feels like – standing on the northernmost edge of the mainland of Britain, gazing out over island upon island studding the cold blue sea all the way to the horizon.

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View from the beach

John O’Groats. A tiny hamlet with hotel, harbour and a few shops – one of which has the best stock of Scottish-related books I’ve ever seen.

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Books and more lovely books!

And I’m delighted to say, they requested stocks of both When the Boats Come Home and Mizpah Ring so my sister and I went out there today to gaze at the view, deliver the books, buy some others and some gifts for the kind folk who have been feeding my cat Lucy while I’ve been away.

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This is the shop where you’ll find those fabulous books

And have lunch – with glorious views over the Pentland Firth across to Orkney.

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The Storehouse, John O’Groats

We also went exploring, round an old mill built in 1901 and fitted out by our great-grandfather, millwright Donald Miller.

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At Huna, near John O’Groats 

All useful background for the next book!

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Day Twelve: John O’Groats

There is a certain mystique about far away places. In our own small island of Britain, Land’s End and John O’Groats entice with promise – something about extremes, a sense of the end of the known world. I’ve been to both Land’s End and John O’Groats, but for me, only John O’Groats fulfils that promise.

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A long narrow road winds between croft-scattered fields and peaty moorland where fluffy white bog cotton blows in the wind. And then, suddenly the road tops a rise. There is a straggle of houses, hotel, car park, tiny harbour – and the end of the British mainland. Cold and blue-grey the Pentland Firth laps on rocks and white sand.

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Close enough almost to touch is Stroma – the island in the stream – now populated only by sheep. And beyond, island upon island, rocky-coasted and hummocky. Orkney.

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My sister and I both love this place so even though it was very cold we wandered around so I could take photographs (and have mine taken).

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And then my day was brightened even more when the owner of two of the shops that serve the thriving tourist trade bought in copies of my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And even nicer, the teashop welcomed us into the warm with tea and a yummy chocolate brownie!

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Day Eleven: Wick: Still no cheesecake!

Last day for me at school then a treat lunch (though still no cheesecake).

Yesterday I set S4 and S5 a 50-word story challenge – not an easy thing. But most of them came up trumps. Just a pity we didn’t have time to read them all (though some of them might be quite glad about that!). Good practice though for the Scottish Book Trust competition – with prizes, and a special under-18s category. Worth checking out.

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Photo credit: Jake Nye

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Photo credit: Laura Nicholson

Having cracked fiction, we turned to non-fiction and tore through that in half an hour. Using yesterday’s blog as an example, I realised what a bad example it was! Must do better! And of course that made writing today’s all the harder…

But lunch was lovely. At the Bord de l’eau, French restaurant on the riverside at Wick, three of us enjoyed delicious sea bass in dill and lemon butter, with the most yummy dauphinois potatoes. And of course puddings!

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Lunch thoughts

At last – a peaceful Friday!  It’s been a busy few weeks and I’m glad of a day going nowhere.

Yesterday, as always, was John-outing day. He’s not walking so much now so I thought a longer drive and a special lunch would fit the bill. We headed off down the coast to Butley Orford Oysterage,

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a renowned if unpretentious fish restaurant in a tiny village with a parking problem. Yes, there’s a large car park but not within walking distance and I haven’t yet got round to getting a disabled parking permit. (Note to self: must do!)

I’d discussed the outing with Jesus and when the idea of Orford came up, I mentioned the parking problem. How come I’m always surprised when there’s no problem? You guessed it: it looked like there was no space, then as we drove round, there was the perfect space within a few steps of the restaurant! Thank You, Lord!

The food was wonderful. For the foodies among you, we started with one serving of home-made taramasalata and one pot of home-made potted shrimps, and swapped halfway! We followed this with grey mullet, meltingly fresh, and new potatoes, and a beautiful dressed crab with loads of salad. Yum! And wine: Merlot for him (his usual Shiraz was not available) and a Pinot Grigio for me. All taken at a very leisurely pace and rounded off with lots of coffee.

The folks at the next table had a mixed smoked fish starter and lobster. I mention this to explain why I’ve included the third pic!

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I probably should have taken the pics before we started so you could enjoy how lovely it all looked, but our focus was on eating!

It was an excellent – and expensive – meal, but worth every penny. And as life creaks on, maybe there’s a case for splashing out now and then to help us  ‘not weary’ as Saint Paul would have it. So often we focus on the empty shells, forgetting the succulence of what we have enjoyed!




Homeward Bound

I had a busy day yesterday. And today was very hot.

Those are my excuses.

So I sat outside and read a book till lunchtime. Made a big salad. Ate it. Read some more.

Till that itchy feeling began. That feeling that tells you it’s time to quit stalling and do whatever it is you’ve been putting off. In my case: start the big read-through of the first draft of the novel.

This is it!

This is it!

So I fetched the box with the typescript in it, and a  notebook and a pen, and then went in search of the coolest place. Which turned out to be my bedroom.

I settled myself down on the bed with a bottle of cold water at my side and began to read.

I was afraid.

That it would be rubbish. That I’d wasted the past year and a bit on something worthless. I was afraid that it would be full of holes that I wouldn’t be able to fill. So badly written it would need a massive rewrite that maybe I don’t have the heart for. That I simply would not like it. That I’d have to slink away and hope nobody was ever churlish enough to ask me about it

It’s not. It’s not bad. So far. So I will dare to continue reading, pen in hand, making changes, expanding sections, cutting things, with a measure of hope.

This morning I overheard a young Mum speaking to her children. One was managing all right on his bike. She was helping the littler one to stay upright on his and at the same time wheel her heavy bike along too. One of the boys must have asked about her plans for the day and she replied, ‘We don’t have plans. We have hope.’

I like that. I’d really like this novel to be published, to be worth publishing – but I’m not going to build castles in the air with plans that may be dashed. Instead I’m going to hope and hang onto hope.

Oh and by the way, I think I just might have found the title for it. Homeward Bound.  Because my characters are homeward bound geographically, spiritually and emotionally. I think it might work.



More than enough

Wonderful birthday treat lunch at Yoxford’s Satis House today.

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It’s an elegant house with an elegant dining room, and the owners recently won television’s Four in a Bed, a UK reality show where owners of four Bed and Breakfast establishments take turns to stay with one another and pay their hosts what they think fair for their stay.

I didn’t watch it. I don’t like that kind of programme – they seem to glory in gratuitous nastiness! But I can’t see how anyone could be nasty about Satis House.

“Satis House,” said Pip.”That’s a curious name.” “It’s Greek, Latin or Hebrew, maybe all three, for enough” she replied.”It means that whoever stays in the house could wish for nothing more.” Charles Dickens: Great Expectations

Which pretty much sums up our experience.

They also serve afternoon tea in their beautiful gardens, Wednesday to Sunday so we may well be back soon. I’ve promised John tea and cake on his actual birthday!

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You lift me up

82,128 words and counting! Plan A was to finish the novel by end July. Plan B was for completion by the end of this week. Now I’m looking at some time next week. I don’t want to rush the denouement and mess it up, so I’m going to exercise patience and self-control and take it nice and slow!

After that, thanks to Sara Sheridan for reinforcement of my inclination to let the whole book rest – or cool, if you prefer a culinary analogy! I’m thinking of setting it aside for a couple of weeks and taking another look at a crime novel I wrote a few years back to see if I can rescue it, before plunging back into synopsis writing, revising and editing.

Those of you who know Thursday is a John-outing day may be surprised at the level tone of this blog. It’s been a good day. We went to the Olive Tree in Ellingham/Kirby Cane and had a delightful lunch there, thanks to the recommendation of a friend.

Yesterday evening I went to see a film with another couple of friends.

Today I’m realising just how valuable and precious my friends are and how brilliantly God supports me through the support of my friends.

We had coffee this morning at our favourite cafe at the harbour at Southwold. Right beside it, a lovely big crane (I like heavy machinery!) was getting ready to lift a boat.

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As we watched, the cables holding the boat tautened and effortlessly the boat lifted off the ground.

Some days I feel beached, even shipwrecked. Today I feel lifted. Thanks, friends. And thank You, my Heavenly Father!


The real thing and no rationing

I don’t remember wartime rationing but I do recall my auntie telling how she wanted to make an iced-over-marzipan birthday cake for me when I was one. Unfortunately, there was no marzipan in the shops but she was persuaded to buy hazelnuts as a substitute for almonds, took them home and ground them up to make a marzipan replacement. Not altogether successfully, she said ruefully. Sounds like a good try!

I remember other folk saying how exciting it was when the first bananas and oranges arrived by ship after the war.

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And how very special the sweets ration was.

Did things taste better for being rare or rationed, I wonder? And have our delight-buds become blunted by having everything available, all the year round, at our local open-all-hours supermarket?

I remember the excitement of a visit to Kano market in Northern Nigeria. I was told that here you could buy anything – from a lion to a slave, if you wanted. I think I skirted one tiny part of it but it was so huge that the story was almost believable.

My Grandmother had a saying ‘Wants never gets’. I thought it was designed to shut up demanding children and was duly undemanding in her presence!

I worry sometimes that my prayers sound like shopping lists. All those people I care about who are ill or in trouble or just in need of a bit of support or protection or what one prayer group used to call ‘God’s travelling mercies’. I hold them up like a platter of delicacies, almost inviting God to select…

And suddenly I remember Kim’s Game from Guides – and of course originally from that wonderful Kipling novel, Kim. The purpose is training in observation and memory. You lay out a tray of different items (Kim, as I recall, got precious jewels). You’re given a couple of minutes to view and memorise, then it’s covered up and you have to list what you can remember. (I think the cuddly toy version in the Generation Game was a steal from this!)

So there I am holding up my platter of precious jewels to God, asking for His care, healing, love, protection, travelling mercies whatever – and the great thing is He remembers them all. Not a single one is forgotten or overlooked. And His love is never rationed. What’s available to us is all of it.

Yet so often we settle for substitutes and second best. But why go for a bag of hazelnuts that you then have to grind up…. when you can have unlimited marzipan?

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Slaughter on Saturday

I have not led a life of crime – but today I spent a day dedicated to crime! Courtesy of Southwold Library, and thanks to its brilliant librarian Charlotte, a mini-crime-novel fest took place today.

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Yes, where else but the scout hut!

Five authors turned up to regale us with tales of their writing and publishing careers, what inspires them and what matters to them, and to read small and tempting portions of their books. Each author’s current works were available for sale (and signing) and a delicious lunch was provided.

I had heard, and read, Nicola Upson before and she was as excellent this time as before. Ruth Dugdall was a new name to me but her talk and her passion for justice impressed me enough to part with folding money for two of her books.

Only one other writer tempted me to buy a book – Penny Hancock. The snippet she read from Tideline was so gripping I wanted more.


Here were five charming women, aged late 30s-early 40s. They seemed perfectly normal and nice. But four of them write books that would give me nightmares. Stalkers, serial killers, cannibalism, child abduction and imprisonment… all with nasty psychological twists. Not what I would call either entertainment or escapism.

Am I alone in preferring the fiction I read to cheer me up rather than frighten me? To give me a sense of ‘all’s right with the world’ rather than the opposite? To spend my reading time in pleasant rather than unpleasant company?

Or am I just getting old and out of touch?


Getting close to the finishing block

I like deadlines. They really motivate me! I find that setting myself deadlines, including interim deadlines, helps me get things done. So today, I stand close to the end of the diving board of the deadline on the novel. I aimed to finish the first draft by the end of June! Today’s writing session clocked up nearly a thousand more words, getting the total to 73,255 words. And story-wise getting really close to crisis and close!

I think I might do it – or get very close!

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And then what? Leave it to cool? Or dive straight in to writing that synopsis?

I’ve ordered and received the big box of typing paper and three more black ink cartridges for the printer so I can print off the first draft the minute it’s completed.

I know there will be lots more work to do. The first half has been revised several times but the second half has been put down fresh and it remains pretty well untouched.

I know there are facts that need verified as well. Maybe even some more visits to check out what places look like – or looked like back then. I’m toying with the idea of a mini-research trip – if I could find a few days clear.

It’s all very exciting really. I’d forgotten how one’s pulse speeds up as the end comes in sight. I’d forgotten the temptation to just sit down and thrash it all out in one several-days-long session, barely eating, sleeping or seeing the outside world. But I’m not going to do that. This deadline is under my control and I’m determined to pace myself. I want to get this book right, as right as ever I can.

So, today’s writing session over, I will let it all mull gently in my head, ready for tomorrow’s!

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