Friday, 30 December 2011

Farewell 2011 - hello 2012.

The end of another year and, of course, the beginning of a new one. I hope that, like us, you are looking forward with great optimism although I suspect that 2012 is not going to be a good year for most of us and I will admit that our optimism is tinged with more than a touch of bravado.

One of the problems of Marcia’s international success is that we have friends (for her readers soon become our friends) in so many places that when disaster strikes – whether through man’s activities or natural events – the chances are we shall be worrying about some particular family or even families. That was the case when eastern Australia was hit by flooding and when Christchurch in News Zealand was devastated yet again by earthquakes. It was true when floods hit the USA back in May and Thailand during November where we have relatives as well as friends. Here in the UK and in other countries in Europe there have been similar problems. It would seem that the effect of global warming is to introduce more energy into the weather with strong winds and heavy rainfall becoming more frequent.

Having said all that, what a contrast to this time last year when it was bitterly cold and the garden covered in snow. This winter has been so mild that nature seems to have lost track of time. We have gazanias – which should have died ages ago - still in flower whilst some of the azaleas (not due to flower until the beginning of February) are already putting on a brave show. It will be interesting to see what happens if this first flush is killed off by frost. Will there be a second flowering at the proper time? A close look reveals that not all the buds are now open so that is a possibility.

Even madder: a friend reported seeing some ducklings on the river down in the valley below us. What will become of them I really don’t know.

There is an old Devonian rhyme:
          Whether the weather be cold,
          Or whether the weather be hot,
          We must weather the weather
          Whatever the weather,
          And whether we like it or not.

Very true.

Christmas this year was rather special. Many of you will know that Marcia’s oldest and closest friend is Susie. She is a community nurse who works in north Cornwall about a thirty minute drive away. Although she is semi-retired she was working last Friday, Saturday and Sunday (Christmas Day – only a few visits in the morning but she was on call until 10 pm). Ages ago it was arranged that she would be staying with us from the Friday evening through to Boxing Day.

Towards the end of November, an email arrived from Sam: Susie’s son, Marcia’s godson, now living with his wife in Australia. As his mum was going to be with us, could they come and stay Christmas Day night, please? Not a word to Suzie in case it didn’t happen. Well, what can you say?

A week later we received a second email. This one was from Emma: Susie’s daughter who lives in Switzerland. As mum and Sam were going to be with us for Christmas. Could she and Toby come too? As an incentive she would make a Christmas pudding.
Susie with Sam and Emma
 So it was that there were seven of us around our table that day. Of late Marcia and I have been trying to decide whether or not the time has come for us to think about moving into a smaller house. Although there are just the two of us here for most of the time and we do rattle around a bit there are times, like this, when we are glad of all the space and that we have a huge kitchen with a table that can easily accommodate eight. We shall be just as glad again later on today when our son and his family arrive to stay. Having been very busy over Advent and Christmastide, he will be glad to be away from his parish recharging his batteries and having them with us over the New Year always makes up for the fact that we don’t see them on Christmas Day itself.

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and healthy New Year but before you go take a look at the picture below. This is a tale of two cyclamen. Both are two years old. Both did wonderfully last winter. Both spent the summer together in the potting shed. Both were re-potted at the same time and into the same potting medium. The one on the right is fantastic - the other quite miserable (although it might get there, eventually). Now, why are they so different? If you think you know, please leave a comment with your ideas.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Meeting old friends

Last Saturday we went back to the village of Avonwick where we used to live to join a lot of old friends for lunch. The daughter of one of Marcia’s very close friends was married a few weeks ago and this lunch was to celebrate that event. Not only were we able to meet her new husband – a thoroughly delightful man – but also catch up with old friends.

It being some ten years since we have seen most of them, it is hardly surprising that they (and, no doubt, we) were all looking older. As one pal put it when talking about old age, ‘Funny, when we were younger we just never thought it would happen to us.’ Am I surprised that so many of us continue to work or remain as busy as always? Not really. Most us seem to me to be pretty young at heart and I suspect that is, in part at least, because we are all busy and continue to be interested in what is going on around us.

Coming back over Dartmoor we had a huge stroke of luck – and in a place I would not have expected it to happen. We were driving up towards Lee Moor and Wotter and had crossed over Quick Bridge and were approaching Tinpark Farm (now a riding establishment) when a three hinds jumped into the road from the scrubby woodland of Cholwich Town Bottom and up into the fields on our left. I grabbed a camera and, thanks to their usual moment of curiosity before bounding away, was able to record the moment (although I’m afraid one is somewhat out of focus).

 The light as we crossed the High Moors was quite incredible. Unfortunately the best photos would have been with the jagged top of Pew Tor against a flaring cloud-wracked sky but it was not to be. We were in the middle of a stream of cars with more coming towards us and so to stop would have been impossible. By the time we could, the sky had completely changed and there was no point in retracing our steps. Still, the ones I did get were reasonable.

The rest of the week has been uneventful – if you ignore the weather. We have been hit by everything going (including the first snowfall of the winter) but have been counting our blessings - we have friends who live up on the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland where the winds have reached over 150 miles an hour - but, I can’t help but be glad that in a few days the evenings will start to draw out once again.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to report that the next book makes steady (if slow) progress despite all the distractions that we have at this time of the year.

I am putting this up on Thursday evening as tomorrow is outrageously busy. Apart from other appointments, I have one with the optician. The laser treatment has been satisfactorily concluded and so I can now have new glasses. Will I be able to drive again? Tune in again next Friday to find out.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Are there marshes on the River Tamar?

Those who have read ‘Those Who Serve’ will know that Cass and Kate are lifelong friends. In ‘The Courtyard’ we learn that one of Kate’s sons, Guy, becomes attached to Gemma, Cass’s daughter. We next see them in ‘The Birdcage’ when they are staying on Exmoor because Guy wants to go sailing with a client who is keeping his boat at Porlock Weir and Gemma . . . Well, Gemma (who is, after all, her mother’s daughter) wants to play around with an old boy friend. The last time we heard anything about them was in ‘Echoes of the Dance’. Gemma is seen with her lover and Guy finds out. Actually in this instance Gemma has behaved very properly but Guy has lost trust. In the end he decides that the only way the marriage can be held together is to move to Canada where his father, Mark, now owns a boat building business and so the couple with their two small sons leave the UK for a new life on Prince Edward Isle off the east coast of Canada.
Porlock Weir at low tide.
Cass and Kate, now of course grandmothers, are sure that Guy and his father will find working together very difficult; both being reserved, austere and often short tempered. Equally worrying is the thought that Gemma, fun loving and highly sociable like her mother, will be lonely and deeply unhappy in such a remote location.

Then they receive the news that Gemma is returning to the UK with the boys. How are the grandmothers, friends for life, going to cope?

For many years Marcia has been aware that sooner or later she would be faced with exploring that situation and the resulting book was dubbed ‘The Grandmothers’ Book’. Having said that, Marcia had two reasons for not wanting to write the book. First: she was certain that there would not be enough in this story to make a book so it would have to be a part of something else into which it fell quite naturally – but what could that be? Second: since it took her right back to the very first book she wrote she had a feeling that if she wrote ‘The Grandmothers’ Book’ that would be the last one. Nevertheless, we have spent many hours talking this through over a number of years and Marcia has written pages and pages of notes on the subject.

There was a further difficulty. Historically I had driven Marcia around to find and then explore the areas in which her books are set. The game plan was to start on this early in 2010. However, four days before New Year’s Day the problems I had been having with my eyes went critical when the retina in my right eye became completely detached. Until then my right eye was the one I really used as the left was (and is) pretty poor. The retina was glued back in place on New Year’s Eve but it was going to be a long time before I would feel confident to drive.

Meanwhile, saying nothing to me about it at all, Marcia had come to the conclusion that the next book – possibly ‘The Grandmothers’ Book’ - would be set on a marsh beside a fairly big river. She had convinced herself that there was no such location and so was trying to put it to the back of her mind.

In those days we used to do the Times 2 crossword (the easy one) as we ate breakfast and the answer to one clue was clearly either ‘sedge’ or ‘marsh’. Marcia suggested sedge because she was still shying away from this setting near a marsh.

‘It can’t be SEDGE,’ I said, ‘I’m sure this is TAMAR so it must start with an M. It’s MARSH.’

‘Are there any marshes on the River Tamar?’ she asked, all innocence.

‘Oh yes, quite a few on the stretch above the bridges and up to Calstock.’
Salt marshes on the River Tamar
Even then she wouldn’t say anything but after lunch she proposed that we drove down to the Tamar ‘just for a jolly’. So we did. And we saw the marshes. And it was bitterly cold. And the sun shone brightly. And the tide was out. And there was this huge expanse of mud. And there were salt marshes. And it was wonderful.
And there was this huge expanse of mud with a few shelduck and a solitary gull enjoying an afternoon snack.
A curlew with its long bill.
Taken a few weeks later but it was still pretty chilly. This time the tide was in.
The next day we crossed over into Cornwall and explored the other side of the river. That was great too – although Jossie slipped into a very muddy channel which was quite interesting. On the way back Marcia suddenly stopped the car.

‘Look,’ she said. ‘Look at that house. It’s absolutely right but it will have to be on the other side of the river.’

Thus on the very first trip we found the setting for ‘The Sea Garden’ - and it was all because of two clues in that morning’s Times 2. Isn’t life odd?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Auntie Gabriel and Friends

Today Marcia has been to Trematon Hall which is just inside Cornwall to the north west of Saltash where she gave a talk as part of the Saltash Book Shop’s ‛Authors Day’ event. About a hundred people were in the room and I understand that a good number of them asked questions when Marcia had finished speaking.

Anyway, what with one thing and another – including preparing for this event – we haven’t done a lot since my last blog so, this week, it is all about The Christmas Angel and the village of Peneglos (which, of course, does not exist except on our minds and, I am sure, in the minds of all who have read the book).

A few years ago, Marcia was pottering around Dulverton up on Exeter. I'm pretty sure this would have been when she was writing Memories of the Storm. Wandering around the shops she came across one called 'Angels Fly South' in which were all sorts of quirky bits and pieces including the trio in the picture above. Captivated by these enchanting creatures, she bought them and they have been added to our collection of bits and pieces that come out every Christmas. It came as a complete surprise when the one in the middle, whom we had named Auntie Gabriel, insisted on appearing in 'The Christmas Angel' and, with the rest, ended up packed in the bottom drawer by young Jackie.

Whenever Marcia decides that there has to be a dwelling here or a village there I am very unhappy unless I feel that there is a good reason why that building or that community could be where she wants it to be.

Actually it was the house in The Way We Were that caused most difficulty. Why on earth should there be a group of two or three old cottages that had been knocked into one in the middle of nowhere on Bodmin Moor? There was no sign of any serious mining or quarrying although there was ample evidence on the ground that people lived there - about six thousand years ago. Still, both of those industries resulted in people building in rather isolated spots so quarrying it was.

When Marcia wanted a village on the coast which had nothing to do with shipping or fishing I was not that happy. Why would such a village exist? Then we visited Trevone - and there was the proof that we needed. Hence Peneglos, situated above a beach, climbing up a hill with an old manor house at the top. Why was it there? To serve the manor house. What happened to the manor house? It became a convent. I was instructed to place it in a real location between Trevone and Padstow and to draw a map of the village which I did but now I seem to have lost. I will try and find it and, if I do, put it up next week.

Then I shall start talking about the next book to be published which will take us down to the banks of the River Tamar, the tradition boundary between Devon and Cornwall.