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?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A travel post - from Lewisham!

I suggest that travel writing can apply to anywhere which isn't 'home.' Maybe I'll expand on that in another post. Maybe I'm just finding a reason to write about East London. For here I want to tell you about a recent trip to Lewisham. For those of you who don't know the UK - Lewisham is in south-east London. It's busy, cosmopolitan suburb but, to be honest, it's not beautiful.
   I know, it's not somewhere you'd think of as an ideal place to visit. No museums, no stately homes; even the park struggles. But my aunt was in hospital there and that was good enough reason to go.
   It is an impossible place to reach from deepest Wiltshire. I've tried several ways to get there, but whichever combination of buses and trains I use - it takes hours and hours and hours. And last week, when I went - it was sweatily hot. I don't mind hot. Even so, I'd rather have been reading a book in my garden than travelling to Lewisham.
    Where, in the middle of this long day, to have lunch? Some years ago, on another hospital visit, I found a little cafe under the railway arches. Was it possible it was still there?
   Indeed it was. And here is its website. (I'd have a photo for you if I'd had a camera with me.) It's been  here for thirty years, run by an Irish family - their brogue surprising me, somehow, even in the cosmopolitan soup of East London.
   It's tucked beside the railway, with tables along the pavement, open to the roar of trains thundering overhead, the grumble to traffic, and thick smells of fuel and general grime of East London. Not an obvious location for a successful restaurant.
    The menu - they call it Irish food - but I'd describe it as sound British food, with staples such as fish and chips and sausages. Good food to keep you going in the middle of the day.
    Nothing special then? Why write about them?
    As well as an efficient Irish welcome, they have 'bottomless' cups of tea and coffee. For just one pound (yes, that's only £1, and this is in expensive London) they give you a cup and saucer and come round with a huge pot of real tea, with jug of milk, and fill you up. The metal teapot is a bit battered now; I suspect inside it is stained dark brown and smells of tannin. And the tea is rich and brown and wonderful. When you have drained one cup, someone appears beside you and just fills it up - and will fill it up for as long as you want them to.
    For me - it brightened a long, hot day. If I lived nearby I would go there in preference to any posh chain that gave me hot water and a tea bag, the drink never quite tasting like tea and costing up to twice as much.
    If any of you are visiting from abroad, and think that the tea you buy in Starbucks or Costa or Cafe Nero is anything like real British tea - just go to Maggie's in Lewisham. Sit in the sunshine, ignore the passing trains and traffic, and drink as much tea as you can. Tea strong enough, as my mother would have said, to put hair on your chest! (Do we all have mothers with strange expressions like that ...)