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.

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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
Julie

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?”

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!!)

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