Friday, 27 September 2013

This week, a tumble, a wumble and an apology.

Let's get the apology out of the way first. In part this is associated with the tumble but there were other inputs as well. These included a stray nephew who asked if he could come and stay for a few nights – he is an architect who practises as a Design Manager on construction projects. He had come down from York to resolve a few problems on a site in our part of the world. Thus our evenings have been taken up chatting about old times (when he and his generation were small and would stay with Marcia) and about his work. It was great fun having him to stay but our usual schedules took a hammering with the result that I did not respond to the comments on last week's blog. Sorry about that.

Shot in Totnes outside Totnes Bookshop. Author and reader, I assume.

The tumble happened on Sunday when Marcia was walking to church. There are a number of places where the kerbs are 'dropped' to road level in order to make it easier for those in wheelchairs or using Zimmer frames. Basically she tripped over the slope at the end of the dropped section and fell rather heavily. With blood pouring out of one hand, and feeling very sick, she decided to return home but one of our neighbours saw her. Bless, her, she took Marcia into her kitchen and carefully cleaned the wounds, applied anti-septic cream, bandages and a good measure of tender loving care. Then she walked up our lane with Marcia to ensure her safe arrival home. She was extremely lucky: she could so easily have broken her wrist. As it was both wrists and her right shoulder were badly bruised – still are but now in the browny-yellowy stage, the angry purples having faded.

One of the nice things about Totnes is the total disregard most people have for cars.

There was no question of her typing on Monday so we spent the day going into Totnes, where some part of the work in progress may or may not be set, and then down to Dartmouth and along the coast to Torcross, both of which are definite candidates.

Whenever we go to Dartmouth, I gravitate to the boats.
Well, I would, I suppose. I have been doing that for as long as I can remember.
The wumble was associated with the contract for Postcards from the Past and the Sea Garden with St Martin's Press in New York. This is a fairly bulky document and the obvious way to send it across the Atlantic for checking and signing is to do so electronically. For some reason, which I still do not understand, we often have problems opening these files from the US. This time, I was able to open the it in read-only mode but not in edit-mode. Thus there was no possibility of Marcia signing 'electronically' and my sending the contract back as an attachment to an email – as we do with all the European contracts. Back to snail mail but ...
An evening shot of the mouth of the River Dart taken a few weeks ago.
In the US the standard paper size is American foolscap. Here it is A4. Furthermore, SMP call for six copies – each having twenty-four pages. Apart from worrying about the destruction of the woodlands required to produce all this paper there are the costs associated with postage. Because of the difference in paper size, the way this has happened in the past is that SMP sends the contract electronically to Marcia’s agent’s agent in New York, Kathy Anderson, who prints off the required six copies and posts them to Dinah Wiener in London. Dinah then checks the contract and, if all is well, posts all copies to us. Marcia signs them and we post everything back to Kathy. All of these costs are, of course, charged to Marcia.

This is looking down over Torcross from the hill behind. The narrow strip of pebble bank that divides the fresh water "ley" (pronounced "lee") from the sea along which the road runs is clearly visible. The village is just to the right of this picture.
You can see why we want to find an easier and cheaper way. Anyway, this time we have taken a flyer. We can read the whole contract on the screen and I was able to print off six copies of those sheets that need Marcia's signature – on the wrong paper size, of course – and I have posted them off to Kathy. Will this be acceptable to SMP? I have no idea but I'll let you know next week – assuming we know then – and I will also tell you about the complications created by publishing zones.

Looking along Slapton Ley towards the village of Torcross.
By the way: if you don’t know what I mean by wumbled, it’s time to read Echoes of the Dance.

This week our blog dog is a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog - Oscar. Now, where have I heard that names before?

Friday, 20 September 2013

Market day - Totnes

I don't know how many of you realise that writing a blog every Friday is a huge act of faith. Somehow and coming from somewhere will be something like five to seven hundred words which are, at worst, readable and sometimes, at best, worth reading. Usually at some time on Thursday there is a glimmer of an idea which, by some strange and probably miraculous process, matures overnight so that in the morning there it is, waiting to be written. John Bailey recounts how his wife, Iris Murdoch, would say - with relief - "Well, that's the book finished. Now all I have to do is write it down." Within the infinitely smaller and less erudite context of my Friday blog, I would say that I know exactly what she meant.


Not, however, this week. This week I have not even an acorn of an idea let alone a mature oak. So,where does that leave us?


Marcia has need of some brooding before getting back to her computer. This happens. I needed some inspiration for today's blog. Clearly the thing to do was to drive into Totnes and see whether that particular Totnesian buzz - a buzz I have found in no other part of the world that I have visited including places such as New York, Paris and Basle to name but three - could work its magic once again.


We arrived and parked (Marcia's little car) in the Heath car park next to the huge van with 'Sitting Room' written on it which belongs to our friend Bob who, as you may have guessed, runs a shop in the town of that name which sells everything that you might find in - well, a sitting room. Then over to The Brioche to enjoy coffee whilst sitting at a table on the pavement - after all, we are nearly at the end of the summer and this might be the last day this year when it will be warm enough for this to be an option. Being a Friday it is market day and we can sit there and watch some of the colourful folk who have stalls here selling everything from fish to furniture, cauliflowers to clothes, sausages to scarves.


We had just finished our coffee when a couple walked by with an absolutely beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog. I could not resist him so I accosted them and asked if he could be a blog dog. This, of course, means explaining the Friday blog and so on but I am quite used to that now. He is called Oscar and he is a hospital PAT - pet as therapy - which means he goes into the hospital and patients stroke and cuddle him and, as a result, feel much calmer and generally happier. You will see the him here in a few week's time.


On the subject of pets acting in a therapeutic way, the first Cat Cafe in the UK opened here, in Totnes, a few weeks ago. The idea comes from Japan and China where people have difficulty in keeping cats. The concept is simple: in the cafe are the four cats who are on duty that day so that people can go in and enjoy a drink while cuddling or playing with a cat. It seems that there are enough people who are away from home and missing their cat or who live in places where they cannot have a cat to keep the place pretty busy.


Back to today - and the need to write a blog. Oscar duly recorded in the camera, I left Marcia to her own devices and repaired to Rumour where, fortified by yet more coffee and (more importantly?) a large glass of Rioja (and Marcia is, of course, driving today) I settled down to tell you all about it. Writing is indeed a mysterious business. Now, with any luck, next Thursday ...

Your probably won't believe this but when I was "back at the ranch" and preparing the photographs for the blog, I discovered (to my horror, I suppose) that this week's blog dog is also called Oscar - and to think of all those people who wait for years to get an Oscar and I find I have two in one day!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Here we go again!

“She has this small girl with her but it’s not her daughter. The mother is visiting someone in Australia – or New Zealand – or somewhere. Now all we have to find out is who this is, who is the daughter, where are they and what do they have to do with the story.” That isn't a quote but boils down what Marcia has been saying for the last few days into one simple sentence.

Simple? Well, not really. Still, that should be pretty easy – given the odd miracle or two – so why are we waiting? Well, we aren't  We are getting on with it. Between us we have driven about three hundred miles this week in trying to find the answer. Not that we've found it. All we know now is that there are a few places where they aren't and a few where the definitely are not. There is a subtle difference: in the first case it means that there is no sign that they are there whilst the latter means that this is so wrong that there would be no point in even thinking about it.

It is rather like when we were looking for a river. Not any old river but one particular river. If you remember we started looking in Cornwall and some weeks and many miles later found it by accident when we were up on Exmoor. Hey ho.

To be fair, searching around looking for Marcia’s people has taken me to places that I would otherwise not know exist. It has made me realise just what a wonderfully rich part of the world the south west of England is. Having spent a part of my life as a travelling trouble-shooter I have made brief trips to may countries and they all have some spectacular scenery and fascinating wild life. Mind you, I seemed to spend more time in their industrial estates than I did in their countryside but even so I took whatever opportunities I could to have a good look around. 

There are many I would have loved to explore more fully but it seems to me that there are two sorts of explorers in this world (and most people are neither). There are the ones that want to visit as many places as they can and then there are the ones that want to know one area as intimately as they can. I belong to the second group and every time we go off I will see something new, something I have never noticed before. Also, as the seasons revolve I shall know where to look for old friends – early snowdrops, shy violets, the first bluebells and so on right through the year – and in some ways this is just as important as finding the new.
Gorse, bell heather and ling (the paler of the heaths).
There is the whiff of autumn in the air. The wonderful lanes of spring have long since gone although there are a few places where there are good shows of wild flowers. Not entirely sure that I fully know why. On the open moors, the bell heather (Erica cinerea) is nearly over – what there is tends to be in the low clumps of gorse which is in flower at the same time – but the ling (Calluna vulgaris) lingers (and, before you ask, that is not why it has that name). It is also known as Common Heather or just Heather and is far paler than the bell heather but keeps going longer into the autumn.

' ...wild flowers behaving badly ...'
That’s about it for colour at the moment: the odd patch of wild flowers behaving badly and the gorse with the attendant heathers. Oh, and the rowan or mountain ash, which Marcia loves, is now covered in berries. 

Beech trees in the Exe valley in autumn

Meanwhile we have the proper autumn colours to look forward to. Nothing as spectacular as they see in Canada, of course, but there is nothing lovelier than the Exe valley when the beech trees prepare for winter.

Thanks to my brother-in-law, the puzzle of the moth has been solved. The problem was, of course, that we were looking at the underside so that the wonderful orange and red colours that adorn this animal were hidden. Anyway, all is revealed and what we were looking at was a Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria). My thanks to the Natural History Museum for the following image.

Beau - well it had to be, didn't it?
Signings as of today (all signings last 1 hour):

Friday, October 11: Totnes Bookshop 2 pm
Saturday, October 12: The Harbour Bookshop, Kingsbridge 11 am
Friday, October 18: Bookstop, Tavistock 10.30 am
Saturday, October 19: The Torbay Bookshop, Paignton 10.30 am
Tuesday, October 22: Bookshelf, Saltash
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s, Plymouth 11 am
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s,, Roman Gate, Exeter 2 pm

To be scheduled: Waterstone’s. Truro and The Bookshop, Liskeard.

*  *  *  *  *

I rarely suggest that Marcia's readers would be at all interested in my other blogs but the one I posted today - Friday 13th - may be an exception. If you want to see what I am talking about, please CLICK HERE. This post is called 'Three Crows'.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The four dimensions

As I write, Marcia and – by extension – I are living in four dimensions. This has never happened before: astrology speak you might call this conjunction. I understand that the planets Venus and Jupiter are about to be (or have just been – this is not my subject) in conjunction and that this is terribly important. It seems it has something to do with being a gift from heaven so from where I sit it obviously applies to my spouse.

Our conjunction comes from a different place – a very different one. It is all to do with timing, of course, which is, I suppose, self-evident. Anyway, the four dimensions are Postcards from the Past (down on Bodmin moor with meanders off to Peneglos on the north Cornwall coast), The Sea Garden (set mainly on the banks of the River Tamar with trips to Tavistock), Indian Summer (I’ll come back to that one in a minute) and Untitled.
We are on Bodmin moor in Postcards from the Past.
This was the closest we got to the "feel" of Mellinpons,
home to Edmund and Wilhelmina St Enedoc.
As I said, it is all to do with timing. In a few weeks time Marcia will be carrying out the annual book-signing tour (see schedule below). Two books will be involved: the paperback of TSG and the hardback of PFTP. The first was written in 2010/11 and the second in 2011/12. Readers will want Marcia to talk about those books but those two worlds are, to her, a distant memory. Both of these dimensions will need some intense exploration before those signings if Marcia is to be able to deal reasonably intelligently with questions.
The River Tamar, the setting for The Sea Garden.
There is a nice story here about trying to remember books about which you are going to talk. Marcia was to be interviewed by Judi Spiers on Radio BBC Devon to discuss, or so she had been told, The Way We Were. She spent a few days boning up on the book and arrived at the studio at the appropriate time. Almost every room in the Exeter studios is fitted with a loudspeaker which keeps everyone aware of what is being broadcast. As usual, when one discussion ends, an announcement is made regarding the next talk and then a piece of music is played. So it was that moments before being live on air, Marcia heard the announcement, “Next we talk to one of our favourite authors Marcia Willett about her new book The Prodigal Wife.

Marcia told me afterwards that her mind went completely blank – Prodigal Wife? – what Prodigal Wife? Needless to say she was the only one to know that she was in a state of panic: by the time the microphones were switched on she had pulled herself together. I have a feeling that this experience is one of the reasons she prepares so hard before these signings.
Here we are on Dartmoor again but not up on the open moors
but in the farmland  that adjoins them.
The third dimension was given a title earlier this week: Indian Summer. Finding titles for books is oddly extremely difficult. We have seen before that Marcia gives her books a “working title” that the marketing department rejects. This is fair enough: it is their job to sell books and they don’t want the title to turn people away but to attract them. Often Marcia is more than happy with the suggestions that are made although there are a couple of times when she has been less so. She always felt that the working title Stony Sanctuary was better that the published title Forgotten Laughter. The book, after all, was set in a granite long house on Dartmoor – a long house in which quite a few of the characters took sanctuary at critical moments in their lives. Anyway, the last couple of weeks have been somewhat overshadowed by the need to title the book that is now in production – and which I will be telling you all about next autumn.
This is in The Dandelion, a coffee shop that is attached to the Moorland Hotel at Haytor.
You will have to wait until 2014 to know why this is important.
Then, of course, there is the book now in the planning stage – dimension the fourth. This is when Marcia drifts away from everything else and enters almost completely into the world that she is about to create, as I have often described.

I suppose four should be five. Somewhere, usually on the periphery, there is a thing called “real life”. It tends to be considered of little importance although there are the usual requirements – food, clean clothes, etc – which do need a certain amount of attention.

This week’s blog dog lives in the United States of America and belongs to one of Marcia’s readers. Sally Gingerbread, as she is called is a cross between a Sheltie and a Chow.

Signings as of today (all signings last 1 hour):

Friday, October 11: Totnes Bookshop 2 pm
Saturday, October 12: The Harbour Bookshop, Kingsbridge 11 am
Friday, October 18: Bookstop, Tavistock 10.30 am
Saturday, October 19: The Torbay Bookshop, Paignton 10.30 am
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s, Plymouth 11 am
Saturday, October 26: Waterstone’s,, Roman Gate, Exeter 2 pm

To be scheduled: Waterstone’s. Truro and The Bookshop, Liskeard.