Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Today's Motto

Whatever the day may hold, there are pancakes this evening.

I'm a lemon and sugar gal myself, and have a disgusting tendency to roll them up and eat them with my fingers, folded in half so the lemony syrup doesn't pour out. Some people sprinkle sugar - I dump vast quantities of it on the hot, crisp pancake, and then inundate the whole in lemon juice. Moderation, depart this place.

What's your filling of choice on Pancake Day?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Random embarassments

I was already in bed. Husband was downstairs watching TV with my parents, who were visiting for the weekend.

Husband and Father were watching some historical programme, when Mother decided she needed to check teletext for some news updates. When they finaly wrested the remote back from her, and turned back to TV, the screen was filled with pictures of a couple, er... getting it on? Performing the horizontal mambo? Loudly. With emphasis.

Husband, caught in that kind of acute embarassment only experienced when found watching something explicit in the company of your (or, worse, your wife's) parents, spoke without thinking. "Well THAT's not the discovery of the North-West Passage."


The Mother, deadpan, replies, "Depends what angle she lay down in."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Random Conversations

In bed with Husband:-

Me:- "You promised me tea."

Him:- "I'm too busy talking about crab paste."

Yes. Of course. How silly of me.

(I did get the tea eventually.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dangerous Lies

I'm stealing writing progress from a greedy and protesting working and home life, and be damned to them! I need to amend my word meters in the side bar because Danglies has turned from edits to rewrites and I'm back to the drawing board.

But this, I quite like. [warning - first draft!]

She shouldn't have come.

There were doves in the courtyard, snowy while and silent. They slept on ledges and in niches, on the roof above the pointed Arabian arches, even on the bowl of the broken fountain.

In Marianne's mind's eye, and in her Grandfather's photograph, the arches, the walls and the fountain were bright and blinding white. Nearly seventy years ago they would have been, but now the were grey and peeling, and here and there a dirty orange stain showed where some elaborately carved bracket had rusted into memory.

Marianne folded the map she held with careful fingers, and stowed it in her shoulder bag. For years she'd dreamed of visiting Morocco, the country her Grandfather had loved so much. When her Father's death had dealt her grief and opportunities with an indiscriminate hand, she'd taken those rare and precious opportunities in both hands, packed new clothes and a new courage, and booked her flight before she changed her mind.

Sighing, she stepped forward out of the shaded doorway into the courtyard proper, the rough render catching at the sleeve of her linen tunic. In that cherished photograph, the decorative tiles lay in neat order around the fountain, their decorous arrangement constrasting with the wild exuberance of their design. Now they were cracked, lifted, and scattered under foot, dust and debris half concelaing the gleam of red and blue.

She nudged one loose tile with the toe of her rope soled shoe, absently settling it back into its place by the fountain's weed-covered plinth.

Her movement startled the sleeping doves who rose in flustered and flapping disarray, swirling the dust with their feathers, and clapping away into the sunlight. With them gone, the space was dead and still, smelling of hot dust and bird. It was a forgotten space, abandoned.


It was a mistake, though, to think that the house had been left empty when her Grandfather left. The agents, eagerly anticipating an impulse buy from a gullible tourist, had told her the property had stood empty only for a year or two. "More like five," she muttered, running a wary hand down the pillar of one stately arch. And the rust stains and broken tiles told of a neglect much older than that.

It didn't mean anything. It didn't matter.

She had wanted to see her Grandfather's home, and now she had. He'd only been here for a couple of years, in any case.

It didn't matter.

She was a fool.

She shouldn't have come.

Tipping her head back, she closed her eyes and let the sun's heat brand her face. The doves had settled somewhere out of sight - their cooing floated down to her - and her mind conjured the soft sound of water playing in the fountain which had stood dry for so long.

In the photograph with the dancing fountain and the white, white walls, there had been a veiled woman in the shadows of the arches, and a slim black cat walking on the tiles, uplifted tail curling in a confident wave.

The cat's name, Grandfather had told her, was Bosphorus. But he had never once named the woman in the photograph, when Marianne sat on his knee as a child under the apple tree at home.

Bos was long gone. Her Grandfather had died years ago, before her Mother. And her Father...

"Damn." She flicked wildcat tears off her chin with fingers that shook. "Damn."

She shouldn't have --

"You shouldn't be here."

Marianne spun on one foot, half tripping on the loose tiles, steadying herself with one hand on the fountain edge. There was a man standing in the shadows of the doorway, and for a moment the contrast made him appear dark, as Arabic as any other native of Rabat.

Then he stepped forward, and the sun claimed him as her own.

Hmmm. There should be something else in there, something about a demonstration and a mob, and I have a sneaking suspicion it's too similar to a scene in a book I love, but I'll see. I can always edit it into submission.

Edits are my friend. Rewrites make my eyebrows sweat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Kate Walker tagged me, so I'll have a go....

current clothing: Huh. This would be the first question on a 'Durham Day' when I left my overnight bag at home? *sigh* So, it's yesterday's grey scoop neck top with self-colour embroidery, jeans, brown suede boots.
current hair: Long light brown. Kind of a looped up pony tail embellished with a purple silk flower.
current mood: Overworked and stressed, but still positive.
current refreshment: Well, we're not supposed to eat and drink in the computer rooms... ggg I have a bottle of water with me, and I've just finished a caremelised hazelnut, sesame and peanut bar.
current annoyance: Leaving my overnight bag at home.
current avoidance: Avoiding thinking about work, and the quest for pregnancy.
current smell: Dove shower creme
current thing you ought to be doing: Reading for this afternoon's lecture.
current thing or things on your wall: Well, I'm at Durham, so it's a 'No food or drink' poster. At home it's a huge variety of notes, post cards, and old calendars turned to Aug 05, which is when last year started to go drastically wrong for me.
current IM/person you're talking to: No-one. (Although it's usually Julie, but I really want to catch up with Dee soon *waving*)
current jewellery: White gold wedding ring. And that's it. Because I left my freaking overnight bag at freaking home, and I freaking forgot to put freaking earrings in.
current book: Reading – Mary Stewart's Thunder on the Right. Writing - The rewrites of the beginning of Dangerous Lies.
current worry: Um, they are legion.
current favorite celebrity: Probably Jason Statham.
current obsession: The Eagle Creek 'Koala' washbag in the multi-stripe colour. It's a long story. Obsessions are not always pretty...
current love: Minnie, for catching the mouse. (And Husband, of course)
current longing: to be pregnant, or at least, to stop caring about it so much.
current disappointment: I think I put on weight last month.
current lyric in your head: Anastasia, 'out of love' I think it's called.
current music: the hum of air conditioning (too cold) and computers.
current favorite book: Mine.
current favorite movie: The Incredibles.
current wish: Um, guess.
current undergarments: Brand new cheap white lace knickers and very old and barely able to cope black lace bra.
current desktop picture: At home it's a picture of Cleo and Chrissy curled up together looking cute.
current plans for tonight/weekend: Tonight - working late then driving home and giving Minnie extra attention. Weekend, the parents are visiting!

I'm not going to tag anyone else, but do it if you wanna!

Patience Pays

Let me tell you about Minnie.

Minnie is so named because she was the tiniest kitten at eight weeks old. She used to crawl up the bed and curl up between our pillows, and Husband and I would lie there in terrified wakefulness in case we rolled over and crushed her.

In adulthood, Minnie is less mini. Her legs have remained short, but her body is long, and she's quite a substantial young kitty. She's a confirmed indoor pet, being a complete scaredy cat about the Great Outdoors (well, there's loud rumbling things and dogs and wet stuff falling from the sky!), but she was also the apprentice of our outdoor-loving and oft-lamented Piggy-Kitty (maysherestinpeace) who was an inveterate hunter.

With me so far?

Now, our house is old, and backs onto a farmyard. Therefore, despite our four cats, and the twenty odd feral ones that live on the farm, we have mice. We never see them, but they lurk beneath the floorboards and behind the skirting boards. There's one that visits the kitchen, although it doesn't appear to eat anything there. We only know of its presence because of the occasional 'ha-ha you can't get me!' poops he leaves to taunt the cats.

The mice drive Minnie insane.

She can hear them scritching behind the walls and under the floors, and she spends hours every day and night crouched by the skirting board, ears cocked and whiskers bristling, listening with every fibre of her being, waiting, hoping, praying for the chance... just once!... to catch one.

This morning I received a text from Husband that read:- Months of patience has finally paid off. Minnie got her mouse!

I'm so proud!

Through patience and dilligence and talent, my little kitty has achieved her goal.

There's a lesson in there somewhere.


Actually, there's two, and the second lesson is about positive thinking.

I posted a little while ago about gratitude, and had cause to be grateful and stunned yet again barely 24 hours later. When good things like that start happening to you, you start to expect them. And, expecting them, you find good things in the strangest places, and rejoice in the things you find.

Since I'm currently thinking so positively, Minnie's success ranks as another good thing, and has made my day for me!

Someone's getting tuna for supper...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Guilt and Pleasure

I've been tagged by Julie to list five guilty pleasures. I'm adopting her qualification process, limiting guilty pleasures to those that are not educational, writing-related, or professional, and that are probably harmful.


I'm really rather a boring person, and most of my pleasures are alarmingly worthy and boring. Walking in the Lake District, reading, writing... Even chocolate and the occasional glass of wine have some health benefits (even if only mental health benefits). I refuse to feel guilty about most food stuffs - eating is a sensual, joyful experience.

This could get ugly.

Okay, so, my five guilty pleasures are...

1) Not exercising. There's nothing quite like being curled up under the duvet on the sofa watching Blackadder instead of heaving away on the rowing machine.

2) Playing mindless computer games. Command and Conquer. Age of Empires. Rome: Total War. Lord of the Rings - the Battle for Middle Earth. And, coming soon: Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. *whimper* The last time I got into an Elder Scrolls game, I think Husband was considering an Intervention. It stole my life.... But, actually, even computer games have their non-guilty rationale. I use them to shut off stress.

3) Cheap chocolate. Despite my new year resolution to the contrary, I am continuing to be a chocolate slut, a veritable tart for cheap, underbred, rough and ready chocolate.... Especially those little foil cups that are almost fondant-filled.

4) The Jacket Potato. Not jacket potatoes per se, but THE Jacket Potato. This is the one that's largest enough to serve three, and is heaped with enough butter to grease a Scotsman, and enough cheese to finance a mouse-war. Mmmmmmm. Even thinking about it makes me happy. And makes my arteries weep.

5) Monsoon clothes. There are clothes in my wardrobe from Monsoon that I will rarely wear, because I don't go to enough posh dos. But, oh, they're gorgeous. And they're gorgeousness justifies their purchase. Really. It does.

Now I'm reveiwing the above and thinking, "well, that's not really guilty. There's stress-relief in the gaming, calcium and vit c in the potato, style aspirations in the clothing....

There's obviously no hope for me.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


The visits of friends are therapy. I love having visitors, but I love it more when my visitors are close and dear friends. I love cooking and making them comfortable, I love the company on trips out and fun activities. I love talking about things that matter most to us.

I love it when they come up to me and say, "you look tired, shall I make you a cocktail?"

Then when friends go home, you have to find your own therapy. I always hover on the brink of feeling down when visitors leave. There's a moment of, "wheee! I can do what I want!" but that soon passes and I feel down and lonely.

Today, my post-friends-visiting therapy is to think back on the things we did, and to bake salami bread with caramelised onion and cheddar.


1) Used up a small portion of our lives getting lost in the most extensive second-hand bookshop I've ever visited. Three separate staircases, uncountable rooms, stacks and shelves and cabinets of books, including The Locked Room. The three-hundred year-old half bookshop owner, half gnome presiding over the book orders, and the towering mahogany bookcases that change positions when you turn your back.

Okay, so the gnome and the moving bookcases may be exageration, but only just.

2) Drank margaritas.

This needs no further explanation.

3) Created a dessert carousel. Think a selection of desserts and puddings including a homemade meringue, a lemon and ginger cheesecake and something called Stairway to Heaven. Imagine said selection mounted on a turntable, and three dessert-deprived women armed with spoons....

4) Walked around Buttermere. Imagine pastoral beauty, a spiritually cleansing experience of heritage and landscape, enriched by the scent of water and the breath of the sweet wind.... imagine calling a previously unnamed waterfall, "goldenballs" and posing an illustrative photograph in front of it.

5) Went out for dinner. The sort of chinese food that induces involuntary groaning among its consumers.

6) Talked. Writing, food, men, drinks, health.

7) Played with cats. Which is obligatory among my guests.

Later, my therapy will be thinking back on these things, and eating salami bread with caramelised onion and cheddar.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I learned very young that it was easy to replicate the warm, excited feelig you get when someone gives you a gift, by giving a gift to someone else.

You know.

Their face lights up, their mouth drops open. They might gasp, or jump up and down or squeal. The might do what Husband does and press the heels of his hands to his cheeks as if his smile is in danger of bursting out and taking over the world.

You have all those visual prompts to conjure lovely feelings in you, and you can store those pictures in happy memories.

It's different when the gift is anonymous.

I received a gift on Tuesday. A gift so appropriate, so needed and so complimentary it blew me away. Chances are I know the giver, but I don't know which of my acquaintances it is.

But just in case they read this blog, I'm doing my face lighting, mouth opening, jumping up and down and squealing here.

Thank you.

I'll strive to be worthy of the gift!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine

I know, I know, it's commercialised to death, but today I can't quite help thinking about Husband, and how much I love him.

(We have, btw, resolved to not buy VDay gifts and cards - we're making each other a card, and doing stuff for each other instead.)

For Christmas, Husband gave me Jack Johnson's latest CD. On it is a track that so sums up my feelings about our relationship that I always end up blinking back tears when I listen in the car.

Love is the answer,
At least for most of the questions in my heart.
Like why are we here and where do we go
And how come it's so hard?
It's not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving.
I'll tell you one thing
It's always better when we're together.

It's always better when we're together, darling. Happy Valentine.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What do you see?

Back in December, I bemoaned the chaotic state of my dining room and posted a picture of the chaos. I fully intended to post a picture of the room when I'd tidied and decorated but never got round to it, so here you are:-

Keep the home fires burning... Posted by Picasa

And of course, as ever, it got me musing about writing and characters. You see, that's a nice scene, it's pretty, clean and aesthetically pleasing. But I know there are unspeakable stains on the floorboards, that the rug is in the wrong place, and there are still dust sheets just out of shot...

It reminds me of an excercise Patricia McLinn once posted on eHarlequin.com. She invited us to describe a room, the same room, from the different POVs of the hero and the heroine.

Looking at this scene, Kier would have his eye on the exit, Jenny on the tree. Alan would be feeling out of place, Mari would be wanting to sit down in the armchair in the corner behind the tree. Emily would take a place at the table and wait for someone to serve her, Tristan would be, regrettably, eyeing up the drinks table...

What about your characters?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Under Pressure

I refuse to apologise to those of you who now have the "dum dum dum didi dum-dum" base line living in their head. So there.

Work is now the place where a variety of people keep coming to our team and saying, "we know you don't have enough time/funding/staff to do the work that already needs doing, but this contract/funding stream/staff post is coming to an end so we need to work out a way to cover this work, too."

And they're good, hard-working, dedicated, pressured people, too, so I don't get to reply, "you know what? Why don't you go screw/kill/bite yourself."

Husband advocates listening to The Prodigy CDs very, very loud on the way home. I'm leaning more towards the wine-and-chocolate-and-swearing approach.

On the plus side (because there's always a plus side) I have visitors next weekend and I'm really looking forward to a long weekend and a lot of fun.

And I am Absolutely Determined to do No dayjob work or MA work this weekend. Roll oooooooon Friday.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

First Meetings

The first time my brother met Husband, he was impressed.

They were at college together - it was the morning after a heavy lads' night out before. Brother knocked on the door of a friend's room to see if they wanted to go for breakfast, and found the room full of strange bodies.

It is said (although this may be apocryphal) that one small lad was sleeping in the wardrobe. On offering an open invitation to breakfast, Brother was met by a chorus of groans and curses. But one fully-dressed, curled-up form by the door uncoiled itself, got to his feet, tugged his t-shirt straight and said, "yeah, alright."

Brother says he's always admired Husband's ability to go from somnolent, passed-out-in-your-clothes to instantly ready for action, whatever the circumstances.

Only I know that what Husband is truly instantly ready for... is breakfast.

The way to a man's heart is through is black pudding.

The first time Husband met me, I was hiding behind a plant.

A carnivirous plant, Sarencenia Flava, to be precise.

I was, at the time, helping Brother to move out of his college room. This entailed shifting the usual paraphenalia of stereo, books, tapes, duvet and, in Brother's case, half a hundred weight of bricks (long story) and several large carnivorous plants.

In his defence, he was studying horticulture, and vegetable instruments of death and destruction were his passion. The particular specimen I was holding at the time was about three foot high and a good one and a half feet wide.

Husband maintains that he has a lasting impression of a voice, two hands, and a pair of legs below the knee.

Since I couldn't actually see him at the time, I don't actually count this as my first meeting with him.

My first meeting involves Bon Jovi.

How do your characters meet? Have you a cute meet? A dramatic one? A real-life one?

In five MS and pre-MSs, I have:

The Hero watching the heroine kill three men on CCTV
The heroine crashing her car through a hedgebank to avoid hitting the Hero
The heroine slamming the door on the Hero's foot
The Hero abducting the heroine from a moving train, and
The Hero fishing the heroine out of the Mediterranean. (sp?)

Hmmmm. I think I incline towards the dramatic, no?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weekend Wash Out

On Monday, someone will ask me how my weekend was. "What weekend?" I'll probably think.

I've been working on a Masters essay all weekend, and I've just totted up and realised I've put in seventeen hours on it. Ick. However, it's now done, and I can stop thinking about it for a while.

I finished it an hour ago, and I'm now the other side of:

i) Some light chores
ii) Half a glass of rose of pinot noir
iii) A face mask
iv) And a hot shower and sugar scrub

I now feel not so much human again, as a goddess.

I shall now turn that goddess domestic, and prepare dinner.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I Missed It!

I'm champion at missing other people's birthdays and anniversaries, but you'd think I'd remember my BLOG'S FIRST YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!!

This Blog was one year old as of January 20th. Wow. Another thing I've stuck with.

I'm thinking of picking some highlights and lowlights of last year and re-posting, or linking to them in the coming week.

Any favourites?

Any memorable ones for you?

Let me know!

Starry, Starry Night and the Road to Damascus

The drive over to Durham on Monday was a bit gruelling, to say the least.

I'd left work late, as I needed to wait for a colleague's opinion on a piece of work, and she didn't get out of meetings till gone six. After I'd polished the report and sent it out, I didn't get away from the office until 7ish. By then, it had been below freezing for several hours, dark for two hours, and in thick fog since the sun went down.

Driving slowly through the ice and fog, counting the cat's eyes for company, was a bit too much like hard work. After the first hour or so, you start thinking how nice it would be to be able to blink.

The road winds higher, the vehicles sightings become fewer and more infrequent. You phone a couple of friends on the hands-free, but then the fog thickens and even that is too much distraction. It's just you, the night, the cold and the white.

And then, on the bleakest stretch of that bleak road, I burst out of the fog, and saw the stars.

The clearest night I've ever known. The blackness of the sky and the brightness of the stars was overwhelming, breathtaking, humbling. Up there, on the spine of the Pennines, it's a long way from the sickly orange glow of light pollution, and the night sky is there for the taking.

Cold or no cold, late or not late, I pulled over and parked, and leaned back with my head on the roof of the car and looked.

Stars bright and clear and shining. The sweep of the Milky Way so crowded and so complex, looking at it gave me vertigo and I felt like I was falling into all those stars, all those worlds. Orion striding across space, hunting his quarry. The flash of a plane, cruising in the jet stream far above. The furtive silver glimmer of a satellite, the mayfly burn of an ephemeral shooting star.

My breath on the air, the frost on the grass, and my fingers turning blue.

So perfect, it was worth driving through the fog, because the contrast gave the sight a powerful joy.

So, while I sniff back tears of remembrance, let's relate this to writing.

*g* You didn't see that coming, did you?

If we're writing characters who change, learn, grow, then there's usually a moment of breakthrough, a revelation that turns the way they see things (usually for us romance writers, they way they see themselves, their lover, and their relationship) on its head. Far too often I see (in both published and unpublished books) too little made of that shining moment, too often it's almost brushed under the carpet, a poor relation to the black moment, a breath of a pause before the resolution.

Please, give your characters their shining, blinding breakthrough. Let it stop them in their tracks, taking their breath.

That doesn't mean their moment of realisation has to come attached to speeding truck - it doesn't have to be life-or-death to be life-changing. They can find their epiphany in a bowl of soup, if that's how it takes them.

But have that moment thrill their soul. Have it fill them with light till it bursts from their fingers like Princess Fiona's transformation in Shrek. Think big, think wonder, think awe.

No reader should be able to miss your character's Road to Damascus revelation just because they skipped a paragraph. Or sneezed.

Let them burst through the fog with your characters, and glory in the sight of all those gleaming stars.

(Sometimes I just like coming up with blog post titles that are going to make you go, "huh?")