Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Through Christmas and beyond

I wonder if I'm the only parent in the UK who had to wake her children up at 06:30 to open their presents? I was far too excited to wait, and after the eldest had an abortive attempt at waking us at 04:00, they all decided to stay asleep. Weird.

The Christmas dinner was a wonder; my cake turned out fabulously; there was an obligatory Boxing Day argument with my eldest sister; the children have piles of loot they can't possible appreciate (not like when I was a girl, many millennia ago) and the worst disaster was that I decided to try to heat the plates by putting them on the short dish-washer cycle, but had misjudged how long the short dishwasher cycle was.   Worse things happen, and it didn't spoil anything, though it may be the first time I've stood around saying, 'Dinner'll be ready when the dishwasher's done. I'm sure it'll only be another minute or two', while hungry family stare at me as if they think I'm strange.

Before I can knuckle back down to any work I want to, there's a lot of clutter and toys to be found homes for, and a lot  of fun still to be had with my family.  I've been thinking of what I had hoped to achieve this year, and finding that I may not have hit all my targets, but that I've still had a more productive writing year than ever before.  I've certainly been much more focussed on being a Writer (capital and all), and although the coming year might throw a few obstacles in the way of that aim, I'm determined to keep at it.  It's that art of writing in shrunken, discrete time slots which I'm not very good at, but that I'm sure I can get better at with practice. It's so exciting to think of all that I have still to learn, and how much I might be able to close the gap between those elusive, perfect ideas and the bodged prose that ends up on the computer screen.  How lovely to know: My book isn't the finished article, and nor am I.  I have a hunch this journey might last a lifetime.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Hands full and sluggish brained

It's all going so horribly wrong, and isn't going to get any better right now, as the children broke up from school today.  The pregnancy is beginning to weigh me down, in every sense of the expression, and every spare moment when I could be writing (even for half an hour) I find I've gone into a stupor or fallen asleep - usually on the sofa.  If only I could be writing while I was asleep...

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Writing Magazine arrived a few days ago in our house.  I left it in its cellophane wrapper, as I was so busy and was trying not to be distracted, but I settled down to enjoy it yesterday. 

There's an article about writing for women, with a list of agents actively seeking books for women.  The excitement bubbled, and my fingers itched.  I wanted my book complete, ready to send to one of those agents....or perhaps all of them.  An impulsive little voice whispered that the first few chapters have had a lot of work; maybe I should send them off....

But it's too soon.  I know I mustn't polish forever, but it would be a waste of my time and an agent's to send off a half-scrambled manuscript. It's spurred me on to get wriggling with the end of my draft though.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Multi-tasking mother with guilt on the side...

I think there are only about fifty or sixty pages more to rewrite...I had an hour this morning, and then hit a problem when it was time to pick the two year old up from playgroup, as my memory stick claimed it was full....I was eventually able to save my work, after a scary half hour with the computer frozen. I keep hearing about ways of saving online, which seems appealing, but I will have to find out a bit more. 

When I'd recovered from the shock of nearly losing an hour's work, I pottered, and fetched the children from school through sleet and snow, then told myself I'd do another half hour.  By the time I actually stopped, the dinner was overdone, and the children were eating an hour later than usual - oops.  Writing is the thief of my time...it makes me a neglectful mother.  I'm glad I've had that time, especially since it's been tricky to get it in the last couple of weeks, but it's crucial as a mother to be professional and organised about when I can write, and when I need to focus on the home or paid work. Meanwhile, I'm always going to feel guilty about the things I'm not getting done, and that might be all my writing for this week, as I have two extra afternoons to do in work (nativity plays) as well as an evening performance, and the four year old's fifth birthday party to prepare for...bring on the baking!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Focus, focus, focus

Managed an hour and a half of 'writing' today.  Feel slightly overwhelmed when I recall that I started this rewrite in December or January and it isn't done yet. I'd been thinking I was on the home straight (and in a sense,  I am; I'm definitely on the part where the plot begins to wrap up) but then I see how much is left to do....

I suppose I also allow myself to look at the mountain beyond; the post-it notes of questions for my friendly neighbouring detective; the polishing and cutting and nit-picking.  I'm going to have to stop, and take a breath, and focus on just finishing the job in hand...preferably before Christmas rolls by.

Meanwhile the latest copies of Writing Magazine and Writer's Forum lie temptingly on my coffee table, still wrapped in plastic.  I've got to get more work done before I sit down and read!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Chipping away

I've done so little this week, I'm ashamed to document it.  I've been working in snatched, fifteen minute chunks, which isn't the best way for me to work.  But I'm finding that the paid work I do is eating into my evenings. It's amazing how time-consuming it is, cutting out laminated pictures, updating assessments and even writing handover emails to my job-share partner in crime.

However, I've had a couple of ideas for articles I could pitch to a pregnancy/baby magazine - if I'm brave enough, and find time. Brave enough? What's the worst that could happen....after all,  I could do with some more practise at being rejected and handling it with dignity! I wonder.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Summoning energy

A new week is breathing down my neck, and last week I didn't complete even one writing session. In fact, I've finished the week exhausted and wearied rather than ready to leap, refreshed, into the next one.  The baby is sapping my energy and it's a frenetic time of year - even when Grandmothers don't manage to squeeze in a 90th.

 I wondered whether to lower my expectations and only plan for two, rather than three, writing sessions next week.  But I decided in the end that it's better to aim high and miss than aim lower...and probably still miss. I suppose, with that in mind, I ought to go to bed ready for Monday.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


  This week isn't very productive for writing, though I've been busy in other areas.

   It's my Grandma's 90th birthday on Wednesday, which is an achievement by any standards. As we were told she was dying imminently in 1995, it's even more surprising.

  Grandma has always been one of life's enigmas and eccentrics, and there is no time to do her justice here.  But we are all anxious about Wednesday, as she  has a few mental health difficulties.  She has bipolar disorder. For her, this means that she has a good day, followed by a bad day, then a good day.  On bad days, she can be vicious, rude and always petulant.  On good days, she is much the same at first, then 'warms up' as the hours pass, eating almost non-stop.  She will stay up until after midnight, giddy and high-spirited. Wednesday should be a good day, but every so often, she misses a step, and confuses us all.  To compound matters, she suffers with senile dementia too. It's advancing slowly, but it's there.

  Her birthday is meant to be a good day, so we are all going out for a meal at lunch time.  A few of her Irish relatives (all nieces now her sisters and brother are gone) are flying over to join us, and I am taking the children out of school to be with us.  Later in the day, we will have an open afternoon at her house for friends and neighbours to drop in for cake, tea and chat.  She is well-liked locally; a colourful character who shows her charm and sparkle as often as her under-slip. 

  I foolishly offered to make the cake for the drop in afternoon.  My Mum then foolishly offered to help me out.  (Clearly age and wisdom aren't always related). We chose a three tier beast of a cake that looked simple, and I baked it. I was proud of it, until the icing stage, when it became clear that, rather like a Victorian home, there was not one straight line involved. Each cake leaned, and was lumpy, and bulged.

  We deviated from the decorations in the book, at first just a little, but each decision then changed the next one, until it looked nothing like the plan.  We used pink icing for the top two tiers - it's Grandma's favourite colour; the more grotesque and Barbie-ish the better.  My six-year old thought it looked pretty, too.  She and Grandma get on well. 

  Apart from the fact the cake was wonky and bumpy and amateurish, we had such a time icing it.  Anything that could go wrong, did, from a toddler with a Poo Incident that required a shower (and yes, I had to get in with him) to a packet of icing sugar exploding on the floor.  Luckily, my sense of humour was healthy that day, and I spent the whole day laughing.  Perhaps it was hysteria, but I prefer to think it was the resilient laughter of a mature woman. Mum says we are never doing such a big job again;  I think it's the most fun I've had in ages.

  Best of all, when we came back to the cake on Tuesday, and added ribbon to disguise its spare tyre, and edible glitter to make it look pretty, and a few curling streamers and a 90 on top, it didn't look half bad.  It wouldn't win any prizes, and I'd rather be writing, but I think Grandma will approve.  Now we just need to get it to her house in one piece, and for her to get up on her birthday to see it.  I think I'll leave that part of the process  to Mum and Dad, and get back to making myself a concrete deadline for the second draft of my book. I might as well spend my time on the thing I love.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The end is nigh 2

I'm getting quite excited, seeing the end of the second draft nearing.  I hope I'm not miscalculating, as I feel like getting my teeth into a couple of other projects for a while.  This last section needs far less major re-writing (I think), and more polishing and tightening, so it ought to be a quicker job than the start and middle. 
The tension in the story is definitely building; I can feel the pace change and my pulse is quickening, but I don't know if that's just me! I am looking forward, nervously, to exposing it to some criticism and seeing it through other people's eyes, though I think I will struggle with fear of failure AND with comments, however helpful.  But it will all help me to thicken my skin the way I need to.
Can hardly believe the end is in sight...for the second time. Although I have a few pages of my notebook full of policing questions to ask my next door neighbour next time I can collar him...

Nappy days

I suspect most family homes have certain obsessions in common.  Parenthood seems to trigger the eco-warrior within for lots of people - my husband's cardboard recycling pile is nearing its terminal height, at which point it will collapse, burying a small child or two.  Some parents become fixated on their child's educational success, and spend all their time berating schools and teachers for trying to give their child a rounded education in all sorts, when little Oliver can't yet spell 'independent'.

The weirdest thing, though, is how obsessed parents become with all things toilet related.  (Actually, judging by the shared giggles between my four-year old, and my thirty-three year old other half, perhaps this is something that the males of the species always enjoy obsessing over..?)  I've just hung up from a lovely phone conversation with my sister-in-law, filling me on how her gorgeous little three-month old is growing, and there was a part of the conversation relating to nappies that made the tears roll down my cheeks.  Ten years ago, she and I would have been revolted, and now it's a story for sharing.  How times change.

We've been trying to (unsuccessfully) potty train our youngest for a while now.  He often wears training pants, which he wets, then I change them, and he wets them again. It's an enjoyable game for all. Occasionally I have a fit of enthusiasm, and dig out the washable nappies, outraged by how many pull-ups he is still going through, and hoping that the sensation of wet cloth will upset him so much that he turns to me and says, Mummy, I'm really too grown up for these things now. How about a quick go on the toilet?

But none of this is working...yet.

Yesterday, my husband was trying to clean his boots, and pulled out of the cupboard something that looked like that plastic bag in which he keeps his brushes and tins. (He was in the army. He has a real shoe-cleaning kit. I use one of those cheat's sponges.  If I can be bothered).  Judging by the shout of horror when he opened it, he was none too pleased to find inside a pair of wet trousers, pants and socks. I don't think it helped matters that I couldn't even estimate how long they'd been in there, nor how they had got there.  Having sympathised with him about his terrible ordeal, I suggested he sling them straight into the washing machine, and get them clean.

"Nah," he said, "I'm doing my boots. I've tied them up again and put them in the utility sink for you."

Oh, joy.  Pleasing me is always top of his agenda.

I put them in the wash today, with the morning's collection of urine soaked pants and trousers, and found they weren't as bad as he had made out.  In fact, I vaguely remember the last time I put the socks on the little one, and it was only a few days ago.  As I hummed and pulled out wash powder, my gaze fell on the nappy bucket, and with a jolt of unease, I wondered if there were a wet or - worse - soiled pair of pants in there, too.  It seemed to me, through the fog of my memory, that I had once put something in there to await a suitable load, and that I didn't remember ever dealing with it.  I approached the bucket with caution, and lifted the lid.  Inside was one lonely cloth nappy, harbouring all sorts of unmentionables. It was hard to tell what colour it was meant to be, even.  (The answer is usually, unbleached white).   I didn't want to be in the same room as it.  By my best guess, it's been there more than three weeks.  It was the sort of situation no-one should have to deal with on her own.  So I phoned my Mum, veteran of washable nappies on three children.

"Don't be so squeamish.  Put some boiling water and powder on it now and let it soak a while, then put it on your hottest wash."
"I don't want to get that close!"
"For goodness' sake. It'll be fine. You've got gloves, haven't you?"

So that was that.  But I have a plan.  The evil nappy has  now been marinading in washing powder and water for most of the day, and I'm thinking what a lovely treat it will be if I leave it for my husband to deal with.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Monday mornings - love 'em!

All three children are occupied this morning, and this afternoon the little one should sleep after his playgroup session.  I have a full morning of cleaning planned, so that I can then spend the afternoon writing....now to get motivated and started on it! I love being back in routine, and I'm as refreshed, mentally and creatively, as I'd hoped....shame that I could fall asleep if I blink for too long........

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fun distractions for half term.

I've been pouring my creativity into decorating my six-year-old's room instead of writing. It's looking delicious, despite the touches of bubble-gum pink here and there. 

We've also had a couple of days away, visiting my sister and her brood of unruly children, who have rather spoilt the effect by growing up and becoming better behaved.  We side-tracked to visit my mother-in-law, who has had a vicious infection and was hospitalised for while.  Full marks for fulfilling family responsibilities (and having fun along the way)...but I was glad to discover I did have my notebook with me, after I thought I'd left it behind, as there were plenty of ideas swimming around during the long car journeys, and while out with my nephews and niece. 

There are a busy two or three days left before the children go back to school, and I'm not going to try to squeeze writing time into it, not least because it's very hard to concentrate while they are under my feet, which pushes so much else into the evenings.  But I think the break from focusing is having the desired effect of giving me thinking time, and enthusing me.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Switching focus for the week

It's been a busy week, but I've managed to stitch together a few more scenes and write a new one or two, though I'm afraid they may be no good at all.  Before we know it, it will be half term (next week) and it will be harder to get work done with my little angels around my ankles.

I'm thinking that I will use the week to catch new observations and ideas in my notebook, and begin mulling over the next big plot in my mind, and my current novel can then cook on its own for a week.  Hopefully then I'll return to it refreshed and ready to dive in with clear vision. Perhaps I can even do some reading (it's been a few weeks since I read a novel.  I find, as I always have, that reading absorbs all my time - once I begin a book, I read it compulsively until it's done, and that's not a good recipe for being an attentive mother or a productive writer).

Sunday, 16 October 2011


On Wednesday, I was having lunch, and told myself I would put the computer on at 1, and begin my writing.  At five to one, the power blew.  I was angrier than a bull at a dog.  It seemed so personal!

There had been an explosion at a local substation, and 30, 000 homes lost their power....so I can hardly count myself as special.  Frustrated, I stomped around grumpily for a while.  My husband, who thrives on crises of any magnitude, observed cheerfully that Roald Dahl wrote on yellow paper with a pencil.

The power cut lasted nearly twenty-four hours, and soon the inconvenience of trying to bath and wash up and medicate ill children overcame the annoyance of missing my writing time.  We have electric again now; it's a little hit and miss, as I think we've been on generators, and may still be, for all I know.  It gave me a few special moments, and a few ideas for stories.  After a while I realised it might have blown after I'd been writing for an hour.  Perhaps it was better timed than it seemed at first.

And tomorrow is another day.

Monday, 10 October 2011

life getting in the way of art

  Today the six year old was running an impressively high temperature, and didn't go to school.   I managed to clock up the grand total of twenty minutes at my keyboard in the morning, and planned to go back to it in the afternoon while the two year old slept. But I knocked a bottle of wine and sent it hurtling onto the quarry tiled floor where it exploded in glorious style.  There was crushed glass glinting in every crevice and ruby wine soaking into the tiles and reaching sluggish fingers every which way.  It took me so long to clean it up (and once I'd started, I scrubbed the whole floor) that I never made it back to the computer.
Twenty minutes isn't much to be proud of, is it?  I dread to think what drivel dripped from my speed-tapping fingers, but I'll face it tomorrow.
And worst of all is having a little one poorly - I hope she's better tomorrow for her sake more than mine.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


It's amazing what three good writing days will do for you.  I actually feel almost sated; on the Wednesday, I had a slight heart-slump of 'Again?' as I took myself to the Mac.  How wonderfully lovely to have had so much more time than usual....and I can appreciate at last that full time writers don't have it quite as easy as I thought.  I've always been so hungry for the moment of Writing, it had never really occurred to me that more discipline might be necessary when there's an abundance of time.

If  I can keep this up for the next few weeks (half term excepted), there's a chance I might actually get this second draft finished before Santa starts shaking soot all over the carpet...

Monday, 3 October 2011

I love Mondays

Great writing day, but what a huge task this is - tweaking here, building new scenes there, trying to tie everything in....what will be left at the end; a confusing mess or something beginning to approach my vision? Ha ha.  I think I can already guess which!

I am still thinking that I will save up and try using a critiquing agency to try to knock edges off, but not this draft; I think there may be two more revisions in me before I'm that far on!

We have just cracked the spine, as a family, on the BFG. The six year old has had a few tentative forays into Roald Dahl territory, and she and the four year old both adore The Enormous Crocodile (especially the end).  So far, the children are listening spell-bound to their Daddy read (a rare occurrence), and my heart continues to be warmed by the power of story.  What a gift, to tell a story and brighten a child or an adult's world.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Guilty Housewife

Last week was so successful in terms of getting my bum on my seat and typing away on my manuscript.  However, it meant that all the cleaning that needed doing was pushed aside for the whole week...but sssh, don't tell anyone. 

This week, I have visitors coming on Tuesday, and the house is a state, so I am wrestling now with how much time to spend tomorrow visiting housework magic on my little pig-sty, and how much I can hoard for writing.  Even with as much extra time as I have now two of the children are at school, it disappears so easily; blink and it's gone.

Back to the Discipline, I suppose, and the balancing act.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Fetching the oojit from the whatsit

I don't know about baby brain, but something is wrong with mine. I remember a friend turning up at work with her home phone in her handbag instead of her mobile, and thinking it was funny, but it's as if I've lost all grasp of the English language (and I never had any grasp of any other language in the first place).
Yesterday I was trying to point out which was our compost bin to my mother-in-law and told her it was the green bin, when it was clearly grey.  Sometimes I end up falling back on nonsense, and asking Steve to turn the doo-dah down, or if a child can pass me the poky thing.  On occasion I've even been known to try a little game of Charades when the nonsense words fail me.  It's like living in a foreign land, and I've mislaid the thingymabob to help translate - you know, that book full of words and phrases you might need...
How am I going to do any good quality writing for the next six months?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Trying new things

I have more time on my hands than I imagined, now two of the children are at school.  Funny, how precious the times were last year, when the 4 year old was at nursery, for writing.  And now, it's like that all day, every day; I should be able to write at least three times a week, if I can get some discipline!

This week, I've done very little writing on my book, but I did begin an idea for an article. I've never done anything like that before, but have been intrigued by articles in the writing mags about freelancing for magazines. The trickiest part, for me, is finding people who are willing to talk to me about their experiences.  I've put a plea out on a relevant internet forum, with no bites after three days. I wonder if that is typical, or if I worded it badly.  I shall have to see if I can make any progress this week, on the article, or the book!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Feeling better

Have managed a little writing this week, despite three days in my new school.  I am feeling better now, after a rough few weeks. I'm expecting our fourth baby, and am hoping that he/she will be good and sleep as much as possible!

Tomorrow our littlest one has his first morning at playschool, too, so I would like to get lots of writing done, but I am also very aware that the disgracefully dirty bathroom will probably claim some of my time.  Hopefully the little one will be so tired after playschool that he sleeps all afternoon...

Monday, 29 August 2011


Congratulations to Emma Woodcock, who has just published her fabulous fantasy novel, Darklands, as an ebook, available now on Amazon.  I'm increasingly seeing the advantages of Kindle and equivalents (not just as a reader, after finding an enormous spider hiding on my bookshelf) and self-publishing in this crazy, competitive world. 
Never does a Writer's Forum or Writing Magazine drop through the letterbox (yes, I've given in and subscribed to save fruitless journeys to the nearest big town) without at least one article or letter pointing out the advantages, and advising on how best to get it to work for you.  I must confess, as the deeply flawed technophobe I am, that the thought of producing my work in this format gives me waking nightmares, but it seems like a great route to take if you are intelligent and motivated and talented enough.  (Emma Woodcock...)  Well done, Emma - I'm watching with great interest and hoping it's the start of the glittering career you deserve.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hiccuping along

I've managed one measly writing session this week, but it was on a day that was quite disastrous in all other ways, so at least there was one redeeeming moment that day.

I was quite down-hearted at first, reading a section that I've just inserted (so, technically, it hasn't been edited or rewritten).  But I kept reading, and began to get sucked in to my own story, and began to almost feel that parts of it were good.  As for fresh re-writing, I only tackled two or three paragraphs, but it was a start, and put the story back at the front of my mind where it should be. I also realised I'm a little further along than I had thought.

I'm still concerned about the structure I've chosen - it's what I've wanted since the first concept, but the sub-plot is essentially flashbacks, which I think are quite important, but I'm not sure whether it is stalling the story too much. It's no good to know that this is generally the case, or that the usual advice would be to  avoid too much backstory/flashbacks at all, because we all know it does work sometimes, and it is the right thing to do sometimes.  What I need is an independent opinion, so I'm going to start saving up, I think, and when Draft 2 or 3 is complete, I think I will send it to a critiquing service and see what I can learn.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Books, books: everywhere!

We are in the midst of the Great Move (which is a misnomer; it's really a quite small move if you keep it in perspective, but that doesn't have the same ring to it). The extension is nearly finished so the children's toys are in there and dining table has been wedged into the kitchen so that I can bruise my hip on it a few times a day.

The old dining room is painted, and we began moving the bookcases and contents down there two days ago.  It's an amazingly time-consuming job.  Steve keeps stomping around grumpily declaring that he's never moving house again.  We had to make tottering piles and towers of books and folders and files from the top floor in the bedrooms to the bathroom.  We haven't been able to open the curtains in the lounge for two days.  (We didn't expect the piles to stay so long).  The bookcases were heavier and more difficult to move than we anticipated.  Anyway, they are moved now, and it's just the long and slow process of refilling them, and trying to get rid of paperwork we don't need, or books we haven't used in four years.

The only thing I really loved was putting my fiction books in piles on the floor and getting to run my fingers over each cover.  Steve informs me that it's really not that normal to sniff at the pages, but I'm ignoring him.  There is something special about each book I have at the moment, having pared my collection down four years ago.  Each one has a vivid memory of the first time I read it; I was in labour when I read this (a Marian Keyes) ; I first read this the Christmas I was twelve and had gastro-enteritis (Jane Eyre) ;  this was one of my earliest reads in a home where there were only a handful of books that Mum and Dad had won at Sunday School or school (a Jim Kjelgaard dog story - this was the one I was sniffing with it's musty, stiff pages, torn dust jacket and yellowed print).

So lovely, to know there are still thousands of books out there I haven't been introduced to yet that might find their way to my shelves.  Just don't tell Ste that next time there'll be even more books to move.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


This has been my most unproductive fortnight in a long time.  It would be too easy to blame the children's school holidays, the week at the coast (which I  took my laptop to, hopefully, but never opened it) and other pressures at the moment, but they all feel like excuses.  A half hour a day would be enough to keep me in routine (and I really ought to fit in that half hour of exercise, too).

Perhaps it's time to have a slight re-evaluation.  I was adding birthdays to my new diary (I have a student diary to match the school year, so it's that time of year) and realised that in November it will be a year since I hit my self-set deadline of finishing Draft 1.  I'm quite ashamed that Draft 2, even though it has taken a significant amount of re-writing, is still only around half way through.

Definitely time to prioritise and plan for writing, even amongst all the other responsibilities that are crushing at the moment.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Seal of Doom

We have just had a week on the East Coast.  We were near an RAF base called Donna Nook, so the beach we had access to (except during the hours 9-5) was a thing of nightmares, littered with targets, and strange plastic containers arranged in peculiar patterns. It was somewhat eerie.  As the owner of our cottage showed us around, he raved about the seal colony further up the coast, and told us that other guests have found it a highlight.  He told us we had to wait till low tide, and then walk twenty minutes to the sea, right between the targets, then turn left and walk for twenty-five minutes and we'd be able to walk up through the colony of a thousand or so seals, and it would be an experience of a lifetime.

The first problem we encountered was that low tide seemed to be fairly late, and with small children, that's not so easy.  My sister decided she and her husband and all three children were going to go at about seven one night, so we rushed our late dinner and joined her.  Mum was tired, and decided to stay at home, so I left the little one with her.  The six-year old had had a high temperature as well, so I promised I'd take her another time, and left her, too.

After just ten minutes walking along the deserted beach, the vicious wind had burrowed into my ears and was making them sing with pain.  I tried to walk with my hands over my ears, shuffling lop-sidedly.  We made our way down through the targets, and turned left. I improved my overall appearance (lop-sided shuffle and all) by sticking clean tissue in my ears, which solved the immediate problem, but looked oh-so-classy.  After half an hour, there was no sign of any seals, and we were all getting somewhat bored by the endless sands under a huge sky.  The four year old decided that he needed the toilet, which turned out to be the most fun he'd had so far, as he discovered he could draw patterns in the sand. 

The grown ups carried on debating whether this was a lost cause, and whether it was low tide, while the children ran in crazed circles, drawing lines in the sand with sticks. Then one of my brother-in-laws spotted a lump on the beach that just might be a seal.  A single, lonely, seal; where were the other 999? Never mind; we trudged on with renewed enthusiasm, and sure enough, after a few minutes, the dark blob moved; it raised a dog-like head, and, I imagined, whiffled in our direction, then proceeded to make its painful way to the sea, shuffling and humping awkwardly.  Perhaps it, too, was trying to keep the wind out of its' ears. We could easily have cut it off, but it looked so pitiable and panic-stricken, we stood back and watched.

When it had escaped into the grey sea, we cast longing glances over our shoulders back to the radar tower at the RAF base, a mere blip on the horizon now.  No-one wanted to be the one to cry 'Quit!' but it seemed we were wasting our time. Then my other brother-in-law spotted a series of speckles on the horizon (I was getting fed up of everything being on the horizon) which he inspected at length through his top-notch binoculars, and declared were seals, possibly even the mythical colony we were searching for.  With sinking hearts, we set off again and eventually were close enough to see the individual seals, glaring suspiciously in our direction. Any move towards them sent waves of them flopping towards the sea;  graceful as a collective. We managed to sneak a few steps closer without scaring the whole lot away, but there was no way to get between the sea and them, as advised.  A few of them, safe in the waves, stayed nearby, watching us, domed heads bobbing against the pewter sea.  The light was beginning to seep out of the sky, ever so slightly.

We admired the seals a while longer, because we felt we ought to after all that effort, but really there was little to see at the distance we were.  At last we felt it was fair enough to give up, and we headed straight across the beach to the radar tower.  The four year old was definitely flagging; his bottom lip was quivering, and his Uncle offered to give him a ride once we got to the fluorescent orange containers.  I didn't feel that happy about cutting straight across a bombing range;  there are times when an imagination is a curse. We ended up singing songs that were torn from our lips by the wind, and swinging arms with the four year old.  We set off at a grim pace, determined to get him home before he collapsed with tiredness, or into a puddle of tears.  He kept up and joined in, and suggested more songs when he had breath.   We told stories, and watched the landmarks, which didn't seem to be any closer. 
At last we reached the orange containers on sticks;  the brother-in-law pointed out they were in the shape of an arrow, but we were all far from impressed, our eyes fixed still on the ever-distant radar tower.  At last we made it through the mudflats and to the edge of the dunes;  past the base and its weird fake helicopter, make of a thin frame covered in netting.  The four year old decided to climb down again, telling me earnestly, 'He didn't ask me to get down, I wanted to, cos I thought he was tired.'  He clasped my hand, and I knew what he really meant; he was tired and wanted his Mum.  We passed the signs that warned death and calamity if you wander onto the beach at the wrong time, and not to dig up anything at any time, and then there was our path through the dunes. We almost missed it, we were in such a rhythm.

We filled up on cheesecake when we got back, and the four year old was asleep before I'd covered him up.

 Next day we went to the seal sanctuary, and got to look at doe-eyed seals close up; really close up. 
'We saw loads of them last night,' the four year old boasted.
The six year old regarded them with serious eyes, then looked at me.
 'Are you going to take me to see the colony tonight, Mummy?' she said. 'You did promise...'

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Slow progress

Having inserted new scenes into my work-in-progress, I'm back to the beaten path this week, and more traditional editing.  It's difficult, as I feel that I've lost the thread of the story to some extent.  The task looks Herculean from this angle - how many edits will it need? I read somewhere to think of this as the structural rewrite, though, so I'm trying not to become too fixated this time on my language, or cutting too much out.

I'm afraid there'll be a visible join, though. Just as a lizard can regrow it's tail, but it's never such a good fit, I wonder if the additional scenes will appear to be slightly wonky. I suppose, what I'm learning for next time (and I mean, the next novel, not the next edit) is that I might need to have a stronger plot before I start. I've already learnt such a lot about creating more conflict and not being too kind to the character you cherish.  Applying this knowledge half-way through feels like patching up, but next time, I'll know how to start more strongly.

I'm feeling invigorating by this attitude of being on a journey, and only near the start of it.  It's making me less critical of myself, and, for the moment, less anxious that this project should succeed in the way I did.  A little success would do me proud, for now;  I can see that I have so much to learn, and that practising will improve my abilities, so if it takes five or six books before I taste the sort of success I'd like, then so be it. I'll just need to stock up on patience and some self-belief.

Who am I kidding? Course I want success with this.  So much love and work is going into it.  But I can see the big picture, at least, and see that it is only a start.

So, back to the computer screen, and trying to hide the seams of the story.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


It seems strange to have two such conflicting emotions over the same thing. Work has been increasingly stressful and unsatisfying this year, to the point that now I am glad to have a new job to go to, as otherwise I might have had to jump from a tall building. I am becoming excited at the prospect of my new job, and am really relishing the idea of it. But this is my penultimate week; it's amazing how swiftly the time unspools when you work part-time.  I've already finished the week, so I have one week left.  And I work two days a week, so I only really have two days left. It hit me today, as I drove away, just how soon this part of my life will be over.  Eleven years; change of scene. Clearly I've been a little lax about keeping the pace of my life going - how stale, eleven years in one place! But seriously, it will be a wrench, for sentimental reasons, at least.  I can't quite believe it, yet. 
I'm sure I shall cry when it is time to say goodbye; and at home, I'm counting off the days, eager. The contradictions of human nature...

Monday, 11 July 2011

Smiling all day long

It is a few months now since I submitted my ghost story to the Writing Magazine competition, and it was returned.  I knew it hadn't won, and was frustrated to have no feedback, but when I bought my August copy of the mag, the winning story was in there.  I flicked straight to it, keen to see what story had won. And there was my name, in the 'shortlisted' section! I am still fizzing with excitement about it, and so delighted to have the broad feedback that at least I'm on the right lines with my writing.
I might even try another competition when my current rewrite is done.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wish you were here?

It used to be, when Steve was away with work or with SARAID (the urban search and rescue team he is part of), the time would hang heavy.  I still don't like it when he's away at night - for some reason, I feel sure that the house would choose to burn down when he's not here, just to test my efficiency at rescuing three small children when I only have two hands.
But I've learnt to really value the times  I get to myself, too.  For a start, I can tidy.  It might be rudimentary, and mostly involve throwing his things into his wardrobe and closing the door, but it makes a huge difference! And it's such fun when he gets home and opens the door to an avalanche.  There would be laughs all around, if only he'd find a sense of humour about it. Then, I get the evening to myself. Evenings are so short, anyway, once the children are all in bed, and lunches packed, and bags prepared for tomorrow, and a load of washing in (in case tomorrow is dry)...and I'm a morning person, so it's not the best time of day.
It's still my own time though.  It's lovely to be able to be selfish, and not need to talk to him about his day, or have to share his tv habits.  Apparently it's quite antisocial when I disappear into the study all evening, every evening, so I have to make a show.
So, when he's away, I get to choose - control of the remote for once, or immerse myself in my writing for the whole evening, every evening.
The only problem is, if I'm writing, I often stay up ridiculously late, unable to type that final full stop.  And then I miss Steve, because there's only one responsible adult to wake everyone up the next morning, and she's half asleep...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Writing Workshop

Ste had all three children for three hours on Saturday so I could go to a very local workshop.  I'm not sure if he was trying to ensure that his Father's Day performance management review went well....certainly the children were all still smiling and quite happily wound up when I got home.

The workshop itself was great;  there were only half a dozen people - a good number for actually having a discussion - and it is so inspiring to talk to like-minded people, even though we were all approaching writing from wildly different directions.  Each person had a different preferred genre, even.  It is very difficult in such a short session to judge who has genuine talent.  I found myself savouring the day, but also viewing each person as a potential competitor.  I hadn't expected to feel like that;  I'm not a competitive person, usually. 

The lady who organised it all is planning on starting something more regular - perhaps even a writing group, in my home town - so I will get the chance to see if they're all they're cracked up to be. There was certainly a lot of 'being nice' to everyone on Saturday, so that it became difficult to discern what was sincere;  and one older man who was far more critical.  A writing group would be an interesting experience, I think, but I'm unsure yet how valuable it would be.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Rambling Musings and Musing Ramblings

The reports are done (for now) and I spent a fruitless half hour writing today.  I had promised myself a half hour, and a half hour I did, but I was bored of the piece I was on, and racing to get to the next part, which doesn't bode well. Yet I'm not sure it will work without a bridge from one scene to another;  in fact, it feels as though it lacks a scene altogether, but to put a scene in feels like filling....

I felt quite reluctant and unhappy, which is most unusual.  Early on, as I slogged through the first draft,  I read an inspiring article in Writers' Forum magazine, which tackled this phenomenon.  It suggested that if things were difficult and slow, you should take a step back because maybe subconsciously you were recognising that there was a fatal flaw here, or something that doesn't belong.  So tomorrow I will try to do just that, and see what it is that is jamming the process and how to smooth over it. If it continues to jam, I shall skip it altogether, I think, and fix it for the third draft, rather than waste lots of time now, without really knowing what to do. 

I'm pleased, on the whole, though;  I think my writing is improving.  It may have swayed too far at the moment;  all advice is being adhered to to the nth degree, which is amateurish in itself;  but I feel as though I'm a more thoughtful writer, more aware of how to improve and more able to recognise my own flaws.  I used to feel a bit snobbish about writers who went on courses - the purist in me felt it was cheating, somehow - but that was before I'd had a serious go at scribbling for anyone other than myself.  If I could afford it, I'd be on a course like a shot....

So imagine my delight to see there is a three hour course on writing in my home town this weekend! Wall to wall delight in fact...except, I'm not. Delighted,that is.  I'm trying to find excuses to stay away, that range from what kind of people would be on a course, to how busy I am at home.  The writer in me is rattling the bars, though, demanding that I take myself seriously and start to involve myself with others in the same boat as myself. 

I don't know yet what I will do...but it is important to me, and improving my work is, too;  so it may all come down to whether my lovely husband is prepared to baby-sit.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


I have that common female affliction of having to keep an eye on my weight. Which makes it sound more like an occasional hobby, when in fact it's more obsessive than that.  I have to remind myself of what I really want (to be healthy) several times a day, to counter the desire for instant gratification between the foil layers of a chocolate bar.  I must be doing something right; having shed more weight than I care to admit, I'm now afraid that any slip will be the first step on the path back to Chubbyville.
Every so often I refresh my tactics for keeping myself in check, and my latest is a rip-off list of six 'targets' for my day.  I have a small notebook (it was a freebie with a magazine) and every day I fold the page to leave just a small margin near the ring-binding.  Down the larger side, I write my six targets (eat my five fruit and veg, go for a walk, vacuum the lounge, clean the glass, write one report, etc.,) which all have to be manageable, and then I cut a line under each target.  Then, as I achieve them during the day, I rip each one off and make a little pile, which I throw out at the end of the day.  It keeps my priorities clear in my head, and it helps me to be realistic, too. 
Today I gave myself a writing target - that I must write for half an hour.  I decided I couldn't really afford the whole hour I'd promised myself at the start of the week...but it was addictive. I ended up tearing myself away from the computer well over an hour later, already craving the next time.  My fingers tingled with the joy of having written.  Even though I'll have to force myself back to report-writing tomorrow, nothing compares to how right it felt to write today...it was even better than chocolate.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Playing Politics

I have spent today at my new school, where I will start work in September. It was very interesting.  I was withthe  two colleagues I will work most closely with;  they have known each other for eight years, so their relationship is well-worn.
For brief periods of time, I had a sense of navigating a mine-field, trying to pick out how they feel about one another and the rest of the staff. I find it wearying, this playing politics; trying to interpret little comments they made, or insinuations as subtle as a shared joke.  As the outsider, it is so tempting to just smile and tacitly agree with their opinions, just because I know I need to build good relationships. But I have a fear of forming unwise alliances by leaping before looking.
  It reminded me of early days of University, the way you're tempted to form too-swift friendships with the first people you catch sight of.  Although, that ended happily enough for me; the first person I met is my best friend still, sixteen years on. So perhaps I should trust my snap judgements a little more than I do.
I'm going to err on the side of caution, though, and concentrate on finding a safe path through it all.  It will give me chance to sit back and observe.  Despite my reservations, I have high hopes for my new job, and in the meantime, I have a staff room full of fresh sources to inspire my creativity.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Back burner

It's that time of year again; report-writing time.  Although I only work part-time, and therefore ought to be writing around 10 reports (at a thousand words each), there are complications, and I wanted to pull my weight, which means I'm hoping to do around 25 or 26.  I enjoy writing reports, on the whole - parts become repetitive but I like the challenge of finding positive ways to be honest about children, so that the parents can all be proud, but still know exactly how their child is really doing.  But I'm finding it really hard;  even though it's been half term, I've only done one report a night most of the time, and the nights I managed two, bedtime was so late I could hardly function the next day. 
So I can see that my writing time for the next month or so is going to be spent on these.  I feel sad about it, but feel the urge to get them over and done with, so that normal service can resume. As a compromise to myself, I've promised myself one hour on my novel this week...but I wonder if even that might be over-ambitious.  Oh well - 7,000 words done already; only 19, 000 or so left, and a deadline of the end of June...

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Marmite Phenomenon

  Out of curiosity, I looked at the Amazon reviews for the two books I mentioned in my last post - blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris, and The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.
  I was astounded to discover the widely differing reviews for each; while many people enjoyed them as much as I had, there were just as many who hated them, didn't understand them, found them bloated and slow...I came away bemused, for a short while, by how it is possible for a book to evoke so many different reactions. 
  Of course, it's natural that different people with different taste will enjoy different novels.  It struck me with a sense of hopelessness, however, that it's not possible to win.  Even if I were able to get the perfect novel that lives in my mind onto the page, intact; even if it were published, and well-received, there'd still be negative reviews. There would still be people who genuinely disliked it, found it a waste of their time and money.  That could put me off, if I let it.
  I'm choosing to look at the other side of the coin, though.  However many times it is rejected, it's worth keeping on, because the next person I submit to may love it, and I only need one person to love it....at first.
     It's hard to keep confidence in myself and my story.  And I'm still some way from submitting it anywhere. But I'm going to keep looking at life positively, and expect good things to follow, one day!

Thursday, 26 May 2011


During my enforced wait at hospital, I was able to devour two books, both very different but both inspirational.

The first, ill-chosen book was the dark and brooding blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris.  The woman is a genius; mistress of deceit and sleight of hand.  I knew there would be twists in there, and even anticipated I might fall for her manipulations, but it was beyond every expectation. Another book to recommend, but not even remotely feel-good. It's a warped, chilling story;  you follow the writer warily and reluctantly, but hooked, unable to squirm free, despite the sense of foreboding that she has so cleverly laced every page with.  Her phrases and marriages of words are exquisite;  it was a lesson in observing with all the senses.  The imagery was gorgeous, the spell she cast disturbing and complete.  I felt like a bird watching the weasel dance; enchanted against my will, knowing it couldn't end well.  As I suggested before, it was not the best novel for calming nerves and lightening the mood, so was perhaps a poor choice for the time, but I'm glad I didn't miss it.

The second was far more feel-good, though it had a dark side, too. The Distant Hours' darkness is more gothic romance than unnerving, and the story was spun out beautifully. It was a whole hundred pages or more longer than blueeyedboy, yet I read it just as compulsively, lost in the delight of mysteries I couldn't unravel alone, awed by characters who lived and breathed, and couldn't just have been the creation of Kate Morton.  She herself says she hopes for readers who can't put her books down and are sorry when they end, and that was exactly how I responded to her deft playing of my emotions.  Another awe-inspiring author, with phrases that thrilled and the ability to confer a sense of setting that is masterful. This is what I want to do; if I could write like that, I could die happy.

 The problem is, how to teach myself to be better;  how to sharpen each thought, and how to motivate myself to spend the time polishing each word till it is perfect in its place...while still finding my own style, my own voice.  It needs a lifetime of work to fulfil your own potential;  I wish I had started twenty years ago, but better late than never.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Silver Linings

  It's been an eventful week, for all the wrong reasons.  I ended up having to go to hospital for a minor operation, which I was told would be under general anaesthetic.  Having never had a general before, I was  anxious, and, true to form, Steve was away for the weekend. (His super-power is absenting himself just before he's needed).

In the end, after eight hours' waiting, the doctors sent me home and asked me to return the following day.
 (It has just occurred to me that this would have been a classic opportunity to practise my grumbling, and I missed it! Really must try harder).

  When I returned, they decided the general anaesthetic was, as it were, off the table, and a local anaesthetic would do.  All well and good; in the afternoon I was meant to be at the playgroup Spring Fayre, face-painting , and perhaps I would make it after all...  However, I hadn't accounted for the slow-turning wheels of the NHS. It was a further five hours before I was finally sliced and packed, and on my way home to join the tail end of the Fayre.

   I expect I earned Brownie points from the rest of the committee for staggering straight from hospital to face painting, although I only managed to deface six small children after all that.  And as time wore on, the anaesthetic wore off.  It turned out I was in more pain than I'd realised, and perhaps I had been silly not to have gone straight home for a lie-down.  (After all, what more could one want, after thirteen hours of Sitting and Waiting, than a wee rest?)

  If I sound quite relaxed about the whole thing, it's because I am. I detest waiting, and waiting for something you are dreading is a particular kind of hell.  During the first eight hours, it was all I could do to keep my attention on the very good book I was reading, which was all that stood between me and a minor breakdown.  But even then, I was aware of the guilty pleasure of reading for hours at a stretch (though it would've been preferable if it hadn't been on an empty stomach), and devouring a book at one sitting.  Perhaps the choice of book could have been more prudent (I'll come back to that another time).

  On the second day, however, knowing I was having a local, everything was different. I was able to sit curled up in a plastic hospital chair, ignoring the pain and suffering around, lost in a world of makebelieve.   I managed to choose a less dark novel, which was still gripping (I'll come back to that another day, too),  sip on a cup of tea and sink into another world for a few hours.  I think I've even learnt a little over those two days by looking for the sleights of hand the two different authors used - what larks!

    I'm not hoping for a repeat any time soon, though.

New job in September

My writing has suffered for the past two weeks.  I had an interview for a teaching post at a local school last Wednesday (the school Bean attends, as it happens).  My nerves were rattling days in advance, but fortunately I kept myself steady enough, and was offered the job.  I haven't yet adjusted to the thought of changing jobs after eleven years in my current post; it will be a seismic shift for me.

Preparing has taken a lot of my time lately, but the good news is, I will save thirty-five minutes commuting time each way. It may only be for two days a week, but even with my dodgy maths skills, I can see that's over two hours a week to be spent elsewhere...clear a path to the laptop!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Spying on page 99

     For those who love reading and writing, here's another way to spend time on the internet that isn't on your own work: www.page99test.com.  Writers upload the 99th page of their manuscripts (allegedly) for others to critique.  Although some of the critiques seem blunt or ignorant, others are insightful.  Certainly it's good fun in short bursts to read and evaluate work on such a snapshot - it gives a chilling glimpse of how agents and publishers can judge a submission on very little. You can choose which genre you'd like to read most of, which can minimise guilt if you are wasting writing time on such frivolities.
     A couple of caveats;  I think critiques should be taken on merit - as I have already said, some are not discerning. Also, not everyone is really uploading page 99, I think, as I read a prologue on one page (not usual at page 99...)
     I'm not sure I'm ready to upload my own page 99, however....it turns out mine is mostly backstory...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Barbara Kingsolver

     What a treat Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer is.  I read The Poisonwood Bible three years ago, during a summer camping trip;  if there had been a television, I may never have finished it, although I find abandoning books very difficult.
     It seemed over-lengthy, the characters didn't interest me, and I didn't like any of them, particularly. The whole flavour of the novel seemed  bleak and depressing to me. I may be being unfair, as I am writing this in retrospect.  Since then, I've heard others rave about it, and wondered what I missed. 
     Then my wonderful book-lending friend passed Prodigal Summer on to me, and pointed out it was by the same author (my wonderful book-lending friend had been entranced by The Poisonwood Bible). 
     I didn't find the cover very alluring, and the blurb failed to pull me in; I think the whole previous experience was putting me off.  It sat on my bedside table for months, and I always selected another over it.  At last, this week, I picked it up, having steeled myself to trudge through it. I was intending to read two pages, just to kick start myself.  An hour later,  I had to force myself to put it down, already lost to it.  I've read it greedily for the past week, and finished it, a little regretful, yesterday - regretful that there wasn't more.  The skill and craft of Barbara Kingsolver shone on every page;  I was enchanted by the writing and the voices, and cared about every character, even the cranky ones.  I adored the way the narrative was woven so that the separate stories intersected at last; there were a couple of surprises along the way, a frankness that I loved, and so much to learn about a far away place and people. It has left me feeling sated in a way a book hasn't for a while. In fact, every time I walk past it, I get a little jolt of pleasure that I can sit and read it when I've finished a few jobs, and then remember that I've already come to the end.  
     The only thing is, it's knocked my confidence in my writing . I know I can't do that, and I wish I could. 

Sunday, 8 May 2011


      After my ramblings on neighbourly tolerance (or lack of it), today there has been a sequel.  I'm afraid it wasn't my finest hourr.
     I was strapping my smallest son into his car seat when a bearded man with a pot-belly and a camera around his neck materialised behind me.  It gave me quite a shock.
     'I wondered if I could have a word...?'
     'Of course,' I said, pasting on a polite smile, thinking, as you would, about the sand mountain outside our house. Or perhaps he wanted to complain about the skip that is making everyone brake to 2 miles an hour while they negotiate gingerly around it. (Get some spatial awareness, people!)  (See, I'm learning the grumbling way...)
     But no, it turned out his problem was something else.
     'When you park  here, if you could go forwards a bit, it'll leave room for my car behind.  At the moment, you see, you're taking up two car parking spaces.'
     Of course, all the appropriate responses fled my mind. I forgot that I'd pulled up right behind another car the night before.  I forgot that he doesn't own the road, nor the spaces on it, anyway.
          'I've only lived here since 1960...' he continued, with a chuckle, following me to the other side of the car as I strapped in the older two.  (Does that give him squatters' rights over a patch of road, I wonder?)
     Being the fool I am, instead of defending myself, I made placatory noises about being a bad woman driver who can't always tell where I am when I'm reversing. What nonsense! I'm a perfectly able driver, and I'm even pretty good with reverse parking.  However, to prove my self-deprecating lie, I went on to share with him the tale of how the dent in the rear bumper happened;  the only time I've ever bumped anything in twelve years of driving.  I ignored the sane, little voice in my head that told me to shut up.    I couldn't stop my mouth from blurting out rubbish.  If someone was going to criticise, there was a traitorous part of me that was going to join in the fun, and prove what a good sport I was.
      I even thanked him for pointing out that he'd like me to park so my rear bumper is just over the grid -  that one there, that we both had to lean down to spot under the car.  As we peered, another car had to slow to 2 miles an hour to navigate around our backsides.
     I think he could see the strain in my smile;  he made some inane comment about having not realised I had three children.  I interpreted this as a clumsy attempt at a compliment, but he didn't really carry it off.  Perhaps a little voice in his head was shouting, shut up too.   He said he hoped he hadn't caused offence, and I gave a bright laugh and assured him that no, I appreciated him speaking to me about it... Really I was thinking, was it he who called the council about the sand and grit? And since I'd complained about the underhanded tell-tale tactics of whoever did, I told myself I had no right to be annoyed about him accosting me in person over his parking issues.
     As I drove away, I was in a bit of a huff. It was very illogical, and most unreasonable, given that he had been good enough to talk to me; and given that it was inconsiderate of me to be taking up two car-parking spaces.  (Oh, wait a minute, someone else was parked, and I pulled up behind them. Right, I keep forgetting that). It seems that my natural reaction when someone is assertive is to feel guilty, to want to confess to anything if it appeases them, and then to feel quite defensive and angry.
     I can see how neighbourhood feuds spring up. 
     By the time we'd wandered around the local garden centre I'd cooled down, and was counting my blessings.  Here was the perfect opportunity for me to hone my grumbling skills - a neighbour I could complain vociferously about!
      Imagine my surprise then, when the doorbell rang at tea time.  There he was on the doorstep, minus the camera but with his wife hovering in his shadow.  By the time I realised they hadn't come to strike up some new complaint, they had thrust half-price vouchers for a circus into my hand, provided rave reviews of the show (which, apparently, also offers free camel rides - now, there's a bargain) and strolled home calling out friendly goodbyes.
     I'm stumped.  Just when you're ready for a good complain, people turn out to be kind at heart.  How am I meant to build up a head of annoyed steam when that happens?
     As for my ridiculous behaviour,  perhaps there is a place for an apology when you're not really in the wrong, if it builds a bridge between people.  Probably not, but let's say so for my sake.  But there can't be an excuse for shooting yourself in the foot.  While I'm practising complaining, I think my assertiveness skills need brushing up, too.

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Art of Grumbling

I've just discovered that during the past thirty-five years, I've neglected an important life-skill.  I hardly ever complain.  Stop laughing, Steve, I can hear you.  Alright, I don't mean that I hardly ever complain to friends and family.  In fact, if you got me started on Steve and his habit of leaving trails of breadcrumbs, expecting kelpies to empty the dustbins, eating cereal at the study desk and leaving the dirty dishes there.... well, I might never stop.

But I'm not a public complainer, unlike most other people I know.  It's making me feel left out.

When Steve is in the throes of road rage, I'm confused how he can get so angry, as if he never makes mistakes, or gets lost. Who ceded the moral ground to him? When mum-friends are complaining about the playgroup, the school, the park, I think of how lucky we are to have those same things  - and beautiful, healthy children to enjoy them.  When people bemoan the state of the country, I think how much we have to be thankful for in Britain (a fact a friend had to emigrate for a year to New Zealand to discover). 

I suppose my problem is, I'm too busy seeing things from everyone's point of view.  I can find excuses for most people (though there are, of course, limits).  But I'm obviously missing out on something most people enjoy, so it's time to grow some pig-headed opinions, take illogical dislikes to other people and the way they behave, and act as if I'm irreproachable.

Here's what has caused my about-turn.  Today, the builder started the patio. He wasn't due to arrive until mid-day, but the materials he'd ordered arrived before him, and the sand and grit was put on the pavement outside our house. Less than two hours later, a plump and pleasant man from the council knocked on the door to tell me he'd had complaints;  who'd ordered the stuff? Would it be moved soon? And what about that skip...? I thought things not lawful to be uttered, and said the skip had a permit, at which he hummed and hawwed  and said that wasn't really his business....could I get the builders to move the sand, please?

My lovely builder was there in ten minutes (he was already on his way) and the problem solved.  I, on the other hand, stewed for an hour or two, playing 'whodunnit' with the neighbours - which one(s) were so upset that they told tales on us, rather than knocking on the door? I'd always thought we lived in quite a friendly street, with a good community feel.  What kind of people have nothing better to do than wait for someone to do something they don't like, then run to the council about it?

That's when I decided that the problem was perhaps mine.  Perhaps all this time, I've allowed myself to be too thin-skinned, and perhaps if I can learn to throw myself into complaining, and learn how to do it properly myself, I won't feel so hurt when someone complains about me.

I couldn't wait till Ste got home to try out complaining about the neighbours and how they'd 'dobbed on us' to the council.  Immediately he got annoyed.  (He can give me lessons).

 'Pass me some cardboard,' he said, 'I'll go out and put a sign in the sand, telling them all to grow a pair and come and talk to us if they have a problem.'

'No, no, don't do that! It's rude.  And they have had a lot of mess for a long time.  And if they've seen the state of our garden for the last few years, they probably thought it was going to be there for weeks.  And I'd be annoyed if someone else blocked the pavement with their sand...'

Uh-oh, must try harder not to walk in other people's shoes.  I'll keep practising...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Blame the parents

The oldest two are becoming more competitive by the day; an interesting phenomenon to watch, especially when you add the politics of gender to the conflict.

The six-year old, who is a precocious reader in the context of the school she attends, will read almost anything she can lay her hands on.  (She gets her reading habits from me). Today I had a lingerie catalogue in the post, and barely had I thrown away the cellophane wrapper before she had put in her request to have a look after I'd finished. 

'They look nice swimming costumes,' she observed.  After a short conversation in which she appeared to doubt my sanity when I said the items in question were, in fact, undies and would not be acceptable at the Lido, she finally accepted Mummy's greater life experience. 

She read the catalogue with inspirational enthusiasm, pointing out her favourite sets, bouncing with excitement when she found a page of pyjamas, and then showing me the swimwear at the back with the solicitousness of a saleswoman.  Having sated herself, for now, she wanted to crow over her brother.  She arranged a superior expression on her face, and turned to him.

'I'm afraid there's nothing in here for you,' she said, 'It's all girl's stuff.  There's nothing you'd like.'

The four year old snatched it from her, and shook it open. 'Yes, there IS!' he said, and began to study the pictures of half-naked women, frowning with concentration.

The six year old looked across at me, stumped for a moment.  Then a little half-smile appeared.  'He's not really reading,' she whispered to me, 'He's only looking at the pictures.'

I think he must get his reading habits from his Dad...


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Writing Routines

The Easter holiday is winding up;  just the May Day bank holiday left to enjoy.  I've done nowhere near as much writing as I hoped,  but then this has happened to me during school holidays before.  When I'm not at work, the children aren't out at school or pre-school, either. 

We've had a lovely break. Sometimes there is something very bleak about the shackles of routine. Most days I hate having to make the six-year old's packed lunch the evening before she needs it.  (In September, I will have to do the four-year old's too.  My heart is sinking already). There is something wearing about getting up at the same time every day, and spending the next hour and a half chivvying the children, encouraging them to get on independently, unpacking the dishwasher and all the other menial and repetitive tasks that seem so joyless and thankless.  (I'm trying to value these tasks a bit more, and think how they bless my little family.  I don't want to waste my life looking forward - I want to enjoy what I have now). Best of all, when it comes to holidays, I don't think I've said, 'Come on! We're late!' once in the past fortnight. 

I think it's true that we can determine much of our own happiness by our outlook, though, so I'm finding things that are positive about the end of the holidays.  Slipping back into the harness of routine will give back certain things I've missed: regular, well-planned meals, for a start, with a bit less of the junk and a bit more of the vegetable in them.  I've missed walking the children to school and back twice a day (you'd be amazed how much healthier and fitter I feel during termtime, just for that).  I'll get back those precious extra writing times when I can synchronise the two-year old's naps with the older two's times out of the house.  

For all the things I hate about constraints of routine, I do value it, too.  The break has been wonderful.  It was just what I needed, right then.  It's been great for us as a family.  But I'm ready for it to conclude.  And the conclusion I've come to is that I need to be stricter with myself about writing routines.  Two or three times carved out of my week isn't enough; it needs to be a daily thing, even if it's only for ten minutes.  Maybe within the chrysalis of a daily writing routine, there will be time for a miracle of creation to occur, even if what emerges is wet-winged and grounded in the beginning.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Guilty Secret?

I still find it hard to say aloud, I'm an aspiring writer.  It sounds so pretentious.  I keep trying different ways of saying it  - 'I'm trying to write a novel', 'I've always wanted to be an author', 'I'd like to write a book one day' - I don't feel comfortable with any of it.  In fact, I think it might be easier to confess to being a naturist. (No, I'm not.)

For a start, people look at you as if you're a strange beast.  They clearly don't know how to react.  It's so much easier to tell them I'm a teacher, and there's so much I can say about that, none of which transgresses into the highly personal or intimate.  Writing fiction isn't like that.  You invest a lot of yourself in a story or novel: it does make you feel vulnerable and unmasked.

And then there's the gentle questions.  I don't blame them, and maybe they're only trying to be polite and show an interest anyway.  When a practical, no-nonsense mother asked me in the school playground how I'd got on at the publishing event I'd gone to, I was quite stumped how to answer.  I could see that any in depth answer would bore her;  I had the unnerving feeling that any talk that strayed too far into the creative realm would be viewed as if I'd admitted to an alien abduction.  So I mumbled a half-hearted, 'It was good, thanks,' and fudged a change of subject.  No doubt she thinks  I'm socially inept, or a monosyllabic moron.  Oh, well.  Maybe that's better than her thinking I'm a deluded aspiring writer.

On holiday with the in-laws, I felt equally self-conscious, setting up my sister-in-law's lap top and typing away on it.  When my lovely father-in-law passed by on his way to make me a cup of tea, and tried to read over my shoulder, with a patronising, 'What are you writing, anyway?', I slammed the screen closed so fast it trapped my finger.  Biting back a howl of pain, I gave a bit of a sheepish grin, and tried to explain the received wisdoms about not sharing plots, or showing drafts that were too tatty.  He gave me a look that made it very clear he thought that a/ I was ungrateful about the tea-making service, b/ I was somewhat mentally unhinged and c/ I must be writing something erotic.

I tried to argue with myself that it wouldn't have hurt to let him read over my shoulder (even though I don't ever like people reading over my shoulder). It's not as though I feel superstitious that talking about the plot, or sharing too much might jinx the whole creative flow.  But I can't shake the conviction that if I stop for a moment and allow myself to see these early drafts through judgmental eyes, I might stop and never start again.  The project might be aborted before it has had chance to grow and breathe and be.  I want to protect it from that;  I want to nurture it for a while longer, till it's ready, and until I'm ready, too.

And one day, maybe I'll be able to say with a straight face and a sense of pride, 'I'm a writer, you know.  Yes, I have had a book published....'

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I need a notebook habit

Why is it that my best writing seems to be done while walking, when I never have a pen to hand? And why is it that when I get back to my desk, I've either forgotten my sizzling ideas and perfect prose or it turns out it doesn't 'sound' quite so good on paper..?

Whisked away

Today the older two children have been whisked away by my super-hero parents (if two retired people in a  battered old Peugeot can 'whisk') to explore the bluebell woods.  The children were as excited about putting their Wellingtons on as some people are by a pair of Jimmy Choos. The simplicity of these early years is beautiful. The little one isn't so well - he has a high temperature, and is now sleeping, though it may be brief.

So, the dilemma - do I get ahead with my planning ready for work next week (which will stand me in good stead for having time to prepare for the interview I have the week after, and which will also make it possible for me to go to a writing workshop in two weeks' time)? Or, do I knuckle down to writing instead?

(Or have I inadvertantly chosen secret option three   -    facebook and blogging..?)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sticky Lollies and Sunshine

Nobody else caught the lurgy before our holiday. In fact, it worked out well, as I lost a couple of pounds, feeling queasy while looking after the four-year old.  Surely I don't need to explain why that's a good thing - but it certainly is when your mother-in-law is a closet 'feeder' and served up enormous, fattening, delicious meals, then added ice-creams and chocolate in for snacks, just to keep us all going.      

We got back yesterday, slightly sunburnt (me) after some incredibly sunny weather; a little cranky and tired (the four-year old); and ready for a rest to recover from it all (me again).  We made it to the beach every day, creating memories for old age.  We played Taboo and Boggle while the kids slept, and I realised anew how much time the television steals from me every day, with my full cooperation and complicity.  I read Sebastian Faulks's latest book  - I love the way he writes, the rhythms of his sentences, the marriages of words - but have to admit I'm finding the subject matter less gripping.  I paddled in the sea, and flew a kite that went so high it made me dizzy to look at it. I cuddled my children, and wormed my toes down to the cooler, wetter sand.  We visited a Welsh hospital when the two-year old dived from a chair onto a ceramic floor and needed his head glueing.  I had melted ice lolly dripped down the back of my neck by a sticky child.  I had to sit through a Punch and Judy show, with my jaw ajar as the children laughed at a baby being thrown down the stairs, the arrival of the Devil, and a man being hung on a gallows. I scooped the four year old up as he cried through the Punch and Judy show, thinking, 'I'm not surprised', until I found out he was only crying because he'd laughed so hard he'd banged his nose on the tarmac.  We climbed the Great Orme and basked on rocks at the top.   I got on fine with all the family, although my brother-in-law and I squirmed a bit on the last night when Steve's mum had a sherry or two, and spoke her mind, but I won't dwell on that. 

And I ironed out what I thought was a large plot wrinkle, that close up was only a soft crease.  Then I patched together some other pre-written scenes into the whole, which was less satisfying, but was better than standing on a squashed strawberry.  I could have got used to having so many extra pairs of hands to help out with the children.

Another week before I have to go back to 'real' work!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

High alert

Life keeps getting in the way.  If it's not writing a job application (a writing task I shy from with the best of them), it's handling the four year old's second stomach bug in two months.  I don't think that's fair.  If I ruled the world, I'd make it illegal for any child to be sick more than once a year.  Anything more is cruel.

It was fairly short lived, but has meant no pre-school sessions for the past two days, which means no daily writing time (and evenings are for cleaning and packing this week).  Now I'm frantically checking the other children for any tell-tale signs that they may vomit in the next twelve hours.  Cranky? Maybe they're falling ill.  Don't fancy dinner? Even though it's only slightly burned? Must be coming down with the lurgy.  Crying because her brother told her she ought to eat her apple with peel on (and she was just about to do that very thing)? Well, that's got to be a sign she's sickening for something.  Or maybe that she's a bit of a diva. I'm on tenterhooks waiting to find out.  

Meanwhile, I'm tackling the packing and cleaning lists, and feeling thankful that so far  the Super Hero parents, and Ever-ready Auntie J have succumbed rather than the six year old or the two year old.  Is that heartless and ungrateful? I suppose so.  But at least they have a chance of finding a bucket in the dark on their own, and I get some sleep.  Hope they're better soon, though.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Five sleeps to go

The grand get-away to Rhyl with my in-laws is looming.  I'm watching hopes of writing this week dwindle, as one of my usual baby-sitters has a tummy bug, I'm applying for a new job that came up out of the blue last week, and there's the packing and pre-holiday cleaning to get through. (Is it only me who cleans like a dervish before I go away so I can come back to a tidy home?)

All is not lost - I am fondly imagining myself sitting at a table in a holiday home, tapping away on my sister-in-law's laptop, while the sound of my children enjoying themselves in the garden with Ste's side of the family reaches me through an opened window....and there is chocolate and tea by my side.  
The power of visualisation remains to be seen...!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Keeping on

The ghost story I'd submitted to a competition came back this week, with a blank little compliments slip! I didn't reel from it as badly as I might have, as I had had realistic expectations.

Having said that, I was disappointed. Who doesn't want confirmation that they have done a good job? Also I had entered, in part, because I had heard that entering comps is a good way to get feedback, yet there was none.  Did I miss by a mile? Was it liked, but not enough? Did it lack originality? What flaws were in the writing?   I tried to divine meaning from the fact it was away for nearly four weeks - is that significant?  Had it escaped the first purge, or is that just standard?  I was left feeling frustrated.

Even a setback like that, I want to improve my writing.  That's the whole point, surely? I can't imagine ever not writing; it is the most absorbing, satisfying thing I do in life, and the highs are intoxicating. It makes me squirm to think of it as just a hobby, but if I don't meet any success, I suppose that's what it will be to me - urgh! Before I resign myself to that, though, I want to have really tried.  I want to improve my skills and push myself to new limits and use the talents and gifts I have. How can I improve without feedback?

I wonder, do people just keep sending work out into the void, and one day it mysteriously improves enough to please the right person at the right time? That seems hit and miss.  I want to trim the sail as I go until I only need slight nudges here and there to stay on course. I don't want anyone to shoot my dreams down, but when do you ever find out if the hours you spend and the passion you put in are worth anything to anyone else but you?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Storm in a blog

I was led by Sally Quilford's blog to the unwise rant of poor Jacqueline Howett after her novel, The Greek Seaman was given a two-star review, and the general uproar from other writers about it.

Sally Quilford lends a measured, calm perspective to the whole embarrassing episode;  I feel sure there's little left to be said on the subject.

It reminded me though, how much I will have to work on thickening my own skin so that I can have the humility and honesty to learn from constructive criticism instead of ignoring it...but since the rejections I've had so far have only been standard, I will await something more personal with bated breath!

The general consensus appears to be that she has committed career suicide, and in one respect, I'm sure that's true. While there are many people who would not read her work now, they probably wouldn't even have come across it anyway.

If only Ms Howett had read this fascinating post by Elizabeth Fama she might have been able to look on the bright side...but perhaps there is still hope anyway. The furore has made me curious and amused enough that I would consider buying the book, and I expect I'm not the only one.  You learn most from mistakes - and it's far less painful learning from someone else's mistakes.   I wouldn't be surprised to find that other people are curious, too, and that The Greek Seaman exceeds sales expectations.   Had Ms Howett retained a dignified silence, I wouldn't have heard of her, and I'm willing to bet the thousands of others who now know her name wouldn't either.

One thing's for sure; even if it boosts her sales, I promise I won't be following suit.

Mother's Day

I was woken by a six-year old who 'gets' mother's day this year and wanted to surprise me with her handmade card and gift.  I'm thinking that chocolates and flowers in twenty years' time will be a disappointment in comparison.  

Remembered to be thankful for my armful of children, but am sparing a thought for all those people who find today hard: those who have lost their mothers, women who have lost a child, women who yearn to be a mother. Bracketed and braced by my own wonderful Mum, and three children who have fulfilled a need I didn't know I had,  my cup is running over. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tracing the Source

The six year old tells me she doesn't like writing.  She pulls a face in the morning sometimes, and complains that it's 'big writing' today. Is it just laziness?

I was thinking about when I first wanted to write.  I remember my Super Mum taking my sisters and I to the library for an author event.  I was five or six;  there was a grown-up lady alone in a room, with a table and some sheets of paper and pencils.  She seemed pleased to see us.  We made up a story together, and she scribed it for us.  With the patience of a saint, she allowed us to choose Will-o'-the-Wisp, our favourite TV character of the time, as our main character. Evil Edna figured highly, too.  She framed a story with a beginning, middle and end, guided our suggestions into something that vaguely resembled a real story, and autographed it for us. It wasn't quite as exciting as going to a farm park.

My first independent efforts were in a tiny spiral-bound notebook.  I was about seven, and fairy-tales were the clear inspiration, with wolves, goats and other marvellous elements included, along with the complete lack of money-sense that meant the wolf in one memorable tale stole ONE POUND!!!!! (sic).

It makes me smile to think of those early, staggering steps.  I wonder how to ignite Bean's passion;  she loves reading, but I want her to enjoy writing.  I want her to have better numeracy skills than her Mummy, as well.

Looking back, I'm grateful for that lonely author at the library, making us welcome and creating magic for us with someone else's characters.  I expect she was hoping we'd buy books, but this was in the bad old days when there was no money, and a pound really did seem a fortune.  Mum took us to the library because we couldn't afford books, but she believed that we couldn't afford not to have them. I might feel sorry for that author -  she gave much more than she received! But if I ever succeed with the writing dream, I hope I can make a difference in someone's life one day.  Surely that's worth more than a booksale.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

strolling through setting

Sunday mornings are all for me and the little one. But in my over-organised way, I have to spend the time achieving as many things as possible;  just being a mum isn't enough.  So we usually go for a walk, and then I can feel that I'm doing something towards my fitness level, and helping him to love the outdoors as well as being with him and chatting about anything and everything together.
(To be honest, that's quite one-sided anyway).

This Sunday I put him in the back carrier, and in between pulling my hair and patting my head, we did manage to talk about several things of interest including the cockerel which the baby seemed concerned I might have thought was him. ( 'Doodlerdoo not me, Mummy'.)  He has to call back my attention, because my mind wanders  - I take the breathtaking views for granted, having grown up with them, and my mind tends to wrestle with plotting, instead.  It's a shame, all that beauty wasted, but this, after all, is my setting.

It's my setting, and it's also the setting for my novel.  It made sense to me, to write about a place I know, especially for this first piece of work.  At the writing event I went to a couple of weeks ago, some writers suggested that rural writers had a tougher struggle to get published, and that some of the big name publishers were prejudiced against Northern novels. As if there weren't enough hurdles on the path to publication...but perhaps it's not true.

This Sunday I did something I'd never done before on one of these bimbles through the town and hills, and took my camera.  It seemed a bit odd, since I was alone (I can hardly count the baby on my back, as it was obvious I wasn't photographing him).  There are always so many things I want to remember, and it isn't feasible to keep stopping and pulling out a notebook, even though the chance to catch a breath might be welcome on some of these hills.  So, whenever  I saw an intriguing house name, or a striking building, I took a snap.  Certain details on the walk caught my attention, and I photographed those too.  I'm going to print these photos out, and use them to add realistic detail to my description of my setting. I think I know it like the back of my hand, but do I really know what's blooming in late March? Can I recall enough little details about the dessicated climbers clinging to house facades to bring a scene to life with just a few words? I think these photos will help - recapture the way the day felt, inspire new stories, enliven my settings.

I just need to convince the little one that multitasking our hour away is a good use of time...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Anti-conning Writers Day

It's one of those days when not much writing has been done, but lots of thinking and also the chance to read relevant things.  I picked up the new Writer's Forum, which will keep me motivated, and also caught up on some writers' blogs.  I followed a link to Sally Quilford's fascinating latest entry about the pitfalls of vanity publishing (amongst other things).  If you're an aspiring writer, read this blog! It might save you some heartache.