Happy New Year

Well here we are, 2016. For six whole days now. As usual at this time of year we’ve had a bit of rain, some wind, some lovely fine days, some more rain and then another fine day. Not too hot yet and windy enough to dry the washing. When I was young the weather settled down into summer when we went back to school at the end of January. February can be humid, especially in Auckland, not so much in Putaruru and March is stunning.

I was awake at midnight on December 31st, not having a drink or singing with anyone, but awake and I said “Happy New Year” to Chloe and she gave me a special 2016 kind of meow.

We’ve had our ups and downs lately, she has a shredded pad on her paw and a distinct limp so she has come-a-cropper. But she is healing now and still as fond of her food as ever. Staying inside more and sleeping in her chair, the lazy-boy I once sat in, briefly.

It’s a funny time of the year because I often think of Mum. It still seems weird that she’s not here when I’m dealing with medical issues. I inject myself in the stomach every evening with insulin. It doesn’t hurt and I’m not unhappy about doing it. But I was needle phobic for years and had to be persuaded to go to the doctor in case there was an injection involved. I guess I had so many needles when I was a kid and then suddenly I decided I didn’t want any more. I grew out of it, thank goodness. But I can still remember her holding my head so I looked at her and telling me a story.

And in 10 days I go up to Auckland for an MRI scan on my heart. At some point before the end of the month I will have a balloon valvotomy on my pulmonary valve or, if necessary, a valve replacement. It won’t hurt either and it will give me a better quality of life and more oxygenated blood…but still, someone will be meddling with my heart and Mum’s not here, for the first time. That is when you know you are all grown up and you need to ‘suck it up’ and get on with it.

I’m also deep in the planning for the launch of ‘Rachel’s Legacy’ March 7th at PaperPlus in Cambridge. For reasons that will become clear on the night I have to compile a list of 170 real people and their fates in WW2, plus my characters, some of whom are real and some of whom are not. And make lists of food. And plan a competition. Lily, a genius who works at HarperCollins in Auckland, will create invitations and posters and things like that for me. Every book has to have a magic launch, it’s part of the whole sparkly bit of being an author. (Did I really write that?)

I saw President Obama talking about gun control today and he impressed me. At least he’s trying to do something about the insane situation with guns in America. I also watched him with Jerry Seinfield in a car and drinking coffee and that was great. Seinfield started to ask, “what language..” and Obama just said, “English…mainly.” It was dry and funny and he seemed a very regular guy.

If you like books about cops and slightly futuristic stuff, have you ever read the “Death” series by J.D. Robb? It’s Nora Roberts under another name and it is set in 2060 in New York. I am on my third audio book in the series and only have around 35 books to go to listen to them all. The links between them in characterization and situational references are really interesting, the kind of thing readers like when they read a series. It shows me how much I have to finish off and explain in “Levi’s War.”

Hope you have had a good New Year and hope 2016 brings you all you hope for. As some well known sports brand would say, Just Do It.

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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!

 

 

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.

Rachel’s Legacy

I started a book yesterday. It is the sequel to The Keeper of Secrets and it is called Rachel’s Legacy. So far I have written 2500 words and four much-loved characters have popped back up. It is flowing really easily and I am loving being back in the company of these ‘people.’ Once again this book will sprawl from pre to post-war Berlin, to East Berlin, reunification and to modern-day Washington D.C. Instead of the horror of the camps we will learn about the incredible bravery of the resistance in Berlin.

What else is happening? The kitchen has been cleaned and the pantry scrubbed and restocked. The deep freeze is full of home kill meat from farmer friends of Jane and I used some of the mince to make Spag Bol last night. It was some of the most beautiful mince I’ve ever cooked with, lean and rich and delicious.

Winter is coming and the temperature is dropping, especially at night. The drought has broken and the grass has greened up everywhere, the leaves on the trees are changing colour and the figs are nearly finished. I gather one or two a day and I suspect the little ones will shrivel up and drop, rather than grow big and plump up. Between you and me, I will be quite glad to not see a fig again for a few months. I still have a huge bag of frozen ripe figs in the deep freeze, underneath all the meat, and from time to time we discuss what to do with them.

We are trying to trap the family of mice that have taken over the house, they never come in ‘ones’ apparently, so, although one was kind of cute and I fed him, he is now legion. We tried mouse traps with peanut butter but they managed to retrieve the peanut butter and not set off the traps. It is war. We need a better mouse trap.

Today would have been my parent’s seventieth wedding anniversary in St Andrews Church up the road. Mum in her cousin’s dress and Dad in his fighter pilot’s uniform. A wedding breakfast on the farm, a spread the Aucklanders couldn’t believe because it was war-time and they weren’t used to farm butter, cream, meat, veges, eggs and fruit. They went to a local hot water spa for their honeymoon but I seem to remember Mum saying that all Dad’s Air Force friends invited themselves along. Happy anniversary folks, I trust you are celebrating it together again at last.

It is also my niece’s birthday and I hope she has a happy day. She’s a great girl, a wonderful Mum and a strong, loving, intelligent, funny, beautiful human being. Well of course she is, she’s a Thomas.

So, time for lunch and a break before I throw myself back into WW2 Berlin and the excitement and terror of being a spy. I love my job.

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.