Author Archive | evebonham

Painted Birds

I love owls.  We live in the countryside, surrounded by fields with sheep, rabbits, mice and the occasional fox, and woods with deer, a few badgers and masses of birds which also inhabit our garden.  Sometimes at dusk, we  listen to owls hooting across the woods and fields, and  have heard three different cries at the same time –  but the barn owl is the one that we hear most often.

I have been painting watercolours for over ten years now, and decided to paint a barn owl.  This is my effort on the left – and I have called him Cedric, for no particular reason other than that it is a wise-sounding name.

We also have buzzards, who wheel about the sky high above the garden watching for prey scuttling around below. There are the usual medley of garden birds including sparrows, robins, tits, blackbirds, thrushes and a wood-pecker.  And we have rather noisy crows and rooks too.

I also love exotic birds such as toucans though we don’t get them in England, of course. And peacocks who are very noisy and proud, flaunting their plumage.  I like storks too, or cranes as they are sometimes called. Two years ago I did a series of paintings on Aesop’s Fables, and my watercolour of The Peacock and the Crane is here:

 

The peacock boasted that he was very beautiful and colourful, and thought crane was very ugly.  The crane responded that the Peacock could only walk upon the ground, where as he could fly wherever he chose and had the freedom of the sky. My peacock looks disgruntled!

I am not particularly fond of crows, but I liked the story of the clever crow who was thirsty, and I did a watercolour version of the The Crow and the Pitcher, which is on the right.  The story relates that the crow was hot and thirsty and could find no water but spied a jug on a table but the level was too low for him to reach when he put his beak into the jug. He looked around and saw lots of stones and started to drop them one by one into the jug, and when the water level rose he was able to drink. Good solution!

My other favourite bird is the magpie, a cool dude in black-and-white who struts around scavenging for food. Just like Marmite, people either love him or hate him.  I’m a fan.

I use this wonderful bird as a symbol in my most recent novel, entitled “Dear Magpies”  where the main character writes to her long lost grandchildren on the other side of the world, addressing them as her Magpies.  There are more myths and stories about magpies than any other bird, so it seems obvious that very soon I should paint a joyous watercolour of a couple of magpies  (‘Two for joy’). The drawing  below is by someone else, far more accomplished than I am:

CoronaSpring

Spring 2020. We are living in strange times. Coronavirus, more deadly than any terrorist, has attacked our world and is undermining hope. People feel threatened, frightened, challenged. Our physical horizons are dwindling but our mental horizons are expanding – people are more aware of what is going on in the world in relation to Corvid -19 than they ever were about many other things. This is a result of collective realisation that disasters aren’t always uncomfortable, sad things happening elsewhere in far off places, but real life calamities which can attack us in our own homes in our own country.

This realisation is caused by a deluge of daily updates of the scope of this dreadful disease. (I love alliteration!)  Two prevalent attitudes of mind result and they are polar opposites.  The first is selfishness, which results in panic buying, hoarding food, complaints against the government, ignoring the advice about social distancing, utter disbelief that the NHS can cope – and no doubt this will lead to despair, anger or depression.  Incidents of physical abuse – from been cooped up at home – are rising.

The second attitude is one of compassion and selflessness, which has caused:-

  1. over half a million people including retired nurses and doctors to volunteer, after a call from the government, to help the NHS, and undertake food deliveries, manning telephones, etc
  2. communities coming together to set up volunteer groups (there is one in our village) to do shopping for the elderly and isolated, collect prescriptions, or phone isolated single people
  3. positive and encouraging initiatives such as online choirs, prayer groups and church services; advice forums, befriending by telephone, and posting gift parcels to others
  4. a more friendly attitude to everyone – and we chat loudly across the regulatory 2 – 3 metres to the postmen, the food delivery van men, those we meet walking or outside supermarkets

Boris delivered a distinctly Churchillian speech a while back (before he got ill) about being at war against this disease, pulling together as a nation, and obeying all the governments decrees which are for our own good. He has said quite openly that many people are going to lose loved ones. It is quite chilling. It is not going to get better any time soon and it could be many months. “The times change they are a’changin”- sang Dylan in the sixties, and by the end of this year many things will have changed.

I feel very sorry for people living in big cities, perhaps on their own in a small flat, feeling isolated and worried.  Almost worse is a large family, all trying to share facilities and a bathroom, and getting on each other’s nerves. It’s going to be tough for a lot of people.  We must be compassionate and sympathetic and do what we can. I’ve taken to telephoning a member of my family and a friend every day – and I’m beginning to learn more about them because I listen to them. We’re growing lots of vegetables with surplus to give away.  We still have a few winter leeks and parsnips, and some apples and onions left from the autumn.  Spring rhubarb is just coming up. Dig for Britain!

Coronavirus is sobering and levelling. The numbers of cases and deaths are frightening and we are all coming to terms with a truth that we often avoid – which is that we might die sooner that we expected. But there may be some good things that will come out of this worldwide pandemic.  Many of us in lockdown have idleness enforced upon us, and have begun to realise that we do need more rest and relaxation in our rushed and overworked lives. Nature too may experience some healing. Many industrialised places and cities that have been shrouded in smog with terrible air quality have begun to see blue sky and experience clear air to breathe. In the quietness, with the lack of traffic, we hear birdsong.

For myself, no social life means a better reading life.  Though a writer, I am often deprived of enough time to write, but now I have all the time in the world. I’m going to do more painting, even though the local art group has temporally disbanded. I am managing to get done a few of those jobs I have been putting off for years. And I might even start to feel guilty because I am enjoying the peace whilst others are suffering.  When I turn from listening to the bad news and go outside to get some fresh air, within minutes, with the warm spring sun on my skin, I feel uplifted and there’s a smile on my face. I can’t help it. Hope is irrepressible.

I am reminded of a short poem by one of my favourite poets, Emily Dickinson:

‘Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.’

Take a Leap

There are about 5 million people in the world who have their ‘real’ birthday every fourth year on 29th February.  People born on 29 February are sometimes known as “leapers” or “leaplings.” The odds of being born on a leap day is often said to be 1 in 1,461. (4 years have 1,460 days plus 1 day for the leap year). This makes most leaplings feel unusual and extremely special.

I was reminded about this recently, while sending a card to a friend of mine in Canada who will be 13 on 29th February this year.  She has just become a teenager and also she has two adult children, three grandchildren, a PhD and other senior qualifications, a successful company that she started up and a lovely home, from where she travels worldwide to lecture.

Today, on 29th February I was amused to listen to Eddie Mair, who is the presenter of PM on BBC Radio 4 who was reporting about listeners who have been asked during the month of February whether they’d be prepared to take advantage of this extra day to do something different. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who are prepared to use this distinctive date to take a leap.  Here were some of them (I have borrowed them from the PM blog):

One man said,” I resolve to speak Mandarin all day long.”

Another said, “I have often meant to take a roof tour of Lincoln Cathedral but never got round to it.”

After six years one woman will finally decide the wording for her husband’s headstone.

Some people are at last scattering the ashes of loved ones, having put it off for years.

There’s a woman taking up the hula-hoop after more than 50 years.

Another woman intends to have some chocolate today – her anorexia has been a problem for years.

A man who suffers panic attacks will try to make a bus journey.

A woman in her sixties has decided she will get a tattoo.

This set me thinking – what can I do?  It is already evening and I am at home.  Since I am a writer, the only thing I can think of is to write a blog on 29th February and end it by wishing all the Leaplings an extraordinarily Happy Birthday. You are a rare breed  – so celebrate!

 

Magpies took off a Month ago

So my book, my new novel, my fourth book, Dear Magpies, has been out for a month. It was published as a paperback by SilverWood Books on 18th November – and, it seems, people are reading it. Amazing!  I’ve been running around Dorset having book launches, doing some signings in bookshops and other places, and giving a few talks too.  It is humbling and, I have to admit, very gratifying that people are buying it – and reading it. And I’m getting back some very positive comments about the book.  Not many yet – but then it has been for sale only for a month, and I never expect those who buy it to read it immediately.  Like me, readers often have a pile of books and work their way through.  There can be nothing more annoying than buying a book, and then being asked by an impatient author to give an opinion about it, well before there has been a chance to open it!  So I never ask and I wait for people to volunteer their feedback or tell me what they think of it in their own time.  Though of course I’m dying to know!  The book is in stock in some bookshops and available to order from any booksellers, and from the publisher SilverWood, and also of course from Amazon. It costs £9.99, but there is an e-book too for £3.99.  Here is a copy of the front and back cover of my book:

 

The cover has been much admired but it has puzzled a few people.  To explain:  Josie, a woman who has been searching for her grandchildren for over 10 years, is writing letters to them, which she cannot post or email, as a way to try and connect with them. She used to call them her ‘magpies’.  This nickname arose because, when they were small children, their father had given them some black and white towels which they used at bath-time, and the boy had scampered about in his towel, flapping his arms.  When Josie writes to them, she begins her letters with Dear Magpies.  The cover, brilliantly designed by my publishers, shows the heads of the teenage boy and girl in silhouette, because Josie does not really know them after such a long estrangement and is in the dark about what they are like. The magpies flying upwards are a visual image of their nickname, but they are also soaring up into the ‘pale blue yonder’ which underlines her dilemma, which is that she has no idea where they are in the world. She aches to see them again, and misses them enormously.  The quest for her magpies has truly stolen her peace of mind. But I’m not going to give any hint about what happens – you must read the book to find out.

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.”