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)

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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