Friday, 27 December 2013

Last of my 2013 blogs

This morning I had an appointment with the audiologist: frankly I have to accept that the chances of her – it could have been a him, of course - being able to provide hearing aids which enable me to understand what people are saying to me are not good. The problem is that a hearing problems fall into two categories (possibly more, I am no expert): loudness and clarity. While the hearing aids amplify the voice of the person to whom you are listening (and also amplifies everything else) it does nothing to help with clarity. So often when I say ‘I can’t hear you,’ I don’t mean that at all. What you are saying sounds like gibberish.’ would be more accurate but probably not overly guaranteed to make friends and influence people. Still, there are a new breed of hearing aids available now and it is possible that these may be of more use.

One of the problems is that the hearing aid microphones are beside my ear and therefore nowhere near the mouth of the person I want to hear. I have found the best answer is to use a wonderful system to communicate when I am in a one-to-one situation such as at home with Marcia. This comprises two units: the one she wears has a microphone – near her mouth – and a radio transmitter. I wear the radio receiver to which I listen using ear buds. The real problem is that it is a bit tricky in group situations when poor Marcia has to try to keep me up to speed with what others are saying. Well, I look forward to the new aids and hope that combined with a fair ability to lip read I shall once again be fit to be in company.

The main audiology department is down in Plymouth but they hold clinics in Kingsbridge (thank goodness) which is far easier for us. Anyway, it also meant we had a good excuse to go and eat lunch in The Boathouse at Torcross. This is one of our favourite places as it overlooks the sea on one side and Slapton Ley on the other.

Torcross where these buildings are now protected by a sea wall.
This photo by my friend and one time colleague Sarah Perring
It is even more important than usual because Torcross is one of the places in the book that Marcia is working on at the moment. One of the delights here is the freshwater lake that lies behind the narrow shingle bank that separates it from the sea and on which the road runs. It is a wonderful habitat where there are many different species of water birds. As far as the new book is concerned, I am told that you will read about one known as Puddleduck who now lives in the village and, quite right, pops into The Boathouse for a meal every now and then.

The Boathouse at Torcross
There was another reason for wanting to drive along the coast to Torcross. I have been trying to get some footage of big seas crashing over the sea wall that now protects the village and, as some you will know, a number of deep depressions have swept over the UK in the last week or so: each one bringing with it heavy rains and gale force winds. The tide was almost at the top as we drove out of Kingsbridge and, even better, the sun shone down out of a fairly clear blue sky.
Not water birds.
These two were sitting on our table when we arrived at The Boathouse.
It was not to be: as we approached the coast I realised that Start Point was taking the brunt of the weather and the seas in Start Bay were nothing special. Then the sun went behind the clouds and, as we sat eating our lunch, the rain returned. Still, the day was far from wasted: as always when we visit the location of the book-in-progress, Marcia’s characters tell her things hitherto kept secret and she returns with new and fresh ideas.

And here they are again with Justine (left) and Ziggy.
Marcia and I – and all her characters (including the nasty ones) – wish all of you a Happy New Year: may 2014 be good to you.

This inquisitive face belongs to a Tibetan Terrier Cross called Liquorice.

Friday, 20 December 2013

In the deep mid winter . . .

As I sit in front of my computer writing this blog, Marcia is sitting with her laptop writing about the Royal Regatta in Dartmouth. Outside is a typically mid-December drear of the sort only too common on the south west shoulders of Dartmoor. No sun, of course, but no defined clouds either: instead the sky is a uniform dirty looking grey tinged with yellow - rather like the smogs we used to have when most houses were heated with open coal fires in the days before the clean air acts came in to force. No rain, although it lashed down not long ago: just mizzle (a combination of mist and drizzle).


Back at Regatta time we had brilliant sunshine, eternal blue skies and it was hot on hot (as they used to say in the old days). Thus Marcia has had to create a world that is so different from the one surrounding us: a world of happy holidaymakers on the embankment catching crabs or just watching other people catching crabs, people on the beaches playing with their children or plunging in and out of the sea and more energetic souls walking the coastal footpath or pumping pedals on mountain bikes.


Come Easter, and Marcia will be writing about Christmas, about now, in fact. This triggers off a memory that I may have shared with you before (in which case I apologise). Imagine Easter Sunday in the (then) small village of Avonwick. Marcia used to live in the Old Bakery there and had sold it many years ago to Sally and Brian. We had moved back into the village nut, obviously, in a different house. Marcia leaves to go down to the church as Sally is passing on the same errand.

‘Hello Sally,’ says Marcia. ‘Are the girls home for Christmas?’

There is a long pause and then, ‘Marce, it’s Easter.’

‘What? Oh, sorry. How silly of me. I have just been writing about Christmas.’

The real problem is, of course, to remember what it was like in August when writing at the end of December and remembering what it was like in the run up to Christmas when writing at the end of March. The answer, in Marcia’s case, is to take lots and lots of notes: taken in very small notebooks – one of which is always with her in much the same way as I always have a camera with me.

Thus this week we have been down to Dartmouth and Torcross to check them out so that, come Easter, Marcia will know what was what and where and how it felt.

Talking about Christmas, Marcia has written you a short letter to which I would like to add my very best wishes to you all. Some of you have had a rather difficult time recently: may 2014 be a year of peace, health and happiness.

Hello everyone,

A sudden drop in temperature, a spatter of hail against the window, and - just as suddenly - the sun appears from behind stormy, gold-edged clouds just moments before it sets behind Ugborough Beacon. Its light gleams on the last of the rosy fruit on the crab-apple tree and briefly touches the tips of the tall firs with fire. Sunset at four o'clock: tomorrow will be the shortest day. So much to anticipate: the first snowdrops, daffodills, new-born lambs but -before any of those things - Christmas.

May I wish you all joy and peace, and offer many thanks for all your support and encouragement. It is so wonderful to hear from you all, to have your good wishes, and to know that we all go forward together into the New Year. I hope it will be a happy one.

Many blessings and much love

Marcia



 Our blog dog is known to all his friends simply as Alfie, which is a bit of a comedown for such a handsome Bedlington Lurcher but there you are. The explanation probably lies with his owner whom I met in Totnes despite the fact that he hails from Par which is near Tywardreath down in Cornwall where he runs an antiques business known as Temeraire Antiques. For further details click here (which means that for two weeks running I have linked you to a business but I promise it will not become a habit).

Friday, 13 December 2013

A novelist's voice

I saw a rook today, with a straw in its beak, and I was visited by an inexplicable, unnamed longing; the kind of poignant yearning that one associates with the anguish of youth rather than with the sensible placidity of middle age.” Thus starts Facing the Music written by one Willa Marsh (otherwise known as Marcia Willett).
Facing the Music

In the early days the stories just poured out of Marcia once the dam had finally collapsed and whatever it was that was holding her creative spirit decided that the time had come to let go. In those days she was published by Hodder Headline and they were bringing out a new hardback every six months – Those Who Serve in 1994, Thea’s Parrot and The Courtyard in 1995, The Dipper and Hattie’s Mill in 1996, Starting Over and Second Time Around in 1997. It was Looking Forward (the first book of the Chadwick Trilogy) that broke this mould. Publishers don’t really like trilogies and it was a huge sign of Headline’s confidence in Marcia that they agreed to this one even though it was obvious that these were going to be difficult books to write and the time had come to slow things down a bit and publish annually.
Amy WIngate's Journal

Actually it was even more phenomenal that that sounds. Somewhere along the line, Marcia had found time to write a number of short stories for, amongst other publications, The Mail on Sunday. There is a big difference between writing the sort of novels that Marcia writes (which are character driven – called “vertical writing”) and, for example, adventure or crime novels (which are plot driven – “horizontal writing”). Short stories have to be plot driven.

Vertical writing is very frightening. Indeed, if you attend a writing course you will be told that “writing into thin air” is, quite simply, wrong. It isn’t but the ability to do it and pull it off is very rare: I, for example, simply don’t have it: Marcia has. It goes something like this: two “known” characters are brought together in some situation and the writer “listens” to how they react to each other and records what happens. This is easy enough to imagine if you are thinking about a couple of close friends or relatives. You know how they work and you would be able to make a good guess at the outcome. From then on every interaction is treated the same way which is why a novelist can be convinced that A is going to marry B only to be shocked to discover that this is not the case. A wants to marry C and B is . . . well, that depends on who B is: deeply upset, relieved, indifferent.
Sisters Under the Skin

Anyway, Marcia was well ahead of herself so she decided to take one of these short stories to see whether she would like some extended horizontal writing for a change; the chance to explore something completely different. Her agent asked her what she was doing.

“Nothing”, said Marcia, innocently.

“Rubbish,” rejoined Dinah. “Tell me, you’re writing something, aren’t you?”

“No, not really.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, its not a proper book.”

At which point Dinah insisted she see the manuscript. She agreed that it was not a “Marcia Willett” but that it ought to be published. She offered the manuscript to Sceptre and they wanted to buy it. The problem was that this could not be published under the name of Marcia Willett and we spent a few totally hilarious days trying to come up with something suitable. Finally it was Dinah who came up with the answer: Willa Marsh. That first book, Amy Wingate’s Journal was to be followed by three more, including Facing the Music.
The Quick and the Dead

Thus it was that we all realised that there where two voices inside Marcia: one who was hooked on vertical writing (Marcia – who is a really nice person) and one who yearned for some horizontal writing (Willa – who has a rather wicked and naughty streak).

Then came the day when the two voices began to merge – in The Children’s Hour – and Dinah decided the time had come to move Marcia on to a new publisher: Transworld. Since then Marcia’s books have become slightly darker, slightly more edgy (and therefore slightly more close to real life) as she has allowed characters to come into focus who, in the early days, she would have banished. Despite this I am sure all her readers would agree that she holds onto those two characteristics that are to be found in every book: the concepts of redemption and hope.

As I write, both Hodder Headline and Transworld have published twelve books each so the next one out – in 2014 – will nudge Transworld into the lead.

So what happened to the Willa Marsh books? Well, here in the UK they are out of print but, and much to Marcia’s delight, they have been published by one of the literary publishers in France, Editions Autrement. They have all four books in print and have now bought The Children’s Hour but it will be published under the name of that well known author in France (with reviews in La Figaro), Willa Marsh.



And what brought all this on? Well, we were in the lower car park in Totnes the other day and I saw a crow with some paper (not a twig) in its beak which it was carrying to the nest which he and his mate were busy repairing. This is a bit earlier than I would expect but I expect they know what they are doing.


Here we see Mr Pickle in the arms of Mr Fickle. Well, that's where he would be, isn't it? If you want to know more about what Fickle and Pickle get up to in real life click here. You will then learn, among many other things, that one of them has been rescued on no less than three occasions. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Reflections

Last week I said I was going to write about a trip on the River Dart I had made with my friend Roger Whitewood and to share with you some of the photographs that I took on that day.

Roger and I agreed to meet on Steamer Quay in Totnes where I would leave my car and he would (being a kind sort of bloke) drive me down the Torbay side of the River Dart to the boatyard at Noss from where we were setting out. Whilst I waited for him to arrive (no, he was not late - I was early) I took a few photographs of the buildings on the Totnes side of the river. There was not a breath of wind - and you can see why I have titled this post "Reflections"
There was a time when if Roger and I were together in a boat – be it his boat or mine – the main means of propulsion was the power of the wind turned into forward motion thanks to the skills of boatbuilders, sailmakers and (this goes without saying) the two intrepid sailors on board.

More reflections, this time near Dittisham.
Not so on this occasion. The boat was borrowed from one of the marine engineers who operate out of Noss Marina where Philips and Sons once built ships. 

Time to meet the Skipper.
I should add that Roger is a “Sparks” – a man versed in the way in which boat electrics and electronics work who, when he was a young man, sailed the seven seas as a radio operator. Now he runs a business installing, repairing and maintaining anything on board a boat that needs a few volts to make it work. Not surprisingly, a lot of his customers are also clients of firms such as Stephenson and Son who look after engines and it was one of their workboats that we borrowed which, since there was no wind whatsoever, was just as well.

Since this blog is supposed to having something to do with the business of writing novels, I thought these two pictures fitted in rather well. Top is a glimpse of "Greenaway" - the house where Agatha Christie lived - and below is her boat house which has featured in some of the Poirot films.
The purpose of the photographs was, as you will have guessed, because I want a few for the booklets I am working on. Not everything went according to plan. The forecast promised sunny intervals. It was wrong. The day was overcast and the evening drew in early so the light had gone before we finished what we set out to do. That is no disaster: it was a thoroughly enjoyable day and now we have the perfect excuse to do it again quite soon.



We weren't the only people out on the river. Top: the Harbour Master's Launch busily going about its business and below Cadets from Britannia Royal Naval College are practicing ship handling in one of the college boats. 
Meanwhile Marcia continues to chat to her new characters and to share their revelations with me both when we talk and when I am allowed to read the latest chapter. If you think you have a problem when reading one of Marcia’s books because you are forced to put it down for some utterly pointless reason (such as cooking, cleaning, shopping and so on) then spare me a thought. The book will be there when you want it. Not so for me: I have to wait until Marcia’s people have told her the next part of the story, she has brooded until she knows how she wants to tell us and then had to hit the keys until it is written. Then, and only then, can I get back to it. I tell you, the whole thing is extremely unfair. I can also say that this one is . . . well, the people are wonderful and they are as mixed up and muddled as usual, poor dears. Still, by the time Marcia has finished with them there will at least be a glimmer of hope on the horizon but not (Marcia being Marcia) any suggestion of everlasting bliss.

"Where has she gone? How long will she be?"
Jasper, attached to a pillar in Totnes' Butterwalk while his lovely mistress was doing a bit of shopping is a cross between a Dalmatian and a Collie (probably!).

Friday, 29 November 2013

Past and Present

This blog is mainly about what I have been doing because I have had a really interesting week whilst Marcia's, by way of some contrast, has been mainly hard work (something to do with a book she's supposed to be writing) although she has spent a bit of time with her friend Susie and her sister Bridget.

This is a sketch map I drew when the idea was first mooted.
At that time it was going to be little more than a leaflet. Hmmm.
Meanwhile I have been playing with photographs. This is all to do with the book that I am supposed to be writing: Marcia Willett's West Country - Dartmouth and Start Bay. This will include Hattie's Mill Revisited but the decision to expand it means there is no possibility of it being available until next year. Anyway, the new format has four parts:

  1. Dartmouth Past and Present.
  2. Hattie's Mill Revisited.
  3. Start Bay Past and Present.
  4. Second Time Around revisited.


In theory this is the first of five small books: the others covering Totnes, Tavistock and Dartmoor, Exmoor and, lastly, Cornwall.

The idea was that the "past" would be covered by words and the present by photographs thus giving people who have never visited this part of the world a feel for it. However, although the idea of covering the present using photographs remains in place I decided we needed some old images as well. Trawling through some of the old pictures in my "family archive" helped but they were pretty much centred on life in the shipyard (where my mother, her father and other members of her family worked). I wanted some more and then stumbled across "The Francis Frith Collection".

Definitely from the past: this is the long gone Royal Sands Hotel that once stood on Torcross Line and is one of the ones from The Francis Frith Collection (who retain the copyright) that I shall be using in the book. 
Mr Frith was a photographer (born 1822 and died 1898 so a very early photographer). Having travelled abroad for some years, he opened one of the first photographic businesses in the world and decided he wanted to create a record of every town and village in the UK – an incredible ambition. Although he recruited a number of willing helpers, he took many of the pictures himself. Anyway, he more or less succeeded and his family continued to run the business until 1970. When it closed there was a great risk that this incredible collection would be lost but that didn't happen and you are free to browse through some 133,000 images of 32,647 towns and villages (not to mention maps, books and shared memories).

Not having room in this book for 132,967 pictures, I have bought the right to publish only four of them but I am sure I shall want others for the other books.

If you are having trouble finding a present for anyone (including yourself) I would be amazed of you could not find something suitable on their web site: http://www.francisfrith.com/

Now for the present: here we see a monument erected by the Americans to remember the people in the surrounding parishes who had to leave their homes (with very little notice) when this became a training ground for the American army in WWII. It is situated close to where the Royal Sands Hotel, which was destroyed during these training exercises, once stood.
Then, yesterday, my friend and long time sailing partner Roger Whitewood and I took to the water of the River Dart while Marcia spent the day with her sister. I haven’t had time to even download all the material from yesterday so I will tell you all about that trip next week.


Meanwhile, last week there were a couple of comments from Ronald who lives in Holland which you might have seen. Now, I'm very good with dogs and quite good with cattle. The big black person with the long horns was only about six feet from me when I took that photograph. What I am not good with is horses – I'm sure they sense that I'm rather afraid of them. I do my best to hide it but they know, they know. True, I do all the right things: approach from the front quietly, offer the back of my hand for the animal to sniff and so on. It doesn't work – they see through me straight away. Perhaps that is why I was always such a rotten rider even though I was passable at lunging and long reining.

Two for the price of one: Charlotte and Emily.
Both far more interested in looking (adoringly, I would suggest)
at their mistress than a mere photographer.
Ah well, it's good to know one's place.





Friday, 22 November 2013

Cows' Week - no, NOT Cowes Week - Cow's Week

I am married to a very odd girl. Generally speaking, she likes “small”. If we are eating out she will always ask for a small portion and if - in a moment of misguided generosity - she is given a plate filled with food her appetite immediately evaporates. She likes small corners, too - usually writes in a small corner and did so even when she had a splendid study. One of her “small” things is a beautiful cut-glass wine glass which belonged to her mother. It holds less than half a normal wine glass but she is quite happy with that and uses it whenever we have lunch at home. Now, after all these years, it has developed a crack and so next time we find ourselves in Totnes on market day, I shall be on the lookout for a replacement. Fingers crossed.

However, there are some things that she likes which are far from small: the obvious example is her love of Newfoundland dogs. There is another big animal that has been a part of our lives for many years: highland cattle. When I say "part of our lives" please do not get the idea that we have ever owned one of these magnificent beasts or anything like that. No, our involvement has been passive: simply watching and enjoying them. Back in the day the only place I remember seeing them was in the fields then farmed by the prisoners at H M Prison at Princetown on Dartmoor.

The prison farm was started about two hundred years ago and covered about one thousand six hundred acres and provided work for about sixty prisoners. It was a stock farm with something in the order of eight hundred ewes and four hundred head of cattle of which about a quarter was a milking herd. This herd supplied the prison and the factory at Lifton where Ambrosia creamed rice is produced which took over two hundred gallons of milk every day. There were also Blue Greys, Galloways and (for milking) Friesians.

Then, to my dismay, I learned that this activity was to cease and all the highland cattle would be sold off. That was nearly ten years ago but I need not have worried. Now, instead of being confined in fields these Highlanders are free to roam the moors and, as you would expect, they are supremely suited to that environment. Since their release (if that is the right word), I have taken a couple of hundred photographs of them and I thought it was time to share seven of them: one for every day of cows’ week! 









Oh, I also have nearly as many of the gorgeous Belted Galloways as well but they will have to wait for another day.




You keep watch down the hill while I ...  

Friday, 15 November 2013

Poems and publications

Quite a few people in recent days have been asking Marcia about the poem from which she quoted in Forgotten Laughter. They want to know where they can read it. Well, the answer is here. The poem was written by Marcia's sister, Bridget, and has not been published. Very few people who write the occasional poem can get their work into print. Of course it is possible to make these available in this electronic age and so I decided to explore and see whether or not there are any web sites devoted to just that. I Googled "web site for poets" and came up with a few that looked quite interesting. However, you do need to know how the internet works to make this work for you and not all poets do (Bridget is one of these).  Anyway, enough: here is the poem.


DIFFERENT VIEW

I sat there in the window
Looking down below
At the cobbles in the courtyard
Dusted white with snow.
The scene was very peaceful
The air was very cold.
The lights from the windows opposite
In the darkness stood out bold.
I sat there in the window
In the evening without light.
I wished I were a grown-up
And could go out in the night.

I stood there in the courtyard
The cobbles wet with snow
The windows all around me
Had a welcome glow.
I stood there in the darkness
Wondering which way to go.
People hurried past me
Keeping their gazes low.
The night was very silent
The air so very cold.
I wish I were a child again
And had a hand to hold.

Thinking of snow, this last week we had the first frost of the winter. The lanes up on the moor were quite icy and so the time has come to bring into shelter some of the pots out in the garden so that what is growing in them has a better chance of surviving and a good start in the spring. It really is amazing how quickly time flies by for it seems as if it was only the other day that Marcia and I set off to start looking for the setting of the book she is now writing. That was one of those brilliant late spring days and so was months ago. Where have they gone?


Marcia with some of the readers after her talk at the Taunton Literary Festival.

We received an email from Chris Smale (Transworld's representative in this part of the world) yesterday with some pictures of Marcia at the talk she gave for the Taunton Literary Festival which is hosted by Brendon Books. This was, as you know, the last function in what is now last year's writing year (simply because the last function after publication day marks the year end) and so we now start all over again - except, of course, that Marcia has been working on another book since that day in spring.


Taken last spring from the corner of a field behind Torcross where
we spent many hours while Marcia connected with her new characters
Publication day is, in one sense, a double event: the arrival of a brand new book in hardback plus the paperback edition of the book first published last year. Readers who turn up at signings and talks have the perfectly reasonable expectation that Marcia will be able to talk quite intelligently about these two books without realising that this is quite difficult. Putting The Sea Garden to one side for a moment, since finishing Postcards from the Past she has written and finalised next year's book (to be called Indian Summer) which will come out in 2014 and is hard at work on the next one (it has a working title but that might be changed so it will remain a secret for now) which should be on the book shelves in 2015. Each book deals with a completely new bunch of characters - although we know that we often come across old friends as well. So, when Marcia looks blank when someone asks, "Will Oliver be able to work from the Tamar?" please understand that for a long, long and, for her, embarrassing moment she has no idea what the questioner is talking about. Really, no idea: she has moved on - which is how it should be.

This week we have Spike, a miniature poodle from the other
side of the Atlantic.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

And now for the next book

On Wednesday evening Marcia fulfilled the last of the events associated with this year’s publication which, as I am sure you all know, was for the hardback of Postcards in the Past and the paperback of The Sea Garden. So it is time . . . I nearly found myself writing “to get back to normal” . . . to get back to living in a world that presently encompasses a group of people living on the south coast of Devon. Some are in the town of Dartmouth.

The last event was to speak at the Taunton Literary Festival. The talk was held in Brendon Books – one of the remaining independent bookshops in this area – and the place was, as expected, full. Then there was, of course, time for questions.

Marcia and her agent, Dinah, at the Times Oxford Literary Festival
Talking about a group of people and literary festivals brings to mind the time when Marcia was speaking at the Times Oxford Literary Festival in, I think, 2008. She shared the platform with Meg Roscoff – writer of delightful children’s books, American and a trained psychologist. Come question time and a gentlemen raised his hand. ‘You describe the family in your book, Ms Willett, as “dysfunctional”. How would you define dysfunctional?'

‘How would you define it?’ asked Marcia.

‘I asked the question.’

‘I can tell you exactly what she means by dysfunctional,’ interjected Meg and she then proceeded to explain in details exactly what the word meant to a psychologist. When she had finished she turned to the questioner and asked him, ‘ And what do you do for a living?’

‘I compile dictionaries,’ came the reply.

Only in Oxford!

It may have been May (I think - possibly April) but it snowed.
An Oxford quad, brilliants sunshine, blue sly - and snow.

Back to this group on Devon’s south coast. Yes, they are a group but not a family – when you think about it Marcia very rarely does ‘families’ in the sense of a married couple with two point four children or whatever the average may be. Her ‘families’ are people who life has brought together in unusual groupings, usually through events outside their control or just because they meet and like each other. As far as I can gather there is a bit of both in this book but I am hopelessly lost, really. We have been in the “real” world for the last two or three weeks and I have lost the threads but no doubt I shall catch up soon. Then, of course, I shall not be able to say anything: the last thing I want to do is to diminish your pleasure when the book is finally published at the end of 2015.

From my point of view the setting of the book could not be better. I mentioned Hattie’s Mill Revisited a while back but things have moved on and I have (again) changed the format. At last – after years of getting it wrong – I think I am getting it right. The idea is twofold and bringing the ideas together into one publication (is it a book or a booklet?) has proved to be an enormous challenge. On the one hand I wanted to talk about the places that inspired the settings for the book and on the other to talk about the way Marcia creates her worlds.
Talking about the places, trying to give something to people who have never visited the area was, in the first place, going to be a minor part but I have realised that in some ways it is the more important. So the present idea is that there will be five publications (assuming I can keep going long enough) which will be centred on places: Dartmouth and Start Bay; Totnes; Tavistock and Dartmoor; Exmoor. Bodmin Moor and North Cornwall.

The first, then, is Marcia Willett’s West Country – Dartmouth and Start Bay. The two novels that are firmly set in this area are Hattie’s Mill and Second Time Around. Characters in a number of other books pop in and out of the town – Cass and Kate going to the Britannia Royal Naval College balls; Fliss and Miles live in Dartmouth for a while; Angus moves here in The Prodigal Wife and so on.
Thus there is a section ‘Dartmouth – Past and Present’ to be followed by ‘Hattie’s Mill revisited’ then ‘Start Bay – Past and Present’ and ‘Second Time Around revisited’.

The sweep of Start Bay from Start Point to the mouth of the Dart

The past is basically in words although I have found a few old photos but the present is essentially pictorial and one of the pictures I wanted was of Start Bay taken from Start Point showing the sweep of the coast all the way around to the mouth of the Dart with the Mew Stone (a lump of rock – you could hardly call it an island) that guards the entrance to the river. To get this picture needed the right weather and a crystal clear sky. It rained very hard on Sunday washing all the dust out of the atmosphere and Monday was set to be a sunny day so off we went and, yes, I got what I wanted.


Once again, I regret to say, I ended up chatting to the owner and then forgot to ask for the name of the dog. I love the notice in the background. This delightful spaniel is, like most spaniels, worried. In this case worried because his mistress has gone off AND LEFT HIM!!!


Ahh, there she is! Come on, hurry up and don't get run over as you cross the road!

For those of you who know Totnes, this dog is in front of the new shop selling all sorts of gear for walkers and so on which is in the premises that once housed Woolworths, opposite the Rumour Wine Bar.

Friday, 1 November 2013

On All Saints' Day

Well, the signings are over for another twelve months and so this is the time when Marcia tries to reconnect with the characters in the book she is writing. They disappear when the real world intrudes – which is probably very sensible of them. The poor things have enough problems of their own without adding to them with the dramas we watch unfolding on our television screens or read about in our newspapers.


Marcia at the last signing in Waterstones, Exeter
with one of her loyal readers, Claire Rudkin.
This year, however, it is not quite as simple as that. Next Wednesday evening (at 7.30 if it matters) Marcia will be giving a talk in Brendon Books of Taunton. The bookshop organises The Taunton Literary Festival: click here if you want to learn more. Anyway, that will mean another interruption in this business of connecting with characters but that is all part and parcel of a novelist’s life.

It does mean, of course, that we have done almost nothing since the last signing as Marcia reads herself back into the book. So, this week I will say something about what I have been up to – or more accurately what I have not been up to.

In London there is a news agency that sells video clips to news outlets around the world. These are shot by all sorts of freelance people of which I am one. You may have heard that a very severe storm was to cross the UK last week. These are unusual: most storms start way out in the Atlantic if not close to North America, wind themselves up over the ocean and hit us long after they have begun to calm down. This one, however, was predicted to start quite close to the UK and we were all prepared for winds in excess of 100 miles per hour and lots of rain. Newsflare contacted me and asked me to provide bvideo of this storm.


It may have been calmer than I expected but Dartmouth
looked pretty gloomy when I went down there.
This would not have been a problem but for one small thing: in this area it never really happened. There were two reasons, as far as I can make out. The first was that the storm started even closer to the UK than was forecast and not built up to be much of a problem until it was well to the east of South Devon (actually it was not until it hit Denmark that the wind speeds peaked). The second was that the effect down here seemed to be very local: worse on the north coast than the south. Anyway, the upshot was that there was nothing worth filming so I didn’t.

What was really irritating was that there was a tree down on the railway line a few miles away and well within my patch. This happened in the early hours of the morning and a train (passenger but empty) did run into it but there was no damage and I didn’t hear about this until everything had been cleared up so there was nothing for me to see.

It’s a bit like that when you want pictures of birds and so on. There they are, sitting comfortably, until you have the camera in hand and switched on. Some sixth sense tells them that their privacy is about to be invaded and they are away before you have time to hit the shutter. Plants are so much easier.


Ready to be picked: the crab apples.
Which leads me on to say that the crab apples have been picked by a good friend who will be turning them into crab apple jelly and, I have no doubt, letting us have a couple of jars in due course.

This week we have four Labrador dogs instead of one. Why not?







The top two photographs come from a reader in Canada. Here is the story. 

"The attached of Kyle (l) and Walker (r) is for your Dog(s) of the Week blog dog. 

Sadly, both have gone now and Wylie is now on scene.  Wylie's name comes from a combination of what else.....Kyle and Walker. He is now 9 1/2 months old and is recovering from surgery from elbow dysplasia.  (not sure of the spelling on that).  He is doing well but the prescribed 6 weeks of "bed rest" is nigh impossible.  We (he lives and is officially owned by my daughter and her husband) are trying though.

By the way, Walker was a working guide dog for Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind.  He guided in BC for almost 10 years.  Since we had puppy walked him he came back to us to enjoy his retirement.  Kyle was also a Canadian Guide Dog and we puppy walked him too.  Alas, he showed signs of knee dysplasia and he too was operated on.  He was a wonderful pet for 10 years but was never accepted into the guide dog programme due to his occasional lameness.

And the 3rd pic (I hope 3 photos is not too many) is of our friend's miniature poodle named Spike."

Where is that picture of Spike? In the folder for next week. Meanwhile, the bottom photograph is of a dog that belongs to an old friend of ours (old as in years of friendship, you understand, not as in age) called Teazel and it is taken in one of the fields near here with Ugborough Beacon on the southern slopes of Dartmoor in the distance.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Books - books to be signed and books of account.

Last Friday and that meant Tavistock and a signing in Bookstop for Marcia while I had a meeting in the Bedford Hotel (where else?) with our accountant. The accounts for our company have to be lodged with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs by the end of the month. They have been prepared from the books I keep but I still don’t fully understand how the final calculations are made. Anyway, I went through them with Hugh and tried to look reasonably intelligent thus giving the impression that I really did know what was what before I signed as requested and, by so doing, take full responsibility for the returns. All done for another year – but isn’t it scary that we have to place our lives in the hands of professionals? I would trust ours through thick and thin but he mentioned that he is thinking about retiring from the firm he founded which is a bit worrying. I think I shall have to make an effort to meet the man he has taken into partnership and who will eventually be at the firm’s helm.

Meanwhile, Transworld was out in strength for this event. Emma Buckley, Marcia’s editor and Elizabeth Masters who looks after her publicity had travelled down from London the day before and had spent the night in the Bedford Hotel (where else?). They were with Marcia in Bookstop and I was to join them for lunch in Taylor’s – as was Chris Smale who looks after the south west for Transworld. We all had a great time.

Chris, Emma, Elizabeth and Marcia

Next morning and Chris rolled up to take Marcia to The Torbay Bookshop in Paignton. This turned out to be a splendid event and so many congratulations to all involved.

Then it was Tuesday and time to go down to Saltash to a very unusual bookshop run by two sisters. Is it a café? Is it a bookshop? Is it a place where people pop in and out for a quick chat? It seems that Bookshelf is all three. Saltash is, of course, at the mouth of the river Tamar on the Cornish side just a mile or so from the setting of The Sea Garden. I only say that to give me a good reason to show you another Tamar photograph.


Tomorrow is another busy day: Waterstones in Plymouth in the morning at 11 am and in Exeter in the afternoon at 2 pm (both lasting one hour). There are two Waterstone’s in Exeter: Marcia will be at the Roman Gate branch – not the one near the cathedral.

The old mill tail race in Totnes the other day and . . .
... and there was a moorhen (I think) lurking in a drain.

Then there will be no reason at all why, on Monday, Marcia should not be back in front of her computer typing like mad. Well, there is one. There may even be two. For a start all this dashing about is surprisingly tiring and she probably need more than one day off to get back to normal. The other is in the lap of the gods. Will she be able to wriggle out of the real world into her own imagined landscape without at least one trip down to the coast to reconnect with her people? I rather hope not – I do enjoy our jaunts. The weather forecast is a bit worrying:  “sunshine, showers and strong winds on Sunday. Potentially turning very stormy on Monday.” Well, that could make it quite dramatic, couldn’t it? I’ll let you know what happens next week.

This week we have another reader's dog.
Mutley, a collie cross, - and friends.