Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Tag: real life (Page 1 of 2)

Photo of straw bales in a field

Season’s End

Tomato seedlings in pots

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was very small, my favourite place in the world was Dad’s greenhouse. It was an old-fashioned, timber-framed Alton, and I remember it as a place of endless dry warmth, with the cat asleep under the cucumber plants, and air that smelled of paraffin and Jeyes Fluid and long drowsy days.

In the greenhouse were rattling canes and balls of twine, a resident spider, dusty jam-jars full of plant labels and pencils that did double-duty as makeshift dibbers. Thompson & Morgan seed packets, sacks of John Innes No. 3, stacks of seed trays that it was my job to rinse out with the hose at the end of each season so they could be used again next year.

Under the potting bench lived big clay pots that were too heavy for me to lift but if Dad turned one upside-down for me, made a perfect stool from which to watch, with that grave solemnity possessed of four year old girls, the gardener at work.

It’s from Dad that I get my love of growing things. I was helping him plant seed potatoes, onion sets and runner beans before I went to school. He taught me the difference between male and female flowers on the cucumbers, how to remove the side-shoots from tomato plants, and, when I was old enough to be trusted with the small, rusty but still very sharp greenhouse scissors, how to tie the plants in to the canes.

Afterwards we’d troop back to the house for tea with my fingers all yellow and smelling of tom-cats (if you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you’ll know exactly what I mean). That tea often included home-grown new potatoes, carrots, peas or string beans from the vegetable patch: plant to pan in maybe 10 minutes – take that, Bird’s Eye! On the table would be a vase containing sweetpeas, or heady roses, and after dinner the peelings and spent flowers would be taken to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden to start the cycle all over again. Dad was an organic gardener long before it became fashionable.

Tomatoes on the vine

Image courtesy of zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I got a bit bigger he’d sit me on the tall stool at the potting bench and get me to prick out seedlings to pot up. In those days he grew everything except the cucumbers from seed: tomatoes, bedding plants, trays and trays of them that I’d water and patiently inspect each day for the first green shoots. Alyssum and marigolds for the borders, salvias, lobelia and petunias for the hanging baskets and planters.

Looking back, I can understand why he got me to do it: my Dad has hands like two pounds of butcher’s finest sausages – you’d never think he was quite a pianist when he was younger – so my small, nimble fingers were able to handle the tiniest plants with ease, and I had a strong young back and patience to spare.

In the autumn I’d help to harvest the apples – old English varieties, like James Grieve and Cox’s Improved – and then Mum and I would make batches of apple sauce, and crumbles and Eve’s pudding. Autumn was also the time of the chrysanthemums; whenever I smell that woody, spicy scent, I know that summer is over for another year.

Every child should get earth under their fingernails from time to time, and understand where their food comes from. Not out of a packet, or a cellophane-wrapped tray from Sainsbury’s, but out of the ground, off a plant. Some of my favourite memories are from Dad’s garden: leaning on the handle of a fork to lever up a potato plant and seeing the earth crumble around the pale pink-eyed King Edwards underneath; picking raspberries off the cane and cramming them into my mouth, warm and unwashed, with the taste of summer bursting on my tongue.

Apple blossom photo

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The apple and plum trees are long gone now, as are the roses. Dad’s getting on in years as well, and can’t manage the heavy digging for potatoes and the like, but he’s on his third greenhouse, and still carpets his garden with colour every year – though these days he buys micro-plants in vast trays and grows them on, rather than nurturing them from seed. He still grows his beloved chrysanthemums, and every other year or so sends me onto the internet to source just the right kind of greaseproof paper bags he needs to tie over the developing buds on the outdoor varieties to protect them from the rain.

I’ve never had the time or the land to have a vegetable patch or a greenhouse of my own, and lately my poor health has made it unlikely that I ever will. I can’t express how much I regret that. I miss those quiet hours of just me and Dad and the simple pleasure of things that grow. I miss them with a sharp sad pain that they’re gone and will never come again.

Or maybe I just miss being a kid, when we had proper summers that lasted forever and I had all the time in the world to enjoy them.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore — Virgil

Featured image © Daniel Gilbey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A long short story

For those of you who don’t follow me on social media, here’s the full story of the day I said farewell to an old friend, one who’s had my back, quite literally, for over twenty years.

I’m talking about TH. TH was there with me throughout my IT career. TH was in my wedding photos. TH even accompanied me to London to meet my agent for the very first time as a newly-minted authorial entity. But all good things must come to an end, and the time had come for me and TH to part ways.

If you haven’t met me, you’re probably wondering what I’m wittering on about. Ladies and gentlemen: meet The Hair.

 

Me with long hair

Me and TH

Me and The Hair were kinda like Foul Ole Ron* and his Smell, in the sense that The Hair was really the rock-star in our relationship. Never self-effacing, it always took up two seats on the plane and had a tendency to make people stare. It had Personality.

Unfortunately, The Hair also had some bad habits. It choked at least one vacuum cleaner to death. It could commit actual bodily harm just by turning over in bed, and as for the shower drain, let’s not even go there *shudder*.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult to manage in terms of my MS: on most days I couldn’t stand for the 30-40 minutes required to wash and comb it. When I could manage it, I had to have no plans to walk anywhere afterwards for at least half an hour. The weight gave me headaches, and when it was wet it actually was heavy enough to affect my balance.

So something had to give. What gave was this:

My ex-braid

Yes, really. I measured it.

That’s 33 inches, y’all. THIRTY THREE. INCHES. OF HAIR. It hadn’t been cut since 2009, when I had these photos taken.

So what’s left? Not a lot. Here I am now, all shorn like a li’l lamb.

Me with my new short hair

Baaa.

My husband had never seen me with hair this short; when we met, some 17-anna-bit years ago, my hair was already past my waist. Amazingly, he’s still talking to me.

Do I miss it? A little bit. I used to love it all freshly curly, when I could toss it over my shoulder – swoosh! – like the girl in the shampoo commercial. However, when you have a long-hair perm, it takes something approaching a geological age to grow it out so you can go back to being curly-girl-in-a-shampoo-commercial again, and curly-girl doesn’t last long.

The vacuum cleaner, however, doesn’t miss The Hair at all.

 

* obligatory Terry Pratchett reference. Bugrit.

Communication breakdown

Satellite dishSo we’ve been customers of a certain satellite TV company for almost 13 years, and just lately we’ve got rather fed up with them. The broadband, whilst cheap, is not great. Our favourite sports have all moved to a rival broadcaster, who is offering a competitive alternative service* and a far better broadband (up to 32mb, thanks to the local network’s upgrade to fibre) at a price which will save us around £20 a month all told.

No brainer, isn’t it?

Read More

Release day . . . and it’s twins!

Cover of German edition, Die Wilde JagdTrinity Rising coverThis month sees the arrival of two bumper bundles of joy: Trinity Rising in the States tomorrow from Tor, and last week Die Wilde Jagd in Germany (Heyne).

Same again? Er, no

For those of you who don’t know, Book 2 of The Wild Hunt is  darker and more disturbing than Songs of the Earth. I knew it was going to be from the first scene I wrote. Gair grew up with a jolt at the end of Book 1; now he’s finding out that he’s caught in the middle of something that’s bigger than him, in which the choices he makes will have far-reaching consequences.

And he’s not the only one. Meet Teia:

A rush of compulsion deluged Teia’s mind. It seized her, shook her, bent her to its will. She would answer; she had to. She had known of her gift since Macha brought her first blood; why had she ever thought she could keep that a secret? There was nothing Ytha could not know, nothing she could not find out. It would be better by far to volunteer the information than wait for the Speaker to enter her mind and take it by force. Surrender was the only choice.

‘Answer me!’

Wave after wave of Ytha’s will bore down until Teia thought she would break under their weight. Her mouth shaped to say the words and, in desperation, she flung herself open to the music within.

‘No.’

Want some more? You can read Chapter One here.

And finally, an apology

I’ve been MIA most of the last few months, for reasons many and various: finishing Book 3, The Raven’s Shadow, having the bathroom gutted, and dealing with a couple of MS relapses/starting a new drug regime.

Things seem to be settling down a bit now, so I’ll be a bit more visible (I hope!) from now on. Or at least I will until Book 4 gets a hold of me and drags me back into seclusion . . .

 

Genre for Japan

Genre for Japan logoIf you haven’t already heard about the Genre for Japan auction, where have you been the last few days?

Fantastic lots, many of them pure unobtainium, including critiques, artwork, stuff signed by really cool people like Neil Gaiman and Joe Abercrombie, your name in a book, Stephen Deas to do with as you will (more or less) for two whole days,  . . . and personalised ARCs of M D Lachlan‘s Fenrir and Songs of the Earth from, er, me.

If you’re a writer, a reader, connected with genre publishing or just a fan, you should check this out. Follow @GenreforJapan on Twitter or visit the website, and get browsing, get donating, get involved.

And get your bloody wallet out!

 

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