Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Kid's Got Talent

Help me: I have turned into one of those dreadful people you meet at the school gates who tell lies about their children to make them sound more impressive.

I don't know how it happened. I mean, I'll admit (just the once, here and now) that I think my children are far superior to anyone else's. Including yours, though I'm sure yours are nice, too. Of course they have their faults (The Girl has a tendency to tell me how old I am all the time, while The Boy requires my company frequently during the night) but basically they rock. However, I always meant to keep this to myself, and let them do their thing without having one of those awful pushy parents glaring at them, urging them on. And I have certainly never been tempted to tell lies about their abilities. Even when people have gasped in horror at my lack of parenting skills as I recount how many times the baby wakes or how long my daughter took to potty train, I have been proud to tell the truth (and then bitch about those gaspers and stick metaphorical pins in metaphorical Voodoo dolls of them).

But today outside nursery, waiting to collect The Girl, I lied.
'Wow, he's a big boy now,' said one mum, as I slung The Boy onto my hip. 'Is he walking yet?'
The way she said 'walking YET' - her tone and the very slight arch in her eyebrow - did something strange to me, and I found myself saying:
'Yes. Well, he's taking 4 or 5 steps at a time and then falling on his arse, hahaha.'

At that point the doors opened and we went our separate ways, and as The Girl ran into my arms and The Boy did his rapid leg-wiggle that makes it feel like I'm holding an excitable labrador, I felt the deep, deep shame of knowing that I'd exaggerated by TWO steps.

What the hell was the point of that? Two steps?? I mean why didn't I just lie properly and say that he's already in training for Olympic Speed-Walking? And while I'm at it, why don't I enter him for a beautiful baby competition or this - apparently they now have a 0-36 months category: parents are given 1 minute to show judges that their baby is the cutest and has the best personality

Ludicrous! Not to mention hugely scarring for the 3 year old who is told they have only come second in the contest, having lost out to the huge personality of the 2 week-old whose current party trick is opening its eyes, and closing its eyes.

It's ironic, this newly discovered trait of mine, seeing as the last novel I wrote was about pushy parents.

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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Kindness is Contagious

In recent years I've made friends with a fair few writers - some I've met in the flesh, some not but it doesn't seem to matter when it comes to the level of support fellow writers are prepared to extend to one another. We laugh about going into bookshops, spotting a novel or picture book by an author we've chatted to on the internet or met at a reading, and putting it in the most prominent spot possible (we do it with our own books too, of course!). We rally around those who have had a knock-back, and write big heartfelt HOORAY's when someone gets a deal or an agent. And okay, there might be pangs of jealousy (and of course you can't like everyone you meet, on- or offline) but the friendships I've formed are really important to me (and their books are truly wonderful).

So it came as no surprise when I read about the hundreds of blogging authors who supported Patry Francis on January 28th, and you can read all about it here.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears...oh, streuth!

About two minutes ago, The Australian turned around from the computer screen and said:

'Last chance.' And then he pressed the button to buy four tickets to Oz. And we're not talking holiday tickets.

We have been thinking about, chatting about, and arguing about this plan for years. He's always wanted to go 'yesterday'. I kept saying 'tomorrow'. Well, it's tomorrow. Or rather, on a Sunday at 10pm in late April, it will be.

To say I'm traumatised by the plan would be underselling it. And not one to suffer in silence I shall be blogging my fears about the move, my mother's last-ditch attempts to stop me, and my new life in Melbourne as a Whinging (mainly about the heat) Pom.


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Saturday, 26 January 2008


I started writing a post on Monday, and have only just finished and posted it, so scroll down to 'Whose Love-Life Is It Anyway?' to read the latest.

I mean, if you like.

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Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Confessions of an English Pastille Eater

I'm a tenth of the way into my rewrite (not huge strides, granted, but considering how long the box was at the top of the stairs, it's progress) and I have that warm glow of believing that what I've done so far has made the book better. (Today. It could all change tomorrow.)

But this hard work has not come without a price: I have a new addiction. 

Throughout history, people with exceptional abilities have used drugs and alcohol to ease the pain of their 'sensitivity' or to enhance their creative powers. Coleridge, Poe, Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Parker (the list goes on and on) . . . all gifted and addicted. 

Me? I can't stop eating fruit pastilles. I have eaten six just writing this post. I can't help it - rewriting makes me nervy and when I'm nervy I eat, and I can't waste The Boy's precious nap time making myself something wholesome so instead I've been foraging in a party bag that The Girl got last weekend (NB. this was no ordinary party bag. It was in fact a Tesco plastic bag bulging with Skips, Jelly Tots, Buttons, Smarties and Fruit Pastilles. The parents may have misunderstood the 5-a-day campaign).

I know fruit pastilles aren't exactly opium. They're far from my first choice (gin and tonic if you're asking). But when you're writing in between looking after small children, fruit pastilles are about as rock n' roll as you can get. Still, you can get quite a sugar rush if you pop them in quick enough.

What's your writing addiction?

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Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Question Time

This morning I had another of those 'completely unqualified to bring up children' moments, which seem to be coming thick n' fast. The trouble is - warm-glowish as it feels to have a lively, inquisitive child - that The Girl asks an average of four questions per minute, and so every fifteen questions or so I get a bit sloppy and distracted and give her a rubbish answer. This would be fine if she ever, ever let things lie.

Today it was 'man-holes', with which she has become mildly obsessed. (Please note that my distracted responses were due to the fact that we were about to cross a very busy road.)

Her: Look, I'm standing on a men-hole.
Me: A man-hole. Yes you are.
Her: This men-hole is made of metal. Some are made of stone, kind of pavement-y.
Me: Yep, s'right.
Her: I'll never fall in a men-hole.
Me: Nope.
Her: Only mens fall in them.
Me: Yep. OK green man green man let's cross, quick!
(a few minutes later)
Her: Mum, why do mens have to fall into holes?
Me: Huh?
Her: Why do they fall into holes? Men-holes. What happens when they fall in? Here's another one! A stone one!
Me: Oh look we're at nursery, come on, let's hurry inside!

Maybe she'll ask the nursery folk about men-holes, I mean man-holes (actually, what's the PC term these days?) and I'll be off the hook. Meanwhile, the next burning questions she has left me to ponder:

Which is braver, a fox or a dragon?

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Monday, 21 January 2008

Whose Love-Life Is It Anyway?

I have long suspected that I am not really a team player, especially when the team is 'doubles'. For example, when I've played doubles tennis the biggest effort has been restraining myself from belting my own partner, and when I was giving birth I screamed 'GET AWAY GET AWAY DON'T TOUCH ME' at The Australian (on both occasions - you'd think he'd have learnt the first time), and when I started to collaborate on a novel with my mother last November I deteriorated into such depression that I aged about a decade and had to invest in copious amounts of Ulay. Olay? Ulay. Whatever. And finally, a few years ago, when a university friend and I decided to write an article together about our chronically low opinion of a book called The Rules, we spent two whole days writing four whole paragraphs - arguing over every 'and' 'but' and 'comma' until we realised our friendship was at risk and ditched the idea.

So it came as quite a surprise to us both, I think (though we remain the best of friends and would do anything for each other etc etc), when we found ourselves collaborating again, only this time we were only signing her up to an internet dating site and that sounded easy enough and why on earth would that need to take up a lot of time or be complicated in any way? Right? You just sign up. Right? Put up a photo and tick a few boxes and wait for the dates to flood in. Right?

So very, very wrong. It took us about 45 minutes just to think of her username. And a further half hour to write a short introductory blurb: she insisted I write it and I insisted she didn't speak or look at me while I was doing so and then I winced at every criticism and found myself actually trying to persuade her to do it my way! Her love life / My way! I shudder at the thought of myself now but at the time I thought I was being helpful. I did!

Then we had to answer 167 multiple choice questions about the kind of person she is and the kind of person she is looking for. 'Do you think my dress sense is Classic or Contemporary?' she said. 'Classic,' I replied. 'But doesn't that make me sound as if I'm wearing twin-set and pearls?' 'No, definitely not. Tick Classic.' 'But Contemporary sounds younger.' 'Yeah, but that sounds like you wear those evening shorts with leggings and a buttercream yellow trapeze coat.' 'Does it? I don't think so.' 'Fine, tick Contemporary.' 'Really? Or Classic?' 'Contemporary.' 'Definitely.' 'Oh for the love of god yes, tick it!!'

And that's pretty much how it went all afternoon. 'Should I tick faithful? I think it makes me sound like a dog.' 'OK, tick trustworthy instead, it's pretty much the same thing.' 'But isn't trustworthy a bit dog-like, too?' 'OK, tick honest.' 'There's no honest.' 'How can there be no honest? This is ridiculous! OK, tick faithful - no one's going to think you're a dog.' 'Hm, maybe I'll just leave that one blank.'

Then we had half an hour in my kitchen while I tried to take her photo (nb. on a photography course at university I was told 'You will never be good at this. You have no eye.' Cheek. I have eye!) My friend said: 'You need to give me some sort of direction.' 'Err, ok, smile!' I replied. At this point I had sanded down her sense of humour to a brittle fragment, but we managed to pull it back and I ended up standing on my step-ladder and commanding her to pretend that my microwave was an attractive man who was telling her something very interesting about Tibet. *Snap!* She looked the perfect combination of fascinated and sexy. And it was only slightly out of focus. And poorly framed. But otherwise perfect!

The experience has taught me several things, not least that anyone who collaborates with me deserves some kind of endurance award. And also that I ought to be a lot nicer to my real doubles partner, a.k.a. The Australian, a.k.a. the man who actually thinks it's 'cute' when I shush him violently while in writing-mode.

Thanks, Mucker.

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Friday, 18 January 2008

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain

I was no longer scared of the box - I was the master of the box, and as such I opened it whenever I pleased and took papers out and wrote on them and put them back in and sighed Happy Writer sighs.

But there was still something missing. If someone had asked me what the book was about, I'd have umm'd and ahh'd a lot, and it would have come out all fuzzy and the someone who'd asked would have left the room, probably, and it would only have made sense to me. And that's not good enough. 

Then there was an almighty rain shower, and I had to go out in it to fetch The Girl from nursery so I quickly stuffed the box full again and plonked The Boy in the Phil n Teds and hurried out to brave the elements. And then it happened - striding into the driving rain, that moment every writer dreams of; the moment when it all comes together, every plot strand, every vague notion suddenly makes sense as a whole story. Eureka! as Archimedes exclaimed when he stepped into the bath and saw the water level rise - whatever, Archimedes, I've just discovered something much better than that! I love my book again!

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Mummy School

"Did you go to school when you were younger?" The Girl asked the other day. Feeling mildly put-out that she couldn't immediately tell I'd been educated to degree level, I laughed and said:

"What, Mummy School?"
"Yes," she said, deadpan.
"Well, no. There isn't a school for mummies. You just have to get on with it. But I did go to real school."
"Oh." She looked disappointed. "That's a shame. You should go to Mummy School."

That night I was reading Goodbye Mog to her, which I'd bought last year when our old cat disappeared and never came back, because The Girl kept insisting that we 'mustn't give up' and short of yelling 'He's worm food! Deal with it!' I couldn't think of a better way of explaining it. We've only read it a couple of times since. Thank god. (No offence to the wonderful Judith Kerr, but hell it's depressing.) The last time we'd read it, The Girl had asked: "Will I ever die, Mum?" I'd panicked and said "No," and then fretted over the possible consequences of such a lie. So this time when she asked (obviously not convinced by my first response) - not that I'd been formulating a better answer in the meantime, which I'm still cursing myself over - I said, quite breezily, "Yes, one day you will."

She was horrified. Not in a screaming around the room way, but in a sit-there-quietly-really-taking-it-in way.
"But I don't want to die," she said. I wanted to grab her and say "I was only joking!!" But it was too late. She wanted to know if I was going to die, and on what day she'd die, and what would happen afterwards . . . It was a nightmare. I managed to soothe her (yeah right) and she hasn't mentioned it since. Which could mean it's eating away at her innocent little insides and she'll turn into a mass murderer.

The Australian was no comfort. I explained the whole thing, thinking that a harsh realist such as he is would appreciate my honesty towards our inquisitive child, but he just looked crushed on her behalf and very helpfully shrugged when I asked him what he would have said in my position.
"But I couldn't lie to her!" I wailed. 

This afternoon, I have finally proved to myself that I am not fit to look after small people. Spot the contradiction:
"Mum, I think I'd like to go to space."
"Right. How will we do that?"
"We just need to get a rocket. And some silver space suits. Even a really tiny one for my brother."
"Where do we get those?"
"Um, the space rocket shop of course."
"OK. But how much does a rocket cost?"
"I think about eight."
"Fine. Are you sure children can go to space?"
"Oh yes, I think so."
"OK then." At which point we arrived at the library and she ran off to socialise while I stood there kicking myself and wondering why I'd found it perfectly acceptable to let her believe that we could fly to the moon but I couldn't let her believe that she was never going to die.

Still, at least I haven't ruined her appetite for travel.

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Thursday, 10 January 2008

Baby Steps

Sometime during the third week of November - just after my NaNoWriMeltdown - I decided to resurrect a novel I wrote in 2006, which had been 'resting' (which in this case is another term for not being able to even contemplate reading a single line of it because it marked the end of an Almost Very Exciting period in my writing life).

I got as far as printing it out and putting it in an old box (that once contained something black, leather and knee-length, way-hey) along with my research notes and an editorial report that I'd received from Hilary Johnson. I left the box at the top of the stairs, intending to bring it down and start work on it just as soon as I'd cleaned the bathroom / sorted the laundry / changed a nappy. Did I say this was back in November? That's how long the box has been there. I've passed it every day, and during that time I've formed a very precise and satisfying 'feeling' about what the novel should be - it's all there, one beautiful lump in my mind. It's done. In my head.

Which is a problem. I can't quite bear to actually rewrite it; to pick the beautiful lump apart and do all the mechanics. In my head it's a good novel. In the box it's just . . . a mess.

Panicky and alone, I decided to form a support group for other writers who are in this situation - there are three of us so far. All as scared and bonkers and procrastination-crazy as each other. And I realised where I've been going wrong - I've been taking grand strides (albeit mentally) where I need to take Baby Steps.

So Baby Steps it is. And so yesterday I picked up the box and I brought it downstairs.

Today, I might open it.

p.s. Coincidentally, The Boy has just started walking . . . 

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Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Me Sounding Slightly Less of a Ditz

As well as not knowing my own phone number, locking myself out, tearing my hair out over refuse collectors and fretting over cheese muffins . . . I also review books, and this book was particularly good:

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Monday, 7 January 2008

The Call

Today was my official start of 2008 - Happy New Year! 

I just didn't feel ready last week: there were still mince pies in the cupboard, the woman across the road hadn't removed her garish lights from the window, and there were a couple of To Do items in my 2007 diary that I hadn't crossed off. But this morning I was raring to go with the New Year and my resolutions: ready to tackle a new set of challenges, and to find the energy to re-tackle the old set of challenges, and to put the false starts of last year behind me. And perhaps lose a bit of weight. And be nicer. 

I was ready to take the leap.

So it was a bit of a shame that my first leap was to a conclusion. Cue the following conversation between myself and . . . myself:

Me: Ooh, a missed call on my mobile. Who's that then?
Me: Hmm, I don't recognise the number. Better Google it.
Me: Right . . . it's a local number. *Gasp* It must be the nursery calling to say that The Girl has fallen off the climbing frame or smeared paint in her eyes or developed sudden and severe separation anxiety! I'd better get there quickly.
Me: Nope, it's not them. Stay calm - who else could it be?
Me: The dentist - google them.
Me: It's not them.
Me: Sainsbury's! Maybe I dropped my purse in there and they've somehow traced me.
Me: Your purse is in your hand.
Me: Right, yes. Maybe it's the local council calling to thank me for the generous tip I gave the bin men.
Me: *sigh*
Me: Local, local, I don't know anyone local! Ooh, I know, it's the local paper who are running a short story competition that I entered before Christmas! They must be calling to say I've won! OK, not won, been shortlisted! OK, probably not, maybe they're just calling to say that I haven't won, but that they appreciate my entering. GOOGLE THEM!
Me: I am, I am . . . nothing's coming up. Are you sure it could be them?
Me: Definitely! Maybe my story wasn't quite as substandard as I thought! Ooh I'm so excited!
Me: Err, hang on, I've just thought of something.
Me: What? Oh shut up, just keep googling.
Me: Wait, didn't you call yourself with the landline morning, because you couldn't find your mobile? 
Me: *silence*
Me: It's you. The missed call is from you. You dollop.
Me: *silence*
Me: Are you ok?
Me: I need another coffee.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A Taste For Fiction

1. The Chocolates

The Girl (3): Mum, I've had an accident.
Me: Oh no! Are you hurt? What happened?
The Girl: Um, I accidentally forgot that I'm not allowed to eat chocolate in the morning.
Me: What? You're not allowed to eat chocolate EVER unless I give it to you! Not just in the morning!
The Girl: Yes. I forgot that. 
Me: Right. And how did this accident actually happen?
The Girl: Well I was watching television, and then I climbed up and got the box of chocolates and took one out and ate it. Look. [Opens mouth to reveal remnants.]
Me: So this is the wrapper here, this purple one?
The Girl: Yes . . . And the other one. In the kitchen.
Me: I see. Well, I'm very cross. [Desperately trying to disguise smile.] But it's not really an accident is it?
The Girl: It is. I accidentally forgot. Everybody has accidents, Mum.
Me: Hm.

2. The Christmas Present

The Girl: Mum! Something's happened!
Me: [Rushing into sitting-room] What-what?
The Girl: This present has got a bit unwrapped.
Me: How did that happen?
The Girl: Um, well I was watching television, and then I heard a rustling sound like this - [demonstrates rustling] - and when I turned around the present was a bit unwrapped.
Me: Wow, that's pretty amazing. How do you think that happened?
The Girl: *shrugs* I think it was an accident, that's all. *flutters eyelashes over dinner-plate eyes as I run from the room to laugh it off in the kitchen*

Seems like she's working on some sort of crime fiction, where the villain is motivated by evil-doings she sees on the telly. I think she just needs to work on the 'show don't tell' aspect.

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