Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Festive wishes to you all.

This time of year means different things to different people. We all construct the season in ways that makes sense to us. My Christmas will be different from yours. We all wake with different traditions, different fantasies. We come from different faiths or none.

Whatever it means to you - I hope you have a peaceful time with those you love.

As I will.

And, before the decorations are down, I'm off to Bangkok - and then anything can happen. With luck I'll make it to Laos.

So this may be my last blog for a while - I'll be in touch while I'm away, when I have time and internet connections (the two may not always coincide).

Enjoy the dark days. By the time I'm back it might be light before eight in the morning. (If not I'm going back).

And many thanks to everyone who has supported my blog this year. May 2013 be kind to you all.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Singing, just for the fun of it.

As some of you know, I sing in a choir. And I love it - because it's impossible to sing and think about anything else. Music fills my head and reaches right down to my toes, and somehow all the bits in between join in the fun.

Unlike some choirs, we have no auditions - so no scary standing in front of everyone singing Over the Rainbow and missing the top note. But everyone can read music - so we all have a musical background, though some of it is rudimentary and unused since primary school. Our average age - is probably over sixty-five. But we are undeterred; the joy of singing together is enough to keep us meeting, week after week, in a draughty hall.

We have some wonderful singers. Everyone tries to sit close to one of them, as they can be relied upon to hit the right notes in the difficult buts. And we have some weaker singers - there is the person who is going deaf, but has perfect timing. He watches the conductor, never misses a beat, but his note can be, well, approximate. We have the enthusiast, who has forgotten the art of singing quietly, and so enjoys herself that she joins in with everyone else's part when hers is silent. Nothing will stop us enjoying ourselves  - and when we sang Mozart's Requiem in Malmesbury Abbey we surprised ourselves how wonderful we were. And we are always better in concert than we are in rehearsal - the acoustics change in a space that is full of people. In rehearsal - I hate to mention cats ...

Next Saturday, we are singing in a concert.

And we are singing O Magnum Mysterium - which is one of the most wonderful pieces of music in the world, and can make me cry when we get it right. But each part (sopranos, altos, tenors and basses) split into at least two, to make those wonderful chords. With a shortage of tenors some of the altos (including me) are trying to sing first tenor (this time I will admit to sounding like a cat, albeit a growling one)

So - here is what it should sound like.

If anyone should be coming to see us, close your eyes and pretend we sound like this. Forgive us our wobbly bits ... (classical music alert - and you can stop it at the talky bit at the end, but this is the best version of it I could find).

Sunday, 9 December 2012

What would you have done?

There is a shortage of typhoid vaccine being sent to my local surgery. (They assure me that this is a supply problem, and not rationing.)

Typhoid is endemic in many hot countries. It is water borne, and is a major problem around the rice paddies. Prevention, in theory, should be straightforward - drink only bottled water (easy), clean your teeth in bottled water (easy), make sure all your food is washed and cooked in bottled water (impossible, unless you do all your own cooking. How do you do that, if you're moving from place to place?)

Five doses were delivered in November, and another five in December. Many more of us have travel plans and need them. The advice - keep ringing and make an appointment when the vaccine came in.

I didn't worry in November, I had another month to go. But supplies were delayed in early December. What if none come in, I asked. The travel clinics have some, though you'll have to pay, the pharmacist said. Where is my nearest travel clinic? Chippenham. I have no car, I said - Chippenham is three buses away, buses that are not timed to connect with each other - the trip would take a whole day.

Make an appointment, she said. Then phone in the morning to see if it's in. Which I did - my appointment was at 9.50; I rang at 9.15 - and the five doses were there. She thought it unlikely that all five would have gone in thirty-five minutes. So I raced off, was duly jabbed, and am protected.

Which is fine for me. But as the needle went in, I had a different thought. What about everyone else waiting for a vaccination. What are they to do?

I googled typhoid, as you do.

The Foreign Office recommends: typhoid vaccine only if you are in the Far East for six months or so.

The NHS recommends: typhoid vaccine if you are away for a week.

I don't take health risks - as some of you know, I've done with being ill in unruly places. I'll do anything to make sure I don't do it again. And I'm in a position to race to the surgery when the vaccine is in.

Those five doses will go to those of us who can be organised to race to the surgery when they come in. But who is to say we should have them at the expense of a family of five, off to visit Grandma in the Philippines, who cannot gather in time, nor afford private jabs for all of them? Or the Grandma going home to Mumbai to meet a new grandson?

I can see why the surgery opted for the 'first come, first served' rationing option - how else could they do it? But it doesn't sit easily, knowing that others may be forced to take typhoid risks while I can wander around rice paddies with impunity.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


What are you doing, reading a blog? It's December.

You should be making a list of things to do. Or crossing things off your list. Or doing something and then putting it on a list so you can cross it off.

All those cards - are you going to send them this year? Mrs Next-door and the old gent up the road are worrying about the cost of postage. Maybe you won't send any, then no one will feel they have to send one to you. But if you don't - they'll think you're mean. Best send one to Auntie Nellie - I thought she'd died - no, not her, she'll go one forever. Phew, cards posted. Look a card from Uncle Jack, he's always early, so sad, he says, about Nellie - why did no one tell me ... and from Phyllis did we send her one, no - well she's your cousin why should I do everything ...

Decorations? Make so much dust, do we really need decorations? Of course, we do, the twinklier the better. Even though twinkles give you a headache. Not got your tree yet? No - quick, make sure it's on the list, we must order one that takes up at least a quarter of the sitting room. And food, don't forget food, mince pies, sausage rolls, never as good as the ones my mother made - get plenty, you'll be feeding thousands (well, December isn't the time to think about all the food that will be left over. But what about all the people who have no money this Christmas - must put an the extra tin in  the food bank. And check out the person up the road, living alone - even if she likes living alone and is quite happy in front of her own fire, thank you, but you can't have that can you. Not at Christmas.

Oh heck, I haven't closed that bracket yet. )

Meanwhile, the children - What is this thing they're asking for - Octonauts - we played with dolls and train sets in my day. Batteries, must buy batteries. Everything needs batteries these days. And sings or flashes or crawls along the floor. Daft, when the kids end up playing with the boxes. Next year, I swear, I'll go to the supermarket and get them a box. Now what are Octonauts again? How did you say we were going to explain three Father Christmases in the High Street?

Wrapping paper. I nearly forgot wrapping paper. Get an extra roll. Though there's never enough.

All this and you've still got real work to do - work can't come to a stop just because it's December. Shops and offices and schools and hospitals and oil rigs and taxi drivers - Christmas is no excuse for slacking you know. You have to cook something for the office party. Can't I buy it? No - if Jilly from HR can manage to cook and her a single parent with six kids then I'm sure you can. Don't forget the secret Santa (what can you possibly buy for that bloke from accounts with the face like a dog's bottom?).

Yes, I know my pronouns are muddled in this post. What makes you think I have time to read it through?

So what little beacon of light keeps you going in the middle of all this?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

World AIDS day

Last Saturday was World AIDS day. We don't have a World Heart Attack day, nor a World Influenza day, nor a World Arthritis day ... but we have a World AIDS day. Surely, we should have incorporated AIDS into mainstream medicine by now?

But AIDS still comes with luggage. I wonder how many of you recall the ads of the 1980s, with terrifying images representing the virus leaping out of the ground as if to take over the world. USE A CONDOM OR DIE they said. And the subtext, the thing that wasn't said: this was a disease of gay people, a punishment for practises that, well, weren't mainstream. That image on the ads - an apocalyptic retribution for - for being gay.

Surely we've grown up since then? What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own relationships - if they swing from the chandeliers or simply enjoy a cup of cocoa together - then it's fine. What's important is to love and be loved. Gender and sexual practises - pah!

Yet still there is a hint of shame, a stigma, attached to AIDS. The figures suggest that people (of both genders - women are just as likely to have the disease as men) don't come forward to be tested if they are at risk. And they are at risk because they had unprotected sex. Which, somehow, is seen as more shocking than walking across the road before waiting for the green man, or using a mobile phone in the car - neither of which are a good idea but, hey ho, it happens. Some risks, it seems, are part of being human and we shrug them off, while those who take sexual risks are reluctant to admit them even to a doctor.

I'm a child of the 1960s. And in those heady, rose-tinted days we believed it possible that we could create a world in which we cared for people equally. That if we treat each other with dignity, whatever our histories or cultures or needs, then the world will be a better place. I still believe that. But sometimes - such as when we still need a World AIDS day, I wonder if I am in a minority of one.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Do you have a bucket list?

Do you have one? Does it even occur to you to have one?

For anyone who hasn't come across the idea, it's the list of things you want to do before you die - 'kick the bucket', in colloquial terms. Some people want to see Niagara Falls, or fly to the moon, or read all the books of Dickens, go to the theatre to see The Mousetrap - it can be anything.

Good luck to everyone who has a bucket list. I'm sure it's a way of keeping you going, having dreams like this.

But I don't have one; and here is why:

I'm lucky, and I know I am, to live in the affluent west - I have everything I need. If I'm hungry it's because I've missed lunch, not because the rice crop has failed. If my roof leaks I can pay a man to mend it. If my heating fails I can go to friends or family who will give me shelter and wine. I have been taught to read and write and to think - and to ask questions about the wonderful world around us. I have a library within walking distance, know many people who love books and love talking about them.

If it occurs to me that there is something I might like to do - then, if I can, I do it. I want to travel - and so I do. There seems little point in saving a trip to Laos, or Malaysia, or Madagascar until I'm dying. Go now - you never know, I might live for decades and fit in fifty trips before I snuff it.

But there's a deeper reason - what if, say, you foster a travelling list and then are felled by an ailment that dictates you can't fly - or even be far from home. You are left with a piece of paper and wasted dreams. Those around you, who love you - will they ever feel good enough if you are grieving for things you never got round to doing?

When I'm sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa and rubbing my arthritic knees, I'll know I've done the best I could. I'm proud of all I achieved at work. I'm proud of my magnificent daughters. And I'm making the most of retirement. I'm contented now, and hope that I'll be contented by that fading fireside. Or maybe just a little bit crabby, to keep my kids on their toes ...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A short post to say thank you.

Thank you - to everyone, both here and on twitter and Facebook, who took the trouble to congratulate me after my post on Monday.

It's humbling, being on the receiving end of all that. Most of you I've never met - you know me only through my words and a few pictures. Yet so many took the trouble to slip in a comment, to share my joy - just for a moment. It might feel like a little thing to you, but it gave me that lovely swimmy rosy feeling to know that so many people not only noticed but also took the trouble to comment.

I have a vague feeling that we (a generalised 'we', maybe I mean 'I') spend too much time pondering on things that go wrong, things that need changing, the dream of making everything 'better' (whatever that means). But, for a moment, all that was out of the window - and my inbox was full of uncomplicated delight. Not a 'yes but' in sight.

Thank you all. I raised a glass to each and every one of you. (Just one glass, to you all collectively - not one each, I'm afraid. Sorry about that; hic ...)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

This may never happen again ...

I checked my emails the other day, as you do. Among the usual spam (your account with such-a-bank has been compromised, please tell us your inside leg measurement...) there was a comment from my website - these are normally someone asking a sensible thing - like can you buy toothpaste in Kuala Lumpur or wondering if I wouldn't like to go travelling where they are.

So it took a few minutes to take this one in. It was from an editor. In America. Please would I write a piece on taking a gap year as an older person, for a book he is editing. There's no money, as it will raise money for a cancer charity.

This is a joke, I thought. Proper editors don't seek out people like me. Delete it, I told myself, before I get too excited. Then I googled him - and he is everything he says he is. He has worked for Big Publishers. This book will be a companion to another that came out last year.

Oh heck, I thought. Then, well, yes - of course I'll write something on taking a grown-up gap year. When do you want it? In ten days, he said. Oh, bloody hell. But - hey ho, what have I got to lose? Though I explained that wouldn't give me to reflect on it. He agreed to read an early draft, see if it was what he was looking for.

He has been utterly professional. And I have sat at my computer, pinching myself because he assumes I am a Proper Writer. So this is what Proper Writers do - flop about with coffee, go for a walk, write scrappy notes, and then tease them into some sort of shape? Does that look professional to you? It felt surreal to me. But it's what I did - and he likes it! Just one small suggestion to add to my first draft, and it was done.

We're into line edits next week, but he has told me to expect very few changes. The book will be out in the spring - and I'll be able to tell you more about it then; and you can feel smug buying it as it is for a good cause.

And I shall probably stare at my name in the credits in disbelief. This may never happen again - but it happened once. So I am allowed to raise a small glass of wine to celebrate?

And you - has anything wonderful dropped on you out of the blue, that made the world look a bit different for a while?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Now for the injections ...

Now I know I can go to Laos (see my previous post about toilets ... or not, if the idea upsets you) I have to brave the injections.

No, they aren't compulsory. Nobody will check if I have them. There will be no surrogate parent will greet me at the airport and scowl, send me to bed without my supper. The only person it matters to is me.

And no, they aren't fun. But who wants typhoid? Or meningitis? Or rabies? Or Japanese encephalitis? (Does anyone know what that is?) Malaria - that's a thorny one. It's patchy - less common in the big cities, or during the dry season. And no one wants to pop pills unnecessarily. (My solution - yours may be different - is to find out when I get there if there is a problem. For instance, on my long trip I knew it was all over the border between Thailand and Cambodia, but I spent just one night there, so smothered myself in DEET, covered every inch of myself in shirts and long trousers, slept under a mosquito net, and managed without a pill. But several days in the backwaters of India - that was too much of a risk, so pills it was.)

Back to this trip. I trotted to the surgery to make an appointment with the nurse. Have I filled in a form? No - please may I have a form, I can fill it in now. No, that is not possible; you must go home and find the form on the website, fill it in, and we will ring you to say if you need an appointment. But I know I need an appointment, my typhoid jab is out of date. I'm sorry, you still need to go home to fill in the form.

Times have changed. Before the long trip I made the first appointment with the practice nurse about four months before I left. She and I poured over maps and Government guidelines and decided which injections I needed, some of which came in three doses - and the result was one injection a week for twelve weeks, to have them all. We got quite friendly in that time. I know she has small children and has always wanted to go to New Zealand. She knows about my magnificent daughters. Send me a postcard, she said before I left. I sent her a postcard from New Zealand.

This time - I have to negotiate with a computer! Where is the fun in that? And she still had to ring me to tell me I need an appointment.

I know change is part of being human. And I don't want to join the bah-humbug brigade that grumbles when we have to do things differently. But, just sometimes, I wonder if we haven't lost something along the way.

And you - are there things that you miss?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

In praise of ...


Have you ever needed physio? They tend to lurk at the end of long corridors; the entrance to their sanctuaries have no roses round the door. There are no fanfares. But without them I'd have seized up long ago (a dodgy back), been unable to lift a rucksack ever again (broken shoulder) and now I'm back again, with wrecked knees. If you've never needed one - lucky you. The rest of us know we'd be permanently crock without them.

All my physios have been women. I know there are men in this profession - please bear with me if I stick to the feminine pronoun here. And my physios have mostly been young. (They are getting younger ...) Their  capacity for empathy, for humour, for simply understanding the significance of information that you might drop by the wayside - is astonishing.

I blogged, ages ago, about my crumbly knees. My consultant hopes that phsyio (plus steroid injections - I wince even thinking about those) will keep the muscles in good enough condition to hold what is left of the bones together for a little while longer.

I have a quite different agenda. For if I want to go to Laos (and I do) I need to be able to use a squat toilet.

Yes, it's funny - I thought it was funny enough, when I came back from Cambodia a couple of years ago, to write a little poem:


A line of doors, gunmetal grey, with flakes
of rust around the hinges and a fringe
of dust along the floor.
None can quite restrain the pongs beyond.
The creak of welcome.  And there it is:
a footrest to each side and the chasm –
well, it could be worse. 
I clutch my bag with one hand;
(not sure it would be safe plonked on the floor)
shuffle backwards.  Perch; deep breath; and down.
The sweet hiss of relief.

Now what?
My thighs begin to ache, my muscles twitch.
My knees forget the art of standing up.
I topple, just a little, hoping that the see-saw
will propel me upright, somehow.
Instead I risk reversing, slipping backwards,
sitting like a weeble on surprised porcelain.
My bag, now insecure, falls forward, empties
purse book pens passport bus ticket
on the damp patch on the floor.
And for a moment I fear I might follow it
to bang my head on the metal door
with a clang that will echo and
every woman in the queue will know.

Next time I’ll learn to squat before I go.

My knees are so much crumblier now than when I wrote this.

But my physio did not flinch when I set her the challenge of enabling me to squat. She did not even titter (well, in front of me she did not titter - she may have guffawed when I left). She simply smiled, put gentle hands on my sorry knees to show where the muscles seem to have collapsed, then gave me exercises, encouragement, and support.

I have joined the 'lower limb group' at the specialised gym in the physio clinic. There is the lass who fell of her horse and broke an ankle, who wants to ride again. There is the bloke who was knocked off his bike and broke his femur - he talks of road racing. There is the older woman who slipped, broke her foot, and wants to be able to climb stairs without pain so she can stay in her own home. And me - who wants to use a squat toilet. Together we grimace, and puff, and wince as we make forgotten muscles do what they were designed to do, and do it over and over again. Alongside us the physio is quietly encouraging.

Now I can get down, and (imagine a fanfare) get up again. I can go to Laos.

What have physios done for you?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Why Hidden Tiger is an ebook

I have been asked - by those without an e-reader - to publish Hidden Tiger as a print book. They have heard it is exciting, that I had adventures, returned feeling older but maybe no wiser. (Well, yes, wiser - I'll never creep up on a tiger again ...)

Firstly, I must thank all those who have said wonderful things about my little ebook. There is nothing more encouraging than knowing someone has read and enjoyed one's work - especially those outside family and friends who have no reason to be kind.

And I do understand those who, on hearing all this, are asking for a print book. I can only say - I'm sorry. I was away for just one month - long enough for a few excitements, but not long enough to fill all the pages of a 'proper book', given that reading what I ate for breakfast or the spider that scuttled across the floor and into my shoes in the mountains is of limited interest.

This little ebook is only 78 pages long - if I were to print it there'd be barely room on the spine for the title. It would be a flimsy little book, an apology for a book - but, because of the cost of printing I would have to charge you almost as much as I do for Over the Hill. If you ordered it from Amazon, you would open the cardboard wrapper and find such a puny offering you would look beyond it - it must be a mistake, this book is too thin. You have paid all that money, you might say, for a pamphlet.

But short ebooks work. I can sell it cheaply, as it costs nothing to produce; and so you are less likely to complain about the lack of extra pages.

Which leaves those of you with no ereader feeling left out? By now I am grovelling with an apology - but it remains uneconomic to produce a print book. But if you wait ... it's just possible that I'll write more. After all, I'm off to Thailand and Laos after Christmas, and still have dreams of making it to Madagascar. If I get two more ebooks out of those trips, then I promise to put them together in a print book. And might even negotiate a special price for anyone who has asked me very nicely at this stage to print Hidden Tiger. Does that help? (And Over the Hill is still available as a print book, in case you haven't read it yet - or know someone you'd like to send it to for Christmas.)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

How do I know it's Monday? And does it matter?

I'm 'retired'. I could blog about the definition of retirement. From my perspective it means not getting up five days a week, putting on work-clothes, slipping into work-thinking, leaving the house to drive somewhere, throw coffee and - if I'm lucky - a sandwich down my neck as the only way to get through the day, arriving home with barely enough energy to read a book. I means not thinking about work before I realise I'm awake. No, I don't do that any more.

Which means it is easy for one day to melt into another. I can sit in bed with a cup of tea and book in the morning, struggle downstairs for breakfast when I'm hungry. A friend might ring - shall we have coffee? Why not? The sun is shining; the forest is wonderful at this time of year. Maybe a grandchild will come over and we can kick through the leaves and come home with bits in our hair to warm our fingers on mugs of hot chocolate.

But, you are wondering, when do you write? Is that not work? In a way it's work - it gives me a purpose; I carry on doing it even when I don't feel like it, or the story won't tell itself. But I carry on because I know that such days are temporary, that I love the way words come out to play when I'm not looking - I write because I breathe. I don't sit with the computer at nine o'clock and refuse to move until lunchtime.

This is a long-winded way of saying that one day can be very like the next. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. I still need a rhythm of weeks, a way of noticing the passing of time, anchors that make sense of seasons. I would feel too floaty without that. And so I have landmarks: the market on Saturday, choir on Monday evenings, a book group on Tuesdays - you get the picture. All activities I enjoy, of course; but they are more than that - they structure my week.

But I don't automatically know what day it is as I wake. I have to stop, as I pour my tea, and think - what day is it, what shape will it take? What choices do I have in that - to do something differently? To take myself off with a book, or sit at my computer and write?

It is a conscious decision to formulate my week like this. I reassures me, roots me in the reality of time passing. And you - are you happy to float along (lucky you!) or do you need to punctuate your days as I do?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Why I'll not be writing a NaNoWriMo

For my travelling visitors, this is the invitation to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. If you are suddenly inspired at the thought of this, you can find the details here.

Surely, those travelling people might say, it can't be that hard. Say you have a twenty-hour flight, surely you could scribble several thousand of those in one go? All those hours waiting in bus stations. Would that it were that easy.

Writers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes, and there are those who rise to the challenge of writing 1500-2000 words (useful words, so probably at least three times that many deleted) every day for a month. Which involves clearing workspace, social space and headspace for a whole month (plus the time to go on the relevant website and 'chat' to everyone else going through the whole process with you). When I'm away from home my head is full of travelling - far too involving to free up space for writing.

I am in awe of everyone who does it. That level of self-discipline is astonishing. And I'm sure that many - even if their novels ends up in the 'could do better' file - are better writers for it. All that practice must keep the internal dictionary working, and the imagination firing on all cylinders.

What possible excuse can I have for not doing it? I live alone, so don't have to work round children (who are, in the UK, at home over half term - how can you write with children tugging at your sleeve wanting you to paint/play football/take them to the park?). I've retired, so don't have half my head (or more) filled with Child Protection challenges. I'm not on another trip for another month, so don't have to bury myself in the Lonely Planets quite yet.

I don't do it - because I don't want to put that pressure on myself. Sometimes I write 1500-2000 words in a day (sometimes even more) and sometimes I don't. If the words flow I can sit at the computer till my fingers freeze. On other days it's like pulling teeth and I'm better off going out for coffee. Writing is not work for me. I knew pressure at work - and it was right that I did. We made huge decisions about children's lives, decisions that should never be made without serious soul-searching. I don't need to do that any more.

But I shall cheer those brave writers on from the sidelines. I shall think of you as I drink tea in bed in the morning, and as I raise a glass of wine when the sun goes down (well, a bit later than that - the sun does down around 5ish now). I hope each of you writes the best book you have ever written, and wake up on 1st December feeling knackered but rightly smug.

And that, I'm afraid, is the best I can do. (If anyone who is actually writing NaNoWriMo has time to read this blog, do tell us why you are doing it!)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A blog award!

How fab is this! There are a few award-things going around at the moment, and - yippee - Jacqueline Pye (her wonderful blog is here) had nominated me for the Addictive Blog Award!

Thank you so much, Jacqueline - and I hope all my lovely followers will drop by your blog (and if you follow her links you'll find she does some great cooking stuff too!)

The idea, before nominating others, is to witter a bit about why I blog. To begin with, it was to build a platform - I mean, that's what writers are meant to do, isn't it? And I was in the process of self-publishing Over the Hill, so it was interesting (well, I was interested) to witter about the whole process - to share my general ignorance, and learn from anyone passing by who was willing to share his or her wisdom.

I've carried on - like I've carried on travelling - because it's fun. I break the rule that suggests I should be consistent in what I write about, that the blog should be focussed. No doubt the rule-writers are right, and I'd have a bigger following if I stuck to one topic, more or less. Instead I have a post about the silly song my washing machine makes alongside thoughts on ebooks, and tigers. But I make no apology - for now I blog for fun. And if it stops being fun, then I shall stop doing it.

In response to this wonderful award, I must (well, I won't turn into a frog if I don't, but it's part of the game) nominate five other blogs. This has been hard - there are a lot of bookie links and chain-tagging blogs around at the moment, so wanted you to meet people you might not stumble across in the normal course of things. And so here I've tried to introduce you to some people who write about the world around them, the minutiae that they notice, the people they meet - without passing judgement. They all make me smile:

4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a beagle is such fun - the writer is Australian, living in Qatar, and she writes with great wit and insight.
Thinking of the days is just that - a gentle account of life with a puppy, and garden. And it has some great photos!
Rosalind Adam is writing in the rain - she writes about writing, and about anything that takes her fancy.  Which is probably why I love her blog!
The English Travel Writer - Jenny Woolf writes about travelling. And she observes everything - from doorways to ducks.
Finally, Is Anyone There? Which has bits about holidays, and bits about being at home, and bits about reading - you get the picture.

And now I'm off to celebrate - cake, anyone?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

I am not a robot.

After Monday's seriousness (thanks to everyone who commented, here and on Facebook) I'm back to normal - this time wittering about something that is slightly irritating, rather than vitally important.

Is anyone else losing patience with the captcha, anti-robot thingies that pop up each time you try to comment on a blog?

I've taken mine off, as one of my followers told me very nicely that they were driving her bonkers. It is her comment that has made me notice them more - and I agree that they are getting increasingly difficult to decipher. I get that we must take a moment to work out what they are wanting us to say - but do they have to be so obscure that letters run into each other like rain, or numbers are lost in the shadows? And if you get them wrong once, it often seems impossible to correct that on the second or third attempt.

It might help if they were a real word, and not something like EdvUlgn 61. What's that meant to mean - though anyone with a child using the phonetic reading scheme would say I should be able to read it without worrying about meanings. But I want to know what 61 EdvUlgns might look like, smell like? Are they animal, vegetable or mineral? Can I eat them? Will they eat me?

Since taking mine off, I've had a couple of ridiculous comments, and a flurry of invitations to check out a foreign bank, but blogspot seems to pick most of them up and send them to my email for checking - so they are easy to delete. But it's not been a huge problem.

So on a little blog like mine it seems, from my follower's comment, that having to prove you are a real person was putting people off.

I accept that, for those with thousands of followers, some form of filter might be necessary. But surely there has to be an easier way than making ordinary people squint at their screens trying to work out if that splodge squashed between the 't' and the 'r' is an 'e' or an 'o'. Are you quite happy deciphering EdvUlgn 61, or is it driving you bonkers, too?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Publishing ebooks.

I've had an email from someone asking me to blog about my experience of self-publishing on Kindle - the pros, the cons, and is it cost-effective. So - here goes.

I must begin by saying that this is only my experience. There are thousands of us uploading, downloading, groaning into our cocoa trying to make the bloody technology work and then realising we forgot to press the save button ... We all have different stories to tell.

The decision to self-publish was easy: I won a place on a mentoring scheme, as a result of which Over the Hill was lashed into shape. It was my mentor who told me that, ten years ago, I would have found a publisher. But not now - I'm neither young nor famous. But this was good enough to see the light of day and so I should do it myself. So I did - there are some early blogposts of the general angst but I made it.

And don't regret it. I've made mistakes, learned along the way, but have generally enjoyed myself. Putting the second book on Kindle was an easier decision: it's too short to be a print book but was such fun to write it made sense to give Over the Hill a follow-up.

But - there has to be a 'but' - is it cost-effective? It's not going to make me rich. In fact, if I cost the time it took the write, then paying the copy editor, then the time formatting and uploading, then it's a crazy way to spend my time if I want to make money. Amazon, of course, makes money. Cheap books (less than $3.50, I think) earn me only 35% - so that's 35p for a book costing £1; that's how many books to pay for one cup of coffee? And how many cups of coffee are needed to write one book? Pricier books earn 70%, but you still have to sell them in the hundreds or more to make serious money. Mine are niche books - they are never going to sell in huge numbers. (Well, would they if I spent hours marketing? I'll never know - that's the bit I'm truly rubbish at).

So, why do it? I'm lucky - and I know it. I have enough to live on and so am not dependent on my writing to pay the grocery bill. I can do it because it's fun, because I love it when people send emails saying they've enjoyed the book, or asking more about my travels - and yes, emails that prompted this post. And because I love the writing - I can make myself laugh. (I am already working out how to write a trip to the physio where I must ask her to get my knees strong enough to manage squat toilets ...)

That's how it was for me. How was it for you?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Travel writing from home

I've been blog-walking recently, with some chattering about travelling as a writer (or writing as a traveller?) here, on Karen G's great blog, and here on Ros Adam's - it is especially wonderful of Ros to invite me, as she has a fit of the vapours at the mere idea of some of the things I get up to.

So, after my blog-wandering, I'm back to writing about my home town and its quirks. Travel writing from home, so to speak. Every October, on two successive Saturdays, Marlborough High Street closes and the fair moves in - known as the Mop Fairs. It goes back, or so we are told, to times when servants would stand in the street at the end of harvest with the tools of their trade (hence the 'mop') and new masters would inspect and hire them.

But this was not an organised gathering - it was not like choosing teams at school - I'll have Nicola cos she's good in goal and you can have Enid who can't run for toffee - no, it wasn't like that. Servants jostled for places, trod on each others' toes, may even have speared each other with pitchforks. The ale houses were busy, beer slopped onto the street to mix with the horse droppings. Stray dogs snuffled in corners till kicked away. There was shouting and mayhem - and fun.

Now - we have the Big Wheel, the Dodgem cars, the Waltzers. A great stall called Froggit (smack the little post with a mallet and send rubber frogs flying towards the lily pads). Hook-a-duck. All play different music - which gets louder over the course of the day until by 11.00pm it can be heard half a mile away. The ghost train, with its bits of old tights dangling down pretending to be spiders' webs. Lights flash, children scream, lads prove their manliness by not throwing up when turned upside-down. The pubs, of course, are as busy as years ago - though now it is plastic glasses that litter the street alongside the wrappers from candy floss and hot dogs. Children clutch blue bears twice their size. (My grandaughter won a vulgar blue creature with a band round its head that said 'Tony Bear.' If I could have separated it from her long enough to take its photo for you I would have done.)

I love it - It is noisy and smelly and disrupts the polite order of things.

Yes - this happens on two consecutive Saturdays. In between, the fair retreats to the common. For our ancient charter, which allows this fair to continue, stipulates that it must clear the High Street by midnight, leaving everything clean for the righteous who must put all this revelry behind them and go the church on Sunday morning.

Such a wonderful, ridiculous collision of tradition and modern celebrations! Do you have anything like this where you live?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

When daughters fly

I have four daughters. This piece is prompted by one of them, but applies to them all.

And sometimes she flies. No, I don't mean fly the nest. Not that moment when you leave her in the car park at uni knowing she has cases to unpack. Leaving her full of excitement and terror with all the gizmos she might need but no sensible knickers. And you go home to an empty house and you're not sure if you like it, or if you should like it, so you make her favourite meal for tea and wimper a bit and then play your own music and read your own books and no one interrupts and you realise you could get used to this.

No - I mean flying in the air. In an aeroplane. A huge metal contraption that, looked at objectively, shouldn't be in the air. That smell - of stale air, and yesterday's supper. That are filled with people who, at best, could be overweight and at worst (I disregard the terrorism option) are sick with beri beri or typhoid or mysterious green-frothy disease which everyone will catch. Daughters sit in this thing, above the ocean, for hours. With no realistic means of escape. Then they have to land - on something as tiny as a runway and come to a careful halt, without so much as bruising a finger!

I know what you're thinking. I agree with you - it's fine for me to go flying, head across the world when I feel like it. There are countries to explore, adventures to be had. And I have no problem with them having adventures - even adventures in unlikely places. I do not need to keep the world away from them.

I just wish she could get there a different way. Not in a plane. I know the statistics - she is safer in a plane than crossing the road (though I have been known to reach out to hold a hand crossing the road, in an unthinking, maternal way, and been put back in my place!). But there's something about planes, all those people crammed together in that tiny space, and no plan B should something go wrong. I quite enjoy it for myself - but shudder each time I leave her at the airport.

I know I shouldn't check the news. I'd hear soon enough if there were a problem. I know there is no point looking up in the sky as if just wishing her well could keep her safe. At least I have the sense not to watch Airplane.

Welcome Home, Anna!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Taking my knees walkabout.

A while ago I posted a dilemma - my knees were rebelling, and I had to decide if I should nurse them at home this winter, or risk being stuck in a jungle if they went on strike.

I took the sensible course. (What? Sensible! Not willingly, I must add. Nagged by sensible daughters who would have to sort me out if the worse happened. I take their point - they have jobs, families, cannot drop everything to fly across the world to rescue me from something I could have predicted in the first place.)

So I have had x-rays and seen the bone-person. I won't go into him looking young - at least I didn't ask him if he's started shaving yet. More importantly - he listened. And he didn't even flinch when I mentioned tottering around unlikely places with a rucksack.

He told me I have arthritis (which I knew) and that both knees are probably beyond tinkering with. 'We could give you arthroscopies, but in your case there is a chance it doesn't work and could even make things considerably worse,' he said.

'I'm not ready to give up my lifestyle,' I said.

'If course you're not.'

(Hurrah!! He's not assuming I'll retreat into a corner with my cocoa!)

'So,' he went on, 'I'll give you steroid injections to help the pain for now. (Ow!) We'll sort some physio to keep the muscles in good trim around the knees - which should keep you going for a while. Eventually we'll give you new knees - starting on the left.'

'So can I go to Madagascar this winter?' I explained about carrying a rucksack, and he asked reasonable questions about weight and distance.

And then he said, 'You go. You'll have less pain in the warmth anyway. But you might need to pass on ten mile hikes - sit on a beach with a book instead; and, if you can, get other people to carry heavy things for you. Then we'll see how you are in the spring and operate if you are still in pain.' (The subtext - I can't make them any worse. So I might just as well take them travelling as sit at home feeling sorry for myself. And then he'll sort me out so I can carry on travelling year after year!)

So - Madagascar this winter, I thought. Raced off to buy the Lonely Planet.

Except that isn't going to be as straightforward as I'd thought - so I'll let you into my tortuous thinking about where to go in my next post.

But the main news is - me and my knees will be off again this winter! Yippee!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's autumn, not Christmas

It's October. Mellow fruitfulness and all that. Harvest festivals. Harvest suppers. Time to see if the central heating still works, in the mice have eaten winter woollies stored in the attic, to decide if you can live with the invasion of spiders coming in from the cold or if they should all end up in the hoover. Time to remember to allow that bit longer for getting out of the house - to pull on boots, find gloves, excavate the pockets of your coat to get rid of yesterday's tissues. To notice that it's icy and the car windscreen needs a scrape. (I don't have a car - one less thing to worry about. Though I do need to allow time for thermal layers to make sure I don't freeze at the bus stop.)

We can wrap up and go to the forest, kick through leaves, throw them in the air like rain and brush them out of each others' hair. We can find conkers and have discussions on the ethics of vinegar and slow cooking to make them even harder. We can stop to smell that glorious, dank, misty smell of autumn. Bring leaves home to make pictures to stick on the fridge, knowing that they will crinkle and fall and end a dusty mess on the kitchen floor.

When the rain comes, driving against the windows, we can light the fire, toast crumpets, remind ourselves how wonderful they taste dripping with butter. We unearth games not played since April, argue over the rules to Cluedo.

Soon the children will talk of halloween, of fireworks. We can cook baked potatoes, heap them with cheese or beans, and eat with our muddy fingers.

So - it's not Christmas. Not even nearly Christmas. So, shops, that means no crackers, no mince pies, no wrapping paper, no tinsel and not even a cardboard reindeer that sings 'Do you know it's Christmas?' as I pass. I mean, internet marketing people, that I do not need Father Christmases popping up in the corner of sites I am actually enjoying.

So BOGOFF Christmas! (And I don't mean buy one, get one free!)

Saturday, 29 September 2012


There was another air crash in Nepal last week. Nineteen people died - it seems that the plane took off from the domestic airport in Kathmandu, developed some sort of problem, turned round and burst into flames when the pilot tried to land on the river bank.

There have been at least six crashes of domestic planes in the last two years in Nepal. (I have heard a claim that there have been over twenty - but I can't verify that. It seems too high a figure to me, even for Nepal.) I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores of this crash - there may or may not be an enquiry in Nepal and it's not for me to second guess what the outcome of that might be.

However, as those who have read Hidden Tiger know, it might take a while to get an Inquiry off the ground. Meanwhile, planes will continue to fly. Tourists will have to weigh the risks of using them, or resorting to buses - surely the more sensible option? Except that roads in the mountains can be, er, interesting. Tarmac clings to the mountainside - if you are lucky. Often it is washed away in the monsoon. Tata lorries give the surface such a pounding that too soon it is broken up into boulders and potholes. Travelling any distance can involve a night bus - do you need details of night buses? It is like travelling in a coffin. Except if you were in a real coffin you'd be dead and never need the toilet ... Or you can use taxis, which is expensive but at least you feel in a bit more control (except when the taxi breaks down ...)

All of which makes any plan to visit Nepal look like a very silly idea. Yet I want to go back. Because I have friends there now. Because the mountains are spectacular. Because the temples continue to mystify me. Because water buffalo wander through the lake at Pokhara. Because I've got the hang of strikes and power cuts, and love those corners where resources are limited and there is only the kindness of strangers. Because there are tigers.

And Nepal needs tourists. Manufacturing is rudimentary; they need to import food and services from India - they have nothing to sell but their scenery. If Nepal is ever to sort its education and health challenges it must attract international income.

So - is the risk of travelling there, by road or in the air, worth the benefits of seeing this wonderful country? Here is a picture, just to show you want you might be missing if you decide not to go. It was taken at Lumbini - the birthplace of Buddha, a site filled with temples from all over the world. Some are quiet and mystical. Others are such fun - like this!

Worth the risk? What do you think?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The craft of travel writing.

Travel writing through the ages. No - I don't mean from the eighteenth century onwards, but rather the different way younger and older writers, men and women, approach the task of travel writing.

What's brought this on? Well, a while ago I read Trish Nicholson's Journey to Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, and more recently I won Alessandro Gallenzi's book Inter Rail on Jenny Woolf's wonderful blog.

Maybe it's not entirely fair to compare them - Inter Rail is a novel; but the writer informs us that it is based on his journey around Europe as a young man. So I'm assuming he built on his meetings with some rather shady characters and developed that into a tale of derring-do, of drinking and meeting women and careering around in very fast cars with a man who is clearly a con man. What struck me, reading this, is his lack of reflection - he is too busy laughing to think that maybe not paying for a taxi might be funny once, but the driver may have a family to feed and his larks have consequences. I found myself thinking like a mother, wanting to know what he did for clean pants when his clothes were stolen.

Of course, I have missed the point - he's a young man. Behaving as young men do - and having terrific fun doing it. Sometimes I need reminding of that.

In contrast, Trish's trek in Bhutan was instantly recognisable. She paused to drink in the mountain air, to marvel at the mysteries of the culture, to tiptoe round the edges of Buddhism. Her descriptions are wonderful - for those of us unable make it to Bhutan she offers such clear descriptions of her travels that we feel we are following her footsteps. She is hugely respectful of everyone she meets, as aware of her impact on them and their way of life as she is on her own thoughts and processes. (She is also enviably fit. How does she bound up mountains like that?)

Not difficult for me to identify with her. We follow similar pathways, notice the same things. Her lovely book feels gloriously familiar to me.

So why think of them in the same blog? Because they are, in many ways, trying to do the same thing. To show me a place, and the people in it. Their starting points are different, but equally valid. Both have something to say about the writers themselves, though Trish's book tells us more about Bhutan while Alessandro reminded me of the glorious energy of young men.

And did they both tempt me to visit their chosen destinations? Of course they did. But, while my thoughts may be closer to Trish's, I have to admit I'm not immune to joining in the folly of the young (as those who have dipped into Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain already know!)

And you - do you need jolting out of the familiar from time to time?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Writing the second book.

As some of you will know, there was three years between the end of Over the Hill and my trip to Nepal that became Hidden Tiger. Surely I've had adventures in that time?

Of course I have. I returned to Cambodia and Vietnam at the end of Over the Hill, and was away for two months at that time. I went to tie up the loose ends of the long trip. It didn't stand up on its own - there would have been too many old references to publish that as an independent book. And then I drove down the west coast of America, visiting a couple of old friends while I was there. We had several wonderful evenings reminiscing - conversations that meant everything to us but truly yawn-making to anyone who didn't know us. The drive itself was beautiful, of course, but without the colourful characters or unexpected hotel arrangements that can bring travel in unruly places to life.

So what made me think that Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain should see the light of day?

I can’t begin to tell you just how wonderful it felt to have total strangers tell me how much they enjoyed Over the Hill and Far Away. That is the tale of my decision to abandon work, house, and daughters (adult but important) to trot round the world in my mid-50s, with nothing but a notebook and curiosity to help me get by. It is a tale of the highs and lows, and the final crisis that brought me home. And it seems to have inspired some to tiptoe into the distance themselves. (I know of someone for whom a trip to France was an adventure who is setting off for India in a couple of weeks!)

I felt I owed it to those who had been so encouraging about Over the Hill to make sure this second book was at least as good. 

This trip to Nepal surprised me. I thought I knew what I was doing – and I didn’t. I thought I knew who to trust and who to leave alone; now I’m not so sure. Strikes and power cuts meant making any plans had to be provisional. The weather did its worst. The tiger … don’t get me started on the tiger. So I knew this book would be fun to write – and a fitting follow-on from Over the Hill.  

It is, you must know, only an ebook. I was away for one month – not long enough to fill a whole print book, but ideal length to slip onto your ereader. To those who would like it in print – I’m sorry. It is simply uneconomic to produce a print book that is this short. Maybe you can borrow a kindle, just this once.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tis done, and to celebrate ...

Yes, as promised, HIDDEN TIGER RAGING MOUNTAIN is now a little ebook on Amazon. You can buy it here if you are in the UK, and here from the US. Go on, you know you want to.

And to celebrate, I'm going to post some more pictures from Nepal, and tell you a little about the stories that go with them. 

I couldn't resist an elephant ride - well, you wouldn't expect me to. I was in Bardia, a remote National Park in the south-west of Nepal, and we were wandering through the jungle in a gentle, lilting way when the elephant turned sharp right and walked into the river. The mahout was totally unconcerned - this was evidently planned. And we waited for a while until the elephant had stopped drinking before plodding on out way. I had wondered if she was going to take the opportunity to wash her back and give us all a soaking, but not this time!

Long before making it to Bardia, I spent a few days pottering about the shores of Fewa Lake, taking a boat trip across to the little temple, sitting in cafes, and generally taking in the sights and smells of Lakeside. The streets behind me are chaotic, but somehow the water buffalo and little boats in the water bring and air of stillness to the place.

It might seem odd to include a picture of a Tata lorry in a blogpost about Nepal - but for those of you who have read HIDDEN TIGER and wonder how big the lorries are I encountered on That Trip down the mountain - well, this is what they looked like. They look even more precarious in the dark!

Having made it down the mountain, I went to Lumbini - the birthplace of Buddha. It is a huge site, with Buddhist temples built by communities from all over the world. When I was there I spent some of the time with a group of Nepali women on a day out - and together we turned this gigantic prayer wheel. I didn't realise that sacred rituals could be such fun!

Finally, a market picture, because I just love markets. This particular market is in Nepalganj, close to the border with India. Markets in the mountains are far less well-supplied.

So - a few pictures to help bring my little book alive.

Sigh. When I can I go back ...

Where do you long to go back to?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Reviews for Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain.

Not another blog about reviews ... no, please, wait a minute. Everyone else, it seems, has been having their say about reviews recently, so I might as well wade in with my pennyworth.

Because - Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain is almost ready for Amazon! And when it first comes out it will look a little lonely in the review department. I shall, of course, go on review hunt. Which means I've had to think long and hard about the whole paying-for-reviews, sock-puppetry mayhem. Actually, I didn't - the ethical answer is so very clear for me I spent more time eating cake.

So, if anyone would like to help me out, here's the deal:

If you happen buy the ebook and fancy writing something, that would be wonderful and I shall fall at your feet with gratitude.

If you'd like a free ecopy to review, please let me let me know, and I'll email you a pdf. Will I hassle you for the review - no. If you write a wonderful review I shall, of course, be indebted for ever. If you write an unfavourable review, will I stand outside your house at midnight and demand pistols at dawn - no. Nor will I harangue you, pelt you with eggs, nor throw shoes at you.  Though I might have a quick snivel in the privacy of my own kitchen.

Will I pay you to write a wonderful review - no. But should you pass this way I make a great cup of tea but will buy the cake as my cooking is rubbish.

(Will I create a hoo-ha with sock-puppets? I think you know the answer to that.)

So, there we are.

Good luck, little ebook.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

What walks books say and what they really mean.

I spent part of last week in North Wales - with its mountains and waterfalls and beaches, it seemed like a good place to spend a few days when the sun was actually shining.

And I thought I'd go walking. I walk a lot in Wiltshire - I'm used to her Downs and her forests, so surely a mountain is like that, only more so? I consulted a trusty walks book, found a route - it was long, but I'd be fine, if I gave myself plenty of time.

I must be clear - I'm no spring chicken. I'm sure the young and muscled would bound up and down this path without noticing its little challenges. In fact I know they did - the bounded past me, many times. Some even asking if I was all right, in a kindly, patronising way.

My problem, you see, was that my walks book was written for the young and muscled, who know all about mountains, and not for passing wrinklies who feel pleased if they make it to the top of Oare Hill. So here, for anyone who might be tempted to follow me, is a translation of the walks book for anyone who might not be used to mountains:

'Long, steady climb' - means long, steep, plod up a winding path with occasional steps.  If you take it slowly, and don't try to talk, you can feel reasonably smug getting up it.

'Steep, zig-zagged path, with a little light scrambling' - means the path has disappeared under a landslip and you have to clamber, crawl, other wise manipulate yourself up scree that feels vertical. Do not believe the young man who tells you the top is less than fifteen away - this final 200 metres takes an hour and a half. (Why not give up? Because you believe the plonkers who come past tell you that the top is round the next corner. Plus there is a cup of tea at the top.)

Coming down, of course, should be easier. But 'winding, rocky and a little difficult in places' - means coming down a ridge, much of it on your bottom as it is the only way to negotiate the boulders. Never be deceived by the twenty feet where you can stand upright - for soon there is another precipice, the path ten feet below and nothing but rocks or sticky-out bits in the way. (Why not go down the other way? What - down that scree?)

'Join the original path, and from there it is a short walk back to the car park' - means that the distance on the ground might be the same as before but this time it takes three times as long, as your legs feel like they belong to someone else.

(Snowdon, up the Watkin path and down the South ridge, for anyone who is curious.)

Why did I do it? Because very soon I have to take my knees to the bone man, and I'm afraid he might tell me to stop doing things like that. Which is a very stupid reason. There must be a better one, surely?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

We've a visitor. So please put your hands together for ... Stephanie Butland.

Yes - we're on our best behaviour today, because Stephanie Butland has called in. So, no feet on the tables, no slurping tea ... oh, all right then, why spoil the habits of a lifetime. Besides, Stephanie knows it can be a bit informal around here.
    What's more, she's got a new book out: THRIVE: The Bah! Guide to Wellness After Cancer.

Quite rightly, she'd like to talk about her book. And I'd like her to talk about her life writing. Which should make for an interesting way to pass a Sunday. So, here goes:

As life writers, we expose ourselves and our histories more than most. Are there things that you choose not to write about - and, if so, what criteria do you have for making that choice?
    Yes, there are things I choose not to write about. My basic criteria are:
    - Is my story to tell? If someone else is strongly involved in something, I might choose not to write about it, or write about it in a very abstract way. Or, if I do want to write about something that other people were part of, I'll ask them if I can write about it, and/or check with them before I publish. So, before Bah! came out, I asked my children to read my account of breaking the news that I had cancer to them, and they both said that was how they had remembered it.
    - Will I hurt anyone if I write about this? If I would, then I don't. Although it's not quite as simple as that. Some of my family and friends have told me how hard they found it to read Bah!, because it reminded them of such a difficult time. And some people have been offended by my sense of humour, while others have said the same jokes made made them laugh for the first time in months.
   But I think it really comes down to instinct. If I feel it's appropriate to write about something, I will, If I don't, I won't.

Life writing involves a dialogue between truth (albeit a subjective truth) and the needs of a book. As a travel writer, I don't write about the countless days when nothing much happens - though this may suggest to a reader that I lurch from one adventure to another. Do you, too, leave ordinary stuff out, and do you feel it skews the narrative? Or do you put it all in?
    Good question! Given the caveats above, I tend to write about everything - on the blog, at least. Books demand more or a narrative, so where there are probably hundreds of posts on the blog about the side-effects of chemotherapy, they are distilled in the books. One of the reasons I love blogging is that I think it does give an accurate picture of 'this is how it feels to be me, today.' Books require more structure and so perhaps distort the truth a little bit. 'I was tired for months' doesn't quite convey what being tired for months is like.

You have become known as 'the woman who had cancer.' You are a wonderful advocate for those dancing with the disease now, and for those researching it. But there must be other things in your life that you are equally proud of - please, what are they?
    What a lovely question.
    I'm writing novels at the moment - the first, 'Surrounded by Water', will be published by Transworld in early 2014. I'm working on a third version of it and just starting to believe that it might be A Proper Book Written By A Proper Writer And Everything. I think I will be proud of it.
   Just looking at my children - who are 18 and 16 and bright and handsome/beautiful and so utterly, utterly themselves - makes me want to burst with pride. They are fabulous. I am a great believer that children grow up in spite of you, not because of you, so I'm not claiming a lot of credit - I'm just proud to know them, really.
    And I think I'm proud that I have, finally, learned to ask for help, and to recognise when I'm struggling, and understand that life is all about continuing to learn and grow. I spent the best part of 4 decades trying to be perfect and make everything/everyone around me perfect too. It was exhausting. Trying to do things better is exciting and much more satisfying.

You offer comfort and encouragement to other women with cancer, and with those navigating their feelings once the doctors have done their stuff. Your blog is a testament to the women you have inspired. But who has inspired you - as a writer, and as a woman?
    As a writer, I'm inspired by the late John Updike's work ethic and attention to detail; Hilary Mantel's ability to write a sentence that takes your breath away; David Mitchell's imagination; Philip Larkin's sharp eye and surprisingly sweet soul; Anne Patchett, period. But that's only scraping the surface, really. (One of the things that bugs me about mortality is that I don't think I will ever have the time to read all the books I want to!)
    As a woman, I get inspired by anyone who is working towards something with determination and doggedness. Olympic athletes are where they are because they've got up at stupid o'clock on thousands of cold, horrible mornings. Women who are running successful businesses now have had days when they've looked at an unexpected bill and an empty bank account and wondered how on earth they're going to manage this one. It's getting on with it, little by little, that inspires me, because whether it's cancer or writing or travelling or grief or a degree, that's what we need to do.

Thank you, Stephanie - this is fascinating. You are an inspiration to many - and now it is our turn to help you celebrate the launch of THRIVE, and to cheer on all the work you continue to do, supporting women with cancer and their families.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The story behind the cover.

My last blogpost introduced you to the cover of my new ebook, in all its wonderfuness. It has a story. But first, here it is again, just to refresh your memories:

The mountain is Annapurna South - and the photo was taken at about eight in the morning, from the garden of a teahouse in Tolka. 

The mountains hid their heads in the clouds for much of my recent visit to Nepal. Even when trekking, my guide promised there would be views in the morning but we woke to a pall of grey and not a summit in sight. Even, on two occasions, serious rain. The sort of rain that makes it difficult to think.

Except for this one morning, in Tolka. I woke to this view and was so enthralled that, when my guide suggested breakfast I barely heard him - could only stand and gawp at the summit that towered above us. I can never quite get over how hypnotically huge the Himalayas are! My guide gave up trying to steer me towards the dining room, set the table in the garden, led me to a chair so I could sit and eat and still look at the mountain without turning my head. He didn't quite shovel food into my mouth for me, but did have to remind me to eat!

Within half an hour this view was gone, and we were under the clouds yet again. Which makes this photograph all the more precious.

And as for the tiger in the corner - well, some of you may already have read about the tiger.

Don't fret, if there's a cover, the ebook isn't far behind.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain has a cover.

While I've been busy being a grandmother, my son-in-law has been playing with photographs and designing a cover for my soon-to-be ebook:

How fab is this!!!! I keep looking at it, in all its wonderfulness. I know the original photo (I took it!) and will tell you its story in due course. But I never imagined that it could have a whole new life as an ebook cover. Now all I have to do is make sure the book is equally wonderful.

(And how long did it take you to see the tiger?)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Grandchildren and other important stuff.

Those of you who called in last week will know that my grandson came to stay. Yes, we had a wonderful time; and yes, I was exhausted when he left - but it was worth every minute.

And not just because it was fun (though it was). It was also a reminder why children are so very precious.

I remember, as an adolescent, being mystified when adults insisted that charities raising money for children were so important. I argued that they are simply a component of the continuum of being human and therefore no more or less significant than anyone else. Up to a point I still think that - we should celebrate the needs of everyone, whatever their age or contribution. I don't quite buy the argument that children should take priority because they will grow up to work, to build an economy that will pay for our pensions.

Yet they are, indeed, precious. Why?

As we walked into town, my grandson ran ahead to press the button at the traffic lights. A simple, everyday task suddenly a matter of importance. As we crossed The Green he spotted a ladybird, squatted to watch as it climbed onto a leaf and finally crawl off into the grass. He learned the difference between a dock leaf and a stinging nettle (the hard way). We sat on the top deck of the bus and counted flags. He perched on a beanbag in the bookshop and spent twenty minutes in the serious business of choosing. His response to his small cousin falling in the mud was not to reach for the wipes and spare clothes, but to laugh (as did she.) The small cousin, I must add, is my granddaughter - a determined, feisty little girl who is making the most of being two. With such a clear mind of her own now, she'll be ready to take on the world when she's twenty. Which will not surprised those of you who have come across Anna - her mother.

When did you last gaze at a ladybird - without a child in tow? Or press the button at the crossing and wonder if it will be the red car or the blue that will stop? That glorious living-in-the-moment that allows you to notice everything as if for the first time. The excitement that comes with the realisation that every day is full of possibilities.

I have spent a week with countless wonderful reminders of just how astonishing the world can be.

He will, of course, grow up. Like the rest of us, he will come to take much of the world for granted. Until, of course, he has children of his own.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Some things are more important ...

Some things are more important than blogging, or tweeting, or writing, or travelling ...

What!!!! Surely not - I mean, I'm a writer, and traveller - they are the core of who I am.

But this week my grandson is coming to stay. I have four grandchildren. I have seen the Taj Mahal, I tell them. But do I know the difference between a tinky-winky and a ninky-nonk? (No.) I've trekked in the Himalayas, I tell them. But can I do a back-flip-thing with a football? (No.) I've written a book, I tell them. Does it have pictures? (No.) I've been close to a tiger, I tell them. Then a daughter glares with a look that says don't you dare tell them about the tiger.

My grandson is five. His world is full of the wonder of playgrounds, of football, of ice cream and toy cars and lego. So, for a week, that is what my world will be full of too.

I will be gone for a few days. There really are more important things than blogging:

For this week my grandson is coming to stay.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Over the Hill to have a little sister.

Yes - there will be another book. Just an ebook this time, to let you know what I got up to in Nepal. For it wasn't all temples and tigers. And it even has a title!
   (Pause for fanfare...)


   It is a bit of a mouthful? But I like the pun in it, and it does give a clue or two about some of the adventures of this trip. (Yes, there were adventures ...)
   Why just an ebook? You were looking forward to the paper version, I know, that you could smell and read in the bath and leave in book swap places for others to pick up. But this is just a little book - I was only away for a month. While I have diaries full of details about what I had for breakfast I'm not going to pad out the word length just to make this paperback-length. So it's restricted to the interesting bits - and there were plenty of those.
    So - what is the timescale? The manuscript is ready for the copy editor. Do I really need that? Can't I manage that myself - after all, this is only a little ebook? No - I can find most of the mistakes but not all of them. Besides, I owe it to you to make this the best ebook I can possibly make it. I learned from preparing Over the Hill for publication just how essential the copy edit is. (She is wonderfully professional, and very thorough. And worth every penny.)
    Then the cover. Which will involve me spending an evening with Mark while he does very clever things with my photos and the computer. I don't have to understand it; I just sit beside him in amazement as he tweaks this here and that there and produces a cover. I'll show you when it's done. Since I don't have the cover yet, here is a photograph of monks chanting at Lumbini - the birthplace of Buddha. (There were no tigers in Lumbini.)

   Then it's off to the ebook websites, to fight with the formatting again. Surely it won't be as trying as last time? I mean - I've done this once. I know the ropes now. Would that it were that easy. But I'm stocking up with cake and coffee, and plenty of wine for the really bad days. And I might even have a hissy fit on twitter if it's truly dreadful.
    The timescale for all this - I should have it ready early in September. When I have a date - I'll tell you. Before then - I'll tempt you with the cover, and even an extract!! I'm beginning to get excited about this ...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

When is it ok to call me darling?

When I was seventeen 'darling' was a word my grandmother used. Or sometimes builders with their bottoms creeping above their jeans and wolf-whistles on their lips. I had my appendix out when I was seventeen, and felt particularly feeble - and so the 'hello darling' yelled from the building site felt like a compliment.

As I embraced feminism 'darling' was reduced to something I could accept from my grandmother, but from anyone else carried a hint of condescension. The man trying to sell me a car, the colleague who felt it was fine to press against me on the stairs, the creep at the party who sidled up with another glass of wine - I dismissed them all. 'Darling' was a word men used towards women, but women had no riposte. It was derogatory, implied I was some sort of floozie, an airhead, reduced to darlingdom that had nothing to do with ideas or thinking or genuine affection. A short-cut term that implied men had a right to claim my darlingness and I must be a killjoy if I should challenge them. It is, after all, only a bit of fun?

But suddenly something has changed. 'Darling' no longer has sexual connotations. It has become playful. It is fine when the man on the market calls me 'darling' - it is part of our Saturday banter. He can even suggest I've been out partying if I should happen to yawn, and it is a joke. He does not wave an erotic carrot, approach me with a courgette. 'Darling' is just part of our chattering, a token of affection and nothing more.

I also, as a grandmother, use it with my grandchildren. I can't find another word that gets close to expressing how wonderful I think they are. They are too little (yet) to complain.

I have not abandoned feminism. It has framed my thinking for the last fifty years and I'll be a feminist till the day I die. I simply notice how my attitude to the darling word has changed as I have aged. And you - are there words that got under your skin a few years ago, but that wash over you now?