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.

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.

Working Girl

I admit I have neglected my blog of late, and I would love to say it is because I have been on a whirlwind of excitement, immersed in a new project that makes me bound out of bed every day… Alas, no.

My three-day job as an editor recently became a five-day post and I suddenly find myself a full-time working mum for the first time since I had my youngest daughter in 2003 (yes, my oldest spent most of her infancy in childcare while I was still under the illusion that I could have a career and be a contented mother – but that’s a story for another blog post).

And I have to admit it, the transition has been very difficult. I was under the impression (supported by other people) that I used to do very little on my two days off a week – maybe a little laundry, some shopping, meeting friends for coffee… But now that I no longer have those days, I realise just how much I actually used to achieve.

At the moment I have five days of juggling the morning school run, starting work, household admin and grocery shopping in my very short lunch hour, more work, interspersed with various trips to school to pick up various children and deliver them to extracurricular activities, as well as a fair number of muted conference call meetings on my mobile in the school playground, cooking a number of meals depending on whether OH is home or not, cleaning bath crayon graffiti off the bathroom tiles, fitting in a run or a trip to the gym in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, logging onto the network in the dead of night to catch up on something I missed while on the school run, and holding sensible conversations with colleagues, friends, my husband….. It goes on.

I look at my friends and we are all in a similar boat in that on top of trying to remain active and viable in the workplace, we have the added pressures of having to remember that it is Victorian Dress-Up Day and child #1 needs a themed lunchbox; child #2 has a friend coming for tea who doesn’t eat cheese, meat or fish; homework needs to be supervised; child #2 spilt ice lolly down her ballet leotard and will have to have it washed before her next lesson; both have a number of birthday parties that require suitably educational yet fun presents – all of this is what my two days off were for!

Having said all that, would I have it any other way? Probably not. I took time off for maternity leave with each of my children and was a vacant, blubbering mess by the end of it, with OH begging me to return to work for his and my sanity. The good news is my current work-life balance will resume in August when the project I am working on concludes and I can return to my happy, balanced, three working days a week. As they say, everything in moderation – even work if you are lucky enough.

In the meantime, I have learnt some valuable life lessons during this hectic period: eating Haribo for breakfast because you don’t have time for anything else will lead to a stomach ache; always check you are not wearing your slippers before you leave the house; sprinkling magic calming dust over yourself, closing your eyes and counting to 10 really does help to calm you down when in a full-blown rant (courtesy of my 9 year old); and never trust the mute button on a mobile phone.

 

Laughter is the Best Medicine

My six-year-old daughter has been trying to make me laugh all afternoon. However, because I do not find her silly faces and ridiculous dance moves in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket the least bit funny, she declared, “Mum, you never laugh.”

This is not true. In fact, I have been known to laugh until a little bit of wee comes out on numerous occasions, usually inappropriately. However, upon reflection, it is true that I don’t laugh as much when it comes to my children, which is quite a sobering thought. This is usually because I am the “bad cop” of the house, the one who instills law and order, who lays down the rules, and dishes out the punishments, while my Other Half is Mr Fun, the Tickle Monster, the “let’s run through the lounge throwing a rugby ball to each other” guy.

My children don’t get to see my silly side very often – when I am a bottle of prosecco down and laughing with abandonment while dancing at a friend’s birthday ceilidh, or sniggering uncontrollably at the school quiz night. When we went on holiday with friends over the Jubilee, I laughed so much that I literally returned home with aching cheeks and sore stomach muscles.

I do find my children funny, but usually it is at something they have done that shouldn’t be funny. Like when my toddler, when toilet training, sat on the loo without checking her training seat was in place and fell into the toilet. Or when the same toddler ran full-speed into the glass doors in the Apple Store in Boston and knocked herself off her feet. Or when my older daughter sledged into a tree, closely followed by her father.

All of these things are very funny; listening to a nine-year-old’s attempts at telling jokes is not. That said, I really should just let my hair down and relax a bit more with the kids as I’m sure they think I am dull and boring. Recently, I suggested we have a handstand competition late one Friday night and their faces lit up (yes, I had had a couple of glasses of wine and it seemed like a good idea t the time until I fell on my head) because Mum was being silly.

Of course, if I start playing the “good cop”, Mr Fun is going to have to take over as “bad cop” and I sense it could go all “Police Academy” in our house. Chances are none of us will make it out in one piece.

 

 

The Gift of Giving

With December comes the stress of choosing that perfect gift and making all of those dreams listed in the Christmas list to Santa come true. However,while my children now come with a handy guide in the guise of their letters to Santa – although sometimes there are ridiculous requests that cannot be entertained, such as a pet panda – my husband is not as easy to please. He doesn’t read books, listen to any particular music or play computer games. He does indulge in extreme sports, but gifts in this category are well and truly out of my price range. So what to do when it comes to choosing something clever, interesting and – dare I say – romantic?

I was out with some girlfriends last week for Christmas cocktails and our conversation turned to the topic of giving at Christmas. They were all adamant that they have learnt not to expect their husbands to buy them anything any more. After years of watching their husbands’ tortured faces in the shops on Christmas Eve buying anything they can get their hands on, they have all decided that the best idea is to buy something for themselves and then get their other halves to wrap it up and put it under the tree. I get that this means you receive something you really want and like, but it is too easy for my liking. Surely my other half should be spending as much time agonising over the perfect gift as I do for the entire family? Why should it be easier for him when he doesn’t have to think of interesting gifts for the children, extended family, neighbour or old Mrs Beatty down the road?

I expect a surprise under the tree every year – something that shows my other half has thought about my likes and dislikes, and that he may occasionally listen to what I am saying when I am dropping enormous hints over our morning porridge. Some years he gets it right – especially when throwing money at the problem and going for the small and sparkly option (she hints in case he happens to be reading this before Christmas) – and other years he has missed the boat completely. Our first Christmas together was a case in point when he decided that two porcelain pigs were a good idea. For sentimental reasons, I still have them – and to remind him of what not to buy.

I recently overheard my mother complaining to my father about this very topic. When she asked if she would have anything to open on Christmas morning, his prompt response about his trousers elicited giggles from her and retching from me as I hastened from the room. Too much information.

So in the spirit of giving at this festive time of year, as I frantically organise next-day deliveries and battle the hordes of women elbowing through John Lewis, I hope you all get something you really want, as well as a little surprise on Christmas morning that reminds you that Christmas is more than the receiving; it is seeing the joy on their faces when you get it right for a change.

*please let it be small and sparkly… please let it be small and sparkly…*

So here it is… Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again – and the older I get, the less I seem to enjoy it, which saddens me a little. When I was a child – and even into my early twenties as a newlywed – I loved everything about Christmas: the shopping, decorating, singing and shameless gluttony that makes it the most special time of the year. This is partly due to my childhood when Christmas was an “all or nothing” affair, with everything sparkly thrown at it in abundance, so I learnt early on that if you hadn’t reached a point of near hysteria from excitement on Christmas Eve, then you weren’t doing it properly.

Then I had children. Many say that Christmas gets better when you are a spectator to their excitement. Not me. I remember my first Christmas after having my oldest daughter. The house was decorated within an inch of its life, I had bought every conceivable plastic pink toy there was for my three-month old, we had the in-laws visiting and a turkey that was bigger than the baby. I was beside myself with joy at the thought of my daughter’s first Christmas and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the present exchange. However, half an hour later, my angelic child was playing with the wrapping paper and had shown no interest in the actual toys; the dog had eaten half of the chocolates under the tree and been sick on the carpet; my in-laws had repeatedly expressed their disapproval at the extravagance of the gifts; and the oven wouldn’t heat up. The final straw came when I noticed my measly little pile of gifts – substantially smaller than other years – and I opened them to find that the most interesting gift was a neon-coloured potato peeler from my mother in-law. I remember standing in the shower, sobbing and repeating to myself, “Christmas is all about the kids… sob sob… Christmas is all about the kids.” Yes, I am well aware that this makes me sound incredibly spoilt and selfish, but the realisation that Christmas now meant that I had to be the grown-up in charge of the food, buying presents, writing cards, writing thank-you cards, and inviting random relatives so that no-one feels left out came as a bit of a shock. That was my mother’s job, not mine!

Nine years later and I have embraced my new role with reluctance. For the last two weeks, I have helped with the Christmas Bazaar at school, and contributed various bits and bobs for nativity costumes and school decorations. I have braved the parking nightmares and teeming shops to finish 90% of the gifts (a risk considering that only one child has written a list for Santa so far – including an iPad, which has been conveniently ignored as Santa is in a recession too – and who knows what the other child will come up with). I have started writing the cards and booked my online grocery delivery for 23 December. I think I have covered all the bases. Oh, and on top of all that, it is my wedding anniversary next week, so I have arranged an evening out, complete with babysitter.

But most importantly, I have endured all of the year-end exams and gradings – three dance presentations; two karate gradings; one nativity play; one orchestra concert; and one carol concert – and made myself available (with a fair amount of blagging out of work) for nearly every single one – and trust me, my daughter piled on the guilt about the one event I did miss. Someone asked me yesterday if I am feeling festive and, thinking about it, this is when I am most in the Christmas spirit: when I am sitting in front of 240 five- and six-year-olds dressed in various costumes – from lopsided angels to dodgy donkeys – belting out “We wish you a merry christmas” with glee while I sit in between two bleary-eyed, hungover dads suffering from their Christmas parties the night before and intoxicating me with their stale alcoholic breath, and my daughter, with her front tooth missing, is waving from the stage. That’s when I realise that Christmas is about the children and how proud we are as parents.

Even the mom who’s toddler farted really loudly during yesterday’s ballet presentation.