A Head Full of Budgerigars

Home and Away – Hey, that’s a great title for a soap!

One morning, sitting at my computer and trying not to be constantly distracted by the fabulous view from my window, I stopped sending emails and started writing about my home on Clee Hill. I wanted to put into words how I felt about such a wild and beautiful place and the emotional ties I felt with Shropshire, and Ludlow in particular. I had no intention of writing a book or getting involved with writing groups and competitions, but somehow one page led to another and here I find myself half-way through my book A Head Full of Budgerigars.

The cottage on the hill was just a few miles from Lily’s former home in Chumley, a small market town thirty miles from nowhere. At every narrow road and lane, the beautiful Shropshire countryside was visible: the sweeping emerald and gold hills beyond the church, the allotments in the hollow, the embroidery of fields glimpsed between the houses and the dark fairytale forests in the distance. The town boasted a ruined castle, crumbling city walls and towering horse chesnuts that scattered conkers on the cobbled streets. This was where her children had made rope swings across the river Tunny and walked the treacherous weir, caught bright copper slow worms on the sunny banks and found knobbly toads like big fat spuds among the fallen rocks.
Writing a book is rather like trying to hold a writhing fish on the end of a thin line at the tip of a very long pole. That is to say, control is hard to maintain and every now and then it gets away from you. Then of course there is the problem of what to do with it if you finally reel it in.

Until I started writing about my home, I hadn’t realised the significance of that word to me. I began to reflect on the many places I had lived, on my family and childhood, on relationships and marriage, on good times and bad. I have tried to weave a fairy story with heroes and villains, humour and sadness, because that is the story of all our lives.


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

As a child, I would read a book and become consumed by the story. I read as I walked to school and have been known to bump into lamp posts and post boxes and apologise to them. I would take on the tragedy or the joy of the characters. One week, I would slay witches and devils with a silver dagger in my hand and the next, I would be a famous ballerina pirouetting along the pavement. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was never a secretary or a teacher. I wanted to be an explorer or a private detective, an artist (obviously starving in a garret in Montmartre) or a spy. With a book in my hand, I could be anyone or go anywhere I pleased. Like the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I could enter a fabulous new world by climbing into a fusty old wardrobe.

Lily went down the stairs to her parent’s bedroom. The curtains printed with bright copper leaves fluttered in the open window. She ran her hands down the fabric of her mother’s clothing that hung in the walnut wardrobe. She could smell ‘Midnight in Paris’, the scent that Mother wore. She climbed into her secret hiding place among the floral dresses – a perfumed midnight garden.

So do we still read books as we did as children? Can we still open our minds and let
the words rush in? More importantly, how do we write a book? Is it
alchemy? Can we turn words into heart grabbing stories? Base metals into gold?
How much is art and how much is science? Does the rhythm of the words come
from some secret place within? Should we unchain our thoughts and set the words
free upon the page or tie our minds in knots with grammar and precision, word
counts, deadlines and writers block? Undoubtedly, good writing is a marriage of art
and science but like a good marriage it requires warmth and subtlety, shades of
darkness and light, humour and imagination, seduction and spice.
Sometimes it helps to take inspiration from other writers. I have been looking at
the opening lines of novels
. Among my favourites are Joanne Harris:
year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead (The Lollipop Shoes)
and irresistibly, Peter Mayle: The year began with lunch (A Year in Provence).

New Year – New beginning

When I started writing this blog, I had no idea that I would go on to write my first book, Head Full of Budgerigars. I became so immersed in the task that the blog became a distraction, breaking into precious writing time. Last night, I attended my regular writing group, Severn Valley Authors, who encouraged me to think about my on-line profile. They explained that any agent to whom I sent my manuscript would want to see me out there in the world of social networking, blogging, tweeting and confidently promoting my work. I have taken their advice, read each of their marvellous blogs, and got down to work. Links to the blogs of Anthony Gillam, Rob Ronsson and Chris Smith are available on www.severnvalleyauthors.blogspot.com.
For the whole of last year, I worked on my book with the help of a mentor, Kathryn Heyman. Kathryn was a tutor on an Arvon course which I attended at the Hurst in Clun, Shropshire. Her writing was truly an inspiration to me. I fell in love with her strong, direct voice. In the flesh she is very funny and a real Aussie. I can’t recommend her books highly enough. Her next book, The Floodline, will be published by Allen and Unwin later this year. Do take a look at her website www.kathrynheyman.com.
My new year’s gift to my small band of followers is the music of the amazing young
violinist Daisy Castro, who you can listen to at www.gypsymothmusique.com.
She began playing the violin when she was six.
There are some fabulous videos of Daisy on YouTube.
‘By nine o’clock the market was in full swing and the gypsy band filled the house with music:
Two left feet and oh so neat has sweet Georgia Brown.’