Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ding Dong Bluebell


There’s nothing like a walk through the woods to stoke imagination’s engines. I went in hope of bluebells because I live in hope of bluebells even in October, so I’m hell come mid-April. I should have it as my epitaph (makes note in will):
“She lived in hope of bluebells.”
Bluebells were denied me, but a new and fabulously exciting idea shuffled across the brain lane instead, somewhere between “Where are the bloody bluebells?” and “That’s an astonishing fact about magnolias, I must remember it and tweet it soonest”, and the idea is THIS.
… …
Ah. Mustn’t blog it yet because there’s nothing more annoying for readers than to have an author say WOW I’ve just had the best idea EVER and it involves animals and spies and feisty girls and mysterious men in black and dogs of indeterminate breed and it’s all roiling around in my head like a marvellous Scotch broth of incomprehensible pasta and ill-thought-out root vegetables and makes no sense to anyone but me. So I shall hold off on the details and merely offer you this little crouton of loveliness: my working title is the most ace acronym ever conceived while walking past a grey lag goose.
If you want the magnolia fact you’ll have to follow my Twitter account. Here’s a good bluebell one to tide you over.
Bluebell bulbs were once used to make book glue, as the toxins killed silverfish and other book-eating insects.
If it weren’t for the native British bluebell (don’t get me started on the unscented Spanish ones), I wouldn’t be writing today, because the whole concept of books and libraries would have been killed stone dead halfway through the Middle Ages and all we’d have to show for the work of those ink-stained monks of yore would be pestilential swarms of VERY FAT BUGS.

Dreaming of spinach and Kindles


Home and digesting two days of book-talk at the London Book Fair. I feel like a boa constrictor who’s eaten a fridge. A book fair, so full of creativity and the hot fierce smell of printing chemicals, is just the place to induce hallucinations and peculiar memories. I made plenty of sensible observations, met several sensible friends and colleagues and learned many sensible things, but now that I come to write it all up… Well.

  • I woke up on day two having had a dream about pulling spinach leaves out from beneath Maureen Lipman’s eyelids and wrapping them around a large goldfish I had acquired for the boys’ fish tank.
  • There was a strong smell of radishes around the join between Earls Court 1 and 2.
  • A book entitled Glutes, showing a muscular bottom, made me snigger for most of the way around Earls Court 2.
  • I didn’t win a Kindle, despite sitting politely through a ten-minute talk from Islam International Publications. The speaker looked fed up to see a row of Kindle-anticipating fools, none of whom asked any questions about the book he was trying to promote. The prize went to a Chinese delegate, who had absolutely no idea what we were all gesturing about when her name was pulled out of the hat, and required four translators to clarify her good fortune. Rats.
  • Emmeline Pankhurst is buried in West Brompton Cemetery. She’s credited simply as the wife of Mr Pankhurst, which struck me as ironic.
  • Caitlin Moran sounds exactly like her book How To Be A Woman with just the faintest dusting of Wolverhampton. I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t dragged away from the PEN Literary Cafe shouting “I DIDN’T MEAN IT ABOUT YOUR SHOES!” Her interviewer Sophie Heawood incidentally was sporting some excellent footwear: leopard-skin numbers with Cuban heels.
  • Julia Donaldson is as warm and enjoyable as a hot cross bun. I loved her book choices for the Waterstones Children’s Laureate Promotion: epic titles like Dogger and Six Dinner Sid and Frog and Toad, plus more recent books like Dogs Don’t Do Ballet and the brand-new Snorgh and the Sailor. The boys got Dogger for their bedtime story last night, despite son number one’s insistence that IT’S TOO SAD and he didn’t want it because Dogger got sold and then hovering in the doorframe like an uncertain hummingbird as I read.
  • When they come to dismantle the place tonight, workers will stare in mystification at the tiny hole-punches in the carpet left by the spike heels on my boots. I must have gone through that carpet at least five times whenever I veered along the bit between the planks. Each hole burst into being with a satisfying ‘pop’, like bubble-wrap but better.
  • A tired looking rabbit with muddy feet was crossing the road outside Earls Court station. I should have directed it to the radishes in the Exhibition Centre rafters.

And now I must put all of this to good use and write my next bestseller. I may be pooped but I am also primed and pumped. So adieu, adieu, to yieu and yieu and yieu.

Book Fair Frenzy


Three days until the London Book Fair 2012 and preparations are intense. Checklist as follows.

  • Make at least two appointments so that your gait is purposeful as you stride about the aisles. Yes! I’m meant to be here! I’m having coffee with several professionals!
  • Study the floor plan intently for at least a week in advance of the event. It won’t help but you will feel ‘prepared’.
  • Abandon all hope of ever locating the Westminster Room on said floor plan, where most of the seminars you’re interested in are taking place, and just hope you can follow someone with a sign on their head saying “I’m going to the same gig as you!”
  • Download the LBF 2012 app and then swiftly remove it again because your elderly iPhone is wheezing with shock and taking half an hour to change pages. And smoking gently at the corners.
  • Wonder if you’ll get in to the Caitlin Moran interview in the PEN Literary Cafe, or whether somehow Security will know that you inadvertently insulted her on Twitter by likening her new shoes to something Grayson Perry would buy.
  • Learn to say, “How are your sales going on Wild, then?” in French, Finnish and Swedish.
  • Get over-excited at the prospect of the LBF Tweetup on Tuesday evening where there is talk of canapés.
  • Feel supercilious about the Author Lounge.
  • Debate suitable shoes. Endlessly. (I’ll be walking = Doc Martens! I’ll be schmoozing = pointy boots! I’ll need to be eight feet tall to see where I’m going in the crowds = fetish heels! I need to get everywhere on time = roller skates!)
  • Consider wearing a silver stetson so everyone remembers you, though hopefully not Caitlin Moran.

Colour it in


I was stopped on the way out of church on Easter morning by a country gentleman in a chartreuse sports jacket. He began thus:

“It’s so nice…”

I need to add here that I’m often told by churchgoers that my voice is like chocolate, velvet, a brick wrapped in a sock etc. Being practised in the art of graciously accepting these compliments, I’m already beaming and nodding.

“… to sit behind someone who…”

… can wallop through Thine Be The Glory like Kiri Te Kanawa at a hen party? Belt a top E with the grace of an extremely large blackbird?

“… likes wearing colour as much as I do.”

Country attire is an odd combination of Demure and Dazzling. On the Demure bench: women and children in a tasteful range of beige, baby pink, watery blue, dove grey. On the Dazzling bench: men. Young and old, fat and skinny, receding and blessed with enough hair to thatch a tractor, country chaps parade their wares in a rainbow of mustard, pink, turquoise, orange, maroon and said chartreuse. The voltage rises with age, so that while a man of thirty may risk a flash of royal blue sock above a chestnut loafer, his retired colonel counterpart sports sunflower-yellow cords, a pink and green checked shirt and a slash of ruby-red knitwear with sublime disregard.

I’ve noticed the opposite is true in urban circles. Women and children: lime greens, shocking pinks, neon yellow hoodies and silver sandals. Men: navy, black and olive-green. The peacock / peahen thing is completely turned on its head. Odd. Thank goodness for Matt Smith, frankly.

On Easter morning I was wearing spearmint, orange, yellow, magenta, red, cream, pale pink and forest green. That was just the skirt. A turquoise biker jacket and purple handbag finished my ensemble. Safely one of the guys.

Ducks and Details


I have been noticing lots of tiny detail lately. Perhaps it’s the light and colour of the world at the moment, shocking after so much muted winter. Or maybe it’s that old adage: “Once an editor…”

This kicked off with Jan Gossaert’s Adoration of the Kings, caught on Saturday at the National Gallery in a breathless moment sandwiched between my train and my Mozart rehearsal. Wow. The heavy gold embroidery and wafty ermine trim on Melchior’s spectacular cloak, offset by the wrinkles in his bright red tights. The hairy wart on the kneeling king Caspar’s face. Balthasar’s crown. Oh my wombats, as Taya would say: that CROWN. And the red hoo-dad clothy whatnot with the artist’s name scrolled in gold! When I’m in the mood for absurd perfection, Gossaert hits every single duck in the firing range – much as I somehow did while legless at a college ball many years ago. Perhaps I should have had a stab at painting an ermine trim that night too.

The other detailed marvel of Saturday was Grinling Gibbons’ reredos at St James’s Piccadilly, venue for Surrey Voices and Mozart’s Requiem. It’s incredible that a human being with fingers and thumbs whittled this perfect thing, full of petals and knobbly seedpods and lots and lots of space in between the fine thread-like stems, all from a once-solid lump of lime wood. Unlike the ermine trim, I feel this would have been an irresponsible thing to have attempted on my duck-jackpot evening.

I concentrated on my own kind of details on Saturday night. Not singing “Rex!” at full volume on the first beat of the bar while everyone else sang it a beat later. Pelting through fantastically frilly runs of “Dona Eis Requiem” and “Christe Eleison” and ending on the same note as everyone else. Negotiating sneaky F-sharps looming at speed like oil spills halfway round Mario Kart’s Mushroom Cup.

It doesn’t make me a genius, but it’ll have to do.