Rhino Skin

Quotebanner2It’s ten days to publication for “The Accident” and advance reviews are starting to come in. On the whole, the book is being received very positively – lots of four and five star reviews on Netgalley and Goodreads, with some lovely comments, which are always nice to read.

However, there have also been one or two more negative reviews and I have now realised that I am going to have to develop the skin of a rhinoceros if I am to survive as an author. When I read the first negative review, I felt wounded. The reviewer even resorted to capital letters to get her dissatisfaction across, as though she was shouting at me directly from the page. But then I forced myself to step back and look at the picture as a whole. First, it still came with a two star, which is better than one star. Second, I can respect that they spent time and money on a product that left them wanting.

Obviously, not everyone is going to like “The Accident”, but it is my hope that the majority will and will come away from it feeling moved in some way or thinking that the money they spent was worthwhile and that I provided them with a few hours of escapism, entertainment and enjoyment.

But it is inevitable that there will be some dissatisfied readers. There are many books that I have read that my friends have loved and I have thought, “Really? Why?” Even so, perhaps because I am a writer myself, I’m conscious of the fact that there is a person behind that book, who has spent years working on it, perfecting it, creating a world from their own imagination, and invested a lot of emotion and energy into it. It’s a surreal thing to see something you have worked on in isolation for so long become a physical entity of its own, much like a child, and that you have to release it into the public and set free. The idea that my friends and family will read my words fills me with a fair degree of trepidation, but the Great British Public fills me with fear.

One of the downsides of social media is that everyone is welcome to post their opinions without recourse, so I have to brace for criticism and hope for praise. With this in mind, if you feel moved enough to write a review, treat it like you would when appraising your child’s dodgy attempt at making a pottery vase…. And if it’s not your cup of tea, I’ve still done you a service by making you spent your £3 on a book rather than on a muffin to accompany your latte. You can thank me later.

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Husband Appreciation Day

Even though writing is a predominantly solitary endeavour, it takes more than just one person in front of a keyboard to get a manuscript across the finish line. This has become particularly apparent to me in the last few weeks.

I am currently two weeks off publication day (gasp) and not only do I have my regular job to manage, complete with year-end financials and a pesky ISO annual inspection, I also have to market my upcoming novel with blog posts, tweets, the Book of Face, etc and finish the first draft of my next novel ready for submission to my agent.

It is this that is panicking me the most, I think. I have mentioned before the “Second Album Syndrome” of writing something completely different yet eminently as readable as the first, but in less time and while juggling more balls in the air.

This is where support is important. For the last two weekends, my Other Half has put aside all of his own plans and taken over the role of taxi driver and chief entertainer to deliver my girls to their sporting commitments and keep them amused in order for me to have entire days to myself to focus purely on my word count.

As a result, I hit a record 8,000+ words yesterday alone and the end is in sight. I could not have done it without him. So I want to take a brief moment to give him and my girls a moment of appreciation and show them some love for leaving me alone all weekend.

That said, I’m the one who has to use the time wisely. Any writer will tell you it is far too easy to be distracted in this digital age. I can find myself spending hours on quizzes about how I would be killed off if I was a Game of Thrones character or if I can name 100 Eighties singers from just pictures of their nostrils. Twitter is like a time wormhole that can suck you in and spit you out three hours later dazed and confused. I now know why so many writers announce that they are disappearing from social media for a few weeks in order to finish a project.

I’m not taking such drastic lengths just yet – mostly because I need said social media to whip readers into a buying frenzy in the next two weeks – but I do appreciate everyone who has helped to get me into the predicament I am in with too much to do and too little time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

P.S. It seems fitting to remind you at this point that “The Accident” will be published by Aria on 1 October 2017 and is available to preorder from Amazon and all good ebook retailers.

Channelling my Inner Madonna

Yes, the blog is back. This has been a somewhat sporadic blog over the years, but Loyal Readers will notice a few subtle changes have taken place since I last posted.

First – and most important to me – I can now legitimately call myself an author. My first novel, “The Accident”, will be published by Aria on 1 October 2017 and to say I am beyond excited (scared?) is an understatement.

Secondly, my two small children are not so small anymore. In fact, in a few months I will be the small one as they tower over me in their socks. They are both at secondary school now and (fairly) independently minded, so I find myself able to be more selfish with my time again after a long period as a domestic slave. Of course, in typical fashion, that hasn’t meant taking life at a slower pace or indulging in more relaxation. It has meant starting up a company with my Other Half and committing to a multiple book contract with a publisher…. I have found myself channelling my inner Madonna and reinventing myself at the ripe old age of 43. Who knew I could?

I’ve had a number of questions from wannabe writers about the process, how I got here, whether it was worth it etc, so I figured this was one of the best places to let Loyal Readers into the secrets of this new phase of my life – something I have been pushing to achieve since I was a small child writing stories about Gilroy the Gorilla in pencil in my notebook.

For now, I can tell you that it has been a rewarding, frustrating, exciting, tumultuous path to publication and every step has been worth it. I am currently working on my second book, which is due out next year, and I have to say, it is indeed like making “that difficult follow-up album”. To think I spent years on my first novel in complete selfish isolation, but the second novel is being written to deadline and in full view of the public.

Blog tour news and giveaways coming up as we approach publication day – and of course I’m obliged to mention that preorders of “The Accident” are available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, etc. It’s a digital launch initially, but I’m hopeful that initial sales will prompt a print launch soon.

My word count awaits, but more blogs to follow.

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Notes from my bookshelf #7: Great British Summer reading

I’m having one of those “can I head back to bed” days, not helped by the steadily falling rain as the summer draws to a close, but I have no good reason for hiding under the duvet with a book at 10am, even if the weather is pants. Although an avid reader at the best of times, my summer holiday gives me an opportunity to get through more books than usual, generally from a deckchair with sand between my toes and a packet of Hula Hoops in hand (or huddled under an umbrella with a blanket on my knees and a flask of tea at the ready as my annual holiday is in Cornwall).

I’m not a particularly fast reader, so I tend to be picky about what I read and quite cutthroat in accepting that if a book hasn’t grabbed my attention by the end of the second chapter, then it is resigned to the “don’t bother” pile. Books that others thought were works of literary genius have not cut the mustard with me, such as “The Help”, “The Book Thief” and “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

This summer, I have been on a roll and managed to get through a number of great reads, helped by the great British summer weather more than anything else. I won’t bore you with the full list, but I have picked my three favourites as recommendations:

  • IMG_0973Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts. I admit that I am biased with this one, since I had the pleasure of reading it in an early draft when I attended the Curtis Brown writing course with Alice shortly before she signed with her agent. The plot of the book has essentially remained the same since then, but it is now a tighter, more engaging and gripping novel. Set in Durham University, it follows a police investigation after a girl is found murdered on campus and explores the murky world of slut-shaming, revenge porn and online trolling. The whodunit was not as I expected – and I thought I’d figured it out from the start! Now I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the DI Martin series.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For me, the summer is the perfect time to revisit a classic. Since I have great intentions to read Go Set a Watchman, I figured a reread of Harper Lee’s original book was in order. It was one of my favourites when I was a teenager with dreams of being Harper Lee and rereading it as a 41-year-old with the same dreams – as yet unrealised – I was not disappointed. It is still a favourite and I took so much more away from it this time around (not least of which was a new appreciation of Jem). But most importantly, I completely fell in love with Scout as a character all over again. Now I’m not sure if I want to ruin this by reading Go Set a Watchman in case I’m left disappointed.
  • The Sudden Departure of the Frasers by Louise Candlish. This is one of those reads where you really dislike the main character – in this case Amber Fraser – and you are essentially hoping she comes to a bitter end at some point, which leaves me with a strange unfulfilled and slightly dirty feeling afterwards, but also means the novel stays with me. The plot follows a young couple as they move into their dream house after purchasing it at a bargain price when the previous owners, the Frasers, disappear overnight. The taut atmosphere with their new neighbours intrigues Christy, to the point where she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Amber Fraser to make them leave so abruptly. There are elements of Hitchcock to the story and of Gone Girl in the narrative. The drama and tension is elevated from start to finish and, although I did find some of Christy’s actions a little unfathomable, I was completely caught up in her investigations. If you like Gillian Flynn, you’ll enjoy this one.

Now onto my autumn reading list, when I really can hide under the duvet because the weather is pants. I’m starting with The Maze Runner, my oldest daughter’s recommendation and in honour of her starting high school next month. Put the kettle on, would you?

Tooth fairies and tweenies

It’s 2:39am and I’m sitting at my laptop writing a letter to the Tooth Fairy. It began with the first lost tooth quite a few years ago now when a family friend suggested – within listening distance of my daughter – that in her house the Tooth Fairy is called Stephanie and she writes a letter every time she visits. My daughter then decided to pre-empt the Tooth Fairy’s visit and write her a letter first, asking her all sorts of questions about Fairyland, which she tucked under her pillow with her tooth. The first two or three times were very sweet – questions about Stephanie’s likes and dislikes; how she hopes the Tooth Fairies will be proud of her teeth; asking what they would do with them… However, two children later and the Tooth Fairy is running out of things to say (so far, Stephanie has written 11 letters to my oldest and 15 to my younger daughter).

These visits always seem to come at the most inopportune moments, as though to test my creative reserves. Ten minutes ago, I found myself sitting bolt upright in bed suddenly realising at a God-awful time of the morning that I needed to write another sparkling note, full of magic and rainbow unicorns, as well as find a quid to go with it. Can I also add that I’m half-pissed after hosting a dinner party that only ended half an hour ago. Yes, in our house, the Tooth Fairy only needs to hear the sound of a cork popping for her to magic the teeth out of small mouths.

Besides the obvious disadvantages of forgetting to write a letter, not being able to find a £1 coin when inebriated or the perils of using a laptop under the influence (many a regrettable Facebook post has immediately preceded the art of letter writing in such situations), there are some advantages to being a little bit squiffy when playing my alter ego. In years gone bye, I have concocted stories about whales as best friends, palaces made of teeth and fairies winning their wings like Oscars through creating elaborate kids’ dreams. Anything can end up on the page and the more far-fetched the better when talking all things magical.

This time around, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. Prosecco fuel has conjured up what Stephanie the Tooth Fairy’s favourite film is, the Queen’s favourite books to read and how proud she is at the magical teeth she has procured against all odds, such as wild dogs and stalking cats.

I should relish each adventure into Fairyland as who knows how long this will go on for. My oldest turns 12 in two weeks and it is a small miracle that she still believes at such a ripe old age. To be honest, I don’t think she does; I think she is keeping up appearances for her 9-year-old sister. The clue to this may be in the fact that this time around she waited until four teeth had fallen out until she put them all under her pillow in one go, apparently hoping Stephanie would leave a fairy fiver.

Notes from my bookshelf #6: First One Missing – Tammy Cohen

  • Thrilled to be invited to write this post as part of the Tammy Cohen blog tour and thanks to Sarah Harwood for sending me a copy to review.

I love a good psychological thriller, whether it involves a crime or not, and having recently read Tammy Cohen’s The Broken, I was really looking forward to reading her new novel, First One Missing.

Published yesterday (2 July 2015) by Doubleday, the novel tells the story of four grieving families who are living through every parent’s worst nightmare: the murder of their child. The plot follows the police investigation upon the discovery of another body of a young girl on Hampstead Heath, as told through the eyes of not only Family Liaison Officer Leanne Miller, but also the other forgotten victims of such crimes – the families – as they try to support each other in getting on with their lives.

This is not just a police procedural narrative. Cohen expertly provides a raw, naked insight into familial grief, whether a parent or sibling. The story is told from a number of characters’ points of view, all distinctive from each other, showing how a split-second twist of fate can ripple in numerous directions.

Weaving through the entire narrative is the anti-hero in Jason. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but he is painted so clearly as the suspect initially that I began to worry that there would be no Big Twist, as I have come to expect from such novels. As it turns out, I was not disappointed and I never did guess how it would end.

It is a tense, unpredictable, sometimes uncomfortable read and I couldn’t put it down from page 1. If you’ve never read any of Tammy Cohen’s novels, I urge you to as both this and The Broken – a taut, unnerving psychological drTammy Cohen blog tour posterama involving two couples and what can happen when your best friends divorce – will not disappoint (as I’m sure is the case with the other novels she has written).

As this review is part of a blog tour, I (and you too, I hope – see the attached poster for more details) will be reading the other reviews with interest, but I’m sure I will not be alone in saying that this is a must-read. If you’re going somewhere nice on your summer holidays, make sure you’ve got this one packed in your suitcase.

So what will I be reading next? Tammy Cohen was recently asked about her favourite crime reads and she had the following recommendations. There are two on her list that I have not read yet, so I’ll be packing them in my suitcase, along with Bitter Fruits by Alice Clarke-Platts (also published yesterday by Penguin), a fellow ex-Curtis Brown student and good friend of mine. Look out for my review of Alice’s debut novel in the next few weeks.

My 5 Favourite Crime Books – Tammy Cohen

What is a crime book? Is Jane Eyre a crime book? Bleak House? The Great Gatsby? If all it takes to be a crime book is for a crime to happen, practically every book on my shelves could qualify. So to avoid overloading my brain with too much choice, I’m going to narrow it down to the books where the crime, or the lead up to the crime or its aftermath, is the central focus. Here then are my five crime book choices:

  1. The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

A time-travelling serial killer? Oh puh-lease. I put off reading this book for ages because of my innate resistance to anything sci-fi and the huge leap of faith this novel demands, but Beukes totally pulls it off. This is a dazzling, stomach-churning book with one of the creepiest villains at its dark, twisted heart.

  1. You – Caroline Kepnes

Told from the point of view of an obsessed stalker, this book fizzes with wit and energy and puts the reader in the uncomfortable position of finding themselves a little bit in love with a seriously messed up, homicidal bookseller.

  1. Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Gripping, compulsive, brilliantly written. I tore through this book in a fever, desperate to find out why the respected, middle aged scientist protagonist had ended up in the Old Bailey, and was ridiculously thrilled when my fan-girl tweet was included on the inside cover of the paperback.

  1. Broken Harbour – Tana French

French’s haunting, atmospheric thriller masterfully unpicks the events leading up to the deaths of the Spain family in a falling-apart house on an abandoned, half-built executive housing estate in post-building-boom Ireland.

  1. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

I love it when a book completely wrong-foots you, as this one does, switching from what looks to be a fairly run-of-the-mill kidnapping to something far more subversive. But what really won me over was Lemaitre’s detective hero, Commandant Camille Verhoeven – a stunning creation, psychologically complicated, intellectually brilliant and only 4ft 11ins tall.”

The joy of camping and the great outdoors

My husband and children convince me into a camping trip once a year on average and I suffer through it, not necessarily in silence, because I know how much they enjoy it.

But to me it is an absurd way to spend a weekend. Why would you leave your perfectly comfortable home, complete with soft duvet, springy mattress and flushing toilet, to load up the car with more kit than you would need for a two-week European vacation and drive to a remote part of the countryside to sleep in a field with a few hundred random strangers while foregoing all nods to hygiene for fear of either falling over in the portaloo or catching something unspeakable from the public shower block?

A few weeks ago, our annual trip rolled around and I was hoping that the weather would be so inclement that we could cancel a few days before. Alas, no. The day was glorious and spirits were high. My organisational task was catering the food for the three families that were going, so I did the required shopping trip to buy mini boxes of cereal, ready-made salads and as much steak and burgers as our mini bbq could hold. Other Half’s job was to check the camping gear hadn’t been eaten by mice or squirrels since it was stashed in the garage after last year’s trip and to pack the car.

So far, so good: the cooler box of food and beverages was in; there wasn’t a centimetre of breathing space left in the car; Geoffrey the bulldog had been dispatched to the Dog Hotel for the weekend. We were off – and on schedule! We had chosen a campsite close to West Wittering in the optimistic hope of a bit of beach fun, so all manner of activities had been planned, from cricket on the beach to body-boarding in the non-existent waves.

About half an hour from our destination, OH realised he hadn’t packed the bag containing the beach activities. Ok, not a disaster; we can still have fun building sandcastles and paddling in the water. We carried on for another ten minutes before I asked if he had packed the folding chairs. Apparently not. As if on cue, we passed a caravan shop and did a quick handbrake turn into the car park. He disappeared inside and came out ten minutes later with four new chairs, only to ask if I had packed the bag with all of the picnic stuff in – you know, plates, cups, cutlery, kettle. I reminded him that he had had One Job. He disappeared back into the caravan shop to buy the rest of the essentials that were apparently still sitting in our garage, while I cast an eye behind me and wondered what the hell was actually packed, considering there was no room left in the boot.

Twenty minutes later we were back on the road and a few hundred pounds lighter. The memory of the caravan salesman waving us goodbye while wiping the tears of mirth from his eyes stayed with me for the rest of our journey.

Thankfully, night #1 was fairly uneventful once we had erected the tent (in record time for us, probably because we were both now gasping for some sort of alcoholic beverage to numb the pain of how much this little trip had cost us) and found the loo block (walk past the “organic loos” with your sleeve covering your nose to the portaloos at the end of the road). The bbq was lit, the burgers were sizzling and the kids were laughing and having a great time.

That night, we collapsed onto our newly inflated air mattress and hoped for a good sleep. It was absolutely freezing and I had so many layers of clothes on inside my sleeping bag that turning over or moving in the slightest proved incredibly difficult. I spent the night stuck on my back like an overstuffed worm. All I could hear was whispers from other tents, cows mooing and the traffic rushing past on the road beyond the field. At 6am, with the sun streaming in, I gave up and struggled out of the bag to find OH lying on the hard floor after a puncture in his mattress overnight had caused it to deflate completely.

Day #2 and the weather was promising for our trip to the beach. Sunny, not exactly warm, but the wetsuits would come in handy. We packed up our lunchtime picnic, secured the tents and headed off. The beach was busy, but we found a spot and settled in. Then the wind picked up. Within ten minutes, everything was covered in sand and the temperature had dropped substantially. I looked over at my friend in the chair next to mine and she was wearing two hoodies and a woolly hat – that kind of cold. The kids were ok with it, snug and warm in their wetsuits; the mothers less so. The flasks of tea and coffee came out, as did the picnic lunch, and we sat with our backs to the sea, facing the car park, to shelter from the sand blasting our faces.

And we stubbornly refused to move. We were going to spend the day on the beach if it killed us. However, when three of the children in our group were crying from sand stinging their eyes and a crunchy sandwich held no more appeal, we had to admit defeat and return to the campsite.

Instead, we opted for a game of rounders in the field. It started well. We took turns, the children were gracious in accepting parental advice on how to pitch and no car windows were broken. Then other children from other tents started to join in, the group got bigger, the requests to bat and moaning about not having a go reached fever pitch, strange kids started arguing about the rules and we suddenly realised that we had become the childcare providers for all those other adults sitting in their deckchairs, raising a beer to us in thanks. The game went on for hours. Only once we couldn’t see the ball in the dark were we able to call an end to the “fun”.

While we waited for the steaks to cook, one of the dads in our group decided to check the weather as a precaution. Cue the weather alerts for a storm overnight. The discussion began, as we fought to cut through our steak with plastic knives, occasionally spitting out soggy bits of paper plate, as to whether we were going to stick it out. The general consensus was that we would stay – how much worse could it get?

A lot. The weather overnight can easily be described as torrential. The wind howled, the rain pounded into the thin fabric of our tent, lightening flashed and I found myself getting up every hour to check we hadn’t blown away. My husband, on the other hand, apparently had the best night’s sleep ing ages, now that he was on the mattress without a puncture, and woke the next morning looking fresh and alert. I thought he would come to physical harm when he emerged later than the rest of us, saying chirpily to our friends how much sleep he had had, while they were in the process of cleaning up vomit from the inside of their tent after one of their children had had an explosive dose of motion sickness through the night.

With that, we packed up our bags, took down the battered tent and tried to cover the scorch marks in the grass from our enthusiastic bbq. It was over for another year and I waved in delight and relief at the caravan shop as we passed on our way home.

Next year, I may suggest that someone sticks small pins in my eyes rather than go camping again. However, on the plus side, we have more than enough kit these days and will never run out of chairs, unless we forget to pack them again.

The Big Little Food Fib

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight (almost 4 stone) over a period of about a year. It wasn’t easy, but I managed it through running a lot more, eating less and watching my portion sizes and I have managed to keep the weight off (give or take a few pounds) ever since. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a slave to technology, but one of the most helpful tools in my arsenal during the battle of the bulge has been the mobile app.

I started logging every tiny little thing that passed my lips on MyFitnessPal and every step I took in my trainers on the Nike+ running app. What I came to realise as the weight graph dipped was that all the excuses I used to give – gluten intolerance; thyroid issues; sluggish metabolism; genes – were a load of bollocks. Essentially I ate too much for the amount of calorie-burning going on and the fact that I could eat more pizza than my husband in a single sitting was possibly not a cool talent after all.

In the last few months, that weight has slowly started to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear that it is trying to make a comeback and I’m nervous. I still have the apps and I still use them on a daily basis (well, almost), but little white lies now niggle at my conscience. Where I was dedicated and strict before, I’m now like a rebellious teenager trying to bend the rules and trick the system. Here are the rewritten rules according to the Dawn Diet – none are proven to work, so be careful if you try this at home. I cannot be held responsible for the size of your thighs afterwards.

  • I don’t log anything when I’m on holiday any more. There is nothing more depressing than watching your family tuck into a Mr Whippy while you nibble on a carrot stick, so I eat the Mr Whippy and chalk it up to “creating memories for the kids”.
  • Nothing liquid is counted, from the copious amounts of tea I drink every day to the G&Ts on a weekend. Alcohol in general is on a “need to know” basis. Besides, keeping track of the glasses of prosecco I have when out with girlfriends would a) require my memory to be reliable; and b) make the hangover feel even worse the next day when I realise how many I actually had.
  • Similarly, anything eaten while recovering from a hangover is for medicinal purposes only. The carb fest that generally follows a boozy night out helps to restore order and calm to the broken body and therefore fulfils a vital role in recuperation.
  • Birthdays are sacred and anything consumed on that day has zero calories. My 41st birthday last week was a case in point when I ate three Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a lemon curd muffin before 3pm, followed by a three-course dinner in the evening. The same is true of any birthday celebrations, whether they occur on your actual birthday or are spread out over some weeks (as mine tend to be).
  • Anything eaten in secret remains secret. Admit it, we’ve all hidden behind the kitchen cupboard door and eaten pilfered sweets from the kids’ jars without them noticing or sneaked a few extra chocolates out of the fridge late in the evening. This is made so easy in our house as the utility room fridge holds all of the confectionary, so it is very easy to load my mouth with treats at the same time as loading the washing machine with the whites.
  • Eating the leftovers off your children’s plates also does not count. My mother would remind me often when I was little that there are starving children in Africa who would love to have the leftovers from our plates, so I’m essentially helping to restore order to the world by consuming the half-eaten fish fingers and cold chips left stranded in the kids’ congealing tomato sauce.
  • Anything eaten immediately after any form of exercise, especially when you are still in your lycras, is muscle-building and replaces lost energy. Just as lycra has magical powers to hold all the wobbly bits in place, so the biscuits consumed upon your return to the house has the power to speed up weight loss – but there’s nothing scientific in that theory, so don’t quote me on it.
  • If the day’s good intentions go tits up by lunchtime, the entire day can be written off and anything consumed later in the afternoon is a free for all and doesn’t count. On the flip side, if you have managed to stick to your guns and have resisted all temptation by 9pm, then anything found to be snackable after this point is null and void and you have still managed to log a good day.

Now the question is whether honesty is indeed the best policy or if the little white lies will mean I have a bit more fun (and a wider bottom)? Maybe I’ll log into the app next week….

Notes from my bookshelf #5: The Girl in the Red Coat

Yes, followers, the book review returns. This one is slightly different, however. As an ex-Curtis Brown writing course student myself, I always feel obliged to read all of the offerings from my fellow students who have been lucky enough to secure publishing contracts. I admit that this is a bittersweet pursuit, swinging between feelings of hope that if they can, maybe I can too, through to pangs of envy that they got there first, dammit. So I came at The Girl in the Red Coat determined to read it as a show of solidarity more than because I wanted to read a good yarn, as is usually my motivation.

I expected a story loosely based on Red Riding Hood about a lost girl. What I wasn’t expecting was to be completely captivated and haunted by the story in equal measures, and totally caught up in the mother’s suffering and the daughter’s determined spirit.

Similar to other offerings from ex-CB students (such as The Miniaturist, for instance), it is a beautifully written book, which is testament to the team at Curtis Brown and the course tutors who helped us to fine-tune our ideas into workable manuscripts. But this novel goes beyond beautifully crafted syntax and imagery. It is rich with layers of mystery and cleverly dotted with all things red. Carmel is a constructed as the kind of daughter we would all want to have, independent and strong despite the situation in which she finds herself. The mother had me crying on more than one occasion and I empathised with her sense of loss and helplessness.

Parallel to this is Carmel’s “special gift” and why she was chosen by her captor, with the different strands of plot knitting together to form a narrative constructed like a dialogue between the daughter and the mother, as though they are talking just to each other, the bond never broken.

I read it in two days, couldn’t put it down until I had found out what had happened and there are very few books of late that I have connected with so strongly. Do yourself a favour and read it.

Ah, the memories… or not

Yesterday, while scrabbling around in the attic for my old school copy of “Macbeth” for my daughter, I came across a dusty box containing my old diaries. For most of my high school years, I wrote every thought, feeling and angst-ridden memory down on those pages, so you can imagine how heavy the box was when I wrestled it down the rickety stepladder.

What quickly became apparent, apart from the melodrama that goes hand in hand with being a teenager, was that a fair-size portion of it I just do not remember. Some Big Events – the school disco; the first broken heart; exam time – are still riding high in my consciousness, but the day-to-day stuff that I spent so much time agonising (and crying) over seems to have been wiped from memory. Probably for my sanity.

Paging through, I started thinking about what I have chosen to remember – and, more importantly, what I have chosen to forget. For instance, if you ask me to sing the lyrics to any number of the songs I listened to back then in the good old eighties, I can word for word (but not necessarily in tune). I can still remember my old home phone number and the phone numbers of some of my friends (in the days before mobile phone contact lists); the names of my best and worst teachers, and various acquaintances from primary school and their siblings; the bubble skirts, long jumpers and lime eyeshadow I wore to a number of discos; the taste of the chips with a curry sauce splash from Liu’s, the Chinese takeaway at the end of our road; how much a quarter of rhubarb and custard sweets cost out of my dinner money on the way home from school; even the number of the bus I used to take.

However, when it comes to my present life, I struggle to remember the names of my children on a daily basis. I often find myself telling them off for something or other and calling them by the wrong name, which always takes the sting out of my wrath when they hear their mother stumbling over who it is she is supposed to be chastising.

The other day I walked into the kitchen, went clockwise around the island, only to find myself back where I started and none the wiser as to why I was there in the first place. I then went anti-clockwise in case that would help, was still none the wiser and went back upstairs. Only then did I remember what it was I had wanted (a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive).

There are other things that I can’t remember that would be quite useful to know, like how we did long division or algebra at school. Nor can I remember the date of the Battle of Hastings, which order the kings and queens reigned in or how many terms of office Margaret Thatcher had in the end. And there is always one of the seven dwarves I can’t name.

I’m not going to dwell unduly on this though. I will embrace it for what it is: a sign that I shouldn’t have any more children if I have a hope in hell of remembering who they are and that I’m rubbish at pub quizzes unless the questions feature 80s pop lyrics or the bus timetable for the No34 through Bedlington.