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!




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.

Gardens, books and winter

I know, it’s been too long, hasn’t it? Sorry. Life has just been busy.

A couple of weeks ago I went to New Plymouth for a weekend conference and gave a speech about my writing. It was great fun and I got to go to the New Plymouth Cathedral. What a glorious church! The oldest stone church in New Zealand, it is so beautiful and the service was lovely and funky and modern and not at all what I expected. I also got to carry a banner into the Cathedral and that was a rather wonderful experience too.

Jane has been attacking the garden, with a little help from me. Many plants have been removed, along with all the weeds. Now we are planning what to put in and the discussions have included a Japanese garden with gravel and stones, a chilli garden, a garden that will reflect my current literary project and some fruit trees and lovely smelling plants. It will be a joy once again.

Yesterday I finished my first rewrite of Blood, Wine and Chocolate. It is now much darker and funnier than it was and I’ve invented a new ending. It made me laugh as I was writing it and Jane roared with laughter, so hopefully this new ending works. The book will be published May 2015 and we have some great plans for the launch. Plans that involve copious quantities of wine and chocolate and, maybe, some fake blood. I’ve loved writing this book, it has brought light and joy and laughter back into my life and I hope my readers enjoy it too.

I’m 10,000 words into “Rachel’s Legacy” which is the sequel to Secrets and it is also going well. At some stage before the end of the year I’ll go on a research trip to Germany but it is looking increasingly likely that it will be October/November. I need to be ready and to know exactly what I need to research and at the moment I am far too involved with my thriller (see above) to rip myself away and travel.

It was the first heavy frost this morning and the garden was white. The house was cold and the people huddled around the heater. So winter is upon us, the time of year I love. The bed becomes a snug cave and the food reflects the temperature, creamy mash and steaming bowls of soup, pudding and custard and hot chocolate. Happy days!

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.

Life V Art

I was watching an episode of The Black List last night and thinking about how life has imitated art in a very strange way over the past few days. If I described the events of the ‘missing plane’ as a potential fiction plot to almost anyone, they’d tell me it would never work, it is simply too far-fetched. They would say that the technology today is too accurate and a plane couldn’t go missing for over a week with no trace. The combined efforts of highly skilled people and the resources of the most powerful nations on earth would find a missing commercial jet airliner in a matter of hours. Or maybe not.

So why have the stories been so contradictory? Why did they spend days looking in what was, clearly, completely the wrong area of the earth? Now it seems possible that the last contact came from the plane on the ground. So why can’t they get a fix on that?

Say ‘someone’ did steal a plane and all the passengers and skilfully avoided detection on the way to a remote mountain location in Asia. What happens next? Do they ransom the people or do they leave them in the middle of nowhere to be found eventually? If so, we must assume it’s the plane they want. It’s not easy to hijack a plane and turn it into a flying bomb, we all know that, but it’s possible, you don’t have to ‘steal’ it first. That leaves you without a motive and this is a huge thing to do without a motive. It is what writers call a ‘plot hole.’

It has to be the most remarkable aviation story of all time. For someone who is soon going to be making several long distance flights, for the first time in five years, it’s a little perplexing. Apparently you’re at more risk of death in the car on the way to the airport than you are on a plane. Fine. I accept that. But it’s a little like winning lotto, someone does it, and someone might be on the wrong plane on the wrong day.

So the theories will continue to swirl and truth will continue to be stranger than fiction until something definitive happens. Obviously the best outcome would be to find the people, all unharmed and waiting to be rescued. My gut feeling is that that is unlikely. What is absolutely certain is that there will be books and there will be a film and art will take a shot at imitating life once again. Questions, however perplexing, will be answered.

They Have Toothbrushes in America

Thank you all so very much for the kind words about my last post. I had a lovely 50th anniversary ‘zipper girl’ day. A dear friend brought me a beautiful posy of lovely flowers and another equally dear friend took me out to lunch. I perused the excellent menu at the place we went to and finally settled on the coconut and banana pancakes with salted caramel. Next time I will be ferociously healthy, but on that day I was just ferociously happy.

So, life continues to flow. I see things and hear things and think, “Mum would love that” and know that I am not alone in that response. My car is a write-off so instead of getting it fixed at great expense, I am sending it to the wreckers yard. When I come back from my next great adventure I will buy another car. Half my brain says, “sensible Ford Focus” and the other half says, “cool little sportscar.” I’ll let you know which half wins the Civil War.

So, maybe it is time to tell you about my great big adventure. I am still waiting for all the pieces to finally fall into place, but the signs look very good and I have faith that it will come together. My master plan is to leave New Zealand around April 12th and fly to Honolulu. After four days of maitai and fresh pineapple and sightseeing (including swimming with sharks) I shall fly to mainland USA. For the next three months I travel from West Coast to East Coast and back again. There is a detour into Mexico and quite an extended detour north into Canada. There are only two familiar cities on the rough itinerary are Washington DC (one of my favourites in all the world) and New York. The rest are all new, Las Vegas, Memphis, New Orleans, Orlando, Boston, Chicago and many others. I plan to challenge myself, do things that test my fears, heights, sharks, snakes, trying on clothes in shops, spicy food. I will try everything from Fried Coke in Atlanta to Shoofly Pie in Philadelphia. I will immerse myself in interactive museums and wonderful art galleries and tour an alligator swamp, become a spy for a day, have some astronaut training.

And most importantly of all, I shall write. I’ll blog every day and upload a photo. I’ll tell you about how I’m feeling and the people I’ve met and conversations I’ve had, the thrills, the spills, the tears and the laughter. When I drag my weary body home I will write a book, mostly from all the other stuff I couldn’t fit into the blog.

My Mum’s packing advice was invariably “They have toothbrushes in America” when she saw the spread of clothes on my bed. If I could fit the kitchen sink into my trusty suitcase, it would go. This time I am using a small, lightweight suitcase on wheels, easy to carry and easy on my back. If I buy, I post home.

What I would like from you is feedback. Where should I go and what should I see? What lifetime memories can you suggest to me? Remember I am a woman travelling alone and I value my safety. Also, would you read my book? Would you watch and read the blog? Would you care how my mid-life crisis unfolds in North America?

It is a journey I could never have made if Mum was still with me and in some respects that is the point of it. She and I lived together for 21 years and we travelled frequently and shared everything. Now it is time for me to branch out and experience the world without someone waiting at home. However much I don’t take, my grief will be my constant companion but it will not sadden me, it will sweeten everything I see, for I take her with me in my heart and she sees what I see through my eyes. I only hope she was right and they do, indeed, have toothbrushes, and kitchen sinks, in America. Here I come!

Rare or Medium

No, it’s not a blog about cooking, it’s a blog about speaking to the dead.

Yesterday I went to my first session of aqua-aerobics at the Cambridge pool. Lots of people and all but one a little older than me. We walked up and down the pool and ran on the spot and then we got ‘noodles’ (long thin foam rubber tubes) and exercised with them. Where else could you be told to ‘sit on your noodle’? It was great fun and good exercise and lots of entertaining company. Afterwards I did a few lengths to round off my hour and then I got out. As I walked over to my towel I could hear Mum telling me that that was ‘well done’ and I was a ‘good girl.’ She and I used to go to aqua-aerobics at a local pool in Auckland and she wore dark glasses so that the water didn’t splash in her eyes. It was an indoor pool and the leader of the class called her ‘Mrs Mafia.’ Cambridge is an outdoor pool and all the clever people were wearing hats and dark glasses yesterday. I shall take note for future classes.

But the point of the story was the fact that I could hear Mum. I talk to her when I am wondering what to do, expressing satisfaction or laughing at something I know she would find funny. From what I have been told this is a common thing and I’m not ready for the nut house. How long does it go on for? I don’t really want it to stop.

Because it is all so new I remember vividly what I was doing in the days leading up to her passing and I’m still at the stage where I long to go back and have those days again. Just a few more cuddles and conversations and jokes, armed with the precious knowledge that these were the last. I am assuming as I get further away from it that that will lessen.

Today is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day. 174 years ago today the Governor of New Zealand (appointed by Queen Victoria) signed a treaty with representatives of local Maori tribes and that treaty forms the basis of our country. It’s a public holiday and we get together and celebrate being New Zealanders, whether we were born here or have chosen to make our home here. I shall celebrate it by doing that quintessentially New Zealand pastime, grocery shopping. Then I’ll go for a bit of a walk around the park.

I’m at the walk/run stage, walk mostly, run for a few trees, walk, run for a few more trees. Then stretch at the end, hug a tree and come home and do some abdominal exercises and feel virtuous.

Over the next few days/couple of weeks there will be some announcements coming about a completed book to come, books to be written, travel plans. I welcome any advice that my trusty readers have on these matters, so prepare to comment! Meanwhile, the sun is shinning and the country is on holiday and Mum is telling me to celebrate.

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