Cats

Last night I was privileged to see Cats the musical, performed by the gifted students of Hillview Performing Arts School in Tonbridge.
Before you picture quivering sets, pitchy vocals and Mrs Johnson banging out Memory on an upright piano, let me set you straight. This uplifting and slick production was performed at the EM Forster Theatre in Tonbridge, and was worthy of the West End – and has no doubt secured the futures of some of its performers there.
My better half and I were invited by our dear friends and neighbours, whose beautiful and talented daughter was one of the dancers. Even as mere hangers on, we were bursting with pride to see her glide through her paces with poise and grace, totally committed and loving every minute.
It was an emotional night on every level; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soaring score, the grace and beauty of the dancers, the heart-rending vocals (not a dry eye in the house for Memory) and the glamour and excitement of the costumes and staging overall.
Without exception, the young people of Hillview showcased their talents purrfectly – but there was more than proficiency at work; there was passion, too. Oh, I know it’s an overused word, but the energy of the cast alone could have registered on the national grid. Bless every single member of the company, on stage and off – you all earned your night of adulation. Thank you for such a memorable night.

I’ve gone 4G

No, I haven’t shifted to another mobile network – instead I’ve upped my gym, gossip, girlfriends and giggles quota. Last week I found myself alone when my partner was plucked from his London studio and drafted to its counterpart in San Francisco.

In the past, I might have used the time as an excuse to hibernate, not seeing or even speaking to anyone, because like many writers, I have a tendency to get sucked into an interior world, inhabited only by imaginary friends and alter egos. Call it introverted, imply insular, whisper depressive – the point is, this time I fought the urge to hide. Instead, I began every day with a punishing gym workout – after walking my beloved terrier, Rodney, of course; the cornerstone of every day.

Then it was home to write, in intensive bursts – or not – and catch up with a handful of kind, funny and beautiful girlfriends, and whether over dinner, coffee or just a walk in the park, there was plenty of gossip and giggles. And suddenly a week that I thought might drag had raced by until on the Saturday, the sparrow had landed (and has valiantly battled jet-lag ever since).

Has my waistline noticed the increased gym activity? Probably not; but did my heart lift in gratitude for the female friends who were just there – proving again and again that I was not alone but part of a community of women who look out for each other. Thank you ladies; you are beautiful inside and out.

Another day spent with imaginary friends

Writing fiction is like playing with imaginary friends. You invent a bunch of personalities and then set them on a path of action and adventure. None of it is real, yet they live and breathe, first in the author’s heart and mind – and later (if he or she has done the job well) in the reader’s.

The characters we create become almost as vivid as friends and family in the real world. I have to confess to falling hard for one male protagonist I once wrote about… probably the less said about that the better!
The reason I mention this is because I have just begun the sequel to my first (and only) novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb-Watching. It feels right and good – like coming home on a Friday night after a long, tough week at the office.

The characters I created some eighteen months ago now feel like old friends – and in this volume, they’ll be joined by a host of new ones. In my new book, I want to do my characters justice, bringing them to life on the page once more. So I’ll start them off, guiding them firmly at first, before giving them a little freedom to roam independently. For me personally, it is always a magic moment when they begin to breathe on their own.

Love is in the air

Crawling in traffic today on the A20, I watched two collar doves participating in what was obviously a mating ritual. They were spiralling up, up, up – then swooping down, freefalling, not quite touching and flapping madly all the while. I was transfixed; it was a wonderful sight.

But then I started to think; ‘A20, traffic fumes, road works…really? Go on Bud, take her to the woods, light her fire under a canopy of leaves – not under the glare of motorists in first gear and shoppers coming out of the Tesco Express; you’re better than that, Mr Col R Dove’.

Thankfully, it’s one thing that separates us from our animal brethren. Can you imagine if, driven entirely by instinct and the need to breed, human beings started humping each other in the street…or in Sainsbury’s (other food stores are available)? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Of course the younger you are, the closer to nature, too. Weather permitting I’ve seen some pretty similar displays by adolescents in the park – all that pent up teenage lust; only a few steps (flaps) removed from my courting collar doves.

But by the time you’ve hit middle age, the terms and conditions can run into several pages, that can (and do) include a visit to the waxing parlour the day before, a long scented bath, a glass of wine or champagne, a simple light-bite meal (anymore and one risks dyspepsia or worse), candle-light (the menopausal woman’s best friend) and something sultry on the turntable – need I say more? For full terms and conditions, read the small print.

Home – an inspiration for Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching

As I walked my elderly dog this morning, the soft rain freeing the honeyed scents of early summer, it occurred to me how thin-shelled modern living is.

Like squillions of other people in the Home Counties, I live in a new town. It began life as an estate but twenty five years later, with supermarkets, gyms, dozens of independent shops, several restaurants, doctors, dentists, a plethora of blue chips companies in residence, its own church and community hall, and a population exceeding 8,000, there is no denying it has grown into a town.

In a recent poll by Match.com, my community was revealed as a UK dating hotspot, enjoying one of the most active singles scenes in the South East; hardly surprising, given the large number of people rubbing along in such a small area of the Kent countryside.

But I digress. It’s a thin-shelled existence; physically and spiritually, where walls are paper thin, gardens are overlooked, and one meets the same people, sometimes several times in the course of one day…on the school run, in the gym, in the supermarket and in the doctors’ waiting room. Claustrophobic might be another word for it – this is not a place for those who seek solitude and anonymity. Community spirit flows as freely as Prosecco on a Friday night, and family life here is an open book. There are no secrets – especially in the summer as windows are thrown wide and back-to-back gardens become pop-up restaurants and party venues.

My town, a veritable Marmite of communities (people love it or hate it) inspired my debut novel, Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching. It’s the perfect backdrop for a style of living which can feel materially bloated, but spiritually starved; a place where loneliness can thrive in a crowd and lead to desperate and regrettable measures, and where secrets can be swept under the sisal carpet…but not for long.

Without exception, the characters are fictional – but as they reflect real life, don’t be surprised if Lisa reminds you of a woman at the gym, if Kate is the image of someone in your book club, or Ben is a photo-fit of past loves. It’s all eminently recognisable – and it’s all between the pages.

Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching is a completed 80,000 word novel; now seeking representation and publication.