Pembrokeshire in May is like standing at the kissing gate of a country church celebrating an old fashioned wedding. The air is full of flying blossom like confetti and the shades of pink and white from the hawthorn, the cherry and the apple whirl joyously across the garden as if thrown by playful angels.
We have a bumper blossom season this year; the winter was mild, March came in like a lamb and only managed a half hearted roar on the way out, April was blessed with quick showers and surprising sunshine and now May is wind tossed and bright breezy and the blossom is everywhere.
Whilst the undulating fields of flowering rape and the hedgerows of glowing gorse turn the wider Pembrokeshire countryside brilliant acid yellow here in my sheltered garden, against a delicate green backdrop of rapidly unfurling leaves, everything is blooming white.
The hopeful saplings of pear, plum and apple, in what we laughingly refer to as the orchard, are heading into their first season smothered in blossom and flanked by the more robust trunks of the old white cherry and gnarly apple that have survived my intermittent enthusiasm for gardening this last decade or so.
The last of the hyacinths are being hidden by the spreading swathes of wild garlic that have migrated from the bridle path to the garden hedgerows and have even established a foothold in the centre of the front garden, giving the massive old sycamore that dominates the garden an incongruous froth of lacey white at the base of it’s elephant skin trunk.
What makes me happiest though, amongst all the jollity of blowing blossom and extravagant flowering, is that my Solomon’s Seal has survived another winter and it’s magic of rapid growth, elegant curving stem and delicate bell like flowers is again to be found amongst the excesses of the hedgerows. I do love this plant, it’s my favourite until the aquilegia season comes again and their little fairy faces replace the bells of May.
Moving between countries is a big deal, we do it with excitement, fear, and hope and we make promises to ourselves about how our lives will change – if we didn’t we wouldn’t do it, what would be the point?
It’s now just over a year since I come home to Pembrokeshire, leaving behind the sun and the olive trees and the watercolour hills of Turkey. It seems appropriate that now should be the time to reflect, which promises to myself did I keep and which did I break? Turns out it was about 50% success rate (note to self – aims to do better).
The promises I kept:-
Write a novel – for years I’ve written non fiction, it put food on the table when the recession was biting and it kept my fizzy brain engaged during the inevitable tumble into dreamy laziness that life in a tiny Turkish village can induce. But fiction was always my dream, stories and the freedom to play with words and draw images in prose (purple, always bloody purple!).
I lost most of the first year of my return to Wales to unfortunate circumstances and so it wasn’t until Boxing Day 2014 that I finally sat down at my computer and wrote the first ten thousand words of a story that had been wandering around in my head, poking in dark corners and making a nuisance of itself.
Being a newbie to fiction I wasn’t sure I could write it and so I did what any sensible (ha) grownup does in these circumstances, I got a professional opinion, and that opinion lead by strange circumstances to Broo Doherty, literary agent at DHH Literary Agency and she signed me up, which was a good thing.
I’m a writer, I work to deadlines, I produce the goods, if I have a good enough reason (money works). If Broo hadn’t signed me I would probably have faffed around with that novel in a self indulgent way for a few decades. Because she signed me I produced a full manuscript in six weeks. Funny old thing motivation, love me and I’ll move the world for you.
I am delighted to have been signed by Broo, she’s a partner in DHH Literary Agency, a company that really loves writers and tomorrow they go to The London Book Fair and throw all their enthusiasm at selling their authors works worldwide.
DHH love books so much they even have their own bookshop, the much admired Goldsboro Books that specialises in signed first editions, both vintage and contemporary. Go look at their website, its booky heaven and it will fulfil all gift buying problems for decades to come – https://www.goldsborobooks.com/
Being signed by an agency now means I’m back on a team, which for me is the biggest thing. Writing is a lonely business at any time and writing a novel is a long and lonely business, fraught with uncertainty and indecision. I’m lucky enough to have someone working with me almost from the start of the process, someone stable and steady and keen eyed and experienced who actually cares because she has seen something worth fighting for in what I write and that alone is enough to make me work my arse off!
Stick to cooking seasonal and from scratch – Seven years in Turkey teaches you a lot about food; cooking seasonally, making as much as you can of what you have, never wasting stuff. I was determined to keep to that ethos when I came home and it was surprisingly easy because I found I couldn’t stomach processed food and I couldn’t cope with shopping large supermarkets (too much choice, not enough ingredients) and so we have managed to keep to making everything from scratch.
Apart from the fact that ready meals and quick foods tasted disgusting at worst and of nothing at best the cost of them was outrageous and I couldn’t bring myself to pay for yuck stuff even if I wanted to.
Even the dogs still eat home made food (chicken livers in a soup of pasta and vegetables and they still love it).
The cat doesn’t! But that’s cats for you. She sneers at chicken livers and insists on something crunchy with additives. Oh well, can’t win them all.
Have a holiday – okay my life looks like I haven’t done a stroke of proper work in ten years and have been permanently on holiday but I haven’t, honest, it just looks like that. I hadn’t actually had a holiday since, uh thinks, 2002. I just lived in weird places that looked holiday like.
Holiday means – no research, no thinking about buying bits of other countries, no considering of interesting commercial opportunities. Holiday means – just going to a place and enjoying it, eating out, relaxing, diving, and photographing, absolutely not, never, ever, not even for a second looking at real estate.
We managed it! We went to Mexico, back to Isla Mujeres, which made it easier because I’d already owned a bit of it and it’s easier to not do the same thing again than to be tempted by the new. We swam, played with a lot of fish, dived, ate amazing food and just chilled (eek, was so weird!).
We’re going to try again soon, to have another holiday, in Belize this time, this may well fail on the real estate front but we’ll try hard and distract ourselves with the diving.
Which brings us to the failures, the promises I totally broke.
Diving in Pembrokeshire – I had every intention of diving here, the coast is amazing, the water temperature isn’t really a problem (for a few weeks of the year!), there are sunlit shallows where boring divers like me who enjoy the just below can find fascinating things but we just didn’t get round to it. True most of my diving kit was in Turkey until October when Nick went and picked it up but I do think I could have tried harder. Maybe this year.
Exploring Pembrokeshire – I bought a national trust membership, hell I even bought a Volvo to go with it (compulsory), I managed a few days out when we had visitors, but in the whole, I failed. I didn’t explore further, I didn’t find new places, and I didn’t digitalise the faded childhood memories of distant coves and hidden villages. I have excuses but that’s not the point, I have got to get out more, this county is beautiful beyond and I am not giving it its due by enjoying it to the max. I feel guilty, I will do better.
Being social – oh we had plans; when we came home we would take evening classes, take up sporting activities, join clubs, actually go out and meet and talk to actual people. Failed, failed, failed (slumps).
I did manage to attend a blogging conference in November and I went to London for a day course on publishing in January and managed to make one new friend (waves to Catherine xxx) and I have joined an online writers group that is full of lovely people but I still could have done better. In the virtual world I’m fine and I love my online friends but I should try and get out to meet real people. I guess living in the middle of nowhere doesn’t help, we don’t have book clubs or writers groups or anything I’m interested in really. Again, must try harder, at a bit of loss as to how (still slumping).
That’s too depressing a note to end on…..it has been a hell of a year, we actually did a lot and what I see as failures are maybe as a direct result of the successes. Being a natural born optimist I have to end this (as usual, too long) blog by saying I am amazing grateful and happy for the things that have worked, getting an agent is massive, writing a whole novel is massive, keeping to a lifestyle I think is important is massive and there is much happy hard work to look forward to in the coming year.
On a side note, whilst off writing the novel the hit counter on this site went over 300,000 which is a truly amazing number. It’s funny to think that the little site my late husband and I set up all those years ago is still here, still clicking up the hits and has now reached this amazing number. Thank you so much for visiting! Karen xxxxxx
Far away across the Atlantic, tucked away in a corner of the Mexican Caribbean, just off the Yucatan peninsula, the island of Isla Mujeres is old home, memory chest and long time inspiration to me. It’s colour drenched seas and white powder sands are the benchmark for every beach I have seen in the last few decades and returning there after a prolonged absence was as therapeutic as I had hoped, giving me two weeks of utter bliss on an island that had definitely changed but in all ways I could see for the better.
Isla Mujeres is a shiny upgraded version of the quaint little island I left ten years ago.
It’s not the dirty, scorpion infested little island we once all joked about (mainly to keep it secret. We really failed on that one!).
There have been huge strides in recycling rubbish, educating communities and generally upping the level of service and type of facility that the average traveller expects. The backpacker lodge is still there and doing a roaring trade but the number of rental homes, mid priced hotels and swishy but quirky boutique hotels has increased to cater to a wider market.
Yet the laid back, this can only be the Caribbean, island vibe is still there. It’s there in the incredibly colourful streets of downtown with their multiple wall murals and traders laconically calling out offers of cigars, panama hats and Mexican handcrafts for sale. You still find it on the deserted stretches of rocky coast on the windward side, constantly pounded by the waves from the open sea, where you can search out sea glass in the nooks and crannies of the sharp edged rocks or just sit on the sand and watch the waves change colour in the sunlight.
It is forever my Isla at the Fishermans Quay early in the morning, after the colourful pangas have scudded into port and the nets have been emptied and folded into silver white humps on the sand and the catch has been snapped up by the local restaurants. It’s my Isla in ever sunrise and sunset and every single moment I get in the sea where the blood warm water soothes and buoys you whilst the world below enchants you.
I can’t say enough good things about Isla, I came back from feeling that sometimes things do get better over time, that the best of times are not always in the past and that the safely exotic is a good place to go, particularly when winter darkens our doors in far West Wales.
Mexico is hot right now and not just because of the weather! The early November flight with Thomsons from Gatwick to Cancun was full, something that would never have happened ten years ago when I regularly crossed the Atlantic. Back then a November flight would have been much quieter but it wouldn’t have been so comfortable.
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways also offer direct flights to Cancun all year round, several times a week, but Thomson uses the Dreamliner Boeing 787 on this route and the flight is higher, faster and more comfortable than ever before and yet still the vast majority of passengers were going as part of a package and were missing out on a lot of the unique aspects of visiting Mexico.
It’s understandable the first time you take the plunge and decide to go to Mexico – which still seems incredibly exotic to most of us Brits – you want to be safe and so you choose an All Inclusive in the Hotel Zone of Cancun, but with a little bit of Mexico mileage under your belt there is no reason you shouldn’t be exploring the entire Riviera Maya, Cozumel and Isla Mujeres independently.
Transfers from airport to ferry dock and onto the island can be prebooked through a number of highly efficient, reasonably priced, English speaking, transfer companies willing to wait outside of the arrivals gate for you with a cool scented towel. We booked with Canada Transfers and as well as the return transfer from the airport to Grand Puerto where the Isla Mujeres ferry docks they also provided a pre-loaded data sim for my phone, eco friendly sunscreen for diving on the reef and a selection of ice cold drinks to combat the flight dehydration and the Mexican heat. They also dealt with a three hour flight delay on their own initiative. Makes it all really easy! We were at the ferry dock within forty minutes of landing and before the package tours had even finished loading the coaches. Holiday well and truly begun!
On the island we stayed at two locations; Na Balam (Jaguar in Mayan), where I have always wanted to stay and Ixchel Beach Hotel which wasn’t built last time I was on Isla. Both were outstanding.
Na Balam is a quirky, atmospheric collection of low rise buildings, right on the beach at the north of the island and you reach your spacious room by following winding paths of shell rock through gardens of bright flowers and tall palms. It’s lovely. I adored it. From the wonderful reception doors of carved wood to the plunge pool terrace we had overlooking the sands. The staff are lovely, really helpful and the food at Zazil Ha, their beach restaurant, was excellent and included an amazing ginger based salad dressing that I am currently trying to copy.
Ixchel was totally different, a modern building enjoying the best position on the island, right on the famous Playa Norte. It is run like clockwork and we were hugely impressed both by the care they take in maintaining the building (super harsh environment!) and the staff who without fail went above and beyond doing everything from hunting down the best room available to taking our golf cart back when we had an early start on a trip to Isla Contoy (Wendy we thank you, honestly, you are brilliant!).
I had booked Na Balam through EBookers because I had a discount code, otherwise I would have booked direct but I booked direct with Ixchel which they seemed to appreciate.
I’ll have more information on eating on Isla, excursions and particularly diving and snorkelling on later blog posts but in the mean time here are the links to hotels and transfers we used.
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