Broad Minded

Well, that was a week and a half, wasn’t it! Drama, excitement, despair and regret…But that’s holidays for you. Seriously, I missed out on most of the whole EU Referendum saga, because I was safely chugging along on a boat in the Norfolk Broads. There was rarely any internet signal. I couldn’t send text messages most of the time. Even the television signal kept breaking up, so almost every evening we were treated to showings of a Peppa Pig DVD on an endless loop, courtesy of my two granddaughters, Amelia and Clara. Occasionally, as a treat, we watched Dr Who DVDs, as my eldest son is (possibly) even more of an obsessed Whovian than I am (although when it comes to the Eleventh Doctor, I probably win). Catching up on social media has been an eye-opener, I can tell you. However, this post isn’t going to deal with all the angst, and bitterness, and recriminations, and name-calling, and general nastiness and division that this referendum has left in its wake. Nor will I dwell on the result. It wasn’t the result I’d hoped for, but it’s done now. We just have to get on with it – respect the democratic process, and try to heal this country, and make it work – together. Hearts mend, eventually. That’s not to underplay the sheer desolation some will be feeling, and the fear that comes with facing an uncertain future. But this is not the time or place for such matters.

This post is simply a look back at my week on a boat, with some of my family, on the beautiful Norfolk Broads. I’ve never been to Norfolk before. Here’s what I discovered.

boat 1I could fit through the doorway of the boat. Seriously, this was a genuine concern. I’d seen photos of the boats in the holiday brochures and noticed that some of the doors looked barely big enough to let a five-year-old child through.  I had visions of being stuck in the doorway for the entire week. I woke up sweating from nightmares of humiliation. I informed my friends and family that if they received a postcard from Wedged-in-the-Doorway, it wouldn’t be a nice little village in Norfolk! Luckily, when it actually came to it, I easily made it through the door. Phew!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are LOTS of swans and ducks and geese on the Norfolk Broads. They are absolutely everywhere, and I had to shut my eyes a few times, fearing we were about to plough into some of them as ducksthey charged at the boat, seemingly unfazed by our approach. Luckily, they missed us every time, dodging out of the way at the last moment as if they were deliberately trying to kill me off. Do swans play chicken?? Anyway, we even got two little hitchhikers one day, as these little characters landed on the canopy of our boat and stayed with us as we chugged along the water. Well, why fly when you can be chauffeur driven? Quite right. And they got plenty of treats along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

boat 4There are, literally, millions of windmills in Norfolk. Well, okay, not millions. But a LOT. And maybe not all over Norfolk, to be fair, but certainly on the Broads, they are dotted around everywhere. I started off quite excited and taking photographs of them all as I passed, but after a couple of days I was barely noticing them. They’re quite common, after all. Yawn. Who am I kidding? I love windmills! I took so many photos that I have no idea if I photographed the same ones on different days. We were chugging back and forth, and passed some places several times, so it’s quite possible. But look, there’s something very romantic about a windmill. Even if it does make me think of Windy Miller and Camberwick Green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are some curious buildings to be seen as you’re cruising along the Norfolk Broads. This strange structure looked like a disused windmill, built inside what was left of a church or abbey or castle. Whatever it was, it caught my imagination.13521923_1008185105965395_1842328757469830009_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13490675_1008185619298677_6160168044108672576_oThere are some cracking pubs to be found, which serve delicious food at reasonable prices, and you can (usually) moor up outside them for free. The downside to that is, of course, that you have to be pretty much moored up for the night by one o’clock in the afternoon, or the moorings will all be taken, and you will find yourself glugging up and down the water at seven o’clock in the evening, absolutely starving, grumpy and realising you’re now the last boat still on the move.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One night, we gave up and moored by the river bank, right next to a gloomy wood. There was nothing and no one else around. Could have been quite spooky. I amused myself by sitting in the 13528418_1008187742631798_243774746556810882_odriver’s seat, all alone in the cabin, peering out of the window at the trees and imagining it was Sherwood Forest. DH, who at times astounds me with his perception, played Clannad’s Robin of Sherwood soundtrack for me on his phone and left me to it, and I scanned the woods and swore to myself I saw the shapes of Herne the Hunter and the Hooded Man, while Clannad’s mystical music lulled me into a different landscape altogether. And I hadn’t even had alcohol! Another night, we moored up at a private mooring, and saw the strawberry moon in the sky, and watched the mist on the water and across the fields first thing in the morning, and I decided this must be what heaven looked like.  Then there was the night of the barbecue, when we found a little mooring by the side of a small public garden, with benches to sit on. DS1 cooked the burgers and sausages, and I sat on a bench and listened to the birds singing in the trees, and realised I’d never known before how soothing the sound was. Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

13475048_1008190172631555_3718399790808249968_oThere are loads of thatched cottages in Norfolk! I mean, really, loads! We don’t see many of them round here, but I suppose, with all the reeds growing in the area, they make full use of them. Almost every house we passed had a thatched roof. Even the outhouses had thatched roofs. We stopped pointing them out after a day, because otherwise, that’s all we’d have done. They’re even more common than windmills! We saw someone actually in the process of thatching a roof, which filled me with joy and an optimism for the future I can’t begin to put into words.

 

 

 

Small children and spaghetti bolognese don’t mix. 🙂13498063_10153643169086406_680967089947252347_o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

our boat 2Kitchens in boats are just about wide enough for two small children to pass each other. Adults shouldn’t even attempt it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men are obsessed with fishing, but it keeps them quiet, bless them, and sometimes they even catch something.13498141_10154285275712350_3494103361628032035_o

 

 

 

 

 

 

our boatBoats are the opposite of the Tardis. They look bigger on the outside. And I now know that I hate chemical toilets with a passion. Also, there are river hogs, just as there are road hogs. We witnessed quite a scene on one stretch of waterway, as some smart alec decided to overtake us on a bend, just as another smart alec came round the corner, towing a rowing boat and a dinghy at the side of his boat, making it twice as wide. The driver stood up, waving his arms and screaming at the overtaker to go back, while the second driver looked bewildered and ended up charging into the reeds. We, meanwhile, chugged quietly on, shaking our heads at the folly of mankind.

 

 

 

Some places are so breathtakingly beautiful, so tranquil, so peaceful, that they bury themselves into your soul and move you to tears.boat 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13497880_1005362886247617_6088480330712560812_oWhile some places remind you that, even here on the waterways, life can be busy and bustling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But hey, when you wake up to this view in the morning, who can argue that a watery life would be a wonderful way to spend the rest of your days? 13518039_10153642482266406_1295302266_o

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, I had a wonderful week on the beautiful Norfolk Broads. Life is good. Britain is beautiful. We are lucky to live on this stunning island. Let’s stop the bitterness now, and work together to keep it great. Have a lovely week. xxx13517383_10154285276162350_2975483632920404907_o

 

Dirty Weekend by Deirdre Palmer

This book reminded me of one of those wonderful black and white films made in the sixties – the ones that show young working class people trying to make their way in a very different world to the one in which their parents grew up, dealing with relationships and new-found freedom, and trying to make sense of it all, while awash with hormones. It’s the story of four young people, Terry, Carol-Anne, Jeanette and Mark. They’re taking the huge step of having a dirty weekend away in Brighton, away from the watchful eyes of their families.
Terry is the typical Jack-the-lad with lots of experience and plenty of confidence. Or is he? Carol-Anne is nervous, but not for the reason Terry might suppose. Mark is supposed to be pairing off with Jeanette, but does his heart lie elsewhere? And Jeanette is carrying a secret that is about to shatter all their well-laid plans.
I loved this book. I don’t remember much about the sixties, but it really invoked the period for me. Little details, such as the backcombed hair, the job in the record shop, the unexpected problem caused by wearing tights with a mini skirt (!) really drew me in. Even the fact that the two young men had to book into a separate bed and breakfast from the girls showed the difference between that era and today. Going away for the weekend was a very big deal indeed.
The characters are beautifully drawn, and over the course of the story we discover that none of them are as we initially believe them to be. At first, I thought this was going to be a standard “four young people having illicit fun in Brighton” story. Far from it. As events unfold, we see that each of the four is keeping secrets from the others. One of the four is keeping a HUGE secret, and that pressure is about to explode. When it does, the entire tone of the book changes, and a creeping anxiety enters.
As the weekend comes to a close, life for the four young adults will never be the same again. There are repercussions all round, decisions to be made, and a great deal of courage to find. How they face up to the future together makes for a totally absorbing read.
I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one day. Human interest, light and darkness, humour, fear, and a big slice of nostalgia. Brilliant. Deirdre Palmer is a seriously classy writer! 5/5

You can buy Dirty Weekend here.

dirty weekend

Why I Need Those Happy Endings More Than Ever

Two things happened this week which made me think about the value of books, the pleasure of writing and inventing new worlds and new characters, and the delights of escaping into the fictional landscapes that other writers have created.

The first was watching a video doing the rounds on Facebook. It dates back a few years, to when JK Rowling made a speech at a Harvard graduation ceremony. The short clip I saw concerned failure. (You can watch the full speech here.) She told her audience about the time she’d reached rock bottom, and was considered, by all conventional measures, a failure. Her marriage had broken up, she was a single parent, unemployed and poor. All she had was an idea. She had no way of knowing how long she would remain in that dark tunnel before she would glimpse some light, and indeed, could only hope that there was some light at the end. There may not have been. Yet, she considers that time a gift. She discovered who her true friends were, learned to treasure the good things she had – not least her precious daughter – and realised that, having faced the worst, she was capable of dealing with anything else that life could, and would, throw at her. She took her idea and went with it, and against all the odds, she turned her life around.

I watched the video, and was moved to tears. I could relate to it so well, as someone who has been at rock directory-466935_1280bottom on several occasions. There were times in my life when I couldn’t see any way out of the darkness. Times when I felt alone in a crowd of people, knowing that I didn’t belong with them, feeling a failure because I wasn’t like them. I tried desperately hard to fit in, to be what they wanted. It never occurred to me, back then, that maybe I shouldn’t even try to fit in – that I didn’t have to be like them. I was unemployed, my marriage was in tatters, I was a single parent, struggling to cope. I had depression, severe anxiety, social phobia and chronically low self esteem. I was so full of self-hatred that I wouldn’t even step outside into my back garden, in case the neighbours saw me. I felt so ugly, so full of self-loathing. I was completely lost, with no idea of where I belonged, let alone how to get there.

cb13During those times, I would escape into books. They’d always been my consolation. During difficult times in my childhood and adolescence, books kept me sane and safe. Those fictional worlds were my refuge, and I will be forever grateful to the authors who created such reassuring and wonderful places. As a troubled adult, books were no less vital to my sanity. If I hadn’t been able to get away from real life for a few snatched hours every day, what would have become of me? I dread to think.

Throughout my schooldays, I used to write stories of my own, but life had become hectic and scary. I stopped writing. It was something else that I would never be any good at. Something else I would fail at. So I put away the notebooks and pens, and ignored the stories that swirled around my head, for years and years.  Until one day, on a journey to Somerset, three characters popped into my mind and absolutely refused to leave. Arriving at our holiday destination, I bought a notebook and began to jot down the people I could see, and what I already knew about them. Those characters became Will Boden-Kean, Lexi Bailey and Joe Hollingsworth, the first characters I created for what would become the Kearton Bay series of novels.

It took me a while to find the courage to start to write. Then much longer to be brave enough to show my writing to anyone. Each step I took gave me a little more faith, and led me a little further along the path to where I find myself now – a published author with three full-length novels, a People’s Friend pocket novel, and two short stories in print. More than that, those steps led me to new friends, a writing group, an online community, a growing belief in myself and a gratitude for everything I’d been through. Because all those awful times led me here, to this point, to a place where I’m happier than I’ve been in decades, and where I can look back and appreciate the people I’ve met along the way, and the lessons I’ve learned from my epic “failure”.

I will never achieve the dizzy heights that JK Rowling has managed, but it doesn’t matter. Through writing, I can heal old wounds, write myself the happy endings that I never got in real life, work out sadness and pain that I never exposed in reality, but can share and cure in the pages of my novels. Writing has given me back my sanity, it’s brought me new friends, new understanding of myself, and self-acceptance. It’s saved me.

The second thing that got me thinking was the tragic murder, on the 16th of June, of Jo Cox, the Labour MP who did so much to try to heal the divisions in our communities. No words can express how horrific this is, nor how desperately sorry I feel for all her friends, family and colleagues – particularly her husband and young children. Her death left me reeling. I was already feeling pretty low about the state of this country. There seems to be so much anger, hatred and bitterness everywhere, and I genuinely fear the direction in which we seem to be heading.

When the world seems too bleak to contemplate, and real life is too much to bear, I need the happy endings I find in heart-81207_1920books. I need to escape to a place where I know there will be a positive outcome, where good will triumph, and where people are kind and caring and full of love. I once read an article in which a journalist dismissed romance novels as a waste of a good writer’s talent. I strongly disagree. In a world of political mud-slinging, prejudice, ignorance and fear, books that remind us that people are capable of loving one another are more essential than ever. I can’t drown out the negative forces that attack me every single day. I can’t ignore the state of the world. I can’t pretend that things out there aren’t pretty damn dire. But I need to believe that in this world, there is still hope, there is still beauty, there is still kindness, there is still love. The fact that people still write of such things, and that people still want to read them, is proof that we’re not lost yet. There are good people out there. Deep down, I know that. I just need reminding every now and then.  That’s why I need those happy endings.

I hope you all have a wonderful week. xxx

Out of the cave to look at the Sky

Hmm, where am I? This place looks familiar…Oh, wait! I know where I am. This is my blog, isn’t it? I thought I vaguely recognised it.

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Nothing would make me miss this!

Okay, I know, it’s been a while…Sorry! I have been very, very busy lately, and staying away from the internet, including my blog, has been vital, if I’m to meet the deadline for book four. The good news is, it looks as if I will meet that deadline. I would be furious if I didn’t, quite frankly, since I’ve been living like a hermit for simply ages now, tapping away furiously at my computer, shut away in my little office, declining all offers to go out for the day, and even shunning my favourite programmes. Except for Outlander. Hey, I’m only human!

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My inspiration. Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire.

So, for the last few – crikey, I’m not even sure myself how long it’s been. Weeks? Months? Anyway, for the last however long it’s been, I’ve been working very hard on my fourth full-length novel, which is the third in the Kearton Bay series. It follows the story of Will and Lexi, and a lot of the action takes place in Will’s stately home, Kearton Hall. It’s been an absolute joy to write, although I actually began to write it way back in 2012, can you believe? I’d just completed the first draft of what became There Must Be an Angel, and while I was taking a break from that novel before beginning to edit it, I started work on what I thought would be the second in the series.

Eventually, around sixty thousand words in, I decided it wasn’t working. I deleted loads of scenes, chopped and changed things, and then abandoned it to go back to work on Angel. Then, Rose MacLean started nudging me to tell her story, so I wrote A Kiss from a Rose next. After that, I wrote a pocket novel for People’s Friend, and then felt the urge to write something different, so I completed This Other Eden, the first in my Skimmerdale series.

When that was finished, I knew it was time to return to Kearton Bay, but I dabbled with another couple’s storyline before deciding now was the right time to return to Will and Lexi. I tried loads of different things for those two! In the end, I retrieved all those deleted scenes one night and sat looking through the story I’d started so long ago. And it worked! I wondered why I’d decided it wasn’t right, and thought about all that time in between, when it could have been written and out there. But, things are never wasted, and everything happens for a reason. I think maybe I needed to do other things before I tackled this story. Anyway, the upshot of it is, the third Kearton Bay story should be published in September, and I’ll give you more details about it in the next few weeks.

Penny-Dreadful-Season-2

I can’t resist this fabulously weird programme!

So, having emerged from my writing cave, what did I do first? Well, I’m embarrassed to admit, I caved in (see what I did there?) and got Sky back. I’d cancelled it, determined to do without it because I didn’t have much time to watch television anyway, and I really wasn’t that bothered. Then the rotters only went and announced a new series of Penny Dreadful! Well, I tried to be strong, really I did. But when your workmate is eagerly telling you how fantastic the latest episode was, and what an amazing series it’s shaping up to be, what can you do? I kept saying to my husband, “Shall we get Sky back?” and he kept saying, “No, we said we wouldn’t.” And we’d both sit there, grim-faced as we pretended that it didn’t matter that we could no longer pause, rewind or record anything, or that everything we fancied watching was no longer available to us. Then we got home from work one day, and there was a letter from Sky offering us a deal. Come back for half price for a year. I held up the letter. Husband looked at it. We looked at each other. He said, “Do it.” I grabbed the laptop and that was that. Oh, but Penny Dreadful is worth it!

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Yep, that’s how it felt!

Anyway, I deserved a reward. Not only have I been working very hard on the writing, but I endured a visit to the dentist. And not just any old visit, but an emergency appointment type visit, and we all know what that means! Toothache! A broken tooth and a night of agony was enough to convince me to put my nerves aside and get my behind plonked in that dentist’s chair. In the event, it was a long visit. I have weird roots, apparently, that curve round and hook in the jaw bone and, sadly for me, as the dentist removed the tooth, the straight bit came out but the curved bit snapped and remained wedged inside. It took an hour and a half of desperate chiselling and hacking, three injections, two top-ups, a call for reinforcements, a cut gum, four stitches and two exhausted dentists to finally get that broken root out of there. I left with a face like a hamster, clutching a prescription for antibiotics and a pack of gauze “just in case”, feeling very proud of myself for being so brave. In truth, I can’t say it was painful, because it wasn’t. I was totally numb, and the dentists were absolutely lovely. When the injections wore off…Well, that was another matter! I’m currently doped up on painkillers, which is why this post is probably a long, rambling mess. I may read this in a few days and be horrified. Mind you, it won’t be the first time!

Have a great week. xxx

Measuring success as an author

How do you measure success as an author? Write Romantic Jo shares her thoughts.

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IMG_0544How do you do it? The concept of what success means is constantly shifting, not just for writers as a collective, but for each of us as individuals. Even when we achieve what we thought we wanted to achieve, there’s no guarantee it will actually make us *feel* successful. There are always others who seem to be doing better or perhaps doing things differently to us, who will make us question whether we’ve made the right decisions or whether we should be on a different path altogether.

So what’s writing success? Perhaps it’s…

  • Getting a publisher?
  • Getting an agent?
  • Owning your writing journey as an indie author?
  • Seeing your novel in a book shop?
  • Appearing in an Amazon top one hundred chart?
  • Receiving lots of 5 star reviews from people you’ve never met?
  • Making a decent amount of money from writing?
  • Getting an email from a reader to tell you…

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