Of books and children

I have lived in Putaruru for a whole year. Sometimes it seems like 15 minutes and sometimes it seems as if I’ve always lived here. It takes a year to ‘grow’ into a new house, you need to find out what the garden does in all four seasons, where the prevailing wind comes from, whether you are happy with your décor and how to cope with the heating and cooling.

This is a gorgeous house in summer. The trees are all in leaf and they sway in the wind and the sun streams down onto the big decks around the house. I have a swing seat and I can sit in it and drink in my view.

It has been a life-changing year in many ways. On the ‘work front’ I have graduated to an author whom people take seriously. I travelled to Europe for research, I wrote a whole book, I went through a long and detailed editing process with it and I am extremely proud of the result. The cover is evocative and haunting. It is called Rachel’s Legacy and it will be released March 1st 2016 with a major launch party planned for March 7th. And PaperPlus, a big bookstore chain here, are taking me on a nationwide signing tour. Even Harpers Australia have committed to get right behind this book. So we shall see what happens…

And of course “Blood, Wine and Chocolate” came out in March and went straight to number one on the Neilson New Zealand Adult Fiction best seller list. It sold very well, it stayed on the list for 16 consecutive weeks. And I took it to a couple of wonderful and hilarious literary festivals. LOVE speaking at festivals and there are some more planned for next year.

I signed a contract for my fourth book, Levi’s War, which will be the third, and last, in the Horowitz Chronicles. It will be a new challenge, a novel in the first person. The story is full of promise and emotion and passion and I look forward to some serious writing in the next six months.

I have launched myself on a health kick. I am on insulin, injected every night and it is levelling out my blood sugars and giving me energy I didn’t know was possible. Early next year I shall have an MRI scan and then a balloon valvotomy to open up my pulmonary valve. I shall be on the path to more years of fulfilling life than I ever expected to have. Which tends to change your outlook on life.

The other part of me that has blossomed this year has been my faith, my church life and what I know now is my ministry. I love St Paul’s in Putaruru. It’s an Anglican/Methodist co-operating parish and it hums with life and the Holy Spirit. The people are delightful and welcoming and I feel at home there. I go to a wonderful weekly Bible study and I do the newsletter for the Sunday services, I sometimes read one of the readings during the service and we have spectacular morning teas (not that I eat anything I shouldn’t).

But the greatest part of St Paul’s is the children. Through the ministry of a wonderful woman called Mary we have been allowed to help so many families. Some people in this town are doing it tough, as they are all over the country, all over the world, and often the children can suffer. They come to us every Sunday and do craft work and laugh and sing and eat! Last Saturday evening was a glorious example. It was our nativity “Messy Church.” My craft table made “Jesus rocks” nativity scenes out of painted rocks – cold glue gunning at it’s best. I was the narrator for the most wonderful, almost impromptu play. Where else would the donkey hold the star over the stable and Joseph have his face painted? Then we all feasted on ham and potatoes and peas and coleslaw, followed by mountains of Pavlova, jelly and ice-cream and huge strawberries.

This morning I helped to wrap and label shoeboxes full of gifts for our children. We will deliver them on Christmas Eve. The parish and the wider community have combined to double the number of shoeboxes we have this year, not to mention the bags overflowing with goodies.

It’s not a hand-out, it’s not charity. It is a parish caring for its own. These families, adults and children, are, as we are, part of the body of Christ.  Some of our farming families have had it tough this year and the parish is there for them too, quiet help and lots of prayer. That’s one of the wonderful things about believing in God. It brings you peace and joy like nothing else, but it also brings you a supportive church family who will be right beside you no matter what.

On Friday it is Christmas Day and two years to the day since my darling Mum passed away. I will celebrate the day with family and then, later, with good friends, and there will, no doubt, be a glass raised to her. I still miss her and I wish she could be part of all that has happened in the last 24 months, but if she was, it wouldn’t have happened. She’s there, she can see and she is happy.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and all the very best for 2016, if I don’t come back here before New Year’s Eve. I never know when the urge to blog will come upon me! It is a time of children, books, cows in the paddocks, a cat asleep on the deck rail, ham and pineapple sandwiches with cranberry sauce and love. Merry Christmas!

 

 

Advertisements

Waiheke Weekend

I feel as if I’ve had a month’s holiday! On Friday I drove up from my little rural paradise to the big smoke of Auckland. I had a very enjoyable lunch with my publisher, promotions and sales managers (HarperCollins) and a delightful gentleman from PaperPlus. *Caution: this blog will have a lot of food in it* We dined at Prego in Ponsonby and I had delicious Saltimbocca chicken and a glass of Pol Roger Rose. In addition, I found a copy of  ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ in a classy second-hand bookshop on Ponsonby Road and had to buy it and I bought some handmade dog treats for my favourite canine, Broddie.

At 5pm I caught a very busy ferry to Waiheke Island and was met by my delightful host for the weekend Claire Lawford. We went to the Gala launch of the Festival, lots of nibbles and wine and a discussion with Roger Horrocks on his book about the late Len Lye.

Claire cooked me dinner that night, fresh fish, baby potatoes and asparagus and a bottle of Rose from Obsidian Winery. We discovered lots of things in common and it was a lovely evening.

To work the next day! After a breakfast of almond croissant and hot chocolate, I went to a couple of other writer’s sessions and had a wander down the main street of Oneroa. The sun sparkled on the sea and everyone looked so happy! Lunch at ‘Wai’ restaurant was a sumptuous plate of scrambled egg, avocado, hot smoked salmon on sourdough toast and a maple, cinnamon and banana smoothie. Yum!

My session was 2.15pm and it was fun. Lots of people and they asked really interesting questions. My second book was partially set on Waiheke Island and this fascinated them. I did a short reading from the beginning of ‘Rachel’s Legacy’ and signed some books. Loved the open air poetry readings going on in the quadrant and it was an opportunity to sit in the sun and soak up the atmosphere.

Saturday night Claire took me to a dinner party. I’d forgotten about these, I used to host them many moons ago but I haven’t been to one for ages. It was at a truly stunning house, a good friend of hers who was hosting the wonderful Stephanie Johnson and her husband. I won’t go on about sitting out in the evening air and eating prawns cooked on the BBQ and broad bean puree dip, while we sipped Sangria and set the world to rights. Or how we came inside to chicken cooked with mandarins followed by homemade ice-cream and talked till after midnight.

Sunday morning Stephanie, Anna Smaile and I read from our books to a very appreciative audience. I chose a part of “Blood, Wine and Chocolate” where Vinnie and Norman Lane clash at the Waiheke winery, guns are fired and someone drowns in a vat of wine. More signing and then off to the ferry across the sea to home.

It is an idyllic place and it mesmerises you. It makes you believe that one day you would like a little writer’s retreat beside a beach, on an island, where the food is pure and the wine flows. Once you wrestle yourself away and drive back to your rural paradise with trees, cows, a very affectionate cat and lots of rain…you realise that this is home. This is where you belong. With weetbix or toast instead of almond croissant or cinnamon brioche scroll and diet lemonade instead of banana smoothie. But it was a wonderful break and it does one no harm to be enchanted by Waiheke Island every now and again.

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)

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.

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.

Popcorn called Fluff

There’ve been some really enjoyable events over the last few days. Last week Jane and I went to Auckland and had a meeting with my publisher, Finlay Macdonald at HarperCollins. We chatted and sang all the way up in her shiny red car, had a great meeting and finalised details of Blood, Wine and Chocolate and the sequel to Secrets, with a working title of Rachel’s Legacy, stopped on the way home for an ice-cream at Pokeno and at the The Base (big shopping centre at Te Rapa) and found some stunning handmade chocolates.

We have some projects on the ‘go’ at the moment, one being planning the launch of Blood, Wine and Chocolate. This has meant we’ve spent a few dollars on a giant wine glass at a Saturday garage sale and yesterday we went to the monthly Trash and Treasure market and found some stunning fake bunches of grapes (I guess you had to be there). We are planning on making chocolate truffles and purchasing some commercial ones. Consequently, we’ve been trying a few yummy ones and rating them, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

Speaking of food….I have tried a remarkable array of food lately. Not just the magnificent chops, sausages and mince from the home-kill meat that now fills our deep freeze, but everything from homemade figs and feijoa crumble with homemade custard, homemade Nasi Gorang while visiting Dutch friends of Jane’s, stuffed wraps for lunch, and the Hamilton night market on Saturday night – dumplings, plump beef satay with the most delicious satay sauce, BBQ pork steamed bun and these Spanish crunchy long things dipped in melted chocolate.

Last night we went to Te Awamutu to our lovely local picture theatre and saw “The Monuments Men.” This is based on a true story about men who went into the European war zone and saved over five million pieces of precious art. It stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchette etc. I loved every moment of it. I was on the edge of my seat drinking it in. It was so “on topic” for the book we are working on, the sequel to Secrets. (When I say “we”, I’m writing it and Jane is illustrating it) It was the last showing in a picture theatre and it was a wonderful cinematic experience for me. On Wednesday we are going to see the last showing of “The Book Thief” which will also be right “on topic.” Yet another example of how much I love my life!!

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I guess it was my first Mother’s Day without Mum. I posted a picture of her on Facebook and I spent a little while thinking about her. She comes up often in conversation every day, as does Jane’s late Mum who died around 15 years ago, and we talk about our childhoods (mine in New Zealand and hers in Scotland) and the surprising amount we have in common in our past. I am still grieving and of course I still miss her, but having someone in the house again has made a huge difference. Jane and I have been friends for thirty years and we are both easy to live with. And we laugh, a lot. Last night we wandered into the right cinema for the film to find there was a movie showing, the end of the film before ours. The lovely young man at the counter had to come and ask us to leave, much to the confusion of the four people watching that film. When we bought popcorn and he opened the glass door, there was a sign that read “Fluff the Popcorn”. I couldn’t help it, “OH look, they’ve named the popcorn! It’s called Fluff.” Everyone dissolved into puddles of laughter including the lovely young man who was still laughing when we finally went in to see that movie. That’s the way we roll!!

The Trip That Isn’t and The Book That Is

Today is April 9th and in less than a week I’m supposed to be jetting away to exotic places, to spend days exploring dynamic cities like San Francisco, New Orleans, Orlando, Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York and Chicago…you get the general idea. Except I’m not. I’m staying home.

Why? Because it is a trip too far, a trip I’m not ready to make. Financially, physically, emotionally and in every other way I would fall at the first hurdle. Yesterday I went for a walk into town and spent four hours doing stuff. By the time I got home my legs and feet were aching and by last night I had ugly red rashes on the inside of my lower legs and they are still there this morning. I was exhausted. Today I feel like crap, I just want to curl up in my bed and let the world pass me by. I miss my Mum. I’ve been sorting out wardrobe space and storing piles of things and I’ve found lots of memories. I feel angry and tired and like hitting something.

This is not a good attitude to have when you’re on the other side of the world and you have to sightsee and write a blog about the lovely places you went to and the things you saw today. I am not ready to do this. It will take money that I do not have, or I need for other things…like clearing out my guttering so I don’t get drowned inside again when the next big downpour comes. Maybe even buying a car?

I haven’t completely dismissed the idea, I guess I’ve put it in the ‘too hard this year’ basket. Maybe by this time next year I’ll be ready. In the meantime, I have a full length novel finished and with my publishers, which will (fingers crossed) be released by the end of the year. “Blood, Wine and Chocolate.” I love it. It’s black and funny and I am madly in love with my main character, he’s flawed and fabulous at the same time.

Today I finished a five page synopsis for my next novel. It’s called “Rachel’s Legacy” and it is a sequel to “The Keeper of Secrets.” Yes, the Horowitzs and the Gomezs and the Valentinos will all be back, along with some very important new characters. It will flow from pre-war Berlin, through the Berlin resistance in WW2, Soviet occupied East Berlin, the fall of The Wall, to modern day Washington D.C. I can’t tell you when it will be available because it’s not written yet, but at least it’s on the board. And I am excited about it.

I’ll be home for Easter and I love Easter at my little church. From next week I’ll have someone coming to stay with me. She and I have been friends for thirty years and she makes me laugh. When we were young we were ‘partners in crime’ so there will be wine drunk and stories recalled. I’ve been nearly two years in this house by myself and it will be such fun to have company again. I love her to bits and my legs love her shiny red car.