Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Funny, Scary, True

As NaNoWriMo looms, and the prospect of co-writing a book with my mum in the space of a month thuds like a mallet on my brow, this made me laugh (and then seriously reconsider the whole idea).

(With thanks to my friend, Ross).

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Do I make myself clear?

This morning my WPC (Wonderful Polish Cleaner) came to the new house for the first time. She arrived much later than usual but as I am to Polish cleaners what doormats are to feet, it wasn't mentioned. I made my usual attempt to explain to her which bits I wanted her to clean, and she nodded and said 'OK' a lot, and we both knew that she was going to clean the bits she wanted to clean anyway.

After a good hour of 'Dog' - the game where I pretend to be . . . a dog (who speaks with a gruff woofing voice, eats plastic food and is patted quite heavily by saliva-covered hands courtesy of The Teething Boy), I decided that the novelty of having a newly-moved-into fridge that didn't contain past-it food was wearing thin because we actually had no food at all, and so we got ready for Sainsbury's.

On our way out, WPC managed a fantastic mime of "You need kitchen towel" and sternly told me to "Buy Viakal." It was our best conversation in weeks and I left the house with a spring in my step.

In the cleaning products aisle, I had a flash of guilt remembering that before WPC we were almost chemical free - I'd even managed to convince The Australian that Ecover products were just as good, not too expensive and much nicer smelling (he's more a Cillit Bang sort). But the thought of returning without the Viakal, and attempting to explain why I don't want WPC to use it, despite the twinkly-shininess... It was the last bottle on the shelf, so I promised myself that this would be our last bottle - after all, we'd just had an almost-conversation so who knew what I'd be able to communicate in a few weeks.

On the way home, I bought the children a small present to say well done for moving house and not grumbling or whining all week while I unpacked and only played very short bursts of Dog. "But we didn't move house," said The Girl. Shit, I thought, she hasn't got the concept, she thinks we're on holiday or something, she'll be horribly traumatised. "Actually," she continued, "our old house was stuck down to the ground too hard so we couldn't move it, so what we had to do was put everything in boxes and take it to a new house." You can't argue with that.

Later, as WPC was leaving and the twinkly-shininess was on maximum glare, I tried to mime "How is your daughter's arm?" (She broke it a fortnight ago.) WPC looked confused. I tapped my arm, "She broke her arm?" I said. "Oh, 10 o'clock, maybe," said WPC. "No, no, I mean her arm, your daughter's arm," I said, smacking my arm quite hard now. "Umm, 10.30?" she said, and drew 10.30 on the shiny workbench. I realised she thought I was jabbing the imaginary giant watch on my arm to tell her off for being late, and that it was possible her daughter had never broken her arm at all and I'd just misunderstood something and might make it worse by continuing my shitty mimes, so I let it go. Now she thinks I'm a hardnut clock-watching employer. I will lose sleep over this.

After tea, while I was out of the room trying to convince The Boy that stair-climbing is not a milestone, The Girl decided to do an elaborate felt-tip drawing on the white dining table. I told her off with my gruff Mummy voice (which sounds a lot like Dog, incidentally) and confiscated her bucket of pens, waiting for that sorrowful look as I relegated them to the top cupboard. "Never mind!" she piped up with glee. "I'll just go and play with something else! Isn't that a good idea, Mum?" And she skipped away, leaving me to wonder what Viakal's like on table-top felt-tip works of art.

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Friday, 19 October 2007

Lose Pounds! Fast!

The "Moving House" Diet

Guaranteed and Safe(ish)*!

This week I have been trying to shift some excess fat, FAST! The results are AMAZING**. 

Packing up your house in the presence of small children is not easy - they want to get in the box, they want to get everything out of the box, they want to put things in the box that you don't want in there, they want to draw on the box (fine), with peanut butter (not fine), they want you to play doctors/teachers/dinosaurs with them and no they will not accept a variation of those games (doctors-who-are-packing/teachers-who-are-packing/dinosaurs-who-are, ok, you get it). I've spent my entire week trying to pack. More crucially, I've spent my entire week trying to get rid of things so that I didn't have to pack them. 

It's typical of me to focus on one tiny detail of a grand plan (I'm like this with my writing, too - detail, detail, detail, oops, lost the plot), but I didn't realise I was doing this until after I'd become so obsessed with clearing the food from the fridge that I'd consumed most of a jar of (Belgian) chocolate spread, a dangerous amount of lime pickle, and a lot of cheese. There wasn't much else in there because I'd purposely not been shopping all week - I've been feeding the children by scraping off that stuff that always ends up at the bottom of your store cupboard (a mixture of spilled golden syrup, porridge oats, caster sugar and fish sauce).

I became fixated with the notion that eating chocolate spread on toast for breakfast (breakfast at 7 and breakfast at 10 - the first one doesn't count because I'm half-asleep), and high tea (suddenly high tea seemed like a meal to introduce to the family), and dipping my finger into the jar every other time I passed the fridge would really help the packing-up process. I mean, if we didn't have to carry that heavy jar, our moving problems would be over! Right? Just another lick, ooh some toast crusts to dip into it, come on, come on, you're doing yourself a favour finishing this. In between I ate lime pickle and cheese sandwiches (washed down with lots of milk owing to the generosity of pickle - well, there was only a third of a jar left so there was no point packing it, might as well empty it...).

Mission complete. All of the boxes are filled to capacity so I was right: there was no room for a jar of chocolate spread. 

"Now that she's got rid of that excess chocolate spread, we're all a lot happier." The Australian
"Mum never lets me eat chocolate spread." The Girl
"Mah." The Boy
"If anyone needs 17 assorted tupperware lids, call me." Me

*long-term use not advised
**subject to interpretation

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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Squeezing the Hours

Over on Emma Darwin's blog, her thoughts on the mechanics of writing and how free writing allows you to 'let go of the outcome' reminded me of how suited I am to extreme writing processes - intense deadlines and slightly ridiculous circumstances. (If I weren't shielding the screen from The Australian he'd be scoffing: "You? Going to extremes? What a surprise.")

Two years ago I took part in a writing marathon to raise money for Children in Need, during which flash fiction prompts were sent on the hour, every hour, from 9pm-9pm. At the time The Girl still woke a couple of times a night (I'm not exactly Gina Ford, shall we say), so it went: crappy sleep, normal day, stay awake all night writing a piece of flash every hour (popping in to feed the baby a couple of times), attempt to continue writing while looking after the baby all day, feel sick with tiredness and start to lose the ability to speak, almost pass out, admit defeat, crappy sleep.

Despite being shouted at by my mother and The Australian for making myself sick with fatigue, it was a blast. (OK, I quite enjoyed being shouted at - I was giddy by then.) I ended up with one of my pieces in the Leaf Books anthology (a piece that inspired my second novel) and more importantly with a feeling that neither looking after babies nor sleep deprivation were valid excuses for not writing. 

So last year, the month before I was due to give birth again, I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. I had scoffed at the idea before - writing a novel in a month seemed a bit cheap. But I was missing the point. NaNoWriMo is the most exhilarating and freeing extreme writing exercise. It was the first time I had really allowed myself to write a first draft - without to-ing and fro-ing over every single phrase, doing my nut. There wasn't time to fret, what with 1677 words to bash out every day. Yes, bash - not very glamorous, is it? What I learned is that first drafts don't have to be - I learned to shove a sock in the mouth of my mean Inner Editor and tell her to come back later and clean up the mess I was about to make.

It's nearly that time of year again. Things are different - I don't have a bump (well, apart from a digestive biscuit and too-many-takeaways bump) getting in the way but I do have an adventurous crawler who discovered today that the front wheel of the rain-drenched-just-traipsed-through-filthy-London-streets pushchair makes a decent teething ring, and a three year old who wants a grown-up to play with "because this is a grown-up game, not for babies, sorry". And I want to do NaNoWriMo, so I think that fact alone will carry me through, but right now I'm thinking - how will I squeeze the hours? What will suffer? (Who will suffer?) Will I clean less (even less), cook less, make us run out of wearable clothes, let the children watch (more) television, take them to the park less, talk to the Australian less, sleep less . . . sleep less

I'd better stop here before I talk myself out of it. This must be my longest post ever, and the first one I just sat down to write without giving it a second thought. I should probably wake my Inner Editor and let her loose but I think I'll let her snooze a while longer - she's going to be very busy indeed come December.

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Friday, 12 October 2007

The Girl: Telling It Like It Is For Three And A Half Years

Scene 1

Me: Who's more clever, Mummy or Daddy?
The Girl (without hesitation): Daddy.
Me: Really? You're sure?
The Girl: Yep.
Me: How come?
The Girl: Daddy can juggle.

Scene 2

Me (in a flap): Look, you've got to stop running away from me in the street. My job is to take care of you, sweetheart, and keep you safe and I can't do that if you keep dashing off so please listen, I need your help to do my job so don't do that again. OK?
The Girl: But Mum, that's not your job, your job is writing.

What the hell is she going to be like when she's a teenager?

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Thursday, 4 October 2007

The Colour of Money

Today I received my fee for the picture book to be published soon by Parragon. I performed the Dance of the Happy Writer, and then filed the cheque . . . and when I say filed, I mean I dumped it on my desk alongside the old mugs of tea, and phone charger, the curry menu and the fifty other bits of admin I'm currently ignoring. And then I went about my day.

When I next looked at the cheque it had several squiggly additions in fat blue crayon. Unfortunately The Girl hadn't managed to add any convincing zeros but I'm sure the bank will appreciate her jazzing it up a bit.

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