Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Just us

overcast, mild, temps minus 2

Everyone has gone. so much anticipation, and then its over. I must say, having a pared-down Christmas is fabulous. No more drama. No tears, or tantrums, or moods or subtexts. No snarky remarks said with a smile. Just people we want to be with and open our home to.

Doug left on Monday, got home safe. And Michael's sons Mike and Victor arrived about 8pm....having driven through the remnants of the big snowstorm on the east coast. We had a humdinger warming in the oven. That's a dish the boys grew up with. It's a casserole made from the leftovers from Christmas dinner. A layer of diced turkey, stuffing, gravy, then a layer of peas, then sweet potato and finally mashed potatoes. Very comforting.

As they blew into the driveway, the casserole was all warmed up. So they dumped their things and we served up. They poured a couple beer and we all took our plates into the living room and sat in front of the fireplace, and the lit tree, and ate. Hearing all about their drive and getting caught up on their lives.

Yesterday I had coffee with Janet at the Cafe Floral in Knowlton, then right after that, lunch with Louise there. I was going to take the beetle, but it wouldn't start! Frozen. So I took Michael's 'real' car instead. Then about an hour later I heard Michael's voice in the cafe and Janet and I looked up to see Michael and his sons striding in. Mike had boosted the car and they decided to deliver it to me. Must have looked a bit like a circus act, these three grown mean squeezing out of the little beetle.

We exchanged keys and they headed home - to the fireplace and their books. And janet and I got back to our chat. We don't see each other often, though she and her husband sometimes stay in the guest cottage in the summer. bob's an actor and she teaches voice at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and has written a fabulous book on voice work called The Thought Propels the Sound.

Then she left and Louise arrived. She's doing extremely well. Grieving deeply, but aware she needs to feel everything and let it take as long as it takes. While putting one foot in front of the other. But not to cover over her sadness. And, of course, she was desperate for the holidays to be over. But she survived and said while she expected to be in tears all the time she only cried a few times. She said since it's now clear she herself won't die, then she needs to learn what the new normal, without Jacques, is - and make the very best of it. And one day she knows, she'll be happy. Just not quite yet.

We had a wonderful lunch. So nice to be in the company of old and dear friends. We can just relax.

Mike and Vic went off to ski at Mont Sutton today, after we all had breakfast in Knowlton. Then they headed to Montreal. Tomorrow I have breakfast with Cheryl in Sutton. I feel, after spending most of the year either writing or touring, I can finally get caught up with friends. Longing to see the work they've done on their new home - and when they might be able to move in.

Hope you're safe and warm and enjoying some quiet time - or some active time. Whatever you enjoy.

Be well, my friends.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Splendor

snow, cold, temps minus 15

We weren't supposed to be betting snow. Even now The Weather Network is showing sunny skies. And I suppose it is, though obscured by the massive amount of snow. Still, not nearly what the eastern seaboard has been getting. I sure hope it didn't hurt your travel plans - but I suspect many of you were affected. Flights, roads, trains. What a wallop.

Doug left this morning after one of the best Christmas's any of us can remember. No gifts. Just talking, reading, watching movies, talking and going for walks. Glorious.

I hopped in the car and went food shopping to replenish before Michael's son's Victor and Mike arrive tonight. Tortieres, Tarte au sucre, brie, prime rib roast. And Fairmont bagels. They're supposed to drive here from Boston, but we called this morning and left a message suggesting they might want to postpone and come tomorrow. Fortunately, they have snow tires. Unfortunately, they also have snow.

The tree is still up, of course, but the Christmas carols are out of the stereo. I love them, but can't listen to them after Christmas. So now we have Bach, Tchaikovsky, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the soundtrack to The Piano and our new favorite album. We bought it at Saint-Benoit-du-lac. They have, and we've purchased in the past, the traditional Gregorian chants, for which they're famous. But one of the monks, Dom Minier, decided (with the approval of the Abbott and the other monks) that maybe a more modern interpretation of the chants would reach more people. so he's added some instrumentation and 'jazzed' it up - but just a bit. He and two other monks do the chants - and it's amazing! Apparently (and we didn't realize this) the trio and Dom Minier in particular, have become rock stars because of it, selling out concerts all over Quebec.

When we arrived at the Abbey last week we were told to check in at the porter's window. And there was Dom Minier, the porter for the monks. when he's not a rock star. Amazing community.

So as I write Michael and I are listening to the Gregorian chants - updated - on their CD called Splendour.

Wow, snow is even heavier. Very fluffy, like feathers falling. Splendid.

Hope you're safe and warm. And are enjoying the holidays. Michael says hi. And thank you, from both of us, for all your lovely Christmas greetings. We have read them all, both on the blog and facebook, and so appreciate it.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas - Joyeux Noel







very light snow falling now, still, calm, mild, temps minus 4

Scenes from our Christmas today. Hope you're enjoying your holiday, whatever your faith. Or no faith.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

cold, cloudy, still day. temps minus 13

So lovely outside. Snow heavy on trees. A light dusting on the car this morning. Michael and I went out early and did errands including dropping in at La Rumeur Affamee - on rue Principal in Sutton. Wonderful epicerie...filled with cheeses and cold cuts, pies and tortieres (we ordered two for next week when Michael's sons are here), quiche, olive oils, salts, condiments, ice cream, and...breads. And croissants. We picked up some brie and a special goat cheese only available at Christmas. And two fresh, warm baguettes for dinner tonight.

then post office. finally found Christmas crackers in the hardware store. Quite an Anglo tradition, so not all that easy to find Christmas crackers outside Montreal. But it's a part of Christmas dinner I adore. Always have. Silly really. The pop of the cracker, digging for the ridiculous joke on the slip of paper, and the 'present' - normally something plastic and breakable or already broken. And those garish tissue hats shaped like crowns. We all wear them. All the way through dinner, as they slip off, or over and eye, and get shoved back. By the end of the meal they're torn and askew, but we'd never dream of taking them off.

Then a final trip to the grocery store - packed! Bedlam. But enough check-out people that there was actually no waiting. We didn't need much, but what we needed was crucial...milk, bananas, grapefruit, and ingredients for stuffing. The fruit is for show. The truth is, we're now in junk highgear. Chocolates, fudge, christmas cake, anything Lise made, bark, and pannetone.

Once home we unpacked, walked Trudy, and while Michael laid the fire I made a couple of cafe au laits, carved the pannetone, and we plopped down in front of the hearth. Ahhh.

Doug is on his way from Toronto - presumably bringing Buttercup (the hound from hell - with the surfeit of joy and a tail like a baseball bat). Will have dinner in front of the fireplace, with the tree lit, carols on the stereo, and cheese, pate and baguette on a tray. And spend the night getting all caught up.

I will blog tomorrow - because I do want to say thank you for all the many gifts you've given me over this past year. In the meantime, I hope your travels are safe and swift, if you're going out - and that you have a wonderful holiday.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

oh, come let us mash potatoes

light snow, mild - temps minus 2

Another picture perfect day as we approach Christmas. The forecast here is for good weather, which is great since my brother Doug is coming Christmas Eve, and two of Michael's son's are arriving just after Christmas. Hope the weather's good chez vous.

We got up early and headed to the Cowansville hospital where Michael had a stress test (for heart). All terrific - thank heaven. To celebrate we went to The Station for breakfast. Then back to the village to do a big Christmas shop. Oh, my God. The trolley was overflowing. Vegetables, treats, pannetone (which we consider a staple), fruit, treats, vegetarian stuff for Doug. Cranberries to make the sauce. Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, butter, milk, treats, sour cream.

I suddenly realized, in the middle of the night, that I hadn't done any holiday food shopping. Or food thinking. Or planning. Or cooking. the IGA in Sutton was packed - and we seemed to know everyone! We stopped and chatted with Joan, Emilita, Charles, Wayne and Shirley. Then there were a lot of people we only had time to wave to. Very fun, really. It feels like what it is - a community.

After the shop we went around distributing gifts and thank you cards. That's always fun. Then off to visit a neighour with a gift and have a chat.

Then home. And cooking. Just now have had time to sit in front of the fireplace, Joan Sutherland's Oh Holy Night on the stereo - and relax. Sweet potatoes made (maple syrup is the secret ingredient), and regular mashed potatoes done. Always feels better when they're both done - quite labour intensive (at least for me, who 'cooks' peanut butter sandwiches).

Oh, Lise sent me her Sucre a la creme recipe. She said she'd made her grandmother's a few years ago - took a very long time. And then found another one, made it, and frankly saw no difference - so she's sending you the 'new' one. Here it is:

My Assistant Lise's Sucre a la creme

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup whipping cream

Stir together in a large microwavable bowl and microwave for 10 minutes, stirring twice during this time. Remove from microwave and let sit for 5 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat for 4 minutes and poor into either a parchment lined loaf pan (for thickness!) or a 9x9 square pan (lined also). Put in refrigerator to cool completely and then remove from pan to slice into squares. It does crumble a bit, but those crumbs are payoff for making it.

Enjoy!

Hope your holiday season is enjoyable and not too hectic. To be honest, I get fairly anti-social at this time of year. I love peace and quiet and am looking forward (now that those potatoes are mashed) to doing not much of anything except eating and sitting by the fire.

Speak to you tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Night at the Monastery

very fine snow, mild, temps minus 3

A Night at the Monastery. Sounds like a Marx Brothers film. Or, maybe even, a murder mystery! Michael and I spent last night at Saint-Benoit-du-lac, the Benedictine Abbey on the shores of Lac Memphremagog. We've been there often. It's fairly close to our home and a magical place, even for heathens like us. Hard to sit in the austere, simple, but still spectacular church and not feel at peace. such a quiet, tranquil place.

The monastery is famous for its cheese (having won many awards especially for their blue cheese) and their Gregorian chants. Now, being a heathen, I didn't know what they were except that they're a form of religious singing. Very old.

I'd been to mass at the monastery and heard the chants - and bought the CD of the monks, and I knew they're world famous for their choir. But I hadn't really quite grasped what was so special about it.

We arrived at about 11am. Sat through the euchariste mass. some chants.

then, over the course of 24 hours we went to every service,(about a thousand of them) and finally, I understood. Or, really, I didn't understand but I suddenly 'knew'. In my body. What had been vaguely uninteresting, dare I admit, boring, suddenly became deeply, achingly beautiful. peaceful. healing parts of myself I didn't know were damaged.

The most moving mass, for me, was Compline - the last service at night. There were few people in the pews - Michael and me, a couple others. And the black robed monks at the front of the very simple church. The lights were dimmed - then turned out completely. Except for two small lights at the front. And then they started to sing. No accompaniment. Just their voices. sometimes all together, sometimes what sounded like a call and response.

I have a deep and personal faith, but have not felt the need to go to any church. I pray in our field, and infront of the fireplace, and in bed. I've never felt that being in a church amplified my prayers, or made meditation easier or clearer. Others do, and that is wonderful for them. But it simply hadn't been my personal experience. Though I'm fascinated by religion.

But sitting in the darkened church, listening to the monks, was divine.

Add to that that they'd given Michael and me rare access to their lives. We were allowed behind doors normally locked. And, as a woman, it is rare to be actually allowed to sleep in the monastery. Michael and I were given a wonderful suite of rooms. And then, despite a vow of silence they spoke openly to us. About community life, about their choices. We spent most of our time with Brother Charles - a charming, funny, vibrant monk - who is actually their archivist. We were given a tour of their cheese factory, and it had been arranged for us to tour their cider house, but we ran out of time today. But Father Abbott gave us an hour of his time too, and we had a fabulous (at least from our pov) conversation. Mostly about the monastic life, and what makes life in St Benoit different than other abbeys.

The book I'll begin writing in March is a murder set in a Quebec monastery - though not St. Benoit. It's too identifiable, and so way too constricting for me. But the brothers have made it clear they'd be happy to help with insight into life in a monastery. To allow their lives and choices to act as a springboard and inspiration.

The book, obviously, won't romanticize or glorify, that life. But I hope it will be true to their choices. Both Michael and I were deeply impressed by what seemed their genuine humility. And certainly their kindness to strangers.

Then we headed home today - back into the world which last night seemed not to exist anymore, so complete was the sense of the abbey as a universe unto itself. Another world. Not ideal. Certainly not everyone's choice. Not an easy life. But a life unlike the one we left, and returned to. One that offered peace and quiet.

What an amazing job I have - when this is work.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Lovely day


sunny, not too cold, temps minus 7

As you can see, a gorgeous day! I took this photo while feeding the birds this morning. Then we drove to Knowlton for breakfast with our friend Cotton at the Cafe Floral. And now off for lunch in Abercorn with Joan and Edward. Michael and his sister Carol grew up with Joan, and used to teach sailing together. Joan is also in our exercise class. You have very few secrets from people you exercise with. They know all your crevices, and what's hiding in there.

Joan is also one of the funniest people we know. She describes being in a college production of King Lear or Hamlet or some tragedy but as soon as she set foot on stage people started laughing. She has no idea why, but she can make any story hilarious. All the funnier, perhaps, because she can look quite formidable while telling it. I feel I should take notes while listening to her.

After hearing about all the snow in Europe (Heathrow closed?!)-and the terrible squalls that stranded hundreds of motorists in Ontario, and the flooding in California - I've decided to put our emergency kits back in our cars. They were taken out when we switched vehicles. Now, mostly our emergency kits are first aid packs. But with the snow situation we thought maybe we need more than that. Some people were trapped in their cars for days.

So we now have a bag with candles, matches, tea, dried soup, a mug (last minute thought - d'oh). I should add a blanket, I realize. And perhaps an energy bar. Much more and it'll be more comfortable than home. We'll be aiming at snow banks.

Off to Montreal tomorrow for lunch with Bal and Linda and Bethany, then afternoon tea at Birks with Louise Loiselle and the Flammarion Quebec gang. then back here. And off Tuesday to stay overnight at the local monastery, St-Benoit-du-lac. Never stayed overnight before, but Brother Charles, one of the monks, has managed to sneak us in. I might need to shave my head, but I can at least not pluck my moustache. This is reseach for the next book. Michael and I become monks for a day.

Have to say, that is a huge part of the fun of writing the Gamache books, is all the research. Getting access to places most people never see. Or necessarily want to.

Be well - hope you're warm and safe and enjoying yourself.

Friday, 17 December 2010

sucre a la creme

beautiful blue skies, cool, minus 7

A perfect, perfect, perfect winter day. Makes my heart sing. Had breakfast at Nick's, then bought bananas at the Cinq Saison (Trudy loves them and we're out at home), then jumped in the car and drove back to the country.

As we got further and further along the autoroute there was more and more snow. Clearly the Townships got far more than the dusting in Montreal. Arrived home about 1pm. Unloaded the car, and Lise showed up - with her Christmas basket filled with treats!!! We put on the kettle, cracked open her gift of home-made preserves (pickled beets - my favorite...but also jams and relishes) and home-made sweets, including truffles, butter mints and Sucre a la creme - the three of us devoured them. And Lise told us the story of having the sucre a la creme at her grandmother's when she was a child, christmas eve. After dinner and games, everyone was exhausted. The girls (11 children and all their children) would get the few bedrooms. Lise remembers eating the sucre candy (which is like maple fudge) and climbing the stairs - and looking back down to see all the men and boys asleep on the floor in front of the woodstove.

She herself hasn't had the candy for decades, but decided this year to dig out her grandmother's recipe and make it. I have to tell you, the sucre a la creme candy was fabulous. But the real joy was seeing Lise's face as she ate it. Almost brought tears to my eyes.

Christmas is like that, isn't it. So keen with memories, triggered by tastes and smells, by carols. And often unexpected things. I had a moment like that taking Trudy out after her dinner. It's dark now early, of course. Pitch black by 5pm. we decorated the tree this afternoon and as I left I turned and saw the tree through the living room window, and Michael sitting by the fire. And heard King's College Cambridge singing Oh Come All ye Faithful. Then I turned to trudy, and we walked through the crisp, still night. Snow smells, you know. There's an unmistakable fragrance to it. Clean, fresh. if I was blindfolded I'd know the scent of snow. And it was cold enough it creaked underfoot.

There was half a foot of fresh, fluffy snow on the trees, balancing there - and a bright moon. You should see moon shadows on a field of fresh snow. It is breathtaking. And I was reminded of the deep peace I always felt as a child on quiet winter nights, walking on snow under the moon and stars.

Other things remind me of christmas. The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg. Mandarin oranges. Shortbread. Egg nog.

Michael and I don't exchange gifts anymore. We have no needs. No wants. We already have more than enough. What we give to each other at Christmas is peace. And I thought that was enough, until I tasted Lise's Sucre a la creme! Now, I'd like sucre a la creme, and peace for Christmas. In that order.

Before I go, one more thing - Happy Birthday Marjorie!!!! (Ha, bet you thought I forgot!!)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hello...?

overcast, light snow, cold and windy, temps minus 12

Still in Montreal - having quiet day, finally! Breakfast at Chez Nick's with Susan and Liz (to exchange gifts) and of course, Michael. Then home. Spent a couple of hours writing first draft of the chapter on Setting as Character for the Now Write! book on crime fiction. I'm not sure when it'll be out. The editor wants the chapters by the beginning of Feb, so I'm presuming later in the year, or early next year. As soon as I know, I'll let you know.

Michael had lunch at L'orchide de chine with his friend David. Well, he and his wife Linda are my friends too - it's just that David and Michael go way back, having worked on various aspects of medical research together for decades. And in the process became the best of friends. They adore each other, and are devoted. Michael just cherishes his time with DAvid. David is the head of genetics at McGill. So when he and Michael get together it is like twins speaking in their own made-up language.

You know that famous line from Jerry Maguire - You had me at hello. Well, when David and Michael are together they lose me at hello. After that I'm just churning and splashing and thrashing and trying to keep my head above water. And whenever there's a lull in the conversation and they look at me I just say, Wow. Or, Dear God. Or shake my head, try to look both thoughtful and amazed (by their brilliance) and say, ahh. Better than what I'm actually thinking which is, 'You completely baffle me.'

Happily, David and Linda also happen to be among the kindest people we know....and they've shown their kindness over and over. Especially whenever Michael has any medical issue...David remains in practice and makes himself immediately available.

Nice conversation with the US publisher, Andrew Martin of Minotaur. Beginning to strategize about A TRICK OF THE LIGHT, which will be published end of August, beginning of September.

Then watched more of Modern Family. Love, love, love that show!

Hoping to see The King's Speech tomorrow. In a real live movie theatre. Dear God. Wow. Ahhh.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Kirkus Review - top mysteries, 2010


snow, blowing snow, bright sunshine temps minus 11

very strange weather day. We woke up to blowing snow and the news that the highways were in a terrible state, with more snow expected. We were to go in to Montreal, but decided to just curl up in bed.

And then we saw that it was supposed to clear by midday. And then we faced the typical Canadian in winter dilemma. To go out and risk death or stay at home and risk atrophying.

We proved ourselves typical Canadians by agreeing to a compromise. We had an appointment with the bank, so we'd go to Cowansville for breakfast (we've already established the magical attraction of French toast on explorers), go to the bank, and see from there.

Well, after the bank we stepped outside and the sun was shining. So we hopped in the car, turned it toward Montreal, and here we be. But not before going through a few unexpected white outs on the highway. Here's a photo Michael took (I was driving, just fyi) as we crossed the Champlain Bridge across the St Lawrence. Normally from there we can see Montreal clearly. It's a gorgeous entry to a city, perhaps the most beautiful I've ever seen. But today the city had disappeared into a snow squall.

Stopped at the Nespresso shop in downtown Montreal for more capsules (we worship at the duel alters of french toast and nespresso cappucinos), then off to victoria Ave in Westmount for food, then off to the video shop (Night and Day, Inception, and the last two disks in the Modern Family season one). And now back in the Montreal apartment.

Heading out soon for a doctor's appointment for Michael, then back to the apartment.

Hoping to have breakfast at Nick's tomorrow with Susan. Michael has a lunch with his good friend David. And I plan to spend the day doing absolutely nothing!!!!

Oh, got the great news that BURY YOUR DEAD made the Kirkus Review's list of top 10 mysteries. All on the list are amazing - if you click here you can find it...

http://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/best-mysteries-2010/

Congratulations to everyone on that list...it's a wonderful Christmas buys list too...

speak to you tomorrow....

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Rain


lashing rain, freezing rain, snow, high winds....oh my. temps plus 3

What a roller coaster. Here's a photo out of the solarium just now. It's quite pretty actually. Like living inside a crystal or an igloo.

Still, it looks as though we'll lose most of our snow. A shame - but it sure is great to be at home, safe and warm. Awful day to be on a highway.

Sending the edit off to London and New York tomorrow morning, before Pina's exercise class. That'll feel wonderful. Had an interesting question on Facebook about the edit. Whether this is really the last edit, or another in the process. And the answer is yes, it's one in a process. But a big one. Getting the editor's notes and thoughts is huge. They could reject the book, or decide it needs major re-writing. Or none at all. Thankfully, most of the edits have so far been fairly small, but no less significant. It's such an interesting process - writing a book. It's both so individual and such a collaboration. Solo, yet also a team.

Part of the challenge is knowing which of the editor's notes to use and which ones not to. The vast majority I use - because I know Hope and Dan know and understand the books - and what I'm trying to do. And they trust where I'm going. And just want to help me get there, with the story lines but mostly the characters. Most of their notes have to do with clarifying something.

The trick is to do it with a light and gentle touch. Subtly, but not so subtle as to be completely obtuse.

the other thing I was reminded of when editing is the importance of space and time. Whenever I was unsure about a section, how to solve the issue, my instinct was to just plug away. But I've done this often enough to know that for me the best thing to do was the opposite. I needed to push the laptop away and go for a walk. Or have a bath. Or just relax and clear my mind. And an answer really does present itself. Sometimes it takes a day or so.

Trust.

As important as focus and quietude to a writer. Any answer I might have forced would have worked - but never as well as one that comes with time, and inspiration. And opening my mind. And heart. And just let it be.

This can be terrifying. I'm always convinced that while it worked in the past, it won't work now. Like that great scene from Little Big Man - where Chief Dan George knows he's dying and asked Dustin Hoffman to build a funeral bed and lay him there so he can die in peace. Next morning Dustin returns to see Chief Dan George lying there, at peace. Then the chief opens his eyes and gets up, shaking his head and says, 'Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.'

that's how it feels when I'm editing. Wondering if the magic will work. It's a funny mix, this writing, of hard work and inspiration. Of discipline, experience, and something beyond our control.

And then just hoping for the best.

So glad I finished now! Yesterday I was saying to Michael that Christmas is only three weeks away. After saying that a few times he turned to me and gently said, 'Actually, it's two weeks away.'

Oh oh.

So have spent the past day madly writing cards, wrapping gifts, putting together boxes to be mailed. Sometimes we feel we start running first thing in the morning - and need to, just to keep a step ahead of the flood. Bet you know the feeling.

Now I just have to write synopsis of all my books for my foreign editors, a chapter for a Now Write book on writing crime novels, and a quote on Agatha Christie and Miss Marple for a re-issue of the Marple books.

And feed Trudy.

Still, I have to say, I can't think of a better way to spend a stormy day!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Finished!!!

Started sunny (yay) but now overcast. flurries in the forecast temps minus 9

chilly day, but no wind. Snow still sitting in the street and balancing on limbs. One good gust, though, and it all falls.

Finished the editing. My God, does that feel great. Like a tether being released. And, even better, I really like this book. That's always a little scary, when going back to edit a book, especially since I hadn't read it the whole time on tour...2 months. I really was afraid I'd get into the edit and not like the book at all.

Such a fabulous feeling -

Had fun over dinner last night with Kirk and Walter, jack and Jane. We went to Le Relais, in Knowlton. Thursday is 'cheap' night, when everything is on special. So everyone was there. it was like a huge private party, where you pay for your meal. Very, very fun. And, being there with Kirk, is like being with a celebrity. Everyone came over to say hi.

There aren't many people we choose to give our precious private time to - but Jane and Jack, Kirk and Walter are on the very short list. I'm afraid I have all the makings of a happy (and probably demented) recluse.

As we were leaving, Walter, Jane, Jack, Michael and I were standing outside, in a very cold night - waiting for Kirk. We were chatting and not paying much attention. if I thought at all, it was that he'd stopped to chat at another table. But then the door flew open and Kirk came out, a look of huge relief on his face.

Seems he wasn't chatting at all, but standing quietly just inside the door with a group of people he thought was us. Then he 'woke up' and realized he was standing with a group of strangers. And had lost us! He came barreling out of there like a lost puppy. Very happy to see us waiting for him.

Quite hilarious.

Blessedly quiet day. Might call Joan and see if she can go for breakfast tomorrow. Now that I'm free, free, free.

Mwahaahaaahhaaa.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Apres la deluge





Still snowing, but in fits and starts temp minus 10

The storm is over. Met a woman in the Richford, Vermont post office (also doing christmas mailing) - she's from Quebec too and she'd measured 41 inches on her back porch. Slightly over 3 feet. Of very fluffy, light snow.

That was about our estimate of the amount of snow we had here. Michael and I took an assortment of shots today. One shows the view from our mudroom, out the back door. Thank God we have a front door. This is the Canadian equivalent of an alarm system.

No one will break in - though the problem is, if they ever do, they'll never get out. We'll all be having Christmas turkey together.

Sure confused Trudy when we opened the door last night for her to go out last thing at night - and she met that. She refused, and went back to the fireplace. But you see her out this morning - very happy to be there. rolling in the snow. I hope.

That little teepee of snow in the background outside our mudroom? That's our composter.

Editing going very well. Hope to be finished tomorrow.

Oh, a bit of news from a friend...Kappy Flanders. One of her daughters, Judith, writer wonderful and very successful non-fiction books. she's based in the UK and specializes in all things Victorian. Well, she's just come out with a new book I thought you might be interested in -

THE INVENTION OF MURDER: How THE
VICTORIANS REVELLED IN DEATH AND
DETECTION AND CREATED MODERN CRIME
By Judith Flanders

Doesn't that sound fabulous? And it's getting terrific reviews in the UK.

Off for dinner tonight with Kirk and Walter and Jack and Jane. they all started as friends, but then a few years ago Kirk and Jane formed an interior design company. so we've asked for their help re-designing our kitchen. But tonight is just fun. If I can restrain myself from talking about design stuff....love all that stuff...buy, beg and borrow all sorts of design magazines. Just to look.

We're off to pick up Kirk and Walter, who are also neighbours, then driving together to Knowlton for dinner. Meeting Jack and Jane there. So looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Scotland and Quebec - separated at birth




snow, snow....snow. windy. temps minus 6

A blizzard suddenly blew in. Completely unexpected. some snow, as you know, was falling yesterday, but no one expected the two feet we've had since last night. Here're a couple of photos...of Michael and Tony digging out Michael's 'real' car, and Trudy sitting in front of my beetle, in it's convenient snow garage.

Now, you might wonder why we were bothering to dig a car out, when clearly the blizzard was continuing. Well, one clue is...it's Tuesday. And, as heroic readers of this extraordinary blog know - every tuesday is shrove tuesday for us. Well, if not pancake day, it's french toast day. At The Station restaurant in Cowansville.

I barely slept last night, for the howling outside and the dread that the storm would keep us from our french toast, with bananas and stawberries, and bacon, at the Station. And certainly when we woke up to two feet on the ground and more falling - sideways - it seemed unlikely and even unwise - to leave the property. But a call to Tony, and Michael suiting up, fixed the problem.

Nothing would keep us from our goal. Indeed, on the drive to cowansville, we wondered if that's what propelled the pioneers. Did someone whisper in their ears....'There's French Toast in California.'? Is that what motivated Lewis and Clark? The Franklin Expedition?

It sure motivated us. And wow, did it taste great after an hour of digging. Came home, lit the fire, fried up a couple cafe au laits and got back to editing. Fed the birds. Took Trudy out. snowed all day long. And heaven knows what we'll find tomorrow.

Had a great email from Linda in Scotland - Glascow actually - with a photo of her children, jennifer and Christopher - her husband Kevin and her snowman. In Glascow. Scotland!!! Here's an excerpt from her letter...

Thought for fun I'd send you one I took over the weekend of our back garden and one of a snowman Kevin made with the kids, the snowman has been part buried in a fresh fall of snow yesterday we had another foot or so of snow on top of what we already had, it, for some reason took the Scottish government by surprise and the whole road network in and around Scotland came to a total standstill, it's all over the news here, hundreds of motorists were trapped in their cars overnight on the untreated motorways, there were stories of car drivers being stuck in vehicles for up to 12 or so hours, can you imagine! Kevin spent 3 hours in the car trying to get back from work last night (this journey normally takes around 30 minutes) but we consider him lucky to get home. His work closed today as did all schools. Our day time temperature was -14 today) the temperature is supposed to rise on Friday and Saturday to above freezing (this will be considered tropical) but it's to drop down again next week with yet more bad weather forecast. Just hoping to get out for some supplies soon. Christopher asked me today if we are running out of sweets, he has is priorities sorted!


Sure makes what we're going through seem easy. And it is. Sure makes a difference when we don't have to go out for work. Only for French Toast.

More editing tomorrow...but it's moving along nicely, thank you.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Saint Lise

some sun, some flurries, cold, temps minus 6

Well, not really cold for this time of year. And I'd much rather have it cold than warm and lose the snow we have. It's very pretty. And now that My Assistant Lise (we're putting her up for Sainthood) has decorated the place for Christmas, and she and Tony gave put up lights, it is magical. Especially at night.

Spending long days editing A TRICK OF THE LIGHT, but really enjoying it. Not just enjoying being back in the book, but this stage in the writing and publishing process is probably my favorite. Not the first day - which is always scary. Intimidating, really. But once I break through that and relax - well...it's a wonderful place to be. Fine tuning. Smoothing. Choosing a word here, adjusting there. A slight highlight. What better way to spend a day?

But I'm anxious to finish...and then get to the Christmas preparations. Gifts to buy and wrap. Gifts to mail! Cards. Every year I say I'm not sending cards, then we end up sending lots.

We're thinking of re-doing our kitchen. We've been in this house for 10 years and we haven't touched it. Well, we know where it is - and have touched it. Even cooked there....we just haven't renovated it. And man, does it need it. The floor - quite dreadful white tiles - is cracked and the kitchen cupboards are made out of kellog's corn flakes boxes or something. Actually, it's plywood. Really. The rest of the home is warm and comfortable and welcoming. But the kitchen, while having 'good bones' is not the best part of the home. Kirk and Jane are coming over to help us figure out what we want to do. Might ask My Assistant Lise to do it. why not? there doesn't seem to be anything she can't do. Perhaps this can be considered her 'miracle' for sainthood.

Actually, we'll see if the magnificent Gary can do the work. But probably not until next fall....can't have all this work happening as I write the next book. In fact, I suspect with the kitchen ripped out the house will be uninhabitable. Though, given how much I cook I'm not totally sure we'll notice.

We have a blessedly quiet week ahead. Off to Pina's exercise class tomorrow morning. It's held at the local church hall. Our Lady of Perpetual Deep Knee Bends. Then more editing.

hope you have great week! I hope to blog tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Huff and puff



sunny, lovely day - temps about freezing

yesterday was the most amazing wind and rain storm. Power off and on. Water put in the bathtub, since when our power is off so is our water, and our plumbing (if you follow). We drove home from Hovey through twigs flying through the air...blown off nearby trees. A few trees down across the road.

Calls back and forth from friends and neighbours. Your power one? Yours?

A tree came down and knocked down Joan's power and phone lines. Gary let her his cell phone, so she spent the evening fielding his calls from clients and friends. Heaven knows what she's committed him to!

Pat and Tony's power was out for 24 hours, and still out when last we heard.

Ours flickered - and went out a few times - but generally stayed on. Then, unexpectedly, it snowed last night - then the skies cleared. The two photos above were taken by Michael when he walked Trudy around the pond this morning.

As you can tell, we're home. spent today back at the laptop-going over the editors notes for A TRICK OF THE LIGHT....started the edit. Always scary at first, but quickly became very fun as I realized I very much like this book. Phew.

More editing tomorrow - and Lise coming by with business. While we were away she decorated outside. Put up beautiful christmas wreaths and lights. And tony put up more lights on the honeysuckle. Not quite Santa's Village - but very welcoming and warm. Thank God for My Assistant Lise!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

And don't call me Shirley



Overcast, rain in forecast, temps 4

But we haven't been outside all day and don't intend to go. Who would when you can curl up in front of the fireplace here at Hovey manor.

Heard the sad news that leslie Nielson had died. What a fun man, and terrific actor. And a Canadian! In an obit of him I read someone say that most comedy comes from a dark and painful place. But that Nielson's came from a place of great joy. He was a happy man. What a beautiful epitaph.

We're at Hovey manor. Here's a photo of us at breakfast this morning. (Don't tell Michael)

And this is one of me I just took. In our room (I suppose that's obvious). What you can't see if that I'm wearing mis-matched socks. I plan to let myself go completely to seed.

What a very strange feeling...to relax. I realize I've spent 8 months on edge. First writing the next book - called A TRICK OF THE LIGHT (out next September in Canada and US). Then two months touring. Always aware. Switched on. Paying attention. to the weather. To the clock. To people. To flights and announcements and timing and schedules. Always having to go somewhere. Do something. Always something lovely. But still, something.

It is now taking a bit of time to switch off. To exhale. And what joy - I can feel it in my heart...really, genuinely feel it there - this relief. I don't have to pay attention any more. I can shut down. Nowhere to go - no schedule except one Michael and I decide on.

I need to do the edits for A TRICK OF THE LIGHT...the notes sent by the UK and US editors. But they're not difficult. A quite interesting issue but I think that will be solved by adding a small scene early on. And the rest are more or less details. Nothing stressful. And loads to time to do it.

Enough to keep me occupied when we return home - but not enough to stress about. A lovely balance.

Let me tell you about dinner last night....as the starter Michael had squash soup with celeriac and bacon. I had scallops. Then Michael had venison and I had pheasant. then for dessert, Michael had apple donut and apple ice cream. I had grilled pears.

For the breakfast you see, we had the chef's inspiration of french toast, berry compote, whipped cream cheese - and he had sausages (perhaps not as many as he expected) and I had bacon.

Thank God we're back in Pina's exercise class. Will take a month to work this off...but every bite is worth it.

Well - back to doing nothing.

'Surely you're not serious!'

'I am serious, and don't call me Shirley.'

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Done!



overcast, some flurries, cool, temps minus 3

Did the very last event today! and where better than with Danny and Lucy at Brome Lake Books? Wish I had some photos, but well, I forgot and so did Michael. But it was the perfect way to celebrate the end of the tour. With friends and neighbours. With new people coming to the books for the first time. One couple came from New York City. Most were far more local. Danny and Lucy and their three sons put on an afternoon tea - and mugs of cafe au lait, made up the street by Janet at Cafe Floral.

Earlier in the day Michael and I were with friends Jane and Jack, who had a brunch. Lots of friends and acquaintances there too - and lots of people we'd never met, which is also fun. We can get to the point where we think we've met everyone - and of course we haven't. New blood, as it were.

Yesterday was a bit of a climatological circus. Blizzard. Snow squalls. Whiteouts. Dreadful. The photo shows Michael brushing off the car just as the storm began. By the end it snowed 6 inches. But it was quite odd. When it wasn't snowing fiercely, it was sunny. It came in waves. But while it snowed it was terribly windy and caused white outs. fun, if you're inside looking out at it. Not so much fun if you happen to be inside a car.

Indeed, Danny ended up in a ditch, and hour and a half from home - and had to wait 3 hours for help.

I had to drive 1 1/2 hours to an event in Georgeville. I was more than a little apprehensive. Not frightened - but aware. The problem isn't really the back roads. For the most part the worst thing likely to happen is what happened to Danny - you go into a ditch. But you don't die. The problem was the 30 kilometers of highway 10 I needed to take.

This particular stretch, between the Knowlton turnoff and the Magog turnoff is notorious even in mildly bad weather. In whiteouts it's literally a killer. And is often closed by the Surete during storms.

But wow, did I get lucky. Because the storms were coming in waves, it wasn't constant, and I happened to hit the highway between waves. I can't begin to tell you the relief.

Any of you who live in a snowy climate knows what I'm talking about.

But I made it...through a whitehout on the backroad after the highway - to the lovely village of Georgeville - one of the inspirations for Three Pines. Michael and I spent a couple of summers renting a cottage on Lake Memphremagog, close to Georgeville. The photo above shows the school house and church off the village green.

I was thinking no one would come to the event in Georgeville - having to drive through the weather - but the community centre was filled. At least 60 people. And so friendly and warm.

Then the drive home, after dark. But by then the worst of the snow was over and I got home just find. Went right to bed, with an apple and an orange. So thankful to be back.

And then today. A party at jack and Jane's. And the fabulous party with Danny and Lucy at Brome Lake Books.

And now it's over. The final event for BURY YOUR DEAD.

I know many of you came out to events and I have to tell you, what a difference you made to me. Giving me all that encouragement. Thank you!

Tomorrow we have Pina's exercise class, then off to Sherbrooke with the Beetle to get winter tires put on (well timed) - then to Hovey manor for two nights - to celebrate the end of a wonderful tour.

I am one happy woman.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

snow, freezing rain, rain - temps minus 1

Blech day outside. In fact, treacherous. We had an 8:30 appointment at the Volkswagen dealership to change the Beetle's tires from All Season to winter tires...as we did last week with Michael's 'real' car. But there were freezing rain warnings out for the Eastern Townships, and the dealership is in Sherbrooke - about 1 1/3 hours away (backroads and some highway).

Heard on the news that Sherbrooke was an ice rink. So we called to re-schedule. The man at Volks wasn't surprised.

but - in the meantime - we'd had a bright idea. Since my very last event for BURY YOUR DEAD is this Sunday we decided to celebrate. Guess which luxury Inn isn't far from the volks dealership?

Hovey!!

So - we'll go to exercise class monday morning, hop in the beetle and drive to Sherbrooke - drop the car off, pick up a loaner - drive to Hovey and spend two days. Doing nothing!!! No book to write. No research. No thinking. Except, when to get up, when to have a bath, when to eat. And what to eat. Jeez, come to think of it, that is a lot of thinkin'.

So, it all works out.

Went to Pina's exercise class in the church hall yesterday. First time in 5 years. But many of the same people were there...including Shirley who is well into her 80's. While I lay gasping on the floor Shirley was working away. Well, one day I'll be as ripped as her.

We do a warm up - then put our mats down and work on them for a while. At one stage, near the end, as I was doing some maneuver I looked down at my mat. The one that had been rolled up in our mudroom cupboard for 5 years. And there I saw sunflower seed shells. And something else.

Double blech.

I turned the mat over, but by then the damage was done. God knows what I inhaled. I'm sure there's a life lesson in there but I'm trying to block the whole thing out.

Am almost crippled this morning.

Still, despite everything, it sure feels great to get back to class. It's really as much emotional as physical. That sense of well-being and self respect. I might not get into better shape, but I'll be in better condition. Shirley condition.

While I was inhaling God knows what, many of you were inhaling turkey! I hope it was a wonderful Thanksgiving for all of you Americans. And that your family and friends were together.

As I look out the window I see snow shooting sideways - not a blizzard, the flakes are very small and I suspect there'll be very little accumulation. Just very strong wind. so great to be warm by the fire.

Have two more events for Bury Your Dead.

Tomorrow at 4pm I'll be speaking at the Georgeville Community Centre. So looking forward to it. We rented a cottage on the lake in Georgeville for two summers. It feels like time travel - back to small villages of the 40's and 50's. Indeed, Three Pines was partly inspired by our time there. So it will be a huge pleasure to go back.

And on Sunday we have a brunch at noon with our friends Jack and Jane - then at 2pm the very last event....at a place where we have in the past done the first events. Launched most of the books there.

Brome Lake Books, in Knowlton. 2pm. With Danny and Lucy. A low-key affair...a party and signing. I might do a bit of a reading, depending on how it goes. But such fun to be with Danny and Lucy, and celebrate the end of a wonderful tour.

Yay!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

details

bright sunny day, temps minus 2

Beautiful, cold, day. Windy. Awoke to some snow on the cars, but the skies cleared. Good thing too. We suddenly had to go back in to Montreal. To see our accountant. And go to the car dealership because the key battery needed replacing. since when do keys have batteries? Well, ours seems to.

Busy couple of days. Bit of a blur. My Assistant Lise came by yesterday with all sorts of business to discuss. she's a marvel, holding together our empire (the military industrial complex that rivals Kraft Foods) in our absence. Should we be worried that everything is now in her name? My Assistant Lise Inc. Nah.

Got our passports renewed and just as we handed our old ones over I remembered I needed to cross the border to the States for business. But later yesterday the border guards let me through with photocopies of my old passport and proof that the renewal was underway. A relief.

Banking, mailing, laundry, unpacking, more mailing. All sorts of details. If I'm found dead it will be at the hands of details. Crushed by them. I realize - and have known it for a long time - that I'm not much of a detail person. I don't care. Give me the broad strokes and I'm happy. I'll tell you, this is a challenging career for someone not naturally given to caring about minutiae.

Gary came by last night to take a few photos for a Globe and Mail article for this Saturday. Luckily the article is on what book I'm reading and where I most love to read. Which is on the sofa in front of the fire. So while Gary and Michael worked on the the lighting, I lay on the sofa. This is exactly the sort of work I'm best suited for.

Then up early today and in to Montreal. Then back home, and more mailing.

Tomorrow - dear Lord - Michael and I are going back to Pina's exercise class. It's in the Sutton church hall. And it's torment. I'm deeply worried about how much it will prove I'm out of shape. Still, apparently this is the best way to get back in to shape, or at least a different shape.

Must be off. Clay pot chicken is cooked. I'd forgotten the pleasure of cooking meals.

Monday, 22 November 2010

home


rian, sleet, rain, wind, rain - temps hovering around freezing

But who cares??? We're home!!!

Arrived back mid afternoon yesterday. Had lunch on the way down with our friend Louise, in Granby. She's doing amazingly well. It's been just over 2 months now since Jacques died. We felt just awful about having to leave her so soon after - but we tried to keep in touch via email and phone calls - but it's not the same. Luckily she has other close friends who have been there for her every day - including our mutual friend Louise. (Yes - another one!)

Then visited Joan in the Cowansville hospital - she's also doing great after her second hip replacement.

Then....then...home! The place looked amazing. Cheryl must have slaved to get it so sparkling clean, and hardly any fire damage, or evidence of the biker parties they threw. (We kept getting very funny messages from Gary and cheryl describing debauched parties and catastrophic damages - at least, we presumed they were funny - happy to get in and have that confirmed)

Sunday morning Michael and I went off to Nick's in Montreal for breakfast. As I slid into the booth (not our regular one) I was confronted by a haggard looking old woman - then I realized it was a mirror! I was stunned. It looked as though I'd fallen from a great height into a bucket of wrinkles.

Eyes all puffy and, yes, wrinkled. Hair gray and quite wild...not pleasingly touseled, but sort of demented. Skin blotchy. Eyes dull.

The bright lights didn't help, but unless I want to become nocturnal, this is pretty much the lighting of life. Broad daylight. Now I know why they call it 'broad' daylight. I looked like an old broad. It should be changed to old broad daylight.

Normally this wouldn't matter all that much, expect that I have a photo shoot tomorrow. Gary's coming over to take pictures to accompany an article in the Globe and Mail. I'm afraid I will look like a crease. Oh well. Happily most people don't care what writers look like. In fact, the more demented the better. So, this could be considered good news.

Was looking forward to a completely quiet day. We asked everyone to maybe just pretend we're not home until tomorrow. And it worked well until 8am - when I realized I'd forgotten to get milk. Then discovered the Beetle convertible had a dead battery. So by 8:30 I was driving what Michael calls the 'real' car into the village for milk and Michael was calling the CAA for the toy car.

By the end of the day (now) we've returned all the phone calls, opened all the mail (including an odd invoice - someone seems to think I ordered 56 copies of The Canadian Railway Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot....unless, Gary and Cheryl....

And we've done a load of laundry...and boosted the car, of course. Not exactly the quiet day we'd yearned for. But there's a huge difference between having to do something and choosing to do it. I'm sitting in the living room, in front of the fire, having opened the mail, read two newspaper and have Bach's concerto for violins playing.

The photo above shows Trudy with her 'bone', Michael, the gray day outside - and the beautiful flowers Cheryl and Gary left on the kitchen table. How wonderful it is to be home. But even better, how wonderful it is to be home with friends.

Oh, and had wonderful news about the novella, THE HANGMAN. It was written, as many of you know, for GoodReads, to help promote literacy for adults - so while the Gamache and Three Pines story is, I hope, complex - the style is clear and simple...for adults learning to read. Well, the publisher is in Alberta and she submitted for the Alberta Reader's Choice awards and it has been longlisted! Another GoodREads author, Gail Anderson-Dargatz's book THE STALKER, has also made the longlist! How exciting that books aimed at emerging readers can also be considered literature. Excellent!!!

And - I was just about to hit 'publish post' but Michael came in with the news that AudioFile Magazine in the US has named BURY YOUR DEAD one of the top 10 audio books of the Year!!! This is a huge honour for me - but mostly it's a reflection of the brilliance of Ralph Cosham, who is the reader.

Absolutely wonderful news!!!

Well, this is what happens on quiet days.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Salon du Livres

cloudy, snow, windy, sunny - temps 10 to minus 5

God - it's good to be back! And I know I'm home in Canada because while having coffee at Nick's this morning - having walked over through a mild Saturday morning - we looked out the window to a snow storm. Unbelievable. it suddenly blew up. And sideways. Very dramatic. Indeed, a port-a-potty across the street was blown over. Thankfully it was empty.

and then it was over, and now the sun is out.

Santa claus parade through downtown Montreal this morning. Glad the storms have passed. Apparently the biggest Santa Claus parade in the world is in Toronto - and that's also today.

Flight home Thursday from London was so easy. Through security in no time - the plane boarded quickly (almost empty actually) left the gate, taxied and - took off! No delay, not even a pause. Amazing. And we arrived (after 6 hours) half an hour early.

This was the last flight after almost 20 flights in two months. It's going to be amazing to get back to Sutton tomorrow, and unpack. And put the suitcases away.

Yesterday we were up early - breakfast at Nick's - then off to the car dealership to have the winter tires put on. It's illegal in Quebec to drive after Dec 1st without winter tires. Then I went off to the Salon du Livres to do two book signings...one english, then one french.

Off again today to the Salon du Livres...which is a massive and exciting book fair. tons of people, lots of kids which is wonderful to see.

Tomorrow we're stopping on the way home to have lunch with Louise in Granby - then visit our friend Joan who has just had her second hip replacement. She's in the Cowansville hospital.

then home. And Trudy. I'm dreaming of lighting the fire, making a hot chocolate, reading. having a bath. Slowly unpacking and doing the laundry. Wow.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Catherine and William





overcast, breezy, temps 8

Cool day, cutting cold when the wind is directly in your face. But otherwise very nice.

Thank you so much, Lee Ann, for that beautiful reflection on sacrifice and love.

As you all probably know - yesterday was the big day here in London. Wills and Kate announced their engagement! The capital is abuzz - special editions of newspapers. Wall to wall coverage. Very fun. And wow, do they look happy. And relaxed. Very comfortable in each other's company. So wonderful to see. I think we all remember that image of William walking behind his mother's coffin - such a public grief. If anyone deserves peace and happiness it's him. And you. And me.

And the Queen.

Now, I quite like the royal family, but I think anyone marrying into them must be nuts. Despite my childhood dreams of marrying Prince Charles, I have to say I'm extremely glad I didn't. Or any of them. Though William certainly seems a wonderful young man.

And they announced they want to be known as William and Catherine from now on. Not sure if that will take.

It sure is fun to be here for this moment. sounds silly, but I'm saving The Times from today - to add to our collection of newspapers announcing memorable events.

We're also taking home Marks and Spencer mince tarts - and a couple of their ready-made dinners. If our bags are lost I'm not sure I'd claim them.

Had a wonderful last day in London. Slept in a bit, then Michael and I got dressed and went for a walk. We had 10am reservations for breakfast at The Wolseley, on Piccadilly. So we decided to walk. Cutting through the back streets...a dangerous thing to do given that nothing is as it seems and it's possible to walk for half an hour and end up at the beginning here in London. the streets curve, and meld and head off in unexpected directions.

though that's always part of the fun, and we had plenty of time. Our goal was to head toward Berkely Square, then off to Hyde Park corner and Marble Arch, then across to Green Park - by then we could almost smell the bacon.

It actually went surprisingly well. Normally we spend at least as much time standing on street corners staring at the A to Z as we do walking, but this time Michael had oriented himself, and I just followed. Saying, encouragingly, 'Are we lost?' 'Is this the right way?' 'haven't we been here before?'

Michael, for some reason, ignored me and kept walking.

And sure enough, there we were at the Marble Arch....with the most wicked traffic buzzing in all mad directions between us and the Arch. we stood bewildered. perhaps this was the Great Divide. you can't get there from here.

then we noticed the pedestrian underpass, and were saved. Up we popped right at the spectacularly moving and simple Australian war memorial...and Winged Victory. You can see the photo above.

then we crossed to Green Park. London is riddled with these magnificent parks. Makes walking a genuine pleasure. As you can see. That's Michael strolling through the park at about 9:30 this morning.

We arrived at The Wolseley just as Stephen Fry and David Frost were leaving. Stephen (as I like to call him) and I locked eyes and had a 'moment' - which means he must have mistaken me for a transvestite. Not, perhaps, for the first time. David (as I like to call him) calls me 'Excuse me'.

Michael and I had another terrific breakfast, though this time we were seated at the very back facing the waiter's station. I asked, I hope nicely, if we could possibly get a better table, and were told, 'no'. Still, someone has to sit there, and the food was the same....and after a few minutes the ambiance from the rest of the room catches up.

I started with stewed prunes in an orange syrup, with very thin slivers or orange rind. It's worth the trip to London just for that. Then Michael had the full english breakfast, which means scrambled eggs, toast, grilled tomato and mushrooms, sausages, bacon and blood pudding. Oh, and baked beans. he ate it all and if the server hadn't shown up he was in danger of eating the utensils too. I had scrambled eggs and bacon, on thin whole wheat toast. With marmalade.

And strong 'American' coffee, as they call it. White. Which means with milk. Hot milk.

Such a wonderful place for breakfast. And other meals. the first time I was there was for lunch with Andrew martin, my American publisher. We were both over for the London Book Fair and Andy thought we should meet at the Wolseley for lunch. he was right, as he so often is.

Michael and I walked some more and were planning on going into the Royal Academy, but were getting a bit tired so we hopped on a double decker bus back to the flat.

We also had great fun yesterday, spending most of it at the Victoria and Albert...Michael painting in the garden and me wandering the magnificent museum. The photo above shows the scene from the courtyard garden where Michael painted. We both grabbed coffees and lemon cake - and sipped. He painted, I made notes on the book - then left him in peace.

on the way home we stopped at The Capital Hotel on Basil street for Afternoon Tea - you can see part of our feast, in a photo above.

We're almost packed. Car coming at 11 tomorrow morning - flight about 2pm. Home to Montreal by 5pm (with 5 hour time difference).

Friday I'll be at the Salon du Livres in Montreal...english signing from 5-6pm, french from 7-8:30. Then again on Saturday, English from 11 to noon and French from 1 to 3.

Then home to Sutton on Sunday, after two months away. So much has happened in those 2 months - almost all of it amazingly good. Great.

But I'm almost afraid to imagine what it'll be like to walk through the door, to smell home, to see the gardens and the mountains. And Trudy. To have peace and quiet, and our own rhythm.

But in the meantime we're so enjoying our last evening in London, reading about Catherine and William and their happiness.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Gift




main sunny - beautiful day in London - first frost last night here. Temps 5

Every year for the past few years a woman named Lee Ann Doerflinger has agreed to write the Nov 11th blog. This year sounded so hectic and stressful for her I didn't ask - didn't want to impose.

I made a mistake.

I should have asked, instead of assuming.

Lee Ann was busy that day, I knew, giving an address marking the new Veteran's Day plaza in her community, not far from Washington, D.C. We'd emailed back and forth a bit and she said how anxious she was about getting up in front of everyone and talking. Anyone would understand that! But, of course, speaking on Veteran's day is even more emotional. There are a couple of photos at the top of the post here, showing the event, including one of Lee Ann speaking.

And the third picture is of Thomas and Anna, on the day they said goodbye to him.

On Nov 12th I asked Lee Ann how it went and if she could send me, privately, the text of what she said. She did. And it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with you. With Lee Ann's permission, here's what she said, on Veteran's Day/Remembrance Day/Armistice Day.


Gold Star Families

November 11, 2010

Lee Ann Doerflinger

92 years ago today, World War I -- known as the Great War, the war to end all wars -- came to an end. November 11th became such a significant date that, under various titles, it has been observed ever since as a day to honor our veterans and to remember those who have died serving our country. In the United Kingdom and Canada, November 11th is known as Remembrance Day, and people in those countries wear poppies in tribute to the fallen.

Six years ago, this date took on another meaning for my family. My son, Army Specialist Thomas Doerflinger, was killed during combat operations on November 11th, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq. I watched the notification team approach my house with an extra layer of disbelief: how could Thomas have died on this day of all days? And yet, as I later told anyone who would listen, I think Thomas might have picked Veterans Day if he’d been given the choice. He was proud of his grandfathers, both of whom had served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. For a while, he carried my father’s dogtags everywhere. Neither side of our family could be said to have a military tradition, but what our families did have was a willingness to serve when called upon. And so, when Thomas saw a need, he enlisted in the Army. On the day he died, he had volunteered to go on a dangerous mission because they needed one more soldier.

In the six years since Thomas’s death, many more Montgomery County residents have lost their lives while serving their country. As a county, we have decided to honor their memory by naming the Rockville library, Rockville Memorial Library. In May and November, for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we put up displays at the library commemorating their service. These residents never got to be veterans. They did not come home to raise their families, or tell us funny stories to avoid telling us the horrible stories, or be celebrated in parades. And yet, it is entirely fitting that we celebrate them today along with the living. The veterans we thank for their service were the friends and comrades of our fallen. The sons and brothers, husbands and fathers that we have lost supported these men and women, protected them, and died for them. It is a moment for all of us to consider not only what we lost when they died, but how much we gained by their decision to serve.

Since World War I, blue star banners have hung in the homes of servicemembers who are in harm’s way. If the servicemember dies or is killed, the star on that banner turns to gold. It is difficult to be a Gold Star family. It can be exquisitely painful when someone thanks us for the service our loved one gave. Every new death renews our own sorrow. But the gift our loved ones gave us is the legacy of service, of caring for our friends, of understanding that sometimes we must do the difficult thing and reach beyond ourselves. All who have placed their lives at risk to protect the helpless and the innocent have given us that gift, and for that we thank all our veterans.


Thank you, Lee Ann.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Creaking back to place

Overcast, cool, temps 10

Sunday in London - that can mean only one thing....walking up to the Brompton Road, getting The Times, and finding a nice cafe or pub to sit in, and read.

A tradition here is the Sunday Roast. It's a pub meal. Most pubs offer three choices...roast beef, chicken or pork. We might wander down to The Kings Road and try the Cadogan Arms for Sunday roast. But, frankly, it's more likely we'll just come home. Via Harrods.

Still haven't been in! and it's just down the road. But I think today's the day. Need to pick up some gifts - and love wandering around the food court (what else!) After I won the Creasy Dagger a few years ago we celebrated by going to the oyster bar at Harrods. I don't actually like oysters, but Michael adores them - so I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate, and to thank him. Such fun to see him and his oyster rituals. He's a very measured man. Unlike me - I hare off all over the place. Michael takes his time, and considers things carefully, often apparently quite gravely.

He studied the platter of assorted oyster varieties for what seemed an age - I got so antsy I also ate the oysters, just to have something happen. Then he carefully placed condiments on each one (a bit of horse-radish, a squirt of lemon, and dash of a kind of vinegar thing. It was his ritual. And he looks so serious doing it, as though if he didn't get it right the oysters would explode and kill us all.

But, when finally finished, he looked up with the most joyous expression on his face.

Then he ate 'em.

It would be fun to go back there today.

On a more prosaic note, we need to do laundry and we can't quite figure out the washer/dryer in the flat. Because space is so precious in London - and the two square feet the machine is sitting on is worth more than our house in Sutton - Londoners don't go in for separate washer and dryer machines. They're combined. One machine does both.

Or neither.

Ours does the latter. We've pressed every button - twice. Stared at it. Even Michael took to staring at it with such gravity you'd think it was an oyster.

But nothing. We called the people who rented us this flat - it's a vacation rental management company - and their person is coming over. Which is a very nice thing to do, on a Sunday. She asked that we perhaps stop pressing every button, which seemed a reasonable request. Wasn't working anyway.

How amazing to have no agenda....and the rough one we have includes the harrods oyster bar.

We hope to get to Westminster later in the week, before we return home on Thursday.

And wonderful news - Aunt Agatha's bookstore, this magnificent mystery and crime bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, named BURY YOUR DEAD one of their top 10 books. You can see the whole list if you go to the aunt agatha website. Congratulations to everyone on the list - including two personal favorites, SJ Rozan and Stefanie Pintoff. yay!

Be well - off for lunch tomorrow with Michael's sister Carol and her husband David - then dinner tomorrow with agent Teresa and her husband Charles.

Friday, 12 November 2010

2 minutes




partly cloudy, mild, temps 13

Nice day - and a day when nothing is happening. Absolutely no appointments - nothing. Well, I had an interview I had to do, but that was easy.

Michael and I headed off early and walked over to Chelsea Green and a restaurant we like for breakfast (it's about a 25 minute walk) called Tom's Kitchen. As promised, though, here finally is the view down our street (Basil street) to Harrod's a block away.

Heaven.

We turned left at Harrods then followed all sorts of windy roads to the restaurant, where we had cappuccino and fresh squeezed orange juice - then Michael had a brioche french toast and I had scrambled eggs, toast and bacon (which I shared with him just to keep his crying from upsetting the children at the next table).

Then we walked down a block or so the the Kings Road and a favorite haunt. Starbucks. I'm not kidding. it wouldn't normally be our first choice in a city renowned for great cafe's - but this one has a second floor with huge floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the Kings Road. It has become a traditional place for us to go for a hot chocolate or coffee, and read our manuscripts. This time I was actually reading a book for research for the next one I'm writing. Such fun to sit there, reading and making notes.

Then off to Marks and Spencer to more food - picked up the Telegraph and the Times - and home.

yesterday was a long but fun day. Started with a phone interview with a British publication called Women's Weekly. Then a hair appointment up on the Brompton Road -

(just interrupted writing because we could hear horses clomping down the road below...leapt up and sure enough there was a carriage, with two horses, and two Harrod's men in livery. I wonder if that's how they deliver their famous harrod's hampers? Worth ordering one just to see)

Then grabbed a cab across town for lunch with my editor, Dan Mallory. The cab suddenly slowed down and I strained to see what the delay was, only to discover that two cars ahead was the Queen's carriage! Gold and enclosed and flanked by horsemen - returning for the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day ceremonies. It's very solemn here. Everyone observes it the 2 minutes of silence at 11am. Indeed, one of the top selling video's in Britain is exactly that. It's put out by the Royal Legion and is 2 minutes of silence. Featuring men and women, some famous, some not, just quietly staring into the camera - with just the background sound audible. Excruciatingly beautiful and moving. Michael emailed later and said he was in the shops and at 11 am everyone just stopped. customers in the aisles, clerks, checkouts. Everyone stopped. After 2 minutes there was a sound and everyone started again.

We followed the queen down the road. She turned in to Buckingham Palace, and we didn't.

A few minutes later the cab dropped me at Lutyen's Restaurant, on Fleet Street. I had a few minutes to spare so I went in to St. Bride's church. Known as the journalists church - which surprised me since I always thought journalists were a godless bunch of heathens. But apparently I was wrong. This being Fleet street, a huge number of printed papers and magazines had their names on pews.

But what staggered and humbled me (yet again) was the memorial. To the journalists killed covering conflicts. Including a 23 year old photographer stoned to death in Somalia. Dear Lord.

And the poppies, of course. Remembering.

Dan and I had a fabulous lunch in what had been the Reuter's building (he had chicken, I had dover sole) and we gabbed for hours. Then headed back to the litte, Brown offices for tea. There's a photo of the Little, Brown team. Dan is standing on the far right. How kind they were to do this, so that I could meet them all at once. Such an amazing group of people. I'm really looking forward to getting to know them better. But what I do know is that they treated me - a new author from Canada - as though I was the most important person on their list (which clearly I am not). So gracious.

Teresa, my agent, was also there. Afterward she and I walked for about half an hour along the Thames. It was dark and we could see the London Eye (the huge ferris wheel, lit up all red - as a poppy. for remembrance day. Then the underground home. I got off at Sloane Square. The photo with the bus and the christmas lights is of Sloane Square. Most of London has just been decorated for Christmas and is as beautiful as you might imagine.

What a magical time. Je me souviens.

Nothing on the agenda tomorrow. No lunches, no meetings, no interviews. Just us. Wow.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Deb and Ann




bright sunny day, cool, temps 10

Gorgeous day here in London! Michael and I woke up and had breakfast in the flat - then he headed out for lunch with his sister Carol and David and I headed out to meet up with Deborah Crombie and Ann Cleeves for lunch. Deb had chosen a restaurant in Notting Hill called Le Pain Quotidien - french for Daily Bread. It's a very good chain of bistro type restaurants. Great soups and breads...a bakery essentially.

Since it was such a lovely day (and there was no easy underground or bus route from Knightbridge to Notting Hill) I decided to walk. London is a magnificent walking city. Almost no building is over four floors. Many are Victorian or older. the newer ones are because of the Nazi bombings in WW2. There's no grid system. Streets meander, alleys and mews' appear - and end abruptly in a wall or a house.

After studying the map I decided the best, and prettiest way, would be to get up to Hyde Park and walk across it, cutting over to Kensington Park.

It really is a perfect day to stroll through Hyde park. I wandered over to see the Albert Memorial - put up by Queen Victoria when her beloved husband Albert died. It's magnificent and aches. Always so sad to see the huge, gold statue. It's above.

Then walked down the tree lined path through the park.

Made it to the restaurant early and drove the waitresses mad by moving from section to section. The first had too many screaming children and inattentive mothers. The second had no kids, but a very loud speaker playing music right above it. And the third? it was just right.

We Canadians long for the middle bear.

Ann arrived first and we had a wonderful time getting caught up. If you don't know her series - she has two. There're her 'Vera' books, which have just been made into a TV series here in Britain and will air in the spring...and the other series is set on the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Wonderfully written - beautifully atmospheric. That is a four book series and might I suggest you read them in order? The first is called Black Raven and won Ann the Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the year.

The Deborah Crombie swept in. Rooms always brighten when Deb arrives. Smiling - filled with energy and warmth. Deborah is a writer I loved even before I started writing. Her latest is called Necessary as Blood, and is just brilliant! She and Ann had never met but they immediately hit it off and talked about people they had in common - then eventually we began comparing notes....things we hate about the publishing world. Things that break our hearts (mostly dashed hopes...we hope a book will do well, find a huge audience, and when it doesn't, and we can't even find a copy in the bookstores - it really does break your heart). And things we really love about it - like just getting to do it. making up stories. Writing them. Meeting other writers. But mostly, meeting readers.

Because we're readers too. We have so much in common with people who read our books. It's such fun.

So we ate and gabbed for hours. Then Ann was off to meet her publicist and Deb and I walked back through Hyde Park - to Harrods. Talking about our latest books, our series - choices we'd made - things we weren't sure of. Such a relief to find my fears are Debs. Are Ann's. I'm not alone. And if I'm nuts, so are they!

The photo above, obviously, is of Ann, Deb and me. Ann is on the left of the photo - I'm in the middle - and Deb is on the right.

Honestly - it doesn't get much better than to meet two of the best crime writer's in the business - whose books I love to read - for lunch in London.

Pinch me. OK, that's enough.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Yay - PW!



raining torrents - cool, temps 7

God - we had better weather in Montreal! But this new flat in London has a huge bath and I'm planning to brew up a nice cup of tea and take it, and some cookies, into a bubble bath with me. Bliss.

Had magnificent news, as some of you already know. BURY YOUR DEAD has been named one of the Best Mysteries of 2010 by Publisher's Weekly! There's a link:

Best Books of 2010
http://www.facebook.com/l/cb415ku-UVNTHwDimHb4NAFA09Q;www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/book-news/awards-and-prizes/article/45070-best-books-of-2010.html?page=1

Congratulations to everyone on the list. Such fun to think of the Publisher's Weekly editorial staff going to the bar (as they describe the process) and hammering out the top 100 books of the year published in the US. Amazing to think Bury Your Dead is one of them!

I was in the Tate Britain having lunch with my agent Teresa when John sent a message to Facebook. I'd gone to get my coat and picked up a few messages and saw his - read it - and then Teresa and I celebrated! It's an incredible feeling to be in the Tate, having lunch with my agent, when news like that arrives. The whole thing just feels too good to be real.

Wow.

In fact, the whole day was perfect...except the rain, but London has been known to have a drop or two of rain in the past, so that shouldn't have been a surprise. We woke early, headed out to Knightsbridge tube station to top-up our oyster card. (that sentence would not have made sense to me a couple of years ago). Basically an 'oyster card' is the transit system's credit card. You put money on it, then everytime you use a bus or tube you pay. Very easy and effective system. Then we hopped on the tube and went three stops to Green Park and walked the block to where we were meeting Michael's sister Carol and her husband David for breakfast. A fun block, made of almost entirely of The Ritz hotel.

Last time we were in London Teresa, Michael and I met my new editor there, for tea. Or were supposed to. But Michael wasn't wearing a tie, and was barred! Only at the Ritz.

Must say, while it was upsetting that we didn't know, I quite like places where there's a dress code. When we were in san francisco, staying at the Johns Hopkins InterContinental we paid for the upgrade to the club room...but found when we visited said club room that people were sitting around eating McDonalds (which smelled up the whole place) and walking around in bare feet. Now - I love McDonald's, especially their fries and milkshakes, yum - and God knows I love bare feet - and flannel pajamas. But I don't think the club room in a supposedly upscale hotel is the place for either. But perhaps I'm hopelessly old fashioned and rigid.

I digress.

Michael and I walked past the Ritz, to The Wolseley - this quite magnificent restaurant in what looks like an old bank. Massive open room with marble and pillars. It manages to look impressive without being ridiculous or way too pompous. Carol and David arrived and we had a great time catching up. Carol is stunningly beautiful and an immensely kind person. A published poet and accomplished artist. David is an opera conductor and is working on a few recordings (he already has many) and is now completing the last in a series of definitive books on the works of the British composer William Walton. such fun to hear David describe reading the scores and realizing Walton said something should be in G when it was clear to David it should be in C.

I, of course, nod and smile and completely agree. Huh?

The time flew by, and then it was time to leave. Pouring rain outside. David, Carol and Michael hopped on a number 19 bus and headed back home. I grabbed a cab and went to the Tate. I was early for lunch (as you see, our time in London really is pretty much uninterrupted eating...the only interruption is being transported to the next trough). so I wandered around and came upon the exhibition above. Two fighter jets in adjoining rooms. One lying on it's side (a jaguar fighter) and one suspended from the ceiling - as you see from the photos. It's a Harrier. Amazing, riveting. It actually looked not modern at all close up, but ancient...its hull like elephant skin, or some old, gigantic fish. A shark. And then to stop within inches of the floor. Very tense. I thought you might like to see it.

Then Teresa and I had lunch in the basement restaurant. Gabbing and enjoying each other's company.

Tomorrow is a day just to ourselves. Oh, heaven. Nothing at all planned. No commitments or appointments. Nothing to do, nowhere to be. Phew.

Wednesday is going to be such fun!!! Am having lunch with two of my favorite writers ever. Deborah Crombie and Ann Cleeves. and they're really lovely people too - of course, otherwise, quite frankly, I wouldn't choose to spend time with them.

We're sitting at home, reading the Times and the Telegraph. Trying to figure out how recycling is done here. All these little things that make having an apartment in a city fun and even exciting.

Ahhh, London.