when a man is tired of London

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.

I think Samuel Johnson had a point. Every time I go (we only live an hour away by train) I love it, but then I’m always glad to get home. As I type this at the kitchen table I can see the daffodils peeping through. The chickens are sunbathing, and the sun is lighting up the new leaves of the rose bushes.

On a Saturday, London is heaving with tourists who wave maps and stop suddenly in front of barriers and congregate in huge groups, driving you off the pavement. And people who are talking so much (because they haven’t seen each other for two years) that they get on a train, change at the next underground station, keep talking, walk in a circle, and get on a train that takes them back to where they started. Ahem.

What I like about blogs is that you see the world through someone else’s eyes. For me the world is all about pattern and colour. Lines, shapes, impressions. So my London photos aren’t of Big Ben or the Houses of Parliament. They’re photos of the things I see, and the way I see the world. It’s a kaleidoscope.

We were on a mission to find a bottle of wine when we found Persephone books. It was quite by accident and very lovely. The shop was beautiful – everything a bookshop should be. And I accidentally bought another three books for my collection. I’ll write about them soon.

Even nicer still was coming back from London to a beautiful bunch of flowers – the lovely Liz at Violet Posy nominated me for a treat from Interflora. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Have a lovely weekend in the sunshine. I’m off to do some gardening.


Silent Sunday

spring in the garden

garden in spring

I took all of these photos on Sunday morning, when the sun was shining and dew was sparkling on the grass.
An hour later it was pouring with rain, and it hasn’t stopped since. But spring is coming to the garden, and things are starting to grow. If I say I love this time of year, someone is going to hit me over the head and point out that I write that at the beginning of every season. I can’t help it.

But – little drops of water in the alchemilla mollis. Hosta shoots like rosettes. Clematis shoots appearing like magic from what looks like dead wood. The tips of tulips pushing the earth aside. It’s so lovely.


I’ve been challenged to answer some questions by Garry at The Blog Up North. It’s either that or do some things that I’m putting off, so I’ll take the easy option. Which isn’t that easy, actually. Gulp.

I am – a mass of contradictions. An outgoing introvert would probably sum it up best. Extremely short tempered (but good at hiding it). And very good when held hostage in a restaurant. Yes, really.

The bravest thing I’ve ever done – Write a book. Because when there’s one thing that you’ve dreamed of all your life, and it’s the one thing you really want to get right, it’s easy to put it off with one excuse after another in case it doesn’t work out. Because if it doesn’t go right, well, what happens then?

Of course what I realise now is that nobody just writes a book. A bestseller doesn’t just fall out of your fingers onto the page, and an agent doesn’t just take one look at your first draft and love it (see writing tips – rejection for details). What happens is you have an idea, you write it down, it changes, you go with it, you show it to people, they cheer on the good bits and point out the bad ones, and you write it again. And again, and again.

I feel prettiest when – Hrmm. I don’t really feel pretty. I don’t think I’m grotesque, it’s just that pretty isn’t a word I’d associate with myself. I look like my dad. Only with long hair and lipstick.

Something that keeps me awake at night is – Twitter. Hahahahahaha. I am so shallow. I should be admitting to existential angst, when in fact it’s lying in the dark with my iphone giggling at people.

My favourite meal is – Ooh, now this is a tricky one. I’m a bit like Nigella Lawson, in that I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food, and quite often whilst I’m eating lunch I’ll say ‘what’s for dinner?’ in a piggish fashion. That’s because I don’t really cook. I’m married to a man who does the cooking. But in answer to the question, I’d say meze. Because that covers lots of lovely things, and I love Greek food. And Greece. (And I’m reading the most fabulous book set there – Storm’s Heart. Phwoar.)

The way to my heart is – Making me laugh. It’s a standing joke in our family that I said I’d rather sleep with Jonny Vegas than David Beckham.

I would like to be – as famous and well loved an author as Jilly Cooper. I don’t want much, do I?


March tomorrow: time for spring gardening plans. I may even venture up to the allotment.

I love Jilly Cooper

The first Jilly Cooper book I read was Riders. I was twelve. That’s a bit worrying, really. I found it at an aunt’s house whilst we were visiting and I spent the whole week we were visiting reading in the bedroom, shoving it under the pillow and picking up Jill’s Gymkhana whenever I heard footsteps.

I think I skimmed over the pervy bits, really – all I remember is the breathless excitement as Rupert Campbell-Black won a medal and feeling sorry for poor Tory when her dog was killed. My real love affair was with Rivals, which is still my favourite of Jilly’s books. Gorgeous Declan O’Hara and his love of W.B. Yeats (oh, the romance when I went to university in Northern Ireland and studied Anglo-Irish Literature). Feckless Maud, with her fox-red hair, who took forever to unpack because she kept reading bits of the newspaper as she unwrapped the crockery. There are a tremendous number of Jilly characters with hair the colour of drenched fox – Maud, Helen, Georgie and her rival Julia, and naughty viola playing Flora, who has an affaire (much more exciting than a common or garden affair) with the evil Rannaldini. I never quite got the whole Rannaldini thing – is there anyone out there who thought ‘phwoar’? Maybe I’m missing something.

Jilly Cooper 1970s

That’s Jilly in the 70s – I always suspected that Janey Lloyd-Foxe, the unprincipled journalist with a ‘mane of tawny hair’ was Jilly’s naughty side, and this photo looks just how I’ve always imagined Janey.

Ooh, and then there’s Caitlin’s love affair with Archie Baddingham (yes, I did name my first son after a Jilly Cooper character, and in fact my daughter was very nearly Tabitha after Rupert’s daughter). Cameron Cook in her suede dress, slit at the sides and reeking (Jilly’s characters always reek) of Fracas, the naughty-girl perfume. Gorgeous Patrick O’Hara. Oh, swoon. This is all a bit inarticulate, isn’t it? Hermione cantering naked around the indoor school with Rannaldini cracking a lunge whip and Lysander noting that she’s on the wrong leg (those pony stories again). It is utterly, gloriously bonkers and completely impossible to put into words. What’s wonderful about Jilly’s writing is that she does all that, but her observations of nature and descriptions of animals are so tender and accurate. If you’ve ever read her collection of diaries, The Common Years, which is probably one of my favourites (and yet isn’t in my comfort reading post, because I am forgetful and fickle and have millions of favourites) you can see that the diaries she kept have informed her writing. It’s a beautiful book.

jilly cooper - the common years

Another of the Rutshire Chronicles, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, has heavenly Lysander, and Boris and his love of red wine, red meat and red-blooded women, and the amazing ability of Jilly’s heroines to lose a stone in a week through pining (never happens to me, grumble grumble). Detective Inspector Gablecross – the only policeman in Rutshire. Smooth James Benson, the private GP who arrives whenever required. But the best bit of all? Lovely, cloudy-haired (I suspect she could do with with some Frizz Ease serum) Taggie falling in love with Roopurt Cambel-Blak, and Rupert trying to resist her because he’s too old and bad and horrible for her. If you haven’t read Rivals, you must – The New Year’s Eve party is heaven, too. Nobody throws a party like a Jilly Cooper character.

(If you’re a Jilly lover, have a look at this. I guarantee you’ll giggle. I think Jilly would, too, if she read it.)

in which I languish in bed

Here I am. In bed with glandular fever, aka mono, aka the Epstein-Barr virus (which makes me think of the Beatles). It’s nice to have a reason for why I’ve been feeling so yuck for the last few weeks. And even nicer still to be in bed with a whole heap of new books.

Monty Don – The Ivington Diaries has been on my gardening books wish list for ages. And I love Carol Klein, for her gardening style and for her ‘plunts’ (that’s an in-joke for Gardeners’ World viewers). So a book by her all about cottage gardening – bliss.

I picked this up one day when I was feeling poor and couldn’t afford to buy any books, and promised myself I’d buy it on payday. Jane Wenham-Jones is brilliantly funny and the book is full of writing tips. And tips for when you’re famous. Which of course I will be, just as soon as I get out of bed.

I love Sue Moorcroft’s blog which is full of loads of useful writing tips. I discovered her book Starting Over and devoured it in one staying-up-until-2.30am gulp. Can’t wait to read her how-to book on writing romance.

This was bought on the recommendation of Nicola Morgan. I can tell I’m going to love it already.

And guess what. I didn’t have to buy any of these. Appliances Online waved a magic wand over my Amazon wishlist, because I left a comment on this post by my friend Melanie. So hooray for them (and quite nice karma, I think, because we bought our fridge/freezer and dishwasher from them in the past). And lucky me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lie down with the Queen Mother.

Ooh. Forgot this bit! The lovely news is if you leave a comment, you might get a surprise email, too.

writing lessons – rejection

I’ve been waiting all month for an email.

A while back, on the Tales from the Village facebook page I got a comment from an agent, who happens to be a fan of the blog. She said well done on completing Nanowrimo and offered to have a read of the book when it was finished. Well, last month I finished the book and sent it to her with much excitement.

Last night the email arrived. Thanks, but no thanks. I could lie and say it didn’t hurt, but in fact it was blunt, to the point, and felt like a kick in the stomach. I didn’t tell K it had arrived for an hour or so, because I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud.

Then I went back and read it to him, and mentioned it on Twitter, and showed it to a few writing friends.

‘This is amazing’ they said. ‘You are really lucky’ they said. Apparently my rejection was a good one. And let’s face it, if I’d managed to secure an agent on the back of a snippet of writing on a blog I’d be a miracle. That’s not to say if any agents are reading I’m not interested, I add hastily. Ha. Anyway, last night people were really lovely and encouraging, and rejection is part of being a writer. When I was a little girl I once fell off seven times in one riding lesson, until I realised what I had to do to stay on. And if I can run a marathon, I can blooming well learn how to write.

So I’m holding on to the good bits, and taking on board the other comments, and next week I’m going to start afresh.

book review: Jump! by Jilly Cooper

When Jump by the lovely Jilly Cooper was released, I rushed (in the manner of a Jilly heroine) to the shops to buy a copy. I put it to one side, in a delaying-gratification sort of way, and somehow (I have an excuse – I was writing a book) several months passed.

This morning on the way to school we were chatting about books. No2 child is reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and explained to no1 that he was on page 11, ‘but nothing much is happening really, yet, so it’s a bit dull.’ No1 child said ‘Ah, you see I think that’s why J.K. Rowling is so successful, because all of her books are a bit like that. They start off really boring, but if you keep going they get good.’

Jilly Cooper book - Jump

Mmm, I thought. Jilly Cooper is my favourite writer, ever. But she too has a habit of writing books which take a while to get into. I suppose when you’re a bestselling author you can do that. Her latest novel, Jump! is based in the world of horse-racing. I spent quite a long time – probably the first third of the book – waiting to be gripped. The main character, Etta Bancroft, is very nice, but a bit of a weed. That’s a bit unfair, I suppose. She’s spent years being squashed by a horrible man and her vile children. But I wanted to jump into the pages and give her a shake. She does improve, I am happy to say, and it is very lovely to have a main character who isn’t a lithe young goddess of foxitude. And as ever, Jilly’s characters are beautifully drawn, both human and animal. It’s a testament to her writing (Jilly’s books are right up there on my comfort reading list that characters she first wrote years ago (Rupert Campbell-Black and Billy and Janey Lloyd-Foxe) have stayed so alive that when she brings them back into the story, they are real and not just cardboard cut-outs.

There is a strong focus on the world of racing, which Jilly has researched thoroughly, and her depictions of the highs and lows of a training yard are wonderful. It’s a bit like a Pullein-Thompson for grown-ups, really, and I can imagine that the numbers of people joining racing syndicates will be rising like – well, if I were Jilly I’d make a naughty pun here, but I won’t. Nobody does them quite like Jilly Cooper.

There’s a point about three-quarters of the way through where she dashes through a fairly long period of time in about a chapter. I felt she was going ‘come on, come on’ and dying to get to the next part – and when it happens, well, you can see why. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean, but when old blue eyes comes back on the scene, Jilly’s writing picks up with the verve and wit for which she is known. Every word is a delight. And when Jilly does death, she does it beautifully. I cried buckets (again in the manner of a Jilly heroine), and had to stop for a cup of tea and compose myself.

Jump! by Jilly Cooper – it’s a litte bit slow out of the starting gates, but finds its feet and races to the finish, leaving the rest of the pack standing*.

*I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist that

using Pinterest for planning books

Pinterest is fab.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend (and fellow geek) Elana sent me an invitation for a new micro-blogging site, a virtual pinboard called Pinterest which has proved to be an amazing writing tool. It’s already in use as I plan book no.2.

In my interview with writer Julia Williams she explains that she likes to plan a soundtrack for her books – I’ve realised I like to collect images and Pinterest is perfect for that. You install a little bookmarklet app, and then every time you see a picture you like online all you have to do is click and pin it to your pinboard. Sometimes when I got stuck writing the first draft of Sealed with a Kiss, I’d have a look at some videos of the Western Isles on YouTube, and I had lovely time cooing over grey seal pups when I was writing about Flora, the seal in the book. Pinterest is fab because the images are all in one place (and not scattered around the house driving my family mad).

Here’s a couple of sneak previews of the mood board for Sealed with a Kiss:

book planning tips - pinterest

book mood board - pinterest

If you fancy seeing some more, you can have a look at the whole mood board for my book on Pinterest. You can find my Pinterest boards there under the username RachaelLucas1.

And if you’d like to join in and have a Pinterest board of your own, leave me a comment – I have some to give away. Then you too can procrastinate do lots of book planning research. Ahem.