Of paintings, lawns, blood, wine and chocolate

I was mowing this morning, pacing, meditating and cutting grass. I sometimes wonder what aliens would think if they looked down and saw me pushing the mower and muttering to myself as I work out where to take my characters next.

I’ve had an interesting week in the writing side of my life. A few days ago I had one of ‘those’ moments, when I realised what my main character wants, what he is about. For months I’d laboured on with the original idea and then I read what I’d written. When I woke up I came to the conclusion that my problem was the gender of my lead character. I was writing about a 70-year-old woman and she just wasn’t that interesting. Plus, I don’t write women nearly as convincingly as I write men. The motivations of women don’t interest me as much.

So I created her son and gave him the catalyst, a diary written during WW2 by a grandmother he didn’t know he had. It opens up a great many layers of discussion and emotion. And he can have a genuine desire for something that his new-found relations have, something to which he has a claim. Conflict. It gives Rafael Gomez another moral dilemma.

Since these important discoveries the book has been writing itself, in long streams and the characters talk to me when I’m doing other things. If possible I drop what I’m doing and race to the computer. Hard to do if you’re in the supermarket or about to take communion in church. And if you keep repeating sentences to yourself they tend to want to lock you up.

“Blood, Wine and Chocolate” is launched on March 9th at 5.30pm at PaperPlus Cambridge. I know some of you don’t live here and it is a little far to ask you to come. But consider yourselves invited anyway. It will be a grand night.

I have little wedding favour boxes with scorched almonds in them and some have numbers inside the lid. If you are lucky enough to get a numbered one you will be invited to peruse the prize table and find the corresponding number. Whatever is sitting on that number now belongs to you! It might be a bottle of Waiheke wine or a vase or a box of chocolates that holds 100 pieces of praline. There are over 40 prizes.

There will be a chocolate fountain and plates of chilli chocolate for the brave hearted. We will also do something delicious with a full sized chocolate stiletto before the launch date too.

I like launching books, it’s the fun part. I have a few speaking engagements coming up over the next few weeks too, Te Kuiti, Hamilton and Auckland. So, enjoy the last of summer, or the last of winter, depending on where you are and GO THE BLACK CAPS!!! (Cricket World Cup starts this week)

Of Miranda and Monks

As I was pacing my lawn and mediating this morning, two interesting thoughts came to me. As I pace I push the lawn mower and its steady noise makes a reassuring backdrop to my thoughts.

The other night I watched the last ever episode of Miranda, staring Miranda Hart. It was a most satisfactory conclusion to her story but it did remind me of all the times Mum and I laughed ourselves to tears watching her. She was reminiscent of the old-fashioned physical comedy that is beyond most so-called comedians nowadays. It occurred to me this morning that I can now remember things I shared with Mum and it makes me happy, not tearful. I am at that stage where memories cause me joy.

The second thought was concerning monks. I was given the complete set of Cadfael DVDs for Christmas. There are 13 episodes over four series and I have three left to see. I have enjoyed them immensely. Derek Jacobi was so brilliant in his hey day, and yet he is still brilliant now, and there are many other actors who had bit roles at the start of their careers in the mid 1990s. People like Hugh Bonneville and Hermione Norris etc. They are based on the novels by Ellis Peters and set at Shrewsbury Abbey in the 11th century.

Cadfael is a medieval monk, a herbalist and healer, who is also an amateur detective and solves murders. One of the interesting things I have learned from the extras on the DVDs is the incredible skill of these monks. They knew what the plant world was capable of, they treated gangrene successfully, made a potion of poppy to cure pain and treated knife and arrow wounds so that men hurt in battle would heal. Of course they didn’t have to deal with gunshot wounds in the 11th century. They had tremendous gardens full of life-giving plants and recipes that were hundreds of years old.

The scribes had copied the Gospels, they didn’t write down the recipes of the ointments and pulses and tonics that their herbalists used. Then in the 16th century the Reformation happened and the Abbeys were “Dissolved”. Most of the monks were killed or driven away and the ancient gardens were destroyed. The knowledge that was lost set man’s ability to heal himself back for two hundred years, maybe more. He resorted to ‘bleeding’ bodies to rid them of bad humours and isolating lepers instead of healing them. Science has had to rediscover these cures all over again and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t found them all yet. Isn’t that fascinating?

It makes me wonder what the world would be like if the Reformation hadn’t happened and the Church was still the powerful force, people were God-fearing because they knew nothing else. Would we be backward, with no electricity and the majority of people being illiterate, no contraception, no airplanes, no computers….or would science and faith have found a way to co-exist in harmony? Would the discoveries still have happened? Would man have learned compassion or would he still be as cruel as ever to his own race?

I don’t come up with any answers and I am bathed from head to toe in sweat, but at least I have short lawns.

Endless Mowing

You see, I had this idea. I was going to move to sleepy rural Putaruru and spend my days writing at my desk (with its glorious view of the hills and the trees and the cows) and sitting on my deck (with its glorious view of the hills and the trees and the cows) and swinging on my swing seat (with its…you get the idea.) Instead, I have been so busy! January is flying by in a flash and I am doing a million different things.

I have become involved in the children’s ministry run by my new parish, St Paul’s, and that is very fulfilling. We have been giving the kids cooking lessons over the Christmas holidays and I’ve helped make pizza and coleslaw and made chocolate cakes and then the next week I made jumbo cup cakes (with a yummy caramel surprise inside) and took them down for the kids to decorate. We had chocolate, red and green icing and lots of different things to sprinkle and arrange. They devoured sausages in bread, cookies and cupcakes.

My darling niece had a clean out of clothes and books and toys and puzzles etc. and donated them to the families we minister to. You should have seen the faces, sundresses and jackets and shoes. Some went into the church supplies for Sunday school and some have been put away for 2015 Christmas presents by the wonderful lady who runs the ministry.

What else have I been doing? Mowing. How fast do lawns grow? I have 1000 square metres of lawn and it grows like Topsy. I do it in three stages and as soon as I’ve finished the bottom stage, the top one (up beside the house) has weeds and daisies and grass taunting me. I have a very cool (battery) electric lawn mower and I enjoy the process, it just seems to be never-ending.

And hot! My goodness it has been hot. When the radio predicts 29 degrees C and then the TV tells me it was 25/26 I just yell at the TV, or at least I would if it didn’t take so much energy. Thank the Lord for the cold heat pump thingie.

“Blood Wine and Chocolate” is launched here and in Australia March 1st. My second book, I can officially say I am not a one-book-wonder. I hope people like it, I like it, I think it’s quite funny. It is VERY different from Secrets but that’s no bad thing. The sequel to Secrets will be like Secrets, this one has death but no mass genocide. In many ways it has far more violence than Secrets because it is one on one kind of violence, but it is self-defence and I don’t think it is gratuitous. If you don’t like dark thrillers, don’t read it.

So, swimming, mowing, writing, cooking, mowing, reading, sleeping, mowing…the summer of 2015. Happy Days.

A Christmas Blog

It’s nearly Christmas and my mind is awhirl with so many different emotions.

I moved from Cambridge to Putaruru about a month ago. Due to a high level of organisation and an award-winning number of lists, the move went very well. Nothing was broken and between the house, a garage and three sheds, everything fitted into somewhere.

This is a sleepy little town about 30 minutes south of Cambridge. People are very friendly, kids grin and say “Kia Ora” to you as they pass you in the street. The local radio station has a great copywriting team, they tell you what to do if your tractor falls down a tomo or a cow makes a banana of your gate and I love the travel agent who voices his own ads and says, “Unfortunately Richard Branson has cornered the market on space travel, but I can book you on a train to Auckland.”

I adore the house I bought and I still can’t quite believe I live here. I have a glorious view of tall trees and paddocks and (sometimes) cows. My neighbour has chickens. The birdsong is constant and fascinating. I love the inside of the house, with all its art deco touches and big windows and light, open spaces. Chloe, my cat, is in seventh heaven. She takes a running leap and climbs tall trees. She disappears into overgrown garden and reappears with a mouse in her jaws. She sits on the rails of the decking and watches the birds for hours, telling me regularly that she could catch that bird if she could be bothered going down into the garden.

There are other cats around and she is slowly educating them to the fact that this is now her patch. Not without some strife. I had to call the on-call vet out on Sunday morning to give her antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory injection because of an impressive bite in her rear thigh. But she has assured me that the other “bloke” came off far worse.

I’ve joined my local church, the parish of St Paul’s. It is alive and dynamic and has a great ministry with local kids. Vicar Jan is wonderful and funny and the congregation are very welcoming. Last Saturday we had lots of local kids and adults for “Messy Christmas.” We did craft for an hour, then dressed the kids up for a very spontaneous Nativity play and then sat down to a ham/lamb/potatoes/peas/coleslaw/Pavlova/ice-cream/jelly feast, crowned by a chocolate fountain and lots of dipping things. I was head to toe in glitter then covered by a layer of melted chocolate.

Last night I went to a singing rehearsal and at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve I am singing with four others. We are singing three songs (none of which I had ever heard before) during Communion and all the congregational carols. This is new for me. I haven’t sung in public/church for a very long time and my voice is still a bit suspect when it gets tired. But I’ll give it a go, because that’s the kind of church St Paul’s is, everyone gives everything a go.

I’ve had family visiting to see me in my new house. Sunday my niece and two great-nieces came and yesterday another niece and two great-nephews came. It was lovely to see them and to share my house, my garden, my food and my joy with them.

Next Thursday, Christmas Day, I am off to Lake Tarawera to spend the day with my brother and all his family. I’ve never spent Christmas at this house and it will be wonderful. I am taking the chocolate fountain and all the dipping things and my great-nephews have offered their services as ‘tasters’ to make sure everything is just so.

For Christmas Day is an anniversary. Last year Mum died on Christmas Day. I am not entirely sure what the day will be like, but I will wake up in a new house and go to church with people who never knew her and then go to the Lake where I never spent Christmas with her. My mind tells me it will be fine, I talk to her every day and I feel her with me every day, so why should this day be any different? Does the passing of a year alter anything? No more ‘firsts’ without her. Next March I will launch my next book and I strongly suspect that that will be harder to do than Christmas Day. I know how much she would have loved this place, but if she were here, I would not be living here. That’s what moving on is all about. The walls of this house are covered in new art, there are new ornaments on the mantle piece and it is all mine, all my taste.

I go out on my deck every morning and I listen to the birds and (sometimes) the cows and the chickens and I breathe in the clear country air and I wonder what my characters will do today when they emerge from their pages. I feel content. I feel very blessed. I feel complete. I live here. Happy, happy days.

Merry Christmas one and all, may you have a safe and lovely holiday, and all the very best for 2015, may your dreams come true and may they be as wonderful as you knew they would be.

Love from

A Moving Experience

Moving can mean many things and it looms large in my life at the moment.

Last weekend I went to Napier with some friends and we witnessed the ordination of our ex-vicar as the Bishop of Waiapu. It was pomp and ceremony and more clergy than you can count…what is the collective noun for clergy I wonder? It was lovely and I had a fab time and the next day, Sunday, we went back to Napier Cathedral to hear Andrew preach and to receive our last communion from him. It was moving and there were tears shed but it was also right, he looked exactly where he should be.

There is nothing as exhausting (in a childless existence) than moving house. I am tidying and cleaning and de-cluttering and giving away furniture and making piles of boxes in my garage. I like the de-cluttered look, it is very soothing. I am weeding and doing a little planting to make the garden look nice. I am also trying to finish page proofs for my next book but every time I start to read I lose time and then wake up.

Can’t show you the cover for “Blood, Wine and Chocolate” yet, but I can say I ABSOLUTELY LOVE it. It is exactly what I had in mind and more. Advanced Reader’s Editions will be available soon and yes, some of you will get them, you know who you are.

I have all my digits crossed that I will get the house I want to live in next. It fills my mind while I clean and tidy and weed and pack. It is about 30 minutes south of Cambridge in an even smaller rural town. But it has everything I need, a supermarket, a picture theatre, a swimming pool, lots of vintage clothing stores…

The house is down a right-of-way and has glorious rural views, mature trees that sing when the wind sways them, a few sheds and three tiers of lawn and lots of decking, some closed in. Inside it has three bedrooms, polished wooden floors and a great kitchen. The bathroom needs remodelling because I like a shower, not a shower over a bath…SO, I am going to unleash my Art Deco style. I am dreaming of black and white bathroom tiles, gorgeous mirrors, pedestal vanity and square shower box and I have seen a magnificent black chandelier for the hall and a cut crystal pendant light for my bedroom and a completely round swivel chair for the lounge. A little excited? Much.

So the next while will be Open Homes and cleaning and tidying and weeding and dreaming of my next home and my Art Deco sanctuary. But before it becomes a reality….a moving experience.

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?”

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