The new book is going very well. I have just got back from a few days of sun where the Smalls and I had a hilarious time. I am usually the mother who watches, but this time I jumped in. I paddle-boated, mini-golfed, lion-safari'd. When three cars ahead of us let their children hang out the windows and sunroof in the lion bit, despite warnings to keep everything closed every few feet, I even suppressed a secret hope that the lions may decide they were a very tasty pre-lunch snack. I am obsessively loving being the proud new owner of a flock of chickens (although Nugget - a rather manky black Bantam Silkie is, we have decided, slightly evil). My life is very good. And yet a few days ago I found myself telling a friend I was concerned about Depression.
'What Depression?' they, not entirely unreasonably, frowned, before pointing out I had spent the last twenty minutes talking about how much I am enjoying the writing, how much fun I am having with the kids, how good, in short, life is right now.
None of which I could argue with, but the problem of late has been that I can't get out of bed.
My friend shrugged. What was I doing in bed? Was I alone? Was I sleeping? Well, no. Sometimes I'm alone, often I'm with Beloved, and sometimes a whole flock of Smalls. (No, not the chickens. I love them, but even I have to draw the line somewhere). There is always at least one cat, and usually two. Books are scattered all over the bedspread, because as much as I love my Kindle for travelling, I am so much happier with a book when home. An iPad is there somewhere, with some magazines and a remote control just in case I get the urge to spend a rainy afternoon watching the entire series of Brothers & Sisters. Or Damages. Or What About Brian. At least one cup of coffee is on the nightstand, often more. I do try not to eat in bed, but only because the crumbs drive me potty. Headphones and speakers are there should I decide today's the day for a meditation, and a pencil and pad for when inspiration strikes.
In Summer I throw open the doors to the terrace to hear the birds chirping, occasionally catching a glimpse of the flock of green parrots that live in the trees around here, and in winter I turn on the (gas) fire and lamps that cast a warm, apricot glow.
Although we use every inch of Figless Manor, the one place that feels like it is truly a haven is our bedroom, the place I retreat to when I'm jumping off the grid and taking some time for myself. When I'm in the bedroom, that's as good as me being at a spa with no cell phone service. By all means drop in unexpectedly, but if you don't find me on the first floor, leave a note and I'll call you when I'm back to my regular program. Whatever you do, don't even think about walking up those stairs...
Let me be clear here: I do get out every morning. I am up, and dressed, and at the writing room getting those words on the page, and after that I am running around doing whatever errands need to be done. The problem is when I get back home. There's always an hour or two before the Smalls start filing in, their backpacks occupational hazards as they are dumped in the middle of the kitchen floor, wet shoes kicked off wherever, the phone immediately ringing with other people's children requesting playdates; there is always an hour or two before I jump in the car to become chauffeur for the afternoon, making snacks, ferrying children back and forth, attempting to cook dinner somewhere in between; there is always an hour or two before my life becomes utter madness.
Every day I have the potential for an hour or two of peace. If I'm in the main house, someone will find me. Whether it's a cleaner, a fed ex man, even a solicitor, the chances are that hour or two won't really be time for me, time that is, I'm increasingly believing, essential to me being able to do all that I do every single day of my life. A couple of years ago I blogged about the rhythm of life, after reading these words from the wonderful Sarah Abell in the Daily Telegraph, about how busy women do it all: "I've observed others with better balance in their lives than I have, and I've noticed that what they have is rhythm. Their lives aren't filled with a constant stream of activities. Rather, they are punctuated by periods of peacefulness...They are also, interestingly enough, the people who seem to get the most done when they are active."
Although my bed fixation may be unusual, I now realise it doesn't mean I'm necessarily in desperate need of a lifetime supply of anti-depressants. I think it mostly means I shouldn't have made our bedroom quite so damn beautiful. And that I'm gearing up for the mayhem I know lies ahead.
On that note, I'm just going upstairs to get a sweater, and if that bed starts whispering my name, I won't feel guilty about climbing on and watching a little television. Just one show. Oh maybe two. Okay, okay, but I draw the line at five.
Years ago I thought having a book party meant you had well and truly made it, and I loved being surrounded by all the people that had worked so hard to make my book a success. Then I started having children, and more children, and life got busier, and book parties fell by the wayside, and I have not celebrated the launch of a new book for quite some time.
The New York Palace Hotel, however, are starting an author series, launching it by throwing a book party for my new book, Another Piece of my Heart. Tomorrow night I will be there to give a reading, meet my readers and sign copies. They've organised delicious complimentary food and drink, and I am so excited to celebrate my first book in two years!
If you're in the New York Area Wednesday 21st March, please come to the party and say hello!
6.30-8.30pm. The New York Palace Hotel, 455 Madison Avenue/50th Street. The Library Room.
MANY years ago, when I was just a small girl, I would think about the sort of home I would have when I was a grown-up. I saw myself in a big kitchen, with an old scrubbed table. It would have squishy sofas and soft blankets, would be filled with friends, and children, and the sweet smells of onions gently caramelizing in butter, peach and apricot crisps melting in the oven, freshly-ground coffee swirling in a cafetiere.
My home-making gene is a strong one. I grew up in London in a series of old houses with sweeping gravel driveways and fires burning in cozy drawing rooms with Colefax and Fowler cushions and objects my parents had found, and collected, over the years.
Paintings lined the walls, and built-ins were groaning with books. Antique match-strikers sat on polished mahogany tables, and large walnut boxes opened themselves to a curious little girl, revealing an embossed leather writing slope, under which were a myriad of tiny, secret drawers.
I loved things. I particularly loved things that told a story. I liked the tiny Halcyon Day pill boxes next to my mother’s bed, and the cooking file she had, scraps of recipes torn out from magazines next to her rough scribbles.
I became a cook, a wife, a mother, and a writer. I wrote first of single girls, then, as I grew through my thirties and forties, I wrote simply of life. From marriage, to motherhood, to friendships. From the pain of living with one bad decision, to losing friends, to finding the people who love you: a family of choice.
When I met my husband, I was newly-separated, and looking for nothing other than a beach cottage to rent for the summer. I found the beach cottage, and with it came Landlord, who has now become Husband. On the day I came to look at the beach cottage, he opened the front door for me and placed his hand on the small of my back to guide me through. It was an old-fashioned gesture, courtly, but I remember everything becoming still. I wasn’t aware of attraction, only of suddenly knowing I was home.
Together we decided to build the house that we have jokingly come to call Figless Manor. We didn’t want to build a house, nor did we want to live in a new house. I love old, charm, nooks and crannies. We both love buildings that have a history. But with six children combined, and a desire to live by the beach, our choices were limited, and we decided instead to build a new “old house”.
We bought a piece of land by the water, with a beautiful mature fig tree, only to discover, on the day of closing, the fig tree had been removed that morning, hence Figless Manor. Happily, there is a fig tree once again, nestling in a corner, happily fruiting.
We drove around every weekend, parking outside houses we loved and taking furtive photographs. There was a theme that emerged - antique houses, pretty porches, wisteria-covered pergolas. Back home we'd sketch porches, cupolas, entire floor plans. The kitchen in the rental house we had lived in for years was the perfect layout, so we recreated it. My mother-in-law has a living room that leads into the dining room, which we have always loved. We copied it. I wanted French doors everywhere, bringing the outside in, and shelves to house our many books. After interviewing a few architects we settled on Brooke Girty, found after knocking on countless doors of houses we love and asking if they had an architect they could recommend.
The designing and decorating was done by us. I know my own taste, and have furniture, and paintings, and things that have come with me from house to house. The antique French console table may not be in fashion right now, but I could never not have it in my house. I also feel far more at home when it's cosy. I may walk into perfect, decorated rooms and gasp at their beauty, but I rarely want to kick off my shoes and curl up.
Perfect may be beautiful, but perfectly imperfect is warm, welcoming, cosy. Perfectly imperfect is the difference between a house, and a home.
And so in Figless Manor I layered natural textures – linens, seagrass, canvas, grasscloth, added our old furniture, the squishy cat-scratched sofas, my Frances Palmer vases and antique Chinese ginger jars. I had no idea how my designing and decorating would turn out, but today, as I stand cooking in the kitchen, or sit at the dining room table helping the kids with their homework, I know my choices were good ones, only because they have indeed made this house a home, and a home in which every inch of space is used.
For now, for those of you who were there at the beginning of the journey, here are, finally, some pictures of Figless Manor. It has, for now, its own page on facebook: www.facebook.com/figlessmanor, and we will shortly be setting up a website filled with ideas, the inspiration behind the house, and where to go to buy the things you see...
I have written thirteen novels that tell a story, create a picture with words, and each of them, while telling a different story, nevertheless share a strong theme: people like you and me, all looking, ultimately, for a place to call home. This house is my story, made real.
Those of you who have read Promises to Keep (published as The Love Verb in the UK), will know that it is a novel with the heartbreaking theme of cancer.
Going through the cancer diagnosis, the treatment, and the eventual death of my lovely friend Heidi, what struck me most was her incredible bravery.
Recently I have been sent two blogs, both of which have moved me enormously, not just because of the bravery of these two women slowly giving in to their long battles with cancer, one at 71, one at the tender age of 15, but because of their extraordinary joie de vivre; their ability to still see the glass as half-full, and their willingness to share their grace, humor, strength and spirit with thousands of strangers they will never meet.
Marjorie Walker is an American living in London, a foodie, a beautiful writer, and a fighter, who has been in remission four times. This time she is not doing so well, but even in describing meetings with her funeral director, her humor comes through.
Go and visit both blogs. Now. Quickly. Leave messages with words of encouragement. Then live today, and each day after with joy, because every moment truly is a gift.