Six-Figures, but not for me

In the 20.9.19 edition of The Bookseller, Alice O’Keeffe writes about the fabulous-sounding debut novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell called My Dark Vanessa which has been the subject of a six-figure pre-empt by Fourth Estate and is due out next year. She starts the article with the words, “Gut wrenching. Riveting. Devastating…” used to describe the book by early readers but words which went on to perfectly describe my feelings as I read the article.

You see, Russell’s story of a sexual relationship between 15 year-old Vanessa and 45 year-old Jacob, who also happens to be her teacher, is similar to my own story of 15 year-old Mia and 35 year-old James, who happens to be her swim coach: both girls are subject to grooming by men in positions of authority; both believe themselves to be in love; Russell’s villain had abused others, mine had a wife much younger than himself whom he also met through coaching; and both have feminist overtones in line with messaging by the #MeToo campaign.

There are differences: Russell’s story explores the fight for justice for victims whereas mine follows victim, Mia’s, search for James when he disappears; Vanessa has grown up and perhaps gained a little perspective, Mia reaches 16 during the course of the story but still believes herself to be in love; Russell’s book is described as ‘literary’ whilst mine is firmly commercial fiction.

That two similar stories can be written at the same time is a sad indictment of our times perhaps but no surprise. That Russell secured six-figures whilst my book did the rounds of agents before I self-published last year is all credit to her.

I wish her and her debut well. I wish her only good things in her future career. I wish…

I wish it were me.

To pre-order Russell’s My Dark Vanessa, due out 23rd January 2020, click here.

To compare and contrast read my own Catch, Pull, Push available now, click here.

 

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Showergeddon

I hate showers. I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve managed to live my life largely avoiding them with an occasional one as a necessity here and there.

Until recently. We moved out of our gorgeously renovated Victorian villa with its beautiful bath, grey matt tiles, clean grout and effective shower into somewhere that’s another ‘project’ with a bathroom that needs immediate attention. Only we haven’t been able to give it immediate attention and I have spent the last seven weeks having to have showers.

Things came to a head two days ago when I was in the shower on cold damp day. Throughout the summer things had been fine(ish) but, with the weather taking a turn for the cooler, I was not happy to be standing in an avocado green bath surrounded by mould with a leaky shower for company.

I called my husband and asked him for a t-towel. “What d’you need that for?” he asked. I explained it was to wrap around the lowest loop of the shower hose which was channelling the cold water pouring from inside the shower unit causing it to spatter on my legs. Thus, the top half of my body was getting soaked in relatively balmy water and bottom half was undergoing some kind of Arctic water torture.

The t-towel reduced the spatter somewhat but two minutes later with conditioner on my hair and a half-shaved leg the whole thing cut out. I guess that water pouring out had not been a good sign.

After some screaming and some yelling, my husband realised the electrics had tripped and flow was restored for enough time to wash off my hair and rinse my leg.

So where does that leave us? A flannel wash? A bucket in the garden? Or a panicked phone call to the nearest plumber?

My husband wants to swap shower over himself. The kids  look at us like they hate us for making them leave their lovely old house.

Me? I’m off to my sister’s for the weekend. She’s got a bath.

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National (mis)Trust

It so happened that, even though I don’t consider myself to be of a certain age, we joined the National Trust with a family pass, our kids dragging down the average age of a visitor by at least thirty years.

Over the summer, we visited a number of lovely places – Thomas Hardy’s house, Agatha Christie’s summer home, Uppark House and The Vyne to name but a few. So determined was I to get our money’s worth that the kids would spot the brown signs with a leaf on it and start to rebel in the back seat, “Not another one!” Usually, the promise of an ice cream or a gift shop did the trick and the naked figures in the art at Petworth kept my 11-year-old entertained counting all the bits (and the bobs).

The volunteers did an admirable job in every location and the work that has gone into the houses is amazing – which is probably why they were so mistrustful. Not of the kids, they were fine; it was my husband and me who had so many bag rules thrown at us it was hard to keep up. Whether it was ‘leave your bag here’, ‘put your bag on both shoulders’ or, at one place, ‘put your rucksack on the front of your body’ we felt bamboozled. Leaving our bags in the car was not an option as our lunchtime picnic was invariably inside them and we had no chance of getting the kids round a house if we gave them lunch first.

Now I’m sure they can quote the number of artefacts broken each year by a protruding M&S tote but why all the different rules? They were as diverse as their houses and maybe that’s the point. Local treasures, local control.

And no breakages.

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Making Sense of Brexit: The Voice of Mrs Ordinary

What is this monster that started chewing up the British psyche some time ago that no politician can give a workable view of, no journalist or broadcaster can make sense of and that is now eating British jobs and equilibrium? How do we pin it down? Why is it so divisive? Why can’t the best minds in the country get it done (I’m not necessarily talking politicians here)? How far down the path of disunion and animosity do we have to go before our government can agree what to do?

These are a few of the questions that remain unanswered for me so I thought I’d try and work through them. Let’s be clear, I’m no expert. I am a wife and mother, my husband and I run our own business, we are not politically active in terms of party membership or marches but always vote. And we always try to do what we believe is best.

In the run up to the referendum, I had sleepless nights worrying about which way to vote. My problem has always been I can see both sides of an argument; I tend to think of everything in life as a bell curve. There’ll always be people at each extreme but the majority of people will sit in the moderate middle, with leanings either way which may change depending on the situation.

As far as Brexit was concerned, I was sitting right at the top of the bell curve, in a little cart on wheels with no brake, so finely balanced that one fine breath either way would push me over to that side. But that breath never came – for each reason to stay that was put forward an equally compelling reason to leave was made. Both sides spoke a lot of hot air. The truth was we couldn’t know what would happen if we left, and we didn’t know what would happen if we stayed. Buses and slogans were red herrings as much as safety and stability was guaranteed as members; none of it had the weight of authority or the ring of truth.

So is it any surprise we still can’t define Brexit? Attempting to do so starts off simply – you’re either in or you’re out and the British public voted out. So we leave. How do we leave? Also simple. We give notice, negotiate a deal and depart at a mutually agreed time.

What relationship do we have once we part? This is where we could be accused of wanting to have our cake and eat it. No sensible person thinks we are going to get all the benefits of membership with none of the costs or ties. Nah. Not gonna happen.

Theresa May’s original deal seemed to be a sensible arrangement. Not the best. Not ideal.  A bit all things to all (wo)men. But given all the circumstances, sensible. Which may be why she keeps flogging her dead horse hoping it will rise and continue to plough a way through this mess but it won’t and, by the sounds of it, she’ll soon be joining her horse on the ground. Why? Because the people at either end of the bell curve will always vote it down. It goes too far for one side, not far enough for the other. ‘No one’ wants to be half in, half out. How do they know? To be honest, ‘out’ sounds a bit scary, ‘in’ was a pain in the backside at times, great at others, so why not half in half out?

So who will get to define it? Who will ‘win’? Not the British people, that’s for sure. We’re haemorrhaging jobs and businesses, not all of which can be pinned on Brexit, but nor is it happening in a vacuum. The answer is somewhere in between – that damned bell curve again.

This is the bit that sticks in the craw, that makes me feel angry and possibly even motivated to get  out my daughter’s paints and nail a placard to a stick: the politicians in charge, those elected to sort this out, are using Brexit to advance their own agendas.

With the possible exception of Theresa, who seems like an earnest sort believing herself to be doing the right thing even if deluded (but not in a messianic Tony Blair style), everyone else is in it for themselves. Although Theresa did get her premiership out of it so maybe she’s just as bad.

Low points have included Corbyn’s assertion Labour are not going to deliver a Tory Brexit, the blatant self-interestedness of all the Tory leadership candidates surpassed by the master of them all, Boris Johnson, and the continued insistence by all sides on taking sides. If there’s one thing the vote proved, it’s this is not an issue that can be solved along Party lines.

I get that we have an adversarial style of parliament with each side battling the other, largely to ensure we stay in the middle of the curve, but unique situations call for creative thinking and a coming together of ideas and solutions. Shouting “I’m right, you’re wrong” for two years achieves nothing.

What would I like to see happen? I’d like a cross-party, cross-country, cross-gender, cross-social-class group of theorists and pragmatists, economists, sociologists, and a psychiatrist or two to calm down all the excessive tub-thumping, to work together on this, together with a group of representatives from across Europe with the single goal of extracting Britain from the EU in a dignified manner which leaves all parties free to trade with each other, still respecting each other and with honourable future intent. Give them 3 months to sort it; sit them in a room and lock the door if we have to but don’t let them out until it’s done. In fact, I’d like this to have happened 3 years ago before our livelihoods were in jeopardy, we were divided as a nation and we understood the utter contempt we are held in by the likes of Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker.

What do I think will happen? Tory in-fighting will finish Theresa May’s deal and her career as PM. The Tories will sink to greater depths by electing a buffoon with a track-record in lying and a narcissistic God complex. Corbyn will sit on the side-lines doing nothing because he thinks he will swoop to victory at the inevitable general election. The SNP will use it as an opportunity to create more division with the aim of breaking up the United Kingdom. Britain will crash out without a deal and suffer a prolonged period of recession greater than that after the crash of 2008. Whether we then prosper outside the EU and trade profitably across the world I cannot say but I know it won’t be soon.

Hard times are ahead, one way or another. And the real gut-punch?

It didn’t need to be this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you a binger like me?

“Do you write 200 words a day?”

I was recently asked this question by a man. (To be clear, I have never been asked this question by a  woman.)

“Sadly, not,” was my very restrained reply, when all I wanted to do was neck-wrestle him to the floor and hold him there whilst sitting on his back snarling in his ear, “No, I do not. I have two kids, my own business, fifty million competing priorities for my time, oh, and I volunteer at the school as well as sewing all my family’s clothes and baking fresh treats daily!” (Okay, so the last two are made up but I do try and make our meals from scratch. Opening the freezer drawer counts, right?)

Instead, I’m a binge-writer. I’ll write where and when I can for however long it takes for one of the kids to notice I’ve gone missing and there’s a dinner or a snack overdue. I’ll go shopping and stop for an extra half hour for a ‘coffee’ – out comes sad little notebook. I’ll get to the school early for pick-up just to write for 20 minutes – sun visors pulled down so no one recognises me. I’ll write in the bath until my skin wrinkles and someone is banging on the door desperate to use the loo.

I would love to write 200 words every day. The only time I’ve done that is when I was commuting on the train, hemmed in by other people’s fetid breath; I loved it, especially if I managed to bag a table seat (a proper table, not the flip down, airline-style ones).  Right-hand side, nearest the window was my favourite, then the person sitting next to me couldn’t read what I was writing.

So, for now, with my erratic schedule and inability to control all the other demands on my time, I’ll just continue to write when I can.

Ooh, gotta go, I think my husband’s back with the kids…

To read something I did manage to finish, click here.

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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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