Friday, 27 April 2012

Ladies who lunch

There are certain advantages in being married to a novelist. I explained to Marcia that I had taken a few photos of persons dropping in to the garden for a quick snack that I thought I would share with you but a title for the blog eluded me. She was extremely slow in coming up with the one above — somewhere between twelve and fourteen nano-seconds at a guess as I didn’t actually time it. Anyway, we have Suzy the sparrow hawk, Henrietta the heron and Phyllida and Fiona the pheasants. No question but that Suzy and Hen are in their finery but Phyl and Fi could have made a bit more effort.


It is the time of the year when the first rumblings of the next book (that is the next book to be written, not the next one to be published nor, indeed, the one after that) can be heard. At this stage they are distant and difficult to interpret but Marcia feels that there might be a family similar to Jack, Hannah, Toby and Flora in The Children’s Hour. There again, that could just as easily be a red herring.

My guess is that we shall be talking about these people rather a lot in the next few weeks and driving around trying to find out just where this book will be set.

Most days something nice turns up in the post (we will ignore those boring envelopes containing bills) and today was no exception. Come to that yesterday was pretty good too. Today it was a contract with Marcia’s publishers in Estonia, Varrak, covering two books: yesterday it was the arrival of two copies of a new edition of The Summerhouse from Germany. More properly we should call this Het zomerhuis. It s a very nice cover but I must admit I can’t quite work out the thinking behind it. Marcia and I agree that model is probably a dancer because she has such a wonderful posture.


First my thanks to Claire Rudkins for letting me know that it is a cloud of tadpoles. Very appropriate.

The weather has been terrible as all of you who live in the UK will know. The odd thing is that it seems to be affecting the tadpoles as well as the plants that I somewhat stupidly put out a couple of weeks ago. I may be wrong but the tadpoles are eating a bit less and there is little sign of growth. It follows that there is little to tell you about this week. Now, all we need is about eight hundred names so that each one can know what it is called before they are released in a few weeks time. Suggestions by post written on a ten pound note, please. No more than two names per tenner!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Book fairs and Goosegrass

Today is the end of the London Book Fair which is one of the most important in an international author’s year. There, on stand 8c, is Marcia’s agent—Dinah Wiener. The other week of equal importance is the Frankfurt Book Fair which Dinah (who speaks fluent French and German) also attends. It is at these fairs that she makes and maintains her contacts with Marcia’s foreign publishers and Dinah’s network of sub-agents such as Ulf Töregård who looks after Scandinavia for her (and so us)..

Last week we received copies of the first two books being published in Poland by Wydawnictwo Replika. Here are the covers.
The Summer House

A Week in Winter

Sales of Marcia’s books in Germany are on a par with her UK sales. At the moment all of Marcia’s books are in print here in the UK but the Germans are now trying out a new campaign. Instead of publishing simply a new hardback with last year’s novel in paperback, they are now adding one of the early novels. They started with Those Who Serve and so in a few years time all of the books will be in print in Germany as well as the UK.

Below are some five of the covers for Echoes of the Dance just to show how differently each book is seen by different publishers (two are the UK editions, one the hard back and one the paper back).


Thanks to overcrowding in their tank, I have now divided my shoal of frog tadpoles and so have two of the four available now in operation. Is ‛shoal’ the right collective noun for tadpoles? Not sure but the other possibilities—flock, swarm, etc.—don’t seem right either. Perhaps they should have one of their own. How about ‛a wriggle of tadpoles’ or ‛a squirm of tadpoles’? Any better suggestions, anyone?

This is the middle period of tadpole life when all they are doing is getting bigger with no sign of legs as yet. Feeding them is critical and my thanks to Pat Tytherleigh for her email in which she tells me that her tadpoles like Goosegrass (also known as Cleavers, Sticky Willie and—for the more scientific—Galium aparine). I would not have thought to try it but I am delighted to confirm that she is right.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The end of an era

For various reasons – including, I fear, laziness – it is a few days since I last brushed Jossie. The result is that I have just thrown a large bundle of her hair out through the big sliding doors at the end of the kitchen, a bundle that was caught on the hedge and in the branches of the sumac.

Quite soon there was a blue tit struggling to break it up a bit and flying off in triumph with what he (or she, as the case may be) wanted. Now, sitting in my chair looking out with my laptop on my lap (which explains ‛lap’ but not ‛top’) I am watching as a succession of tits (great, blue, coal and brown) and sparrows (hedge and house) grab bits with which to furnish their nests. Thanks to their activities, the bundle is now broken up into about six smaller clumps.

What seems utterly daft is that two blue tits have just been fighting over one such clump whilst ignoring two others that are swirling around in the wind, one of which actually brushed over them begging to be taken. But no, only that particular piece that the other one wants will do. People are like that too, aren’t they?
Great Tit

The above was written on Sunday – a day in which Jossie had a couple of really good walks: one with me and one with Marcia. Now it is Tuesday and it has not been a good day. We were woken by very odd noises coming from the kitchen. Marcia was first out of bed and went down to find Jossie in great distress. Early though it was, we telephoned the vet and they were here by about nine. There was water on her lungs and her heart was giving out. She was sedated to relieve her distress and she died very shortly after that. Obviously it came as no surprise, she was at least seventeen, but the house feels strangely empty without her.
In memorium


The main tank with the frogs in continues to prosper with nothing of note to report. However, a breakthrough with the young toad tadpoles. I have been trying all sorts of goodies to encourage them to eat to no avail so have been adding fresh water weed most days. The fish have been up and asking to be fed recently (but have disappeared now that it has turned cold again) and the little tub we use to take their food down to the pond was empty. As I refilled it I realised that this was something I had yet to try and I dropped one stick in for them. No good expecting anything until it had softened in the water but when I had a look the next morning there were three tadpoles tucking in. Problem solved.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday

Is the arrival of a rabbit in the garden during Holy Week a sign or a portent? Happily (I say that with my gardener’s hat on) we rarely see one this side of the hedge although they live in the two of the fields that adjoin our property but one popped to visit on Wednesday staying just long enough for me to grab a camera and take a photograph.

You are probably right: neither a sign nor a portent but just a rabbit. Thanks to Aunt Em (who holds the copyright) I can also show you an Easter Stripey Bunny. She has also painted a Christmas Stripey Bunny but you will have to wait a while to see him.

Still wearing the same hat: I think I have made a rather serious mistake. Lulled by the beautiful weather we were enjoying a couple of weeks ago I decided to plant out some of the seedlings that were stifling in the potting shed and cold (humph) frames. Now, of course, the temperature has plummeted and I fear for their well being.

I have been experimenting with plant root trainers as shown below. You can see how using these created long, strong roots (not a very good photo, I fear).

One tray was sown with runner beans and has been on the windowsill in our spare bedroom. They were not included in those thrown out in the cold and so have continued to grow mightily. I fear they are beginning to look like triffids. I‛m sure they will be fine but, just in case, I sowed another tray yesterday.

On our travels around the west country, I have taken many photographs of churches. As it is Good Friday, I thought it appropriate to share these two with you. The top one, St Andrew's at Coryton, was taken on 3 March two years ago and St Peter's at Lewtrenchard six weeks later..

A happy Easter to you all – and do be moderate with the chocolate intake. One egg or bunny each at most. 


Not a great deal to report this week as all are now just growing and it will be a while before the first ones start to develop their legs. However, something interesting has happened in the tadpolarium which has nothing to do with froggy things at all.

The water and weed that I use is always from the pond. That way I can be fairly certain that there will be no pollution (which includes, if you are a tadpole, some of the chemicals water companies put into our water supply and especially chlorine) and that there will be some natural food for the inmates to enjoy.

Water that comes out is filtered (well, poured through an old flour sieve to be honest) and then used to water plants. For this reason I have a couple of drums to store this used water if it is not needed straight away.

What is filtered out is either thrown away or, if living, popped back into the tadpolarium. Thus over the weeks I build up a quite high snail population which will eventually be returned to the pond. Most of these snails are called Lymnaea pereger or the Wandering Snail. There is nothing particularly special about them: they are the commonest water snail in this country. 

Now for the interesting bit. I had always understood that these snails were vegetarians living on algae, lily pads and rotting vegetation. Indeed lily fanciers spend a good deal of effort on trying to keep their ponds weed free because of the damage they cause to their plants. Not mine - oh dear me, no. I decided to find out whether or not the tadpoles would enjoy a slight change of diet and gave the part of a strip of Schmako (basically a meat based treat intended for dogs with which we 'reward' Jossie when she does something clever like waking up). This bit would have been about one and a half inches long, half an inch wide and a sixteenth of an inch thick (30 mm x 10 mm x 1 mm for younger readers). The snails absolutely love it, they are crawling all over it so there is little room for any tadpoles which may explain why they seem so little interested. 

I have checked all my reference books and they confirm that this snail is a veggie so does that mean I have made a significant discovery? Will my name go down in history as the man who discovered that Lymnaea pereger is actually an omnivore? Probably not.