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!

 

 

Of Mothers, cars and elections

Ah, so many things are afoot in my busy life, it is hard to keep up. Today I have pruned large trees and small shrubs and prepared for a Japanese pebble garden…long story, but I think it will look cool and I’ll take a pic of it when it is done.

Last week I went up to Auckland in my new little blue car (of which I am inordinately fond). I had lunch with my fantastic publisher, Finlay Macdonald at Skycity. We discussed the cover of my next book and how to make it sexy and clever and blood thirsty. I will be intrigued to see what they come back with, given the ideas we had! Then I went and stayed with my Aunt who had turned 91 on Wednesday. It was her first birthday without her sister and my first ‘Mum’s birthday’ without Mum. We had some great catch ups and watched some gold medals at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We were both rather reluctant to part company.

I found this little poem the other day and I put it here in honour of my dear old Mum.

mother poem

The writing is going well and I’m combining it with regular gym and aqua-aerobics, church and preparations for the upcoming election. Those who have subscribed to my blog since 2011 will know that I am a ‘political animal’ and I love being involved in an election campaign. Our local MP, Louise Upston, is superb, one of the best MPs I’ve ever had and it is a pleasure to work for her. On a broader note I am a ‘Key person’, I think John Key rocks and I admire what the National party have achieved during the last six years. So, counting down to the scrap!!

There is some great TV on at the moment, real quality writing and it is maintaining the pressure as the series progress. “Resurrection”, “Under the Dome”, “The White Queen” and of course one day my very favourite, “Scandal” will return. Happy Days.

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!!

Out Standing in a Field

I really shouldn’t joke too much in this blog. It should be serious. I should have my serious face on and I should say in my serious voice…”I nearly died last night.”

Monday night I drove up to Auckland and stayed with my Aunt. She was my Mum’s twin sister and she is getting used to not having a sibling, the same way I am getting used to not having a mother. We yakked and watched TV and ate dinner and yakked some more. I slept well, got up and had breakfast, had a shower, got dressed and we yakked some more.

Then I drove into Auckland Hospital to see my lovely cardiologist. It was my annual “WOF”. I had an echo-cardiogram and an EGC and got weighed and measure etc. Lost 4.5 kilos since the 20th of January (yeah) and when I had a chat to my cardiologist, she was delighted with me. My heart is healthier than it was this time last year and she agreed that a new valve isn’t necessary, ‘steady as she goes’, I’m all set for another year of good health. Lovely.

Then it was over to the North Shore to see HarperCollins. All was good there, too. They love the book I’ve just finished and we are starting to talk serious deals about advances and two book deals and words that sound so sweet to an author.

I got into my trusty steed and took off for home. I listened to music until I got to just south of Huntly, then I put the radio on and rejoiced in the fact that I was nearing the home stretch. As I went round the large roundabout off Gordonton I felt a little dizzy, could be heart palpitation, could be I needed a wee bit of an energy boost and my newly lowered sugar levels were getting a little too low for my own good.

I’m not sure what happened next. One moment I was driving and thinking about pulling over and next there was an almighty bang and the car was resting against a wire and post fence. The engine was still going so I switched it off. I sat there for a long moment and then someone was knocking on my driver’s window so I pushed the button and it came down. He was a nice Maori guy and I just looked up at him.

“I’ve rung the ambulance and the police, love, don’t worry they’ll be here soon.”

I wonder why he’s done that? I thought to myself. Then I realised I was some distance from the road and was in a field. To cut a long story short I passed out and veered off the road. The car missed a large and very solid concrete light post by the tiniest of inches, completely demolished a steel road sign, drove down into a hole, over a great big concrete bump, up a hill, completely flattened a section of wire and post fence and came to rest further down the fence. I was unconscious so my body was relaxed and I hadn’t grabbed the wheel so the car hadn’t rolled down the bank.

The ambulance and police came and they took my precious stuff and put it into my little suitcase and it came with me in the ambulance. I could wiggle my toes but my neck and back were very sore and I couldn’t lift my arms. At the hospital I had a chest x-ray and a CT scan. I was okay for the most part, a little weepy for some of it. Eventually the nice doctors told me nothing was broken but it was wrenched and I was going to be sore. I have an appointment with the fracture clinic in a week and they will check me. In the meantime the collar is restricting but immobility means no pain!

My brother picked me up and brought me home. This morning we went back and surveyed the damage. To say I was lucky is the world’s largest understatement! The car is probably totalled. It has gone to a panel-beaters to be looked over and although it started and was driveable out of the paddock, it has some pretty tangled metal bits hanging off it.

As my brother said, the car is a “tough little bu**er” and it avoided the worst that was in front of me, a huge concrete bridge as well as light posts. Am I sore? In more places than I thought I had places, but that will pass. You may be waiting for me, Mummy, but it was not my time, yet. I have things to do, places to go, books to write and not least I need to warrant being out standing in a field on a Tuesday night more than a little shaken up.

A Very Good Question

One of the things I enjoy about being a published author is the speaking engagements and the opportunities to meet my readers.

Last Wednesday night I went to the lovely Paper Plus store in Te Awamutu and spoke to their book club. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, laughed at my jokes and nodded in the right places. One young girl, a year 12 at St Peters School, came up to me afterwards and asked, “Why did you choose Dachau? Why not Auschwitz?” I had to think about that for a moment and told her it was one of the best questions I’d been asked yet. The answer is probably because at the time the family were rounded up there weren’t that many concentration camps, Dachau was then seen as a ‘labour camp.’ Plus it was in Germany and the transportation system didn’t yet exist to send lots of people to Poland. Because Auschwitz was so big the majority of survivors had at least a connection with it, even if they started or ended somewhere else.  But, a very good question, Meagan.

Friday I went up to Auckland and appeared on Good Morning on TVNZ. My main objective was to get through the interview without coughing and I managed that. The adrenalin floods through you and you don’t remember what you said. I had taped it so I had a look at it later. She asked what the book was about and talked about my ticker.

Then I did an interview for a Sky channel and a programme called “The Book Club” Two lovely guys who spent their time disagreeing on what I should be asked and how to word the intro and ending. It was hilarious.

Sunday I was off to Taupo to a literary festival event. I was speaking with another HarperCollins author, Donna Malone, who has written two crime novels and writes and produces drama for television. Again, it was a lovely group and they seemed to enjoy themselves. I signed lots of books (one lady bought ten copies!) and some very interesting people came up to talk to me. I really enjoy that part and invariably learn valuable facts.

My book trailer is complete and up on You Tube. I edited the first version down by about 60 seconds and am very, very pleased with the finished result. Do have a look and help me spread the word..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlNhRKuuQuc&feature=youtu.be

I am keeping track of the views and want to see how long it takes to reach decent numbers.

This coming week I am speaking at the Lyceum Club in Cambridge and also at a Paper Plus book event at The Base in Hamilton. The following week I am back in Auckland mentoring a Year 13 group of students at my old school, St Cuthbert’s College. I haven’t been back for many years so it will be slightly spooky and nice to be able to give something back.

“The Keeper of Secrets” is released officially in the UK later this month and I’m doing publicity for magazines and blogs. Next month the Dutch version is released. They sent me the cover and I love it.

Dutch Cover 2013

Meanwhile Mum is fine, recovering from a chest infection and slowly getting her energy levels and appetite back. The housework fairy continues to bypass my house on her travels no matter how hard I try to entice her in and the gardening fairy crosses the road to avoid my jungle. Still, you can’t be good at everything……

A Godzilla Birthday Cake

I’m cooking. Actually, that is an understatement, I’m creating two monster cakes.

My Mum and her twin sister are 90 on July 23rd and my cousin and I decided that this achievement should be recognised, so we organised a party. It started as immediate family and then it grew to sisters-in-law and cousins and then it grew to ‘relations’. Their mother was one of 14 so that category is not a small one. And people have accepted the invitation with gusto, ‘come and help the grand old ladies celebrate their venerable age.’

Everyone is bringing a plate so it’ll be a shared lunch and I’m sure the result will be an example of those wonderful shared country lunches, lots of variety and good, wholesome food. Of course a chocolate fountain is wholesome, why would you think it isn’t??

And I am making the cakes. One in the shape of a ‘9’ and one in the shape of a ‘0’. The 9 will be decorated as a golf hole and the 0 will be decorated as a racetrack, not by me I hasten to add, by a lady at church who is amazing at that sort of thing. I googled fruit cake and found a variety of recipes so I combined them. Last night I soaked 4 and 3/4 cups of mixed dried fruit, sultanas, currants, figs, prunes, ginger, dried strawberries and apricots and glace cherries and cranberries in white grape juice. And chopped up two big cups of nuts, brazils, cashews, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios etc.

Today I made the ‘0’ cake. God it was enormous!! I have a huge mixing bowl which was part of my dear old Mum’s Kenwood chef mixer and it was full to the brim. I looked at the bowl and then at the tin and thought, “that is not going to fit in there.” But it did, perfectly. And then it cooked on a slow low heat for two hours and it looks good.

The batter has lots of lovely flavouring from different recipes, cinnamon, ginger, all spice, almond essence, half a jar of apple sauce, zest and juice of an orange…it tastes so so yummy.

 The fruit and nuts are prepared for tomorrow when I shall make and bake the ‘9’ cake. I’ll make the same amount of batter but I’m pretty sure I’ll have enough left over to make another small cake…but I could be wrong, I thought I’d have enough to make an extra one today.

Apart from the cooking, life continues apace. Mum is a little under the weather and I suspect there is a urinary tract infection brewing. We’ll get a sample and if I’m right, a few days on antibiotics and she’ll be as good as new. Well, a 90-year-old version of new.

The Keeper of Secrets continues to sell well everywhere. Someone said to me, “it’s going gangbusters!” And I thought, ‘gosh I hope they don’t come after me.’ The book has registered on the first best seller list for the week ending June 29th

http://www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/nzs-bestsellers/nielsen-weekly-bestsellers-list-week-ending-29-june-2013#international-fiction-adults

This is getting very favourable reactions from people who know about such things. It means sales have been very good. I think I should do my ‘happy sales dance’ and I will, as soon as I’ve had my daily workout by taking the cake out of the oven.

 

 

What A Wonderful Fortnight

Well where to start? The last two weeks have been fascinating, surreal, intimidating and delightful, all at the same time.

The week before NZ launch day I went up to Auckland and left Mum for two days. That was hard and she was VERY pleased to see me when I got back, but the publicity stuff was fun. I did a pre-record TV interview and a pre-record radio interview and filmed a book trailer (which was glorious) and then on the way home, a print interview in a pub.

One of the central features was also an MRI scan. Because they were scanning my heart I was not right in the middle, I could put my head back and see daylight at the other end of the machine. They strapped a foam thing with a camera in it across my chest and I had to lie very still. The headphones helped, although my Michael Ball concert was interrupted by a voice telling me to “Breathe in, breathe out, stop breathing…..breathe normally.” There were some pretty long pauses between the ‘stop’ and the ‘normally’ in the middle of the session and I was counting to 25 at times. At the end of it I was a bit dizzy from all the breath holding and couldn’t believe I’d been lying there for an hour!

Friday June 21st was New Zealand launch day and I got to see my book in a shop window display and on the shelves, that was a moment! I took Mum down to have a look and there were lots of “oh” and “yes” floating around.

I talked to Kim Hill on the Saturday morning on National Radio, she was in a studio in Wellington and I was in a studio in Hamilton. She played some of my favourite music and we chatted. It seemed to go well.

Then Monday was LAUNCH NIGHT! I’d put a lot of work into this and it went very well. Lots of people turned up and that was heart warming, people I’m related to, people I’ve met in the last two years, other writers. I signed, I spoke, I called out numbers for the spot prizes, I signed again. There seemed to be a great deal of food, but most of it was eaten so I was right, people are hungry at 5.30 at night. The cupcakes with the cover of the book on them were a great hit and people were delighted to take one…and they loved the book marks too. Hamish, the wonderful owner of the bookshop, tells me that he sold over a hundred books, a record for his shop on the launch of a book written by a NZ author. And best of all, Mum came. She sat there like a queen and everyone came and chatted to her and she ate. I thanked her last of all in my speech and ended with the fact that she says “Famous…” and right on cue she said “Daughter!” so everyone could hear and they all clapped. It was a GOOD night.

Since then I’ve done radio interviews and print interviews and next month I have a live TV interview on TVNZ. Today I have a radio interview on the leading radio station, newstalkzb. Yesterday I went round some shops in Te Awamutu and Hamilton and signed what stock they have. There was an article in the lift out magazine of the New Zealand Herald yesterday morning and one poor retailer had had four people in and had no stock left to sell them.

So my life should settle down a little now and I can concentrate on writing “The War Brides Club.” I am a published author. My book is out there on the shelves, selling. People have come up to me in the street and told me they’re reading it, or how much they loved it. I got a Facebook message last night from another paediatric cardiac patient who is my age and had his operation when he was six, two years after mine. His parents were told there was one younger who had survived, a girl. Wow.

This is a remarkable journey and one I feel blessed to be on. I have achieved something and that is good, but it is only the beginning. Now I have to ‘step up to the plate’ and keep writing. Make my wonderful fortnight the beginning of many. Happy Days.

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