Sunday, 28 July 2013

That extraordinary sense of happiness

The Cinderella Moment is launched!
I am by nature a pretty happy person but there is no doubt that life can be hard at times. Things happen: the unexpected challenge; the unplanned outcome; that mental script in your head that the people you're engaging with haven't 'read'; the emotional roller-coaster that doesn't know when to stop and let you off - such things remind us that we're human, mortal and fallible. No one gets it 'right' all the time.
But sometimes life gives you a perfect moment, occasionally a perfect hour or even, if you're lucky, a perfect day. I've had a few in my life and, as I've grown older, I've learned to appreciate them more and more.
I've learned to revel in them, to make part of my conscious mind recognise and record them so that later I can 'take out' those precious memories and replay them in my mind. And it's more than the five senses: I taste, smell, see, feel and hear the experience that means so much but in the best experiences it's a case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.
Thursday night at my book launch was like that. To be there with so many friends and family, to have interested members of the public turn up, to feel the press of people, hear the laughter, taste the excitement, see the enthusiasm - all of this added up to one perfect night. Whatever happens from here (and who can ever tell with a book?) I have my magic moment. Thank you.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Getting Published (is awesome)

This morning I got an unexpected parcel in my letterbox. Opening it, I was thrilled to discover that Penguin had sent me the first two advance copies of my new book, The Cinderella Moment.  It was an incredible moment and I have to confess I jumped around squealing with excitement for about ten minutes. They've done a beautiful job and I was delighted to find that they'd done an embossed title  - the words are in black and raised - very stylish and yummy! It's an extraordinary feeling getting to this point - when the words you spent so many hours, days, weeks, months (years!) writing finally appear in this magical form - a book!

It's hard to explain the emotion. It's part disbelief, part euphoria, part amazement, wonder, excitement, awe. Flicking through the pages, a sentence leaps out at you and you think, 'Did I write that?' You wonder how others will read it: will they see what I see? Will they like the characters who are so real to me that I imagine what they are doing now. Will they enjoy Paris? Love the clothes? Revel in the haute couture moments? I remember so many writing moments - of pleasure, frustration, desperation and delight. There were times when it took all day to write 500 words and times when the words just poured out of me. There were even times when my fingers moved over the keyboard producing scenes and dialogue I had never even consciously thought of.Those are my favourite writing moments. When the creative part of the brain takes over and there's a kind of effortless flow of words as characters and conversations take on a life of their own. Writing is such a strange and wondrous thing. Those little black lines that form the letters that make the words that produce the sentences that enable us to create pictures in our minds - extraordinary!

So, here at last is my book in physical form - an amazing, magical feeling to see it at last.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Loving Lizzie Bennet

So, I've been watching and loving the Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube and after a hundred episodes they've finally come to an end. It's funny how when you really enjoy something - a good book, a great movie, a gripping TV series - that you're dying to know what happens to next, for things to be revealed and resolved and (maybe) for the hero and heroine to get together and live happily ever after, but at the same time you don't want it to end! Have you ever had that experience when you're turning the pages faster and faster while trying to make yourself read slower and slower cos you don't want the pleasure to end but you have to know how it's all going to end? I love that feeling!

Well, that's what Lizzie Bennet was like. I'd keep watching, dying to see what Darcy would be like when he finally showed up and how things would turn out for Lydia and Jane and Bing and it was all so clever and funny and surprising. I loved it and now it's over <sigh>. Still, something else amazing is bound to turn up (that's the joy of the internet) and it is on YouTube so I can watch it again - or just my favourite episodes - any time I like. Excellent!

Here's Episode One in case you missed it...

Friday, 26 April 2013

An Exceptional Adventure

The gardens at the Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju
It was an invitation from good friends that took us to Korea. Their son was getting married in Seoul and we were invited to the wedding. We'd known the groom since he was a toddler, his bride-to-be was a delight and so we knew we had to be there. We arrived in Seoul ten days before the ceremony with only a couple of rail passes, an ancient guidebook and a vague idea of what we might do and see for a week outside the capital. Our hosts took us from the airport to Seoul station. They seemed a little nervous about how we were going to manage for the next ten days - after all, we spoke no Korean, had no accommodation booked and no clear idea of where we were going. But HH and I have always loved that kind of adventure - like wayfarers of old - setting out with little more than a map, a phrasebook and a glad heart. And we both have a strong belief in the kindness of strangers!
From the first Korea proved to be the very best kind of surprise. Astonishingly beautiful and for more green than we had imagined, over the next few days we moved from the city to the mountains to the coast with extraordinary ease. The trains were fantastic: punctual, fast (298km per hour at top speed), clean, quiet and well-serviced with food and drink. We soon found that not many people spoke English but our mime skills (!) quickly came into play and I discovered that Korean is a much, much easier language to read and speak that Chinese or Thai. Plus, it's amazing how you can get by on about half a dozen phrases: Hello, How are you? How much? Thank you, It's delicious and It's beautiful!

That afternoon we arrived in Gyeongju - capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty which lasted 1000 years from 57 BC – 935 AD. A modern city with a stunning legacy of ancient tumuli (huge grass-covered burial mounds) temples, preserved villages and unearthed treasure, that it is known as 'the museum without walls'. We stayed in a Hanok - a traditional Korean inn - with a spoon for a door key (seriously!) and a mat on the floor for sleeping. It was great fun and it put us right in the heart of the ancient part of town.
We spent the next few days exploring the many fascinating sites and had the good fortune to meet a charming couple who included us on a trip to Yangdong, a world-heritage village just north of the city. On the trip the four of us were royally hosted by a delightful Korean family (the kindness of strangers again) who told us many fascinating things about their country and culture. 
The first couple of days set the tone for the rest of our Korean adventure!

Locking the door to your room Korean-style
The remains of our first meal in Korea. It was delicious and one of those unexpected, quite-by-chance we-picked-just-the-right-place-to-eat restaurants that don't look like much from the outside and no one speaks English and you have no idea what they're serving you but the food is amazing. We ate everything and experienced myriad new flavours and taste sensations that made the meal unforgettable.

Gotta love a dog

Lad was my first dog since childhood and he was the kind of dog you dream about: intelligent, loving, loyal and always ready to join you on a long walk or a beach ramble.

We'd been living overseas for several years and on our return my HH promised we'd get a family dog once we were settled. After much research into breeds and several visits to the lost dogs home (where the dogs we wanted were either already promised or 'unsuitable' according to the staff) we'd gone out to see some golden retriever puppies at a breeder's place in the country.

When we got there I looked and held and cuddled and felt... not much. Oh, they were cute and furry and appealing but they didn't touch my heart. As we left the pen, the breeder's eight full-grown dogs were playing on the large front lawn, but on the verandah was another dog, lying alone on a bed.


As we watched the dogs at play, he suddenly got up off his bed and came across the lawn towards us.
The breeder said quietly, 'That's Lad, he's been really ill and is convalescing.'
Lad stopped right in front of me, and without warning, reared up on his hind legs and ever so gently placed his front paws on my chest. I looked down into his beautiful brown eyes and my heart melted.
'This is the one,' I said and the breeder nodded.

A week later we brought him home and the next day took him on his first-ever trip to the beach. It was amazing to see him tentatively approach the waves only to shy back as the white foam edges rolled towards him. He gradually grew more confident, however, and the beach soon became his favourite place. We'd go often and he'd swim and chase sticks and lie beside me and put his wet, sandy nose on my leg. Walking with Lad along a beach was my kind of heaven.

Is there anything more trusting, more knowing, more heartwarming than the way your best furry friend looks into your eyes?

Lad was there through all my writing: PhD, books, letters, articles. My constant companion and beloved friend. A true prince.

Vale Lad, I miss you.

Oh, to go adventuring!

I love adventures, always have, and I suspect I always will. My favourite is to go somewhere new with my HH (Hero Husband), hire a car or buy a train pass, and just follow our noses for a week or two. It's not always convenient or easy and sometimes it means getting lost or being uncomfortable, but it's always unexpected and definitely memorable.

We once followed a series of road signs to somewhere call Il Falconiere. We had no idea what it was, but we were in Italy and it was a perfect blue-sky day with vineyards all around us, so we figured it had to be something good!
And it was.

We wound our way for miles along narrow roads, before finally turning into a long driveway, at the end of which was a beautiful stone building. It turned out to be an old 17th century villa that had been turned into a 'relais-chateau'. On entering, the first thing we saw was the dining room and, well, sometimes you've just got to follow your heart - or in this case, your stomach!

What followed was one of the most memorable meals we've ever had with delicious home-baked crispbreads, stunning seafood, pasta, fresh vegetables and a dessert to die for! (I think it was justifiably called 'orgasm for the mouth'!)

We had our lunch in the restaurant but the staff kindly served our dessert out on the terrace so we could sit and eat in the sunshine while overlooking the beautiful valley below. The desserts (there were six of them) were each delicious and we savoured every mouthful while the bees hummed among the flowers and faint wisps of cloud formed and faded overhead. It was a magical afternoon and it has lived long in our memories.

Oh, I love adventure!