Drainpipe Trousers and Brothel Creepers

It’s very hard to sit down and write when the weather is so lovely and all I really want to do is get out there and enjoy the sun. In recent years (and earlier this year…) it’s been cause for celebration when two consecutive days were hot and sunny, and we’ve all gone on about how different the summers used to be when we were kids. Well oddly enough, I’ve just surfaced from writing about the summer of 1958, and it wasn’t such great weather that year. Very warm at times, yes, but humid and mostly thundery and wet with storms circling around for weeks. Those Teddy Boys in their drainpipes and velvet-collared long jackets must have got caught in a downpour more than once that summer – which kind of disproves the theory that it was all sun and blue skies way back when.

I don’t know how writers managed before the days of Google. They must have spent hours in the British Library searching for illusive little facts to give their writing authenticity. Nowadays it’s all so much easier. Finding out what the weather was like in the summer of 1958 was a doddle, and whilst it’s true that nobody would really know for sure if I got it wrong, I do feel that as far as possible the details should be right.

So, hands up anyone who can remember what the number one record was that summer?

If you thought it was Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’… you were wrong.

He couldn’t knock Connie Francis off the top spot. Stupid Cupid, stop picking on me…

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Up Jumped Spring

Hooray – spring! Just when we all thought it would be winter forever little glimmers started to shine through and round here there are suddenly clumps of daffodils everywhere. One street in town has masses of them along the grass verge right down one side – maybe they’re new this year but I don’t remember ever seeing them there before. Or maybe this year I’m just more observant because I’ve been so desperate for signs. 

So the sun’s shining, the garden’s calling – and wouldn’t you know it but I’ve just got so into my writing that I can hardly bear to leave all my characters to pick up the trowel and secateurs. In my head I’m even planning a mini veg garden (well, corner…) – I can see and taste it all – but the flesh is so far unwilling to get out there and get started.

I do feel that as the plot is going so well I need to work with it, inevitably there’ll come a time when it all slows down – and that would normally be the point I’d head off to the seafront, dictaphone in hand. But maybe I should change my method at this time, and head off to the garden instead. I can see an advantage: should a lightbulb moment crop up I only have to come back into the house and I’m ready to get it straight onto the computer. The danger with this is that an hour later I might still be at it, garden forgotten. 

But I know well enough by now how this writing thing works, it’s a bit stop/start ( at least it is with me) so as long as I can channel the stop bits into the garden both projects might feed off each other.

That’s the theory, anyway…

Love The Lady!

Just back from a week of lovely sun in Lanzarote and what do I find?

The south of the country just emerging from under a thick duvet of snow – we were lucky to miss that one, and it just about cleared in time for our flight to land at Gatwick. Onward journey was absolutely fine, no problems till we reached our road – and then it wasn’t actually the road just the skating rink that the front drive had become. 6.4 for Artistic Interpretation with that suitcase in tow.

And then emails from two friends, both telling me to rush out and buy the current copy of ‘The Lady’ magazine, where there was a really nice review (and 3*)  for The Generation Club! National coverage! Celebrity status! OK, not quite that, but close enough to get me a celebratory glass of wine at lunchtime after said magazine had been purchased…

Turn your back for five minutes, leave the country – and just look what happens!

THE GENERATION CLUB by Annette Keen
First novel dealing with the tricky subject of that other squeezed middle – the 50-somethings stuck between broke university offspring and ageing parents. Keen’s subject matter could be gloomy, but this tale of an incongruous collection of strangers all struggling to look after elderly relatives, yet still enjoy a life apart, is both witty and astute. A cheerful reminder to those in this situation, that they are not alone.

‘The Lady’ 8th March

The Gen Club quilted!

My sister belongs to a quilting group, and every so often they give themselves a challenge. The last one was to make something in patchwork & quilting inspired by a book title. Inevitably there was a fabric version of Fifty Shades of Grey, but Pam (ever-faithful!) decided she would make a cushion to illustrate The Generation Club.

Her plan was to have one side for the older generation, lots of little ditsy flower prints in a design known as ‘Grandmother’s Fan’, and the other side for the younger set, with bolder fabrics made up in a contemporary design. Plan B (the hidden agenda) was to distribute promotional bookmarks at the quilt group meeting when the cushion would be unveiled, and thus sell a few more copies of the book!

As marketing ploys go, this has to be one of the most original ever…

My Dad

My Dad went back into hospital on Christmas Eve and died five days later, so it’s been a difficult time for us.

A couple of years ago, when things started to get difficult for him, I wrote a piece that was largely about him. Had no intention of doing anything with it, it was just something I wanted to do at that particular time. I’d completely forgotten about it, until the other day. And it struck me that this was probably the time to bring it out, and publish it here.

MY DAD

I go into the garage, looking for Weedol. I haven’t been in there for years and without the old car it looks huge. And suddenly, as I look around, he’s there. My Dad, or at least the Dad he used to be.

His woodwork tools, rusty and covered with cobwebs, are laid out on the workbench alongside a glass jar containing nails and screws. Edging shears, spade, fork and rake, equally rusty, are neatly hung in their designated places on the hooks along the side of the garage, where he always put them back after they’d been used. His garden was immaculate back then, now we have to resort to Weedol. I wonder if he realised he’d just hung the garden tools up for the last time, whenever that was, or how soon it dawned on him that he wouldn’t be using them again. The spiders in here have had a field day, undisturbed for years, leisurely taking over his domain and making it their own.

On the floor, alongside where the car used to stand, there’s an empty compost bag and laid out on the top are some bulbs covered in dry soil. I’ve no idea what they are. And the hanging baskets, which used to look spectacular when they were decked out in their summer finery, are stacked up in a corner with their chains dangling down in a rusty tangle. It all makes me feel incredibly sad.

I’m standing looking at all this when I hear a noise behind me. I turn to see Dad in the doorway, shuffling in on his walking frame.

‘Did you find it?’ he asks.

‘Yes’, I reply. ‘It’s right here.’

I expect him to turn laboriously around and head off back to the house. But he doesn’t. He stands there and looks around.

‘I should clean the rust off these tools,’ he says, ‘but I never seem to have the energy these days.’

‘I can do that Dad,’ I say. ‘I’ll do it in the week, next time I’m here.’

I expect him to go, but he doesn’t. He stands there for a minute, looking down at the concrete floor, lips pursed. Then he says the one thing I’ve got no answer for.

‘I wonder what your Mum would make of this.’

He’s said this, or something similar, a lot recently. A silence descends on us both. I don’t know if he means the rusty tools, or the walking frame. I can’t keep on ignoring it but I struggle for a response.

‘I don’t know Dad,’ I say finally. ‘But I expect she’d understand.’

He doesn’t reply. But he slowly turns the walking frame around and starts to make his way back up the path.

‘Dad!’ I call after him.

He turns his head to look at me.

‘Let’s go to the garden centre,’ I say, surprising both of us. ‘Let’s get some plants and put these hanging baskets up again. Remember how Mum loved to see them in the summer?’

He nods his head – and then he smiles, for the first time that morning. It takes so little, I think, to make a difference to his day.

‘Race you to the car!’ he shouts over his shoulder, as he shuffles towards the house.

‘You used to give me a head start,’ I reply, laughing.

‘Bugger that! It’s every man for himself now!’

And for a moment, he’s back again, my Dad.

Welcome to the world of Gran Lit!

Heard a piece on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ the other day about Hilary Boyd, whose novel ‘Thursdays in the Park’ has raced to the top of the ebook charts. It’s about a 60 year old granny who has a fling with a man she meets in the park whilst out with her granddaughter. Hilary Boyd claims to have coined the phrase ‘Gran Lit’, and said that if you look it up she’s the only one who’s doing it – well, I beg to differ Hilary, but you’re not! (‘The Generation Club’ features characters in their 50s up to 80s, and romance is definitely in the air for some of them…) I fired off an email to Today, but nothing has come of it. However, I’m perfectly happy to hi-jack the label Gran Lit in my own publicity. And in the meantime I’m just about to start reading ‘Thursdays in the Park’ – good for you Hilary, I wish you lots of luck with the book.

The presenter on Today hailed Gran Lit as’…the next publishing phenomenon.’

Well, let’s hope so…

The Generation Club Launched!

It wasn’t exactly a launch since the book had been available (bought – and read) for a few weeks, but Saturday 3rd was a book signing afternoon at the Under Ground Theatre. I was overwhelmed by so many of my lovely friends and family coming along to support me – two came from Chelmsford, two from Dorset and one all the way from Devon, just for the day! These, in addition to many locals, all helped to make it such a great afternoon, in the company of the people I love most. PLUS: background music thanks to lovely Andy…
I took along 60 books, and sold them all. This morning a friend phoned to say that she’d started reading when she got home after the book signing, was still reading at midnight, and finished it off the following day just because she HAD to know what happened to all the characters!
It’s such a relief to hear nice comments about it – I’ve become so familiar with the story myself that I can’t see it clearly any more. Thank goodness I haven’t relieved all my friends of money for no good reason!!
So now, whilst I’m still up here on this high, I HAVE to push on with ‘Distant Cousins’.
Watch this blog space.

Go to bookshop to buy it.