28 Nov 2012

The Language of Flowers

 I have just finished a novel that had me totally enthralled.  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  The synopsis says:-

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions:  honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion and red roses for love.  But for Victoria Jones it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude.  After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own.  When her talent is spotted by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them.  But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life and, as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

acacia - secret love
The Language of Flowers is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family and the meaning of love.

white clover - think of me
"I exhaled, momentarily relieved.  Dropping my eyes to the table, I noticed a small bouquet of white flowers.  It was tied with a lavender ribbon and placed on top of my bowl of pasta.  I studied the delicate petals before flicking it off my food.  My mind filled with stories I'd heard from other children, tales of poisoning and hospitalizations.  I glanced around the room to see if the windows were open, in case I needed to run.  There was only one window in the room of white wood cabinets and antique appliances: a small square above the kitchen sink, with miniature blue glass bottles lining the windowsill.  It was shut tight.

I pointed to the flowers. " You can't poison me, or give me medicine I don't want, or hit me - even if I deserve it.  Those are the rules."  I glared across the table when I said it and hoped she felt my threat.  I had reported more than one person for spanking.

"If I were trying to poison you, I would give you foxglove or hydrangea, maybe anemone, depending on how much pain I wanted you to feel, and what message I was trying to communicate."

Curiosity overcame my dislike of conversation.  "What're you talking about?"

"These flowers are starwort," she said.  "Starwort means welcome.  By giving you a bouquet of starwort, I'm welcoming you to my home, to my life."  She twirled buttery pasta on her fork and looked into my eyes without a glimmer of humour."

forsythia - anticipation
At the back of the book is a whole dictionary of what flowers mean - the lost art of the language of flowers.
jonquil - desire
An intriguing novel that had me on the edge of my seat a few times.  Heart-wrenching and sad and totally captivating.  Well worth a read.

24 Nov 2012

My Other Life as an Artist

Once upon a time - in another life - I used to be a watercolour painter.  My speciality was animals. 

I loved painting dogs and cats, some sold, a lot didn't. 

I had a few commissions - peoples' pets.

I liked to try and capture the essence of the animal

Cats eyes were always a favourite to paint

But sometimes I painted people too

This one won me a prize in an exhibition

This one gained me entry into an art club

The farmyard attracted me

hens and ducks

and cockerels

Sometimes quick sketches of street scenes

sometimes gardens

But that was a decade ago.  I gave up painting, I lost interest, and never re-gained it. 

12 Nov 2012

Reading and Writing are not the same thing

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I grew up in a bookless household, I never saw anyone reading, I was never read bedtime stories, and the only books we possessed were mine, given as birthday and Christmas presents.

So how come I grew up loving books and reading.  Devouring words, living the lives of the people between the pages.  What makes a particular book so memorable that I keep it on a shelf waiting to be re-read again and again.

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Last month I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month, known affectionately as NaNoWriMo.  It was brought to my attention by Flighty over at his blog Sofa Flying, before reading his post I had no idea that it existed.    The concept is simple you simply have to write a rough draft of a book during the month of November, of no less than 50,000 words, submit it for a word count on or before midnight 30th November. There are no prizes - it is simply to push you into writing.

So I took on this challenge, not realising just how hard it was going to be.  There is a world of difference between reading a book and writing a book.  I got to thinking about what makes a good book in my opinion.  What was special about the books I had kept to make me want to re-read them.

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Then I came across this passage from the writer George R.R. Martin,

'For me the journey is what matters, not how quickly one can get to the final destination.  When I read, as when I travel, I want to see the sights, smell the flowers, and, yes, taste the food.  When a reader puts down one of my novels I want him to remember the events of the book as if he had lived them.  And the way to do that is with sensory detail.'

Suddenly it all made sense, the writers of my favourite books had me involved in the journey from beginning to end.

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So, how has this affected the writing of my own novel.  It has affected me quite considerably - I would like to rip up everything I have written and start again - but I can't, the time constraints won't let me.  But when the month is over, I will begin again, keeping the bare bones of the story the same but trying to bring it alive for the reader.

Quite a challenge; now when I read I look at the structure, how the author leads from one thing to another, how they have lead me into their world.  Reading will never be the same again.  Nor will writing, come to that.

7 Nov 2012

Life is Sweets

Did anyone watch the wonderful programme on BBC4 about what sweets defined your childhood.  I must say it brought back many memories for me, of sweets I had forgotten and sweets that I associated with certain people and places.

My first recollection of eating sweets was pink sugar mice with the little piece of string for a tail.  I lived right in the middle of Sheffield when I was a kid and every year there was 'Rag Day' and a parade of lorries and carts with students all dressed up making a right old racket.  It used to scare the pants off me, I can still remember the sweet shop where I would be bought sugar mice for me to suck and pink and white coconut flakes.  There was also coconut ice

These were so sweet you could almost feel your teeth rotting.

My dad was a sucker for Thornton's toffee, and as Nigel Slater remembered it came in a foil tin with a little hammer for you to crack it in to lumps, but my Mum's favourite was Fry's Turkish Delight.

When we used to go to my fraternal Grandma's she would have a stock of Fry's Five Boys Chocolate or Fry's Peppermint Cream, I could just about tolerate the dark chocolate surrounding the peppermint cream, but mostly I would laboriously pick it all off.

But when I began to have pocket money I could choose for myself always 2oz in weight, you were rich if you could afford a quarter , licquorice string, sweet cigarettes, sweet coconut tobacco, aniseed balls and gobstoppers, rhubarb and custard , pear drops and of course sherbert dabs, sherbert lemons and sherbert fountains.  Do you remember those lollipops that you couldn't bite through, what were they called?  Sherbet lollies I think,  you just about broke your teeth on those.

My Dad's sister used to work at Bassett's sweet factory so there were always Licquorice Allsorts knocking about the place.   But the sweets I hated most were Pontefract Cakes and dark chocolate - I just never acquired a taste for either. 

My Mum's Dad used to love Nuttall's Mintoes which were given a special jar of their own on the bureau.
But my favourite chocolate was a Walnut Whip which my Dad used to bring home for a special treat and we used to sit and bite the walnut off the top then dip our tongues down the centre of the whip for all that gooey marshmallowy stuff in the middle.

Of course, Christmas always included Sugar Almonds and Butter Brazils, chocolate dragees and the ubiquitous chocolate liqueurs (which I hated, dark chocolate you see).

Ah those were the days, a childhood measured out in sweets and visits to the dentist.

4 Nov 2012

Remember Remember the 5th November

Remember, rememeber
the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why
gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

I  remember as a child watching my Dad out in the pouring rain trying to get fireworks to light, make catherine wheels spin and rockets take off.  Standing in the warm living room, sparkler in hand, I took it for granted that that is what Dad;s are supposed to do.  The little box of Lion  fireworks didn't last long, but were always looked forward to.
Even as an adult with no children of my own I have always enjoyed celebrating  Bonfire Night, Firework Night, Guy Fawkes Night - call it what you will.

We have held some memorable firework parties in our time, the fireworks becoming more sophisticated and very expensive. 

A couple of years ago we invited some friends round for a firework supper which consisted of
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
Fiery Hot Banger Cassoulet
followed by
Toffee Apple Crumble.
but I can still appreciate the simplicity of a baked potato wrapped in foil and put into the bonfire, a hot dog with fried onions or a mug of hot soup standing round the fire - my front burning hot and my back icey cold.
It nearly always rains on bonfire night - it is a tradition.
I feel sad when I see the 'GUY' go up in smoke after all the hard work that has been put into it.

Also as a child taking my 'GUY' door to door and being given pennies - do children still do that any more - not round here they don't.

This year we are going to the village Bonfire Party where we will meet up with friends and their children - their faces glowing with excitement in the firelight.
Loud bangs, the whooshing of rockets and my favourite - sparklers - I have never grown out of my love of sparklers, trying to get them alight, and writing my name as they crackle and fizz.
And jumping jacks - do I remember jumping jacks - we used to have an outside toilet when I was little, and I can remember vividly being scared to death  and screaming like a banshee when a jumping jack came in under the door. 

Hey ho!  Just a few of the joys of the 5th November.