Quarterly Review

Today I took Dog 1 for a walk, and very deliberately didn’t take my phone with me. Usually I wander along behind the Mud Beast with an eye out for things that make a good photo. Often, sentimentally, it is the dog who is the photo. At nearly 12 years old, and having been worryingly ill this past week (entirely due to her garbage-eating bad habit) – and me with a memory like leaky wellies – I know I’m trying to capture exactly the light and exactly the expression and the movement of her exploring the fields. Today I decided I wanted to just enjoy the walk and disconnect. It’s also been a day of Social Media, since HARK! Online takes place tomorrow* and I just wanted to step away from those increasingly fraught spaces.

We went up a bridleway that we frequent, towards a wind farm. You can see for miles, and there are interesting hedges to sniff in and hide behind (for her), and the view changes week to week, depending on the weather and the season (for me). Now the fields have been ploughed, and little strands of green are poking out of the muddy furrows, and there are heavy clouds here and there, and puddles. Lots of puddles. As we walked back Dog 1, who thinks of herself as a great hunter even though she can be relied upon to, for example, walk straight over a rabbit without noticing, stopped and quivered. I looked in the direction of her pointing nose and saw three hares bounding across the field to my right, moving in a line and apparently not too far away.

I froze. ‘Hares!’ I said it out loud, I was so surprised to see three hares, together, in the open. As I said it, the hares froze, and I blinked, and the weft and warp of the fields slid into their correct shape, and I realised they were not three hares close by, but three deer quite far away, making their way out of a dip in the landscape and up the steepish slope of the field. The angle of the slope and uniformity of the field’s colours, the lack of shadows from the lowered sun, had flattened them into being entirely different animals. They sniffed the air for a second, one in every direction but ours, and then began, again, to bound up the slope – and my dog, set free by my hanging jaw and complete failure to say ‘leave it’ or ‘don’t you dare’ or ‘come on’ or any of the useful phrases, bounded after them.

She didn’t have a hope of catching them of course. She ran hard – still, I suspect, thinking they were hares of some sort. I called, and she ran harder, and I wondered if she would follow them into the trees at the far end of the field – but as they crested the rise, she slowed down and, I suppose, realised they were four times her size and fast, and she swooped round in a big loop back to me, as though that had always been the plan.

She’s sleeping now. The whole way home she ‘hunted’, missing a longtail crossing the path in front of us in favour of a bird leaving a hedge, and I know from experience that she would have no idea what to do even if she did, miraculously, catch something. Let it go, usually. I suspect right now she’s dreaming of deer, and running with them.

Anyway, the hare-into-deer felt weirdly illustrative of changes, which this season is, isn’t it? A slowing down and a reassessing and a getting ready for winter as greens turn to yellows and browns and reds. The house smelling of cooked apples as I write this, because yesterday I trued to make crab apple jelly. I found a lone crab apple tree at the edge of a field quite far from anywhere, and filled my very big coat pockets with fallen apples, twice. I had to reboil the jelly this morning, because it didn’t set. The two jars of piss yellow liquid turned into one jar of pleasing red-amber jam. It looks like rubies. I’m not sure I can bring myself to eat it. The autumn-y apple smell is completely at odds with the fact that we have bell peppers successfully ripening on the kitchen window ledge. Relevant to getting ready for winter – I wrote a blog post for MyVLF on books to help you ready for and survive winter. It’s not up yet, but my first post for them, on historical fiction, is there.

The cold weather has brought on a fit of Drinking Wine. I’ve had, until this week, three alcoholic drinks since lockdown began in March, which I suppose confirms that I’m a social drinker. But this week – well, one of my lovely neighbours died and the weather has turned and I’m missing my family like a physical loss (no visits til Spring), and though I tried to ignore it for a week I was craving red wine. Weird – I’m slightly allergic to it, it makes me flush, and more often than not sends shooting pains down my jaw. But it had to be Red Wine. So this week we are drinking wine with dinner. And with chocolate.

Changes since last we wrote:

  1. I have a studio/office space now to escape to. I’m not there every working day of the week, because I don’t need to be. But I do go there a fair amount, because it’s a place I can work without interruption, and can focus, and have a big desk to use for painting and writing. It’s COVID-safe, because there’s only me in it, and it gets me out of the house. It’s a bolt-hole, and I love it.
  2. I have a professional website to send people to when they want more info on me. It’s smart and functional, which is all you want, really. [Please check it out and send people my way if I can help them!]

And realisation: though I’ve been waiting for the moment of ‘I can’t do this I need a schedule’, it turns out I kind of thrive on the ebb and flow of hunting down things to do, and emails with offers of work, and having loads of different avenues of work. I am utterly flummoxed as to how I managed to fit things in around a day job (not sleeping, making myself ill, I think is how). Nearly all art-based by the way, and including skills that were not easy to come by, suck it, Rishi Sunak. I got very good news on Friday that I will share when I can.

I have, somehow, managed to land a story each in TTA Press’s Interzone and Black Static, in the same months (Nov-Dec this year), which is, frankly, a coup and I’m really proud. I’m also increasingly worried about people reading the Black Static story because it’s a really odd one.

I have a Outdoor Swimming Group now – me and two friends splash around in the Tees for a bit of an evening, dressed in our finest wetsuits and toting our brightest towfloats. We come out feeling that we have earned Tunnocks teacakes and wafers, and coffee made on a camping stove – though as we’ve discovered this only really works when there hasn’t been torrential rain all weekend. The whole swimming lark has been extremely helpful with the Long Story I’m (still) working on.

Also helpful for words has been flipping, occasionally, to pictures. I got some watercolour paints for quick faffing, and accidentally wrote something of a picture book, which I’m going to do a little self-published run of, because it’s fun and bright, so why not. Technology may be in the process of breaking governments and dividing communities, but on the upside it makes self-publishing dead affordable, and if I take nothing else from my pointless, should-retrain arty career, it is the surprisingly lesser-known skill of being able to make Indesign do whatever I want it to and make a text and pictures look good, and get it to a printer. [Hire me.]

Anyway – it’s a busy weekend, this one, and I am – you guessed it – procrastinating by writing this. And – the worst thing about this time of year – someone is setting off fireworks somewhere nearby, so I’m now typing with two huskies huddled together and against me on the sofa, which is not easy, and so… til next time. Keep safe. x

MUSIC: that single I was talking about has come out! People are receiving their copies! It’s really flipping scary. And there’s only three copies left!

I have two to hand to sell, if people would like them. Technically they are to put up for sale at gig, but since gigs aren’t really a thing for the time being, please contact me if you would like an extremely high quality 7” single (quote: ‘the vinyl is thicker even than my posh copy of Pet Sounds’) with original artwork, lyrics, and a secret extra track. I’m very proud of it. On the less serious side, even though I don’t get to dress up as Fran the Storytelling Witch this year, The Shrieking Witches ARE back – I’ve done a bit of busking over summer, but now I get to do it with my friend, costumes and broomsticks and the best take on The Monkees ‘I’m a believer’ you ever heard.

*HARK! is back – on Sunday, this very Sunday, online at 7.30pm. Courtesy of it not being live, it’s the same concept (music inspired by writing) but quite a different experience, as the bands have filmed us some really special performances and short films, and we have author Tom Cox doing a reading and giving a little talk about his writing of Help the Witch. What with Help the Witch because the axis around which this event revolves, it is appropriately atmospheric and occasionally down right spooky. ALSO I am running a FREE writing workshop for it, again, online, so you don’t even need to be in Darlo to attend. Limited places – contact me or Tracks if you’d be up for joining in – it takes place 2-4pm, and there’s still a place or two left (one person registered thinking she was registering for the evening event). It will be relaxed, inclusive and hopefully inspirational, as we prod some music and lyrics to make our own words come out.

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