Ode to Summer

I was complaining about summer on Twitter this morning. I am, at heart, a winter girl. Winter is my favourite season for a number of reasons. However, it occurred to me that complaining about summer wasn’t really the right attitude. There are lots of things I like about summer, so, in the interest of positive-thinking, I thought I would list a few of my favourites.

First up, it’s Pimms:

 

Is there anything better than sitting in the garden on a sunny day enjoying a nice tall glass of Pimms? It’s refreshing, it’s tasty, and it’s served in a glass chock-full of ice and fruit and sprigs of mint.

Invisible Stockings:

 

My new summer must-have are these invisible stockings from Tess Daly’s beauty range at Marks and Spencers. Not only are all the products in this range reasonably priced and beautifully packaged, but the invisible stockings are scented with jasmine and sweet vanilla. For someone like me who has naturally pale skin but no desire to sunbathe, this product is perfect. Not as heavy as a fake tan, it just adds a little bit of bronzed shimmer to legs whilst making them smell really good at the same time. A bronzer and a body butter all in one.

 Tortoises:

 

 

My third reason for loving summer is that the tortoises come out of hibernation. You know summer has arrived when you see them stumping about in their pen, mashing up their food and getting it all over their faces. Pompey and Hannibal are both in their sixties – and very grand old men they are too.

Minx pedicure:

Clearly, there is no point paying out to have your toes look like this if they are hidden away in slipper-socks and boots the whole time. Summer, with its flip-flops and open sandals, is the perfect excuse to get a Minx pedicure. It would be a shame to ruin an outfit with plain feet, after all.

 

Bubbles with Moose:

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I love my Great Dane very, very much. And during the summer we get to spend more time playing bubbles in the garden. They’re a little hard to see in this picture but the bubbles are there, and she is catching them. Bubbles is Moose’s favourite game – she never really got the hang of chasing balls, and will give me an evil look if I throw one of her toys across the lawn. The only downside to the bubble game is that, sometimes, after I’ve blown them for her, the wind changes and they come right back towards me. And Moose doesn’t really see me when she’s intent on the bubbles. You can get knocked right off your feet that way . . .

Summer Reads:

 

 

You know the books I mean. Something that’s fast paced and easy to read. Something to take on holiday with you. Something to read whilst drinking Pimms. These books are sheer, unadulterated pleasure that has nothing to do with anything. I usually read novels for a reason – like I’ve heard good things about the author and want to see what the fuss is about, or I’m trying a different genre, all the time with my own writing in mind. But, during the summer, it’s nice to treat yourself to a book you know you’re going to enjoy. There’s often an element of guilty pleasure in this as well. My top summer read indulgences would be anything by Victoria Holt, Madeleine Brent or Deanna Raybourn.  

Travel treats:

 

You know when you go on holiday and decide to buy yourself some little thing that you don’t need but really, really want? This hydrating face spray by Evian was my holiday purchase this year. Yes, I know. It’s a little bit much. I acknowledge the foolishness. But it’s the perfect size to take on the plane with you and it has a pink lid and pink bubbles on the packaging and it did make me feel more refreshed after the long flight. And pure mineral water is much better for your skin than hard tap water. Go ahead and laugh at me – I don’t care – I will still love my dinky tube of face spray and I will still take it with me every time I travel.

And, finally, Starbucks frappucino:

A little piece of chilled blended heaven in a cup – ahhh! My favourite is the peppermint mocha frappucino. I could drink it all day.

So – there are some of my favourites. Now that I think about it, there is quite a lot I like about summer. So perhaps I will focus on the good stuff and try to make the most of it rather than wishing summer away.

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Loving Jamaica Inn

I love Jamaica Inn. For those who do not know, it is an ancient coaching house from the 1700’s, situated on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, spectacularly shrouded in ghosts and atmosphere. It is also the inspiration, and setting, of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name – a fantastic story of smuggling, murder, romance and intrigue. She wrote the book after becoming lost on the moor, and finding Jamaica Inn in the fog, where she was then entertained by the local vicar with ghost stories and tales of smuggling.

If I lived closer to it, I would be a permanent fixture in the Smuggler’s Bar. They have six reasonably priced vegetarian options on the menu (SIX! Arghh!) (one of which is veggie sausage and mash – arghh, arghh, have I died and gone to heaven?). I love the timelessness of it – especially when you stand in the courtyard outside in the dark, with the sign creaking ominously, and all this mist pressing in. I can practically see Daphne du Maurier riding across the cobbles on her pony. They even have a little brass plaque on the floor in the bar saying ‘On this spot, Joss Merlyn was murdered.’ For some reason this plaque delights me profoundly. I try not to spend too much of my time staring at it when all the locals are walking past it in such a blasé fashion. Plus I do realise that Joss Merlyn is a fictitious character created by du Maurier and so was not really murdered on that spot. In fact he wasn’t murdered anywhere but in du Maurier’s own head. But still, when I see the plaque, I can’t help thinking: wow, Joss met his well-deserved end right here on this spot!

Conveniently, Jamaica Inn also allows dogs. Moose was very warmly welcomed despite her huge size. Not only that but she was even provided with her very own private doggy water bowl. This is what I call service.

We’ve been in Cornwall since yesterday, and as a result of peoples’ reactions towards her, I am starting to suspect she may have sneakily got bigger without my noticing. She just looks medium to me. But when you hear people remarking upon her size in shocked voices, it does make you wonder. She has started leaping right over Loki in the garden, but I just sort of thought perhaps the Doberman was shrinking. But it has to be said that she takes up significantly more room on the back seat of the car than she did last time we came to Cornwall in May. In fact, there is not really room for me on the back seat as well but I manage to squash in there somehow. If she had any sense she would just put her head on my lap but, being a little afraid of the car, she prefers to sit on my lap as much as she possibly can. This is very sweet, because she becomes very cuddly in the car – like a nervous child – but it does mean that by the time we get wherever we are going, I can no longer feel my legs, and I am covered in slobber (because Moose has a propensity to motion sickness, which causes her to drool). My favourite cap is now quite ruined.

But, anyway, I am sure that she thoroughly enjoyed her time at Jamaica Inn, even though she had no idea that she was snoozing just mere feet away from where Joss Merlyn was murdered! Perhaps I will consider moving to Cornwall in the future. That way I can go to Jamaica Inn every day, and perhaps get lost on the moors and have an amazing idea for a novel. Or perhaps go back in time. Every time I go to Jamaica Inn I can’t help half expecting it to happen. And I am always just a little bit disappointed when I open the door to the Smuggler’s Bar to find that there are no bloodthirsty smugglers in tricorn hats gathered there, all staring at me murderously. Maybe next time. Hope springs eternal, and all that . . .

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Call Me Phileas Fogg

Thanks to the insatiable appetite my parents have always had for travelling, I have been well-travelled since about the age of six. By that time I had been trudging fairly extensively around the Far East as well as the usual places like Europe and America. And I have been thinking recently about how travelling has helped me as a writer. It might sound clichéd, but travelling really does broaden your horizons, and if you can do it from a young age, I think it’s even more useful.

I was a little kid when I went to Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, and so it didn’t occur to me to think: these people look different, this food tastes different, the air smells different, am I happy about this? In many of the photos from these holidays I’m either sat on a filthy pavement cuddling a stray cat or sat on a filthy pavement reading a book. But I put the cats and books down for the sightseeing, obviously, even if I sometimes had to be forced to do so. I have seen the Great Wall of China, and the hieroglyphics in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings, and climbed the ruins in Chichen Itza. I’ve ridden on elephants and camels (although not at the same time, obviously); sat in a sled pulled by huskies (and even runaway huskies on one memorable occasion), and swam with dolphins. I’ve held giant snakes, fed giant tortoises, and had my sandwiches snatched away by monkeys (all right, so maybe I gave the monkey my sandwich because it tasted horrible and I didn’t wish to eat it). In the Far East I’ve been caught in a sudden downpouring of rain so heavy that you’re soaked within seconds, and I’ve walked out of air conditioning into heat so intense it feels like you’ve been smacked over the head with it. We have been swindled, robbed and tricked during our travels – which perhaps is no great surprise given the kinds of back street places we have been known to wander into. My parents are such seasoned travellers that they can now spot a scam a mile off. Not me, though. I’ll fall for any con going. In addition to this, I’ve seen the most beautiful crystal waters on beaches in the Caribbean, and soon got used to the jellyfish bobbing around in the sea on beaches in the United Arab Emirates.

From a very young age, my brother and I did everything on holiday that my parents did. There was none of this going to bed early crap; there was certainly none of this being carried or pushed in pushchairs nonsense (we knew we would have been laughed at if we had even suggested such a thing); and there were absolutely no Kidz Clubz (shudder), which I absolutely loathed, possibly because they did not allow me to sit quietly in a corner and read my book, but instead insisted that I participate in group games with the other children (although I do still have the cap I won in the coca cola drinking contest). I ended up in such a club just once in Jamaica only because my brother was so keen to go. There was a bit of an incident when I ran away at the first opportunity and, I’m happy to say, I’ve never seen the inside of one of these clubs since.

I have used locations from my holidays in both my Gollancz books, and I have drawn on my experiences from them for the Lex Trent books, even if only indirectly (although the midnight markets are created straight out of the night markets I visited in Hong Kong and China). I don’t ever remember a time when I was not well travelled, and I am extremely grateful to my parents for taking us to those places and giving us those experiences rather than molly-coddling us in some English-only hotel year after year. You don’t get a feel for the country if you never leave the private beach, after all. Better to intrepidly venture forth in search of adventure and new experiences and glory! Even if this does mean that somewhere along the line you may get scammed, or robbed; or find yourself horribly lost; or stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre; or bitten by a really huge bug; or, as in my brother’s case, have copious amounts of blood gushing out of your head on at least two occasions that I can think of. But that, perhaps, makes my parents sound a little more happy-go-lucky than they actually are. They did mop up the blood, after all, and they were only accidents. But, yeah, travelling is great, and all writers or aspiring writers should do it. Just try to avoid the blunt trauma to the head thing – especially when out on safari in the African wilderness surrounded by wild lions, because blood is much more difficult to clean up under those circumstances. And the lions dislike the screaming.

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Moose At The Seaside

This weekend I am in Cornwall with Moose. My parents were going off to stay at their house in Looe and asked us to come so I decided that me and the Dinky Dane would go along so she could get a bit of a seaside holiday.

It was quite a long drive but Moose was fine apart from being sick about an hour after we set out. I’m sure the shriek of: ‘Ew! There’s puke everywhere!’ probably wasn’t the sort of thing my Dad wanted to hear coming from the back seat – especially as it was his car we were driving in.

But a fine time was had by all once we finally got there. It’s taken us ages to get anywhere because most of the people we’ve passed wanted to give Moose a fuss. I’d say about half of them recognised that she was a Great Dane. The rest thought she was some kind of Dalmatian cross, or even a Dalmatian. This always surprises me because Moose doesn’t just have black spots, but big black (and some blue) splodges all over her coat. Besides which, there would have to be something very wrong with a Dalmatian puppy for it to have a head that shape, and paws that big. One woman actually had the audacity to suggest that she was a ‘little bit of everything’! A mongrel no less!

  ‘Madam,’ I replied coldly, ‘I’ll have you know that this dog is fifteen hundred pounds worth of pedigree, show standard, harlequin Great Dane!’

But, these slurs on her breeding aside, Moose has had a lovely time. She walked on the beach and came into pubs with us, and met lots of people. There’s something nice about the fact that people will always come up to you if you’re walking a puppy. I’ve answered so many questions about Moose during the last week. And the fact that people want to come up and see her makes me warm towards humans more than I would usually.

Before we came I went to the pet shop to buy her some new things to take on her first holiday. I came out with a whole load of new chewy bones and some toys, including an evil looking crocodile, and a big fluffy rope monster, of which I’m rather fond. I love buying Moose stuff. Especially when I get a new thing out of the bag, and she hears the rustling, and looks up at me with that sweet little face. She’s also becoming a bit of a lap dog, which I suppose could be a problem when she’s big . . . But what the heck – Loki sits on my lap just fine, and he’s a fully grown Doberman. Besides, I’d sooner cut my own hand off than tell her she can’t get on my lap for a cuddle when she’s tired – even if she does happen to be covered in sand at the time.

Whilst walking around Looe, Moose met a fully grown blue Great Dane called Hamlet. Even for a Dane he was a very big boy – and extremely handsome with it. But although he was just five years old he was already starting to go grey around the muzzle. The one downside of Danes is that they don’t live very long. Eight years is the average but some only live to six. When I look at Moose I can’t bear the thought of her living such a short time. But for now I’m taking comfort in the fact that when we went to visit the breeder we saw Moose’s great-grandmother, and she was eleven years old. Moose has to be long-lived too, because I love her so much. She’s the best thing to happen to me in quite a while. She makes up for all the bad stuff – as animals very often do. And I will love my publishers, Gollancz and Headline, until the day I die for enabling me to buy her. Ditto for every single person who bought a copy of The Ninth Circle – even if they thought it was shit. Doesn’t matter so long as the book was bought (but obviously I would prefer that they didn’t think it was shit). Still, I got a Dinky Dane out of the book deals. Can’t complain at that.

If you would like to help keep Moose in toys and dog food, or, possibly, contribute to the next animal in my menagerie (I really want a sphyinx called Gretel and a bull terrier called Daddy), then feel free to buy a copy of Jasmyn, and Lex Trent Versus The Gods, when they come out. Heck, buy copies for all your friends and relatives too, and then perhaps I will be able to get Gretel and Daddy!

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