The To Do List of a Busy Mum

My To Do list last week –

  1. Launch my second novel
  2. Help out at Royal Wedding tea party at the school

What actually happened –

  1. Sick child home from school Monday
  2. Same child diagnosed with scarlet fever Tuesday, minister antibiotics 4 times a day with 3 hours between meals – no mean feat in itself
  3. Launch book in the middle of this madness
  4. Same child still home Wednesday but miraculous recovery has been made and she is bouncing off the walls – ‘can I go out in the garden?’ ‘can I do gymnastics?’ ‘can we go out?’
  5. Promoting book in a very ad hoc manner
  6. Child goes back to school Thursday – have to go in at 10.30 to administer meds
  7. Other child comes home from school Thursday and throws up
  8. Rinse, clean, repeat for the next 8 hours. Then the diarrhoea starts…
  9. Meanwhile, the chair of the PTFA gets a call from The Fat Duck and leaves me in charge of the tea party at the school (don’t blame her one bit – would do the same in a trice)
  10. Friday – second child is off, have to go in to give firstborn meds in the morning, then back to oversee the tea party for 430 children at 1.30
  11. Forgot I was going out that night – friend’s birthday treat
  12. Saturday, one sick child, one very bouncy child, one picnic in the park
  13. Saturday night, husband feels dodgy, cancels night out. The bug appears in him 4 hours before it makes its debut in me
  14. Sunday – absolutely wrecked. Book, what book??

For more family dramas (and far less sickness) click here

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Writing On A Difficult Theme

My second book Catch, Pull, Push, covers a difficult topic – a girl on the cusp of womanhood and a much older man. He holds a position of authority over her. She’s in awe of him and the status he holds within the group. A familiar and uncomfortable situation in these sexually overt times.

In short, Mia, believing herself to be in love, elopes with James, her swim coach. They hide in a Bruges hotel while the police, the media and her family mount a global search for them. James disappears but Mia can’t let him go, determined to find him and be reunited. The name, Catch, Pull, Push, reflects not only the elements of a stroke in swimming, but also the ensnaring of Mia by James.

The book’s main question is – was Mia in love or was she abused?

I think the answer would vary depending on who I asked. If I’d asked the fifteen-year-old me I would have said of course I can make mature decisions about who I want to be with. Asking the forty-seven year old me elicits a very different answer. Those thirty-two years of ‘life experience’ have changed a lot and the innocence has definitely gone. It’s an abuse of position, would be my response now. Does that by definition make it abuse?

Why did I choose to write this story? Why write something deliberately difficult where I would have to work hard to get the tone right, where I could alienate the reader or offend them, however unintentionally?

There are many reasons:-

  • I like to write stories where the moral question may be cloudy for some, black and white for others. My first novel, From This Day Forward, looks at infertility and infidelity and examines female protagonist Molly’s reactions to both
  • I wanted to write something current, not necessarily about child abuse, but something that focused on the blurred lines between what is acceptable in today’s society and what is not. Where is the cut-off point?
  • I remember a friend at school having a deep crush on a teacher and the feelings she had were as real as if she had been in a relationship with him
  • I wanted to rouse powerful emotions in the reader but not to control what those emotions were. I like that the reader’s experience will be coloured by their own life experience, that everyone will have a different take on the rights and wrongs of the story
  • I also wanted to write something darker than I had before but still within the realms of everyday possibility. Even thought the actions of the protagonists become extreme, they only become incrementally so, drawn into their own journey little by little, conflict by conflict, until they find themselves in unimaginable situations of their own making
  • And finally, I wanted to stretch myself, to see if I could write a story that questions society’s dichotomy of pushing kids to grow up fast but also overprotecting them too and still have readers feel they’d read a really good book.

Someone asked if I was worried the subject matter would make people uncomfortable but the answer has to be no. Some of the most powerful books I have read have been those that have made me tense with disquiet. We Need To Talk About Kevin, Room, Only Child, Girl On The Train to name but a few. I respect how they were able to elicit strong feelings in me as their reader. If I can do but a small percentage of that, then all my hard work will have been worth it.

Catch, Pull, Push is launched on 15th May 2018. To buy click here

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Rub Me The Right Way

I love massage – receiving though, I’m definitely not a giver – and I’ll try any way I can to get one; gifts for my birthday, Valentine’s, even Easter. On holiday I’ll ask if there’s a local spa and make sure I have a massage early on in the holiday so that I can usually wangle another at the end.

The worst best massage I’ve ever had was at Cheddar Gorge. Not that they’ve opened a Champneys at the foot of the rock-face but the holiday park we stayed at, with static caravans and ten-pin bowls with pins still on strings had a lovely little spa.

The lady was older – where do massage therapists go after the age of thirty? Do they only have a short life-span due to the onerous work or do they get snapped up by building sites for their meaty forearms and broad hand-span? She also, she told me, taught massage and beauty therapy at a local college. I’m in for a treat, I thought, and I was. Truly professional, firm hands that knew what they were doing and how hard to do it. I felt wonderful – relaxed, pampered, and at one with the world. Until I got back to our static where I started to feel decidedly dodgy; nauseous, drained and heady.  I drank litres of water to flush my system that day and still don’t know whether to curse her for releasing all my long-held toxins or worship her for her skills.

One way to enhance the massage experience is to have one with someone at the same time, not for reasons of shared experience and chakra synchronisation. No, it’s because it’s funny to see someone else get pummelled. In Thailand, my husband and I went to a massage station on the beach where a number of therapists worked on tourists and locals alike. He opted for the full-back massage while I went for head, neck and shoulders. At one point, halfway through my invigorating yet relaxing session, I turned to check how he was getting on. He was lying on his front with a tiny but cruel Thai lady sitting on his back. She had his feet hooked under her armpits and was pulling his arms backwards out of their sockets. His face was a picture and one I only just managed to capture seeing as I was so relaxed I could barely reach for my phone.

I had some experience of massage therapy in SE Asia. Ten years earlier, backpacking in Bali, I’d had a cheap massage or two, so long as that day’s dinner was noodles with no flavouring and I was prepared to recycle my own urine. This was the low end of the therapy market, wandering toothless septuagenarians with a bottle of something unidentifiable as lubricant. One day, one such lady entered the pool area of the bungalow shacks where I was staying and began offering her services to those gathered. As each person knocked her back, she shuffled to the next undeterred. Finally, a newbie agreed to pay her a few baht and she set to work, generously applying a first coat of ‘lube’. I don’t know if she had allergies or the start of a cold but I do know she paused briefly to blow her nose on one hand before putting it straight back on that poor boy’s back. There was a collective gasp around the pool, exchanged looks of ‘she didn’t…did she?’ but no one said a word. In our defence, the moment had passed and the less he knew the easier it would be for him to sleep at night.

My most recent massage was in a local department store and a very lovely Clarins spa, but even here they managed to surprise me. As I undressed and hopped on the bed I realised it was heated. Usually, 2 bed-sheet sized towels and 25 degree heating are warm enough for me but throw in a super-heated bed and I’m ready to expire. She turned it off straight away but the heat merely seeped form the bed into me and back again. I spent 40 minutes throwing off towels and being covered up again.

Now I’ve discovered the ‘at home’ option – it’s free, it’s time-unlimited and it comes with an entertaining line of chatter, singing and ‘what’s this?’ as various objects are rubbed up and down my back. My nine-year-old delights in the potions side of things and my six-year-old is the implements guy – body buffers, cotton wool pads, Beanie Boos and even staplers have made their way up and down my spine.

And all the better for it, it is too!

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Not Our Language Too

BREXIT – the defining question of our age that has us examining our navels at all times of the day or night and not coming up with many right answers – now has me questioning myself at the deepest level. Something I knew to be true now appears not to be…

How to pronounce Brexit!

There’s me merrily going along with my Breck-sit pronunciation, not dreaming for a minute there was any other way to go about it, when I started noticing all the tv and radio presenters are saying Bregg-zit.

Now, I don’t know what a Bregg is, and I want to imagine its zits even less, but seriously…? STOP! It’s bad enough as it is without murdering our language along with our international relations.

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No plastics here.

We went to Holland and entered a world so different from our own. Yes, it’s flat. But that’s not the only striking thing about it.

We had a choice of passing by Antwerp – a whole world of pain a year earlier (but surely they’d have finished the road building by now) – or going ‘the pretty route’. This involved driving across great expanses of water in south-western Holland to our destination.

We chose the pretty route and headed north. Okay, so it was still flat with wind-whipped farms but looking over to the left – what’s that? And that over there? And that? Huge industrial buildings next to long chains of silos, hundreds of feet high; stacks of metal chimneys rising out of concrete blocks; angled office blocks jutting out of the ground; steaming stacks and smoking chimneys (to make biofuel – surely it shouldn’t be that polluting to make); and pylons, pylons everywhere, holding steel-cabled hands across the landscape in a permanently frozen auld lang syne.

The first stretch of water approached. I prepared myself, Saga Noren-like, to cross a bridge where you couldn’t see one end from the other. I channelled my inner difficult self.

We went into a tunnel.

A spotlessly clean, not a leaf to be seen, swept with a toothbrush, tunnel. Then we emerged and looked at the sides of the four-lane dual carriageway. Spotless again. the farmyards, the industrial plants – all swept and organised. No broken pallets lying around, no tyres, no scrap metal. Anything that was ‘spare’ was organised spare.

The next day we drove to Kinderdijk – through more of the same – and found 19 perfectly preserved windmills between 300-400 years old, with a backdrop of pylons and a side of heavy industry. There was even a block of offices for a shipping company built in the shape of a ship.

After the windmills we had a cup of coffee in the cafe and watched the world go by; including a Dutch woman who saw a piece of litter on the side of the bank – and picked it up. She then looked around for any more and finding two other pieces picked them both up too.

Ah, we thought. That’s why it’s so clean; it’s ingrained. A nation who care passionately about their country so much as to pick up an dispose of other people’s litter as a matter of course. That’s why the hedges are clipped perfectly on all the houses and the hedgerows picked clean.

National pride. And, even though that area was a bit bleak in places, it still had soul, and souls who care for it.

Impressive.

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Hard Core

100 years on and I’m happy to cook his dinner. I’m also very happy he does the bins. I have my jobs, he has his.

However, I’m not happy about Lady Doritos, female oppression or that the average age for a young boy to watch hard-core pornography is 11 years. Or the fact that in any place I ever worked there were at least half a dozen men who would say what I’d just said in a meeting and be taken seriously for it.

I hate that the BBC – a publicly funded institution – pays its women less than its men.

I like that we have a queen on the throne, and not that chuffed the next three monarchs will be men. I like that we have a female prime minister, and female Scottish and N.I. first ministers. I hate that Hillary didn’t get the job, not for her politics, but because there will have been at least some who didn’t vote for her ‘because she was a woman’.

Being male, female, white, non-white, disabled, able-bodied, L, G, B, T or Q, short, tall, fat or thin are all red herrings when it comes to judging what someone is like, what they are capable of. The core of a person is what matters, the tough immovable centre that’s in us all; but it takes time to listen, skill to ask the right questions, and the opportunity to look someone in the eye and connect.

The biggest difference in the next 100 years will be the way humans interact with each other and with growing distance and greater speed comes separation and misunderstanding. Take a moment to relate to someone else, and share something about you they didn’t know.

Small actions, big victories.

 

 

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(When all else fails) Fly The Plane Yourself

Not the best metaphor given my fear of flying and self-medication on even the shortest of journeys but sometimes you have to break down the cockpit door and wrest control from the pilot, even it if earns you a syringe-full of something mellow and a long stay in the clink.

What am I talking about? Self-publishing, of course.

The jumbo jet that is the publishing industry only flies in one direction, and that may not to the desired destination of the passengers. Apparently, according to ‘some bloke’ my husband met down the pub who works in that field, it departs Oxford or Cambridge some time in your late twenties, early thirties, before a short layover at the University of East Anglia if you fancy a Masters in creative writing. It then cruises along, far above everyone else’s heads, emitting inoffensive literary works featuring at least some author memoir material thinly disguised as fiction. Very occasionally, it can be coaxed into taking on a passenger or two from Luton, but they have to sit in the back and not ask for peanuts.

As for those on the check-in desk, they’re nice people. They smile, respond politely and keep the queue moving, making sure the unworthy travellers are kept away from the plane, but they’re drowning under the volume of hopeful passengers trying to get a ticket. I’ve been trying to get on board for a few years now but I’m terribly English and polite about it. The sign says queue here and wait for the next available agent, so that’s what I do. But there are 500 people behind me and about 2000 ignoring the queuing system altogether.

So my choices were to go home and stay there, or learn to fly myself.

I chose to learn to fly and selected the easiest to fly aircraft I could find – the Kindle HopeItsNotTooLateHundred. The instruction manual couldn’t have been simpler to follow, the simulator was a breeze and soon I was ready to fly.

How much did I pay for my ticket? Not a penny.

Was self-check-in an option? You betcha.

What’s the destination? Mm, harder to tell. I did touchdown in CreateSpace for a paperback version to sleep with under my pillow because, well, you know…   I think it’s going to take a while to get truly airborne but there’s no turbulence, no one complaining about your knees in their back, or shoving theirs in yours, and it feels good to have the controls.

To help keep this little plane in the air, click here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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