RIP darling Rodney; you were our son and our sun

20141111_064635The thing I’ve been dreading all year happened yesterday; our adored Jack Russell Rodney died. He was very old (16 and a half) and his life was, for the most part, happy and carefree. We helped him to die with serenity by asking our caring vet to euthanize him because he’d become very ill and frail. At his age, his future was unlikely to brighten.

At the point we intervened, he’d been refusing all food and to go for walks for several days. Instead, he lay sighing, dozing and watching me flap around him, angst ridden, with the saddest, most knowing expression. His eyes said ‘I’m done, mummy – time for me to sleep.’

So we took the pain and suffering away from him – heaping it instead on ourselves. Mark and I are in tatters and have wept buckets all week long, but today was off the scale. Rodney made us a family, now we are just a middle-aged couple. He made me a mum, now I am just an under-employed copywriter. He made both of us better human beings; having a dog is like having a toddler – they are always helpless no matter what age they are, or how long you have them.

Now he’s gone and the pain is visceral. The Rodney shaped hole in our hearts may heal eventually – or it may not. It has just happened and it is too soon to say how we’ll cope. I hope we’ll both have as much dignity in Rodney’s passing as he did (no sign of that so far).

I wrote a few words to sum up how I was feeling the night before our boy died. I make no apology for it being sentimental.

Sweet dreams my old dog

If tears were a finite thing
I would fill some buckets then blow my nose
And get on with life
Among the living and not the ruins of the dead

If sadness were a finite thing
I would sigh and weep, and then go about
My daily routine
With gusto and care, and a cheerful smile

If love were a finite thing
I’d take comfort to know, that every last drop was poured into you
My dear old furry friend
Our hearts and souls entwined, until we meet again

If you’re telling stories about real life, set the bar high…

For many years I’ve been a huge fan of the British playwright and film director Mike Leigh. My fascination with his work spiked in the 90s when his filmmaking was most prolific. Relationship dramas such as Life is Sweet, Naked, Secrets & Lies and Career Girls depicted the daily conflicts of ordinary people with a warmth, wit, realism and occasional brutality that no one else was doing (at least not on my radar). And although Mr Leigh is no one trick pony (just watch Mr Turner if you are in any doubt) his colossal and unique ability to portray human frailty is his calling card.
Much of Leigh’s work drips black humour, too. Who can forget Abigail’s Party, originally performed in 1977, about an excruciatingly bad lower-middle class drinks party that spirals out of control?

Mike Leigh has influenced my love of literary fiction, too. Authors like Fay Weldon, Joanna Trollope and the late Jenny Diski, although disparate in style, all have a way of making life’s minutia significant in a way that captivates and entertains readers. It is this ability I aspire to – and I’m working on it.

When I decided to write a novel two years ago, I realised that the lives of friends and neighbours were a rich seam to mine. Not actual personalities – that would be rude and underhand – but the circumstances we find ourselves in. And so I started to write about a couple in their 40s, Kate and Neil, who leave the gritty but pulsating streets of south London for a gentle but suffocating housing estate in a Home Counties suburb, drawing on my personal experience of doing just that some ten years ago.

I still live in that ‘new town’ (a purpose built village if you will) which did not exist thirty years ago, but now has a population of over 8,000 people. It’s a Marmite of a postcode; people love it or hate it. For me, the jury is still out; I love that I live in a place where there is little to no crime, where people are friendly and terribly decent to each other, because community spirit comes as standard, along with a double garage and two en-suites. But there are things that drive me mad, too; the materialism – keeping up with the Joneses. It is a battle I fight – and sometimes lose and roll over to.

It is this struggle with materialism, loneliness, burgeoning mid-life crises and self-loathing that beats within the characters of my debut novel Seeking Eden. That sense of searching for something – and not even knowing what it is; of feeling like a fraud and not quite belonging; of making mistakes and committing indiscretions that cannot be taken back. Of looking out for your friends, but not always knowing who they are.

And if I could tell a story of real, averagely dysfunctional people, doing normal stuff with even a quarter of the wit and authenticity as the genius that is Mike Leigh, I’d be a happy author.
But that’s for you to decide.

Seeking Eden will publish in June 2017 on Urbane Publications

Book Review : Close of Play by P J Whiteley

I have just read and thoroughly enjoyed PJ Whiteley’s Close of Play. Set in the late 90s, there are dual themes running here: First to emerge is our hero Brian Clarke’s devotion to cricket (the clue is in the title). Brian describes himself as ‘old school’ and is well aware that his middle-aged, middle-class, middle-England life is saved from boredom and despair by the ‘gentleman’s game’ which he plays with vim and vigour every weekend of the season.

Cricket lovers are in for a treat as Mr Whiteley’s vibrant descriptions of the Sussex team manoeuvres – on and off the pitch – leave you feeling as though you are spectating – or at times, batting.

But this is not only a story of locker room bonding, which becomes clear when Brian meets a 42 year old spinster, the gracious and often feisty Elizabeth. Devout Christians both, Brian and Elizabeth embark on a tentative love affair that at times reminded me of one of my favourite books, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, in that it left me feeling frustrated with the main characters, and thinking‘for god’s sake, man – just KISS her!’

Beautifully and vividly written, Close of Play is a ‘will they/won’t they?’ that leaves you hoping desperately that they will…eventually. It runs the gamut of emotions, and is packed with warmth and humour and some wonderful images of bucolic Sussex village life. What’s not to like? Recommended.