The Things Wot Hold The Things Up

It’s the time of year when either one reorganises or diets. Since the former is a form of keep fit, I feel I needn’t do the latter. But as with dieting, what often starts so well can quickly fall apart.

I’ve sorted the airing cupboard, tidied my writing area and now, anticipation of a new sofa, my husband and I are moving furniture.

‘A couple of cup of tea’s job,’ we decided. ‘If that.’

We have an odd house, built by adding bits to other bits and nothing is in quite the right proportion, so we decided to move the main bookshelves from the hall to the sitting room to fill the space behind the new sofa in an effort to make the room look cosier.

The problem was while the bookshelves were in originally three sections, when we moved thirteen years ago we didn’t put up the third section because there wasn’t room in the hall, so we stored its composite parts and a lot of spare books in the attic. (Yes, yes, I daresay you agree with my father-in-law who said while shoving yet another box into the attic, ‘how many bleeping books do you need?’ But there you go. You should have seen my parents’ house in its heyday.)

Since then, it proved easier to buy new bookshelves, put those up in another room and rescued some of the books.

So going back to yesterday, my husband and I got the third section down from the attic. This involved digging it out from under thirteen years (and some) of tat and consequently doing a cathartic run to the charity shop and the dump. Pleased with ourselves on several fronts, we closed up the attic, made a cup of tea, had some lunch and then I started moving books off the shelves, trying to restrain myself from just sitting down and reading whenever I found a volume I’d forgotten.

Two minutes into this exercise, my husband said ‘you know what we haven’t got?’

‘No?’

‘The things that hold the shelves up.’

We stood there for a while and tried to think where they could be. ‘Are they in that old shortbread tin you keep little things in?’

‘Nope.’

‘Have you gone through all your DIY stuff?’

‘Yup.’

‘I know!’ I said. ‘I’m sure there’s a little bag in one of the drawers in the old desk.’ (The old desk has relics going back to ancient times, including the diary I kept when twelve and some Arthur Rackham prints my mother had from childhood which frightened both her and me and have consequently never been framed and a random bag of marbles – which may well be my lost ones.) 

Lo, there was more than one little bag of random stuff but the one I was thinking of held nothing but some bits of Lego.

‘Well we can’t put it up without the things,’ said my husband.

‘Perhaps you can buy spares.’

‘What are they called?’

‘No idea.’

Now I’ve got to hand it to the internet. While it’s a bit of a Pandora’s box, like Pandora’s box, it holds hope. I did a search for ‘things that hold shelves up’ and lo and behold it took me to exactly what I wanted.

‘I dunno,’ said my husband. ‘How will we know if they’ll fit? The shelves came from MFI in 1994. They’ve been out of business for years.’ He took a sip of tea. ‘Where could we have put the originals?’

The logical place would have been in a bag sellotaped to the shelves when we stored them, but clearly they weren’t. The next logical place would have been in one of the remaining boxes in the attic (an awful thought) or worse still, in the stuff we’d taken to the dump. 

‘The only other place I can think of is one of those kitchen drawers,’ I said.

‘Oh bleep,’ said my husband. ‘I’ll make another cup of tea.’

You know the kind of kitchen drawers I mean. We have been slowly decluttering but there were two abysses of chaos left. With trepidation, we started wading through. One was filled with paper napkins, blank Christmas cards and regrettably a bottle of bubbles (as in the ones kids blow out through a plastic hoop, not Champagne) which had leaked everywhere. The last drawer was full of children’s party paraphernalia, including old birthday cake candles, two whistles, a long confiscated hyper-bouncy ball and for no apparent reason grainy photographs processed from a very old roll of film we’d once found in another drawer showing my husband in teenage glory on a school trip. 

It also held a small bag with the bits that hold the shelves up. We would have jumped up and down with glee but we were getting rather tired. By now, all that was going through my head was the voice of the wonderful Bernard Cribbins singing Right, said Fred.

By the time we had to stop the project to go and see a Blondie tribute act, we were both shattered and had only got as far as piling up the books in categories in another room. And we’d stopped drinking tea in exchange for something else.

This morning, after a great evening including a nice meal out, a reliving of our youth followed by a good night’s sleep, we woke today, raring to get on with putting the shelves up in the other room.

‘Oh bleep,’ said my husband as I handed him his morning cuppa. ‘I’ve just realised. We haven’t got the veneered thing that goes at the back and stabilises the third section of bookcase. I don’t remember seeing it in the attic.’

I dug deep into my memories of our very traumatic house move in 2005. ‘Do you know I have an awful feeling it was damaged and we got rid of it.’

He sighed. ‘I have an awful feeling you’re right.’

So at the moment, we have a floor covered in books, a new sofa coming tomorrow and no clear plan what to do.

If you could draw a moral from all this, I suppose it might be that we all need the things what hold the things up: philosophy/religion, love, security, peace and that when one or all of these are missing or letting us down, life can feel wobbly to the point of collapse. 

And probably: don’t be as untidy and disorganised as me and my old man.

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Words and photograph copyright 2019 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Put Down The Embroidery, We’re Going In

Just for the record, I have nothing against embroidery (with the exception of the interminable cross-stitch on gingham tray cloth I had to make in school aged nine). Although I’m a bit too impatient for french-knotting and even less patient when it comes to knitting, I do love dress-making and a number of other activities which are traditionally ‘girly.’

But that’s because I have options. 

If the most dangerous pursuit I was allowed involved the risk of stabbing myself with a needle, I think I’d be learning to sky-dive instead.

When Liz asked me to collaborate on a novel and we had to work out where to begin, it seemed logical to me to write something set in Victorian England. I’m not sure if this is because it fitted in with some of Liz’s other books or because it appealed to me anyway. It was winter when we started talking about it and one lunch-time, I was staring out of the office window into gloom. The day before I’d been doing the same thing in London, where I work regularly. Something popped into my head: a mysterious letter. 

I tapped an enigmatic letter into my phone and sent it as a message to Liz.

‘Ooh’ she replied. And that’s where we started from. 

Who is the letter-writer? Male? Female? Friend? Foe? To whom is the letter addressed? Who is going to find out?

As young middle-class women in the late nineteenth century, Katherine and Connie find life quite restrictive, but underneath the constraints of staying respectable, they are no different to young women today or in any other generation: bored by routine, irritated by authority, straining against the ‘rules’.

And so, when Katherine opens a mysterious letter, she opens the door to a whole new world of adventure.

Now and again, she may even yearn for a bit of embroidery, just for some light relief.

Liz and I have had so much fun writing about Katherine and Connie, arguing and teasing each other via Google Docs and Messenger while we were editing almost as much as Katherine and Connie argue and tease each other in the books.

The Case of the Black Tulips, first in a series, comes out on 19th June. If you like feisty female characters and fancy a mystery set in London, November 1890, then have a look. It’s currently 99p/99c as a pre-order e-book. Paperback details will come out shortly.

It might be something worth putting down your embroidery for.

Venturing Out

Finding the Plot – Venturing Out part two

Books by Paula Harmon & Liz Hedgecock

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Words copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. Book Cover by Liz Hedgecock (all accreditations within the book). All rights belong to the authors and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission. 

Venturing Out

Often wondered how scriptwriters and comedians work on scripts together? Me too. Who gets to decide whose joke or line goes where and has an equal voice?

I think I was six years old the last time I collaborated creatively outside work.

Two of us drew a mouse. We decided to do half each. This way we could be proud of our part yet share in the glory of the overall effect. I drew a lustrous tail and beautiful furry haunches. He got the eyes and whiskers. Or maybe it was the other way round. Either way, no one could see the join (although if that mouse had ever come to life there might have been trouble).

Well that was a long time ago and I never expected to collaborate creatively outside work again.

Then I met other writers on Facebook and a strange thing happened. I started to discuss writing with people I’ve never met and share ideas which up till then were hidden in my head.

One day, during a message exchange, one of them mentioned collaboration.

Liz Hedgecock is author of a number of mysteries, many set in Victorian London. I love her stories and was flattered to be approached.

Both of us work and have families. We live a fair distance apart. A hazy plan to do something in Autumn 2017 came apart when we both decided to do NaNoWriMo in November. With the best will in the world we realised it was impossible to start something new before Christmas.

Nevertheless, we sketched out via messenger and email two unlikely Victorian female detectives: young women determined not to let the restrictions of corsets and decorum stop them from solving a crime.

We set a date to discuss the logistics on 19th January. If this all sounds very formal, it’s because we’ve never actually met in person. I shuddered at the thought of a video call, but fortunately so did Liz.

So we talked via cyberspace and plotted.

I had been nervous. What if we didn’t get on?

But it was fine. We were chatting like old friends in no time.

With a working title of The Case of The Black Tulips, our story was born.

So how are we collaborating? We decided on an approach which gives us equal input and voice. We have a character each and tell the story through ‘our’ person alone. It is like a very complex game of consequences, especially when Liz changes tack and I have to alter direction myself. Are we mad? Probably, but it is tremendous fun.

We’ve got so caught up in it that we are nearly half way through the first draft already with ideas of sequels forming. Watch this space if you like mysteries and feisty female leads because we hope to publish later this year.

I often tell people that I started writing stories because I wanted to have adventures like children in books and it was the only way to do it. I’m still writing for the same reason. My new character has found a friend and is having a wonderful adventure.

And the same is true for me.

Finding the Plot – Venturing Out part two

Put Down The Embroidery, We’re Going In

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Words copyright 2018 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

At the Book-Signing

“I don’t really read.”
“Oh”
“But I came cos your name reminded me of someone I knew at school. In fact it’s weird. You look just like her.”
“That’s because I AM her.”
“No you can’t be.”
“I am. And I recognise you too.”
“No you’re not her. She was a weirdo. And a swot.”
“Yup. That was me.”
“Yeah but you look normal.”
“I did then too.”
“And see, it says here on the front cover ‘humour’. She didn’t have a sense of humour at all. Trust me.”
“It’s hard to laugh when someone’s hidden your stuff, beaten you up and isolated you from the rest of the class.”
“She was good at those boring things like history and English. She liked reading. She’d probably have read your book.”
“I have.”
“I always wanted to be in a book.”
“You are. Fourth story in. The one called ‘Revenge’.”
….
“That’s gross. Is that even physically possible?”
“Tell you what, take a book home with my compliments before I’m tempted to find out.”
“Nah. Like I said, I don’t really read.”

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Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

(This was written in response to a prompt “Imagine you’re at a book signing – what happens?”)

The Wanderers

Do they wander do you suppose? Books I mean.

Every couple of years I herd them up from the four corners of the house, sort them out, put them into some sort of order so that I know where they are (a few are lassoed and corralled for the charity shops). Then I try to work out how “Eastern Vegetarian Cooking” came to be nestling between “Travels in Tartary” and “The Marriage Proposal” up in the spare room where the shelves are mostly filled with thrillers (and the odd random school report hastily shoved on the shelf when visitors come).

The cookbook should be in the kitchen, still pressing petals from my first bouquet (many many years ago, the giver lost to the turbulent waters of teenage past). “Travels” should be close by “Notes from a Small Island” in the travel/autobiography area in the hall and “The Marriage Proposal” should be with the novels by authors names at the end of the alphabet in our bedroom.

Do you think it’s because I’ve never cooked from the cookbook? It’s far too complicated, and I’m not a vegetarian.

And “Travels in Tartary” is an old book, very old, bought by my father in some dusty secondhand shop, maybe the one in Salubrious Passage many years ago. It makes me think of Dad – travels in the wild, unkempt parts of the world being absorbed by a comfortable plump man who didn’t like to be too far from a decent cup of coffee and a three course meal. I keep meaning to read it too, but never quite get round to it.

So do you suppose the unread ones move about when we’re not watching?

Maybe they get bored with the company of their own kind. Perhaps Tartary said to himself: “Just because I’m a travel book, am I only allowed to hob-nob with travel books?” and decided to broaden his horizons? Perhaps on his travels he found a restless cookbook, clutching her petals in her pages and together they braved the stairs to discover the wild world of the spare room bookshelves with their murder and espionage and dark deeds. And at the door, they found a cosy novel about love who wanted a bit of excitement and together they… no that’s ridiculous. How can books wander?

Only where is the one I’m looking for now? It is another cookbook which I’ve never cooked from (mainly to avoid an early death from coronary heart failure.) Where would it go?

Any ideas? If you were a cookbook of recipes from the Southern States of the USA (lots of frying). Who would you want to hang out with?IMG_0820

Copyright 2015 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission