Thursday, 31 May 2012

Dawdling on Dartmoor

Before I tell you about this last week, a huge thank you to all of you who either sent in emails or commented on my blog. It is really helping to know that people all over the world are thinking about Marcia. Not surprisingly some of you are also coping with a similar situation either with yourselves or someone close to you. Both of us want to extend our sympathy to you and hope that you will find the strength needed to cope.

We took a break on Tuesday, driving over the moor in the morning to meet some friends. It was a lovely day, Not very surprisingly, by the time we had been going for nearly an hour, Marcia wanted a break so we stopped at the Two Bridges Hotel (owned by the same people as the Bedford Hotel in Tavistock) for a quick cup of coffee. Actually it was even better than that – it was a slow and relaxing cup of coffee. As always the staff there made us feel extremely welcome and nothing was too much trouble. Jossie used to have holidays in this hotel. You will remember that Jossie belonged to one of Marcia’s close friend’s mother and Susie brought her up to live with us when her mother died. Well, for certainly over ten years Susie’s brother would spend a fortnight at Two Bridges with his mother to give her a holiday and, of course, Jossie came too.
Two Bridges Hotel
After coffee we set off once more and as we were about to drop down from Holne Moor towards Buckfastleigh I noticed Johnny Arden driving with a trap I had not seen before. There was a bit of conversation that might amuse you.

‛You’m a local boy, then?’ he asked.

‛Well, I used to live on the southern edge of the moor and now I live just north of it but I come from Dartmouth.’

‛Hmm,’ was his response.

‛Somerset’, I said, indicating Marcia sitting in the car.

After a long and pitying pause he added, ‛Well . . . ‛tis better’n being Cornish.’

There is no question but that Johnny is a local, he was born and bred on the moor and, as far as I know, has never lived anywhere else. If you want to know a bit more about what he does, this is a link to his web site:

I have been promising myself that I would have some lessons from Johnny and I really do intend to do just that before the end of this autumn.

On our way home we stopped at Holne to have some lunch. There is a community shop and cafĂ© there that is a credit to the village. I first came across a shop being run by a dedicated group of volunteers man, many years when I was writing a book called ‛Village Ventures’ and so these sort of projects are very close to my heart. There we enjoyed a very nice and simple lunch served by one of those women who cannot help but have a twinkle in the eyes: very funny and rather naughty. I will try to tell you the history of this place in a future blog as it has suffered from quite a few setbacks on the way.

Holne Moor in different moods
Since we both felt we were having a holiday we stopped for a cup of coffee at what is probably my favourite place on Holne Moor. The views are wonderful as I hope I can show you. Then we did something just to prove it was a holiday. We stopped in the car park below Cox Tor (which was crowded) and enjoyed an ice cream brought from the van that will be up there now for the rest of the summer.
Cox Tor on the horizon. Ice cream van to the right


A tiny bit of progress. We are snarfing (if you will pardon the slang) dog food as if it were going out of fashion and some of us are just starting to grow back legs and to lose that rounded look as we begin to form waists.

We are assuming that we shall be given new water on Saturday morning and will be complaining bitterly if we are forgotten (again!).

Friday, 25 May 2012

In which life gets rather tricky

One way and another, Marcia and I have been seeing rather a lot of hospitals over the last few years. Up until recently, I have been the cause with various problems of varying seriousness resulting in poor Marcia having to cart me to and fro and, indeed, drive everywhere for the two years or so when I was unable to see very well.

Now, our main concern is that a mole on Marcia's right upper arm suddenly started to change in a rather alarming fashion. A visit to her GP resulted in a referral to a consultant at Derriford Hospital and, shortly afterwards, an operation to remove what turned out to be a malignant tumour. This was on Ascension Day which, as some of you may know, was the day in 1994 that Marcia received a letter from Cate Paterson of Hodder Headline offering her a contract. Then, the other day, a second was carried out (very satisfactorily) to take out more 'just to be on the safe side'.

There is no evidence that the cancer has spread but, since nobody can be sure at this stage, she will have to return for a check up in a month. If she is still clear that will be followed for a few years with one every three months. Thank goodness that since early this year I have been able to drive again. Living where we do it would be extremely difficult if neither of us were able to. Indeed, this has made us think and we are beginning to consider moving to be a little nearer to civilisation.

I know that the NHS gets a very bad press but in our experience all the medical staff are wonderful. Indeed, to listen to her talk you would have thought that Marcia had the best morning of her life in the Freedom Unit at Derriford. She put it this way, “The staff are all wonderful, they are friendly, caring, efficient, warm and, above all, funny.” Certainly the ones that I met during a very long morning confirmed that analysis.

It is such a shame that they are let down by others. After the first operation, Marcia was given a telephone number to ring in the event of a problem or a query. She had been told that she would receive the result of the biopsy tree to four weeks after the operation. We heard nothing so she decided to telephone. Unfortunately the number was unobtainable: we were told later that the number had been changed. How can that happen? Has no one in administration thought about the distress that this could cause a frightened patient? There were other admin issues too but this is not the place for those.

Marcia had to arrive at 7.30 which meant we were up at 5.30 and leaving home at 6. We were both starving – Marcia had been told to take nothing (no solids and no liquids) and I felt this was a time to show a bit of solidarity. By the time she was taken off by the anaesthetist, I was starving. Now, on level 7 of this hospital is a most excellent restaurant. You could compare it with one of the better motorway service fooderies. I duly found my way to it (getting lost only once) and enjoyed a late but very satisfying full English breakfast washed down with really good coffee from a proper mug!

Whilst looking for the restaurant, I suddenly realised that the more modern parts of the hospital are quite beautiful and photogenic. As always I had a couple of cameras with me so I offer you just three examples below – taken I would add with the permission of the hospital's communication officer.

Then it was back to the waiting room outside the recovery wards to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait. Eventually I received a message from Marcia, 'All is well and I am planning the next chapter'. My thanks to Adrian for bringing it to me. Then, quite suddenly, it was time to fetch the car from the car park (which seemed to be miles away but that was mainly because I took the wrong path and had to return to start again) and bring it round to the pick up point outside the Oncology Department.

We were soon on our way home, driving rather slowly to the irritation of some other motorists, and Marcia started to tell me how it had been. When she came round from the anaesthetic, the first thing she was aware of was three members of staff talking excitedly about her novels. 'What better thing to hear when you come round than “We love your books, we really do!”', she said.


There are now a few chaps beginning to show a waist so we have a little progress. Not a lot but with this warm weather things could start to move quite quickly.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dartmoor moods

One of the problems with having hundreds of photographs of places like Dartmoor is that unless you are extremely careful (which, if I am to be honest, I am not) you end up with rather a lot that cannot be properly identified. At the last count I have on my computer one hundred and forty-three such. To be fair, there are over a thousand in the Dartmoor file so this only represents ten percent.

Now, the real difficulty is that you dare not put them with anything that would mean that someone who recognises a given view could say, ‟he’s got that wrong: that’s xxx not zzz″. The obvious solution is to hit the delete key and get rid of them but . . .

The problem is that I just can’t bring myself to do that as some of them are rather nice and moody and, though I shouldn’t say it, beautiful. As always, it was Marcia who came up with the right answer – put them up on one of your blogs or on your photo site and just call them ‛Dartmoor’. So I will. Here are a few to be going on with.

Before anyone shouts: the bottom one is Vixen Tor, If anyone can put a location on any of the others, please do so. Incidentally, you may like to know that we have a saying in this house. Well, two sayings, as they differ depending on who is speaking. They are: ‟You know best but I am always right″ and ‟I know best but you are always right″. I will leave it to you to decide who says what.


It was a mistake to start this. All that is happened since last week is that they have grown – a bit. All bar one little fellow who remains tiny. This I cannot explain: you would think that the big chaps would have eaten him long ago or else that he would have got bigger. Neither has happened. It is unusual to be able to identify one tadpole out of the cloud so I am beginning to take a particular interest in this one but I suspect it will end in tears. What are the odds that nest time I change the water he will have gone?

Friday, 11 May 2012

The proof of the pudding . . .

Last week a large parcel arrived from Transworld. It contained the proofs of the book that will be published this autumn under the title The Sea Garden.

It has always been one of my jobs to proof read the books. This is both a joy and a nightmare: a joy because I really enjoy reading what Marcia writes and a nightmare since it is so easy to get carried away by the story only to realise that for the last few pages I have been ‟reading″ rather than ‟proof reading″.

By the time we get to this stage I have already read the book at least four times (when writing, the first draft when complete, after the editorial requests have been included and at the copy editing stage). Thus Marcia is always very surprised – and pleased – when I burst out laughing since she feels I really ought to be bored silly by this stage. The fact is that I am not: unlike most, Marcia’s novels can be reread many times and each reading brings out something new: often an unexpected link in the webs of personal relationships she weaves with such dexterity.

This book is set in part in the old familiar scenes of Tavistock (where we catch up with some of Marcia’s old familiar characters) and, for the first time, Marcia visits the banks of the River Tamar. Many readers refuse to believe that Marcia finds descriptive writing to be extremely difficult because she does it so well. I have never read anything by any author which evokes a place with more precision and with more beautiful writing than some of the paragraphs in this book: they are a treat to read. And don’t say, ‟well he would say that, wouldn’t he?″.
Marcia is standing on the saltings at the high tide mark.
She and Jossie are returning from an evening walk.

The title comes from a garden that has been made behind an old quay which was built out into the river many years ago to enable trading vessels to tie up alongside. It is a large flat area, bounded by an old stone wall and a lavender hedge: the scene of many parties past and present.

Those proofs are now back with Transworld and so we now await the cover design and the blurb. I will keep you informed.

The other good news this week is that Linda Evans, Marcia’s editor at Transworld, has read and thoroughly approved the book to follow The Sea Garden. Like all books, it has a working title but I will keep that a secret. It was a mistake to talk about The Ginger Jar as that was a working title with the book being published as The Prodigal Wife. To this day barely a week goes by without someone asking where they can buy The Ginger Jar as they can’t find it anywhere. Well, they wouldn’t, would they?


The old ‛poles seem to be developing more slowly this year than is usual. That is not to say that they are not growing at the usual rate but there is still no sign of legs. This is almost certainly because it has been so cold. They live in a utility room which is unheated but faces south. The usual problem is to keep it cool enough for them but not this year.

Sometimes tadpoles just fail to grow up in one season and then overwinter as rather oversized individuals who wait until the following summer to change into frogs. As far as I know, thy have no problems with this. I just hope that I don’t have any like that as looking after tem through the winter would be a bit of a nightmare.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Facing the Music

There came a point some years ago when I realised that Marcia often listened to the same piece of music time and time again when she was writing. Obviously Elgar’s Starlight Express was important during the creation of Echoes of the Dance as it was to be the theme of Daisy’s first venture into choreography. During that year, I came to know this piece very well indeed!

Anyway, I decided to ask Marcia to explain the part that music plays in the writing process and was quite surprised by some of her comments.

It seems that this all started with the very first book: it was two of the characters that had theme tunes. In the case of Kate it was Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto number 2 whilst Felicity’s was Sibelius’ Symphony number 4.

‛Whenever I heard either of those two pieces of music,’ she said, ‛I was aware of either Kate or Felicity. In fact that remains true to this day.’

Both of these characters appeared in the second book, Thea’s Parrot and so it was during the writing of the third, The Courtyard, that another piece came to the fore, this time representing Nell: Vaughan Williams’ Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

It would be a mistake to think that all the music is classical: it is a CD of Jamie Callum’s called Devil May Care that accompanies Jess in The Sea Garden. This is the book to be published next October.

Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now gave solace to Dossie in The Christmas Angel when she was dealing with the problems she had with personal relationships. For what it’s worth, Marcia considers the eponymous track from that CD sums up her personal life view.

Sometimes it is more general. Brahms accompanied Marcia throughout the three years it took to write the Chadwick Trilogy: no particular piece of music but a wide range of his works.

It was the same for The Golden Cup. Delius, that very English composer, represented the feel of that rather old fashioned grouping in its quite hidden valley.

It was the way in which an artist treated some works that was important during to The Summer House. Here it was not just any rendition of Chopin’s Nocturnes but specifically Angela Hewitt's playing of Chopin’s Nocturnes.

Test questions for the week.
  1. What was the theme tune for Facing the Music by Willa Marsh?
  2. What is Willa Marsh’s real name?

And last but not least I must mention Frummie from Forgotten Laughter. Her love of Nina Simone singing My Baby Just Cares for Me was to have an interesting long term effect. Most years, Judi Spiers asks Marcia to visit the studios of Radio Devon to talk to Judi on her chat show. She always plays Marcia out with My Baby Just Cares for Me and last time, as Marcia reacted to the music she commented – on air, ‛I never thought to see Marcia Willett throwing shapes in my studio.’
Judi Spiers and Marcia


Have you noticed how much it has rained recently? At the same time most of us are living in a drought area. It really doesn’t make any sense at all. If where we are is anything to go by, one problem is that all the rain has washed off the land rather than sinking in, causing local flooding and doing very little good.

The main ponds are filled because the downpipes on the garden side of the house: are all fed into the top pond which overflows into the other. I was getting quite worried about the tadpoles in the top pond who have been doing very well recently (better than last year) but they become more vulnerable as the water level drops: blackbirds in particular happily take them when there only half an inch of water over the shallow part of the pond. Well, all this rain has seen to that and the top pond is now full and overflowing into the other one which is almost up to the right level.

Meanwhile the tadpoles I am looking after in the utility room need fresh water every other day and I was reluctant to take it from the ponds when they were so low. Using tap water is not good: tadpoles can die thanks to the chlorine that is put in our mains water to kill of all bugs.

That, however, is a problem we won’t face again for a while. I have started collecting rainwater from the roofs of the outbuildings so we have a good reserve should we have another dry spell.