Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Celebrating Nora

Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person.
Reading is bliss.
— Nora Ephron

Just back from the 6.30am school run. After the rollercoaster of the last few months, I'm making a big effort to return to 'glass half full' thinking. The two hours a day spent on the road here could be seen as a nerve-shredding daily dice with death, but I prefer to think of it as an extended advanced defensive driving course. 'You think this is bad? You should try driving in Cairo/Bombay' or wherever the person speaking originates from is a regular refrain. No thanks - this is good, this is about as much as I want to handle. 

And now the news that Nora Ephron died last night. Enough already. I reached for my filing cabinet to find an article I'd ripped out years ago about her (and then remembered that the filing cabinet is in storage, in Hampshire, half a world away). It was illustrated by this picture - which I loved. She looked bright, and elegant, and fun (the apple, the etching of a duck). She looked how you hoped the writer of 'Heartburn' and 'When Harry Met Sally' would look - like someone you would love to spend a long lunch with, someone you'd love to get to know.

The name 'Nora Ephron' is like a hallmark - a stamp of quality. I don't read a lot of film scripts, but I bought WHMS because I wanted to see how she did it. It's a masterclass - whether you write novels or poems, plays or films, go read it as a tribute to Nora and her extraordinary skill. Her work resonated with so many people because it rang true - she said what we are all thinking elegantly, truthfully, humorously. I remember looking at today's photo after reading the interview with her, and thinking 'yes, I'll have what she's having'.

TODAY'S PROMPT: 'Reading Is Bliss'. Go, read Nora. Read 'Heartburn', read her essays, read her scripts. Enjoy these bookish moments on Huff Po. There is no better training for writing well than reading the best material you can lay your hands on. And Nora was a master. RIP.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Art of Losing

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like a disaster. 

Elizabeth Bishop

So, how are you all? Here, the Met office is warning people to stay indoors out of the heat, (easy enough if you don't need to work or eat ...) 57 degrees on the school run, the kind of heat that has you hopping from one foot to the other watering the garden even at night. The kind of heat that sears your watch and sunglasses to your skin the moment you step outdoors. People have cooked eggs and cookies in their cars. 

Meanwhile, 'home' shivers through a rainy cold June. I was thinking about the beach in today's picture last night - Saunton in North Devon. To me it was summer. Back in the olden days, (as my darling daughter describes my childhood), of long hot summers there were only three clapperboard beach houses by the boardwalk at the foot of the dunes. Our extended family would rent them out, and for a few weeks a year we lived outdoors, surfed, poked around in the rock pools, walked for miles through the dunes. It was bliss - days splashing around in salt water, collecting shells and seaglass, tanned skin perfumed with the smell of Ambre Solaire suncream. To a little girl who (as today's song says), loved Elvis and horses, an endless summer lost in Enid Blyton novels and that endless racing blue sky was heaven.

Aunty Margaret and Uncle Pat (who were more like grandparents), stayed there all summer - nut brown and breezy, never out of their swimming costumes. Margaret fizzed with life - she was a JP, wrote and directed the town pantomime, loved nothing more than a long gossipy meal. Uncle Pat was immensely tall, reserved and kind. They had no children, so we'd often be dropped off at their house in town to play while Mum had a break - I remember they had the most amazing attic stuffed with trunks of panto costumes, Chinese paper lanterns, games from the 40s and 50s.

Margaret passed away some ten years ago, but Uncle Pat soldiered on into his nineties, keeping himself, his house, and his glorious garden in perfect order. He went to Norway. He bought himself a white tuxedo. He was remarkable. But he fell shortly after hearing Dad died, and a couple of days ago he passed away himself. In some crazy way, I like the idea of them keeping each other company. I feel lucky, blessed, to have had these wonderful people in my life, but this art of losing isn't one I want to master. It feels like free-falling - too much is fading away too quickly of the sure beacons that stake out your life in this crazy, teeming world. I'm done with loss.

TODAY'S PROMPT: Why not tell us something good? Fill up that comment box with news about your work, your books, your childhood summers. If you're in the UK, tell us about rain, and green grass, and space (those of us in desert cities could use some ...) The blog tour continues here, with new reviews of 'The Perfume Garden', and posts at the RNA about how to research historical fiction, and at Writer Unboxed about digging deep to find the heart and bones of your stories. Hope they help you with your work. Enjoy x

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Plant Your Trees

You get all kinds of advice from old-hand expats when you move to a place like this, (remind me to tell you about the bucket theory once I've left and had a chance to test it out). One of the simplest was: plant your trees. I think what she meant was - literally - put down roots. Instead of longing for the place where you want to be, commit to where you are. As you can see from today's pic, I'm still living out of the horticultural equivalent of a suitcase. There are Malaysian palms, banana, frangipani and olive trees in the garden - all in pots. Milo and Oscar's favourite spot on the terrace is this - relatively shady, jammed in behind a freshly watered planter like some strange 'catpug'.

This is the time of year when you end up saying goodbye to a lot of friends who are shipping out for good at the end of the school year. There's already a demob happy feeling - last brunches and barbecues with those leaving, and work-wise the new book is done, and gone. The next one I'll start writing come September, so during the, (whisper it - two and a half month long school holidays), it will be finishing up research which is eclectic reading to say the least - priceless jewels, war, angels, and finalising the plot, all set in the part of the UK I love the best. Maybe that's one of the best things about being a writer - you can create a world where you would love to plant your trees. Or is that just me?

TODAY'S PROMPT: Hope you are enjoying the blog tour, and it's helping your writing. If you like historical fiction, do visit Colin Falconer's blog where we are talking about fiction vs fact. If you could do with some inspiration, head to Creative Penn. Novelicious has my five top tips for writers, and on the Corvus Atlantic site we are talking about how books shape our lives. All the links are here. Meanwhile, if you've experienced expat life or have any advice to pass along about the pots vs planting conundrum, you know where the comments box is. x

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Where do stories come from?

I was out watering our garden by 4.30am this morning. The scent of the frangipani, mint, sage, thyme, zaatar was wonderful. It's relatively cool at that time, and quiet, and a good chance to start the day peacefully before braving the roads on the school run. At least with insomnia you get to enjoy the sunrise, and pigeons cooing up on the roof serenade your first coffee. Not sleeping terribly well at the moment is perhaps understandable.

Grief is a strange, limbo state. Beyond my own loss, our small expat community has been rocked this week. The huge, Italianate mall just a minute down the road from us caught fire a few days ago. Tragically, nineteen people died - thirteen of them very young children trapped in a second floor nursery. Two firefighters died going in through the roof to save them - along with four brave teachers who had stayed with the children. There's a strong community group of mothers here, and everyone is devastated. One NZ family lost young triplets, another Spanish family lost three of their four children. Where do you begin to express condolences, to try to make sense of such brutal loss? There have been vigils and tributes - the most moving of which was a haka performed by NZ rugby players, which summed up all the raw anger and grief everyone is feeling.

I've been amazed time and time again by the fortitude and strength these families are showing, and the way the community is coming together to help one another. All of us are holding our children closer, aware that it could easily have been them dropped off at the nursery for an hour while you're in Carrefour. This week our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their beautiful babies.

Life, and work goes on. There are still lunches to be packed for school, and dogs to be walked, and gardens to be watered. There are deadlines to meet, and editing to be done. Which is as it should be. There's a comfort in routine, and doing good work. The first reviews and guest posts are going up on The Perfume Garden, here, and today I'm guesting over at Reading the Past about where our stories come from. Maybe our stories come from the huge events that devastate cities and countries, or maybe they come from closer to home. Writing is a funny old job, sometimes, but perhaps that's what we are here for, to record the stories that shape our lives, and to try and make sense of them for everyone. Take care x

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