Wednesday, 30 June 2010


I haven’t been writing about writing much lately, have I? It’s not because I haven’t been doing it – I have, honest – but I used to blog a lot about the book I was working on, and the characters (some more than others, admittedly) and now I don’t seem to do that so much. I’m not sure why this is – it certainly isn’t a conscious decision. I think perhaps it might be something to do with the fact that these days I find I’m writing less and less to a plan, so I really don’t know where the book is going, what’s going to end up in the final version and what will hit the cutting room floor.

With this story I feel like I’m walking in thick fog, but I’m not worried because I know the characters very well and I trust them to steer a good path through it. I love the heroine particularly much. She’s called Sophie and she reminds me a little of Sarah in Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper but with lots more confidence and a much naughtier sense of humour. The hero is a little more elusive – but deliberately so, which is OK. The key words for his character are ‘distant’ and ‘disapproving’, and the closest I can find to a physical representation of the man in my head is this one…(partly for his upright English looks, and partly for the qualities of the character he plays here!)

The theme tune for the book is this one (the key line being ‘Living alone is all I’ve ever done well…’)

I’m enjoying writing this one. Just have to focus on the voices of the characters in my head and not the tick tock of the deadline clock. So what about everyone else? Is it fog or bright sunshine in your writing world?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Capturing the moment. Or not.

Like me, Glastonbury is celebrating a milestone birthday this year. Well, not Glastonbury itself – as one of the most ancient inhabited sites in Britain that’s reassuringly older than me – but the music festival, which is held every year on Pilton fields. Here’s me as a chubby-cheeked, shiny-faced (hungover to the back teeth) student there, half a lifetime ago in 1990.
Sadly, this is about the only picture I have of that weekend - no exciting shots of bands onstage (there were some great ones), mud (there was lots), or strange people dressed up as trees (a significant number), which got me thinking. These days my daughters can't feed the cat or make a cup of tea without getting photographic evidence for their Facebook pages, but back then I think photography was more the preserve of proud parents and middle-aged tourists than the average Glasto-goer. I guess I like the fact that we were all too taken up with the moment to think about the photo-opportunities, but I do rather regret it now. (Although since I clearly failed to pack either make-up or a mirror perhaps I shouldn't)

So, can anyone make me feel better? What exciting events have you attended and totally failed to record properly?

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Colours of Summer

Pink bowl + pale green beans (+ glass of rosé) = happy me

Thursday, 17 June 2010

It's not the destination, but the journey...

On Tuesday* I went on the Orient Express with my mother. For her it’s been a bit of an ambition for a long time, although I think that she probably originally envisaged the train sliding through exotic-sounding stations in the warm dusk as it sped on its way to Venice, rather than past smoke-blackened northern mill towns between Crewe and York. But anyway, she’d been looking forward to it hugely; me, if I'm honest, not so much, due to the fact that my current book is calling to me in increasingly desperate tones. When she told me that the journey was going to take 3 1/2 hours each way my first thought was ‘but I could drive it in 2 1/2!’ and my second was ‘Can I take my laptop?’ I didn’t actually get around to saying either to her as that was the moment she dropped the bombshell that we had to be at the station by 7.15 am.

But it was fabulous. I mean, really fabulous. I shall never be able to stagger onto an overcrowded, grimy Virgin Pendolino to Euston again without remembering getting on board the Northern Belle, sitting down at a table laid with damask and crystal and being handed a bellini. Here’s a few pictures of our beautiful carriage (which we had to ourselves, so could giggle like schoolgirls without being overheard)

Stepped off the train at York, buoyed up by champagne and smoked salmon and slightly disorientated - it was like a kind of top notch restaurant you might find in a Harry Potter novel, where you enter from one place and find yourself in entirely another when you come out. My brother lives in York and we spent the day shopping and hanging out with him, so actually the destination was pretty cool, (specially as I got to pick up my delicious niece and nephew from school and have an hour with them before we had to head back to the Train of Indulgence) but that's beside the point. Having spent a lovely couple of hours in the company of a group of interesting, wise and wonderful women at the National Trust writing workshop I did on Sunday, and talking about the road to publication, the idea of enjoying the journey in its own right was definitely uppermost in my mind.

One of the several squillion differences between the Orient Express and the 17.09 Virgin Express service from Euston to Crewe (aside from the slightly sticky seats and the commuter with his thigh pressed right up against yours in the tightly packed carriage) is the much slower speed at which it travels, and the way that allows you to notice so much more - like the lupins growing wild at the side of the track, and the shadows of clouds moving across the big green fields of unripe wheat. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that getting somewhere quickly (ie to publication, for the purposes of this clumsy analogy, which is directed at the ladies I met who are waiting for editor feedback / trying to muster the strength and energy to start again and submit / facing the prospect of beginning a new writing project in a new genre) is not necessarily the best way. Travel slowly, indulgently, and notice stuff on the way. And don't just save the champagne for when you get there either. Celebrate the journey.

* I would have put this post up yesterday, but spent most of the day (without exaggeration) trying to work out how to get the photos I took on my phone onto my computer. Only when my husband had spent the entire evening trying to do the same did we conclude that the installation disk that came with my phone is faulty. 'Dear Samsung, you owe me 9 hours of my life back and a stress-reducing hot stones massage in a technology-free spa in the Himalayas. Could you also explain to my editor that another writing day lost was your fault, not mine. Thank you. Yours in extreme frustration and techno-loathing, India Grey.'

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Weekend, and Workshop

Post birthday depression has descended, along with grey clouds and rain, after weekend of blazing sun, champagne and celebrating here in the green heart of Shropshire. Oh to wake up to this view every morning…

(...although having to drive across two fields to reach the road and getting out of the car twice to open and close gates would make the school run unbearably complicated. Would have to home educate, or better still - send the children out to work on the land while I wrote lyrical poetry based heavily on A.E. Housman.)

Anyway, back to the weekend. Some friends came down on Saturday evening and we ate outside as the sun slipped behind the hill and the fields gradually dissolved into velvety darkness. The daughters had decided on a formal dress code and had raided the dressing up box for my old University ball dresses and hand-me-down outfits from weddings past, while the men dusted off their dinner jackets. I wore a dress from years ago that had to be held together with safety pins and high heels that kept sinking into the lawn.

Later, when the cheap candles we'd bought from The Co-Op had all burned down into waxy puddles we set off sky lanterns...

Sunday morning was so glorious and green and golden that it would have been a criminal waste not to celebrate it with champagne and breakfast outside, after which we set off to explore. Acton Scott recently featured in a BBC TV series here in the UK called Victorian Farm and the children wanted to spot the celebrity animals who'd made an appearance. (The actual cottage in which the programme was made – authentically minus electricity, running water and an indoor bathroom – is also available to rent. Am charmed by the idea in theory, but as the absence of a hairdryer in the otherwise five-star appointed house we stayed in caused a minor crisis I don’t think we’ll be making a booking anytime soon)

All teenage cynicism and ennui dissolved in the face of newborn chicks and piglets and the competitive task of crushing grain in some kind of huge, clanking iron contraption that was much harder than the junior members of our group made it look. (Must look out for one on ebay – the perfect way to keep children gainfully employed and away from screen-based entertainment, as well as providing excellent personal work-out opportunity. Was reading somewhere recently about a diet that allows cakes and biscuits as long as they’re home-made, on the basis that the calories expended in the cooking makes up for the ones ingested in the eating. Feel that if you’d made your own flour first you’d definitely be allowed second helpings too.)

Yesterday, in a continuation of the weekend's impromptu Victorian theme, on the way home we stopped off at Blists Hill near Ironbridge and wandered around the shops with the stash of farthings and thre’pences exchanged in the bank there. Daughter #1 has a Home Economics GCSE module today and we bought a perfect enamel pie dish for her chicken and ham pie and ate cones of chips fried in beef dripping while looking, urchin-like, into shop windows. By now I was so thoroughly immersed in the whole Victorian vibe that I had to fight the urge to go into the drapers shop (just like the one in Cranford!) and squander our remaining ha'pennies on a bonnet trimmed with silk flowers and lace. Remembered just in time that it might cause the daughters some playground embarrassment and look a little incongruous in the harshly lit aisles of Sainsburys.

However, on reflection it would have been a justifiable purchase after all, since I’m giving a workshop on writing romance this coming Sunday at the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill, which is a place so steeped in Victorian ambience that it makes you want to take up sewing samplers and swigging laudanum. I'm not sure if there are any places left, but if you're in the area and would like to come along you can find out the details, and the number to call, here. (I might not have bought the bonnet, but I can't promise I won't turn up in my corset...)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Less than 12 hours to go of my thirties. Am torn between the urge to raid my daughter's wardrobe, book myself some botox, put the Bacardi Breezers on ice and go out and grab a toyboy, or go shopping for sensible shoes and supportive undergarments and join a Bridge club.

Will probably just finish sorting out the cupboard under the stairs instead. Denial always such a comfort at times like this.