Saturday 24 December 2011

A Spotless Rose

Like many people around the world, I'll be listening later to the Carols and Readings from King's College, Cambridge which are so much part of Christmas Eve. Here's my very favourite carol, A Spotless Rose composed by Herbert Howells in 1919.

I always find this breathtakingly beautiful. The echoes of the English Renaissance drift into a perfect marriage of words and music. If you are lucky enough to hear it live, especially in one of the Cambridge college chapels, the sound swells up into the high stone vaults and seems to swirl around like so many leaves in the wind. I first heard it at school in Sussex, where the choirmaster had been a choral scholar at King's and had brought all his passion and expertise to the music there. Then, when I went to Cambridge as a student, this was the song I always longed to hear by candlelight at Trinity.

A very Happy Christmas to you all!

Monday 19 December 2011

The missing partridge and other matters

“We are literally living the twelve days of Christmas. Last night was the seventh carol service, six grown-ups parties in a row, we have had five flute concerts, four children’s parties, three work events, two elderly parents staying and only missing the Partridge because I haven’t made it to Waitrose yet.”

So reads the email this morning from the friend who has been making me laugh ever since we were sixteen. All the mad rushing around and suddenly it really does seem like Christmas.
Here’s this scene set for a family party at home yesterday that marks the point for us when the festive season truly starts. As befits a Georgian house (built circa 1750) the dining room is cosy and lit only by candles. It may be an affectation, but when we renovated the house and took out neon strip lighting (nice) we very deliberately decided not to have any electric lighting in here. In all the years since, we’ve never regretted it and our dinners and winter lunches with friends and family have always taken place in a warm convivial glow against the dusky red walls.

The tree has been dressed, most of the shopping is in, presents are wrapped, and now it’s just a question of keeping up with the entries on the calendar.
All writing stopped with the end of the school term and the really important concerns of life like the promised  iPhone for the Teenager and the logistics of the Rhianna concert at the O2 in London. Still, as all Two Regular Readers of this sadly neglected blog may know, there was a word count in operation before Christmas, and the results are in. I was aiming for 50,000 words, and managed 48,000 of the first draft of the new novel before deciding to hive off a section and make that into a separate novella. That now stands at 12,000 words, so all in all I’m feeling pretty pleased. Or I would be if I weren’t convinced that at least 30,000 were rubbish. They may well be, in which case I will simply have to try harder in the New Year.

For those who are curious about the setting and subject matter, I can reveal that I am back in the lavender fields of Provence during the Second World War. Those pictures of the workers haunted me (you can see them here) and life couldn’t really have been as apparently simple there as Bénédicte claimed in The Lantern, could it?
Anyway, I raise a glass to you all and wish you a happy and calm week before Christmas! 

Sunday 4 December 2011

The village in Kent

Phew! What a weekend. The village Christmas fair opened on Friday morning, became a night market with live entertainments on Friday night and then went on all day on Saturday. It was a triumph of organisation by many of our lovely friends and neighbours and a real community event to raise money for the village's 14th century church and a local cancer drop-in charity.

All the fantastic array of stalls had a local connection, and the idea was that we could all do plenty of our Christmas shopping while supporting home-grown businesses - everything from aromatherapy products to jewellery, pottery and paintings, to fabulous hampers and Christmas trees, decorations, baby clothes (there have been a lot of new babies in our vibrant little community), bags and vintage clothes, handmade chocolate and amazing cakes.

I was offering signed copies of The Lantern as my contribution and it was a great chance to chat to new as well as familiar faces. Rob played the piano and premiered a lovely new song with vocals from Grace Butler. Steve J gave us his Elvis, though there was quite a bit of competition from John. There were winter morris dancers, a sweet school choir and a ukelele band - it really was a great party atmosphere.

Not the greatest photos, I'm afraid - camera hand rather wobbly after all the signing, and the glasses of wine - but they give a small snapshot of the event. Note the backdrop up on the stage from the last panto - the village square as scenery designed and painted by Graham and Fred who worked so tremendously hard for days to get everything set up.

It was a terrific event, that ended in champagne at Graham's birthday party across the road, where there were a great many tired but happy faces. Huge thanks especially to Liz and Sophie, Claudia, Deirdre and Graham, Karen, John, Fred, Ivan, Derek and Gwen, who were right in the thick of it. 
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