Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Finding the Line

I have recently, in a fit of what can only be termed poor judgement, decided to take up golfing. Historically, golf has not been a great sport for me. 1997 brought an awful lot of tears as my poor dad valiantly dragged me around a course. He learned his lesson as we haven't been out since. Somewhere about 2002/2003 the taller half decided we should go for a quick 9 holes. We were lapped by 9-year-olds. All previous experience points to golf being similar to that year I ran track in high school: a total disaster. The only thing I mastered in track was the bit where we stretched.

I've taken a slightly different tack on golf this time around. I'm getting lessons from a local golf pro and, to date, there have been no tears. In fact, he tells me I'm a natural. What? I suppose it's in his best interest to butter me up so I keep coming back for lessons. Except, the taller half agrees. What? I suppose it's in his best interest to butter me up so that I don't return to the days of tears.

On my 4th lesson, my teacher announced that we needed to change my swing. Change my swing? Who am I, Tiger Woods? Apparently, I swing like a baseball player - ahh, that's more like it. Softball was one of the few sports where I was pretty good. Now I'm supposed to be doing some sort of wrist-flick thing that the taller half assures me is how the pros do it, that my teacher assures me will cure my tendency to go right all the time, and has, thus far, mainly resulted in me digging up a lot of grass as I drive the club directly into the ground.

When I do make contact with the ball, however, it now goes waaaaaaay left. Oddly, this is exciting because I actually feel like I have some control over where the ball is going, even if it's just that it's not going right anymore. When my teacher first switched me to the flip he said, Now, don't worry if it goes to the left, that's what we want at this point. You can pull it back in later.

It was like hearing myself teaching in a writing workshop. One of the things I always encourage students to do is to go to where they feel like it's too much and then to push just a little harder. I try to do this in my own writing as well. You can't possibly figure out where the line is unless you've crossed it. Art is all about pushing boundaries but how can you do that if you don't know where they are.

If I don't ever hit the ball to the left, I'll be forever on the right side of straight. My shots will always be just 'less right'. If I go right and I go left, then I can figure out where the centre is.

So here I am, in our not-quite-big-enough-for-sports flat practicing flipping my wrists and thinking about ways I can trample all over the lines in my writing. I'm looking for that sweet spot in both.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


I have always had very bad luck with basil. Perhaps more honestly, I ought to say that basil plants have always had very bad luck with me, as they are the ones that end up withered and dead in my kitchen. Sometimes up to three plants in a summer. A short, British summer.

Until this year. This year I bought a little basil plant at my local supermarket and I now have a great, big basil bush. So enormous is this horticultural triumph that it garners admiration from all who visit our flat and our neighbours are complaining that it's blocking their light. Unfortunately, after a good three months of delightful growth, it appears to have aphids. Boo. Hiss.

Aphids are little bugs that love to feed on soft plants. They decimated my parsley this spring and although I got rid of them ages ago and they were outside then, they now appear to have migrated indoors to the most magnificent basil plant this side of the Thames. I caught them early, though, and I think I have them on their last exoskeleton. They have, however, already done some damage. I know in my little pseudo-gardener's heart that pruning is the right thing to do. Pruning the weakened stalks will let the plant put its energy into growing new, strong stalks that will be better able to resist aphids in the future. But my basil and I have worked so hard to get it to where it is. I worry that it will never regain its former glory.

Why all this about a basil plant? Well, because it's a perfect analogy for writing. Honest, it is.

The basil in all its wilty glory

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Talking the Talk

I'm always droning on about writers supporting one another and saying that success for one of us is success for all of us. Today, I make good on all that high-minded talk.

I am so thrilled to announce that a friend of mine has just had her first novel published to an excellent critical reception. Alarm Girl by Hannah Vincent is the story of a little girl struggling to find her place in the world after her mother's death when she and her brother move from England to South Africa to live with their father. I had the great pleasure of reading parts this book when it was still a work in progress and it was marvellous. I have been waiting for exactly two years to find out what happens to the breathtakingly compelling character of Indy. At ten-and-three-quarters, Indy is that perfect balance of innocent and all-knowing.

I won't review the book because I'm obviously enormously biased (it's brilliant!), but I will say that I think it's wonderful that Hannah is experiencing this great success. She's also a very accomplished playwright with her work having been performed at both the National Theatre Studio and the Royal Court. Just a few weeks ago, her first radio play, Come to Grief, was produced on BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Drama. It's on iplayer for the next week. Catch it before it's gone!

And so, today, it's a pleasure to send my many congratulations to the wonderfully talented Hannah Vincent. I'm proud of your hard work on your two most recent successes and I'm proud to call a talented, creative and strong woman like you both a friend and a colleague.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Where Do Poppies Come From?

Last week, the taller half and I were at the Tower of London with an out-of-town guest. It has become an annual trip because it really is one of the best tourist attractions in London. I last wrote about the Tower back in November of 2011 when my good friend was over to visit. Back then, I was singing the praises of the Beefeater tours (included in the ticket price). Now, I'm not so sure.

In January, we went with the taller half's sister and had a raging chauvinist for a guide who went beyond suggesting it was only women who would want to see the crown jewels into very uncomfortable territory about all women only loving "soft furnishings" and one very awkward joke that included the deaths of both Shirley Temple and an Al-Qaeda bomb maker. Although, the crown jewels joke seems to be part of the standard script, generally I still highly recommend the tour. During the summer they run every 30 minutes, so if you get the chauvinist idiot, just wait for the next one.

This time we went with my aunt and hopped on a tour with a lovely, very funny and not (at least not obviously) chauvinist guide. Our only complaint was his misunderstanding of the origin of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers. Odd, perhaps, for a veteran, but not so odd for British culture which tends to appropriate like crazy.

Poppies Pouring from the Tower of London - Andrea Vail, CC License