lemme tell you a story

ochhhh Scotland, me lassie!

The first time I went to Scotland, the friend I was with went into anaphylactic shock just over the border and had to be taken to hospital. This time? No hospitals were involved and so I’d like to call it: an absolute win.

My brother and I decided we’d go to the Highlands for the weekend. I’d never been. Let me tell you … WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME EARLIER JUST HOW BEAUTIFUL THE HIGHLANDS ARE???! I’ve been cheated. Damn it, Time-Traveling Scottish Highlander Romance Novels! you didn’t tell me.

‘I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road …’

Loch Lomand was beautiful and so big, so very, very big. I spent most of the time we were driving past it with my nose glued to the car window. We stopped in a small village by its banks and had some lovely soup served in tartan-patterned bowls.

We took a walk and a cat peered back at me from one window, a poster of Nicola Sturgeon from another. There was a strong feeling of wanting Scottish Independence up here – signs on lampposts etc. I felt almost sorry to subject everyone to my – unfortunately – incredibly English accent. (A common by-product of being English.)

Past Fort William and ever onwards, and the further we went, the more beautiful our surroundings were. There was this moment when heavy rain gave way to the most stunning hills that rolled downwards towards the car. It felt like a secret world, locked away and so very magical.

the view.

The AirBnB we booked was on its own little loch and again – stunning.

the breakfast. also: me

We went for a walk around its banks, got caught in the rain, but I entertained my brother by pretending to be the presenter on a documentary ‘AND IT WAS HERE, ON THIS VERY ROAD THAT WILLIAM WILLIAM HAMMERSMITH TROD’. I use the term ‘entertained’ very loosely. ‘Tortured’ would perhaps be more apt.

JUST LOOK AT IT

If you, dear reader, ever plan a trip up to Scotland, I’d advise doing such a thing as: checking the weather first, and also planning the trip. I’m not going to say that we didn’t do it, but I will say that it turned out marvellously in spite of our incredible organisational skills and the tropical storm battering everywhere at the time.

We went to Skye and saw our aunt and the little corner of paradise that is her back garden. Over a deliciously filling meal (far better than the sandwiches I’d cobbled together that morning) I realised just how nice it is to see familiar faces, especially when so far from home.

Eilean Donan Castle

We stopped off in Eilean Donan Castle where there were a lot of tourists (obviously I’d never call myself a tourist. Purchasing something from the gift shop DOESN’T COUNT.) and also torrential rain. It was entirely worth it, especially after we’d taken photos in front of the castle with gritted teeth, braved the queue for a coffee, and retreated with moderate haste, to the much drier confines of the car.

Eilean Donan Castle, as seen from the car. Where it was NOT raining.

With only one full day to spend in the Highlands, we’d done our best to spend it well. The next day, it was time to share the eight+ hours of driving it would take to get back home.

I insisted we stop at Gretna Green for two very important reasons:

  1. just in case I felt like eloping
  2. to make every regency novel heroine proud

It was then that disaster struck. I did not, dear reader, like Gretna Green. It did not have the romance. It did not even have a romance novel corner. This was a crushing moment of disillusionment. The only person to elope with was a shop mannequin and I did not feel Equal To The Task.

my future husband

We returned home, tired, but immensely satisfied. I’m going to steal the Highlands and shove them in my next book. It won’t be a time-travelling romance, because I still feel betrayed by them. It will, however, include such descriptors as:

‘The rain moves in ghostly veils across the loch, pushed by wind.’

and

‘Binky looks cold, wet, and utterly miserable.’

I can’t wait.

ness talks about life

sanctuary

Moldova, March 2019

My bed is pushed up so that the headboard is against the window. I leave the blinds open. At night, if I crane my head, I see the stars. Perhaps the moon too. 

But the mornings are delicious. I wake up bathed in sunshine, in a pool of warm light. Perhaps the sky is very blue, perhaps a cloud or two drifts across its face.  

Eight o’clock is the sweet hour. Eight to nine and afterwards the sun slowly drifts up and away. My room is pink. It steals the light and keeps it safe and stored within its walls. 

The rest of the apartment may be gloomy, slightly cast in shadow … but my room? With its curved walls dotted with post it notes and chapter sheets marching along the ground? With the books heaped on the sturdy little drawers and bags piled up in a corner? With white bedsheets which have caught spring blossoms and a faux brown fur that surely was once a fierce bear? 

It’s light. It’s comfort. It’s a secret place where stress retreats just a little. It’s where daydreams are made and fears are kept at bay. It’s where I lie with headphones and listen to songs of hope, full of melody and wishes. It’s where a book and a tune and a cup of tea are the closest things to heaven I have and where prayers are told and heart-secrets whispered. 

In here, I am at peace. 

In this pocket of happiness, I find sanctuary. 

There are other places – a stretch of road where the sun always shines and the bark on the trees is slowly peeling, leaving pure white beneath and a belief that surely, surely they are from another, more mystical world. A kitchen table when it is just I and a window and perhaps a cup of tea – not English Breakfast, but I’ve learned that there are other delights which can fill a cup. A carpet, on which I dance – not elegantly, never that, but with a feeling that youth is fleeting and I must grab it and rejoice in existence, in the life that flows through my veins. In a mirror in which I peer at my face and pretend that she and I have hidden jokes that we must always laugh at. 

There is sanctuary everywhere. Hidden. Between the here and now and the hereafter. 

(In the heart. That too. In the relief that truth brings. In the peace that follows. In the words written in the only book that is living. In the prayer whispered. In the burden shared. )

Sanctuary. Peace. Contentment. Joy. 

Life will try to drench us with worries, numb our bones with cares, and steal our breath with anxiety … but there is always sanctuary. If only we look

ness talks about life

travel despatches: a tale of ice and snow

This was going to be called ‘despatches from a broad’ which would have been a HILARIOUS word-play but I have contained myself.

ice

Moldova has snow. I am acquainted with the idea of it – Canada dunked me in the deep end and taught my British nerves to deal with lots and lots … and lots of snow. But Moldova has ice and the pavements are covered in it.

This is the formula:

  • It snows
  • Pedestrians compact the snow
  • The temperature rises
  • The snow becomes slush
  • Night falls
  • Temperatures plummet
  • Slush turns to ice

I haven’t seen a single Moldovan slip. Not. A. Single. One. I am rather certain that they have superpowers. Extreme balance. Exceptional grip on their shoes. Underhanded understanding with gravity. That, or they’re waiting for me to clear off and get out of sight and then they all slip over magnificently.

A fellow teacher and I made a bet – the first one to slip buys the other a coffee. Now, I was in no way hoping that she would slip over first. But gravity exists and if she were to prove it … well, no harm no foul.

We were crossing the road. I was slightly ahead of my fellow bet-ee (?). She was explaining the terms of our little wager to a mutual friend when her explanation suddenly halted with a sort of sliding plop.

I turned around and there she was, sprawled along the centre of the road. The brilliant red of her coat looking very picturesque against the dark ice. Fortunately, it wasn’t a bad fall. Unfortunately, I was not going to remain unscathed …

pride comes before a fall

I was hoping to avoid slipping. I had visions of lasting through the entire winter with nary a spill. ‘I lasted an ENTIRE winter with VERY icy pavements,’ I would say with great modesty. ‘I didn’t slip ONCE.’

Ha. Haha. Hahaha.

One evening, we were warned that the ice would be exceeding treacherous the next morning. As we gingerly walked back from school – warily looking at the ground as if it was going to snatch at our feet and maliciously laugh all the while – we pointed out patches of the pavements to each other.

‘That bit,’ we’d say, ‘is going to be VERY icy.’

‘This stretch of the road,’ we’d agree, ‘is going to be INSANELY icy.’

‘Tomorrow,’ I said, eyeing a piece of paving in front of me, ‘this is going to be really ic-‘

Up went my feet. Down went my bottom. It was a moment of exquisite irony. My fingers were a little grazed, my behind was slightly bruised but all I could do was emit a stunned laugh.

since then …

We’ve had freezing rain. It’s become slush now but everywhere had a layer of ice. Walking to school reminded me of skiing really fast. (Which, for some people, must be great. But for me? I was never very confident in the stopping part of skiing. Consequently, skiing wasn’t my favourite thing. I was moderately terrified.) My heart was in my throat. My steps were tiny. My prayers were many.

ice. lots and lots of ice.

But so far, God is good and I have survived. I’ve slipped since but that was to do with a glorious and honourable puppy rescuing mission. (This feat of derring-do might become another despatch from a broad … )

(I’M SORRY BUT IT MAKES ME LAUGH.)
books, ness talks about life

books. packing. travel. decisions

Next week, I return to Eastern Europe for five months. I want to pack as simply as possible. And by that I mean ‘pack as many books as I can possibly jam into my bags’.

Here’s a handy little guide for you so that you too can fill your bags with as many books as possible …

i’ve done this before #noragrats
*** DISCLAMIER ***
I know, I know – just take a kindle, you can take hundreds of books that way. Sure. Do that. I have done and will do … but I also take physical books with me.  BECAUSE I HAVE TO OKAY???

HOW MUCH SPACE DO I HAVE?

  • a carry on case
  • a laptop bag

CRITERIA:

THE BOOK MUST NOT BE A STOOPID CHOICE

Weight and space are limited in your bag, so you need to take books that will be useful, that you can reread or that will take absolute yonks to consume.

For this reason, I’m taking two books on teaching and grammar and a book with creative writing exercises.

THE BOOK MUST NOT BE TOO HEAVY

… or it can be. (Rules are made to be broken, or so the saying goes.) I’m taking a 500+ page hardback about Calvinism with me. I’ve been wanting to read it for years and now is the time.

But – if you can – try and avoid hardbacks. If the book is thick – having it in paperback could be the way to go. I’m doing this too – taking The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore with me (600+ pages. Also I’ve just sniffed them and is there anything better than the smell of books?)

i just REALLY love books, okay?

THE BOOK MUST NOT BE PRICELESS

though i’ve just learned that i’m missing one so OOPS

Travelling with your books is dangerous – for the books, at least. Though you try your very best to keep them in a pristine condition … it’s quite impossible sometimes.

So choose a book you’re not happy to be battered, but you’ll at least be okay with it turning up a little worse for wear.

I’m bringing a paperback set of the Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen. I paid a dollar a piece for them so if they get a little worn, I shan’t be too concerned.

THE BOOK MUST BE A HEYER

Because OBVIOUSLY.

I nearly considered leaving her behind as I have many on my kindle HOWEVER … this moment of profound foolishness has since passed and I’m taking Frederica with me. (Cotillion may slip in or replace it, I’m not sure.)


I may not actually finish all these books – I will be teaching, after all, and life will be moderately busy. But having my books about me is the same as being surrounded by friends. And I adore my friends.

Also, I’ll be taking my Bible, a book I borrowed from someone, and a few notebooks.

… I don’t have a problem. I just have priorities. And who needs clothes anyway?

ness talks about life

2018 – not all the things but some of them

I haven’t finished a Dickens yet but I’m on the way. I’m a couple of chapters in and actually … I’m really enjoying it. Dickens writes well – who knew? 

(Me. I should have done.)

travel

  • Canada – came home in July
  • England – home
  • Moldova – taught for three months
  • Various Airports – Vienna, Frankfurt etc
  • Gotham – not yET BECAUSE 1) HOW DANGEROUS WOULD THAT BE AND ALSO 2) IT’S FICTIONAL. LIFE IS HARD.

writing

HAHAHAHAHA.

It has been a bad year for my writing, to be honest. No books have been finished. A handful of short stories have been completed. One or two have been submitted to competitions. (One honourable mention, but that was all.)

In short: for someone who considers herself to be a writer … I’ve done a poor job of being one.

But on the plus side, I’ve really started to deep dive into the ‘behind the scenes of writing’. Usually, I just go by instinct: sit down, and write. BOOM! Story done. (Or not.) But now … I’m really pondering what goes on with characters, with plot, heck – even with grammar. It’s really fascinating and for the first time in a long time I’m getting excited about writing.

I’ve always been excited about stories and consuming them but writing? Yeah. I’m a bit chuffed and looking forward to what I can do in the New Year.

reading

This was always going to be more successful than my writing. Goodreads lists only a fraction of what I’ve actually read. I’m kind of awful that way.

I’ve read a lot more factual books this year – and I’m glad that I did. Particular highlights were a book on the history of China and a history of eclipses (I really enjoyed that one!)

personal

  • haven’t solved any murders
  • haven’t captured a dragon (and trained it. obvs)
  • haven’t fulfilled my destiny and brought about MAJOR prison reform (I shouldn’t have read Narconomics, should I? NO RAGRATS!)
  • haven’t learned how to function without spell check
  • haven’t become a black belt in ballroom dancing (this was never an ambition but I haven’t done it so I thought I should list it here.)

what i hope for the next year …

  • more writing projects completed (maybe a novel! Maybe several short stories!)
  • finish teaching in Moldova
  • find a job back home (post-Brexit BAHAHAHAHA. Oh gosh. So doomed.)
  • learn how to say ‘no’ to things (it’s harder than you’d think.)
  • more blog posts per month

happy reading, God bless, and happy new year, everyone!

also, if anyone has read a dickens this year then … please let me know which one it was and what did you think and what was your favourite quote etc etc ALSO HOW WAS YOUR YEAR?????