Archive | September 2011

Garden Reflections

The Earth has turned another full circle and in a private corner of southern England I sit enjoying the warmth from the sun on the patio whilst I drink my mid morning coffee and reflect on a summer blown too early into autumn. A chill wind has forced the Bishop to lay spreadeagled across the lawn although his scarlet-red flowers are still vivid and bright, many more still to open. The hanging baskets are forlorn and limp, ripped by the wind, the last few flowers holding on in a blaze of orange and purple. The geraniums in pots around the koi pond and patio are still wonderful in fiery splashes of red and white and pink. Yellow, red and orange nasturtiums light up pansies and begonias against background foliage; whilst under the shrubs, wild cyclamen poke out their white heads, a sure herald of the shortening days.

I’ve seen far more creatures in the garden this year but perhaps that is because I have had the time to sit back and look more than in previous summers. Butterflies have visited in profusion. Red admirals, peacocks and commas, holly blues, and for the first time an orange tip danced and fluttered in the sunlight, enjoying the buddleia and erysimums, teasing the frogs that hop in the flowerbeds.

A little field mouse decided to take up residence under the stone sink in which carnivorous pitcher plants dwell. He’s become quite tame. What was once a quick dash to grab a few seeds put down for him is now a carefree amble as he comes close enough for me to stroke, but I refrain, content to just watch and admire him.

My family of sparrows patiently await their turn on the bird feeder. It’s such a pleasure to watch them communally splash in the birdbath; some prefer to sit below on the grass to wash in ensuing shower of water droplets instead. Despite reports that sparrows are in decline, they certainly are not in my garden. Their number has risen from six to twenty during the summer. They’re cheeky little birds and will come and tap on my patio door if the feeder is empty or to tell me the birdbath needs refilling. When the sparrows have finished playing in the water the robin jumps down from his favourite perch on the obelisk to take his bath before flitting to the bird table to breakfast on oats and mealworms.

There have been lots of birds in the garden this summer, blackcaps and dunnocks, blue and great tits, greenfinches, bullfinches and a garden warbler. Most days a sparrow hawk rests on the fence or up in the neighbour’s cherry tree to catch his breath. He’s used to me sitting here, as are the other birds. They don’t seem to mind my company.

Soon the sun will no longer rise above the roof and my garden will be in constant shade until next March. I shall miss not being able to sit in the garden but it will still delight during dark winter days with white and purple hellebores, sweet-scented yellow mahonia and the bright yellows, blues and reds of the primulas until the snowdrops and crocus emerge, heralding a new spring.

“A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
William Henry Davies


The Secret’s Out!

I’ve been tagged. Electronically. No, not around my ankle. I’ve been blog tagged. I’d never heard of it before. So, thank you Alison. Now I have to reveal ten random and unknown facts about myself, and then pass it on. Mmmm. Where to start? What exciting things would you like to know about me? Are there any? Any skeletons in my wardrobe lurking behind the clothes? Yes. One or two, but I’m not going tell you about them, I’m keeping those safely under lock and key for another day, another book.

Meanwhile back at the revealing, and in no particular order:

Fact No.1: My main ambition in life was to be a choreographer. I learned ballroom and Latin American dancing as a teenager back in the 1960s. Walter Laird, World Dance Champion way back then, was my instructor and my partner during my dancing exams but I gave it all up for a boy, well, a fella, actually. BIG mistake and my biggest regret. (Yes, that’s me in the photo aged 13, having just received my first medal and dipolma.)

Fact No.2: I learned to drive at the tender age of 15. Illegally, of course, on the main roads around my home town. This was way back in the 60s, the car an old Ford Classic. It all started as a bet that I couldn’t start the car and drive it to the end of the road without stalling. I said I could and I did, and so for the next couple of years learned to hone my driving skills in and around centralLondon.

Fact No.3: Clowns give me the creeps. Not sure if I hate them or spiders worse. Probably equally. Just don’t leave me in a dark room with either.

Fact No.4: I cannot sing. I wish I could. I do try, of course. In the shower, in the car, around the house, but only when no one’s listening (I hope!).

Fact No.5: I am not allowed to eat strawberries despite their being my favourite fruit. The drugs I’m on for a rare blood disorder prevent me from indulging in one of life’s sweetest pleasures.

Fact No.6: For a year back in the 70s I worked as a cook/housekeeper/mother’s help for a well-heeled titled family living in a Georgian mansion in Gloucestershire. Interesting, but not something I would consider doing again. The house became the backdrop for my novel Whitestones, not yet released.

Fact No.7: I appeared as an extra in one of the first episodes of The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin with Leonard Rossiter. A scene was being filmed at our local Carrefour supermarket; I had to stand at one of the tills paying for my shopping.

Fact No.8: I was a contestant on Channel 4’s TV quiz programme Fifteen-to-One with the lovely William G Stewart. I didn’t win but it was a lot of fun, especially the makeover beforehand. (Photo! I am in there. Honest! No prizes for spotting me, though.)

Fact No.9: One of my very best friends from childhood became a well respected poet, critic and playwright. We are still in touch and one of his books of poems he gave me containing a beautiful inscription to me is one of my prized possessions.

Fact No.10: I’m secretly in love with Ralph McTell, Kevin Costner and Christopher Reeve. One I have kissed (actually, it was he who kissed me), one I’ve no chance of ever kissing, and one, well… I can dream, can’t I? Damn! This means it’s not a secret any more. Ooops!

Phew! Enough said. Now time to pass the buck, or should that be button?

Ip dip, bird’s sh**, you’re It:
Tricia Jones:
Janice Horton:
Sharon Goodwin:

All in good fun and may I be forgiven!

A Sense of Place

Location plays an important part in novels. It sets the scene, helps brings the story to life with realism, especially when actual places are used, places readers may know and can envisage. In each of my novels location has proved invaluable to creating atmosphere: London and the River Thames in Every Step of the Way and Queenie Queenie, a Cotswold Georgian mansion where I once lived in Whitestones, and the Greek island of Thassos in Where Two Worlds Collide. This last location, although a very real island, is one I have not visited yet but, being a lover of all things Greek and having over the last 12 years had the fortune to visit many Greek islands, a vivid imagination knows how that island must look. That and images and descriptions found on the Internet, of course.

So it did come as a great shock when recently holidaying on Corfu when I found myself staying in a beautiful bay on the east coast that exactly mirrored the bay and location I had created in Two Worlds. In this novel, a time slip, I describe a large villa built against a cliffside, spread over three levels. There is a swimming pool on the second terrace and rough stone steps flanked by blue morning glory, oleander and hibiscus bushes leading down to a narrow sandy beach in a shallow bay guarded by high headlands. A short walk along the beach on a rickety boardwalk takes my heroine to the nearby village, otherwise reached by a dusty dirt road over the cliff before descending to a scattering of houses and tavernas. I have no doubt innumerable bays and resorts around Greece mirror this but there was something else about Agios Gordios that made this extra weird.

In my book, there is a cave leading up through the cliff to an old village set way back in the hills. The entrance is hidden from view by a rock stack in which there is a huge wasps’ nest at the summit. Just as at Agios Gordios!

Imagine then my surprise at finding just such things at the hotel I stayed at. Built over several terraces, a swimming pool on the second, stone steps down to the beach, the village reached by a short walk along the beach, the high cliffs flanking the bay and that eerie monolith of rock hiding caves. Caves, I did not venture into, I hasten to add. Weird things happen there in my book that I didn’t want to happen to me.

As I watched the sunrise over the bay that very first morning, it was like a homecoming. The sense of déjà vu overwhelming as the cicadas ceased their singing and slunk back into the dank undergrowth and the birds trilled in the growing light, for I knew the place well. It was scary and yet comfortable all at the same time. My travelling companions were taken aback when I led them to the village by the long route through dusty paths between semi-derelict and bougainvillea-clad houses and guided them to familiar tavernas spread along the beach, knew what time the fishing boats came into the narrow jetty. How? Because I had written about it all, described each element.

Perhaps I had been there before, in a past life or in a dream. Whatever the reason, Agios Gordios will remain in my memory for a lifetime. It will have to as I have probably lost all my holiday photos thanks to a computer error. Hopefully the Greek Gods will look down kindly on me and restore them or else take my path back there some day so I can take some more whilst sampling one of the many cocktails served at Agios Gordios.