Category Archives: a writer’s life

Earwigging, Active and Passive. And James Bond

The Listening Servant, Hubertus van Hove,
image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

I hooted over Joanna’s post last week. It made me remember a couple of earwigs of my own.

In the first, I overheard a memorable exchange. It came out of the blue, in truly exceptional circumstances. I’d use it in a book, if I could write one good enough.

In the other I was, as it were, earwigged. But I bet the earwiggers remember it. Both cheered me up enormously.

So I thought I would share.

Setting 1: the Exotic Holiday

Buffy's Librarian cocktailOccasionally, I travel with a Birdwatcher. This is frequently rewarding, not least in restoring my writing energy . But best approached with caution.

Imagine a Birdwatcher says, “Come with me to the Caribbean, there’s lots to see.” That’s birds. Where do birds hang out? Rubbish dumps. Sewage plants. Very early in the morning. Think the Dawn Chorus.

So we were on a Caribbean island but this was not a Birdwatcher-planned holiday. We were staying on an old sugar plantation, playing croquet after lunch and drinking planter’s punch at the cocktail hour.

Fabulous birds popped in, going about their normal business. Bananquits (I’m not joking) stole our breakfast sugar. Humming birds, like flying jewels, buzzed about our walks. Fireflies danced after sundown. But…

Scene 1: The Rain Forest

There was a trip into the ancient rain forest which covered the centre of the island. We set off after breakfast and would return for tea. Very civilised.

Also informal. Maybe a little under-organised.

It was a party of, say, seven. Plus two cheerful local guides. They, like us, wore good solid boots, mosquito repellent and binoculars. The others didn’t.

One of the party had to be carried back. (Ankle injury. “No biggie,” said junior guide, the one with a Devon accent.) So they took up the tail end of the group and deputed The Birdwatcher to lead the way down.

Conflict 1: Rivalry

Not difficult. On the way up, the guides had taken a machete to any vegetation that overhung the well-marked path. But one of the party, a Captain of Industry, thought he should be in charge.

His nice wife brokered a peace — I suspect she told him the Birdwatcher’s binoculars had swung it. Well, that’s what I thought myself. We set off, the Birdwatcher leading.

The Natural Leader continued to grumble. And stride down the path, as if he were in a race and trying to overtake.

The terrain made the path zigzag. Sometimes members of the party were a lot closer to each other, as the hummingbird flies, than they quite realised. Behind us, the Natural Leader constantly urged his wife to hurry up

I’m sure that’s why I — though not the Birdwatcher, avian-focused — heard the wife’s patience finally snap.

“I’m sorry Sidney,” she said crisply. “I can’t help it. Some of us are Tarzans and some of us are Janes.”

It’s going to be hard to write a book as good as that!

Setting 2: the Backstory of Bond — James Bond

The street where James Bond livesLondon, a very small residential street of terrace houses. Neighbours sort of know each other, mostly by sight. I live there with two cats.

Senior cat is James Bond. He is v. handsome and strolls the street like Burlington Bertie, especially after the pubs close. (Don’t ask.) Everyone in the street knows James.

One neighbour, returning from a weekend’s shooting, rings my doorbell. Embarrassed, he introduces himself. He has brought me a brace of grouse. I am surprised, but charmed. Then he explains: “For James.” Because senior cat waltzed into their house and pinched one the weekend before.

Oh. Right.

I thank him prettily and ring my mum — what do I do with bird carcases? “Take them to the butcher,” says the fount of all wisdom with great firmness.

Scene 2: The London Underground, Morning Rush Hour

Botswana, elephants in herd at sunset ©JoannaMaitland2019I work in the City. I commute. Today the platform is heaving with people.

I fail to get on the first two trains. The third arrives, and the crowd tenses, like a herd ready to charge. I might not jump for this one, but then again, I might. I limber up a bit…

And someone taps me on the shoulder. I swing round, prepared to repel boarders, long lost schoolfriends and chuggers.

To come face to face with a complete stranger. “Excuse me,” she says in a soft American accent. “You don’t know me but…”

Conflict 2: Rivalry?

“You’re Sophie Weston, right? From Number 3?”

I can’t deny it.

“I’ve just been posted to London. We haven’t met but I moved into the street a couple of weeks ago. And I’m afraid I’ve got a confession to make.”

She is clearly embarrassed.  So I suppose I should have guessed…

She swallows and says bravely, “James has been sleeping with me.”

blue question marksThe train arrives. Its doors open. Up and down the platform, the herd bounds forward like one animal, possessed. It leaps, it shoves, it tramples over the fallen.

Except at our end, eerily still. The doors to the carriage that has stopped in front of my new neighbour and me are wide open. A few people get off.

Nobody gets on.

Indeed, the keenest commuters, who had pushed their way to the very front of the crowd, have now turned their backs on the train and are straining to hear my reply.

Me, sighing: “Don’t worry about it. If you leave your window open, he’ll be in like Flynn. Nearly gave Priscilla a heart attack when she moved into Number Twenty-something last year. He jumped on her in the dark.”

She, relieved: “Oh, that’s all right then.”

James Bond (cat not spy) in full gloryAnd to prove it, she sent me a photo of the blasted animal. He had taken over her very best chair and wasn’t moving for anyone.
Of course, he wasn’t.

It was the start of a great friendship.

But I’ve often wondered how many of the earwiggers staggered off to their jobs that morning, utterly convinced that the world was now going to hell in a hand basket.

 

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

Earwigging : because writers do

Times are difficult, scary even, for all of us — especially the older or vulnerable ones — so I thought I’d add a bit of light-hearted distraction. To wit: earwigging.

I do it. Don’t you?
Doesn’t everybody?
Especially authors…

An Earwigging tale

Goblin Court typical English villageI was in a pub, on my own, having a quiet meal. There were four elderly gents — nattily dressed, clearly ex-military — sitting across the way, drinking various beverages and gossiping. They were not trying to keep their voices down, though they must have known other drinkers could hear every word.

One of them was even louder than the others, very keen to be heard. All The Time. And even when the others were trying to hold a conversation about something else.

Must admit that I took agin Mr Loudmouth.

Anyway, Mr Loudmouth told a joke Continue reading

I’m having a reading week…

Sofa days and reading…

I have just finished a book. Writing it, not reading it. It was Hard Work.

Nothing new there. No matter how sparkling the inspiration, how heady the enthusiasm to embark on this particular story, they are always a strain on the imagination, hard on the back and a slog at the keyboard. The reward is that moment of joyful relief when you’ve despatched it into the ether and it becomes your editor’s job to sort out mangled timelines, momentary slips into scatalogical dialogue and missing commas.

I have a busy writing year planned, but I seem to have spent the entire winter saying, “When I’ve finished the book…’

When I’ve finished the book I’ll get up to the V&A and take a look at the  jewellery department. I’ve been there dozens of times but have somehow missed it and I’ve been inspired to visit by the documentary series Secrets of the Museum. Also on the list is the local Arts Society. I’ve been wanting to join for ages but couldn’t fit in another thing until I’d finished the book.

Reading the TBR pile

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Am I surviving the writer’s survival kit?

Elizabeth Bailey, authorToday, we’re delighted to welcome much-loved author Elizabeth Bailey as a guest on our blog.

She is what is usually called a hybrid author these days, though Elizabeth prefers to term herself an “authorpreneur”. [Not sure Dame Isadora would approve but, with luck, she won’t notice.]

Elizabeth produces all sorts of terrific books. Sapere Books publishes her Lady Fan Mystery series and her Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. Her self–published list includes Regencies, short stories, a couple of edgy paranormal tales, a romantic suspense novella and a two writing-related help books which come much recommended. Phew! Quite a catalogue.overworked author at desk with clock

Elizabeth admits she really doesn’t know how to fit it all in and says she is beginning to wonder if retirement and old age are actually a thing. But she managed to find time to write a blog for us.

Many thanks, Liz. And over to you.

What does Elizabeth Bailey want in her Survival Kit?

1  Persistence

frazzled cartoon cat needs survival kitAsk any writer for the most needed tool in their survival kit and they will say persistence. More years down the line than I care to think about, I agree. I’m still here, still writing. That says it all.

Okay, there have been solid gaps in actual putting words down. We’ve all had those, for whatever reason. Life has a tendency to throw itself at you and there’s nowt to do about that except suffer on through.

2  Courage … eventually

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Thanks to Music

Thanks to MusicThis week I’m going to be unashamedly personal, thanks to music. Indeed, I want to say thank you – to friends and well-wishers, fellow writers, musicians of all kinds and the universe.

To put you in the picture – several weeks ago I booked tickets for a concert to take place this past week at the Wigmore Hall.

inner reader, mystery womanIt appealed to me for all sorts of reasons. There was history, discovery (some of the programme was so obscure I thought I’d probably never hear it live again), drama, even youth studies. There was a band I love.

And then there was a sort of deep satisfaction in participating in a major enterprise that would last as long as Mozart’s life.

BUT…

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The questions people ask writers… Research in Paris

So, do you do a lot of research?

Apart from, “Where do you get your ideas from?” that has to be the question writers are most asked.

And the answer is, for me, yes, actually.

Quite a lot.

Pinterest, Google, Youtube

Even before I put finger to keyboard I scour Pinterest, seeking ideas for locations, looking for photographs of places and characters as I build my storyboard. This is the one I’ve created for A Harrington Christmas (it’s a working title!)

Mostly, after that, it will be diving into Google as questions crop up? What is the temperature in Nantucket in March? What is the time difference between Paris and Singapore? Is there already a restaurant in London called any of the half a dozen names I’ve come up with — and yes to every one. Continue reading

Oh look! It’s Christmas… Time to panic?

No! Don’t panic!

Covers ears at the deafening groans.

There are a couple of months to go before we need to start to panic, but the groans are undoubtedly justified.

The children have only just gone back to school, the supermarket aisles are full of the momentary distraction of fake pumpkins and Halloween costumes, but they are already piling up the Christmas chocolate. (I took these two photographs just this morning.) And greetings cards are on sale for those organised enough to get them written before they get swept up in the season.

But forget the stress…

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Heroic professions : why not a plumber?

electriician at work

Electrician Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Lately, I’ve been involved with various tradespeople — the plumber, the electrician and so on — following a number of domestic …er… difficulties.

Technology seems to have been ganging up on me, these past few months. Weird electrical faults that don’t repeat themselves when the electrician is on site.
And incidents with animals.

Don’t believe me?

The dog ate my homework?

dishwasher not working, plumber needed

Dishwasher image by FotoRieth from Pixabay

Well, a mouse ate my dishwasher, for starters.

No, I kid you not. This is not a “Please, miss, the dog ate my homework” kind of fabrication, even though it may sound like one.
It happened.

I live in the countryside.
There are mice here. Continue reading

Swanwick Conference : forgetting how a newbie feels

Swanwick main buildings and gardens

Last week, I attended The Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick for the first time. I must say that I’d forgotten what it’s like to be a writing conference newbie — I’ve been going to the RNA Conference for more years than I’m prepared to admit — and it was salutary to experience newbie-dom all over again.

(At my first RNA Conference, I wasn’t published and didn’t really know anyone. But I met loads of writers whose books I’d read and loved. I remember chatting with Nicola Cornick who was then one of my writing heroes, and still is. The RNA sort of enfolded me, from that point on, it seemed.) Continue reading

Nourishment for the Soul (but no escaping literature)

Today I am calm, relaxed. I wanted to share that with you.

The reason?

I have just returned from a few days touring the Highlands. The North Coast 500 to be exact. And what has this to do with writing, you may ask? Well, it does us all good to get away from the desk occasionally, to be inspired by new locations, different ways of life.

Nourishment for the soul

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