Welcome! You have found the home of 'Being Me', Fran Hill's blog. If you like what you read, you will enjoy my new book 'Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?' published by SPCK Publishing. My website is at www.franhill.co.uk. Come and visit for more Fran info!
Evidence that even rejected writing can find another home
I like this passage from near the beginning of a book I was writing a year ago. It's a shame the main premise of the book got a big NO WAY from a potential publisher. I enjoyed writing the two middle-aged characters, even if the story was flawed. The narrator has a friend, Beatrice, who stays with her overnight and is found murdered in her bed the next morning.
Look, here’s a quick
snapshot from the previous evening, a few hours before Beatrice died, just so
you don’t judge me. Here’s me in action,
apron-clad, frying mince and onions and pouring Beatrice, who seemed in need of
cheering up, a generous glass of red wine.
Here’s me saying, ‘So, how’s life at the B & B?’ and ‘I’m so glad
you didn’t have any guests and could get away for a couple of days’ and giving
her a second portion of blackberry and apple crumble. Here’s me nattering to her about this and
that, mainly this dead friend and that divorced one. Strange, isn’t it, how getting past a certain
age makes your friends’ separations (either from spouses, or from breathing) a
subject of great interest? It reminds me
of my old Uncle Fred, sitting at his kitchen table with a slice of bread and
butter and browsing through the local paper, muttering, ‘Outlived him, outlived
her’, then slurping tea from his saucer.
I never thought I’d be like that, but I am. The obsession with other people’s demises
comes in the same parcel as the free copy of Saga Magazine that plops through
the letterbox like a poor prognosis soon after your 50th.
Beatrice and I went back a
long way, all the way to the 1960s and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Oken School in
Warwick where we both had ‘potential’ but not enough ‘motivation’. Poor Mrs Thompson, our Form Tutor, kept us
behind after many a registration period to dole out earnest advice and
portentous finger-wagging warnings about the fact that we’d both end up working
in newsagents. But Beatrice had an
alcoholic mother who kept her at home when she needed some shopping or cleaning
done, and I had no similar excuse but an incurable addiction to my
candy-striped bed sheets, so between us, potential had as much chance of
success as I have now of being mistaken for Kate Moss in the High Street.
I’d met Beatrice in the
lunch queue about two weeks after starting at Oken. She’d only recently moved to Warwickshire
from Scotland. Her dad was a policeman. I asked Beatrice if she’d moved because of
his job and she said, yes, he’d been transferred, but they’d had to move
because of a ‘family problem’. We started
off with a hatred for rice pudding skin in common and from there went on to
share a passion for the Beatles, for wearing illegal eyeliner that made us look
like pandas, and for backcombing our hair so that we had to front-comb it all
again when we got to school and Mrs Thompson caught us. These are the things which bind girls
together so that they’re still having each other as house guests in 2012 and
sharing in shepherd’s pie, wine and other people’s tragedies.
What were the chances that
Beatrice, having been brought up by a gin-soaked mother, would end up with a
gin-soaked husband? Well, every chance,
as it happened, because that’s exactly what she did. I liked Bryan, though. A nice chap, he was, who smoked a pipe and
was very careful that the moist bottom of his gin glass didn’t make a mark on
Beatrice’s mahogany coffee table. When
he died of liver failure, heart disease and throat cancer in 2001 (talk about
overkill!), I couldn’t help but say to Beatrice at the wake, ‘Your Bryan never
made a mark on your coffee table, did he, my love?’ and then we had a good cry
together. She said she’d rather have a
thousand marks on the coffee table than a B & B to run on her own and debts
up to her eyeballs, and I could see her point, but I still wished I’d had a
husband who knew what a wet glass would do to a good bit of polished wood.
Are you getting the
picture? No, Stewart, the man I married,
was not like Bryan. For one thing,
Beatrice’s Bryan stayed married to her until he died. Stewart and I only lasted just over three
years. And, to Stewart, that’s what
mahogany coffee tables were FOR, putting wet glasses on. There were so many white ring marks on ours
that he even played a little game with them called ‘Which one shall I use?’ and
chose a different ring each night to fit his glass onto, laughing into his
chest, his double chins wobbling like stubbled blancmange. It hadn’t taken long for this side of him to
emerge; I used to look at him, and then look at the wedding photo on the wall
above the mantelpiece, and then back at him, and think, ‘Was I taking something when I married
you?’ Tell a lie, I think I actually
said this to him once or twice.
There was never any gin in
Stewart’s glass though. In that respect,
he wasn’t like Beatrice’s Bryan. Stewart
was a teetotaller, and preferred fruit juice or lemonade, a pleasant trait he
combined uneasily with being a lying git with a floozy in most
Warwickshire streets. Insurance
Beatrice didn’t want to be
our Patrick’s godmother when he was born in August 1976. ‘Och,’ she said. ‘I don’t believe in all that guff.’ But I wanted him to be christened, and he
needed a godmother, and I wanted her to be it, so she came in the end, bribed
with the promise of a night out at the cinema to see ‘Rocky’. We were both suckers for a bit of oiled
muscle. A couple of years ago, long,
long after the christening, Beatrice confessed to me that Stewart had put his
hand up her skirt while she was reaching over to help herself to some sherry
trifle at Patrick’s christening tea.
‘Why did you wait until now
to tell me that?’ I asked her.
‘I wasn’t going to say, was
I? I thought you were happily married.’
‘So did Solomon’s 700
wives think they were,’ I said. ‘But he had 300
concubines. Anyway, what did you do?’
‘What did I do when?’
‘When he put his hand up
‘I told him, if you do that
again, sunshine, I’ll clamp you around the goolies with these salad tongs until
you scream for mercy, you bloody filth-bucket.’
‘And what what?What do you mean, what?Then I lay on the table, of course, and let
him have three goes.What do you think,
you muppet?He was off like a shot, all
red-faced, towards the dips and carrot sticks.’
Beatrice reminded me of
Stewart’s groping that night she died, while we were finishing up our
shepherd’s pie and mopping the gravy with some French bread. I choked for laughing and drank so much wine
to try and clear my throat that I got tipsy very quickly. ‘Do you want me to get you some water?’
Beatrice had said, and I’d just raised my eyebrows at her as if to say, ‘Have
you gone mad?’ She poured herself
another glass and had caught me up pretty soon.
It was later, while we snaffled
our way through a box of Milk Tray, that she told me why she’d rung me out of
the blue on a Wednesday morning to ask if she could come and stay. And why she was so terrified, she didn’t want
to go back.
Either that, or they show me I should try another hobby. But I'll stick with HER idea.
It's nearly a month since Christmas and I still have my pile of books and notebooks from friends and family on a chair by the sofa. I can't bring myself to put them all away. There's no reason why I should. No one's dared to move the pile so that they can sit sat on the chair for a while anyway. But these are lovely presents: novels, books of poetry, books about poetry, delicious notebooks .... what's not to like? I haven't always received such pleasing gifts. I was married in April 1982. At the end of that month, I turned 20. Yes, a young bride, and one who wasn't so delighted with her birthday present from her new husband. 'I've bought you an ironing board cover, too,' he said, looking pleased. 'It's the right size. I've checked.' And indeed he had. It was prettier than the plain blue one on this picture: flowery and cheerful. He had tried. Nevertheless, we had words. I was compassionate, don't worry. I was his first
My try-to-get-fitter walk in the fields today was a silent one. I usually listen to the radio through earphones but have lost one of the soft earbuds and nothing spoils a walk more than having hard plastic nudging up against your fragile tympanic membrane. The BBC's 'Woman's Hour' is a brilliant programme but loyalty has limits. It was disconcerting, walking in silence. Listening to radio distracts from the disturbing reality that my legs are propelling me in forward motion because, if I think too hard about this, I frighten myself. Today, while walking, I had to listen to my own thoughts. And now I've listened to my own thoughts, I remember why I like radio better. The inside of my head is like a wastepaper basket. Be grateful that I only offer you a brief excerpt. Oh, look, that bird is - / Where did I put that mark scheme. I'll need it for - / My shoes are getting muddier./ Maybe mash with the fish tonight / really muddy / The trees are definitely more
Ben Cottam (@TheCottam) posted this statement on Twitter today: 'When you're growing up, no one ever tells you how much of your adult life will be spent pushing tumbling Tupperware into cupboards.' I know, right? Why does no one say? And what else does no one tell you about adult life, particularly later adult life? I have made a list. 1. That one day you will say, 'They'll freeze, dressed like that,' and 'Let's go home. It's nearly 10pm,' and think nothing of it. 2. That a summer will come when you will start the days dressed in cardigan and socks and only take them off when it's warm enough to leave the kitchen door open. 3. That police officers, teachers and nurses, rather than getting older, get younger, birthday by birthday, and that one day you will be burgled and then visited by a seven year old with a notebook and a helmet. 4. That the music in pubs and clubs becomes louder, brasher and more sweary, year on year, so that