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Friday 1 March 2024

Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse - March 2024

Hello all, and thank you to the new subscribers to my informal ‘reminder e-mail list’ for joining me. (If you’ve found this page by chance and would like to subscribe, see details below.)


Did you come across those charming sketches of the late Queen Elizabeth II as drawn from behind? There are several of them, I think they started with one of H.M. with Paddington Bear and a corgi after the Jubilee celebration, but then came some poignant ones at her passing, several of which brought tears to our eyes.

Eleanor Tomlinson)

I’ve Googled to see who the artist is, but there seems to be several talented young ladies (the designers seem to mostly be female), so suffice to say they are all lovely. I am kicking myself because the original artist was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 shortly before Christmas but * I can’t remember which programme, nor can I remember her name – a delightful young lady, though, who explained that so much more could be captured and conveyed in a sketch when drawn from the back.

*ADDENDUM! my thanks to Denise who has tracked the artist down - Eleanor Tomlinson said that she's delighted people are getting pleasure from her drawings, but saddened that some are using them to make money. So please, remember the artist, enjoy her work but any profit made is not your profit!

I rarely have the faces of my characters on the covers of my books (when commissioning my own covers from the talented Cathy Helms of that is), not necessarily because of conveying meaning but because I don’t want to influence my readers about the character. Once a face is portrayed, there is no room for imagination. I know exactly what my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, looks like and would instantly recognise him if I ever physically met him*, but I could never describe him well enough to show his face on a book cover. 

* I did meet him as a ghost-like apparition for the very first time on a beach in Dorset, but alas I didn't see his face that clearly.

Sea Witch
cover without the text

Several years ago now a new trend of The Headless Woman was adopted for the covers of historical novels – only part of the head being shown to disguise too much explicit detail. (If I remember rightly, some of these were books by Elizabeth Chadwick?) The idea was brilliant at first and breathed new life into a drooping in popularity of the historical fiction genre, but has became overwhelmingly overdone since then and is now rather tedious. As is, unfortunately, the now common 'back view'.

A back view lady I see all over the place on front covers is of a lady with flowing locks,  running or walking away with one hand holding her long skirt or gown out, the other clutching a lantern – or variations of holding something. Again, impressive when it first appeared, now rather old hat as it is used too often. Having said that, this one worked well:

These are stock images, of course, either cheap to purchase or even free, so of great benefit to us indie writers who already have to dig behind the sofa cushions to find every penny towards producing our books for you to read, and hopefully enjoy. Paying for graphics designers and professional editors and necessary marketing, is costly and we rarely break even, let alone make a profit.

Writing can be a darn silly job, yet still we do it.

Leaving book covers aside, does ‘back’ convey a wrong impression? Back cover, back lane, back road, back view, back garden? Do these all imply the status of a slightly lesser importance? My back garden is actually the orchard, it has more trees and shrubs than garden plants – discounting the daffodils, cowslips, roses, wildflowers and a few bits and bobs I have no idea the identity of. The back of the house is not as impressive as the front, being that parts of it are newer-built and whitewashed, so no evocative stonework on show, but I love it just as much. The back stands out more from the train line down in the valley. If you look up at the right moment on a sunny day you can see our house sitting, happily smug on the side of the hill.

Back of the house before we had
 the extension flat added on the right-hand side

Did you know that walking backwards is good for your health? An undertaking that needs to be done with care, naturally, but walking backwards is good for concentration, muscle suppleness and a variety of other healthy things. I have trouble staying upright with walking forward, so haven't exactly tried it, but here is some further information.

I have noticed, however, that many a top horse rider will ask his or her horse to take a few paces backwards before performing. (Showjumpers do it a lot.) My rider daughter tells me that this is to ensure the horse is listening and ready to obey commands.

How many of us have been hurt behind our back? It seems to be a common nasty game played by too many people – nice to your face, nasty behind you. Something innocent like, “They’re never going to manage such a big dog,” is an innocent remark, an expression of opinion, nothing more. Harmless, probably. More sinister is the pretence of friendship to your face but deliberate, snide hurtfulness behind your back is something else entirely.

Social media in particular is all too often open day for back stabbing - usually fuelled by fake gossip and rumour. Please, whatever your political or religious persuasion don't fall for it, either as a writer or a reader of such trash.

Even more hurtful is the stab in the back, that et tu Brute moment. I’ve had it and the pain eases but the scar never goes away. A person I thought was a dear, trusted, friend was particularly nasty to me, accusing me of something personal and entirely untrue. Not so much what was said but how it was said. The hatred was uttered in spiteful, jealous venom. A hasty, unthought out slip of the tongue could be forgiven – but deliberate vitriol? It was the betrayal, the sweeping aside of what was, in hindsight, a totally false friendship that has scarred. 

Betrayal and hiding behind lies when relationships break up is another hurt. OK so love falters, the shine and the novelty wears off, a relationship starts to turn stale and suddenly the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. (A good saying to remember 'the grass is greener because it's watered by the cesspit overflow')

It happens. It hurts, but what hurts more is when the blatant lies are discovered and more of them crawl out of the woodwork. 

So betrayal is as bad as deliberate sniping. The breaking down of trust, the dishonour of inflicting hurt via an affair, divorce, abuse, bullying, racism and hiding behind lies to mask the deception. The aftermath is always hard to deal with. Lies are particularly hurtful. And the liar always, eventually gets found out. If you're going to break up and walk out at least have the decency to be honest about it.

In songs, ‘back’ usually  conveys a broken romance, yearning for what once was, sadness or regret, a pleading to start again, to go back to the good times. Baby Come Back – Player, If I Could Turn Back Time – Cher, Back to Black – Amy Winehouse. For most of these songs I’m left thinking, “Frankly, you’re better off without him/her.”

Is it wise to look back into the past? Depends on the reason I suppose. To recall happy – or even sad – memories is no bad thing. To look back with bitter regret is maybe not so good. Better to look forward at what could be a good future rather than mourn what was a bad past. Understanding history is essential, though, for it is through the events of the past that, in theory, we learn for the future. No one seems to be learning the lessons of the two World Wars at the moment, or the implications of slavery or apartheid, or the inhumanity of dictatorship. Human nature, alas, is not sweetness and caring, it’s more self and want, want, want. And the 'want' is usually for wealth and power.

Politicians who dismiss history as unimportant irritate me, not just its significance for recalling and acting upon mistakes of the past, but the occasional overwhelming ignorance that turns up. I’ll not name him (but I expect you can guess), I was astounded when I heard that this someone had said words to the effect of: “The American War of Independence would have been won in a day if Washington had used ’planes.”

Well yes, perfectly true. Just a pity aircraft had not been invented during the late 1700s, so a rather stupid and totally irrelevant statement. (For the record, at the start of that war, the American Colonies didn’t even have a Navy!)

Some things, I admit, are good to look back on. TV repeats at Christmas as example. I don’t mean the same movies every year (although Mary Poppins, Sound Of Music and Toy Story 1 have no objection to.) I still laugh at Morcambe and Wise. Their superb, hilarious sketches have a timelessness about them.

Going back to London where I used to live is not an option now. No thanks, I’ve had more than my fill of London. But ‘Back’ does come in useful when a threat is required.

“If you don’t look after my garden when I’m gone,” I have been heard to say to my daughter, “I’ll be back to haunt you.”

Given that our house is full of ghosts from the past, she knows I’m not joking!

Bye for now – I’ll be back next month. One way or another.

lege feliciter
(read happily)
(Next time: Those Great Gaps and Gaping Holes)

Sad to say, we lost our beautiful boy, Baz
(centre Labrador/Collie cross) at the end of February.
We miss him very much.
He's buried in our orchard.

Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse 
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1 comment:

  1. Helen H (the other one!)March 01, 2024 4:09 pm

    What an interesting and thought-provoking read. Thank you, Helen. And I'm so sorry to hear about Baz. Our dogs have such short lives compared to us that the heartbreak is inevitable. X


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