Christmas edition 2020

Well, what can I say? We all know what a peculiar year this has been. It started off fairly conventionally. At the end of 2019, I took a Christmas cruise to Mexico, Honduras, and Belize with my daughter Helenka. In January, I traveled to England and visited family, including cousins I hadn’t seen in a while. We compared notes on our family story, and between us came up with the most likely version of our history. (That’s right, we are now historic…) When my return plane was delayed by six hours, I killed time, so to speak, by visiting Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx is buried, among many of the people he wanted to get rid of – aristocrats, Victorian celebrities, and the bourgeoisie. In February, I took part in a staging of the Vagina Monologues, where, for some reason, my very English voice brought the house down. In other words, life carried on as usual.

Plenty of orchids
No blue sky…

And then 2020 turned into the Year of the Flowers. During the first week of March, a friend and I drove to Philadelphia for their famous Flower Show. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was somewhat shocked to find there was no blue sky above my head. No sky at all, in fact. Well, it was winter, I suppose. But the Chelsea Flower Show has ruined me for any indoor garden event. Luckily, Longwood Gardens, with its enormous greenhouses full of orchids, made up for it.

I came home and immediately left for lunch in Boston, visiting the family—just for the day. And then I drove back to my little cottage in Fairfield and never went out again. Not quite true, of course. Like you, I expect, I stood in line outside the grocery store, and took a walk as often as I could, to save my sanity. I wasn’t too worried. After all, this wasn’t going to last long.

I’m there somewhere…

And then it became the Year of Zoom. (Better than the Year of Doom, which was the other alternative.)

When I realized I would be stuck at home, I held the writers’ meetings that I lead on Zoom, and started a new one at the request of our local library. I was more or less obliged to say yes to that, because my second novel is set in a similar library, and I knew I’d need their help in getting the details right.

What of my first novel, you ask? Even if you don’t, I will tell you. I signed with an agent, in the nick of time. She said she would retire after taking me on. I tried not to take this personally, but one wonders… She sent the novel (The Bookshop of New Beginnings) around to various publishers, and one came back with a couple of suggestions. Would I rewrite the whole thing with this and that in mind, and she would take another look at it? Well, yes, I would. So, I joined a daily Zoom meeting designed to keep me at my desk writing. (There would be witnesses if I didn’t.)

I got the rewrite done and have sent it off to another editor, who I hope will only have minor tweaks to make before it goes back to the one who wanted to see it again. I only hope editor number one remembers asking for it. You never know. I long for the days when, like Dorothy Parker or Nancy Mitford, you could walk into a publisher’s office and slap a pile of badly-typed papers on his desk. He would then say: “This is a masterpiece. Leave it with me.” Cut to next scene. It’s a book, selling millions of copies.

Alas, no more. It takes a village these days. So, I wrote a terrible draft of Book 2, (The Library of Lost Causes) while I waited to hear about Book 1. (Still waiting…)

And went back to the Year of the Flowers. To keep myself moderately sane, I started taking weekly trips to various gardens in Connecticut (see photos above). Although a resident here for over thirty years, I haven’t been much of a tourist. New Hampshire used to take up most of my weekends and vacations, so I was amazed to find so many lovely places to visit nearby. When the temperature drops, I may have to switch to museums, if they’re still open. If they aren’t, it will be on with the snowshoes, and out I’ll go. Oh, and I’m swimming twice a week. All that sitting and writing isn’t good for the bottom line. (Bottom, get it? Oh, never mind…)

I hope you have a good Christmas. Roll on 2021!


Christmas edition – 2018

It’s been an eventful year, as always. To begin with, a few hours after I sent out last year’s letter, my son Adam had a TIA (mini-stroke), followed by a couple of others, and was barely out of hospital in time for the Christmas festivities. Much drama followed in the New Year, with recurrences, diagnosis of an unusual condition, talk of brain surgery and the like. All this concentrated my mind wonderfully, as you can imagine.

2018 stef wedding

They could have danced all night…

Adam continued to improve, so in July I wandered off to Poland for my cousin Stefek’s wedding. He and his bride are in their seventies, and I could only watch in amazement as they danced for ten hours on and off (mostly on) through the day into the evening. They met at a dance class and will obviously live forever if their current state of health is anything to go by!

It was a wonderful chance to catch up with other cousins and their children. And to my amazement and delight, IMG-2647Stefek gave me the small perfume bottle, shaped like a watering can, that had contained Violettes de Toulouse. My father had bought for his mother in France in 1939. It’s mentioned in a post on my website. If you’re reading this online, you can find it here.

I travelled on to Krakow, where I’d booked a night in a hotel, not realizing that it had formerly been a residence for priests visiting the city. I was eleven years old when I (and my twin sisters) first visited Poland. My uncle, a priest, took us to see Krakow, where we lodged with some nuns, but he stayed at this hostelry. I wondered if I might be sleeping in the same room he’d used, but decided I probably wasn’t — I feel sure that even so many decades later, I’d have been able to detect a lingering trace of eau de cologne, his favorite aftershave.

I took the train from there to Zurich, to meet up with my friend Liz, who normally lives in Carmel, California. We spent a few days exploring the city and eating far too much chocolate. (At least, I did…). I found out how much I enjoy traveling by rail. As the train rocked me to sleep in my little bunk, the memories of my first long-distance trip – London to Warsaw – many decades ago, flooded back.

I squeezed in a three-day writers’ conference at Wesleyan University, to get some feedback on my memoir, which I did. “Clean writing” said a famous writer for the New Yorker. I’d been hoping it might be a bit risqué, but apparently not… Also got a crick in the neck from sleeping in my own luxurious dorm room on a dauntingly firm bed, with the air-conditioning blasting as if it were cooling the dairy section in the supermarket.

2018 London Eye

On the London Eye…

Only a few weeks later, my daughter, Helenka and her two daughters traveled to London with me, and suddenly I was longing for the air-conditioning, even if it came with a crick in the neck. The temperatures were around 95F (35C) during the day and 80F (27C) at night, and the flat I’d rented hadn’t managed to provide a single fan! We found ourselves entering any establishment that looked air-conditioned – and taking boat trips along the Thames to cool off. At least Helenka and the girls reconnected with all their cousins, and Helenka treated me to tea at the place where she was born. Yes, that’s right. The former hospital, a lovely Regency building at Hyde Park Corner, is now an extremely luxurious hotel, with an English afternoon tea so lavish that we didn’t need to eat again that day.

Back home in early August, Amanda invited me to join her and her family in a house she’d rented on the shores of Lake Sunapee, where we used to live. It turned out to be delightful, and we found time to attend the local barn playhouse, for old time’s sake.

But I needed to focus on writing. I finished the memoir (because I’d made a bet with a writer friend and wasn’t about to lose!) and got the manuscript edited by two editors, one English and one American (two countries divided by a common language, as you know). Then I began researching publishers who might want it, only to discover that the market for memoirs is in a slump. So I’m considering plan B: a small independent publisher or plan C: publishing it myself.

2018 WTN reading

Reading my story at a book signing…

I rashly agreed to help organize the first literary festival in the neighboring town of Westport, which turned out to be great fun. And at the same time, I was asked to contribute when-to-now-cover-final-shortera short story on a time travel theme to an anthology, When to Now, which was published on October 1st. I knew nothing about sci-fi or speculative fiction, so of course I said yes. You can find it on Amazon…  And throughout the year I kept running my monthly writers’ groups, meeting other writers, taking a class or two, and generally soaking up the culture round here.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and an excellent 2019!


2017 Christmas edition

I’m sitting at my desk, here in Connecticut, looking out at the icicles hanging from the living room roof as yesterday’s thick layer of snow, begins to disappear. The sun is out and the local birds are feeling quite encouraged, I can tell.



Almost a year ago, in January, my friend Liz and I were in Tahiti. And Huahine, Bora Bora, Rangiroa and Moorea. Just the names make one feel warmer. I understood why Robert Louis Stevenson and Rupert Brooke, two of my favorite authors, were captivated.

The cloudless sky visible through my window today is nothing compared to those of Tahiti. In fact, the place turned out to be a riot of color, from the thirty-eight shades of blue counted by a local photographer, to the many tints of Tahitian pearls, which make white ones look as though they haven’t really tried. I managed to restrict my shopping to one or two single black ones, imperfect in shape, but striking just the same. I could hear Jay nagging me to buy more. He would probably have come back with a freckled fistful of them, delighted at the thought we’d all have a string to wear.

As if to make the transition to Connecticut easier, winter wasn’t making much of an effort this year, so we had hardly any snow, but I went down to Florida in February to visit several old friends. I made my royal progress from Sarasota (West coast) to Palm Beach (Atlantic side) and back to Naples (on the western shores) studiously avoiding the topic of our new president, except to agree with Palm Beach locals that the man and his entourage were an infernal nuisance whenever they visited Mar-a-Largo. Funny, I thought he was more of a nuisance in Washington…

My peripatetic friend Liz called me in March, to say a fellow traveler had dropped out of a projected stay in Tuscany – would I like to take her place? I’d never been, so I said yes, of course. Only to find, about two days before departure, that a twinge of muscle pain in my left leg was turning into sciatica. “Ouch!” was putting it mildly. 2017 gardenI exchanged travel plans for a bottle of prescription pain killers, and settled back in my only comfy chair by my new picture window to watch the garden slowly coming to life with spring bulbs and flowers. I barely walked anywhere for about five months, and decided if something like this could cramp my style without warning, I would do the things I wanted to do while I was feeling fit. (Which I can now, thank heavens, as though I’d never had a problem.)

I did manage to limp to my daughter, Helenka’s, graduation in May, where she received her master’s degree in education. Sitting under a big tent, with rain and thunder pounding down outside, I thought about the teenager who had rebelled against school and was now a (highly qualified) teacher.

In an extraordinary turn of luck, other old friends asked me to join them in Tuscany in September, but I still wasn’t confident I could walk further than a mile, especially up the hills. So I watched all the movies ever filmed there, and admired the countryside from afar.

As autumn approached, I decided to practice traveling again. I started with a car trip to Boston – three hours each way – to check in on the children and grandchildren who live up there. I stayed with Amanda & Co (Jay’s daughter) who organized a wonderful lunch with sons Freddie and Bertie and their girlfriends. Much hilarity ensued as we played a board game which depended on some skill with words. I turned out to be hopeless at it.

Progressing from driving to flying, I crossed the country to Carmel, where the smell of smoke hung in the air, from the forests burning 200 miles further north. There had been a similar fire as I drove across Florida in February. It seemed the whole country was going up in flames. Still is. Nothing to do with climate change, of course, which officially doesn’t exist.

My final trip was to a very sparkly London in late November with my son Adam. My apologies to those of you I didn’t manage to see, but this was Adam’s vacation, mainly, since he hadn’t been for twenty years or so, and wanted to revisit his roots.

Being virtually immobilized for so many months gave me time to write, and I’ve been adding memoir pieces to my blog (you can find them on the right). My cousin John, who lives in South Africa, has become my de facto editor. This is terrific, because not only is he an author himself, but he remembers some of the people in my stories. These are largely about my childhood, that don’t fit into my longer book about Jay and me, which has far too many pages, so I’m working on making it shorter. I’m encouraged by the fact that some memoirists I’ve talked to have taken ten years to publish theirs, and I’ve resolved mine won’t take that long. I started a monthly group for writers to come and read something they’ve written, and am still running the one I’ve had for a few years now – the one where I promise those who come that we don’t actually write anything at all – we just encourage each other.

I’ve had an extremely short story published, and won a couple of contests (or, more accurately, been one of the winners) and those stories will be in an anthology next summer. And I’ve been asked to read my Christmas story (the one about Jay trying to fit into a Santa suit…) at an evening called Dickens by the Fire, next weekend. No doubt Charles himself was unavailable, which is why they asked me.


She’s a voice for her mother, too

Oh, and in my spare time, I attended a large rally of women on Fifth Avenue in New York in January (with Helenka), and a couple of demonstrations about gun control later in the year. Unlike my mother, I’ve never been particularly political, but I’m fed up with apologizing to my friends abroad for That Man.

Right now, though, I’m getting ready for Christmas. I’ve put my own twinkly lights up. I might have overdone it, since the house now looks like a fairy grotto, inside and out. My sister Jane will be here from England, and I shall be on an expedition to make sure I see all the family. Luckily, they’re clustered near Boston and in Connecticut, which makes it easy. This is something of a rarity in America, where families tend to be spread out, so I’m grateful.

The internet yields pumpkin bread and a face-to-face friend

One of the great things about the internet is the people you meet there. One of the downsides is that one almost never gets to meet them face-to-face.  I follow several blogs, and certain of them have produced people of like mind, with whom I share values, comments and all-around goodwill. It was through one of my internet friends that I was asked to contribute to Tangerine Tango, an anthology of women writers. Lisa Winkler, otherwise known as the Cycling Grandma and author of On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America asked me to contribute some of my writing.

The book was published last Monday, and we still hadn’t met, even though Lisa edited the writing, and produced the book. So imagine my delight when I had an unexpected email from her saying that she’d be passing through my part of Connecticut and would like to get together for coffee.

Lisa Winkler and I – having fun!

She came yesterday, bearing a scrumptious loaf of pumpkin bread, and turned out to be even prettier than she looks on her blog, and just as much fun. We talked about the book, and how the promotion was going. (Please buy one!)  She told me about the Scandinavian woman in India who’d designed it, and we mulled over the question of what we might call Volume 2. My son, who happened to be around, came up with a few suggestions, including Pomegranate Papers, Mandarin Memoirs and Kiwi Chronicles, in line with the idea of fruit whose name has become synonymous with a color.  While trying to do this, it struck me how many of the fruit-whose-name-is a-color are in the orange range. See what I mean? Orange, pumpkin, pomegranate, mandarin, persimmon, and papaya, for starters. Lisa fancies the Kiwi Chronicles because she has a yen to produce a green book next time. This is probably because she’s a redhead, and green would suit her perfectly. Even so, any other suggestions are most welcome.

You can tell that we covered a lot of ground over a cup of Turkish apple tea (one of the things I brought back from a recent trip to Istanbul) and I was sorry when Lisa had to leave to get back to New Jersey. But the fact that we managed to meet at all has given me the hope that someday I’ll meet my other internet friends – just let me know if you’re passing through…

I’m back….

You may have been wondering where I’ve been for the last month. I was writing. I wrote a perfectly horrible first draft of a novel. 50, 000 words in 30 days. And you know what? I don’t even care that it’s horrible. Because a horrible first draft can become an OK second draft and then a pretty good third draft…you can see where I’m going with this.

I could only do it because I had no time to criticize myself as I went along. No time to ask anyone else what they thought. No time to put quotation marks round the dialogue, even. But I have it. It exists. And I have some people to thank who helped me to write it.

First my writing friends who come to our monthly Writers’ Café in Westport, CT. If it hadn’t been for me sitting there and urging them all to write a novel in November, I probably wouldn’t have done it myself. There were pointed looks, as much as to say, ‘So you’ll be doing it, right?’ They shamed me into it.

Next there’s a great blog by Larry Brooks, at Larry has a great way of helping you plot a novel, and he should know. He’s published several, to great acclaim. So before November 1, I followed his plan for structuring a novel. And it worked.

The next person is a Brit called Keith Blount who invented a software program called Scrivener  ( I’ll write more about it on my writers’ blog ( Suffice it to say that the man is a genius. I could never have counted all the words I’d written without it. (I did that every 15 minutes towards the end.)

And last, but certainly not least, I have to thank my husband. I started this novel on vacation in Indochina. This meant that instead of looking out of the bus window at the beautiful scenery flashing by, I sat in the back with my laptop on my knees and wrote. He didn’t complain. And he didn’t complain when we returned and there was a noticeable lack of interest in laundry, cooking and even going to the grocery store. Oh, I did do some of that, when the situation became desperate, but not as often as I used to. (I kind of like that, actually.) And Jay was unfailingly supportive in spite of being relegated to my second main interest for thirty days. He bragged about me to anyone who would listen. He didn’t ask me to watch movies with him. He even cooked. Yes, darling. Of course I will dedicate this first novel to you. You deserve it.

Where I write

My internet friend Pauline asked me to tell her where I do my writing. Since I live in my car as I travel between my two houses, one in Connecticut and one in New Hampshire, it was a tough question. But I took a stab at it. Here’s the link:

And when you’ve finished reading my brilliant essay, check out some of Pauline’s terrific writing about her son and the one-foot-in front-of-the-other way that she deals with a mother’s worst fears. And keeps her sense of humor, too.

My real name is not Gabi Coatsworth

It’s my husband, Jay. He keeps asking me why I don’t use my proper name when I’m writing. According to him (and the US Passport office, and Social Security), my name is Gabi Coatsworth Wilson. And he could do without the Coatsworth part. That’s because Coatsworth is the name of my first husband.

Here’s the thing. When I divorced my first husband, I kept the name Coatsworth, because my maiden name (was I ever a maiden…?) was Grajnert. It was a German name that had been Polonised over the years from Greinert to Grajnert – same pronunciation, different spelling. No-one in England could pronounce it when I was growing up, and Coatsworth was such a relief – it sounded so British, and people knew how to say it.

Then I moved to the US and married Jay – sorry, William J. Wilson, and the world became more complicated. At first I was thrilled to be Mrs W.J. Wilson. But my kids’ teachers insisted on calling me Mrs. Coatsworth whenever they called me to report some new piece of erratic behavior. I think Jay was quite glad that the Wilson name wasn’t being tarnished as a result.

Then I got a job at British Airways. I’d applied as Gabi Coatsworth because that was the name on my resume, and I had a reputation of sorts. Jay complained:

“You’ve got the job – why don’t you tell them your real name is Wilson?” he said.

I checked the British Airways telephone book for the USA. There were 12 Wilsons in it already. And no Coatsworth. So that decision was easy.

When I started writing, Jay was thrilled. No more resumes, he figured.

“Now you can be Gabi Wilson,” he pointed out.

I had something to point out to him.

“Wilson,” I explained, “is near the end of the alphabet. I don’t want my bestselling novels to be shelved so low that people will have to crouch to find them. It’s so…undignified.”

“On the other hand,” I continued, “Coatsworth comes near the beginning of the alphabet, and will be shelved higher up. Besides,” I said and this clinched it for me – “I’m only competing with Elizabeth Coatsworth. She wrote children’s books and died in 1986, so essentially I’ll have Coatsworth to myself.”

Since then, my husband has continued to remind me, rather sadly, that I am his wife, and should be proud to have his name. I am proud. Honestly. But have you googled Gabi Wilson recently?

Here she is – multi-talented, piano, guitar and a great bluesy voice. And she’s about 14….  She’s fabulous too. But I could never hope to compete with her….Listen to this:

And Holy Cow – now I hear she published a book of poems when she was 8. You can buy it here:

So, a veritable child prodigy. But I don’t despair. People will have to crouch down to find that book…

Um…er…Here I am…

It was inevitable, I suppose. I’m on Scribd and Stumble and MouseMuse and…I’ve been encouraging other people to write blogs. I’ve been commenting on their blogs. I’ve been tweeting their blogs. I’ve been Facebooking their blogs (is there such a thing?)  They’ve been clamoring for my blog.

Perhaps clamoring is a bit of an exaggeration.

But here it is, anyway. I write. Not as much as I ought – given the fantastic amount of stuff I have to share with the world. I write about my bipolar sons, my husband’s ongoing and hilarious battle with computers, my childhood in England, and why I don’t really want another dog, just yet. I suppose I ought to have a theme. If there is one, it’s probably ‘Unfinished’, or maybe ‘First Draft’. That sort of sums up my life.

Which is a nuisance, because I hear that life can’t be edited after it’s happened. Oh, well. Back to the keyboard.