Author Archive | evebonham

Book Launch in Sherborne

Two weeks tomorrow, on Thursday 21st November at 6.30pm for 7pm, I am having a Book Launch for my new book Dear Magpies, at Winstones Books in Cheap Street, Sherborne, DT9 3PX.  I will be giving a talk about my book, answering questions and signing books.  Refreshments will be provided and anyone interested in coming along will be welcome.

I am delighted to be having this launch at Winstones, which is a fabulously light and well laid out independent bookshop based in the beautiful historic town of Sherborne, Dorset.  Winstone’s has won the British Book Awards South West Bookseller of the Year four times and was winner of the Independent Bookseller of the Year nationwide award in 2016.

Dear Magpies is my fourth book and the first one in which the main character lives in Dorset. It tells the story of Josie Cuff who has been trying for ten years to trace her young grandchildren, the only members of her family still alive, who have disappeared on the other side of the world. She now lives in a small rented cottage in England after a turbulent life in South America. She writes her grandchildren lively letters which may never be sent, telling them about her past and about the eccentric inhabitants of the Dorset village where she is seeking to make a new life and new friends. Threatened by a sinister intruder who invades her home and privacy, Josie fights to cling on to hope.

Come along to Winstones on 21st and find out more. You might even like to buy the book! (£9.99)

Dear Magpies

Creating a book and getting it out into the world is a little like having a baby – though it usually takes far longer. It grows more erratically and more slowly and its birth involves many people of different skills.  But both baby and book are hugely fulfilling.

The idea for my new book, Dear Magpies, to be published on 18th November 2019, had been floating around in my head for months before I started the research for it. As a lifelong writer of letters, I had always wanted to write an epistolary novel – one that is written as a series of letters or diary entries. This book, about a woman searching for her long lost grandchildren, lent itself to the form and so I worked out my plot and worked on my characters. The writing the first draft took over a year, after which I planned to re-read, reflect and then start on the edit.

However, I got a time-consuming job and work on the book came to a halt whilst I got to grips with a very different working life, one that took all my energy and commitment. I didn’t revise or revisit my draft manuscript for eighteen months – which was not ideal, but at least I could see more clearly what needed to be changed. Then began the PEP stage – pruning, editing and polishing.  What a marathon! I took advice from a few people who had read my manuscript and I must have done at least seven edits.

Then followed the publishing which took many more months. My publishers, SilverWood Books, so helpful, efficient and sensitive, have been responsible for getting my book into print.  And so, about five years after the initial idea, last week the first copy arrived at my home and into my hands. My ‘baby’ had arrived – it was a good moment.

Dear Magpies

I love the front cover, designed by my publishers, with the silhouette heads of the teenage grandchildren, Tom and Lottie, who flew off into the pale blue yonder and, like magpies, stole the peace of mind of their grandmother, Josie, who writes them letters she cannot send.

The big question – “Will it please the reader?”- has yet to be answered and I will have to wait until after publication to know. It pleased me to write it, though at times the progress was painful. Now my child has reached maturity and is about to leave home and make its own way in the world. I wish it well.

 

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

Magpies are magnificent. Distinctive by their black and white plumage, they are intelligent and inquisitive – and more superstitions surround magpies than any other wild bird. The most common one is that it is unlucky to see a lone magpie but two magpies can bring joy or mirth. Some people when they see a single magpie say: ‘Good morning Mr Magpie and how is your lady wife today?’ By addressing him in this respectful way and referring to his wife, you are implying there are two magpies which bring good luck and joy rather than sorrow, according to the nursery rhyme:

“One for sorrow, two for joy,

Three for a girl, four for a boy,

Five for silver, six for gold,

Seven for a secret never to be told,

Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,

Ten for a bird you must not miss”.

These large and noisy birds belong to the Corvidae or crow family and do not migrate in winter. Once mature they mate for life and the female lays its eggs in April. They are powerful, resourceful birds and exist all over the world. Their name is derived from the French word ‘pie’ which means black-and-white or pied. They are indeed birds that you cannot miss seeing.

Folklore has it that magpies are kleptomaniacs and steal shiny things, resulting in their reputation for trickery and deception. However, there is no evidence that anyone has ever found anything silver or shiny in a magpie’s nest. This might be because their nests tend to be high up in tall trees!  It is clear from the well-known rhyme that magpies can represent both good and bad omens and opposites.

For these reasons I chose this emblematic bird to feature in the story and the title of my new book: Dear Magpies which is a novel about a woman who is searching for her lost grandchildren, to whom she writes imaginary letters about her dramatic past and her present life. She addresses them as ‘magpies’ – an endearing nickname she once used when they were babies – when she writes to the two children whom she has not seen for ten years but who are now in their teens. Her current situation is sad and solitary but not without hope for happiness.

Dear Magpies is to be published in paperback by SilverWood Books on 18th November 2019.

Grandmas Rule OK

In five weeks time, I’m going to be a grandmother for the third time. Its a role I love – and I’ve managed to get in plenty of training and practice with grandchildren numbers 1 and 2.

It’s grand to be ‘Gran’ – though my favourite people call me Grandma, not Granny, Gran, or Nan. I like to feel I’m an original grandma (don’t we all?). These days I read about amazing sporty grandmothers who do bungee jumps and climb Everest, or trendy yearning-to-remain-youthful grandmothers who wear lace hot-pants and drive Lamborghinis. More traditional grannies, cuddly with huge bosoms, bake cakes and knit bobble hats and there are ancient grans who can be spectre thin, dotty and forgetful, who wander round in mauve slippers.  I can fall about laughing at Catharine Tate’s ‘Nan’ on youtube, without in any way wanting to emulate her appallingly foul-mouthed character. I like to think that I’m an active grandma who laughs a lot with her grandchildren and reads them scintillating stories using a full range of vocal fireworks. I’ve no idea what they think of me – but I hope that they don’t find me dull!

My own grandmothers were very different from each other.  My maternal one was very beautiful, ran a gambling club in London but sadly died aged 46 on the day the war ended, May 8th1945 – a year before I was born. My paternal grandmother had a large family and lost her eldest son (my uncle) in 1916 on the Somme – he was 19.  Decades later my brothers and I used to go her house in Woking and play Mahjong. Diminutive but indomitable, she lived until she was 99.

Upon finding myself elected to grandmotherhood four years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t want to be a glamorous gran with sparkly jewellery or become a super-gran who ran marathons. But I am a grandma who can wear jeans without looking gross and who can swim like a fish. I wear glasses but not granny glasses. I do NOT and never will wear granny pants. I have been persuaded to carry a granny brag book – so I can at long last compete with all my friends who have been boring me rigid for years with endless photographs of their dear little Samantha, (a musical prodigy), gorgeous George (destined to become a celebrity actor/chef/game show host ) and Harry (who is clearly going to play football for England). With my sailing background, I never ever tie a granny-knot instead of a reef-knot, and now that I’ve swallowed the anchor and am into gardening, I know what a Granny’s Bonnet is – an Aquilegia Vulgaris, a very pretty flower in spite of its name.

There are memorable Granny icons: the witty and acerbic Dowager Countess of Grantham, the superb actress Maggie Smith herself,  Grandma Moses – the American folk painter, and the wonderful June Whitfield – the disapproving but tolerant grandmother in AbFab – who died last year aged 93. Famous glamorous grannies ‘Glam-mas’ include Jane Fonda, Jane Seymour and Sophia Loren. Recently a film came out entitled: “Bad Grannies” in which gun-toting grannies create mayhem. Perhaps this film was intended to be some sort of revenge for the victims of granny-bashing – the assault or abuse of elderly people.

I aim to a grandma who never runs out of hugs to give my grandchildren or stories to tell them.  I want to be able to play grandmother’s footsteps with them when we are all a bit older. I am currently a grandma who works for a property company, writes books, and plants trees. Perhaps I might one day earn the right to be given a button with ‘TGIF’ on it (‘This grandma is fabulous!’), which I will wear with pride.

My new book, a novel due out in the autumn, features an older protagonist – a grandmother. ‘Dear Magpies’ is the story of Josie who has been searching for ten years for her grandchildren, who have disappeared on the other side of the world. She is not at all like me, nor is she like any of the other grannies mentioned in this blog.  But, like all of them, she is completely original.

Green is Good for You

May has been glorious.  I love my garden at this time of the year – it’s so green, so overgrown, so soothing.  I am reminded of Andrew Marvell’s wonderful poem: ‘The Garden’.  Here is my favourite stanza which echos my own experience in nature when imagination and sensation collide and the result is a fresh and perfect thought. A blissful disconnect from the troubled world – a brief moment of simplicity. Green is good for you!

“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.”

Slog through Snow, Blog into Spring.

This time last week it snowed.  Snow can be a big problem for elderly isolated people and stranded motorists but I defy anyone, when they open the curtains on the first morning after snow has fallen, not to gasp with wonder at the purity and beauty of the white blanket and the soft blotting out of normal sounds as if the volume of the world has been turned down. Magical!  Roald Dahl wrote in one of his final books, ‘The Minpins’, published posthumously : “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  I celebrate other marvellous things in my life at this time – books, snowdrops, chocolate, poetry, wine and a loving man.

Whilst trawling back through my archives in this blog, I realise that my first post was in November 2008 – so I’ve been writing blogs about every other month for over ten years.  What was I up to at that time?  It seems that I was doing book signings for my collection of short stories called ‘Madness Lies and Other Stories’ which had been published in the summer. It was my first book and it took a couple of years to create the stories, so clearly I have been writing fiction for at least twelve years.  Though for much of my life I’ve been scribbling stories,  doing magazine articles, writing letters and keeping diaries.

So what am I doing now? My fourth book, ‘Dear Magpies’ is completely finished after many edits, which took over a year because I work in the property business. (I have to find time for creativity in between dealing with leaking roofs and blocked drains.) The novel, which is a story about a woman with a tragic past searching for her lost grandchildren, has been sent out to a number of publishers and agents, who take forever to respond – if at all. It is a waiting game, full of hope and disappointment, but I will get it published – because it’s good. Various editors and friends of mine have read it and tell me so.

Yesterday’s weather was dire – poor visibility, depressing rain and a chill wind.  But today the sun is shining – and my spirits lift. How simple and irrational humans are! With our elevated intellect that lifts us above instinctual animals and mere plants we wilt in the cold and dark but become optimistic and energised in the sunlight.  Creative talents, buried in the winter gloom, are beginning to stir and send up green shoots through the damp grass. Nature stirs. The urge to write is rising, inspiration lifts up her head, ideas sprout, words will uncurl. As Robert Frost says in his poem ‘Prayer in Spring’, we are “in the springing of the year.”


	

A Sunday Poem

This is the first Sunday in December and a poem beckons.  I decide to read one of my favourites: ‘Sunday Morning’ by the American poet, Wallace Stevens.  This poem was published in 1915 when the poet was 36.

It is a long romantic poetic meditation and begins with a pleasant domestic scene where a woman lingers over breakfast with coffee and oranges. Some critics have compared it to paintings by Matisse. As the solitary figure contemplates beauty, death, and nature, she reminds us of the brooding loners in poetry from the Romantic period.

Stevens begins by asking a few basic questions: what happens to us when we die? Can we believe seriously in an afterlife? If we can’t, what comfort can we take in the only life we get?  He circles around these philosophical problems but finds no resolution. Humans might one day achieve an ecstatic union with nature, but for now the randomness and beauty of the world elude us.

Here are some extracts from this beautiful but unsettling poem:-

She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.

Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else 
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven? 

She says, “I am content when wakened birds, 
Before they fly, test the reality 
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings; 
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields 
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?” 

She says, “But in contentment I still feel 
The need of some imperishable bliss.” 

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

The final line is breathtaking. What an amazing poem!

October – a Time for Reflection

A week ago was my Birthday and I spent it travelling to Elba, an island of the coast of Italy, to attend a wedding. The day was a transition not only from one country to another but also from a head full of tiredness and turmoil to another, calmer and more reflective frame of mind. Were I a poet, I might have tried to capture how I felt in verse. I remembered a sensational ‘birthday’ poem by Dylan Thomas : ‘Poem in October’, which he started in 1941 but finally finished in the autumn of 1944 to celebrate his thirtieth birthday. He was born on 27th October 1914.

I looked it up online and came across a YouTube clip of the poet reading his own poem – I am always surprised that there is no hint of a Welsh accent in his mellifluous voice. I listened all though and then read the poem.  It’s so beautiful!

The first stanza begins:

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

On his birthday early in the morning, the poet walked from the fishing village of Laugharne along the silent sea shore. As he thinks of his birthday he recalls his childhood days and looks at the beauty around him. October stands between summer and winter; thirty is poised between childhood and maturity, past and future. Dylan Thomas may have thought that the age of thirty was the high noon or high tide of his life, and may have had a reasonable expectation of reaching sixty.  He was not to know that he would live only for another 9 years. He died of pneumonia on 9th November 1953, aged 39.

As he recalls walking through the woods and up on Fern hill as a child, the past and present merge as he celebrates the glory of nature, a truth he learned first in his childhood days and now in his adult life. Here are the final six line of this marvellous poem:

It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

His heart’s truth and his wonderful poems are still read and celebrated seventy-four years after he wrote this and, as one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century, Dylan Thomas will continue to inspire and delight us for years to come.

All at Sea

My other half has decided to spend about three months this summer cruising in a small 32ft boat around the British Isles – some 2,500 miles. He has persuaded some other lunatics to join him at various points so he always has another person on board to help crew the vessel and to keep him company.   I used to be a sailor but now I’m a landlubber so I am staying put and keeping the home fires burning – though this isn’t necessary as it’s one of the hottest, driest summers on record. The truth is – I’m working!  I’m running the family business and also getting some writing done. I don’t have to produce daily meals and  I don’t care if the house is untidy; I can eat and sleep as and when the mood takes me.  Though I do feel somewhat solitary, I find it quite liberating to be on my own for a while.  I even find time to do some gardening, and I am also doing some watercolour painting. 

Here is a one I did recently, which is my version of the famous painting of a gigantic Wave by the Japanese artist Hokusai and which depicts graphically a nightmare I occasionally have about my husband and his boat – all at sea.

 

Rare Road Sign

I was driving along a country road in Somerset recently and I came across this delightful road sign, which I’ve not seen before. Ever since reading ‘The Wind in the Willows’, I’ve felt that toads were quirky, undignified and should be protected. I’m pleased to see that the highways authority share this view.

I frequently see home-made signs outside houses or farms announcing: ‘Go Slow – Chickens Crossing Road’ or ‘No more Feline Fatalities Please –  We now have 5 Cats instead of 9!’  Some years back, when driving my children to school, we passed a building site, and came across a large sign saying: ‘Plant Crossing’.  My children were mystified, until I explained that from time to time large cauliflowers, huge carrots and mighty marrows marched across the road at this point.  I wonder why they didn’t believe me!