See my guest feature on Patricia’s Pen this week
‘Nice way to spend a Monday afternoon xx’
These were the last words I heard from my little brother. Thirty-six hours later he was dead. Peter posted this message on my Facebook page one year ago in response to a video I shared, looking out across Fowey estuary to Ferryside, Daphne du Maurier’s house. I was in Fowey in May 2019, attending the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival.
How the world has changed since then.
Daphne du Maurier was born on 13th May 1907, so today is her birthday. What would she have made of Covid 19 and our lives in self-isolation? If her novel Rule Britannia (which appears to predict Brexit) and her sci fi short stories The Breakthrough and The Blue Lenses are anything to go by, I think she might have exploited any creative opportunities shamelessly.
My grandmother introduced me to Daphne du Maurier while we were on holiday in Cornwall. Grandma was palpably excited by the prospect of visiting Jamaica Inn and, judging me ‘too old for toys and too young for boys’, suggested I should read Rebecca. I recall how closely I identified with the naïve narrator playing the role of new mistress of Manderley. As a geeky twelve-year-old, I too was invisible and out of my depth among the cool girls at my large secondary modern school.
Rebecca was the book that inspired me to write. Each teenage summer I equipped myself with a new writing notebook. But then life got in the way – boyfriend, marriage, children, teaching qualification, career. Yet, like Daphne’s character Janet in The Loving Spirit, ‘it seemed that there were two sides…’ Although I’d made my life choices, the yearning to write, my shadow self, remained strong.
My life sometimes mirrors Daphne’s. Like me she was a ‘daddy’s girl’, finding social roles hard to play and selfishly pursuing her own interests whilst relishing moments to be alone. She read Wuthering Heights aged twelve, becoming as obsessed with the Bronte’s as I have become with her. We’re both intrigued by things strange, unexplained and macabre and we both play at imagining – I was ‘dreaming true’ before I knew of its existence.
In her autobiography Growing Pains, Daphne says, ‘the child destined to be a writer is vulnerable to every wind that blows’. We’re shaped by the books we read and experiences we live. Daphne haunts me, permeating my creative writing like some sort of spirit or muse. Her Cornish novels inspired the location for my first novel, ‘The Changeling’. The House on the Strand piqued a life-long interest in time travel, leading to my current work in progress, ‘The Travelling Philanthropist’, and The Parasites and The Scapegoat fed my fascination with siblings and doubles and influenced my psychological thriller, ‘Three Faced Doll’.
Daphne du Maurier is my ‘shape maker’. She inspires me to write. Elements of the uncanny and macabre, so familiar to her stories, filter through in my own work. I continually explore overlaps and links between Daphne’s life and my own in a personal quest to come to know us both better as writers.
Happy Birthday Daphne.
So the WHO are holding a meeting to determine whether the general public should be wearing face masks. Up until now the advice has been that face masks don’t do much to protect the wearer, but are useful to avoid a contagious person from spreading the virus.
Perhaps the reason they’ve been discouraging the public from wearing masks is that there’s already a shortage of PPE for the wonderful health workers risking their lives for us all.
There is an alternative. Why not make your own?
If you are going to make your own, just make sure you wash it after every use as a contaminated face mask is worse than no face mask. There are numerous instructions on line. Some simply require a handkerchief folded up with elastic bands or hairbands to secure – no sewing involved.
For those of you like me who doesn’t mind some simple stitching, there are numerous templates out there. Choose some tight weave fabric and have a go.
Here are some I made earlier:
So we’ve survived one week. There will be plenty more to come I fear. This week I’ve had to content myself with speaking to my kids and grandkids on Skype – although I’ve become more proficient using FaceTime and Houseparty. I’ve been in touch with friends I don’t speak to nearly enough and I’ve exchanged more words with my lovely neighbours over Whatsapp, than I have in eighteen years of living in close proximity. Where did my writing time go?
We’ve rearranged all the furniture and my house has never been so clean. I’ve topped up my freezer with tomato and vegetable pasta sauce from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Keep Cooking and Carry On’. Hoping he’ll be carrying on with these brilliant sessions over coming weeks.
I’m craving bananas, but I’ve still got sufficient wine, chocolate, gin and, for now, loo rolls.
We’ve stood at the end of our drive to ‘Clap the Carers’ and we’ve joined neighbours – each at the end of our own drives with our own glasses of wine – to wish a couple two doors down a ‘Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary’. Their special party was of course cancelled.
This morning, for my daily exercise, I went out early for a walk – still allowed at the moment. As I pass dog walkers and fellow exercisers, I notice how social distance is interpreted differently. To be fair, most keep the prescribed distance. Some do it with a laugh and a little courtesy dance – ‘you go’, ‘no, you’, as we negotiate chess moves to determine who will step off the pavement and walk in the road. If we pass on opposite sides of the road there’s often a ‘hello’, a ‘good morning’ or a smile and wave. Others keep their eyes firmly fixed forward or even down on the ground. They seem to think social distancing means you can no longer greet or even acknowledge a stranger.
Yesterday someone on the TV said, perhaps it should be called ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’. We humans are social beings and we need contact with others, even if it is from two metres away. Please don’t think I’m going to infect you with my wave or a cheery ‘hello’ as we pass.
Look out for me tomorrow morning. I’ll be the one putting my hands together and trying a respectful ‘Namaste’..
‘Stay at home. Stock enough food for your family. Make sure you have plenty of strong disinfection and toilet paper.’
Is this a response to the Coronavirus pandemic?
No, this was advice from the UK government in the early 1980’s. It was set out in the leaflet, Protect and Survive, available for sale to those who wanted to buy it. However, in the event of a serious nuclear threat, it was to be distributed free to every household. Protect and Survive was adapted for television as a series of twenty short public information films. The films were classified, and only intended for transmission on all television channels if the government determined a nuclear attack was likely within 72 hours. However, recordings leaked and the BBC broadcast them in a documentary on Panorama in March 1980.
Today the leaflet makes alarming reading. It was clearly written from the view that a nuclear attack was a genuine threat and people needed to be prepared. We will never know how likely it was, but it was certainly perceived as a threat across the world.
THE ATTACK WARNING
When an air attack is expected the sirens will sound a rising and falling note.
The warning will also be broadcast on the radio.
THE FALL-OUT WARNING
When there is danger from fall-out you will hear three loud bangs or three whistles in quick succession.
When the immediate danger from both air attack and fall-out has passed, the sirens will sound a steady note.
The longer you spend in your refuge and your fall-out room after a fall-out warning the less the danger to your lives.
The threat of nuclear war was very real to people in the UK, and the message from the government under Maggie Thatcher was ‘people need to be prepared.’
I was twenty-six, a young mum with three children under the age of four. Protect and Survive became my Bible. The leaflet told me how to make my home and my family as safe as possible in the event of nuclear attack.
Under my bed I stowed a cardboard box filled with tinned food. Each day I listened to the news and avidly read newspaper reports telling me how to ensure my family survived. I hoarded black sacks. Why? Because we’d need to fill them with earth.
‘Even the safest room in your home is not safe enough. You will need to block up windows in the room, and to make the outside walls thicker, and also to thicken the floor above you, to provide the strongest possible protection against the penetration of radiation. Thick, dense materials are the best, and bricks, concrete or building blocks, timber, boxes of earth, sand, books, and furniture might all be used.’
The initial forty-eight hours after the attack were to be spent in the safest place in our home. The leaflet told us how to create a fall-out room, this nuclear-proof den would be our inner sanctuary.
‘Still greater protection is necessary in the fall-out room, particularly for the first two days and nights after an attack when the radiation dangers could be critical. To provide this you should build an inner refuge. This too should be thick-lined with dense materials to resist the radiation and should be built away from the outside walls.’
The leaflet suggested we use doors from rooms above to create an indoor lean-to. We might even use a table if it was large enough, surrounding the den with heavy furniture filled with sand, earth, books or clothing. Best of all, and this was my preferred option, a cupboard under the stairs, with bags of earth or sand on the stairs and along the walls of the cupboard.
The government encouraged us to stockpile:
‘Stock enough food for fourteen days.
Choose foods which can be eaten cold, which keep fresh, and which are tinned or well wrapped. Keep your stocks in a closed cabinet or cupboard.
Provide variety. Stock sugar, jams or other sweet foods, cereals, biscuits, meats, vegetables, fruit and fruit juices. Children will need tinned or powdered milk, and babies their normal food as far as is possible. Eat perishable items first. Use your supplies sparingly.’
Like many people, I’ve been judging the people panic buying during the Coronavirus crisis: ‘Those selfish, greedy people just looking out for themselves.’ But, in recent days, as my anxiety has increased with each news bulletin, I remember how I felt back in the early 80’s and, whilst I in no way encourage or condone panic buying, I can understand the behaviour.
In the 80’s the government also advised us to store water:
‘You will need enough for the family for fourteen days. Each person should drink two pints a day – so you will need three and a half gallons each.
You should try to stock twice as much water as you are likely to need for drinking, so that you will have enough for washing. You are unlikely to be able to use the mains water supply after an attack – so provide your drinking water beforehand by filling bottles for use in the fall-out room. Store extra water in the bath, in basins and in other containers.’
And, relevant to the empty shelves we now find in all our stores, they told us we’d need toiletry items:
‘Toilet articles including soap, toilet rolls, bucket and plastic bags.’
We were encouraged to build a first aid kit as there’d be no access to the NHS:
‘First aid kit – with household medicines and prescribed medicines, aspirins or similar tablets, adhesive dressings, cotton wool, bandages, disinfectant, ointment, including Vaseline.’
If we were ‘lucky’ enough to survive the initial stage, the heat and the blast, the following days would bring fallout dust carrying radiation sickness. Like Coronavirus they told us:
‘It cannot be seen or felt. It has no smell…. Exposure can cause sickness and death.’
My sister and I remember a conversation with a young man. He said when the alarm sounded, he’d go into his garden and watch the fireworks. As young mums with little children, we were horrified. All we wanted to do was to protect our families.
For fourteen days we knew we’d be completely isolated, but what sort of world would we have emerging into? After twelve weeks plus of self-isolating, what sort of world will exist after Covid 19?
There are some environmental positives. Maps reveal significant drops in pollution levels above China and Italy. The reduction in travel and particularly grounding flights must surely have reduced our carbon output?
And this time we’re not completely isolated. Okay, most of us received good wishes for Mother’s Day over Facetime, and I desperately missed hugs and kisses, but humanity is coming up trumps. A generation of caring, supportive people are emerging locally. Always there, they now come to the fore, using Facebook and Whatsapp, even dropping notes through doors, offering to collect shopping, medicines or just be there for a chat. Heroic efforts are being made by our NHS professionals, emergency services and key workers. Our government and our scientists work around the clock, seeking solutions and making difficult decisions. And let’s not forget the delivery drivers and the cashiers on the checkouts, some sadly subjected to abuse on a daily basis.
I can’t hug my grandchildren, I can’t see my loved ones, but we can stay in touch remotely, and now there’s time to contact the old friends I haven’t spoken to in ages.
‘This too will pass’
Meanwhile let’s be kind to each other. Hopefully most of us will emerge on the other side, perhaps with a changed perspective. We’ll recognize what’s important to us, we’ll have greater respect for our planet and perhaps we’ll reassess the way we live our lives.
This is my mum’s recipe. It’s a great idea when everyone’s panic buying and you’re trying to survive on what you’ve got.
- In a large saucepan, lightly fry a large onion (sliced).
- Chuck in two or three carrots (sliced) and a large spud (sliced).
- Just cover with water, add a vegetable Oxo and simmer until soft (15 mins)
- Mash (or use a hand blender).
- Chuck in half a cup of red lentils (or you can use brown or green lentils)
- Add more water to preferred consistency. Simmer for at least 30 mins until lentils are soft. Don’t let the lentils burn on bottom of pan.
- You can double this up, water it down, add ANY additional or substitute veg, add garlic with the onion, chuck in a can of beans… There are multiple variations. I literally use up any veg that I’ve got – sweet potatoes, parsnips, greens… It’s always good. Enjoy!
- This is a great source of protein and makes a meal if you add bread.
Is it just me? Now I have all the time in the world to write, I waste it listening to increasingly depressing news bulletins. I’ve become obsessed.
Enough is enough – time for self-discipline! I shall establish a new daily routine – time to write balanced with well-being and emotional needs:
- Getting some fresh air – going for a walk (as long as restrictions allow); get out in my garden (I know, I’m lucky to have one); opening a window and sitting with a cup of tea or coffee whilst listening to the birds and breathing deeply.
- Taking exercise – going for a walk (as above); riding on my exercise bike; joining a ten to fifteen minute exercise routine (plenty on YouTube for free)
- Leisure – reading a novel or listening to an audio book (Audible app is great) or a podcast (BBC Sounds has a wealth of free podcasts)
- Learning a new skill – this could be a language (using a free app), knitting, crochet, drawing, painting, cooking – perhaps I’ll get creative with store cupboard basics (see Jamie Oliver 14 store cupboard recipes) or try my mum’s Lentil Soup recipe.
On BBC Breakfast this morning, a guest shared the ‘Gratitude Game’. He suggests sitting down with your family every day and asking:
- What’s the one thing I’ve done today to make someone else happy?
- What’s the one thing someone did today to make me happy?
- What have I learnt today.
Let’s try it.
- I’ve messaged friends and family, just to touch base, let them know I’m thinking about them, tell them I love them and I’m here if they’re struggling.
- A note through my door from a kindly neighbour offering to shop or collect medication if I’m self-isolating.
- I’ve learnt there’s a thing called Zoom for web-based video conferencing which might replace our fortnightly writing group now that Hove Library is closed until further notice.
How about you?
Coronovirus has caused me much deliberation this week. Was the slight tickle earlier in the week just a regular cough or something more sinister? (the former). Do I want to be in a large crowd? (there were only 40 attending and a nice big space to spread out in). Do I want to travel on the tube? (my lovely husband drove me door-to-door). I decided to attend the Self-Publishing Course run by Jericho Writers. I was so pleased that I did. Great sessions by Melissa Addey and Harry Bingham.
Here are a few key points:
Read, read, read – everything about self-publishing – particularly Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and David Gaughran.
Treat writing (and getting published) like it’s a job.
If you have a choice, write in popular genre areas – not obscure. Readers always want more books like their favourite novels.
A series works better than stand-alone for self-publishing.
Build your writing CV – any relevant past experiences, writing successes, education and courses in creative writing.
Write a Business Plan – what do you want to achieve in six months/one year? Create opportunities and stalk your prey.
Go narrow – exclusive to Amazon as it also gives you Kindle Unlimited (together they make up 80% of book sales) and it’s worth more £ than going wide (Kobo, Apple, etc).
Your email mailing list is absolutely crucial.
You’ll need a ‘reader magnet’ (something specific and exclusive) to giveaway to your ‘reader club’ – a prequel to your novel works well.
The text of your book matters more than anything else.
The cover is the first key step in your conversation with your reader. The cover, title and blurb must all define and solidify the theme/genre of your book.
Don’t start traffic to your book until everything is perfect – text, cover, book description, genre and sub-categories, keywords, e-book, reader magnet and website.
Use links in book one to direct readers to your next book and also to a page on your website where they can order ‘my free e-book’ in exchange for their email address.
Reviews – don’t cheat and get friends and family to write them. If reviews not written by actual readers of your genre, it messes up the system. Amazon needs to learn who your real readers are so it can recommend your books to them.
Outsourcing – self-publishing can be supported by companies like Bookouture.com (via submissions) or Sam Pearce at Swatt-books.co.uk – package costs £3800 for 80k book (not including marketing).
Phew – plenty for me to get on with during Coronovirus self-isolation if it comes to that!
Stay well everyone.
5th March is World Book Day and naturally I want to talk about the author who inspired me to write. My mother and my grandmother both loved Daphne du Maurier.
Grandma’s favourite Daphne du Maurier novel was Jamaica Inn. One year, heading west in our six-berth caravan for our family holiday in Cornwall, we called in at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor. Back then it was a proper old Inn, not the popular tourist themed attraction it has now become. Me and my little sister Pauline were too little to go inside – this was before children were allowed in pubs. I remember we sat outside in my dad’s Zodiac with a bottle of Fanta and a bag of crisps.
Soon after this, Mum introduced me to the book Rebecca. I’d started out reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, then progressed to Noel Streatfield and Agatha Christie, but Rebecca was the novel that made me want to become an author. I journeyed with the narrator throughout the story – not even realising back then that she had no name because I was her and together we shared all those embarrassing and self-conscious moments.
After reading Rebecca I made up my mind that I would write a book. Each summer I’d equip myself with a new notebook and pen. I remember long sunny days laying on the grass inside my red and yellow tent while I composed my masterpieces – they never amounted to very much I’m afraid.
But Daphne continued to haunt me throughout my life. So much so that, when I was completing my MA in Creative Writing, I put her at the heart of my dissertation – see my Imagined Dialogue on the Daphne Du Maurier website.
It was while researching Daphne that I read books written by her grandfather. George du Maurier (incidentally his birthday was 6th March) used the concept of ‘dreaming true’ in his novel, Peter Ibbetson and I’m sure Daphne was influenced by this when she wrote about Dick’s time travel in her own novel, The House on the Strand, another of my favourites. I don’t think she’ll mind that I’ve adapted this method myself to communicate with her.
I don’t do New Year resolutions. See my article on FocusMe
Instead I like to make my own targets for the year.
2019 was going fine. I had an action plan for the year with the aim of self-publishing one of my novels by Christmas 2019.
It didn’t happen.
The year started well. I achieved a distinction for my MA in Creative Writing. My Imagined Dialogue was published on the Daphne du Maurier website and I’d booked myself on several events to enable me to meet my targets – Fowey Festival, a Jerico Writers event in York and Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival
It was while I was attending the #foweyfestival in Cornwall I received desperately sad news. My little brother, ten years my junior, had died. That’s not supposed to happen. His death came without warning and really threw me. There were more shocks. I was his named executor but his beneficiary was a person unknown to the family. It seemed my brother had a secret life none of us knew anything about.
As I was thrown into the demands of executorship, plans for completing my novel (seemingly superficial in the light of real life events) went out of the window. Self-editing became impossible. I was however, able to write about what I was experiencing and I wrote it all down. I really recommend #journaling for the bad times in your life. Here’s an extract from an article I wrote for TAMBA (TWINS TRUST) bereavement support:
I found journaling helped me to manage my own grief. It was the start of my healing journey, giving me an outlet for my emotions and a place to store my memories and feelings, like photographs, to take out and experience again. […] The page became my friend, someone I could talk to without having to watch what I said, or how I said it. Sometimes I ranted with the fury of a madwoman – a raw, primitive wail.
The page allows you to vent your anger, guilt and frustration with no judgement or regret. You don’t have to worry that you might hurt someone else’s feelings by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The good thing about (journaling) is that you can’t write the wrong thing. […] In the early hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep, I’d make myself a cup of tea and pour my emotions onto the page. […] Writing is cathartic. Write when tears are streaming down your face. Let grief fuel your pen. Spew your guts on the page. Swear your f****** head off.
Autumn 2019 and I’d encouraged a friend to take part in NANOWRIMO – I should support her by participating again myself. Journaling had sown seeds and I completed 50k words of my new novel (working title – My Brother’s Dominatrix)
December and Christmas were hectic so it was January before I got back into regular novel writing. My targets for 2019 (to get my work out there and publish my first novel) had to roll into 2020.
And what a good start. I’ve completed a first draft of my novel The Travelling Philanthropist #timeslip. I’ve had a short story published by Shooter literary magazine and I’m working to improve my social media presence.
I shall be documenting my journey to #selfpublishing (see my #Indiepublishing page on this blog). Of course there are excellent resources already out there on the subject – David Gaughran Jerico Writers to name but two. But I’ll be giving you a breakdown of the key steps in my journey, along with the pitfalls – I’m sure there’ll be plenty. So watch this space.