Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Saturday 23 March 2013


I’ve taken a short break from typing and Creating Space this week to write a quick short story, not my usual field at all but great fun. For one thing, it was a delight to go back to the characters of Henry and Robert who, rather like real children, have grown up far too fast. However my helpful reader has suggested quite a few additions (I was trying hard to keep it to 2,000 so, although I have failed, it was very much pared down and apparently some of the parings should have been left where they were). Once these are done, I’ll think about how and where to make it available.

In the meantime I’m waiting for the excitement of receiving the proof copy of Knowledge of Sins Past. When the Death in a Scarlet Gown one came, the text was squint, but it was still one of the most exciting moments of my life (not sure what that says about my life, mind you!). I’ve already started preparing Service of the Heir and then it’s straight on to An Abandoned Woman. I want to have them all out by September – not sure when Fellowship with Demons is going to appear, as I’m still stuck for a cover. Swords? Demons? Music? A soldier?

I’ve also been doing a bit of archaeological digging. For years (well, since I was at school) I’ve kept a book called, unimaginatively, the Blue Book (yes, it’s blue), in which I have written down the traditional notes, observations and ideas that all writers really ought to write down. It’s about the one good habit I’ve managed to maintain for xxxx years, that and brushing my teeth. I noticed a reference in it to Blair, and it was a bit earlier than I had expected, so I did some more digging and found this:
16th. June, 1987: The bumbling professor had been quiet for some time, happily sucking at his mug of soup in the corner. There fell a pause in the conversation, which after a moment he broke.
‘Those biscuits are rather unexciting, aren’t they? Boring. They looked so nice in the shop, on their little carousel, and I like a greedy old man bought up the lot, thinking “Yum, yum!” But now they’re not very exciting.’ His voice sighed away.
I used this in An Abandoned Woman, having forgotten where it had come from. But a professor? Then Blair developed into a more investigative role:
1st. October 1987: ‘The policemen (Blair and Ben, of course) ...’
A bit more investigation revealed that Ben was an even older character, a kind of proto-Murray but a sidekick to a senior detective who had originally been somewhat unoriginal, and had been called Thorne, I think. But Blair obviously caught my imagination, and further entries show that he was occasionally, at least, on my mind.
1st. May, 1988: ‘Blair bumbles, his eyes half-closed under an untidy heap of prematurely white hair. He has shocking dress sense and a severe, shambling limp. He regards his cases and their characters with a puzzled and almost saintly benevolence. Sees a great deal without appearing to notice.’
11th. May, 1988: ‘Blair is Scottish, remember. Shamble, bumble, trundle, absent, vacant, aloof, innocent.’
4th. May, 1989: ‘Blair bumbled around the room, and Ben saw that he wore a daisy chain, like a parenthetic irrelevance, on one wrist.’
‘The carrier bag hung forgotten from his hand like the pollen sac on a bee closed into a sunlit room. He blundered, humming, from window to wall to door.’
13th. June, 1989: ‘Blair’s eyes bleared at him.’
7th. January, 1990: ‘I think Blair (or McAlester?) should talk more.’
18th. November, 1993: ‘Blair doesn’t wear clothes, they happen to him.’
31st. December, 1993: ‘Ben and Blair are characterised by their movements: Ben can sit absolutely still, but Blair must always be moving, jigging or shuffling or rocking.’
27th. April, 1994: ‘Well, it’s just funny that she shouldn’t have known what time it was. You see, she’s the kind of person who’s always looking at her watch.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Blair meaningfully, ‘she’s the kind of person who is always looking at their watch but never knows what time it is.’
The informer looked at Ben in bewilderment.
This Blair was set firmly in the present day, I think as a policeman in Edinburgh. By this stage I was living in Edinburgh and had at least two plots squared out for him to investigate: one of them involved a huge chart on my bedroom wall showing where each character was at any given time in one week. They had their merits, and bits of them might resurface some day, but without Blair now, of course. None of this could be usefully transferred to the early 1800s:
29th. August, 1994: ‘Every contact leaves a trace,’ Blair reminded him firmly. Then he moved away, singing in a breathy whisper to the tune of The Archers,
“Every contact leaves a trace,
Every cloth a fibre ...”’
30th. October, 1994: ‘There was a soft wheeping noise, growing more insistent.
“One of us is bleeping,” said Blair.
Ben thought about it.
“It’s not me, sir.”
The wheeps continued.’
Ben was an artist, I seem to remember, rather good at watercolours and a dab hand with a fullbore rifle. But alas, he has never escaped from the pages of the Blue Book – who knows, some time he might?

Ah, well, back to typing and drawing!

Friday 1 March 2013

The earth is calling!

Back to Allotment Major on Tuesday to dig the second half of my hotbed. Bucket of fresh compostables, bag of wood and paper ash from the stove, bundle of cardboard, and knapsack with flask, all on the top deck of the bus. It's funny how I so often have a seat to myself on that bus ... Anyway, dig a hole, tip the stuff in, and cover over with the spoil. Then try to cover it with old horticultural fleece which has frozen not just to the top layer of earth but also to the rocks which held it in place. The plan is that this will produce sweetcorn and courgettes in abundance this summer - well, I saw a field of maize in the shire last summer, and N&D have been known to grow it as far north as Edinburgh. Obviously I can grow it on an exposed site in the north east of Scotland.

It was a dazzling, frosty day, when the sun caught a yellowhammer on the telephone wires and made it electric bright, and blinded me so I couldn't see the geese I could hear. Three perfect young roe deer ventured out on to the grass from the wood, antlers soft and downy.

The ground was not so frozen as the day I dug the first half of the (so-called) hot bed - then you could lift whole tops off the beds by inserting a spade at one corner and lifting.

Seeds and seed potatoes have arrived, it's the first official day of spring, the sun is shining and the garden and allotments are calling. I'm trying some new techniques this year, involving collecting rotting wood - more interesting things to take on the bus!

So many other things are calling too, though: house cleaning now the sunlight is showing up the dust; knitting, beading, and all those other too tempting crafts; the actual paying jobs; a whole heap of books; and of course writing. I can't say I'm entirely happy with the way it's going: I'm not sure if one would call it a complex plot or just messy, or whether the mess is in my mind (which has far, far too many things going on in it). Is it just a duff book, or is this pre-publication black dog? I'm not in a position to judge!