Wednesday, 28 December 2011
On Saturday my resolutions will be as follows:
1 I will not eat anything with sugar in it, so will be two stone lighter by March.
2 I will run three miles five times a week, so will be two stone lighter by March.
3 I will limit Twitter usage to ten minutes per day.
4 I will listen to, and heed, the advice given to me by those wiser than I.
5 I will not shout at my children. At all. No matter what they do. Even if they walk muddy boots through the house just after I've mopped the floor. Yep. No shouting. None.
Mark Twain, a man far wiser than I, once wrote:
New Year's day...is now the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
So with some careful searching through the words of those wiser than I, then listening to, and heeding, the advice (and therefore fully abiding by Resolution Number 4), I can happily restart scoffing chocs, slobbing, Tweeting, and shouting on Monday 2nd January 2012, safe in the knowledge that keeping to one of my five resolutions will absolutely, definitely, bring me closer to that David-esque ideal. Brilliant!!
Happy New Year! xx
Monday, 19 December 2011
However, I have had to work hard to battle this innate disorganistion, because, on paper, the next ten days look horrendous. The family (my parents, grandmother, and sister's crowd) are coming to us on Christmas Day, we have friends for supper on Boxing Day, three families joining us on the 29th, and four families, staying (yes, staying) on New Year's Eve. It's a social train wreck. I predict death and destruction (my husband's death, my sanity's destruction). But rather than panic I have frozen the sauces. I have also remembered to have my annual haircut, then if all else goes tits-up at least my hair will look good. And anyway, my mother likes me coiffed, it's actually her ideal Christmas present: me, coiffed and not weaing my muddy old jeans. (Happy Christmas, Mum!). Slight problem with the haircut: while I was resolutely ignoring the grumpy old crone, with her frightful, pale and tired-looking face, staring out from the mirror in front of me, I lost concentration and, without thinking properly, said to the teenage colourist the fatal words: "Do something Christmassy. Something fun. Suprise me!" I should have noticed the glint in her eye, the gleeful set of her mouth, the speed with which she dashed off to prepare the colours for my highlights. When I opened my eyes three hours later the old crone had pinkish stripes in her hair, a cross between a tabby cat and Amelia Lily, only with wrinkles. More worryingly the old crone appeared to be me.
So with frozen sauces, pink hair, and the spectre of Christmas cards removed, I am ready, as ready as I'll be. The only thing left to worry about is the bird. I had no idea how expensive a free-range Turkey was. I have remortgaged the house to pay for ours. I presume the beast was fed exclusively on smoked salmon, caviar and lobster tails, that it slept in a gilded nest on the top floor of the Savoy Hotel with views of Buckingham Palace, and was treated to daily massages with it's best friend, Wagyu Cow. Considering I think I prefer chicken to turkey anyway, the knowledge that I could have bought two chooks for a fifth of the price of this Prince of Birds is weighing heavily. Will the damn thing fit in the oven? Will I overcook it? Will I drop it? The pressure is tampering with my hairdo. If I had one wish, it would be that I was the Queen or Victoria Beckham, and had Delia on speed dial. I'm not and I don't, so I suppose it's just old fashioned hope and a very large glass of gin.
Happy Christmas! I hope you get a good walk in, enjoy the Ab Fab Christmas special and get at least one purple one from the Quality Street tin.
See you on the other side...
Monday, 12 December 2011
As soon as I arrived to pick her up from school I could tell things weren't quite right. "Are you okay?" I asked.
She shook her head, her face contorted into that cartoonish sad-mouth that only small children can carry off. "I don't like what I am in the play."
"What are you?"
"I...I'm..." There was a long pause, followed by a dramatic palms-over-face, and finally a banshee wail. "I'm...a...CHHIICCKENNNN!"
This drama-queen gene is carried by all the women in our family, including myself, so I had full sympathy. I swallowed my laughter, gathered her on to my lap and told her what an important part the Chicken plays in the Christmas story. Thankfully, her teacher sensed her uncertainty, and the following day bestowed on her the pinnacle of responsibility. Presumably due to the lack of a Chistmas Stork in this nativity-meets-ET extravaganza, it was now the Christmas Chicken's role to present the Baby Jesus to Mary at the appropriate moment.
So there I am, not long after, crammed into the hall with the other mums and dads, all of us grinning indulgently, as we watch a small group of colourful Aliens crash-land on Earth, stumble across a nativity production, and ultimately learn the importance of pre-booking hotel rooms. And then when Joseph, Mary, and a donkey in grey pyjamas, reach the stable, my eyes fall on my Chicken. She seemed agitated, looking madly around her, trying to get the teaching assistant's attention. The TA ignores her concern and ushers her on to the stage, along with the Christmas Pig, the Christmas Sheep and the Christmas Chick (my Chicken has a baby! Very proud). I hold my breath. This is her moment. The delivery of the baby to his yawning mother. My Chicken walks up to the edge of the stage and, in sotto voce worthy of any am-dram farce, says: "someone's taken the Baby Jesus." Then she makes a who-cares-anyway face, and the nativity continues without the main character, until all the Aliens are safely back in their spaceship, taking the story of Christmas home to those corners of the Universe it has yet to reach.
In peculiar juxtaposition, three hundred miles away, before the start of another nativity, two fathers get into a fight. During this kerfuffle one of them bites the other one's finger off.
Did you hear that? He bit the finger OFF.
Now call me old-fashioned, but as far as I'm aware a primary school nativity play is the least appropriate place for biting anyone's finger off, least of all someone else's. A dog fight, a death metal concert, or a Mike Tyson appreciation convention would be far more suitable events for such dedigitation. Perhaps in the future we should provide shepherd crooks at the door so any would-be finger-eaters could grab a couple on the way in and shoot each other instead.
That or make sure there are enough mince pies to go around...
Monday, 5 December 2011
"You should buy a Miele, dearest."
"We have a Hotpoint."
"It's broken. You must get a Miele. My Miele has never broken. I've had my Miele 18 years. My Miele has never let me down."
When the Man-Who-Knows-Washing-Machines finally pronounced ours deceased, we decided to take her advice; I was desperate, on the verge of tears and wearing bikini bottoms in place of pants. Don't get me wrong, I am not a domestic goddess by any means (my eldest daughter, when aged three, picked up a plastic iron in the Early Learning Centre, and - no joke - asked what it was), but there is something deeply depressing about seeing each of your children morph into Stig of the Dump, about humongous piles of washing growing in the corner of every room, about cupboards stuffed full of grubby towels and sheets. I felt dreadfully spoilt and princessy, moaning about laundry when the economy is going to the dogs and poverty ravages the lives of 1 billion people globally. I reminded myself that only a few hundred years previously I would be sat at the mangle for hours each day, my red-raw fingers scrubbing cinders off rags, while I scolded the children for playing marbles too loudly, and looked forward to bread-and-dripping for supper. None of this helped. I was down to my last pair of bikini bottoms. Soon, I'd be going commando. This scared me.
So, when my Miele arrived, I have to admit, sod the three births and the wedding, this was the happiest day of my life. I literally screamed with euphoric glee. Shiny and new, it glowed in all its Miele glory, its proverbial chest puffed up, muscles flexed.
"You must not vorry any more, Frau Jennings," it purred in authoritative, Germanic tones. "I am here and I vill vosh all of your clozes."
"But Meile," I said, crying tears of ecstatic joy. "How? This mountain of washing..?"
"Zis is no match for me, Frau Jennings. Voshing warst piles of voshing is vot I do best."
And then Miele - with his multitude of programs, his helpful display, his temperature variations, his soft-wash, extra-wash, short-wash, and variable spin - voshed and voshed and voshed, until finally my children stop resembling grubby street-urchins and I am wearing normal pants. These are happy days. You are now safe to venture into my home.
One thing though, if you do come and visit, you mustn't go into the spare room....
...unless you want to help me sort and fold.
Monday, 28 November 2011
Don’t tell those involved, but I loathe the end of November. In fact, I dread it. Firstly, I dread the cakes. This might seem strange, especially to those who know me (skinny I ain’t), it’s just we end up with a surfeit of cakes that makes the EU butter mountain look merely hilly. One for daddy - always pink, always sparkly, perfect for the only man in a household/menagerie of 14 (the boy dog had his bits off, so doesn’t really count). One for each child on their birthday, one for each child's party, one for each child to take to school, and then, occasionally, if the grandparents can’t make the mid-week birthdays, another on the weekend. Bejeezus. It’s cake for tea, cake for lunch, cake for breakfast, cake for the dogs’ dinner, cake for the chickens, and when even the chickens have had enough bloody cake, it goes out for the pigeons and squirrels, who, incidentally, also eventually get bored of cake.
And then there are the cards. Oh dear, I’m not good with cards. My husband LOVES cards. In his house, growing up, cards stayed on the mantelpiece, as far as I can tell, for the entire year. In my house they get swept into the recycling bin within a few hours – as soon as the first one blows over when the front door opens. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing cards, and reading cards – though I would say, and here I'll wager I’ll make myself terribly unpopular, if you are going to the trouble of buying a card only to write ‘To X, Happy Birthday, from Y’, don’t bother. You might as well send a text. Please, write a message of love, a joke, or even a simple: ‘I saw this card and thought of you’. I know. I know. I’m on my own here. The lone voice of card-fascism. Fine. Keep writing boring cards, keep them on the window sill for three months, dust around them and spend your hours repeatedly re-standing them. Blame my cynicism on the birthday deluge.
She stared at me for a moment or two, considering if she should answer, and then said, “I’m just a bit fed up.”
“It doesn’t matter ,” she said then, turning over and pulling up her covers. “It’s Christmas in a few days; I'll have some presents then.”
And that’s the other problem with three birthdays at the end of November. Just as the pigeons are getting bored of cake, Christmas decends on us. More cake. More cards...
Epilogue: I have just remembered my vow to out-Christmas the most Christmassy of them, as stated, in writing, in my blog post dated Novemer 7th. Bugger. I might have to turn to drink to get through this one...
Appendix: My husband has just told me this post is too grumpy. Apologies. Do feel free to re-read last week's post if you need something jollier! Or hold out for next week, of course. *winks and then goes for a slice of cake*
Monday, 21 November 2011
Monday, 14 November 2011
We found our way to Gangway 309, which now felt like Room 101. The first match was Ladies Singles. Two women, nubile, tanned and toned, throwing their perfect early-twenty something bodies around Number 1 Court for my so-called enjoyment. I let my mind drift. I thought about those first wiry grey hairs that had appeared a few years earlier. How I used to tear them out with angry fervour, but how, now they came in such numbers, I left them be, content to let them reproduce and multiply. Wrinkles I ignored. Aching joints didn’t surprise me anymore. I’d even grown used to having to stretch my arm out as far as possible in order to read words on a menu. A few years ago I met a passive aggresive American publisher who told me categorically that no person had anything of merit to say until they passed the age of forty-five. I was thirty-three, opinionated, educated and full of passionate aspiration. I stomped home, huffing and puffing, finding her dismissiveness both narrow-minded and misguided. I put her comment down to her jealousy of my comparative youth. Everybody, of every age, has something to say, I grumbled. All opinion is valid. Youth has a voice and that voice has a right to be heard.
Roll on the glorious arrival of Wisdom. I'm ready for you now.
Monday, 7 November 2011
|My middle witch|
|Is that a face in that scary fire?!!|
On the way home I tell the girls we are going all out for Christmas this year. We're going to out-Christmas the Christmas best of them, even Delia and Kirsty. Christmas music will play all day every day, there will be gingerbread making, christmas cake baking, and unpoliced glitter shaking. We are even going carol singing on Christmas eve. At which point my husband groans and puts his bonfire-sooty hands over his ears. "Enough! Enough! Please stop," he begs. "Can't we have a quiet one this year? Just us. No fuss. Look, I tell you what, you guys can get dressed up warmly and then knock on the door and sing carols just for me!"
I guess his fun was all used up on November...
Monday, 31 October 2011
I blame my reading material. My first memorable book (after the Enchanted Wood, the Famous Five, and every Asterix book I could lay my eight-year-old hands on) was Susan Cooper's monumental The Dark is Rising Sequence. I quite literally climbed on to her magic carpet and let her fly me to a world of seventh sons of seventh sons, The Light versus The Dark, amulets, runes, Old Ones, Walkers and Sleepers. My heart raced and my hands scrabbled to turn the pages as I ate up her words. A year or two older and my need for that adrenalin hit took a darker turn. Bypassing the Judy Blumes and Jilly Coopers (okay, maybe I did read Riders, but wasn't that on the curriculum?), I landed upon Virginia Andrews. Her twisted, sinister writing found the dark nooks and crannies of my teenage brain and fed them incarcerated children, sibling incest, abuse and torture, and then finally the mind-altering paragraphs that described the family dog, tethered and dead, a bag of bones, sores around its neck from desperate attempts to reach the bowl of water left just inches beyond its reach. That hit me hard. We had a menagerie growing up. We have our own now. A life without animals around me is unthinkable. But I haven't yet written a story that doesn't include a dead pet.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
I am grateful for her every day. Fact.
It is because of bananas that she is my agent. Fact.
'She' is the paragon of patience and generous provider of tissues and shoulder I will hereafter refer to as The Lovely One. Ensnaring The Lovely One was simple (ish). I merely tempted her out of her agenty lair with bananas. Not the well-packaged yellow is-it-really-a-fruit enjoyed by cartoon monkeys, but bananas of the semi-humorous kind.
The story of my route to becoming an almost published author is not an unusual one. There was no headline-worthy six figure sum, no ravenous editors fighting over my book at auction, but there were a number of long, and sometimes lonely, years of bringing up my babies and writing whenever they fell asleep or got the lego out. There was the first book. Then the second. (The first crashed and burned). The tortuous trawling through the Writers' Yearbook in search of a suitable (read 'any') agent, agonising over evil (still so evil) synopses, the excessive printing of chapters and introductory letters, and remortgaging to cover postage. Then there was the awful wait before rejection letters fell like confetti on the mat. Funnily enough you soon you begin to enjoy the rejections, albeit in a faintly masochistic way. My all time favourite came via email from Intern8@wellknownagency.co.uk. Intern...EIGHT, not even one, two or three. This was a girl who was literally at the bottom of the unpaid pile of pre-school (possibly) people who between making tea, filling the printer, and sending her CV to television production companies (possibly), decided to send me a two line email with two spelling mistakes, thanking me for sending my first three chapters - that had only taken me a hundred years of blood, sweat and my kids’ tears to write - but that it wasn't really Our Sort of Thing. I laughed at that one (maniacally, whilst jamming a fork into my thigh, of course). But soon the rejections begin to wear you down. The confidence ebbs. The shoulders hunch, the mouth saddens, and the eyes lose their sparkle. Just as I was ready to throw my keyboard out for the bin man, a ray of light. Not one but two agents requested to read the rest of my manuscript. One thought my writing had a 'haunting quality'...the other liked my 'voice'!! I was ecstatic again. Note: this emotional alternation between extreme high and extreme low is something the would-be writer needs to get used to. It happens a lot.
Then followed another excruciating wait before the two rejections appeared within days of each other. That bit was tough, though amidst the disappointment there was a single chink of hope. One of the agents, The Lovely One, offered to take another look at the book if I happened to do any work on it. I think she was just being polite. Because she is. I wrote her a thank you letter (if I can pass any advice on it would be to send thank you letters. People like being thanked. Thank you is a greatly underused phrase considering it's weight to length ratio) and then did what any loving, committed mother slash desperate author would do. I ignored the children for six months and rewrote the entire thing.
Following three days of nervous hesitation I plucked up the courage to recontact The Lovely One. I asked her if she was still interested in seeing the rewrite. I explained that I had fed my three girls nothing but bananas - quick, nutritious, and filling - for half a year, and said I was pleased with the result (of the rewrite as opposed to the neglected off-spring). The Lovely One wrote back to say she would take a look, but only if I promised to feed my daughters. Two weeks later an email appeared to say the banana diet had been worth it. It was Champagne time! We signed a contract shortly after. And though I can safely say it's been a long and bumpy ride - the book we signed on also crashed and burned amid another matful of rejection letters, a third book was written, and rewritten, and rewritten again - with many bouts of tears (mine) and wise words (hers), our shared sense of humour kept us glued together. Three years after the banana quip I signed a deal with Constable and Robinson.
So, if anybody asks me if I have any advice on finding an agent, for what it's worth:
Make sure your children like bananas.
Make sure your agent laughs at banana jokes.
And don't forget your thank you letters.
Monday, 17 October 2011
A bit about me: three daughters, two large dogs, two fluffy cats, six chickens of various sizes, a husband, and a book out - yes, out, I'm still pinching myself - in August 2012 with Constable and Robinson. I'm starting to think about publication, and why, how, when and where, people might buy my book. Promotion. A little voice in my head. Promotion. The thing won't sell itself. One chance. Don't blow it. Think: Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. Website. Snog someone notable. Boris Johnson? (yuk), Clive Owen? (now we're talking).
Though guaranteed to help, snogging celebrities is not an option as the Husband seems unreasonably opposed to the idea. Back to traditional methods then. I looked at the list. Facebook was done, up and running, and you know? I get Facebook. Photos. Messages on walls. Replies to messages on walls. It's virtual stalking, right? Like I said, I get it. I have about a hundred and fifty friends, 60% of which I actually know, perfectly respectable for a technophobe of my age and standing. So, Facebook. Tick. Next Twitter? This is a bit more of a problem. Three years ago I opened/started/twitterered an account. Then I stared at it. For a long time. What to tweet? What to tweet? What to tweet... There was nothing and so I left it at that, a barren username with no meat or pastry, hanging lonely and followerless in the ether. But last Friday I tried again. I turfed Daughter 1 off the computer, ignoring her disgruntled, teenage mumblings. 'I need to work,' I said, unsympathetic to her Powerpoint homework she was halfway through. As she muttered her way out of the study I took a deep breath. 'Be brave,' I thought. 'You can do this.'
Just start with a profile description. So I wrote one, set it, sat back and stared at it on the screen. It didn't look too bad. 'Ok, you're up and running, girl. It's a walk in the park.' But then I got a couple of followers!!! The pressure nearly killed me. How to be funny? Or was funny too try-hard? Was one supposed to be funny? I read some people's (tweeple's?) tweets. Perhaps I should recommend a website or a blog or retweet something. I panicked all of Friday and all of Saturday and finally went with '...been staring at Twitter trying to tweet for two hours...' or something like that. Genius, eh?! Then the doorbell rang; 25 people had arrived for lunch. I shut the computer down, fed 13 kids shepherd's pie and 12 adults curry. Coffees all round. Red wine. Chocolate brownies. Bendicks Mints. Ribena on the carpet. Dog fight. Last person leaves at seven in the evening. Washing-up pile the size of a mountain and the dishwasher already on. Help...school uniform! My book, as is normal, is forgotten amidst the chaos.
But this morning I'm back at the computer. I have a second book to finish by the end of the year, an author photo to have taken (weight loss required), and didn't I say I would write a blog as well? Bolstered by a you'll-be-fine tweet from a new follower, and scarily successful, Kate Colquhoun (review in The Telegraph, April 2011, for her book Mr Briggs' Hat - '...unputdownable'), I am feeling up for it. I tweeted this morning - twice - and decided this was the day I would start my blog. But what should be my USP (unique selling point as opposed to University of Sao Paulo)? I log on early with a cup of tea while the kids are eating breakfast, and in the middle of the first sentence of my brand new blog Daughter 2 treads in cat sick and Daughter 3 tells me she has a headache and feels sick. She's hot too, however much I blow cool air on her forehead before feeling her. No school for her...
And with this comes the birth of Three Girls and a Pen: Juggle Juggle Toil and Trouble. It might not be unique, but it's all I know.