Monday, 10 August 2015


I’m giving myself a little summer holiday. One manuscript is polished and sent off. One still needs work, but I’m putting it aside for ten days. This feels very wicked, but my brain is buggered.

I’m having three days off at home and then six days on the glorious island of Colonsay, one of my favourite places in the world.

The dear old Red Mare will continue, because it is all holiday when I am with her, and she is interesting me so much at the moment that I have to write it all down.

If you are so inclined, you can find her here:

In the meantime, I hope you are all having a lovely August.

Back in the saddle on the 20th.

10 Aug 1 5184x3456

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Too much cricket.

There is far too much cricket today for there to be time for the blog. I took the opportunity whilst the players were at tea to do some writing. I could do this, or do the Red Mare. I chose the mare, ruthlessly. So the only prose I have for you today is here:

6 Aug 1 3288x4259

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The right reasons.

5 Aug 2 3456x5184

Today, I had twenty versions of the blog running round in the mazy corridors of my mind. Some were grumpy, some were confessional, some were, I am ashamed to say, a tiny bit passive aggressive. I have a truly dreadful habit of expressing subliminal anger under the guise of sweet reason. (People sometimes say to me: don’t be so hard on yourself. I agree that pointless lashing is pointless. But I also think one must look one’s flaws in the whites of their eyes and get their measure. And the phoney sweet reason is a flaw that must be stared down.) One was certainly self-indulgent, which will surprise nobody.

5 Aug 4 5184x3456

Then I had a hard ride. I don’t mean it was difficult, but we were doing some serious work so I had to concentrate. I had to call on all my powers. I was thinking about balance, and softness, and feel. I was very conscious of my body, and my centre of gravity, and letting my physical self go in harmony with the mighty thoroughbred body underneath me. I was in, I think, that wonderful state called flow, where everything drops away, and all that matters is mastering something that is very slightly beyond your capability.

All the stupid things dissipated into the bright air.

There was an authentic, beautiful, funny, clever creature, in a green field starred with clover, being her own true self. That was all that mattered. This time and this place were all that mattered. She really is a mistress of Zen, that mare.

5 Aug 1 5184x3456

And then my wise old owl voice, which doesn’t often get much of a hearing, because it is steady, and low, and does not shout, said: always do things for the right reasons.

That, my darlings, is my thought for the day. Good old owl. I should listen to him more often.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A price worth paying.

You don’t have to tell them everything, say the wise voices in my head.

Yes, you do, say the reckless voices.

The reckless voices have a thing for candour. They like getting everything out in the open. Say the thing, they shout, giddy with delight. They have a theory, which might not be that wide of the mark, that if all the human stuff is out there, then it has no power to wound or frighten. Shame and doubt hate sunlight. Tell your story, bawl the reckless voices, and then you need never be afraid. Let people judge, as they will.

Sometimes I wish I did not listen quite so much to the reckless voices. On about six different occasions in the last few months I have yelped and squealed about book deadlines. I have sat up all night to finish a manuscript, and, transparent with relief and triumph, spread the news on the Facebook, on the Twitter, on the blog. There is a terrible side of me which must do a tap dance. Look at me, Ma, with my jazz hands.

Then the reality bites, and the agent has questions, and kind suggestions, and frets. So even thought I’ve hit the deadline I have to go back to the drawing board all over again and do the sober, stolid work, which does not make a good story for the social media. It’s just grind.

I loathe editing. All the joy and freshness has gone from the book, and the criticism and nit-picking must start. Darlings must be killed. The bloody pile of corpses sit dolefully in their special file, all those happy phrases and dancing paragraphs, all those words which were once written with such delight and now will not do. They do not fit, or they are self-indulgent, or they are just not quite good enough for the pitiless spotlight of the world.

Today, I finished yet another draft. I met, almost, another deadline. (This one is a bit late, which is unlike me, but my girly swot self, the one that always has an apple for the teacher, has apparently run off to join the circus.) I did not howl and yelp on Facebook. I did not stay up all night. I just sighed a long sigh, and wrote a serious appraisal to the agent, and sent the damn thing off.

I thought, as I trudged down to give the mare her tea, what an odd job writing is. It is entirely dependent on the approval of others. The agent must like it, and then a publisher; then an editor, then the marketing people, then the booksellers, then the putters-on of festivals, then the reading public, then the critics, then the beady compilers of the Amazon lists, then goodness knows who. There is no fixed mark; no objective standard. Every word I write is a shot in the dark.

I get to do what I love, and I get to set my own hours, and I have the luxury of being able to ride a horse and say that I am working at the same time, because of course I can do a sitting trot and think deep literary thoughts at the same time. I can’t complain. But tonight I felt a little weary in my soul, as if my sense of self was being worn, a little, by all the judgement on which I depend.

Richard Hughes, an exceptional jockey and an interesting man, who retired from race riding last week, was asked by Clare Balding how he dealt with the not eating. He has not really eaten for twenty years. He weighed himself fifteen times a day. Every morning, his eyes strayed to his watch, to see how loose it was, as that would tell him whether he could make the weight. ‘How did you do that?’ said Balding, almost in a whisper. He smiled. ‘Every job has its sacrifices,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t take the underground to work every morning.’ No more could I, I thought.

He smiled again, with a combination of rue and delight. ‘It’s the horses,’ he said. ‘I’d cut my arm off to ride the horses.’

I would write even if I were not paid for it. I do write even though I’m not paid for it. The damned old language of Shakespeare and Milton has me in its crocodile grip. There’s nothing I can do about that. The price I pay is constant uncertainty, a very British embarrassment every time I have to speak to my accountant, and a vague tiredness of the spirit, from time to time. It’s a price worth paying.

You really did not have to tell them everything, says the wise voice. You told them everything, shout the reckless voices, triumphant.


Today’s pictures:

No time for the camera at the moment. Here are my two beauties, from a few days ago:

4 Aug 1 3456x5184-001

4 Aug 3 5184x3456

4 Aug 5 5184x3456

4 Aug 9 5184x3456

4 Aug 7 3456x4627

4 Aug 8 5184x3456

Monday, 3 August 2015

No words left.

I worked really, really hard today, and that work was rewarded. This does not always happen. Sometimes I put in a huge effort and buggery bollocks is the result. But this morning, it all came together. I could see the way. A small green shoot of hope sprouted. It was a lovely feeling.

Since I have wrangled with words for many hours, I have none left now. Sometimes my brain is a finite thing.

Before I sat down at my desk to do the work, I took the red mare out into the wide, open green spaces. It is in just such a space that a thoroughbred is popularly supposed to go crazy. All that flat grass, no fences, nothing to stop her; how could she resist? She resisted. She put on her best dowager duchess hat and gave me a composed trot of such poise and grace that I could hardly believe it. It was as if she were dancing to some internal music. She needed no reminding, no instruction, no correction. She picked her own graceful gait and kept to it. With each step, she grew in confidence and conviction. I could feel something like pride flowing out of her. Perhaps it was even pleasure. I try not to ascribe human emotions to horses, but she seemed delighted with herself.

You can see some of the majesty in this picture. She does have majesty, and it grows in her, day by day:

3 Aug 1 5184x3456


Blog Widget by LinkWithin