The Egg

This week I finished writing a novel, some 97, 000 words that I’m quite pleased with. It’s a story of a woman and her neighbour on a quest to discover something new after a life-changing event, and it contains a secondary character I love to bits, an impressive lady who speaks her mind and is very focused on getting what she wants, which is all honourable and for the good of everyone. I’ll say much more about that particular novel later.

Then a new idea for a story came to me this morning, the tale of three very different women who emerge from various incidents together to discover a new future. I don’t want to start it yet – I want to think about it and let ideas bubble. So in the interim, I’m reading a lot of very different books – I have a pile of five novels I’m going to enjoy over the next week. Then I’m extending my time in the gym, walking in the spring sunshine (despite the cold), and scribbling a bit.

I belong to two writing groups and this gives me the opportunity to create new bits and pieces, scribbling over lunch time cups of tea or in the spaces between reading and planning a new idea. I like trying out new thoughts and different styles, so here’s a bit of verbage I wrote based on a picture my daughter painted. It’s about a mythical creature, or rather, the beginning of one. It’s probably a metaphor too. We’ve all been locked down for far too long…

Sending best wishes. xx

The egg

The ocean is like glass, the surface still, soundless, stretching to the horizon.

Then in a flurry, a sudden movement disturbs the silence, a ripple, a whirling funnel of water, and the egg falls, leaden, heavy, until it sinks and settles on the seabed.

In the murky light, the egg lies on sand, undisturbed.

A fish darts past unaware, another, larger, in pursuit.

The egg sits, perfectly round, alabaster white tinged blue, pink flecked, the size of a fist.

At the bottom of the sea, the water is darker.

Everywhere is vast, gloomy, graveyard-still: the egg is motionless.

But beneath the shell’s hard surface is the scratching of a small hoof, nail scraping against a hard wall, a fast rasp.

It stops.

There is no sound, just silence, a pause, then a repeated grating sound rattles inside, solid against solid, a persistent tap-tap.

The beginning of a crack appears, an imperceptible fissure in the egg’s smooth perfection.

For a moment, an intake of a breath holds, there is nothing, then a frantic chipping, a harder kick, the shell wall splinters open and the sides of the egg shatter in two, like breaking porcelain.

A damply white creature stands on four weak legs in the centre of the shards.

Wide eyes blink once, then she stretches her neck, lifts nimble hind quarters, tries for the first time to unfold skeletal wings.

 She staggers, one step, another, and pauses, sinking back on soft thighs.

Gazing around underwater, she breathes out bubbles, then she blinks, snorts pearl droplets through black bead nostrils, and tries her wings again.

They unfurl like wide fabric, pushing water, extending above her head, and suddenly her legs are firm and she stands, white furred, feather winged, strong.

One leap, hooves sinking back into sand, and she is up, cutting through the ocean, slicing the surface, water becoming clean air in her lungs.

She is swimming, surging forward, then her wings spread and she lifts up, away from the ocean, a creature of sea and sky, leaving foam splashes of surf in her wake.

 Airborne, she strives for the sun, wings beating, clouds above and below, her eyes wide.

She is free and her future is open as the bright skies.

Lockdown, languages and me. (Warning: much failure, a little success…)

As a writer, I’m blessed with being able to work from home and I’m so lucky to have a job I enjoy, that I return to each day with energy and enthusiasm. Lockdown is a difficult time for everyone in their own way, but some people have real problems in managing to get by in these strange times. There are furloughed people, those who have no jobs, those who are missing people they haven’t seen for so long, and those who are medically compromised, and I whole-heartedly wish them the best.

Not long ago, I heard a celebrity recommend on TV that those who had no jobs or prospects during lockdown should take up a course or a hobby. I didn’t think he was being glib or facetious: I think it was a genuine attempt to turn a difficult situation into a positive one and to suggest that people spent the time they had on their hands trying to acquire new skills. I mentioned this to my daughter and she was immediately on the case, starting to learn Japanese, German and Irish.

So, to support her, I signed up for a few languages and I have to say, it is a daily source of total comedy.

My French is good but, on my phone, I couldn’t work out how to access the advanced level. Instead, I spent each day working through basics, hoping I could get to a level where I’d be able to stretch my skills. Then I discovered how to leap forwards and now I enjoy practising tenses I’d long forgotten and brushing up rusty pronunciation. So far, so good.

My Spanish isn’t bad; I managed to fly through the first few levels and eventually accessed the right questions for my skills. I’m recalling things I’d forgotten, although I’m having to translate the English from US to UK before I try the Spanish: I’m given words such as bathroom (which means toilet), purse (which is a handbag) and store (which translates as shop). These words threw me more than they should have at first. But now I’m fluent in US English too, which is perfect.

Then there was German. I can do basic German, ask for food, chat a bit, but I spent the first six lessons asking Ms. Merkel if she was the chancellor and Herr Schmitt if he was a lawyer. Then I had to ask Heidi Klum if she came from Sweden. After hours of this, I managed to switch my skills to a level where I was making mistakes. Now that was what I needed to do in order to improve: there was no point in getting everything right.

And then there was my decision to learn Romanian. I speak a few words of Romanian, not much… Te iubesc, Noroc, Țuică, Multimesc, that sort of thing. So, naïvely, I thought: rock and roll – what can go wrong? My daughter was steaming ahead with Irish and Japanese: surely I could manage a fairly easy romance language from Eastern Europe? Think again.

First of all, I kept getting everything wrong because I hadn’t uploaded the Romanian keyboard to my phone and couldn’t access letters such as ă and ţ. So everything I wrote in Romanian was a mistake. Once I’d accessed the ability to type in Romanian, I then encountered a problem with the definite article, which took me a week to work out. For example, a boy is un baiat, but the boy isbăiatul. A woman is o femeie but the woman is femeia. It took me ten mistakes to work that one out. Then there’s the exercise when a cross-sounding lady says something quickly and you have to write it down although you haven’t a clue what she’s just said. Then there are the sentences that you would just never ever say: ‘the goose, the chicken and the duck eat the sandwich and drink the water,’ for example which, for reference, is ‚gâsca, puiul și rața mănâncă sandvișul și beau apa’. It fills me full of happiness that one day I might be able to waltz into a shop in Constanța and say that line. (Constanța, by the way, is a beautiful place on the Black Sea – I recommend it highly!)

Then there is the awful sense of failure, which happens when you are steaming through the lesson, which lasts about ten minutes, you achieve 100% throughout until you arrive at the last two hard questions, then you fail abysmally and are greeted with a descending trumpet sound which would normally accompany Laurel and Hardy getting it wrong, and the words ‘You tried hard, but better luck next time…’ Why ever did I need learning languages in my life?

The answer is simple: it’s the chance to communicate, to learn, to improve, and when I get it right, it will be a great feeling. I dream of a time I can sit in a café in France or Spain and chat easily to the locals, or saunter into a biergarten in Munich and order something delicious. I may even one day be able to have a conversation with someone in Constanța about something that isn’t a farmyard animal and at least I can already ask for a sandwich and water.

And, of course, there’s always the chance that perhaps the next lesson will teach me the word for wine…

Imagine Five French Hens as a Hollywood film with this huge cast…!!

I love the way films and live theatre give us as an audience the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a story through the eyes of the characters we meet. It’s fascinating how a few lines on a page, a book or a script, can be turned into something visual and vibrant in front of our eyes. Several years ago, I was part of a cast performing Steel Magnolias on stage and I had a great time working on a lively script with strong, talented actors. I watched the film of the play out of interest, and it was great to see older female actors playing feisty roles, investigating the themes of family and friendship. I thought about how few films there are out there that cater for older actors as protagonists, especially women. Some of the most popular ones include Calendar Girls, The First Wives’ Club and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There were a few more films with one or two older females in the cast, Philomena, On Golden Pond, but there aren’t many that show groups of women in their older years having fun and living life.

I often consider how my own novels would be cast as movies as the stories are often quite visual, they have colourful locations, and the characters are older women and men who enjoy life and have fun. Having seen Steel Magnolias on screen, I imagined that the eponymous characters of my novel Five French Hens came from an American city, not a small town in the UK, and that the five fun American women who visit Paris were played by Hollywood actors.

Imagine all those incredible older Hollywood superstars we could choose from. I’m thinking big here with my casting, and I mean really big. I haven’t held back on glamour, fame or talent. Nor have I held back on the characters’ energy, sass and big personalities. Imagine the frocks in the casino scene…. (Imagine them all together on set before filming starts!)

So, this is my imaginary, dream cast list:

Jen: Jen would be played by Sally Field, who was Forest Gump’s mum and the ex-wife in Mrs. Doubtfire as well as M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias. She’s a great choice as she has the ability to be both calm, strong and thoughtful, but also there is a sense of vulnerability and sensitivity. She would be enthusiastic and excited about her marriage to Eddie, but she would convey Jen’s doubts and the desperation not to be alone. Moreover, Jen is lively, popular but with the capacity to be quite secretive; Sally Field has the warmth and depth to make this character take the story forward.

Della: I’ve chosen Queen Latifah as Della. She would bring an energy and strength to the character: she would be playful and feisty in her marriage but caring and full of loyalty for her husband. Queen Latifah would steal a few scenes in Paris. I can imagine her in the final scenes too, when she comes home to her beloved Sylvester and everything isn’t as she expected.

Tess: I’d select Goldie Hawn to play Tess. She’s really good at comedy roles and I can imagine her in an awful marriage with Alan at the beginning of the film, and yet, once in Paris, she flourishes and becomes a party animal. Goldie Hawn would bring initial vulnerability to the role, later showing her strength and compassion.

Rose: I’d choose Brenda Fricker to play Rose. Initially hesitant and quite solitary, Rose is transformed into a leader and a trouper. She is talented, but her skills are wasted at home; Paris brings out the flamboyant best of Rose and I’d love to see Brenda play the final role on stage as Rose becomes Rose-On-Wye, accompanying Greta Manchester on the piano!

Pam: I’d choose Cher as Pam. She is strong, independent, feisty and nobody’s fool. Athletic and a leader, Pam is the one who knows her way around Paris well and supports the other four hens when they need it most, but she has her own secrets. Her external toughness hides her vulnerability and her shadowy past. After her great performance in Moonstruck, I can imagine Cher embodying this role so well.

Eddie: I’d select Robert Redford. He is dashing and dapper, so we can understand why Jen is so attracted to him. He is personable and persuasive too: Robert Redford has that sense of clean-cut honesty which might draw Jen in and impress her with his potential to be the perfect husband.

Vladimir: Robert De Niro. Enough said. Great actor. Full of the promise of a better match for Tess. Big hearted, generous, expansive. Nothing else to say except that he’d be perfect as Vladimir.

Alan: I’d cast Richard Dreyfus as Alan, Tess’s husband who’d rather play golf than spend time with her. Richard Dreyfus is talented and would have the ability to hint at Alan’s duality and untrustworthiness, cranking up his unpleasantness as the role progresses.

Daz: I was surprised how few really young Hollywood actors I knew: in the end, I chose Taron Egerton who is a versatile performer. He has a warm personality, is outgoing and has a sense of fun. He’s a strong character actor and he can sing too. Perfect.

There are lots of other roles that need consideration, from Elodie, the woman who fortells the Hens their futures, to the unfortunate Celia and the lovely Sylvester. I can’t think who’d be most ideal.

I’m sure there are lots more talented actors in their older years who’d be absolutely perfect to play The Hens. It’s great fun casting hypothetically and there are some wonderful names to be considered. Why not imagine yourself as director and, if you come up with a perfect cast, do let me know.