"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Plan for the day

What I'm reading

What I'm listening to

Henry Purcell: Ode for St Cecilia

What I'm buying (for Ruth)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

How dogs enjoy a holiday weekend

I believe it was comedian Steven Wright, who specialises in the existential one-liner joke, who posed the question, "What do dogs do on their day off?"

As he surely knows, dogs have no concept of a day off. But here's how mine spent the holiday weekend....

Lola and Ruth are ready for good times.

Ruth tries to entice Lola into play.

Lola prefers to watch.

Ruth checks out the arrangements of lily-of-the-valley in the upstairs sitting room.

Ruth's energy is not limitless. She collapses at my feet, sound asleep--

as I enjoy a nice, cold caipirinha, a perfect beverage for a hot day!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Busy Saturday on the Big Lake

My sister-in-law made a whirlwind solo trip from her lodge in the Upper Midwest to our part of the world. Yes, it's a holiday weekend, but she spent all of it doing projects. (A resumption of some re-decorating and home improvement that began last September.) We headed up to the lake cottage to check out her progress, and to help out.

On our departure, we passed our little lake and spotted this male tanager and his mate near the shore.

On arrival at the big lake, I photograph the immortal view from our dock. What can I say, it's a ritual.

A busy bumblebee, generously pollinating the wild blueberry bushes growing beside the lake.

Look, the new custom-made vintage New England postcard curtains are installed in the master bedroom!

Look, the old photos of many generations enjoying lakeside living have been re-mounted in a custom mat, and newly framed!

Look, we have a wonderful new shower head in the adjoining bath!

There was far more accomplished than just these things. I had no hand in it, other than serving as the official photographer and hanging some curtains in a guest bedroom.

Me, with funky hair halo effect. (Natural backlighting provided by the sun.)

Even though I hardly lifted a finger, of course I got my usual reward anyway--a cold refreshing cider.

We all enjoyed a dee-lish vegetarian dinner on the porch, in full view of the sunset lake.

Then it was back to the Lodge on the Little Lake, where Lola and Ruth greeted us enthusiastically. And ravenously!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Spring Cleaning

Today I've re-organised my sidebar links--pruned a few out, added fresh ones.

Speaking of the sidebar, I added a recommended historical novel recently, A Likeness by Sonia Overall.

I found it in London, in the bookshop at the British Library--where I spent so much of my time over there. I was seeking a good book to take along to Eastern Europe, and while poring over the fiction shelves I spotted this one. Why I didn't notice it last year, when it would've been sitting there, I've no idea, perhaps because I didn't need it so much. I nearly put it back on the shelf when I realised it was a first person narrative--sometimes that's a deal-breaker for me, sometimes not. The book and subject were so intriguing that I didn't care.

It's wonderfully written, and impressively evocative and even informative of the Elizabethan era. The protagonist is a portrait painter, and I thoroughly enjoyed following the fall and rise of his fortunes.

Another thing I meant to mention sooner was my glorious amaryllis, which bloomed this year. In fact, it was almost open when I returned from overseas.

Three years ago I received it as a thank you gift from a bishop, for serving on a diocesan committee. (The bishop has since retired.) It bloomed beautifully that first year, but never again until now. At long last, my patience was rewarded! I will carefully repeat the regimen of care I followed over the past year, because I forgot how gorgeous it is and I so want this to be an annual occurence!

Ruth is settling in so nicely, she really is a delightful wee dog. Twice each day, in the morning and in the afternoon we have our "racing around the backyard like a Border collie" session. Lola joins in, sort of--sometimes she trots around with Ruth, sometimes she stands there while Ruth playfully nips at her back legs. They get along so well, it's a blessing.

The garden is so green--and weedy. I pulled and chopped as many weeds as I could this morning among the snow peas and in the flower beds. The roses are leafing out very well, and one bush, which has never bloomed at all, is budded already. I'm cautiously hopeful that there'll be flowers.

The bleeding hearts--regular and fringed--are blooming now, and I've got carpets of lily of the valley all round the property. The last of the tulips are doing their thing.

The phoebes never nested in their usual place. But the pair up at the lake cottage are nesting on a porch overhang, as ever.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Baby Chipmunks

What's cuter than a bouncing young Border collie?

Well, not a lot, I admit. But these baby chipmunks are hard to resist.

At first, I thought there were three.

Hey, c'mon out! Have some fun.

The fourth chipmunk emerges.

Throughout this episode, Mummy Chipmunk was watching me watching her kids.

And all the while, my chipmunk-herding Border collie was sound asleep on the couch.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bird sightings and Ruth update

On a splendidly sunny Friday morning, Ruth did the most amazing thing.

I had taken both dogs out to the back yard, and was on the deck watching them down below. Ruth had been rolling round in the patch of black-eyed susans, as she does, and Lola was just standing about.

Suddenly, and for the first time since arriving, the little dog went into "Border collie" overdrive. She raced around the yard in a broad circle, following the perimeter of the entire fence in an anti-clockwise direction. She flew across the grass, low to the ground, as Lola stared at her, bemused. After one circuit, Ruth ran up the stairs, then quickly down again for another tear around the yard. Then another. Three in all.

I've been around Border collies and seen them working, for most of my life. On a cattle farm down South. Herding sheep in the Highlands of Scotland, arcoss the mountains and valleys of Wales, in the lowlands and uplands throughout England. At sheepdog trials, here and abroad, year after year.

So I'm familiar with an "outrun," and know one when I see it. And that's exactly what Ruth was doing in her sudden burst of energy and high spirits. It was instinctive--and beautiful to see.

Does this mean we must get get her a sheep?

After Ruth's grand performance, I drove her to our vet's office, where she had a check up and acquired a lot of new fans and friends. We returned home with some pills and potions, no major concerns, just some bugs to clear up, plus the heartworm and flea/tick preventative we've used for all our dogs.

On the way back we saw a wild turkey cross the road in front of the car. Well, I saw it--Ruth happened to be looking out the wrong window.

That afternoon, my husband looked out our kitchen window and announced, "You know you've had way too much rain when the ducks are hanging out in your yard." And there, in the driveway, was a pair of mallards.

They headed for the woods beside the driveway, where there is a very large vernal pool. We suspect they may have had a nest on the lake, but that high water damaged it, and they were looking for a new site.

In the evening we attended a dinner party at the opposite side of town from where we live, our first outing since Ruth's arrival. I felt like a new mom leaving the infant with a babysitter for the first time. Although the weather was fine where we were, the view was vast, and we saw thunderheads moving towards our area. We got home later than expected, and all was well. We hadn't got much rain at our house, both dogs were dry. I suspect Ruth used the dog house. Lola had done a fine job of looking out for her little companion. Their behaviour towards one another was unchanged--Ruth very fond, Lola very patient--so no tensions erupted while we were away.

Saturday was mostly sunny. The dogs "helped" me on the deck as I potted up some plants and organised my herb table. We had a busy morning, followed by a long and vigorous walk along the road and up a tall hill. Even so, after supper, Ruth was still surprisingly energetic. She was playing with her favourite toy, a fuzzy ball with a fuzzy tail that has a squeaker inside. She throws it for herself, and chases it--for about 15 minutes that night, while we sat there watching and laughing. She likes to drag it all over the house, and eventually places it in her lair under our bed.

It's one of those toys that the other dogs never cared for much. All her favourites are the ones that have gone unused for a very long time.

Eventually the pup ran out of steam, and lay curled up beside me while we watched Good Night and Good Luck, which was excellent.

Today we left them alone again, outside on their porch, and went to church. On our return, we found that Ruth had gnawed the zipper out of one dog bed, which she then dragged down the stairs and into the backyard. I mended the hole, and when we left for a Historical Society meeting and New Town Library tour, we put some chew toys outside. We came back to find the bed intact, and toys strewn across the grass, so apparently she played with them.

We've been enjoying the orioles, two males and a female are infrequently sighted on the orange.

Having a little "kid" around means we're getting up earlier than we used to, but after feeding time we all go back to bed. We're still puppy proofing the house. Baby Ruth definitely has a shoe fetish, but hasn't drastically harmed anything. We're hyper-vigilant, and promote constructive chewing as best we can.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Meet Ruth

Yesterday the sun showed itself again--after 8 or 9 days of hiding. And happily, another type of sunshine came into our lives. Far sooner than we ever had a right to hope, we found a dog. Shadow has really been beaming down good vibes and love for the people who miss her so. She would adore Ruth.

Our Ruth is a Border Collie mix, and a very small girl (about as high as a Sheltie, a breed I'm familiar with.) We're already teasing her about being a new breed, the "mini-Border collie". Her coat is shorter than a BC, but she has the traditional black and white colouring and markings. Her face, limbs and paws are delicate. Her ears are silky smooth, break nicely, and are a trifle large for her face, which is quite cute. She displays none of the hyper characteristics of a purebred BC. In fact, her behaviour indoors and out seems impeccable. She's very much a people pup, but gets along great with our other dog. She's good natured, inquisitive, intelligent, affectionate, and shy. She's about one year old, so it goes without saying that she's lively and playful. Yet she settles down in my office and naps by my desk.

The organisation we adopted from is Great Dog Rescue of New England. Everyone we came in contact with--by phone or email or in person--was wonderful. Ruth was originally rescued by Paws and Claws in Arkansas. So she has Southern roots, just like me!

**I should add that I met Ruth and everyone in her life so far through the amazing Petfinder. We're now true believers in internet matchmaking!

We found out about Ruth just as she was making a transition into a new foster situation. Because everything I knew about her sounded so right, yesterday morning I drove downstate to pick her up. My route took me along the Merrimack River, which is a total flood zone. The interstate wasn't affected, but I had some shocking views of historically high water.

Ruth and her overnight foster mom met me in a Target parking lot. The night before on the phone, making arrangements for the pick up, I'd made jokes about the transfer resembling a "drug deal," only to find out that I was talking to a police officer! Ooops. I quickly made it clear I only knew about drug deals from watching tv and films. I must've been convincing--Kristen showed up with the dog, and let me drive off with her.

Ruth behaved beautifully during our first ride together, very comfortable on the dog bed in the back seat of the car.

I phoned my husband to say we were about 5 minutes away, so he could put Lola on the leash and bring her to meet us. (It seemed better not to startle her by coming right to the house.) Ruth and I got out of the car at the lakeshore. She waded right in and had a sip. (She also peed in the lake, after her long ride, but we won't tell anybody! Not even the fish!) Soon Lola arrived. It was a friendly meeting, very calm. Ruth and I walked back to the house with them. We strolled around the front of the house.

They decided right away that they're going to be buddies.

Ruth is so little, she can walk underneath Lola, who has extremely long legs. And if Ruth is in her way, Lola can sail over her in one graceful bound.

She was a bit daunted at first by what she found inside the house. There's a lot of space, and high ceilings, and she's such a wee doggie!

We took both dogs for a long walk late in the day, before dinner. They amble along very companionably. In the evening, they snoozed on the floor at our feet while we switched between American Idol (so long Elliot) and the finale of Survivor (yippee, the hippies won!)

Later I changed my original plan and made up Shadow's bed for Ruth. It's so nice, covered with the McCallum tartan--specially chosen because of my McCallum ancestry. Didn't know what to expect. Soon as I put it down, the puppy curled up right in the centre--and slept there comfortably till morning. She coughed a fair amount in the night (she's on antibiotics for it), but quickly went back to sleep.

This morning we were all up a little earlier than usual, hardly surprising with a toddler in the house. After breakfast, we had another moment to thrill my heart. A chipmunk was sitting on the front steps. I took Ruth to the door to see it, and explained that the Border Collie-type dog in our household has a very important job--keeping an eye on the rodents running everywhere. Not that Ruth needed to be told. She was totally into it from the first moment.

Next I filled the chipmunk feeding station on the deck, and put Ruth out there to continue her education. A couple of customers some came round. The pup stood there, mesmerised, giving 'em that unflinching Border Collie stare.

Shadow must be dancing in doggie heaven. Lola seemed pretty impressed, too. She's not into the chipmunk management duties so much, she has more important stuff to handle.

We played around this morning and had some productive trips out to the backyard. Ruth climbed on the sofa--the one dogs are allowed on--to grab the stuffed Border Collie sitting (supposedly) out of reach. Before putting it even more out of reach, I let her keep it for a minute.

I'm pretty sure this is called cannibalism.

Or just natural excitement at finding something around here smaller than she is. Besides a chipmunk.

We had a great time watching a chipmunk mom and her baby in the front yard, while listening to Leftover Lunch, the midday alt-rock oldies show on WFNX-FM from Boston. She's a fabulous "hanging out together" dog, just smaller than any of our other ones. With an equally winning personality.

While I was writing this, I heard the pitter patter of little feet on the stair. Then silence. I peeked into the adjoining sitting room to see what Ruth was doing and discovered this:

That was Shadow's favourite place. If she wasn't lying in my office, she would nap on the couch. I tried last night to let Ruth know she was welcome to that particular place, if she wanted it, but she didn't seem to be a furniture dog. I guess she finally figured out on her own--from the scent, the dog hairs--that it's the right spot for her.

Lest it appear that we were seeking some sort of Shadow clone--definitely not. It wouldn't be fair to her or Ruth or any other dog we inquired about. But I won't deny that we are charmed by some similarities.

As well as the many differences!

Admittedly, I'm not getting much writing done today. But now I'm headed over to the sofa to join my pup, with a fat research book.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Rainy Days & Monday

Many parts of New England have received enough rain to cause dangerous conditions: swollen rivers, compromised dams, street closures, overflowing cellars, drowned cars, evacuation orders, and so on. I think my area has received nearly a foot of rain since Friday...

Our house is mercifully dry, but not our surroundings. The little seasonal creek that forms a 3-sided moat around the property jumped the road yesterday to spill into the lake. Overnight it receded and now flows through the culvert like it should do.

Last week ended very busily, with meetings and appointments. On Saturday a writers' group hosted a "Spring Fling"--normally I'm out of the country, but the timing of our trip was a bit different this year, so I could attend. The speakers were historical mystery author Sarah Smith in the morning and romance mystery author Jill Winters. Both were delightful, charming, quite different yet equally wise in the ways of writing. A thoroughly enjoyable day--apart from the driving through a massive rainstorm to get to town and back!

I was glad to have a quiet Sunday at home day with Lola and my husband. Despite a huge article in the morning paper about my Author Diva experience in Bratislava and Prague, I humbly tended to a few housekeeping tasks. Laundered the dog beds--after a teary family conference we agreed to put Shadow's away. Her feeding dish remains in place, however, as does her toy basket. The empty collar sits in full view, beside the pretty little wooden box. If it ever stops raining, we'll have a burial. I only want to do it on a beautiful, sunny spring day.

Something I didn't expect so soon was my need to begin the process of seeking a another dog. Lola is lonely. The rhythm of our household just doesn't feel right. So, while we not in a great rush, or desperate to make a hasty change, there's no reason not to begin seeking a good match. In fact, over the weekend we submitted applications to 3 wonderful pet rescue organisations, one in Maine and two in Massachusetts. If we don't find an adoptee straight away, the aps can be kept on file.

A few profiles of young female dogs have interested us enough to make further inquiries. We're carefully sifting through the information from their foster homes, to ensure a good fit.

With the constant rain, we've all got cabin fever. This week my schedule is completely free, and there's no working in the garden, so I'm not even tempted. This means I can organise all my research materials from the trip. This morning I was reviewing and editing voluminous notes taken at the British Library and the Metropolitan Archive in London. The entire document was 37 pages, single-spaced! I've got to work out which juicy morsels fit into my timeline and plot, to be used in the book, and what is merely background information to help me in the process of writing.

And then--the photograph archive! Our day at Hampton Court was fully documented, and I need to select which shots should go directly into my research notebooks.

Here's a nice pic of tulips and primroses, I snapped them in Gordon Square one afternoon. Just a little something to brighten this grey day!

Thursday, May 11, 2006



Our homeward journey took us through 6 countries over a 48-hour period, which sounds more fatiguing than it actually was. We'd been away for a long time, had many adventures--some of them I have yet to recount here. We looked forward to seeing our dogs again, and hanging out together in the springtime woods.

We received the unexpected news while sitting in a departures lounge at Heathrow Airport lounge. My husband was on his UK mobile, checking home answerphone messages--something we hadn't been doing in Eastern Europe. Suddenly he turned it off, and turned to me.

"There's really bad news about Shadow."

The kennel manager had left a message saying Shadow was taken to the emergency vet. We weren't sure exactly when, or what the outcome was. And our flight to Shannon was being called.

I wept all the way across the Irish sea, and Ireland itself.

Once settled in our hotel, I quickly Googled the emergency vet (open 24 hours, so the time difference made no difference.) I was able to speak with one of the vets who had treated Shadow.

The very one who, on Sunday, April 30th, had put her to sleep. The medics tried to stabilise her till we could be reached to make decisions, but it quickly became obvious nothing could be done. In our absence, unable to contact us, the kennel manager requested private cremation with return of ashes, exactly as we wouldn't chosen. And have done, for our other dogs.

Shadow was 12 and a half years old. While she remained lively and bouncy and full of fun, at her age every day was a gift, and we knew it. I think she was too well-mannered to die while we were around to see it. I'm not letting myself feel sad or guilty for not being there for her...because once she went into hospital, she wouldn't even have known.

We lost her to an aggressive disease--the kind that presents itself only after it's too late to do anything.

Had I been aware of the terrible situation back home, and its tragic outcome, I would never have made it through the press conference, or book fair, or any of the things I needed to do, or lived up to other's expectations. So I can't regret not knowing. By the time I learned what had happened, I was free to sit in my plane window seat, and weep all the way across the Atlantic.


Normally when we return from an overseas trip, we spend a night at home unpacking and getting settled before picking up the girls. This time, we were desperate to re-form our diminished pack as quickly as possible.

It was an absolutely beautiful evening when we drove to the hilltop kennel--sunshine on the greening fields, crystal blue sky, views of mountains and lakes on all sides.

Lola was overjoyed to see us. The kennel manager said she'd been very unsettled in the days immediately after Shadow was taken away, but was better.

The drive home was painful. So unlike other drives, during which Shadow, in the back seat, would lay her big head on my shoulder, happy to be reunited. Lola doesn't do that, she sticks her nose through a crack in the window, sniffing the world outside the car. But this time, she licked my face a lot, and whined.

We hadn't put anything away, thinking it best for Lola--and us--to accustom ourselves to the empty bed, the unused dog dish, the silent sqeaky toys. Shadow did love and use her toys, whether they came from Harrods, or a Parisian pet shop, or Target.

Watching Lola search the house for her companion of a decade is difficult. She sometimes takes up the same spaces Shadow did--the spot at the top of the stairs, so perfect for chipmunk spying, under the dining room table at my husband's feet.

In the evening, she curls up besides me on the sofa, keeping me company as I read and watch television. Unlike Shadow, who settled in and never moved till bedtime, Lola hops on and off. She doesn't usually linger, but she always returns.

She's restless, she's lonely. There's not much we can do.

It's been more than twenty years since I lived in a one dog household. We've always had two, if not three. It's a different rhythm, and strange to us. We're making no future plans yet, knowing we all must heal first.


Soon after our return, I got the call from the emergency vet that Shadow's ashes had been delivered. They came in a sealed wooden box, very pretty, with a detatched name plate (which I shall keep) and a little bouquet of dried flowers.

I've been through this twice before, so I know how it feels to take home that small package of what used to be a vital presence in my life. As I expected, I was very teary on the drive home, resting my hand on the little box.

One of these days, when the sunshine returns, we'll bury her beside Daisy and Killian, in the little cemetary visible from my office window.

For eleven years, Shadow was my constant companion--writers have the luxury of working at home, and both the writer and the dog benefit from that. A Border collie/black Lab cross, she had the best and the weirdest traits of both breeds. She loved eating pizza crusts, bananas, raw and crunchy vegetables. She had a habit of placing a paw on my knee and looking up with those great, dark, loving eyes. Lying on the sofa next to me, comfortably dozing, she actually would purr whenever I petted her--a low, rumbling, contented sound. Taking walks around the lake was one of her favourite things. She liked going into the water, but only as far as her feet could touch the ground. Not a swimmer, our Shadow. We're so glad my husband took both of the girls on one only a little while before we drove away to the kennel.

She was gentle, playful, usually active, sometimes lazy, and until a couple of weeks ago seemed destined to live an even longer life than she did. I'm glad there was no protracted decline. She wouldn't have made a very good invalid.

I won't post her picture now. There are too many to choose from, and besides, her personality and activities are already well documented on this blog.

Our household is in mourning. But we have the great comfort of many, many happy memories. A dog can leave no greater legacy than that.

Thank you, Shadow. I'll miss you for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Memories of Vienna consist mostly of food and drink. Here are examples of both:

the Mozart Torte

A "Mozart Torte" in honour of the composer's 250th birthday year. Similar to the marzipan torte I enjoyed in Bratislava, only with chocolate discs imprinted with Mozart's image.
All together now:

"If I
Could save pear
In a bot-tle..."

this is what it would look like.

I wonder how they do they do that. Impressive.

Friday, May 05, 2006


A busy time in Prague, attending the international Book Fair, plus sightseeing in this large and lovely city. Not to mention pausing in the cafes that line every street! Below is my homage to Gambrinus, the bestselling local brew--I'm holding up my mug in front of the sign.

Beside the river, from the New Town side, looking over at the Old Town. The enormous bridge spanning the river is in the distance.

A pretty view towards a watermill, underneath the enormous bridge spanning the river.

The blue skies make every photo look like a postcard.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sunny Bratislava

I spent a warm and sunny day touring bookshops and city streets.

Had lunch at an outdoor cafe in the square.

Here's the view from my table.

After a delicious lunch and a glass of wine--a heavenly piece of marzipan torte!

It was wonderful finding my novels in every bookstore I visited.

The Proposal. (I'm told this titles translates "To Seduce with Love.")

Kissing a Stranger.

Jubilee Year.

The city is so photogenic that I'll need to create a special dedicated webpage for my best shots, perhaps arranged by category--buildings, people, animals, views. I know I will miss Bratislava when it is time to leave for Prague, and the International Book Fair.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Meet the Press

Here's a photo from my press conference with the Slovakian media. Participants included several magazine journalists, tv interviewers, and a radio journalist. The lady sitting on my right is Ivana, my interpreter. The gentleman to my left, beyond the empty chair, is the managing editor of the publishing house. There were at least three other people present not seen in the picture--a video photographer and a a still photographer, and one other magazine journalist. I believe there were 15 of us in total!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Beautiful Bratislava

I will no doubt have a great deal to report about the England portion of my trip, in particular an entire day spent at Hampton Court. My blog readers may recall that I was extremely interested in (okay, obsessed with!) a particular painting that hangs in the palace--the female protagonist of my work-in-progress. Not to mention the King and Queen with whom she and my male protagonist interacted. I did indeed view her portrait. The sun shone on the palace gardens she would have known so well...but I'll save my musings on that topic for another time.

For now, I introduce the wonderful and welcoming city of Bratislava, in Slovakia.

I was royally treated by the staff of Ikar, my publishing house. Since October, they have produced 3 of my novels in Slovakian, in both hardcover and paperback editions--with another title coming by the end of the year.

I offer abundant thanks to all for their hospitality: the time spent showing me the Old Town, the delicious lunch at KOGO, the press conference that included so many attentive and interested journalists and photographers (print and broadcast). This has been an incredible opportunity to promote my novels to a new audience. With extra special thanks going to Ivana, my interpreter, for her hard work!

Here I am in a bookshop, thrilled to see my books so prominently displayed.

More about this adventure to come....