Woah. Look, it’s mid-September. Mid-September! How did that happen?! It’s been rather an eventful summer in this house which is why I’ve been somewhat absent from the world. It hasn’t just been holidays, honest…
First of all, the main reason I’ve been so quiet: my mother died suddenly in July. She’d overcome breast cancer in 2013, but was diagnosed with metastases earlier this year. Thankfully, Mum had the most extraordinary Macmillan nurse overseeing her care, and keeping the rest of us going. If you haven’t experienced a Macmillan team in action, the word ‘nurse’ doesn’t really cover what they do. They’re phenomenal. They co-ordinate treatment, arrange medication, support devastated relatives, advise, encourage, counsel, listen, and do whatever needs to be done. I will always, always, be grateful to Jane Steele for giving Mum the peaceful end she wanted, with everyone she loved around her.
I wrote Mum’s obituary for our local paper which was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, but easily the proudest. My mother (Patricia, very apt) was elegant, generous, fiercely intelligent, and she could make a stone laugh. She taught English for forty years, always in high heels, and inspired me and thousands of other students with her love for books, and her constant encouragement, and her ability to make any dull text sparkle into life off the page. I still have the battered Roget’s Thesaurus she gave me when I was about eight – a reference book I recommend to anyone who thinks the Tools drop-down on their computer does the ‘find a different word’ job. Mum would have made a brilliant fiction editor and I spent hours chatting to her about plots and characters while I was out walking the dogs – I still do, to be honest. I just have to listen a little harder for her advice now.
So I was in Cumbria for most of the summer with my family, but while I was there, in between the oceans of tea, I finished the very overdue final draft of my new book, All I Ever Wanted, which will be published at the end of this year (December 1st - in all good bookshops!). I’ll have a final cover to show you soon but it’s beautiful – as ever, the Hodder art dept have done an amazing job. The plot, in case I haven’t mentioned this before, is about Nancy, a little girl who stops speaking when her parents break up but finds unexpected friends in her aunt’s two pugs, who have themselves lost their ‘voices’ after Eva’s husband dies, leaving them without their human ventriloquist. (I’m not the only dog owner who makes up voices for their dogs, no? No?!) The story of how Nancy gets her voice back, and Eva gets her life back, and Nancy’s mother Caitlin gets her sense of self back made me cry quite a lot in the writing, but I do love it, and I really hope you will too.
In August, my boyfriend and I went up to Scotland for some peace and quiet and shellfish. We ate a lot of shellfish. I’m now 75% seal, such is my inability to resist a pile of langoustines. If you show me a mackerel, I will leap gracefully into the air and snatch it from your terrified fingers. Argyll and Bute is beautiful (bute-tiful! Ha! Seriously, take it where you can – humour has been short on the ground this summer), and I thoroughly recommend a visit. This is literally a view from the road:
We came back restored and full of fish, but then, as if the summer hadn’t been heartbreaking enough, what with losing my mum and Lady Violet, my prince of basset hounds, Bonham was diagnosed with the same type of aggressive cancer as Violet. We hoped we’d have him around for a few months, what with him being so strong and healthy, and that was hard enough to deal with, but it turned out we didn’t even have those months – Bonham died three weeks later, on September 1st.
I’m going to write a separate post about magnificent, imperious, adorable Lord Bob, since he deserves the same pictorial send-off as Violet, but needless to say the house feels so empty and quiet, and utterly melancholy without the pair of them plodding around the place, sniffing the air and sliding onto the good sofa when my back is turned. I know there will be another hound soon – I think dogs find you, rather than the other way round – but right now my heart is too sore for my basset friends even to imagine another just yet.
BUT it’s not all sadness. I have Barney, our Border terrier, to keep me company on walks, and plenty of neighbourhood dogs to hang out with, so there’s still plenty of dog hair and slobber in my life. I’ve always loved September and the first bright tweaks of coolness in the air: I’m looking forward to a gentle autumn of simple pleasures, cosy nights in, hot tea and stew, plenty of books, and lots of kindness. The orchards behind my house are heavy with red and yellow apples, and when I run (stagger) through them it’s like breathing in that lovely apple-y shampoo you used to get in the 80s. Or, alternatively, deconstructed cider. And I’m getting into my new novel, which is exciting and scary and fun, and I have a ton of wonderful books to read, including proofs from Miranda Dickinson, Jilly Cooper, Martine Bailey and hopefully, very soon, the new Rosie Walsh, about which I have heard SO MUCH. If you have any Amazing Read recommendations, I would love to have them! Also, please do send me your Dog of the Month photos, especially if you have a wrinkly old basset hound.
So, apologies for the long silence, and I promise there will be lots more to come this autumn, now I’m firmly back at my desk…