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Finding the IRS

February 14, 2017 — 5 Comments

As an inveterate browser of all things decorative, I was thrilled to find an ornately carved teak door, partially hidden by statuettes of worthy Asian deities. I am particularly drawn to all things Oriental, having spent a large part of my life in South East Asia. Including the frame, the door measured ten feet high and five feet wide. This I know because an arsenal of facts would be required if I were to persuade my long-suffering husband these doors were indeed entirely necessary to our future.

I was rebuffed with the words, “But, love, we don’t even know what country we will retire to, and we are not going to buy a house to fit around some doors.” I have never forgotten those doors and, more importantly, the questions they raised. His words were the start of an intense search. Finding the IRS…. the Ideal Retirement Spot.

My life has been nomadic since birth – countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands have been home. My husband started his global wanderings when 23 and, whilst enjoying returning to England to visit family and friends, did not envisage returning to that green and pleasant land. Pubs, cricket and rugby notwithstanding.

Contrary to popular belief, a peripatetic life does not make the search for the IRS easier.

After spending holidays as a teenager with my parents in Provence, on the outskirts of villages with names like Draguignan and Mougins, I had romantic notions of finally mastering French and spending our leisure years sipping rosé by day and cognac by night. But the area had become expensive and not quite as inviting as my childhood memories.

An intense affair with most things Italian, including grappa, sent me scurrying to the Tuscan and Umbrian hills. Palominos gave an equine serenity as they merged into sizzling summer landscapes, reminiscent of an Impressionist painting. Hungry hogs, foraging in the undergrowth as fireflies came out to play, added an element of danger. Remote villas as old as time. Villages perched on hilltops, narrow doorways tempting us into darkened interiors offering culinary delights – pecorino, salami and vino; cafés spilling onto Fiat-wide streets with the ever-lyrical sound of Italian – what more could we want? Less laments! Utterances, from those expatriates already living la dolce vita, about the lack of a favoured cereal or the slowness of service – so different to home.

Living for a time in a small, despotic, sub-Saharan West African country honed our Spanish. How about Spain? High up in the hills behind Malaga, away from beer-bellied Brits thronging the malecons along the Costa Brava. A vineyard, perhaps? An olive farm? The idea of producing our own appealed to my taste buds. Following garbled instructions along remote lanes, ditches on either side ready to swallow the unwary driver, we viewed several – both grape and olive groves.

And then it hit us. What would we do once we’d trodden those grapes or picked those olives? Did we want to spend our retirement working the land – something neither of us had every done. We appreciate the countryside but really we are water people. A babbling brook would not be enough. Who would we socialise with? Driving half an hour along rutted roads for the daily paper, a cafe con leche or a glass of wine in the local hosteleria, and driving back, held little appeal and would not allow for easy integration.

Our focus changed. Perhaps we needed to consider towns. Barcelona and Tarragona appealed, but prices didn’t. And then we lost our way again. How about living on the beach? Grenada? Beautiful, friendly, too difficult to navigate, too far. Belize? Barrier islands seemed risky when considering the possibility of hurricanes. Let’s try on the mainland. How about Corozal? Jaguars and jacaranda ticked environmental boxes, but difficulty in obtaining basic necessities – fresh produce, cheese, good bread, wine – put us off.

Baja California was next. Not the more usual Cabo san Lucas, but what about the capital of the province, La Paz? A charming old town with a Friday night parade of cars driven by love-lorn Lotharios, looking for the girl-of-their-dreams tossing coquettish smiles as they sauntered along the palm-fringed malecon. Affordable. A good produce market. Interesting history. The sea on our doorstep. But. That intangible but. It didn’t feel right. We were forcing the issue.

Subdued, I returned to Houston to pout and ponder. For a number of years. I gave up house hunting around the world, and concentrated on writing. Until one rainy Sunday afternoon, a golf tournament on the television keeping my husband engrossed and me less than, I restarted the search for the IRS. Trolling through websites in lesser known Caribbean islands, I came across a West Indian house in dire need of love.

“Look,” I said, blocking my husband’s view of the 16th hole. “What about this? It’s in town. We loved the island. Easy to get to. And it’s American, so our investment would be safe.”

“We haven’t been there for thirty years,” he reminded me. “There’s a reason for not showing photos of the bathrooms. And the kitchen looks as if its made of balsa wood.”

“Look at the views. Ignore the clutter, the bones are good. It just needs attention.”

“Interesting, I suppose,” he said, his eyes straying back to the 17th hole. “Why don’t you go and have a look?”

Three days later I landed on the island of St Croix, USVI. I came, I saw, I bought. It felt right – the IRSview-of-the-bvi

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Writing is a lonely business.

A thick outer skin must be ordered – I believe they are available online – and worn so the writer doesn’t disappear into a tightly wrapped ball of fibres, which can later unravel into the distance hauling away what little snippets of self-confidence have been painstakingly garnered through the occasional success.

Pitching brilliant ideas to magazines is a thankless task often shot down by breathtaking silence from editors. We shake our phone, switch our computer on and off, in the vain hope the longed for acceptance and promise of small monetary gain has merely disappeared into that great universe called the ether. But no, the phone is working, so too the computer – every email from that online site from which you so rashly bought two years ago is managing to escape the junk box.

For those of us trying our hands at longer pieces – a book for instance – rejection from literary agents becomes a way of life and we really do grow an extra epidermis. We nod and smile wanly when our well-meaning friends trot out J K Rowling, again.

In need of moral support recently, I wasted hours but eventually came across a wonderful piece which cheered me no end. Did you know, for instance, that Agatha Christie had five years of rejection? The Da Vinci Code, two years. Fireburn, my manuscript is not a thriller, but I found the following critique of John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold of utmost comfort, “He hasn’t got any future.” Mary Higgins Clark, J G Ballard, Stephen King and many other now respected authors have received numerous dismissals. And whilst I don’t put myself in their elevated ranks, their perseverance and self-belief does provide an inkling of hope.

Why do I need hope? Well, I almost blew it. Only time will tell. An email arrived from a relatively new, small press chosen because it was young and, I hoped, hungry. Keen to make a name. Eager to do the best for both me and themselves. I read those magic words – we want more. And then seven – count them – seven days later another email appeared saying they were interested. A flurry of further communication, culminating in a phone call, and then, and then, the moment when the contract lands with a ping.

The cork is popped. Texts to loyal readers of both early and later versions of my book, three years in the making, are sent with exultant responses of the ‘told you so’ type. And then, and then, you actually open the contractual attachment and the fizz goes flat.

Having been verbally assured of the stringency of editing – both content and copy – you find the contract is full of typos and inconsistencies. A cobbled together document, which would ensure any lawyer worth his fee slit his throat rather than let out it the door.

The bubbles have truly fizzled. And those little inconsistencies tamped down during the phone call merge to create a cacophonous roar. You have been seduced.

No, let’s be honest! I was seduced. Seduced by the thought of a publisher who promised marketing to all and sundry – here and abroad. Foreign rights – no problem. Film rights – of course. I was already sashaying along the red carpet – a yellow dress, I thought – as actors clamored to praise the role I had written for them.

The harsh hand of reality grabbed my throat on the seventh or eighth reading of the contract. How could I sign with a company who didn’t care about their own words, let alone mine? So yesterday I wrote thanking them for their interest and time, and closed that portal.

Now, I shall pull on my newly-bought skin and head back to the computer screen to scroll through pages of literary agents and publishers.

There must be one out there who might be interested in a book called Fireburn!

Tears for Thailand

October 14, 2016 — 3 Comments

Years ago and far away, in what now seems like another life time, we lived in Bangkok. Those fortunate enough to spend time, not just a vacation, but time enough to absorb some of a country’s culture, will forever have an element of that country in their souls.

As Thailand mourns the death of King Rama IX, my heart is heavy for what the country has lost and what the country now faces. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is the ordained successor to King Bhumibol – the only son and a man considered by many to be a serial philanderer. He has been married three times, has numerous children, some of whom he has denounced and is not held in the same high regard as his father. Or his sister.

I had the honour of being presented to Princess Sirindhorn when Cheshire Homes opened a new centre for the physically disabled on the outskirts of Bangkok. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn or as many Thais call her, Phra Thep – Princess Angel – is another matter. Admired by all for her steadfast devotion to the Thai people, she was elevated, with a tweak to the constitution in 1974, to Princess Royal which, in theory, would allow her a claim to the throne should something happen to the Crown Prince.

Soi Attawimon, where we lived our first time in Bangkok was a narrow street over a klong littered with daily detritus and which, in the monsoon season, regularly flooded our garden and occasionally our house. There were bonuses though to living on our little lane. Late afternoons were often punctuated by delighted squeals from our daughter, Kate, when she would feed sugar cane to the elephant ambling back to his home. We also had an early warning system of any coup. Tanks and trucks filled with soldiers would rumble along from military barracks at the far end of the soi. Being essentially a dead street did have its drawbacks though. We were regularly delayed as it was closed and city traffic idled to an even slower pace than usual, in order to allow the Crown Prince clear passage.

The Glorious Twelfth is not only the start of the grouse shooting season, it is also the now Dowager Queen Sirikit’s birthday, and so a public holiday. Kate, whose birthday is also on August 12th, grew up believing the whole world stopped for her one day every year.

There were many happy occasions in Thailand. From the serene to the surreal.

Loi Krathong, which falls on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai calendar – usually the end of November – is a charming ritual. Baskets woven from banana leaves into ornate shapes are filled with flowers, trinkets, incense, candles and coins, sometimes even nail clippings or hair so character flaws are released, and are then floated down the waterways taking away misdeeds and paying obeisance to the water spirits. The Chao Phraya, the river flowing through Bangkok, is the main repository for the floating mass of twinkling baskets but, in my mind’s eye, it is our little fish pond where the spirit of loi krathong is wedged.

Inordinate skill is required to weave banana leaves into a floating receptacle. A skill I did not have despite expert guidance from Es, our maid. She fashioned a basket in the shape of a lotus blossom for Kate which was duly filled with flowers, a candle and a small doll, “For to be lucky”. The house was dark and our garden became a magical wonderland as lights from the soi sent shadows dancing. Kate, as she had been taught by Es, put her hands together in a deep wai and slid her loi krathong into the pond. Water splashed up and, as we watched her basket eddy amongst the reeds and curious gold fish, my two-year old turned to me laughing at her wet nightie and said, “Mai pen lai, Mummy!” And she was right. It didn’t matter. The world was in harmony in that darkened garden – if only for a moment.

Surreal came from the machinations of monkeys in Wang Kaew stealing our breakfast of papaya and pineapple when, as I shouted and flailed my arms at the intruders, Kate reminded me that being kind to kleptomaniac monkeys was considered good luck in Thailand. Es taught her well.

And Edward was born in Bangkok. Not on an auspicious date in the Thai calendar but a day to be forever celebrated in our family. Our children were playfully pinched and pampered by Thais wherever we went – scooped away the moment we sat at restaurant table – to be heard chortling as they devoured sticky rice and mango with their new friends.

And so, as Thailand mourns King Bhumibol, my heart is with them and my deepest hope for that gracious country is that the transition to a new monarch is peaceful. That, in the not too distant future, Thailand again becomes the Land of Smiles.

Reposts

July 19, 2016 — Leave a comment

My blog guru, Jack Scott, www.author2author.co.uk has encouraged me to repost on this new site, with tags / categories, blogs from over the years.

I will be doing this piecemeal, so I apologize if you have read them previously.

New blogs will continue to be posted.

Thanks for joining me, I truly appreciate your support,

Apple

FOMO

May 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

My granddaughter just turned two. She lives in Trinidad. I live in Houston, Texas. And yet I shared some of her day. Singing happy birthday with her parents and other grandmother, watching the candles splutter with puffing help from her older sister, and I saw the first tentative wheels of the bike, not the bus, go round and round.

All because of the genius, gossamer threads of the world wide web!

And so, as I continue with this piece, I acknowledge the benefits of an interconnected world. Of shared events, albeit virtually. All something which was not possible when I grew up abroad, or when my children grew up, abroad.

My work life would be infinitely more convoluted without the ability to communicate with editors and publishers around the world through email. The wait is always long for rejection or, occasionally, acceptance. Much longer though in the Continue Reading…