Thursday, 28 June 2012

Picture This

‘Be punctual, bring props’ is today’s brief. My publishers, Choc Lit, have linked up with the UK’s largest coach operator, National Express, to give away a great selection of ‘summer reads’ on selected coach services to major airports and from major cities throughout July and August. My new novel Move Over Darling will be making its debut on the coaches, giving passengers a pre-publication preview which is why I’m on my way to Cardiff for a photo shoot.

My anxiety levels are stratospheric, there’s the ‘be punctual’ bit for a start. I hate being late, so I leave the house at Crack of Doom to allow for tractors and milking time on the long drive through narrow lanes. I manage to find a parking space at the station (my next worry). The train turns up on time, phew, and there’s enough space for me, my big orange sun hat and my small red suitcase.

In Cardiff I’m almost undone by the station loos where eight women are queuing for two cubicles one of which seems to be permanently engaged (what are you doing in there, ladies?). Nevertheless, I make it to the National Express office ten minutes early where Richard Thomas, the assistant manager, is friendly and welcoming. He shows me the inflatable palm tree, plastic coconuts and bucket and spade that have arrived at his office for the shoot. The photographer, he tells me, is on his way to Sophia Gardens, the Cardiff park where we’re meeting up. All we need now is the coach.

John arrives with the coach. Very smart it is too; brand new and straight out the box. Richard, his colleague and I grab our props and dash across the road looking, with our blow-up palm tree, like Wilson, Keppel and Betty about to do a sand dance. On the short journey, John tells me that his wife’s been deeply immersed in a new book… ‘Fifty Shades of something,’ ‘Grey,’ I supply, through gritted teeth.

No matter, we’re in Sophia Gardens which brings back memories of half-marathons I’ve known and loved. Oh, and here’s Adam Fradgley, the photographer. I may gush a little here, because Adam is clearly a magician. He’s one of those people who can put you at your ease instantly, doesn’t recoil in horror when he looks through his viewfinder and is kind, patient and constantly reassuring. I’ve yet to find anyone who enjoys having their photo taken, but today, surprisingly, I am!  Even a party of students stopping to see if they can spot anyone famous doesn’t throw me – I feel relaxed and in safe hands.

Time’s flown and it’s time for the coach to go to work. Adam kindly offers to give me a lift to the Bay where I’m meeting Lily who’s nipping out the office for a late lunch. I repay Adam’s kindness by losing my bearings and taking him on a two mile detour. Whilst I’m deeply embarrassed, he doesn’t seem to mind, but I suppose when you’ve extensive experience of working in war zones, a novelist with no sense of direction isn’t that big a deal.

There’s a lovely moment when I meet up with Lily and we see each other in our ‘work clothes’ for a change. It sets the tone for a hugely enjoyable lunch whilst Lily listens patiently as I regale her with tales of my day in the sun.

And the photos?  See above.  It just goes to show what a talented photographer can do!

My thanks to Adam Fradgely and to the staff at the National Express office in Cardiff for looking after me.

The Choc Lit and National Express summer reads promotion will be offered on selected routes through July and August – another good reason to look forwards to your holiday!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Long Distance Love

Between nursing the poorly and nursing edits this week, I managed to meet up with my dear friends, the Ace Gang, aka the Thursday Girls, (for the day we met, of course). I went on a tour of Rose’s lovely new home, admired photos of Ann’s adorable new granddaughter and joined the girls for a cup of tea - all without leaving my desk! We’ve been a bit slow to pick up on the idea of video calls so there were a few teething troubles initially. Exclamations of surprise, laughter and cries of ‘Oh, there you are!’ from their end had me weeping and wailing at my end because I couldn’t see them. But once we’d found each other it was wonderful, nearly as good as old times, although, sadly, I couldn’t actually join in with the fizz and quiche. My goodness did I miss them when we finally ended the call, these brilliantly-supportive and dearly-loved friends who’ve been part of my life since we met as young (very young!) mums.

Ma and I have also managed a few video calls since she acquired her iPad, the only problem being that she usually finds it so funny I tend to get a bit seasick as the views lurch from Ma, to the ceiling or floor or swerve alarmingly round the room. And it’s great being able to email her, to send her a photo of the garden in the sunshine (on the rare occasions we have sunshine lately) or the sheep trying eat our grass instead of theirs. Small moments that bridge the gap.

And soon Lily and I are going to do a few important weddingy things by video call; I’ll be able to inspect the results of her wedding makeup and hair rehearsal and I can give her a demo of my fascinator (stupid term for bits of dyed ribbon and feather stuck on a clip and given a hugely-inflated price tag).

It doesn’t quite compensate for being far away from loved ones, for not being able to give them a hug, but when you’re missing them, it doesn’t half help.

Thanks to Thursday Girl Rose, hiding behind the camera, for the lovely photo of the rest of us on the sofa!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Top to Bottom

How life turns! One minute you’re up in the gods at the opera or schmoozing with Monty Don (to be fair, so were hordes of other people so I doubt that he noticed), and the next…

Well, Tom’s lost a stone since last week, thanks to norovirus (really, really horrid – stay away from it, folks), and the bug in my sinuses has made a last-ditch attempt to resist eviction. 

And just to give me something to do, my edits came in so I’m busy this week with them. Back soon!

Painting is Royal Festival Hall, by Tom Tomos

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Part Two: A Day at the Hay Festival

With 'Rose' at Hay
Bunting’s a bit thin on the ground in this part of west Wales (mind you, so are houses) but Diamond Jubilee carnivals, apparently, are not. We seem to join up with one in every other village on our journey to Hay, but anyone not on a float appears to have turned up either at the Hay festival or in the town.

My daughter Rose and I are delighted to have been invited to help Honno Press celebrate twenty-five years of publishing Welsh women’s writing at their anniversary party, but first we go for a wander round the festival site. There are queues for author events, book-signings, ice creams, but not, thankfully, the loos which are surprisingly civilised. A steward is bellowing that this is NOT the queue for Jeanette Winterson at one line, another column is supposed to lead to Stephen Fry, although Rose and I aren’t convinced it’s the back of his head we can see, and there’s Monty Don in the bookshop looking – I’ll be able to tell Ma – just like he does on the TV.

What a wonderful cake!

And so to the Moot and the Honno party where we link up with lovely Kath Eastman and meet new friend Juliet Greenwood, author of Eden’s Garden. There’s a real atmosphere of celebration and a quiet sense of pride and satisfaction in all that this independent co-operative press run by women has achieved. I even get a bit tearful during the speeches!

Co-founder Rosanne Reeves with Helena Earnshaw, Press Officer.
Honno was established with the aim of increasing opportunities for Welsh women in publishing and to bring Welsh women’s literature to a wider public. Rose and I both have reason to be grateful to them. I was a contributor to the Honno anthology on motherhood, Strange Days Indeed, and was the winner of their Coming of Age One Sentence competition. Both of these successes gave me the confidence to finish my novel and resulted in me being offered a contract by my wonderful publisher, Choc Lit. Rose was a Honno volunteer gaining hands-on experience into the day-to-day workings of a small publishing house, and now works as Research and Development Controller for a successful publisher of children’s books. 

Thank you, Honno. Happy anniversary and congratulations on twenty-five wonderful years!

'All Shall Be Well'  published to celebrate 25 years of Welsh  women's writing and a selection of Honno books.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Part One: A Night at the Opera

'In These Stones Horizons Sing' .  Interior view of calligraphy.
It’s a couple of hours’ drive, at best, from here to the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, but since that pretty much takes us from door to door, it’s worth the occasional marathon for a good night’s entertainment. Tonight, however, in addition to the journey, we have a marathon opera; five and a half hours of Tristan und Isolde… although that does, thank goodness, include two intervals!

I fear, as we take our seats, that it’s also five and half hours of adjusting to the ablutionary habits of the man to my left, suggestive of a rather ‘stuff and nonsense’ approach to fancy shampoo. However, as the show begins and the exchange between Isolde and her maid, Brangaene, goes on at length, I get rather comfortable and enjoy a little power napette which refreshes me nicely for the rest of the performance.

The wooden curves of the concourse galleries.

I’ve come in the hope of being converted to Wagner, but by the end of Act One there’s some way to go. My younger daughter, Rose, played the French horn at school and when we heard that her teacher was performing in the orchestra accompanying an am dram production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, we felt we ought to show solidarity and buy tickets. ‘Buy an interesting ice cream too,’ was his prophetic advice then, and indeed, I’m finding my first interval ice cream particularly interesting this evening.

Act Two hits the spot for me with beautiful music and a truly towering performance from Ann Petersen as Isolde. Whilst others make a second interval dash for theatre meals, Tom and I eat our smoked salmon bagels in the car watching the rain. It’s quite cosy and romantic actually.

And the band played on.  And on.
There’s an inordinate amount of shepherd-playing-sad-tunes in Act Three which has me wishing Wagner had killed a few of his darlings. He does, however, kill off quite a few of the cast; the man to my left gets the giggles as another large body hits the deck, whilst Tom to my right, is having trouble with Tristan’s professed desire to take his beloved to ‘a place where the sun doesn’t shine’. Still, all comes good eventually, winding up with a belter of a finale. ‘The ending was good,’ Tom observes. ‘That,’ I reply, ‘after five and a half hours, is the least we deserved.’

So, no, I’m still no closer to liking Wagner, but the extraordinary performance from cast and orchestra demonstrates once again that a night at the Welsh National Opera is well worth the drive.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about my day at the Hay Festival.