Virtual friends – part two –

On the costa del sol March 2016 A couple years ago I did a fairly breathless blog saying I was about to fly several thousand miles to meet someone I had been talking to on line for several months. I hadn’t a clue, I gushed, whether he was my long-lost twin brother, my best friend, or my future.

Well, none of the above, as it turns out laugh  although we’ve stayed friends, but on the strength of that meeting having been interesting, I flew off into the blue again last weekend. This time I was going to meet four strangers – two men and two women – who were not only strangers to me, but to each other. Age range, forty-something to the sunny side of sixty.  Why not? Safety in numbers, a gathering on the Costa del Sol, and two of them had, over the past year or so, made me cry with laughter with our brisk on-line banter. Three of them live there year round – one previously Australian, one a Londoner, one from Southern Africa – and the fourth was holidaying in the general area for a week from Ireland.

I say the general area, Spain is HUGE, but they would all be within an hour of each other. I suggested, rather enviously, that they meet up. Go ON, I urged. Tell the rest of us what you’re like. Okay, they said, you come too. Eek no, I said, I couldn’t – then I thought of all the advice I give on my blogs about getting out there. So I went. Taking, it must be said, some fairly Scottish weather with me. Coldest week they’ve had this winter!

SUCH fun. I’ll say right now that you have to pick your company, we’re talking mature single men and women here, they could have been gloomy and weeping into their second drink, we could certainly have exploded our virtual friendships into smithereens, I knew all of that. I’ve written loads of blogs on that, on what to expect. And yet – when would I get such a good chance again?

I knew the Irish woman would be worth meeting, whatever happened, even if she had needed elephants to carry her emotional baggage, (she didn’t) because she is both clever and howlingly funny. We’ve been giggling on the blogs for over a year and virtual is virtual, sure, but you cannot talk that much and hide the sort of person you are, over that long a time. I didn’t have a clue what she would look like – you don’t have to have a pic up, and she chooses not to be recognisable. Turns out, fantastic hair, fantastic skin, taller than me (I’m not used to that, men or women) and she annoyingly looks way nearer 30 than 50. I would have hated her if she hadn’t been such good company.

The other woman startled me by being absolutely tiny, I somehow expect Australian women to be strapping tanned Amazons with a surfboard tucked under one arm. I know, I know, but I worked for the company that marketed Fosters in the UK for many years. You get brainwashed. She’s a dynamo of energy, more fluent in Spanish now than in English after 30 years there, and herded us briskly around for the weekend like a tiny border collie working a herd of rather laid-back sheep.

I’d chatted on and off for a year on Skype with the oke from Southern Africa, so I was pretty sure what he would be like, and he was exactly as expected, another tick for using skype to talk to strangers, a very nice guy, and without his organizing we’d probably never have got the plan past wishful thinking into reality, despite all of Titch’s energy. One-time army men who now run their own businesses are good at organizing!

I’ve exchanged messages with the drily-witty Londoner for even longer, he’s even (unknowingly) featured once or twice giving advice in these chronicles, but he’s had the same pic up since I joined the website and we had no idea what to expect. Ten years older than he said? Five inches shorter? That’s pretty standard on singles websites, but it didn’t matter, this wasn’t a dating-type meetup. (He turned out to be exactly what it says on the box, that was a first!)

It really was fun. We ate a lot, drank gallons of coffee and a little alcohol, and talked and talked and talked. I didn’t get to bed before 3 am on a single night. At least twice before I set off I would have cancelled out of sheer nerves, but I was used to that from my first venture, we never met without me having a mini meltdown beforehand. Apart from anything else, any reader of this column knows I don’t much like flying.  grin However, carpe diem is one of my mottoes. If not now, when? is another.  Not to mention the less thrilling, if more prosaic, you aren’t getting any younger. So much for that one, I felt like a yearling all weekend. It was great.

Do it. Seize the day.

Ever researching on your behalf,

Elegsabiff  wave

I give up. I will never understand men

I don’t understand men, and where in blazes is the handbook? How can we have evolved alongside each other for hundreds of thousands of years and not have a CLUE? I don’t even understand my male friends any more.

My brother was full of advice. “Always tell the truth, say what’s on your mind, and tell a man what you want, we’re not psychic.” Yeah, THAT worked. We fell out a few years back! Without him there to translate men to me I gave them a wide berth for some years. That all changed in 2014 through a series of events and by the time 2015 crawled out its nappy I was with a man who was so violently, passionately and intensely in love it was frankly unnerving. Because I don’t understand men at all I thought he was in love with me  but turned out he was violently, passionately and intensely in love with the pedestal I hadn’t even realized I was on and one day I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands.

In fairness, it’s been raining men since then. I could, and this was something of a shock, be having a lively sex-life with all the trimmings and a choice of partners, why did no-one ever tell me I could be having more fun in my fifties than in my thirties? I wouldn’t have wasted a couple of years wondering if it was time to learn to knit, or order a gross of cats. The single baby-boomers are out there in force in their thousands, casting around for women to make a fuss over, and I’ve had men from mid-forties to mid-sixties trying their spiels on me, with varying degrees of success.

smitten Huge fun. I seem to be a magnet for weird, though. Fortunately also a magnet for the talkative, which has been good research for the novel I’ve been writing, on just how different it is to re-enter the dating game at a mature age. I’m a cynical old broad but my heroine is one of those nice submissive ‘I leave everything up to my husband‘ women who suddenly loses her husband to a determined younger woman and naively drifts into the world of the second-timers. The more research I did on her behalf, the more dodgy stories I heard and the stranger men I met! At this rate I’ll never finish the book and it will be longer than War and Peace instead of a light-hearted bit of froth to read on the way to exciting places and / or encounters. It tries to cover the commoner types of older single men, in a tongue-in-cheek way, as Dorothy bumps and drifts for one complication to the next, and I’d very much appreciate it if more and more types wouldn’t keep popping out of the workwork. Or if the ones I’d already classified didn’t become mystifying in completely new ways. Then there’s the latest Lawns book which has been stubbornly stuck at the written-but-I’m-not-happy-with-it stage for months.

Nothing for it but to officially hand in my lipstick, give up on this social life stuff, finish the books, and then see what else is out there. So if you spot me wasting time chatting on social media, just wag a finger at me and point me back at this blog. Elegsabiff, you should remind me, you have things to do. Ends to tie up, first.

Ta.

But I’m not learning to knit. That’s a definite. There is way too much going on out there.

I never meant to be one of my characters

My book characters changed my life, and it was weird. I invented them, and they re-invented me.  I have no idea whether that has happened to anyone else, subconscious impulses pouring out through the fingers, but when I first wrote One Two it wasn’t called that, it certainly wasn’t for publishing, and the characters were much older: it was a book I wrote in memory of my mother, who had reluctantly moved to a retirement village (they’re for old people, she said crossly. She was eighty) and turned her life upside down.  She made new friends, flirted outrageously, took on a whole new life, and died just when things were getting really interesting. I coped with it by writing her into a book with a kind of generic best friend, a lovely Scottish flirt, and a gay man who shared her love of opera, and gave them a murder to solve because she loved whodunits. It may be unconventional therapy but it helped, she is embedded in amber, enjoying herself, telling her wicked stories, vital and vigorous forever.

It was the first time I had tried my hand at a whodunit and I found the plotting absolutely fascinating. A few years later it was still niggling at me and I finally rewrote One Two in the age group I thought I knew best – my own. The ‘generic best friend’ became the main character, the title cropped up and suggested the idea of a series, and the setting changed to Scotland, where I live, and which I love. I was on an elective career break at the time, and became addicted, no other word for it. For two years I lived at my desk, writing until three in the morning, dazed and enchanted, living what had been a part-time passion for decades.

Edge isn’t me. None of them are me, although they all come from me, and my traits are liberally scattered between the four friends, but as their lives grew more interesting, book after book, it dawned on me, oh so slowly, that I could be having a more interesting life too. Couldn’t I? The Indian summer dawned for them before it dawned for me, but I found I was changing.  I was so engrossed I kept forgetting to eat, and I also made myself exercise: always that fear the wind could change and I’d be locked into a seated position for good. One genuinely unexpected result was that from being nearly William’s size I shrank down to Vivian’s size, then further.  Vivian and William started a sedate fling, almost without me noticing. In Five Six Edge joined a dating website, as bait for a Police Scotland investigation. In Seven Eight she had a ‘thing’ with another resident. In Nine Ten the characters actually shocked me by taking over. The beta readers were okay with it, but I was nervous. I knew from the Five Six research that she was entirely in character but I now no longer knew as much about life as my own imaginary friends . . .

Well, any regular reader of my blogs knows I joined a singles website just to keep up.  By the time I wrote Thirteen Fourteen I was having a thing of my own. Fun, too. The sun was shining in my Indian summer, and life was extremely good.  It still is. The books have become a celebration of the gift of energy and vitality that is so utterly unexpected and catches so many of us off-balance.

Fifteen Sixteen is stuck in limbo, with real life interfering all too often. No matter. It will come. My pen ran dry altogether for six months, not helped by me running out of money and going back to full-time work, but recently took off with a vengeance, pouring out a comedy romance about an autumn rose who finds herself in the first wives club, joins a website, and meets the kind of bizarre people one does meet, especially the perennial singles who have dodged grown-up relationships for forty years and counting.

I’m still not even sure it will be published, and if it was, whatever name would I use?  EJ Lamprey writes whodunits about characters who have been emerging into their own sunshine, but that is very much in the background of the books (okay, less so in Nine Ten). Joanna Lamprey writes SF. Another name would be nuts!  Yet anyone who started reading me via Dorothy’s encounters once she joins the YellowBrickRoad website will have expectations that simply aren’t going to be met by the Grasshopper Lawns stories. Oh well, I’ll work it out.

Hi. How are you, anyway? It’s been ages.

Raining men – are you ready steady go? A one-month plan to brushing up nicely.

Men are like buses, you wait ages and then five come along at once. I’m not going to bore you to death with my sudden popularity because really when it comes down to it these moments do happen every now and then, and ten minutes later you glance round complacently and the buses have all departed again.  Still – five buses? It’s raining men.

Bus number one is a younger man, talk about a terrific ego boost.  Almost on the spot, too, so the Edinburgh Festival saw me a bit more out and about than I might otherwise, especially in such a hot August.

Bus number two is a long-time friend from way back who is gorgeous, eligible, newly on the market, and coming up to Edinburgh for a long weekend shortly with a view to relocating.

Bus number three is a lovely widower living on an island far far away but originally from the nearest town to the fictional Onderness, the beautiful Linlithgow. We’ve been talking through the website, and he’s popping back to visit family shortly: drinks date planned for near the end of September.

Bus number four is from the singles website, living in Spain, has been a fun correspondent for several months as well as guiding me through the shoals of sharks on the website. I’m off to Spain to visit my sister at the end of September, and a lunch is planned with several website correspondents, all meeting for the first time. Should be extremely interesting.

Bus number five is the perennial ex in the far-away country who has raised jealous brows and is now talking of crashing the lunch to keep an eye on things.  He thinks I am getting distinctly rackety.  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black . . .

Anyway, the point of this blog is preparing for busy times.  I don’t expect to catch any of the buses but I’m prepared to put in a bit of a run. I have a month in which I intend to dazzle and at the end of the month sweep into Spain looking good. My sister says there will be several pool parties, i.e. I will have to get into a swimsuit in public for the first time in forever. Yikes.

First on the agenda, and I should probably have done it for  Bus #1 except that I never expected Bus #1 to be interested anyway:  decent haircut and proper brow-shaping for instant results.  Repeat towards end September, but not on the day I am meeting Bus #3, as the newly-plucked look is not bewitching.

Second, dust off the Zumba exercise CD, I’ve been letting that slip to two to three times a week. It took ages at first to struggle through the routine (which is only twenty minutes) and I would be tomato-red by the stretches, the house trembling on its foundations, but I was losing weight and wanted a bit more firm to go along with that. Now I don’t even go pink and am quite surprised when it ends. When I was doing it every day I really noticed the difference in droopy bits which shouldn’t ideally droop, so it is back to that on a daily basis for the next month, using the shaker weights while I dance to banish any suggestion of bingo wings.  My Grasshopper Lawns characters do regular exercise, some on a daily basis. Anything they can do, I can do better.

Third, overall exfoliate with a gentle loofah, and moisturise. Do it every day (instead of once or twice a week, so easy to slip back into bad habits), and by the last week when I am about to start applying the extremely expensive fake tan in my holiday arsenal, I should have skin like chamois leather.  There will be no sunbed. Firstly, I’m a redhead so I don’t change colour. Secondly, sunbeds are probably the worst thing you can do to your skin. Just saying. I’m good about daily moisturiser on face and neck, but need to step it up everywhere else. Hair always gets brushed out a hundred times a day anyway, I have no idea whether that helped it keep its shine and colour, I’m just grateful it has.

Fourth, eat for health. I’m absolutely not going to get into the hotly-contested debate of what you should eat or how often. I’ve lost weight steadily over the last two years purely by eating less and doing more exercise and the only thing I’m likely to change in the next month is include more dairy, to get my nails good and strong, and more veg and fruit for glowing clear skin. About 10 days before Spain, I will re-start Echinacea, to resist the germs that gather around tourists on the move. By the way, we all know you reduce the veg and fruit a few days before special events, right? Very bloating stuff. Protein becomes the priority order of the day.

What did I miss?  There’s a teeth whitening kit in the arsenal which is easy to use and effective, it doesn’t create blinding choppers but it does offset the coffee and cigarette dullness. There’s an eyebath (these are both from Boots) that means both eyes and teeth are brighter and clearer. Restock the current favourite makeups, maybe try a new effect or two – makeup needs a shakeup regularly, what worked best even a year or two ago may not be doing you proud any more.

Stand back, world. I have a bus to catch.

Why do we turn our wonderful Indian summer into the age of fears?

I write light-hearted whodunits featuring four characters in late middle age, their autumn years, semi-retired, no longer young but not yet old: I haven’t yet found a description that instantly sums up their age, and if you know one, I wish you would tell me!

Edge, Vivian, William and Donald are in their late fifties, early sixties.  For women, it is definitely the age when the menopause has finally stopped shaking us like a rat between its teeth, and we get a surge of vitality and a sudden renewed interest in life. For both men and women there may have been health glitches, and we are consciously improving our general condition with a little judicious exercise, slightly more cautious diet.

So here we are, feeling better than in years, the offspring are for the most part now independent, the fierce competition of the workplace is less urgent: we’ve risen as far up the corporate ladder as we are likely to go.  Time to ease back a little, and enjoy this unexpected gift, right?

For some reason, no. Things are too good, we can’t get used to that, so we turn this wonderful golden time, this Indian summer, into fears. We could get sick, so every symptom plunges us into gloom. We could lose our jobs, so we stress ourselves into getting sick (whoops. Double whammy). We could lose friends, even people we love, and we start distancing ourselves in preparation. We’ve seen our parents get very elderly, or we have lost them already, and old age is suddenly terrifying.stress

It’s worst when we are alone, but hey, lots of people are alone. The Grasshopper Lawns books are set in a residential village where it’s a condition of acceptance that residents are over fifty-five, and have no family. There are hundreds, thousands, of people who would jump at the chance of meeting others in the same boat. It’s a given that life leaves lumps, bumps, scars, and baggage and no-one you are going to meet will be free of those, any more than you are. It also brings resilience, humour, and experience and people you meet will have those too. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet? Well, maybe not quite that glib. But by reaching out, you will make friends: do it. Have realistic expectations, and have fun. Don’t sit at home and get old before your time. At the very least, look up meetup.com for your area, you’ll be astonished at how much is going on around you.

Quite a few of my blogs are about single life, second time round, and the idea of meeting someone romantically can be alarming.  I won’t kid you. It is. If you go that route, you will meet some very odd people, have some alarming encounters, you will feel your blood fizz and your heart creak, but you will definitely feel alive and stimulated. For some bizarre reason, Society looks askance at older people dating, flirting, having affairs. Goodness me, why? Don’t we all want affection, shared laughter, even passion, for the rest of our lives?

I didn’t set out to write a series of books that celebrate this stage of our lives, but it did turn out that way. In the first book, Edge could be any age between fifty-five and seventy-five, her life is so sedate. By the seventh book, the four friends are fully enjoying their Indian summer, and there is nothing I have written that contemporaries, friends, or I, have not done. Okay, apart from solve actual murders!  I get slightly peeved when I’m told that when I get to that age, I will see things differently. I am that age. I have younger friends who are already starting to fret and worry, and think themselves old. My older friends, on the other hand, are confidently leading the way into what is, despite our gloomy expectations, a totally unexpected gift from life.

Take hold today.  Carpe diem, and step into the sunshine. Enjoy it! And enjoy every day from now on, to the end of your life. Make it a life to remember with pride. Maybe with a breathless laugh or two … wrinklie love

Journeys End yadda yadda

Gosh, been a while since I was in here. Dusty. Check out that cobweb! Brings a whole new meaning to website.

Well, I have three good reasons. Firstly, although my books are quietly building a discerning, charming and intelligent readership (very few of whom review, but they keep buying, and in the long run that’s probably more of a compliment), it is a select group indeed, so I have been doing temp work to fatten up my emaciated piggy bank.

Secondly, I’ve been wrestling, and mostly losing, with the latest book. It wants to go one way. I want it to go another. There’s nearly as much negotiation as Scotland will be facing (Yes or No) in the fairly immediate future, and it is four against one, and quite stressful.  The only way to resolve the deadlock was a one-off Halloween edition, and Halloween is scarily close.  Which means 11 12 is now suddenly needing some beta readers. You in?

Thirdly, and I’m surprised I found the time, I’ve been expanding my social horizons and am about to take my first holiday in more years than I can remember. Not alone.

last straw

That blasted singles website again. This Spanish dude asked if I was still doing the research and I said no. Well, to cut a long story short (for now. It’ll be in a book sometime, somewhere) he’s not Spanish, just lives there. He’s not even Scottish, although he lived here twelve years. He’s very nearly the boy next door, we’re both from the same part of the world, we are eerily alike, we’ve been talking every day for three months, and I haven’t a clue whether he’s my long-lost twin brother (we all suspect we have one, right?) my friend, or my future. It will be an interesting holiday.

So that is why, between working from the crack of dawn to late afternoon, frantically scribbling for a few hours, then talking on Skype until the wee small hours, the website fell by the wayside.  On the bright side, I have Plans, Interviews, and Reviews coming up, at least one fantastic guest book tour lined up, and maybe even some photos from the holiday. (There will be segways. Some scenery.)

Listen, that beta reader thing? Talk to me. Twitter. My author page. If you’re already on my mailing list, you have the address.  New readers, and ones who know the series. I reciprocate. Get in touch.

The best friend question

Regular readers of the blog know that I joined a singles website a few months ago to do some research. I’ve hung up my research cape and boots but the website I chose has a fairly active blogging section and some are really interesting.

I was totally taken aback, though, by an exchange I saw on one of them, written by a bloke who sent out a whole bunch of eflowers to make new contacts. One response was from a woman who said she had received an eflower a week ago and the man who sent it was now her best friend. Say what? I read it again. Best friend. In a week. She hadn’t met him, they had exchanged messages and then talked on Skype, and he was her best friend.

Has the meaning of ‘best friend’ changed? My daughter, when about ten, told me she had fifteen best friends. No, no, I said, you have fifteen friends, which is your best one? She looked at me as though I was deficient (ah, that look mothers so love) and told me they all were.

Maybe I should have asked which was her BFF. That used to puzzle me, too, aren’t best friends ipso facto  best friends forever? My best friend and I have known each other since we were obnoxious spotty schoolgirls. We live in different countries now, don’t talk that often on the phone (but never for less than an hour when we do) and meet up every few years. I can tot up my real friends without taking off my socks, and I still think I am rich. Edge and Vivian, in my books, have been friends since childhood and now are fellow residents at Grasshopper Lawns, but had also kept their friendship going during long separations in different countries. Staying power, to me, is as important as shared interests, laughter and support.

The thing is, there were lots of comments on that particular blog on the website and the general consensus was that someone you were attracted to, and could talk to for hours on end, was an immediate best friend. If you really struck lucky, your love interest as well (although maybe that takes two weeks. Nobody said.)

So tell me, what is a best friend?  I’m a writer, I need to know these things.