What my son has taught me

A while ago I posted a blog about what I had learned from my daughters. At the time it occurred to me that I had missed out another member of the family and one that also had things to teach me. I am talking, of course, about my son.

Posy David and Lucy2


When the kids were small we used to say that in our family was a boy sandwich, girls on either side, the boy in the middle. Research says that a child’s position in relation to their siblings makes a huge difference to their personality: the eldest child tends to be the responsible one, the high achiever and because they like order, the bossy one, the youngest is the charmer and good with people, the middle child the most flexible, the negotiator, the one that goes with the flow.

Looking at my daughters the eldest and the youngest, some of the above is true. Posy certainly was the one that organised the others. Mostly she made them take part in her plays, or contribute to the magazine she wrote and edited. Lucy, on the other hand, has always been a people person, the one in her peer group who counselled her friends when their love life fell apart.Little Manchester pumpkin

As for David, the characteristics he has of a middle child are those traits that have much to teach his over-anxious, eldest born mother.

First and foremost is his ability to go with the flow. When I’m agonising, or ranting over something David’s comment will often be “It is what it is,” and of course he is right. There is little I can do to change whatever it is that has annoyed or infuriated me, but I can change my attitude and view it in a more laid back fashion thus saving myself much angst.

The next lesson from my son is the art of debate and negotiating, something he’s been skilled at since childhood. No temper tantrums just an argument as to why he should be allowed to get up at six am to watch The Open University− no twenty-four hours of TV in those long ago days.

He’s also good at seeing the other point of view and arguing logically, which when dealing with any issue is important and can lead to genuine debate rather than descending into a mere exchange of dearly held positions.

Another thing my son has taught me is the art of giving spontaneous presents. A book he thinks his Granny might like arrives from Amazon and fills a lonely afternoon.

The box of Delights


And I still smile about the unexpected arrival of the “The Box of Delights.” I’d tweeted how much I’d enjoyed watching the TV series at Christmas, but couldn’t do that anymore as we only had it on video tape and a day or two later a slim line parcel arrived from Amazon.




Of course it is great to get presents at birthdays and Christmas but there is something so special and life affirming about these surprise packages, as indeed there is about David and his ability to enjoy life. Another lesson well worth learning.

David in California


What my daughters taught me

Posy and Lucy

You would think that in the normal course of things it’s mothers that teach their daughters, for me, however, it hasn’t always worked out like that. Learning can be a two way process.  I taught Posy and Lucy the basics, starting from when they were little and hopefully inculcating some of my own values as they grew up. However, over the years I have learned so much from them.

Starting with the small things: Lucy introduced me to “A Girl called Jack” and Jack Monroe’s thrifty recipes, I also now keep my broccoli in the fridge and only use environmentally friendly cleaning products in my kitchen and bathroom.

Lucy is also good at re-cycling clothes that no longer fit, or suit her and I’ve followed her example in my occasional wardrobe culls, as evidenced on my “Bulging Wardrobe” pages.

On a deeper level, she’s shown me how entrenched our un-conscious bias is when thinking and talking about gender. Equality is something I’ve always cared passionately about, even so I’ve not been so aware of the insidious nature of prejudice. We all have deeply rooted views, mostly stemming from childhood, but unless we are prepared to dredge them up and acknowledge them, we’ll never be able to move on and genuinely treat people as individuals.

As a writer, this is something I have to address if I don’t want my characters to be stereo-types, or to behave in gender predictable roles.

To be free to be who you are is lesson from Posy, Lucy’s big sister. Her legacy is an irreverent view of life, the mantra “don’t let the b——-s get you down” and the importance of living life to the full, with all the risks that entails.

She suffered from stage fright, but that never stopped her and if she set her sights on something then she’d concentrate her mind until she achieved it.  Posy Juliet 1In Cahoots Theatre Company’s Jamaican tour of “Romeo and Juliet” began with a conversation about Port Royale being the ideal venue for the play. From there Pose convinced Jim Malcolm, the Deputy High Commissioner, of the brilliance of her idea, found a director, cast her actors, raised the money and hired the costumes.

Great role models both of them, which is why I’ve acknowledged their influence in “City of Secrets”, because I’m sure that some of their qualities can be found in the independently minded Letty Parker, who at the age of twelve, is making a living selling pies on the streets on Bristol.

City Of Secrets cover


Happy Bunnymass

Easter bunny
When my brother was little, the family joke was that he would only allow his hair to be washed on high days and holidays, and the feasts of the Church.

Christmas and Easter would produce a sparklingly clean toddler ready to be taken to church with me and my sister to sit through the seemingly endless services. Good Friday went on for hours, three to be exact, Maundy Thursday Mass was long too. The Easter Vigil on Saturday night, however, was quite a different thing.

In those days the Church did things properly and the Vigil began at 11am. In the darkness, the priest led the congregation into the church by the light of the Easter Candle. A symbol of the risen Christ coming into the world, but also one resonant of pagan rituals and atavistic beliefs of the power of light over dark, and the fear of night.

Small children, unless going to be baptised, were left at home so it was only Mum, Anuk and I who walked through the deserted streets of the estate in the early hours of the morning, gorging on the chocolate, which we had all given up for Lent.Easter Eggs

Those memories of Easter still permeate my view of the weekend and I find it sad that increasingly the religious side of the feast is being forgotten.

Not so in Europe where the processions take to the streets and sins are repented and resurrection celebrated in what has to be primal two fingers up to darkness and death. Here in the UK, however, we are swamped by a plethora of bunnies and eggs. The symbolism of which is a mystery to most people.

In fact very few people seem to know anything about Easter, which, whether you are a believer or not, is a great shame, for it is all part of our culture.

How can you access the art of the Renaissance if you do not know the Christian stories which so many paintings depict? How can you make sense of John Donne’s “Good Friday Riding Westward” or any of the other Metaphysical Poets? Or T.S. Elliot, or Stanley Spenser’s painting etc., etc.?The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-7 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Without this knowledge everyone misses out, so remember Easter is not all about eggs and bunnies and there is a meaning to the hot cross bun you had with your coffee.



365-A Clear-Out


9 of 365

If you’ve seen pictures of my office you will know that I am not a tidy person. My work space is not in total chaos but there are no clear surfaces and although I know, in theory, where everything is, that isn’t always true in practise, which means that I spend more time than I should searching for the elusive piece of paper/documentation/snippet of research.

I know I should do something to make my work space more efficient but the thought of a total overhaul is too daunting. Added to which we have recently had a kitchen makeover which entailed clearing everything out and then putting all our stuff back.

This time I was determined that only things that were useful, or lovely, or carried emotional resonance were to be allowed back into our lovely new room. Bit by bit I sorted through what we really needed or wanted and gradually came to the conclusion that for me the best way of doing a life laundry is in small, very small, chunks.

And so I made my great resolution.

Every day for the whole of this year I will throw out, re-cycle, pass on, sell one thing. It can be as small as a half-used scented candle, or as large as a coffee table but every day something will go.

To make sure that I keep my resolution I make a note every day of what has gone and so far this has proved very effective. So much so that I am currently ahead of myself. Not only are things going but the whole exercise is so liberating that I am finding it easier and easier to decide whether something stays or goes.

As I’m gaining more space I feel lighter and at the same time freer to concentrate on my writing. shadows-on-the-grass“Shadows on the Grass” is now out in paperback and I’m working on another novel and doing a final edit on the first of a series of books for children, when I’m not wondering what I can get rid of next.

The Pleasure of Small Things


Acer in pot

I’m in the middle of a big project. My new novel “Shadows on the Grass” is going through its final edit and I’m writing a spin off story about some of the characters, who make a brief appearance in the book.

The story is only in first draft and though I’m enjoying writing it, there is also the sensation that nothing is finished, which is quite frustrating. It’s as if, in spite of all the hours I’ve spent on my computer, nothing has been achieved.

Frustration leads of a feeling of pointlessness and my way of dealing with this is to concentrate on the small things in life that give me pleasure.

White geraniumThe white geranium, on the bathroom, windowsill, that has blossomed unexpectedly, the show of periwinkleperiwinkle


that shines against the dark green of its leaves, a hot cup of tea, kicking through fallen leaves, the burst of colour from an acer, a glass of wine and so much more.

Writing down five good things that have happened during the day helps too. My “Good Things Book” is another of my pleasures.Feel good book A Laura Ashley Notebook, I love the texture of the paper, the print and feel of the colour.

Even writing about my small pleasures makes me smile. “Shadows on the Grass” is on its way, but while I’m waiting, I’ll keep noting down all the good stuff.

Why What You Wear Matters

In my last blog I talked about how I see my characters. Part of that picture is, of course, what they wear. In “Picking up the Pieces” Liz is partly defined by her hippy skirts and un-tameable hair, Elsa by her designer outfits, while Bernie’s clothes come from chain stores. In “House of HOS cropped AShadows”, black is Jo’s colour. She is an artist and with her silver blonde hair, her black top and jeans and dramatic silver jewellery the image she projects of herself reinforces what she does.

Jo loves beautiful things and although she works with paint and mixed media, using her hands as well as her brushes to produce her paintings of Kingsfield, with their sinister implications, even in her studio she can wear her usual black and look elegant and very much herself.

Years ago, my sister, Anuk Naumann, said that she thought she ought to dress like an artist. She had just given up work as an architect to concentrate full time on her painting. Changing her way of dressing was both symbolic and practical. There is no doubt when you first meet her that Anuk is what she does.Anuk and book

What you wear is a signal to the rest of the world, for we all make instant judgements about the people we meet, and can lead to useful conversations, or at least when you tell someone you write then that does not come as a complete surprise.

It also shows what you think about yourself and how you are feeling. Not bothering, or even being able to wash and dress can be a sign of severe depression. Dressing conventionally, never daring to try anything different, can reveal a lack of confidence, as can,  choosing to dress in a particular role and taking on all the attributes that go with it.

This paradoxically can also be liberating, because dressed as a Goth or a biker, or a punk, you are free to behave in ways you could not before and to explore areas of your personality that would otherwise stay hidden.

On a deep level, what you wear and how you look reinforces your view of yourself. Being a writer is a solitary way of life. It is too easy to slop around all day in pyjamas or old jeans, but for me to look as I see myself, is vital.

We are visual creatures. As writers we use this in our work. In real life it matters too.

Question is, what does a writer look like/wear? I’d love to know your views.

The Bulging Wardrobe: part one


…and what to do about it, or, alternatively, how to declutter your life. That last statement might sound a little ambitious, in fact I’m not sure it’s entirely relevant, but if I start with my clothes, who knows where my new found resolution will end.

As you can see from the picture above, my wardrobe is bulging at the seams. Although everything has been ironed, because it has to be squeezed in between all the other hangers, it gets creased almost as soon as it is put away. Not only that, but once thrust into the darkest recesses clothes have a mysterious way of sliding off their hangers and hiding at the back of the cupboard and the only way to find what I’ve decided I’d like to wear, is to take everything out, bit by bit, lay it on the bed, until either the room resembles a jumble sale, or I find what I was looking for.

I’ve never believed in the adage that you buy one throw one out. I always think, and I’ve been proved right on numerous occasions, if you wait long enough the item will come back into fashion. Sometimes, admittedly, it’s not quite the same, but how many times have we seen bo-ho chic, or pencil skirts, or Capri pants as the must have piece for this year?

So, I have kept clothes dating at least a couple of decades back, and boots for longer than that. Which is fine, but most of the time, I either don’t know where they are, or I’ve forgotten I possess them.

A year or so back, I did a whole six months when I wore a different outfit every day. (I have the pictures to prove it.) The whole exercise took some thought and imagination, but, to be honest, I have so much stuff that I could have kept going for the rest of the year. What stopped me was the time and effort it took.

It’s so much easier to reach in take something off the rail, add a top, or trousers that complement it and get on with the rest of the day.

There’s also the question of whether something I wore in my thirties still looks good. It was this that finally tipped the balance. Trying on a shirt I used to wear, which still fitted, but no longer suited me, I knew it had to go.

This was the obvious solution, so too getting rid of faded T-shirts and worn jumpers. Why then is it so hard to do?

The answer comes in my next post.