Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Janet and John Go To Cornwall


Last Few Days in Cornwall

So I'm here in Cornwall for the last few days before I have to pack up and go back home to London.

I am fascinated to discover that the Alverton was once a nunnery - the Order of the Epiphany. An epiphany (from the ancient Greek) is, apparently, a manifestation, or an experience of sudden and striking realization.

The Hotel Was Once a Nunnery
One of the manifestations I want to see whilst I'm in this beautiful land is more writing.  It's not that I lack will-power as such - I write copy for yoga mats and running shoes with zeal and application. Yet, in the year since my mother died I've found it so hard to get back to my historical novel.  The book is based on a story she told me; one of those from London's East End. When she went, my inspiration seemed to take a dive, in spite of encouragement from friends and attendance, rather erratic, at JoJo Thomas's Creative Writing Workshops.

JoJo Thomas' Workshops
Then, quite by chance, I started working my way through Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way on Kindle.  I think it helps that it's on Kindle, even though I have the paperback and love its large format. On Kindle you get just a small helping at any one time. Religiously (ha ha!) I work through each and every exercise. I don't skip, and I don't rush. I don't look ahead. I just take my notebook - yes, my notebook, and my trusty four-coloured biro out for hours at a time, when the paying work permits, and bury myself in writing Daily Pages, and completing exercises that involve my honouring my one-time desire to be a nurse, an explorer and a flamenco guitarist.

Janet & John Reader 
Whilst I'm in Cornwall I listen to BBC Radio 2 a great deal - my room doesn't stretch to many mod cons - and I'm by turns entranced, awed and not a little tearful by the tribute to the late Terry Wogan. I remember Terry myself, for he was one of those broadcasters with an uncanny knack for appealing to all ages.  Many's the time Mother, Nana and I were doubled up in hysterics over one of his jokes. In particular, I used to love the 'Janet & John' stories. If you're over a certain age and grew up in Britain you'll have learned to read from a Janet & John reading book.  Janet and John were white, middle class and as I remember them, quite insufferable. Still, no matter your ethnicity, social class or religious faith, you still approached the skill of reading via their safe daily routine of walks in the park, by the stream and the bench.

Growing Up in the Veldt
A former boss, Editorial Director at Macmillan Publishers, once told me that she read Janet & John whilst growing up in the South African veldt. She wondered for years what a 'stream' was.  Terry's version, thinly veiled smut, was at times so excruciatingly funny that my Nana had to put the kettle down mid-pour, lest she scald herself.

Tea at the Alverton
Well, Terry Wogan was said to be the ultimate mult-tasker, dashing off a filthy Janet & John story whilst playing a record and eating a doughnut all at the same time. At the Alverton, one of the highlights of my stay has been their way with speciality teas - not only do they serve it in a china pot with a matching cup but they bring a glass timer so that you know when to pour! One of the more pretentious of the guests said it 'adds a touch of class' but for me, the sand-glass provides a perfect excuse for dashing off a timed writing exercise.

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped a berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

W B Yeats 1836-1939
Read at Terry Wogan's Memorial Service


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Intrepid in Cornwall


Setting off  For Cornwall


Like most writers I have to perform a juggling act. There's  the creative writing that comes straight from the heart, the copy-writing for rubbber gloves and wrinkle creams, and the fascinating work I have as a Clerk of the Court in London. 

Trendy people call it a 'work portfolio' and talk rather pompously of 'income streams.' If I'm honest, I don't care what they're called. Each brings its own mix of fun, despair, creative satisfaction and, well, money, in varying quantities.

This month one of the 'income streams'  brings me to Cornwall.  I have not visited that enchanted place since childhood. I remember it as a goblin-land - mysterious, beautiful and much warmer than London. Terrified that it won't be like that now, I book a ticket from London Paddington to Truro.  The Cornish Riviera Express - it doesn't disappoint and transports us at an unruly speed as far as Plymouth. After that, we meander further and further away from the capital city and all its angst. 


One of the things I want to do while I'm down here is rediscover my own creative wellspring, which has sadly deserted me in the year since my mother's death. Yes, I've met my commitments. I'm a professional, right? But my own, personal projects are stuck, and I cannot seem to recover that joy I used to have when I sat down with my novel and lost myself in another world. 



 I check into my hotel, The Alverton. It was once an abbey, owned by the Order of the Epiphany - well, there's serendipity. I could do with a bit of an epiphany. Things are looking up.

I was but made fancy
By some necromancy
That much of my life claims the spot as its key.

St Juliot, Thomas Hardy 1913