A very English difficulty

For the last year I have put up few posts. There are reasons – mostly, though not all, good ones. I thought I might just about manage once a month, but I was going to cheat this February/March. The distinguished journalist, television director and author, Cynthia Reyes, had kindly asked me to be interviewed for her At Home series, and I thought I would re-blog her post… but I can’t. Because I’m English (and overcome with embarrassment). Cynthia has cleverly and kindly picked out my, often small, achievements, spread thinly over a long life, and polished and condensed them until they give an impression of a High Achiever.

Like everyone else, I enjoy a warm feeling at seeing work I have done being given attention and receiving praise for it. I am vain enough not to undo her good work by pointing out the why these are not as good as they look. Yet I would give much to have done what Cynthia has done. She has overcome daunting physical challenges and lives with PTSD after an accident when at the peak of her career. In addition she has written two amazing, entertaining, heart-warming and, above all, honest books about her life and its challenges. Then last year she published a book that will thrill, comfort and entertain children all over the world, Myrtle the Purple Turtle. This book will contribute positively to humanity.



Pains and joys – more lessons for the writer and self-publisher

When Border Line came back from the printers, I couldn’t bear to open it for fear of coming across a gigantic error or a name missing from the acknowledgements. So I opened one box, took one copy out and gave it my husband, then shut the box. A week later I bumped into my dear supporter, neighbour and kind reader of early drafts, Maureen Katrak, and knew as I talked to her that I has missed her name from the acknowledgements.

Three days ago I discovered I had forgotten someone equally deserving of my thanks, David King. From the other side of the Atlantic, battling with MS and unable to read without voice software, David has read and given me feedback on at least three drafts of Border Line over the years.

I don’t know by what malign convolution my brain has managed to let slip these names as I wrote up my acknowledgements, I only know that these two people should have been there at the top of the list and I owe them both heartfelt thanks for all they have done.

So, dear writing friends, don’t be an idiot like me, keep a scrupulous record of those amazing people who give you their time, their thoughts, their honest opinions and their kindness.

On Saturday, still reeling from the mortification this last discovery, I attended The Linton Kitchen Christmas Fair on a sunny but freezing day.

I set up the tiniest stall possible with 15 copies of Border Line and two or three of my previous novel Unseen Unsung, mostly to prop up the newspaper article about me. In spite of thermals, my fingers froze and my toes seized up on the cobbles. I expected, if I was lucky, to sell half a dozen books. After a hurried re-supply from my husband, I sold 23 copies of Border Line IMG_0834and 6 of Unseen Unsung. For a small-scale self-published author these are significant numbers. So selling in a local venue where your face is familiar (notwithstanding the threat of frostbite) is a better bet than a getting your books onto a shelf in a book shop.

I had two copies left when I took this photo.


Author (almost) Faints at Book-Signing Event!!

If Amazon put me through a two-week version of the author and publisher’s worst nightmare, today the gods handed out one of those moments that an author can only dream of. No, I didn’t sell 100 books, or get signed up by an agent or publisher. It was sweeter than that.

I was sitting in the corner of the friendly and comfortable café of the Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 22.02.14DSCN6799(Like so – sorry, this only comes blurred.) I had distributed little booklets with info about Border Line  all over the room and left a browsing copy on one of the tables plus various other signals. However the café was full much of the day and I remained hidden. Several friends came and we all chatted and I sold a satisfactory trickle of books and I had my photo taken with an interesting Chinese visitor, Josie, who bought a copy too.                             In the afternoon a couple of women came and sat on the table next to me, glanced at my leaflet and got on with their tea and chat. Finally, as they left, one of them leaned over and spoke to me, and I explained that I was signing my new book. Then she spotted copies of my earlier novel, Unseen Unsung, and said, ‘Do you mean you are the author of that book?’ I agreed I was. I was gobsmacked by her reaction and modesty prevents me from repeating… well actually I was so overwhelmed by all she said I can’t remember it enough to repeat. After saying many wonderful things, she explained to her friend that she had made her reading group get it and it had been difficult to get enough copies and they had had to share books, she didn’t have her own copy… I sat there is a state of blissful amazement.

Anyway, I think if you ask any writer what would make them happiest in the world, it would be to hear from a stranger, who had read their book, a spontaneous and generous appreciation of it. So Tracy and Alison, if you should happen upon this post, thank you for making all that sweat, uncertainty, aspiration and crazy numbers of hours shifting words from A to B (and often back again), all worthwhile in the end. I really mean that.

Book rave – And Then Like My Dreams {a memoir}

Last night I dreamed about a real person I had never met, Charles ‘Chic’ Stringer. I was, I think, on holiday with my husband and he took this lovely man’s hand very carefully, because we knew that Chic was now fragile… that’s all I can recall.

Chic is the subject of And Then Like My Dreams by Margaret Rose Stringer – a book like no other I have read. Entertaining, unique, breathtakingly honest, funny and heartbreaking, AND all true. In this story the blood, the glory, the coffee and the cream of love are so real it makes fiction and newspaper accounts look like feeble ghosts.

DSCN6248 - Version 2

The structure of the book is also unique. While it is told, like any other memoir, in the first person, Margaret Rose (M-R) and her beloved husband, Chic, inhabit the film world, so she slips regularly and seamlessly into screenplay mode. This gives the narrative a rare light and shade quality and is often used to hilarious effect. Footnotes are scattered throughout. Occasionally they supply further information, more often they are chatty asides, a personal reinterpretation of the truth and often very funny.

I have not even mentioned that half way through Opera (my personal rave) turns up. M-R and Chic live and love mostly in their home, Australia, but they also take four magnificent trips into Europe (where M-R clearly learns to speak French and Italian fluently, but fails to mention this strength). Food, photography, engineering, cats, language, France, Spain, Italy and Germany also feature.

There is only one ending to the book, as we know from the very start. Chic is going to die. We don’t want this book to end, but it continues to be gripping, and yes, even sometimes funny, to the bitter end. M-R wrote this book so that others would know about Charles ‘Chic’ Stringer, Stills Photographer, and never ever forget him. Her own larger-than-life personality flows over every page as does her love, wonder and grief. But she has succeeded; we will envy what she had and we will never forget Chic.

Reading, Writing and (A)rithmetic

After a stressful day (actually week) on the book-publishing front, I am baffled. This is clearly an absurd enterprise, since at the same time I am reading – and enjoying:

Middlemarch (George Eliot); Surviving the Sword, Prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East 1942-45 (Brian MacArthur); One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). I have started Americana (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and Morning has Broken, (Carol Balawyder); The Sorrows of Young Werther (Goethe). I have dipped into The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) and I am looking forward to And Then Like My Dreams – a memoir (Margaret-Rose Stringer); A Serious Business (Roderick Hart)… and then there is Bring Up The Bodies (Hilary Mantel) and The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) staring at me from the bottom of a pile of books on the other side of the room.

Oh and I will be picking up The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion) from the library and polishing it off for a meeting on the 6th of August… correction I am going to the opera that night – but I will still read it.

With writing like this, the world does not need books by Hilary Custance Green. Any which way you calculate this, it doesn’t add up. I should stick to cultivating my garden, reducing my ‘to read’ pile and my stress levels.

DSCN6050 DSCN6049 DSCN6056 DSCN6148 DSCN6153 - Version 2


I’ve invested too much time (years), energy (and some money) in writing, editing, revising, researching, submitting and rewriting this book, never mind all the pfaff of getting a tax identity in the States, and learning how to create ebooks (nearly there with the older novel), to give up now. Also I am too bloody-minded. Also I owe all the kind friends who have supported me. So I shall add another few straws to the giant hayrick of books swamping the world – even though it fails to add up or make any sense at all.

Some rejected book covers to laugh at. I’ve learned a lot about InDesign

BL whole cover tests8.pr - Version 3 BL Amytest2b BL PScover tests17.pr BL cover tests19.pr - Version 3 BL cover dolltests16.pr_2

PS. I have now finished the Surviving the Sword, sobering and good for realigning one’s priorities.

My irregular heart and a random spider

This morning I was searching for a file and came across an old poem of sorts. I read it and felt again when I had felt then. I am happy to publish prose, but I find myself very reluctant to put up a poem. So, in the interests of overcoming this anxiety, here it is. (For non-lovers of half-baked poetry there is a photo below of a charming spider I saw the other day. Name?)

My Irregular Heart

You’re eighteen now,
old enough to give blood, my father said.
So I did.
In some years lovers delayed me,
or babies distracted me,
or illness prevented me.
Still, pint by pint I shared a little of myself
and always felt better as I left.

Today the nurse spoke kindly,
we can’t take your blood anymore,
I’m so sorry, but
‘Heart, irregular’ is on our list.
You’ve done well –
forty-seven donations,
I’m sorry you did not reach your fifty.

So I walked my irregular heart
out of the building,
and took it home to contemplate
no longer contributing,
no longer belonging to the giving population.
I have walked to the other side of the equation
And found there,
an unexpected sense of loss.


Almost writing again…book cover queries… new arrival.

I have been utterly committed to the garden (and, of course, to our visitors) for the last two months and writing has been low on the agenda – but not forgotten. Just over a week ago I finally bought InDesign (publishing software) and my extraordinarily patient cousin has come all the way from Sweden and is walking me through the basics of setting the text of my novel into a printable format, and creating a cover.

He created the cover of my previous novel.
Unseen coverpic

We have also discussed (argued about) the desirable qualities of a cover illustration. How much should it indicate either genre or content? Do people really pick up a book (or reject it) because of it’s cover. All opinions welcomed!

The novel will be titled Border Line. I shall be glad to know if this suggests a genre to people… and if so, which?

As I will need to create an ebook too, I have finally justified the purchase of an iPad mini. DSCN5735

And it’s past midnight and my husband and cousin are asleep… oh for a few more hours in the day.