Blog tours, new books and sunshine days

My blog tour for Lil’s Bus Trip started on 26th August and it continued to the 7th September. I loved every minute of it.

It was organised brilliantly, as ever, by Rachel’s Random Resources and Boldwood Books. I always look forward to blog tours; it’s a chance to meet up again with some reviewers that I’ve only known through previous blog tours but, after seven of my books have passed through their hands, they feel like good friends. I’ve experienced nothing but warmth and generosity, and a blog tour is simply a new novel being celebrated on a daily basis. I’ve met even more reviewers this time, people I’ve not encountered on blog tours before, and I’ve been touched by their kind words and their genuine interest.

Furthermore, once reviews are out, the amazing Boldwood writers’ community flies into action like a throng of doves, sweeping down to like, to retweet and to offer words of encouragement. What’s not to love about a blog tour? It is a real delight, three reviews to be savoured daily, and I’m already looking forward to the tour for my next release in December.

As those of you who know me will be aware, I’m a little bit prolific. I start writing something new, and then the obsession kicks in, and I have to keep going. I try to take time off for reflection before I write the whole thing from beginning to end, and every so often I make sure I enjoy an opportunity to read widely. I have several books lined up: I’ve just finished Ali Smith’s wonderful Summer, and next I’ll read the latest by Jessica Redland, and the upcoming new ones by Maddie Please, Fay Keenan and Louise Douglas. I’m always so thrilled to read books by so many talented writers.

I am writing a novel at the moment that is probably the third in line for 2022, and I’m 60k words in already. I have another book out next year under a new name (not dissimilar to my grandma’s maiden name) in a different genre, a dual time line that will be more than a bit spooky. There are other novels I’ve already written for next year too, stories about fun and friendship and living life to the full, stories about multi-generations and older protagonists who seize every precious moment to enjoy life.

And, while we’re discussing themes and upcoming blog tours, my next novel is out on December 7th. It’s called Golden Girls’ Getaway, and it’s about three women who leave London in a motor home for adventures across the UK. I adore the three protagonists and I’d love them to become my readers’ new best friends. Vivienne, Mary and Gwen are very different characters, as you’d expect, but in their own way they are each a force to be reckoned with.

While Lil continues on her bus trip, travelling across northern Europe to Amsterdam, the Golden Girls are getting ready to start their motor. I have an exciting cover to reveal, and then on December 7th, the new novel will see the light of day. I’m looking forward to making that date a really big celebration.

The blog tour for Lil’s Bus Trip was a truly sunny occasion for me; the weather has been glorious throughout, and the response to Lil’s adventures has been everything I’d hoped it would be. For that I send so much thanks to so many people. Please do read the novel: it’s available on kindle, or large or medium print paperbacks, hardback, or you can listen to it being read on audio, which I know will be incredible. I’m sure the characters, the songs and poems will burst into life.

So, please enjoy Lil, Cassie and Maggie’s frolics in France, Belgium and the Netherlands; it’s just out. In the winter, the Golden Girls will follow, and I hope you’ll want to travel with them and enjoy the wonderful locations they visit in the UK.

Please visit Amazon for the blurb and to pre-order: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Golden-Girls-Getaway-Judy-Leigh-ebook/dp/B09DV2TBPW/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=golden+girls+getaway&qid=1631038588&sr=8-2

And finally, I’d like to say a huge thanks to my readers, wherever you are: you are the people it’s really all about. A book without a reader is simply a closed book. Thank you for reading, for leaving wonderful reviews, and for joining me on this writing journey. Each time a new book comes out, I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing.

 Each new page is a gift. x

My latest novel, Lil’s Bus Trip: what I’m writing about now and what’s coming next.

Lil’s Bus Trip is published on the 26th August. It is my seventh novel, and my eighth one is currently under wraps for publication later this year. All my novels feature older people as main characters, embracing the fact that all people can still laugh, love, develop and enjoy life, whatever their age. I try to include a range of characters from all ages and backgrounds in my novels, each with something to offer the reader in terms of their uplifting stories, adventures, laugh-out-loud moments and, occasionally, there may be a few tears.

I also often feature travelling in my novels, and I like to visit a wide range of locations. Sometimes, the characters will stay in one place, a village or a rural setting close to the sea. But, quite frequently, my characters will take off somewhere, perhaps on holiday, perhaps to relocate, and there will usually be some sort of transport involved, whether a camper van or a Harley Davidson. In my novels, the physical act of travelling usually implies a new start, a journey of self-discovery and an ending where change or new beginnings can be possible.

I’ve travelled a bit over the years, and I’ve lived across the UK, from Liverpool to Oxfordshire to Cornwall. I now live in Somerset and I often find myself writing about the countryside, the seaside, rural villages, or how a quiet lifestyle contrasts with the lively bustle of a town. I love both. I like to write about a variety of locations I love to visit, settings from Paris and the south of France to Mexico and Spain. On her trip in a bus with several other holidaymakers, Lil, who is 82, her friend Maggie and her daughter Cassie visit the beaches of Normandy and sample the cultural delights of Belgium before spending several wild days in Amsterdam.

When I’m writing, my thoughts are often about how I can create characters that will keep my readers entertained as they turn each page, how the story will represent the ups and downs we all experience in life. But I also try to make what I write optimistic, positive and uplifting; even during the sadder or darker moments, there is a chance for happiness. In Lil’s Bus Trip, Lil was a single teenage mother in the 1950s: circumstances meant that Cassie’s father did not know Lil was pregnant. Lil and Cassie are therefore very close; they have very similar lively and independent natures, and they are both strong women. Lil’s life has passed by in a whirl: all older people know how that feels. One minute you are changing nappies then, before long, you are wondering where all the years have gone. Cassie, 65 years old and single, is a singer, a popular performance poet; she has everything she needs in life. And Lil, who lives in a retirement home and enjoys the chance to spend time with her neighbour Maggie and to perform secret random acts of kindness for Jenny, the harassed warden, is also contented in her home by the sea. But a holiday away from their usual routine offers both mother and daughter the chance to rethink their lives and to examine their priorities. And Lil, who thought she was perfectly fine alone, begins to wonder if some company in her older years might not be a good thing. Then she meets a man. And another man. Like buses, there isn’t one for a long, long time, then they come along in twos.

Northern Europe is an exciting backdrop for Lil’s adventures. The Normandy beaches and the history of what happened there long ago allow an opportunity for reflection on life. Lil has a strange experience by herself in the graveyard at Thiepval, and it’s exactly the same one I had myself several years ago, an unexplainable moment in a place bristling with sadness and a tangible atmosphere of loss. But afterwards, Lil and Cassie enjoy the bustle, culture, beer and chocolate of Bruges and the calm environment of a rural location in Boom. Then they visit Amsterdam, a city I love, vibrant and bubbling, full of fun, before coming back through Belgium and France and ending the holiday with an unforgettable celebration in a French coastal resort.

Once home, though, both Lil and Cassie need to rethink and reset. Lil has decisions to make, and Cassie is visited by a stranger who will change her life. The story won’t end until the last page.

I hope readers will love Lil’s Bus Trip in the same way that they have enjoyed the last six novels. One reviewer said that my books should be available on the NHS, and that gave me so much to be happy about: it’s a real thrill to think that readers will smile and feel uplifted. My next novel, which will be about the impromptu getaway of three very different women in their golden years, will be pure entertainment from start to finish, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Watch this space.

And while I’m mentioning future projects, I’m so excited to reveal that I’ve written another novel for Boldwood books in a completely different genre. This one will be spooky and will have a dual timeline. I can’t wait to tell you more. I’ve enjoyed the experience of writing it so much, and I think readers will find it quite powerful

But right now, I’m celebrating Lil’s Bus Trip. I hope you will enjoy meeting the different characters and travelling along with them, sharing the bumpy road, the smiles and the unfolding story.

If you enjoy it, please do leave a nice review – we authors thrive on it and it really brings a moment of genuine warmth and happiness as we sit at laptops bashing out the next story. Readers are the people who make everything worthwhile.

Sending best wishes and, as a small preview, here’s Lil’s journey, mapped out below. X

 

Olympics, Football: it’s all about the supporters.

I really enjoyed watching the Olympic games on TV recently. There’s something very inspirational and moving about seeing the performance of talented athletes who have dedicated years to perfecting their skills, the culmination of their training coming to fruition in the Olympic arena against others who are also at the top of their game. It’s very emotional, watching the triumphs and tears, listening to winners dedicate their medals to those who have supported and encouraged them, and also to see the resolve of those who determine to do better next time.

I love to watch gymnastics, cycling and high jump: it’s always enjoyable to see the sports we’ve dabbled in ourselves and know how hard it is to be really so good. There were unforgettable moments: it was wonderful to see Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar who agreed to share the high jump gold medal. Tamberi belly flopped on the tarmac, rolling around and screaming in delight, a really joyful moment. What a perfect solution to such an exciting and evenly-matched competition between athletes with so much mutual respect.

Other highlights were Tom Daley’s beautifully-knitted Olympics cardigan, his medals and the warm dedication he made on TV to his family. I loved Jason and Laura Kenny’s track triumphs. I was equally moved by GB Cyclist Katie Archibald’s crash, watching her get up and say ‘Never mind, it happens,’ and resetting her focus to win the madison days later. Such moments inspire us all to keep going.

There were sports I didn’t think I liked: I’d never really considered synchronised swimming as something I’d enjoy. But when I watched the Russian team’s performance, I was truly blown away. And the Rugby Sevens gripped me from start to finish: it is such a pacy and exciting game.

Then there were the sports I knew little about but I was so enthralled to watch. Skateboarding, BMX – freestyle and racing. New names and faces emerged on the screen, such as Charlotte Worthington and Kye Whyte, such dedicated and articulate youngsters who are a credit to their families and their country.

I was thoroughly impressed by the coverage on TV, the experts who talked through the different sports with seasoned presenter Gabby Logan, and the brilliant combination of Claire Balding and Alex Scott who brought banter, warmth and a great rapport to their part of the show. It was a real celebration of diverse sports, people and communities.

Indeed, what was truly great about this Olympics was the inclusivity: people from different parts of the globe, different voices and accents, different sports, different outcomes, a celebration of everyone who represented their country, from all backgrounds, with a range of experiences. And we watched the highs and lows, our breaths held, supporting every moment.

And so the football season kicks off soon, and I hope we can take this positivity forward now as supporters of the beautiful game. The backdrop of transfer gossip is already thriving: moneyed clubs stockpiling great players, Grealish moving to City, Harry Kane’s future in the balance. The final Premiership table result at the end of the season ought to reflect the buying power of the rich. What chance do Norwich have? But for the fans, each game is another chance to compete and to win, the thrill of possibility, and each 90 minutes is about the excitement, disappointment, and every triumph is to be savoured.

Supporters play such a key part, even more so if the stadia are full again. Pundits and fans need to do what they are meant to do, support and celebrate. That means not booing players who take the knee, their powerful symbol against racism. It means not haranguing a player who misses a penalty, lets in a goal or has a nightmare of a game. It means not relishing the opportunity to repeatedly focus on someone’s mistake: schadenfreude as a spectator sport is unpleasant to observe on TV during or after any game.

Furthermore, supporting a team on social media should mean positive encouragement and celebration. I was shocked to hear that 20% of the racist abuse on social media last season was directed at just four players. Imagine how they feel! We need to get behind our team and we need to allow others to do the same: it is not acceptable to abuse anyone for any reason. I’m not a Villa supporter, (they gave my team a real pasting last season that I’d prefer to forget but these things happen,) although I respect their style of play. But I have so much time for Villa’s Tyrone Mings, who is a great ambassador for the sport, and I think his comments after the European Championships sum the situation up so well. Not just his taking Priti Patel to task over her dismissive and dangerous labelling of the anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics,’ but his words about how he felt during the Euros, and how the tangible lack of support affected his ability to play his best game on the pitch. He said:

‘I was probably the only name on the team sheet that people thought: ‘Not sure about him.’ And that was something I had to overcome. When 90-95% of your country are having doubts over you, it’s very difficult to stop this intruding on your own thoughts. So I did a lot of work on that with my psychologist. It was hard. I didn’t really sleep very well before that first game.’

Tyrone Mings’s comments sum up perfectly how incredibly difficult it must be to stand in the spotlight and feel alone and unsupported. Psychology and mental health are such a large part of any sport, and negativity from fans and pundits must seep through those players’ shirts and sap their ability to give their best. We can’t ask players to excel when their heads are full of threats, fears and disapproval. We have to change that culture: support doesn’t mean that it’s all right to say negative things about players from different teams, nor does it mean that it is helpful to decimate our own players if they do something human, such as make a mistake. In fact, Tyrone Mings expresses it perfectly: by disrespecting our own players, we are preventing them from giving their best. The essence of support must be the same support we give to our families, our friends and our children, the same support that says it’s all right to make a mistake, to get it wrong: we can grow, develop, progress and triumph.

Back to the Olympic games, consider the performance of Joe Choon. He was the first British man to win gold in the modern pentathlon. Five years after losing a silver medal by poor target shooting, he spent months in lockdown practising on a make-shift range in his back garden, determined to use past failure to create success. He said, ‘I’ve always said I wanted to be the best in the world at something,’ and he has done exactly that. Determination and skill are vital, but also it’s so important to be surrounded by coaches, family, friends, experts who believe that you can succeed and will provide the support to do so.

And I believe that negative words can be the marginal difference between a thriving sports person who forges ahead and one who doesn’t, who is filled with self-doubt and anxiety. So, as the football season begins, let’s take all the incredible positives from these Olympic games, the great inclusivity, belief, celebration, ups and downs, and apply it to the teams we cheer for and support each week. And, within that culture of success and positivity, we will always respect the ones we don’t.

To care or not to care, that is the question….

When I was in my teens, I had a boyfriend – let’s call him Alexander – who told me ‘You care too much about people who don’t matter.’ I was intrigued by that comment and, being a bit of a philosopher, I went away and thought about it a lot. The first bit, I accepted: I maybe do care too much. According to my mother, I was ‘too sensitive.’ I wrote poems, didn’t eat meat, joined political groups that campaigned for fairness, inclusion and equality. I cared, and maybe it was too much at times, but I was a teenager, and passionate. However, the next part of Alexander’s sentence bothered me a lot. ‘…about people who don’t matter.’  I gave that quite a lot of thought. Who decides who matters and who doesn’t? Why do some people matter more than others? What defines the ones who don’t matter? And doesn’t that mean that someone should start to care about those side-lined people? Needless to say, I was a bit unimpressed, and Alexander and I didn’t last very long after that statement.

Of course, I grew up and I realised that what he was probably talking about was simply learning to prioritise. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he meant that he thought I should prioritise the good people, family, friends, my boyfriend… People who were first in the queue as recipients of my kindness were those I should care about first and, if there was space left over, I could then offer a bit of thought and benevolence for those I didn’t know well, or at all.

Alexander’s criteria for judgement were not mine: I wanted to reserve the right to care about who I liked, to be charitable, thoughtful, to seek out people who I may want to care about for reasons that were my own. And that didn’t just extend to people I knew, but to hordes of people I’d never meet, but who have reasons to be considered and supported.

Through experience, I’m beginning to learn that, had Alexander substituted the word people for the word things, he’d have been spot on. I definitely am learning to care less about things that don’t matter. That’s so important. And I’m getting quite good now at deciding which things to prioritise and which to ignore, which to give credence to and which not to even think about twice.

In a room in my house, I have several inspirational posters, ranging from Just Write and You’ve Got This to quotations by Maya Angelou and Sylvia Plath. But on my desk, I just have one inspirational message, that urges me in quite clear language to care less about things that don’t matter. In short, that includes everything negative that worries me, everything I can’t change, everything temporary and secondary, that in the grand scheme of things doesn’t matter. I might learn from these negative things, I might even consider them for a moment, but I won’t care. I include things like mistakes and criticism, (I’m only human and I’ll learn from them, but I don’t need to beat myself up,) negative opinions from people I don’t know, irrelevant things like cars and hoovering, that sort of thing. And it’s really useful to have that reminder on my desk when I’m stuck on the phone trying to talk to some provider or another, and I’ve been waiting for twenty-five minutes listening to the worst possible music. It’s not a priority. I leave the phone on speaker and go back to my typing. In those cases, caring less is a blessing.

So, back to Alexander, all those years ago. He was only young, and I’m sure what he meant could be summed in the words, ‘think about the effect that caring has on you yourself.’ Perhaps he was just being caring. And perhaps he had a point, but didn’t phrase it right. So, wherever he is now, I hope he’s caring about all the people in the world who matter. That’s pretty much everybody. And I hope he’s happy.

Note to myself as this time of restrictions comes to an end…

Like many people, I have dreamed and planned for a long time what I’ll actually do to celebrate when the time of Covid restrictions comes to an end. I haven’t spoken to most of these people face to face, of course, but at a social distance and, more times than not, over social media. There’s been a lot of talk about how we’ll enjoy throwing away face masks, meeting friends down the pub, hugging beloved and much missed relatives and going to gigs and theatre again. Planning holidays is a favourite topic – there are so many places we’ll be so desperate to go. And it’s no surprise. Once restrictions are lifted, it’s natural to want to live a little, a lot, to catch up, to make up for lost time.

Many people have started celebrating already – I have friends who’ve been to the theatre, to football matches, who have taken off on motor home holidays across the UK. Once we’re double-jabbed and we feel safer to be out and about, we’ll all deserve to have a good time. I’ve done my best to start getting back to normal – I’ve met up with relatives I haven’t seen in too long; I’ve organised to go away for weekends in the van.

But, as August approaches, something unexpected has crept in to slow my plans down. I just don’t seem to be able to organise anything. I’m a sociable person; there are so many people I’ve missed, so why am I not rushing to email, phone and text them to arrange visits, invite friends round for dinner? And the answer is very simple – torpor.

I don’t understand it. There are so many people I’d love to see again. We message each other regularly, exchange views about books, tell each other we’re dying to catch up and send streams of emojis. So why am I filled with a lethargy that tells me I can sort it all out tomorrow? It doesn’t make sense.

Unless, perhaps, the restrictions we’ve been living under have somehow seeped through our skin and made us feel that this old way of life, being separate and distant, is now normal. This strange hesitation to ring friends and throw our arms around them is due to the fact that we haven’t thrown our arms around them for far too long. Coronavirus has had the effect of continued electric shock treatment and, like the babies in Huxley’s Brave New World, we are afraid to reach out and grab that which we want in the fear of being stung again. What happens if there is another spike of the virus?

Or perhaps the torpor is really not torpor at all, but a learned lethargy? We’ve sunken into a habit of slobbing around the house in pyjamas, taking zoom calls half-dressed. Someone told me recently that they were nervous about going back to work in an office because they hadn’t worn ‘normal clothes’ in so long. Being among people again and relearning the codes we readily accepted before may be more difficult to assimilate than we realise. It’s as if the skills to socialise and the impetus to resume a normality have become temporarily dormant.

Of course, so many key workers put their heads down and worked on while many others of us have stayed at home: thoughts of getting back to normal are not happening to them because they’ve had to run on the treadmill of a strange new normal for the last eighteen months. For that we will all be eternally grateful.

But what about my social life, the one that I’ve left on the shelf to sort out tomorrow, or soon, or some time in the future? I have so many friends on social media that I talk to regularly, but that’s no replacement for real life eye-to eye contact, that exciting buzz of live meeting of minds and sharing of thoughts and ideas. I’ve said too many times, ‘we must meet soon,’ ‘we must get together.’ Now I need to actually do something about it. I need to invite people round, meet them for coffee, dinner, walks, whatever. I need to get my old life back, and soon, while I can. I’ve used work, deadlines, time frames, distance and Covid as excuses for far too long and that has to stop.

So, whether it is lethargy, torpor or the fact that I need to change from the old tattered vest and shorts into proper clothes and actually put some shoes on, I need to be active. Then, and I’m sure everyone understands this feeling, when I’m back to normal and laughing and enjoying the company of friends, I’ll wonder what held me back and why it took me so long.

The Triumph of the England Football Team

Like many people in England, I stayed up late to watch the exciting match between England and Italy and, like many people, I have been aware of the aftermath this morning on the news: I usually listen to a sports channel in the gym and the programme was full of regrets because the team lost and bad news because a minority of fans have been disrespectful.

England lost. They played well, especially in the first half, and they held their opponents to a draw in extra time, meaning that there woud be a penalty shoot out, the most random coin-tossing way to end a game. Then three young English men, two in their early twenties and one just nineteen, took the last three penalties and failed to score.

Of course, after a game, the mamager takes all the responsibility on his shoulders and pundits are ready to criticise the fact that three youthful and less experienced players were left exposed to failure. Southgate himself, when he was a player, missed a vital penalty in an important match, plunging his team into a situation where they lost the game.

Against that background, and I’m sure Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, are smarting today, there has been horrendous online racial abuse and camera footage of fans breaking into Wembley and behaving badly. Who’d be proud to be English today?

The answer is, the England team and the whole country should be proud of the achievement. There are so many positives to be taken from one narrowly lost match. We should not spend time and give credence to the negative behavour that accompanies the beautiful game. Thesr people are a minority, and do not represent the sport at all, although I hope the online abusers are taken to task and given a thorough programme of re-education – it has to stop.

I’ve never been a great England fan, although I do support my own Premiership team. But England as a team never really grabbed me. In my youth, the national flag didn’t signify much to me. I don’t need to mention some of the negatives that have come from certain flag wavers in the past. So, while I was happy when England did well, I wasn’t particularly moved by their losses.

This England team are different. They promote values that England, or any other national team would be proud of: Marcus Rashford’s tireless work for families in food poverty; Mason Mount visiting sick children in hospital; Jordan Henderson’s rainbow laces in his boots; Kalvin Phillips wearing a shirt with ‘Granny Val’ on the back, in memory of his grandmother. This team are a flagship for inclusion, equality and fairness in society and for me, that is England’s triumph. Forget the foolish few who still use sport as an occasion to be unpleasant. We should celebrate the positives. We have a team of young men who are heroes. They played heroically and the three young lads who stepped up to take those penalties demonstrated three singular acts of bravery.

As a team, England were seen as a united, inclusive and supportive group of men. Gareth Southgate, their manager,was a spokesman throughout for positivity and fairness. The players spoke lucidly about the values they promoted and I couldn’t help but admire them and get behind the team.

England will play again and become a better team for this experience: they are a young squad and they promote a culture where failure is not simply failure, it is a step towards success in the learning process. Yes, it hurts now, but they will be stronger and better for it. That doesn’t help much today – the team came very close to lifting a trophy, incredibly close. Today they will lick their wounds and wonder, if only…

But some of the images that come from the England fans, not the negative ones but the ones that make me cheer, are so important. The Muslim primary school kids in the classroom cheering the team on. The woman in the hijab who said that she suppoorts England because the team represent her. The woman who spoke on TV about being Raheem Sterling’s neighbour, how he used tho kick his ball over her garden as a kid and politely ask for it back. The England team have brought humanity, equality and fairness to football and they are a team who truly represent a country: they are brave, humble, tenacous, focused, fair, survivors.

I believe the England team will be a force to be reckoned with in the World Cup next year. And, whether they are successful or not, each team member should be proud of his achievements. Who says football doesn’t represent the best of a country? These young men were certainly some of the best and I am impressed, not just by their heroic performance, but for the people they are and the positive values they have made England’s throughout their campaign. Long may it continue.

The treasure inside the nutshell: talent that goes unnoticed.

It’s interesting to think about talented people and to stop for a moment and really take in just how good they are, in terms of their skills being so much more than what we know as average. I often use myself as the average against which to compare others, but in many ways, I don’t even make the average mark.

I like running a bit, not a lot: I can run along a beach for a mile or so, simply because of the freedom and the fresh air and the sound of the sea – it sort of buoys me along. But at speed, or for the duration of a marathon? No way. I look at the Paula Radcliffes of this world with awe – I’d never be that good, not if I trained for a millennium. And other sports men and women amaze me: Trent Alexander Arnold is only 22 years old – do you remember that perfect corner kick against Barcelona? And look at Tour de France riders, each gruelling day in the heat and the mountains, and those scary descents? I’m not even average when it comes to a comparison with those fit and courageous people.

Let me try and find an average – I have an A level in Art. I’m an average painter, perhaps. Or I used to be – I’m way out of practice and I never considered myself to be particularly good. So, if I go to an art gallery, it doesn’t matter who I look at – Turner, Van Gogh, Tracey Emin – the artists have so much more skill than I do. Or Music – I love music, and I dabble very badly and inconsistently. Then I consider the skills of real musicians, classical, rock, jazz, and I’m way below average. Again, I’m awestruck by the jaw-dropping skills.

I’ve just read Sarah Winman’s novel, Still Life. Utterly gob smacked. She’s taken her writing to another level. True talent absolutely sings.

Which leads me to wonder whether those special people, those with huge talent, magnificent skills beyond us all, will always rise to the top. Talent always shines, of course. But is it necessarily the case that everyone will see it?

No, it isn’t. Van Gogh, the ‘misunderstood genius,’ only sold one painting in his lifetime. Emily Dickinson’s incredible poems were edited furiously to conform to society’s norms and then only seven of them were published. Edgar Allen Poe couldn’t afford food, and died an impoverished alcoholic, yet he was one of the first to introduce the world to his stylised detective-fiction stories. My favourite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, published only a few of his poems during his brief life: he died of typhoid in 1889, his last words being ‘I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life.’ He was bipolar and had battled depression. But his poems are stunning.

So, it follows that there are some super-talented people out there who are seldom noticed. At least Van Gogh and Emily Dickinson became famous for their genius, albeit after they had died. But there are many incredibly talented people whose skills remain unsung. I’m sure of it – I taught theatre to so many kids who had no idea of their potential and little in the way of self-belief to push beyond the expected ceiling they felt kept them and their expectations low.

My brother is one such person – a blinkered secondary school ignored his many abilities. He can do things that amaze me, both in terms of painting and engineering and in logical thinking, but of course that goes unrecognised when the only expectation of a  student is to be quiet, to conform and to copy from a book. No wonder he was a rebel.

And there’s a friend of mine, whose name I won’t mention as it will embarrass him. We worked together for years. He was a lowly paid technician and jack-of-all-trades who was asked to perform appliance tests and fix small electrical faults. But on sports days, open days, publicity opportunities or at theatre events, a huge burden of work was thrown at him because of his talent, because he was the only one capable of shining. It was seldom recognised, apart from a bit of fleeting thanks or a brief flurry of quickly-forgotten compliments, but the man was a genius. He produced lighting sets, films, recordings of exceptional quality without the proper equipment; sometimes he resorted to using his own equipment, or even having to buy it. The world took him for granted. ‘Oh, could you just… it will only take a minute.’

Then this exceptional man, a gifted musician, a film maker in his own right, would be given a mammoth task, a short deadline, no financial recompense, no change of status, and he’d come up with breath-taking work beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. He was way, way beyond the average, and he certainly surpassed his pay grade and everyone’s expectations. Let’s hope he’ll be remembered for it properly at some point…

Unsung geniuses are amongst us everywhere. They may seem insignificant to others, like the small kernel of a nutshell, but they are made of solid gold. I could mention a musician I know who is such a focused maestro he can’t operate a mobile phone. I know writers, actors, editors, teachers, nurses, engineers, people whose gifts are magical and a joy to behold, and yet these people remain humble, unaware of the extent of their gifts and often underappreciated.

So, this blog post is for you all, those of you who maybe don’t even know how special you are, how strongly your gifts shine, how you are so far beyond the average, you are solid gold, you are diamonds. I can’t remember who said it, but this quotation puts you right up there, where you should be. And thank you for sharing your gifts – you make the world a wonderful place.

‘Skill reaches the ceiling, talent reaches the mountaintop, excellence reaches the sky, but genius reaches the stars.’

The immersion technique – it’s one way to write your next novel…

I have a friend who claims to have completely cured her arthritis by swimming in the sea, whatever the weather. Her pains completely disappeared, and she swore that it was because she immersed herself regularly in freezing water. I recently saw British athlete Mo Farah and Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo do something similar on TV, sitting in a bath of ice so that they could recover quickly and remain toned and fit. I have read that ice baths bring so much benefit to fitness: apparently, regular immersion in ice eases sore and aching muscles, helps the central nervous system, limits the body’s inflammatory response.

I have to confess, I like the heat more than cold: saunas, sunshine, jacuzzi baths, hot water bottles. I prefer to immerse myself in warmth, although I’m sure there are no benefits, other than that lovely feeling of sumptuous luxury and pampering, the sense of indulging in something that makes me feel good.

Like a relaxing hot stones massage, a glass of wine or two, the company and conversation of beloved friends and family stretching into the early hours of the morning, immersing oneself in something to the exclusion of everything else is really therapeutic and brings benefits, both to physical or mental health and wellbeing.

So, what if it is the same in writing? I know so many writers who claim they can’t get started on a new novel, or they can’t continue once started: they run out of impetus and enthusiasm, or they run out of time.

Then again, I know so many writers who don’t: an idea grabs them and they run with it and keep going and going. So begins the writer’s immersion technique.

I am one of those people who begins a project and, if it grabs me, I can immerse myself in it. I don’t mean doing labours of necessity like domestic chores, gardening or hoovering, things I have to do but they are, honestly, only done because if I don’t do them, we’ll starve or the house will collapse. I mean, when something really grabs the interest, it’s hard to put it down. When I write a novel, the computer is like a magnet and I can’t pull myself away. I have to immerse myself in the characters and their escapades until I’ve finished, then I go back and edit over and over.

But my last two novels have been, even more, about complete and utter immersion. I wrote one in six weeks not long ago: the three characters just wouldn’t leave me alone. It was the first time I’d worked for seven days a week, ten hours a day, since I was teaching theatre and that was complete immersion too. It was exhausting, writing non-stop, I’ll admit – 100,000 words in six weeks, or forty-two days. But the novel really grabbed me and I missed meals and TV and a social life to write it. No, it was worse that that: people would speak to me and I wouldn’t reply – I didn’t hear, I was so involved in what I was doing, nothing external had a chance. The characters woke me up in the night to debate their next move; writing their antics on the page came out faster than my fingers could type and I just couldn’t walk away from it all. My shoulders were knotted, my eyes blurred, but I had to keep going. And now it’s finished, I’m pleased with it: readers can decide for themselves if they like it when it comes out in winter.  As yet I only have a working title… three very different women, a staycation or two…

Then there’s the ghost novel I am writing, which involves lots of research. Immersion again – more missed meals, more unresponsive conversation, more typing and reading and rubbing of sore eyes from dawn to midnight. Immersion is such good fun and, like a good book, it’s unputdownable, although it’s also antisocial, and the level of absorption can’t really go on indefinitely or there would be consequences to things like marriage and friendships and cats being fed.

But, like Mo and Ronaldo’s ice-filled bath, it’s very refreshing and a wonderfully intense way to work, a therapy that has the benefits of a whole rush of ideas and enthusiasm, and leaves one feeling like a happy kid at the centre of their own birthday party.

Being involved in a project to the exclusion of everything else is great fun; it brings results in terms of output and productivity. I have a book that I’m pleased with, two, in fact, so I can give myself permission to take a breather now. Like a sprint, it is fast and full-on, then afterwards time is needed to recuperate and become fresh again, ready for the next full pelt.

But immersion can only be a temporary and sporadic thing. Writing can be a selfish occupation: I’ve even been at social events where my head has been plotting the next move when it should have been fully attentive to other people. And selfishness isn’t good, nor is obsessive devotion to just one thing. I’m all for immersive writing – it works for me and as a writer, you have to do just that, gauge what works for you and follow your own path. We shouldn’t seek to be the same as each other or influence others to tread the same road just because it works well for us. But now it’s time to let go, walk away, to do something else for a week or two, chill out a bit and get a life.

Because, as we all know, the benefit of time away, relaxation and mental stillness will bring in new ideas, new plots, new characters.

Then I can start all over again…

What I’m writing at the moment…

I know I’m blogging here about the novels I’m currently working on, but let’s not start with what I’m writing just yet – I’ll get on to that in a moment – let’s just set the scene first. I’m lucky to be way ahead on all writing schedules and outside right now, the weather is gorgeous; it’s just vest and shorts all day, and I’ve lost my pink crocks somewhere so I have no shoes… what else can I do but laze around in the sun with the cats? Colin, Monty and Murphy, by the way, are rolling in the dust like three unhappy slugs – it’s too warm for black cats.

Plus, I’ve been reading a lot: novels by Louise Doughty, Matt Haig, Sarah Winman, Ali Smith, Owen Mullen, Shari Low. I have a must-read pile as tall as I am, (… not very tall but it’s still a huge pile of books,) and basking in the sunshine with a book is my idea of heaven, or at least one idea of heaven – there are so many more…

Plus, the Euros (UEFA European Championships) are on TV and the radio in the afternoons and evenings, and it’s a big temptation to watch or listen to the football commentary. I read almost all of The Midnight Library while listening to the Scotland v Czech Republic game and willing the Scots would score. I have no drop of Scottish blood in me, but after so many years of their absence from world championships, I really wanted to see the Tartan Army get a goal.

So, here I am, lazing around in tattered grey shorts and a vest that proclaims me the best bass player in the world – (I can play the bass to Thin Lizzie’s Dancing in the Moonlight on a good day, but I’m way down the pecking order when it comes to skill, and I don’t practise nearly enough, mainly because I’m too busy writing…) – and I’m doing well in terms of deadlines. The edits have been done for Lil’s Bus Trip, which is out in August. That’s the story of 82-year-old Lil and her daughter Cassie, two feisty women who go on a bus trip to Northern Europe with a bus load of interesting characters and, while they are enjoying the journey and getting up to mischief, they find out a bit more about themselves and what they want from life.

I’ve written the next novel, which hasn’t a title yet but I wrote it in a can’t-keep-away-from-the-laptop fit of passion and I’m very happy with the story of three women who emerge from lockdown with the intention of celebrating their freedom. More of that one soon, except that it’s out later this year, and I’m so excited about it. I’ve also written the next novel after that, but I’ll keep that for another blog as it’s not out until 2022.

Then, here’s the big one from me, I’ve just finished a novel in another genre. 109,000 words of something the wonderful Boldwood Books have encouraged me to write, something that I hope will appeal to readers who enjoy two timelines and a shiver or two down the spine. I have thoroughly enjoyed, relished and adored the opportunity to write this new novel, which will be under a different name (one similar to my grandma’s,) and I’m currently editing it like mad. I can’t say just how thrilled I am to be able to write this type of book and I do hope everyone will love it. Updates coming soon.

Summer brings distractions, and that’s why I write for so many hours in the winter. When the sun is shining and the road is open, and I can go walking or take the van or find a beach, it’s a temptation to be outdoors, especially since many new ideas come to me when I’m in calm and beautiful surroundings.

Also, I’ve had both vaccines now, with interesting side effects. The first one made me giggle non-stop at any opportunity for two days, just like being drunk but without the hangover. The second made me fall asleep all the time – I was truly shattered for half a week. But now, I’m back, full of energy, changing up what I eat so that there’s more protein and more colour in every meal, less alcohol (really!!) and I’m ready to enjoy the summer.

Last weekend, when I was out walking in the local woods with Murphy, one of my cats, a new idea came to me involving something local, that I’ll keep under wraps for the time being – I’ll let it ferment for a few weeks, let the characters form, and then I’ll sit down when the weather isn’t so hot and the football isn’t on, and I’ll write and write and write.

Of course, by then we may have live music and live theatre – there will be so many distractions.

 But there’s nothing as distracting as a new idea and the mad desire to write it all down….

On the Road Again.

This week the sunshine came at last and promised to stay for a while: I spent the weekend sorting out the van, with the hope of getting back on the road soon. My year usually starts in early spring but there have been a few universal problems with getting out and about for a few months…

There was a lot to be done, too: there were masses of dead flies like spilled raisins all over the floor, lodged in every crevasse; the fridge was empty, holding a sour smell and a few splodges of something unappetizing, green mould blotching the yellowing white plastic interior. I washed all the stale bedlinen, fixed the drooping blinds and dusty curtains. The winter rain had seeped through the corner of the over-cab bed, leaving a green smudge that stank of old potatoes against the ceiling. Windows and doors were flung wide to encourage fresh air to fill spaces: everywhere was hoovered, including dusty rugs, crumpled cushions and seats, even the tiny shower cubicle.

Long-lost things were discovered again: books, a bottle of rosé wine, Marmite, knickers, a sock. My note pad and pen that I use to scribble down any bright ideas that might come my way while I’m travelling were stuffed in the cupboard alongside several tins of beans and a bag of rice: all needs must be catered for when I’m away, and that includes food and food for thought – which reminds me, I’ve bought a DAB radio and the next job will be to install it.

I have various trips lined up, many already planned to research locations for a new book. There will be a trip to Cornwall, one to South Wales, another to North Yorkshire. I want to go to Scotland again. I have clear ideas about what will happen in each place, and I know the characters that will be involved. All I need to do now is to stand on a beach somewhere and let all the thoughts come together, like a stirred pot.

June 21st is a landmark day. I’ll have had both vaccinations, so I could travel anywhere in England as long as I’m sensible. My first trip will be to get up at ridiculous o’clock and drive to somewhere that I can climb up a hill and watch the sun rise. Solstice is a time I usually make a big wish and this year I’ll go in the van, because I can. Then it has to be breakfast on a beach somewhere or, who knows, maybe even in a café. A year ago, who’d have imagined what a massive treat that would be – I haven’t had breakfast ‘out’ in more months than I can count on both hands.

The absence of travel has prompted me to think how important it is to make the most of each precious moment. Time is too busy to stand still. There are places to see, people to meet, fun to be had, memories to make. I won’t go abroad this year, although I’d love to. But there are so many beautiful places to visit in this country, some I’ve never been to, and other places where there are dear friends I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m even thinking of paying a visit to the small place where I was born and smile at how much or how little has changed – I haven’t been back for too long. Wherever I go, I will take happiness and laughter with me – that’s my only rule.

If it’s sunny, I’ll celebrate and if it rains then I’ll dance in puddles. The joy of it is all…