Monday, September 30, 2013

Beethoven, aka London trip #3, aka utterly sublime

Current work: working on M&B #59 (Rom – Mediterranean prince) and two or three other projects
Listening to: Kathryn William, Crown Electric (excellent - and today is release day so I'm so glad it arrived this morning!)
Reading: next on TBR
Gym: 121 (weights and cardio intervals), with zumba and jazz tonight

Seeing a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth was joint top of my secret bucket list (the other is seeing the Northern Lights, but that’s outside my budget for the time being). So when I saw this weekend’s performance advertised, just before Christmas, I booked tickets. (Best available. Because if you’re going to do it, really enjoy it.)

So I was a bit overexcited about it. And the nearer the time of the performance got, the fizzier I was getting.

Kensington Tube. So pretty.

Seeing the Royal Albert Hall for the first time (kind of like seeing the Pantheon for the first time…).

Seeing the Albert Memorial for the first time.

Going to Café Consort for dinner (the décor kind of reminded me of a music score).

Oh, yes – dinner. Very nice. Hake with a pesto crust, cream sauce, gnocchi and spinach.

And then polenta cake with rhubarb and clotted cream.

And it was my first ever performance of my favourite piece of music in the world, so I had a glass of champagne as well. Definitely something worth celebrating. (I don’t drink champagne very often!)

This was the door to our box. (I was very, very, very excited by this point.)

This is the ceiling in the Royal Albert Hall.

And this was our view! (On the left, you can see the tiers of boxes - we were on the bottom tier.)

The Emperor piano concerto was very good. (If you’ve ever wondered how a grand piano is moved off the stage, they wrap it up, take the legs off, turn it on its side and put it onto a trolley.)

And then it was the symphony. From the very first note, I was blown away. I know the music very well, but seeing a live performance (not just on the TV) adds an extra dimension. Sharing it with what looked like about four or five thousand people (it was pretty much sold out), all of whom clearly loved it as much as I did because there were quite a lot of people conducting. Very discreetly, with a hand an inch above the knee (I’d been pre-warned by youngest not to embarrass her godmother by conducting, LOL – honey, your godmother has been my best friend for nearly 30 years and she was expecting it).

I particularly love the second movement. But the fourth, when you get all the little teasing trails of themes from the first three, and then you get those first sublime notes of the Ode to Joy… I was moved to tears.

And then the choir comes in. Utterly, utterly sublime.

Now, I know Beethoven was deaf by this point and couldn’t hear the audience’s reaction – apparently he had to be turned round to see them going wild – but surely as a composer he could hear it in his head, and knew how perfect it was. Surely he had to know that no other piece of music could ever be written to touch this. I really hope he knew. Because the only word to describe it is ‘sublime’. I’m so glad I went.

(I will do another post about the Pompeii exhibition, but I thought Beethoven deserved his own.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

making a difference

Current work: working on M&B #59 (Rom – Mediterranean prince) and two or three other projects
Listening to: Alex Cornish, No Shore
Reading: next on TBR
Gym: weights (no new PBs today, but we did different combos of exercises), with zumba and jazz tonight

This last week has been mainly catching up with work, and a little research (aka church-crawling). And buying son a suit for his induction day (scary, when your child has a man-sized suit…).

Also, had some very sad news on Saturday regarding a friend. Later that day, I saw a very appropriate ad in the local paper about the local Twilight Race for Life, raising funds for cancer research. My daughter has kindly agreed to do it with me, so that’s why there’s a link on the right-hand column to our page. If you’d like to sponsor us, however small a sum, we would appreciate it; if funds are too tight or it’s too much hassle, then just please raise a cup of tea or what have you to us on that day and wish us good speed :o)

This week: I’m over at the Chocolate Box tomorrow, talking about music; and on Saturday I’m off to London yet again – this time for a Bucket List trip! And in between, I have a deadline…

Monday, September 16, 2013

tea, cake and naughtiness (aka London trip #2)

So last Friday was the annual M&B authors' lunch in London. I had a wonderful time. Starting with meeting four of my fellow Medical authors at the Royal Horseguards for a cup of tea - LTR that's Caroline Anderson, Scarlet Wilson, Jennifer Taylor and Annie Claydon. (I had chai tea, if you were wondering. And yes, those are silver teapots. We're talking POSH, here. It doesn't happen very often, so it's worth celebrating!)

And then we went via the most amazing staircase...

... next door to One Whitehall Place, for lunch. Those pillars, by the way, have the most beautiful ceramic tiles.

Lunch itself was scrumptious - starting with goat's cheese crotin (basically cheese that had been flashed under the grill or with a blowtorch, served chilled, and very nice it was too). 

And then salmon.

And then vanilla cheesecake.

Did I mention that the loos were really, really posh? As in so posh that there was a chaise longue?

And it would've been rude not to take the opportunity to sit and read... (Thanks to Victoria Fox for taking the pic.)

I got to talk to lots of my friends. Apologies in advance for the namedropping, but this includes (as well as the people I've already mentioned and will mention below) Liz Fielding, Sarah Morgan, Heidi Rice, Abby Green, Fiona Harper, Louise Allen, Annie Burrows, Elizabeth Power, Anna Sugden, Jessica Gilmore, and Kate Walker. (Apologies also to anyone I've missed off - it takes me ages to bounce back from a long day in London nowadays and stop being a Bear of Very Little Brain. I know I met a couple more new authors - oh yes, Rachel Brimble and Charlotte Phillips). And I also got to have a hug with Kimberly Lang (and I still love her Southern accent). And everyone was gratifyingly nice about the WIP known as the Kate Unlardy Project. (Yes, it's true, I did get people to prod my quads, and I explained that the reason my thighs are now like iron is because of the weight lifting, which I love love love love love. I'm even learning to love burpees. How mad is that?)

After that, I headed over to one of my favourite shops (but I had six responsible adults with me and they kept me out of the chocolate department and away from the violet biscuits).

We had tea (in my case, Countess Grey, which is my very favourite tea in the whole wide world) and cake. This pic of Katherine Garbera, Kandy Shepherd, Caroline Anderson and me was taken by a very kind gentleman. 

Because there were more than four of us, we had to have two tables, so at the second table were CC Coburn, Kimberly Lang and Sophie Pembroke.

(There are pics of the tea and cake on Facebook.) 

And after that, it was off to the Meridien for cocktails with the M&B eds. I've already posted a pic on Facebook, but now I know the official name (thank you, Annie Burrows) is a Rossini. Basically it's a bellini, made with strawberries rather than peaches. And I took this pic on a zoom lens in low lighting, before the tray was whisked away, which is why it's not good quality! (The Rossinis were lovely, though. Nice and tart.)

Nice ambience to the terrace bar, too. 

And I got to have a chat to Lucy King, and I met Marguerite Kaye for the first time (we have so much in common - yay, another ballroom dancer!), and I saw my editor (well, my editor's assistant, who's looking after me at the moment) and YAY my new outline is fine, and I got to chat to the production team (they like what I'm plotting now my ed has nixed Project Ferret that we hatched up last year and told them they are not to be bad influences on me). And Jennifer Taylor got a beautiful Tiffany keyring as the milestone for her 75th book - yay, Jennifer!

And M&B also gave us a fabby goody bag, which made me feel very spoiled. 

And then it was a mad dash for the train home (I'm on the same line as Caroline Anderson, so it's always a pleasure travelling). The annual lunch is always something to look forward to - there's never enough time, but it was so so lovely to see everyone, even if only for a very brief chat.

It isn't actually that often that an author's life is a glamorous one (we're usually found at a desk, which might not be very tidy, wearing scruffy clothes and maybe with a dog or cat around for company). But the times that are... they're wonderful. Thanks to Fiona Harper, Heidi Rice and Sharon Kendrick for organising the lunch, and to M&B for the cocktail party and goody bags. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

elsewhere today, and a wardrobe panic

Current work: working on M&B #59 (Rom – Mediterranean prince) and two or three other projects
Listening to: 30 Seconds to Mars, This is War (fabulous!)
Reading: next on TBR
Gym: cardio (increased intervals to 90s run, 60s walk)

Just about recovered from London, in time for visit #2 this Friday :o)

I’m still thrilled about hitting the top of the charts last week – and I’m talking about Bound by a Baby, the book in question, over at the Choc Box today -

Other than that, I’ve booked tickets for birthday treats later in the year – 30 Seconds to Mars at the O2 in November (my daughter’s birthday); Punt and Dennis at the Theatre Royal in Norwich in February (my birthday weekend), and Propeller’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in March (also counts as mine, as it’s the nearest Shakespeare production to my birthday).

I also have proof that – although I can’t see it myself in pictures – I am definitely thinner. I was going to wear last year’s outfit to the M&B lunch on Friday. Except… it doesn’t fit any more. It’s a little too baggy and it doesn't look right (and I swear it fitted me last month). So I had a wardrobe panic and tried on a couple of things I thought might fit now (given that I’m about the same weight as I was when I bought them). Um. No. The gym has clearly changed my shape, because they were, um, too big. Somehow I overshot the window of ‘when I’m thin enough for this to fit’. My wardrobe consultant (aka daughter) got me to try everything on, with the result that half my wardrobe is now in a bag ready to go to the charity shop. I’m kind of pleased that my hard work is paying off, and it’s nice having space in my wardrobe. I’m not ready for a big splurge on new clothes yet – that’ll be in about a year’s time, going by the current rate of loss – but my best friend and my daughter are primed to join me. And when I get there, to celebrate I plan to buy a little black dress from (whispers) here… and a pair of shiny red high-heeled court shoes. (Apologies for the adjective overload. I don't do that in my books!)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Top of the charts - whoo!

I can't quite let this one pass. I know it's not British to shout about things like this, but I spotted this yesterday on the Amazon US charts for large print romance, and... hey... how often do you hit this position in the charts AND in this sort of company? Thank you, dear readers, for putting me there.

And what makes it even sweeter is that today I had an email from my publisher with the milestones in it, and that very same book makes an appearance... :o)

Colour me happy :)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

London - September visit #1

Current work: working on M&B #59 (Rom – Mediterranean prince) and two or three other projects
Listening to: Passenger, All the Little Lights
Reading: Susanna Kearsley, The Firebird (fantastic – might actually be my fave of hers) and Stef Penney, The Invisible Ones (enjoyed this – cleverly put together)
Gym: day off today (v tired post-London) but 121 due tomorrow

This month, I'm very greedy and have three trips to London. This was the first.

And London was fabulous. Met my best friend from work, had dinner out, and then talked a lot. (And I mean a lot.) Tuesday, up bright and early to go to the US embassy to sort out my ITIN (basically will save me from paying two lots of tax). This meant having no electronic stuff with me, so I had to leave my phone, camera, iPod, Kindle and car keys with my best friend. Thus there are no pics of the embassy building, the lovely buildings around it, the very scary armed police, the Aston Martin showroom by Marble Arch, Marble Arch itself… Anyway, apart from my shoes setting off the scanner alert (which often happens in airports, but the embassy reaction was a bit scarier) it was fine. Quick stop at Fortnum’s as I’d had a request from the teens for violet biscuits (which they have to share with me) (and isn’t that the best excuse ever?). Then I collected my stuff from my best friend and headed to Covent Garden to meet up with the Romance crew.

Covent Garden was the quietest I’d ever seen it! But there was an opera singer in the basement. She had a lovely voice, but as she was singing the song that my stepmum chose for Dad’s funeral, I wasn’t minded to linger.

Coffee at Tutton’s (why did I not get my camera out? Oh, yes, I was talking too much) and then we headed up to Blanc’s Brasserie.

This is us with a glass of prosecco, celebrating the fact that one of us was over from Aus, one of us had JUST had her first book published, and there were a couple of nearby birthdays in there as well… (We know how to celebrate.) Clockwise from front left: Sophie Pembroke, Michelle Douglas, Fiona Harper, Liz Fielding, Pamela Hartshorne, Caroline Anderson, Nina Harrington and me.

For lunch, I had crayfish and mango salad…

…followed by raspberry fool, and then a coffee.

After much talking, it was time to get the train, aka talking plots with Caroline (well, halfway home for me).

I had a great time away, but it’s lovely to be home.

Oh, and one little treat from Fortnum's - in their chocolate department (and I confess I spent a little time there choosing things), they do these miniature teacups, roughly the size of my thumbnail, filled with different tea-flavoured fillings (or, in this case, a soft coffee centre). The pic doesn't do it justice, but basically it looks as if it's been sprayed with gold leaf. And it was totally scrumptious.

Monday, September 02, 2013


Current work: working on M&B #59 (Rom – Mediterranean prince) and two or three other projects (focus, Kate Hardy, focus…)
Listening to: Beethoven
Reading: next on TBR
Gym: 121 today (and a day off tomorrow as I’m still in London, though I should be back in time for ballroom dance class... trains permitting)

On the flimsiest of excuses (i.e. the current book involves restoration of stained glass, so I wanted to go and see some), we went churchcrawling at the weekend.

So what did we see? (Prepare yourself for utter nerdiness because I love this stuff.)

We started at Reepham, which is unusual because three churches share the churchyard (one is a ruin). (Why? In Reepham’s case, because the churches were each at the far edge of the parish boundary. Hackford church burned down in 1543, and the other two churches remained separate until 1970. Nowadays St Michael’s – which was the parish church of Whitwell – is used as the parish rooms/church hall. And St Mary’s continues as the parish church of Reepham.)

There’s something else unusual here, though, and that’s the fourteenth-century tomb of Sir Roger de Kerdiston (d. 1337). He lies on a bed of cobbles; the only other one I know of in Norfolk with this kind of arrangement is Sir Oliver de Ingham at Ingham. Why cobbles? Mortlock (who wrote THE book on Norfolk churches) says it’s allegorical, so I guess that would be something to do with the hard, uncomfortable life of a campaigner.

It’s an amazing tomb, though. (Eight weepers at the base - and they survived the Reformation. Amazing. And there are traces of the original paint, too.) If you’ve ever read Edith Nesbit’s ‘Mansize in Marble’ you’d think that this could be one of the knights. (Actually, there’s a legend very similar to the story attached to Sir Oliver de Ingham’s tomb, but not to Kerdiston’s.)

Oh, and I love the lion at his feet.

And the carvings on the bench ends – this is a wyvern (a legendary winged creature with a dragon’s head).

We also visited Salle, which is a lovely big old barn of a church.

The tower is 111 feet tall.

And it has a shroud brass. Most shroud brasses depict skeletons, or the flesh is fully shrouded, but this one is nicely gory! John Briggs was one of the founders of the church, and died in 1454.

I think I like the wording even more than the illustration.

Here lyeth Iohn Brigge under this marbil ston
Whose sowle our Lord Jesu have mercy upon
For in this world worthily he lived many a day
And here his body is beried and cowched under clay
Lo frendis see whatever ye be pray for me I you pray
As ye me see in soche degree so shal ye be a nothir day

There are other lovely brasses here. (Y’know Anne Boleyn? Her great-grandparents have brasses here.)

We also visited the churches at Wood Dalling and Thurning (the latter had box pews, and even in the 1920s they preserved the custom thay men and boys sat on the right side of the church and women and girls on the left – plus they have the hat pegs on the men’s side, and outside there’s still a stable for the ponies who took people to church). And finally we went to Briston, which has an iron cello made around 1700 by the blacksmith, Mr Clitheroe – he apparently played it there for years. (And they did of course use stringed instruments in churches as late as Victorian times – see Thomas Hardy’s novels for example, and did you know that Hardy’s grandfather played the cello in their parish church?)

So it was a very nerdy, very nice afternoon out.

Other than that - last week, I bought a new amp and then dragged the kids off to see the gorillas in the city centre (full story of that over at the Chocolate Box - And there was the delight (not) of school uniform shopping...

This week, I’m off to London – firstly to sort out my ITIN (which means an early start at the US Embassy, so it made sense to stay overnight on the Monday, aka excuse to see my best friend), and secondly to meet up with my fellow Cherish authors for lunch - can't wait, especially as Michelle Douglas is over all the way from Australia. (There will be pics!) Later in the week, the children go back to school and the dog will then spend the next week or so being all sorrowful because his playmates have gone. Oh, and I have a book or two to write…