Gardening, Books and Goodbyes

I begin with a rant. I have just been round my garden and given it a severe talking to. There are weeds! It was weeded four months ago for goodness sake, what right does it have to have weeds again? And I suppose it thinks I’m going to pull them out. I hate gardening. My next house won’t have so much as a pot plant. I’m none too fond of housework either…where are those days when writers could live in suites at fancy hotels and spend their days in the bar, drinking cocktails and composing their contribution to great literature??

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our lovely vicar, Andrew Hedge, and his family. He is off to Napier to become a Bishop. It was the culmination of days of cooking, planning and secret squirreling. The parish made him a memory box of cards, notes, photos and the like, the choir rehearsed a special blessing, there were farewell signs on the lawn and lots and lots of cooking. It was a lovely day and it all went like clockwork. Now we await the new vicar and see how he, or she, will fill the metaphorically enormous shoes Andrew has left behind.

I have finished Blood, Wine and Chocolate. It has had its edits and its poking and prodding and the next step is the page proofs. The cover will be sent to me soon and I have no idea what it will look like. I know how I hope it will look. Then there will be Advanced Readers Editions and first reactions to the story. It will be officially launched in March 2015.

Meanwhile, I am wrestling with Rachel’s Legacy. I have a strong feeling I shall change the order of the story completely in the next couple of weeks and take a different approach. It has to be a worthy successor to The Keeper of Secrets and do justice to the enormity of the story behind it.

The next book is already buzzing in my head and I fear I shall have to write the basic plot down in order to silence that “look at me!” noise that is steadily growing. It will be fun, and delightful and it will just have to wait its turn.

In two days it is the first anniversary of the death of a dear friend. She was wise and funny and had a huge heart and a wit as sharp as the sharpest tack. Like many of her friends I see things that I know would amuse her and I wish she was here to share them. But I feel blessed that I had her as a friend for ten years and she painted my world with laughter- thanks for the memories, Anita.

The Power of Words

Well here we are, dear little New Zealand with a new government. Except it is the same one we had before, but bigger and with some new people.

As some of you know, I am a political animal and I’ve worked hard over the last few weeks to help my local MP, Louise Upston, get re-elected. I’ve delivered fliers and organised other people to deliver them, I’ve manned stalls at two Trash and Treasure markets, led a (car) cavalcade, been a human hoarding and written weekly email updates to send out to party faithful in the electorate, recruited scrutineers and trained them for their work on election day.

Last Friday we had a huge day in the electorate. It started with breakfast in Taupo with the Prime Minister, and then he came to Cambridge around lunch time and then, in the evening, Louise and I went through to Rotorua to do the scrutineering for all the advanced votes. I had several opportunities to speak to John Key, the PM, that day. I gave him a signed copy of The Keeper of Secrets and we had a chat about how it came about. I introduced some of my friends, who were also working for the National Party, to him. He is a consummate communicator and a very cool guy. I have a signed pic on my mantle of the two of us and I am very proud of it.

The next day was Election Day and it was long and stressful and full on, making sure my scrutineers were all okay and doing their job. Then it was result night and lots of cheering and a final outcome beyond our wildest predictions. My party can govern on their own in an MMP environment, unprecedented. But they won’t, they will work with the same partners they had before and it will be progress as usual.

My last comment on this election is that it was a victory against HATE. New Zealanders don’t like to be told who they should believe by outsiders and they hate personal abuse in politics. Our Prime Minister had an awful lot of abuse hurled at him this campaign and he rose above it. Words are powerful tools and they should be used with caution.

So since the election I have been doing housework, two loads of washing, an impressive lot of dishes, tidying away spare fliers and blue ribbons and folders etc. for next time, reclaiming my furniture from under a sea of ‘blue’ stuff.

I went to church yesterday and did my duty as a sidesperson. I experienced another example of the power of words. Someone told me that she would prefer me to wear high cut tops because my scar distressed her and she didn’t think I should show it. I was shocked and I cried. My vicar was very quick to tell me it was nonsense and there was nothing wrong with my scar and I should be proud of it. I AM proud of it, it is my badge of courage. It is also inextricably linked to my Mum and the things she used to tell me to say about my ‘zip’ when I was a child. If she was here I dread to think what she would have said, or done, in defence of her baby. One of my UK friends told me this morning he will store it away and be furious with her when he has the opportunity. But I know that the appropriate response, as a Christian, is to forgive and forget. And I am, I shall, it is a work in progress. If I look in the mirror I don’t even see it, but now, unfortunately, I shall never look again without seeing it, and knowing that it distressed someone.

So, remember the power of words and before you speak ask yourself, “Is it the right thing to say?”

A Cracker Birthday

Yesterday I turned 55. Significant for two reasons, my first birthday without my darling Mum and also I’m still here. 50 years after my heart operation, I’m still going strong. A little frayed around the edges in parts, but still here.

I thought about having a party, haven’t had a birthday party for years. But it is a lot of work and I didn’t want my friends and family to feel obliged to bring a present. So, I thought about it and decided that what I would REALLY like is a trip down memory lane. And I would like to take one of my very best friends with me. I met Lynne through my church and she’s a few years older than me but you’ve never know it. She has more energy and spirit and love for life than many I know half her age. She is kind and funny and very, very well read. She reminds me very much of my Mum. We have become firm friends and I consider her to be God’s gift to me to make the passing of Mum easier.

We took off on our adventure after doing Mainly Music at the Church on Thursday morning. All these lovely little children and their Mums or Nannies, singing and bopping around and playing with ribbons and balls and creating organised chaos.

We drove to Rotorua, talking all the way as always, and through Rotorua out to Lake Tarawera. We stopped on the way at the lookout between the Blue Lake and the Green Lake. I remembered how excited that used to make me, because it meant my mountain was just around the corner. There is was, my brooding mountain. The sight that brings the childhood memories flooding back.

We were staying at my darling brother’s lodge, “Rainbow’s Return.” A lovely place on the lake edge. Before we even unpacked we were down to the end of the jetty to look at the birds, the lake and the mountain. On the way back to the house we found a trout in the stream that runs through the property and took pictures of it gracefully keeping its place by waving its tail back and forth.

After unpacking and settling in, having a banana sandwich for lunch and enjoying the view, it was back into the car and into Rotorua. I spent years walking through the Redwoods with Mum. It was one of my parent’s favourite places and it was wonderful to be back there. Majestic, giant trees and soft paths of bark and dirt, darting fantails and the occasional runner or biker politely passing us. The trunks were all individual and we found some that belonged in Lord of The Rings, spirit faces and twisted lines, and one that had an overhang that created a house. Surely a creature from my childhood literature lived there?

Then it was back to the Lodge and time to put the roast dinner on and make a fire in the log burner. Took me a little while to get it going but eventually it was roaring out welcome warmth. We had a Pimms and some nibbles and talked more. Then it was farm-killed roast mutton, veges and brussel sprouts with bacon and almonds and a small bottle of Saxon apple cider each. Followed by fresh fruit salad, lemon delicious yogurt and chocolate mousse with salted caramel and a Baileys, then a very special chocolate. A combined feast and better than anything we’d get in a restaurant! Time for some music DvDs and some singing and a little toe tapping.

Midnight and soft, comfy beds with beautiful linen. I woke around seven and decided to get dressed and go down to the jetty to spend some time remembering. The misty cloud was covering my mountain and I could feel God telling me that “just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there anymore.” I thought about the 54 years of love and devotion I received from my Mum and how incredibly lucky I am. I felt a soft wind touch my tear-stained cheek as she reminded me that she is still beside me…and then less than eight feet in front of me a great big trout leapt out of the water! Again, childhood memories came flooding back.

After a lovely birthday breakfast and little more music, it was time to pack up. We took our time, there were two trout in the stream now and they needed their pictures taken and photos and videos down on the jetty. A lovely selfie video of the two of us laughing our heads off.

The trip home was slow and full of more adventure. First stop was The Buried Village. My goodness, it has improved since I used to save up my pennies and buy tubes of coloured sand and pretty rocks from the shop! We wandered around the museum and then out into the village itself to see two metre high petrified mud and half buried houses and the stream. When we got to the waterfall track I decided “I can do this” so we did it, carefully and slowly and boy, was it worth it!! A thundering waterfall. Lots of photos and video. The climb back up was a challenge but nothing I couldn’t cope with.

After lunch at the café there it was on to the Rotorua Tree Trust to find the Kauri Grove planted for our family, then on to the Polynesian Pools for a long soak. Bliss! 39 degrees was warm enough, how people can soak in 43 degrees is beyond me! Back into the larger cooler pool for some very gentle aqua-aerobic bobbing up and down and then a strawberry, banana and yogurt smoothie.

When I dropped Lynne off she invited me in and she, her husband Gary and I enjoyed a tea of cold roast mutton and veges and some political discussion as we watched the minor party leaders debate. Home by nine and a good long sleep.

What a cracker birthday! I feel restored and my heart feels light. Soft misty rain, bird song, trout waving their tails in perfect sync with each other, my mountain, wonderful food, hot welcoming water to soak in, magnificent trees, gorgeous music and most of all, laughter and great company. I am truly blessed.

The Perfect Book

This morning I found a You Tube Clip which features a song. It’s an interesting song. It was written by Lord Lloyd Webber and Leslie Bricuss and it is called The Perfect Song. It was recorded by Michael Ball, who has a long history of performing in Lloyd Webber musicals, and features on his most recent CD “Both Sides Now.” I love Michael Ball’s melted chocolate voice and his interpretative abilities and his brilliant diction and his way of telling a story with lyrics. And I really love this CD. It is almost unplugged, there are songs recorded with just voice and piano. Many of the songs I didn’t know before, but they have now become firm favourites.

Still, I digress. The reason this songs fascinates me is because it is simple and clever. It is a song about writing a song, a perfect song. “If I could have just one wish of mine become reality, I would write the perfect song.” In his introduction to the song on the concert DVD, Ball asks if Andrew has ever written the perfect song. A subjective question. I guess an initial reaction can be, “of course not, there is no such thing.” For one person it might be an operatic aria (La Boheme comes close for me) and for others it might be heavy metal, rap or hip hop.

As an author I take the concept and apply it to myself. Do I wish I could write the perfect book? Is there such a thing? Of course not. And no, I don’t wish that, because if you did, where would you go from there? Not only do you want to improve with each book, but you re-read a book you wrote and wish you could have just one more try to improve it. I have a novel with an editor currently and in about three weeks it will come back to me with pages of ‘suggested changes.’ I’m thrilled by it, I love it the way it is, but I am not dumb enough, or precious enough, to believe that it can’t be improved. The editing process for The Keeper of Secrets was a real eye-opener for me. My editor was a very experienced and wise woman and she told me before we started that I had done an ‘astonishing job.’ Yet, every single suggestion she made strengthened the book.

If you think you’ve ever read The Perfect Book, or heard The Perfect Song, I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, we keep striving…..have a listen to the song. This video is an official one from the record label, so the visuals are a bit ‘PR like’, if you know what I mean, but ignore that and listen to the lyrics and let me know what you think. (And in the right hand column you will find a video for “Walk Away” one of my very favourites!!)

Stark Contrasts

It’s only Wednesday and yet it has already been a week of stark contrasts.

I was in Auckland on Sunday and I stayed the night with my Aunt. On Monday I went into the Auckland Museum, a place I spent a lot of time in as a child. In fact, I remember asking Dad to buy it for me so we could live there and he told me that the heating bill would be too high in the Winter. It has had a major make-over and I was SO impressed, it is a wonderful place. I spent hours there and I loved every minute. On the top floor I spent time honouring the brave New Zealanders who have served in wars, some laid down their lives and some returned. I always visit the Spitfire and remember my Dad, that’s the place in the world where I feel closest to him. I found the names of my ancestors, and people from my Dad’s letters, carved into the memorial wall of people who died in the World Wars. The Scars on the Heart exhibition always brings a tear to my eye. I spent a long time in the Holocaust Hall and marvelled at the courage and resilience displayed there. I walked on the Sacred Ground outside and paid my respects at the Cenotaph. Truly the very best of New Zealand.

Last night I was watching the news and I heard about a song that has been written about Killing the Prime Minister and having Sex with his Daughter. I was angry, shocked and appalled. Irrespective of your politics you should respect the office. I know I shouldn’t give the perpetrators of such vile language, I refuse to call it music as that denigrates an art form I adore, any oxygen and publicity. But they are the very worst of New Zealand and they make me truly as ashamed as my experience on Monday made me proud.

In some ways I will be very pleased when this election is over. I’m a ‘political animal’, I do love politics. I love watching debates and watching fortunes rise and fall. BUT this time it has been so nasty, so dirty, so personal and so upsetting. I keep shouting at the TV, “Play the ball, not the man!” I want to hear about policies and it is lost in a torrent of slime. I hold out the hope that most of my countrymen can rise above it all and make sensible decisions and I pray I am right in this.

On a happier note I sit at my computer and I look out the window. Parts of my garden are covered in pea straw and a large collection of birds have found this free nest-building material. I watch as they collect a beak full of straw and fly off to a tree, then come back for more. My pebble garden is finished and it looks superb. I shall organise myself to do a pictorial blog soon and show it off.

So what do you think of this ice bucket challenge thing? It certainly has taken off and yes, it has given us the opportunity to see some very attractive people in wet shirts. The Benedict Cumberbatch video is just superb! And no question, the charity is a very worthy one and hopefully the money raised worldwide will help to find a cure. I’m just glad it isn’t a ‘putting wells into third world countries’ charity because then the irony would be almost unbearable.

I took a quiz on Facebook this morning to establish what my career should REALLY be and the result was writer…phew, thank goodness, too old for another career change.

Spelling

Many years ago my eldest brother told me that you couldn’t become a radical unless you could spell it. I had told him I’d marched in a rally and I was a radicle. He told me that meant I was a radish.
So…I would make a hole in the bookshelf, not a whole. Sorry, my proofing hat had a hole in it today, it was not whole.

Goals and Dreams

I was thinking this morning about goals and dreams and it exercised me enough to blog about it (on a tangent, would that exercise was literally that easy) before those thoughts disappear to wherever it is my thoughts go nowadays.

When I was young I had what you would describe as ‘usual’ goals. I fell for the ‘Cinderella dream’ and wanted to grow up, get married and have children. I knew their names and their genders and how many they would number. In turned out that other women would give birth to them and they would call me “Aunt” but never mind, love them just as much. And I get to create people and name them all day long, my ‘children’ number in the hundreds.

My burning goal was to walk into a book store and see my book, a book written by me, on the shelves. If the books were shelved alphabetically they would be in the “T” section and yes, it is sad but true, I used to make room for them by making a hole on the shelf. My mind didn’t really grasp the full implication of this dream. I would have to write the book AND get it published. As far as I was concerned it would magically appear and I would be an ‘author.’

So what happens when you achieve your lifelong goal at 53? In June of last year I walked in Wrights Bookshop in Cambridge and there it was…my book, all over the shelves. I took photos, I brought Mum down to see and exclaim at it. Not only was the book on the shelves but there was a whole window display and it stayed up for two months. People started to refer to me as ‘writer’ or ‘author’ and I saw pictures of myself in the media.

Life goes on and you reshape your goals. It became a second book on the shelves and to prove that I am not a one-book-wonder. Next April that will happen and I am very excited about the next book. It is not something written years ago, it is me, right here and right now. There are experiences in it that come from the bottom of my heart and soul. I have written two books and now I am writing a third.

This is all good stuff. Life has changed in other ways, I’m a regular public speaker and I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy hearing an audience laugh. Life is full of many little joys, a lovely warm pool for aqua-aerobics three times a week, hot showers on cold winter days, listening to great broadcasters on the radio, singing with the CDs in my gorgeous little blue car, the wickedly stolen delight of salted caramel chocolate mousse and cuddles from my absolutely devoted cat who follows me around the house like a shadow.

BUT underpinning all of this is the knowledge that I have achieved the main goal I’ve lived with all my life. Nothing can take that away from me. If I died tomorrow I would be happy, with no regrets and no sense of lack of fulfilment. I remember my Dad telling me years ago that he survived the war, he did his bit to defeat Hitler, and everything else was a bonus. I didn’t understand that then, but I certainly do now. I’ve published a book, I’ve shared a precious story with the world, everything from now on is a bonus.

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