Autumn tips into winter in the Derbyshire Dales; the days are brown and sombre. Or otherwise green and copper, lit with a brilliant low sun. There’s a mystery to this time of year, with the rising mist and the lowering cloud and the early dark that falls so suddenly. We’ll be used to it by Christmas but just now it seems strange; the long sunny days of summer don’t seem so long ago.
The garden is looking very back-endish as they say round here. There are leaves everywhere – the downside, literally, of having so many lovely trees! The dahlias and marigolds were the last splashes of colour but now they’ve almost given up the ghost too. Here are a few pics anyway and more on the My Garden tab on the website. Our restored Victorian garden was the subject of a talk I recently gave at my old college, Girton College, Cambridge. It was fascinating to be back after twenty years, not least because the student rooms are now ensuites and there’s an amazingly posh new swimming pool.
The launch in September of my 12th novel, the campus comedy Gifted & Talented was a great success. I had some marvellous reviews and a lovely party. Since then, things have settled down. The birds have flown south, the children have returned to school and I’m back in my hut while they’re there, working on my new novel, a romantic comedy set at a summer festival and with the working title Carry On Glamping. I’m writing about sunshine and T-shirts while outside it’s so cold it grabs my nose and tweaks it whenever I step outside! But fiction is fantasy, and it’s one way of keeping myself warm in winter!
When I’m not working on my own books I’m generally reading other people’s; the Daily Mail keep me busy with new fiction and among the most enjoyable novels I’ve read recently are Elizabeth Jane Howard’s fifth Cazalet Chronicle, All Change, and Joanna Trollope’s take on Sense & Sensibility. Click here to read my most recent reviews. I also recently read – for my own fun – Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita, which I’d long been intending to tackle. It’s about what happens when the Devil visits Moscow along with henchmen including an enormous talking cat. Love triumphs in the end, however. I’m also getting to the end of Don Juan by Lord Byron, another ambition. It’s a poem the size of a novel, so no mean feat, but Don Juan is a sort of James Bond figure who is shipwrecked, sold as a slave and the lover of Catherine the Great to name but few, so it’s lively stuff.
I love Byron – the whole idea of him – and recently, in Venice, had the great treat of sailing up the Grand Canal at night alongside the palace where he lived in the early nineteenth century. The lights were on and I could see the painted ceilings, mirrors and marble fireplaces. He had good taste in houses, or maybe just luck; his ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, is near where we live and the most romantic place imaginable. Byron doesn’t strike me as mad, bad and dangerous to know at all, just someone very clever who spoke his mind and was very funny and rude. Which obviously would not have gone down well with everyone.
We had a wonderful time in Venice where we stayed in a lovely apartment with a garden. Here is a picture of us in the garden playing Uno. The weather was warm enough to eat outside even in early November. It was Halloween while we were there and some of the Grand Canal palaces had illuminated pumpkins on the balconies. We failed to get any pumpkins ourselves but improvised with large red peppers which were much easier to scrape out, had no nasty smell at all and looked positively diabolical with the candles glowing inside.
The next big thing for me on the writing front is the publication of Gifted & Talented in paperback in January, right at the end of the month on the 31st. This feels auspicious, somehow, and an additionally cheering prospect is the fabulous new cover that my publishers Headline have come up with. It’s so bright and cheerful and glamorous and I’m really thrilled with it. I attach a copy for your delectation.
In the meantime, have a wonderful start of winter. The best possible time to settle down with a good book, and perhaps a glass of wine!