Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Magic of Lists

It seems to me that this Christmas is largely about lists. The first list was my six year old's Christmas list. She has recently become quite adept at reading and writing which has afforded her much greater opportunities when it comes to writing a wish list of presents for Father Christmas. Until this year she would dictate to me and we kept it fairly basic, short, to the point. Then we posted it up the chimney which as we all know is the most efficient way to reach Santa.

This year however she came upon me in the kitchen and hefted the most recent Argos catalogue onto the table, no mean feat considering it is almost her equal in weight.

'I'm writing my list, Mummy,' she informed me, running off to get her felt tips and some paper. 'It's going to be colour coded.'

'Marvelous,' I said. 'Good idea.'

Never one to pass an opportunity for fifteen minutes of peace and a cup of tea I left her to it. Then about an hour later I thought I'd see how she was doing because I have never yet known her to labour so long over anything. Her list was indeed colour coded arranged in neat columns and covered two sides of A4.

'Can I Look?' I asked her, awe struck.

'I'm not finished,' she said. 'I haven't done Elec-tric-al goods yet.'

I scanned the list, noticing it included not only the item, but the catalogue number and the page number too. It started with a 9ct gold teddy bear diamante pendant, moved on eventually to a garden set including chairs and a table and then one washer/dryer machine, a multifunctional kitchen chopping system and finally toys.

As I read it and looked down at her face, shining with so much pleasure and pride and I realised it wasn't the items on the list that drove her to make the list (Although she has been longing for some of the toys) but more the pleasure, freedom and power of being able to write it herself. The joy of creating words, of finding another way to communicate language had inspired her.

I tried to think back to that moment that I must of had, that almost all of us must have had when we have that first thrill and rush of realising what an incredible world the ability to read and write unlocks for us. It must have been a golden moment, even though as a dyslexic I struggled more than most to grasp those tools. And so for me those particular hard fought skills still bring me golden hours every day whether I'm reading a book or writing one and I think they are the greatest gifts that I have ever been given. My daughter felt free when she was writing her list, and I love that she felt that way.

Not sure she'll be getting a washer/drier in her stocking though.

'This is an excellent list,' I told her. 'I'm not sure that Father Christmas will be able to bring you everything, there are a lot of children in the world and he is working on a budget.'

'That's ok,' she told me taking the list back with infinite care. 'He knows what I want most is a trampoline anyway. Now I'm doing Elec-tic-al goods.'

The next list was my list, list of things to do for Christmas. Every year I wonder at the frenzy of activity building up to two or three days at most, every November I swear blind that I am not under any circumstances going to get involved in the melee, that I shall rise about it and every year on about December 15th I panic and make a list.

And then last of all there is the long list. Yesterday I discovered that I am on the longlist for the Romantic Novelists Association's Romantic Novel of the year with my book THE BABY GROUP. I have never been on a long list before, so it goes without saying that I have also never been on a shortlist.

I am very pleased and honoured to make the long list, populated as it is with twenty-one other really great talented writers. Will I make the short list? I don't know, I'd really like to - it would be an amazing thrill and a secret long held ambition of mine. But one thing I've discovered about long lists is that it is probably not the thing to get too excited at this stage. Perhaps simply better to to quietly be pleased that I'm on that list of 22 and try not to think about it any more. If by some miracle I do make the short list then watch this space where I will mostly be jumping around and shouting for joy. If not then let's just gloss over it and act cool like we're not even bothered.

But until we know either way keep your fingers crossed for me!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Horror, the horror...

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. I can't talk about it. I'm not a a person who naturally enjoys Christmas.I have to go into training for weeks before hand to get in the mood. I have to listen to 'White Christmas' sung by Bing Crosby. I have to buy a chocolate Yule log as soon as they become available in Mid November and eat a slice every day. I have to watch 'Miracle on 34th Street' and that other one with James Stewart in when he thinks about topping himself and doesn't. And then by about December 24th I am just about ready. Bring it on, Santa.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Well here it is....

First of all I know I said I'd start a fictional serial here today but I am postponing that until I've worked out how to set up a new blog for it, so that I can have this space for general thoughts and another space for the serial. I expect its very easy to do but today I have been wrestling with an artificial Christmas tree so I haven't found out how to do it (I can't remember how I set this one up, it was so long ago!).

Why, I hear you ask, don't I just have a REAL Christmas tree like everyone else? Well, there are three reasons. First of all I'm allergic to trees and a real one sets off my asthma, second of all a fake one is actually more environmentally friendly if you use it over several years and we've now had ours for five years and third of all the last time we had a real tree is also came with a nest of ants that invaded our flat for the entire Christmas period. They were hardy little buggers who would not die no matter how hard we tried and that pretty much did it for me and real Christmas trees once and for all.

Besides as a general rule the part of Christmas that I really enjoy is the tacky and sparkly part, not for me those joyless Poe-faced hand made decorations fashioned out of wood and ribbon. I don't want to see a clove encrusted satsuma within a hundred yards of my house. I believe that everything that glistens SHOULD be gold, and if not gold then another metallic shade be it silver, red or even pink and all the better if its smothered in glitter. Bring on the tinsel, tons of it, and the fairy lights preferably flashing(the more environmentally friendly LCD ones of course) I want an angel in a trashy frock and the sort of chocolate tree decorations that rot your teeth. Power to the people who have six foot blow up Homer Simpsons dressed as Santa anchored to their roofs!

As soon as I've finished this I'm off to find my garland of fake pine cones and twinkling lights posing as berries to festoon my stair case with. Now that's what I call a Christmas decoration.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

SLOW, SLOW, quick, quick, SLOW

It's probably wrong to be as obsessed with a TV programme as I am with Strictly Come Dancing, but if it is then I don't want to be right.

I love that show. I have loved it since the very first programme and I love it still - I don't know why. I only know that the real reason I would ever aspire to celebrity would be so that I could go on that show and learn to dance with either Anton or Matt, I'm not fussed which.

Sometimes I find myself day dreaming about what it would take to become famous enough to be offered a slot on the show. I could make friends with Jordan, I muse, We could go out scantily clad and get photographed by the paparazzi getting into taxis at 3 a.m. Except that I've noticed recently that Jordan is a rather settled lady now, a happily married mother and all that - not to mention that I don't exactly have the physique to climb into taxis scantily clad since having a child. Plus the last time I was up at 3 a.m it was because my daughter had a tummy bug.

Also for this particular celebrity reality show you have to be a proper celebrity, one who has been on a soap or a breakfast TV sofa for quite some years, not just some upstart who took her bra off on Big Brother. So that rules out my plan to get 'lost' at sea in a canoe and then turn up five years later having forgotten everything but the fact that I love to cha-cha-cha. Not only would I not be the right kind of celebrity but I'd be arrested - and that is a fatal flaw in the plan because I am fairly sure you don't get out of jail early to to learn how to tango on the telly.

The lovely leggy and charming Penny Lancaster Stewart scored her spot by being a model/photographer/rock star's wife. I feel its probably going to be quite difficult for me to marry a rock star at this stage of my life. First off I am already married and whilst that wouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker I don't know any rock stars who long for a thirty something writer on the comfortable side of slim, who regularly dyes out her greys. Besides I think I missed my chance to marry a pop star when in the 1990s I failed to get Gary Barlow to fall in love with me from the back of the Birmingham NEC (it was all the those screaming girls getting in the way that ruined it for me)

Is it possible that a writer can ever be famous enough to get on 'Strictly'? Well, the only reason I am bitterly jealous of the wonderful Marion Keyes is not because of her substantial talent or well deserved success - its because she gets to go on Strictly Come Dancing: It takes two. She gets to meet Claudia and go round the set and touch the dancers. On the one hand I commend her for her pioneering spirit going where writers of popular fiction have rarely been before and on the other hand, every time she is on, I inwardly cry 'IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!'

There's just about half an hour to go to the live Saturday show now. What's Aliesha thinking about, I wonder? How's Letitia this week? Which one of the boys will shine now, Gethin or Matt? I'll be nervous every single second that I am watching it and I'll hold my breath through out all of the dances. And then when its finished I'll sigh and try and think of another way to score an invite onto the show. If only Jim'll Fix it was still going.....

Friday, 7 December 2007

Good intentions

OK so as a resolution goes, forgetting to blog on only the second day of promising to blog every day wasn't my finest hour....but I did have a sort of excuse.

Yesterday was my husband's works Christmas party in a posh hotel in London. As a full time writer I don't have a Christmas party, in fact after several weeks holed up writing a novel all by myself, I can sometimes barely have any social skills at all and when I am occasionally wheeled out blinking into the sunlight to do book events, meet buyers etc it feels a bit like I have to socially defrost myself. As a consequence I do try to go to every single party I am invited to, just to keep my hand in with the whole talking to people my own age thing (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

There was a dress code at the party, the theme was 'Magic' and we all had to wear red, black or silver. 'It's fancy dress,' my husband declared. 'I'll go as a Vegas Magician and you can be my assistant.' And so he duly ordered a red silk ruffled shirt with big sleeves from e-bay and a mystic medallion which he planned to wear unbuttoned to his naval with some tight black trousers.

Now I'm the kind of girl who believes that despite my large periods of virtual solitude I live a much more glamorous life than I actually do. My wardrobe is packed full of party frocks of all styles, colours and sequinage. If I want a pair of jeans or a jumper to wear of a morning I struggle, but a silver slingback? I have ten pairs to choose from. So for me getting the outfit together was no problem. Sparkly red dress with fish tail - check. Long black feather trimmed gloves - check. Red feather hair adornment - check. Ruby effect costume jewellery - check. And of course a pair of silver slingbacks. It did give me pause to think that I had all of that just sitting in my wardrobe but then again I looked upon it as proof that I actually did need it.

So we were set, and to be honest the only thing that kept me from blogging yesterday was this new fangled 'make-your-bra-fit-a-backless-dress-strap-contraption' which I can tell you is very tricky to get on....anyway I digress.

So we get to the hotel, we check in. We dress up. We look good, camp but good. This is going to be a fun evening I think. I love costume parties. We walk into the ballroom.

Its not fancy dress.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


I've promised to have a go at blogging every day. Who have I promised? The other racers who are so much better and more diligent than me, and myself. So that is what I'm going to do. Blog every day.

As a consequence my blog may often be quite dull, badly typed and quite short but I'm giving it a go. Today I finished reading the proof pages of the next Ruby Parker book 'Musical Star' It's my favourite Ruby book so far, I've really enjoyed writing it so it was was fun to read it through in its proper printed form. Somehow when you see your work in book form its as if someone else has written it and at last you can look at it with a dispassionate eye and read it from a distance. Also this book had a sort of 'fourth dimension' in that it features a musical and I asked a talented teen I know to write some music to go with the song lyrics I produced. Hopefully the songs will go on the website at some point - they are really good!

I am also forced to tidy up today, because people are coming. As you may know I don't really ever tidy up unless I have visitors, because there simply aren't enough hours in the day to prioritise dusting over a) writing books and b) thinking about writing books.

'Get a cleaner!' people frequently advise me, but I find I can't do that. Call me old fashioned but it seems wrong to me the notion of 'getting' another human being to clean up after me and my small family in my small house. Maybe its my proletariat upbringing but essentially the thought of asking another person to clean for me appalls and embarrasses me much more than a carpet that needs a vacuum.

So that's it, my first ever daily blog. I can see its not my finest work, it lacks drive, impetus and intrigue but much as I'd love to stay and improve it, chuck in a plot twist or two - maybe introduce a love interest, I can't, I've got to wash the kitchen floor.

What I might do is use this space to write a fictional blog - a sort of serialised story a little bit every day - what do you think?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

And Breathe

Well it's been a long time since I blogged here but I thought that as this week I delivered novels to both my U.K and U.S publishers I'd take a moment to pause and breathe and have a little think.

It's been a pretty crazy wonderful year so far. Four books published, three in this country and one in the U.S.A and three books written, two for children and one for adults - a combined total of 250,000 words!

I know what you might be thinking, you might be thinking she writes all those books in one year? She can't be a proper writer, surely it takes years to write one book and there has to be angst and crying and drafts and redrafts to be truly creative?

And the truth of it is that there all of those things, but writing is not only my passion and my joy - it's my job. And when you sit down from nine to five, five days a week to write and often work the weekends too, you can pack a lot of angst and creativity in to your working week. You can get a lot done and know that it's the very best work that you can do.

Because if I have one rule about writing its that I always give it my one hundred percent very best effort, that I never turn anything in that I haven't laboured to make as perfect as I possibly can. Of course it never is perfect, there's always more to be done and discovered in a bid to write that perfect book. But that's what writing's all about isn't it?

Friday, 22 June 2007

Panic and Emptiness

First of all it's not THAT bad. It's just a phrase I like, I love Conran- he's one of my favourite writers.

I have a lot to do - but it is doable. I have plan and schedule and a desk and a lunch hour and a clocking off time when I go to pick up my little girl up at six pm. There actually are enough hours in the day, I know because I've worked it out. Now I just have to do it, or I should say the rest of it because a lot of it is already done. It's just that speaking as a person who really can't stand heights, taking that final step off the precipice and into the headlong descent of the last big push is giving me vertigo.

But in the end (by which I mean tomorrow, I'm on schedule remember!) I will feel the fear and I'll throw myself back into it and attack it and live it and breath it and love it until it is done. Because I love this. I love writing, yes it stresses me out sometimes, yes it keeps me awake in the middle of the night, YES I am sometimes to be found banging my head against the burr walnut of my expensive desk BUT THIS IS ME and the idea of giving up is impossible to imagine. At the risk of going all Gloria Gaynor this is what I do and what I love and I never forget how privileged I am to be able to do it. (Plus, I Will Survive)

There are few things in this life better than the free fall into writing, that wonderful tumble of words and ideas that somehow eventually find a form and make a book. So what I should do is stop with the Panic and Emptiness nonsense and get on with it. Enough with the pep talk.

Friday, 15 June 2007

The Wood for the Trees

I've been beset by ideas this week, which you (or one, if we're being posh) would think is a good think, But I'm not so sure. Too many ideas confuse the plot and slow down the pace and I've learnt over six books that you can't fit all the ideas or indeed all the characters that you have created at the begining in to one book, some will have to go along the way which can be hard to do - especially when you love your ideas and characters. So I've handed what I have over to my dear trusted editors to ask for their opinion, which I highly value. I hope it will keep me focused and my eye on the end goal so I don't end up writing four books in one by mistake! I keep having ideas for other books too, which is also good but can be a little bit of a problem when the new fresh idea keeps popping into your head saying'' write me, write me, it will be much more fun than that old thing you've devoted half a year to!' and you have to shut it up and shove it back in the drawer. (Real or Metaphorical either one.) I met fabulous writer Jean Ure last week at a librarian's thing in Kent and she told me to write every single idea down and keep it for as long as it takes because one day you'll be able to use it and ideas are a precious commodity. So I'm not going to moan about my idea influx, I'm going to write them all down in a book and put them in a real drawer and save them for the inevitable rainy day!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Running to Stand Still

This week I had to take a break from my book to do some housekeeping on other projects. It couldn't be avoided, and I love the fact that I get to work on more than one kind of book and write two or three books a years(two children's one adult) I consider myself very lucky. I've been working on the second draft of RUBY PARKER HOLLYWOOD STAR during the day and reading the page proofs for the American Edition of THE ACCIDENTAL MOTHER in the evenings, both things needed to be completed by the end of this week. It's fun to go back and read Ruby Parker after a few months break and with fresh eyes. I realised that my editor did have a point when she said sometimes my thirteen year old heroine sounds like a twenty-five year old who's been around the block! Writing a series is interesting because you have to get back into the skin of the main character every time you begin a new book, especially if it's told in the first person as the Ruby books are. Clearly at the beginning of the first draft of this book it took me a little longer than I thought! As for reading the page proofs for the US Edition of The Accidental Mother, that's just fun. I'm excited about it being published in the states. It's a book I'm really attached to and that did very well in the U.K. I really like my U.S editor too. I'd love it to sell a few copies over there, but I suppose I'll have to cross my fingers until September 2007 and wait and see! But as we all know pre-publication fear is pretty much par for the course in the this job. That and post publication anxiety!

Anyway starting first thing on Monday back to the book and I'll be powering ahead, because now the fire had been lit and I'm flying!

Friday, 25 May 2007

How to host a diner party and write a novel.

It's hard enough writing a novel, I think we've all got that bit. My books are usually about 120K words long and I am currently running a tiny like bit behind schedule. At the end of April I was right on schedule with 50K words written but then I realised that it wasn't going in the right direction, that I was actually writing a completely different book from the one I planned. So I stopped, I asked people what they thought, I pressed high light and delete a lot and my word count dropped by 30K word.

BUT it was a good thing because I'm now back on the right path and the happy path that makes writing fun and a pleasure to do instead of feeling as if you are wading through rather indifference treacle. Today however two things are stopping me from catching up.

One, it's a school inset day, which will be closely followed by ANOTHER half term. I love my daughter with all my heart but seriously do we need inset days WHAT ARE THEY FOR?

And secondly tonight I am having two friends to dinner, two lovely friends. But two culinary friends I feel that I really have to cook for instead of unwrap things from packages and put them on plates.

That take time and a bit bit of thought but it's not so bad, what's really bad is the cleaning. I'm going to have to clean now people who don't live here are coming round, and that means hoovering and wiping down surfaces, perhaps even polishing (do I have any polish?) And because cleaning is not TOP of my list of things to do and it in fact is not even on it, that means I have quite some back log to get through before eight pm tonight.

Which means that today less writing and more cleaning will be done, shortly followed by panicking over pannacotta and trying to entertain my five year old who is determined to do some craft with her mummy.

And as for half term next week? Watch this space.