Thursday, 27 September 2007

Radio Gaga and a birthday surprise...

I almost forgot! (top tip of the day: always make a note of promises you make when awash with champagne...) It's my turn to provide the present for the little pink dancing guy at the PHS! I decided to be practical-- after all, doing all that dancing, he's going to need a lot of music, so I'm sending him a pink i-pod. I'm going to download some tunes by Pink onto it too...
Happy Birthday little pink heart!
Anyway, in other news, Radio 4's programme on A Hundred Years of Mills & Boon was rather a mixed bag, which I suppose was inevitable and understandable, given that it's aim was probably to present some sort of balance. The inclusion of the finger-wagging, lemon-sucking 'Director of Women's Studies' was yawn-makingly predictable, as were her opinions of the genre. They were so astonishingly misguided that thinking about where to start answering them makes me want to lie down under the desk with a bottle of cooking sherry. Luckily Trish Wylie is made of stronger, cleverer stuff, as are Kate Walker and Natasha Oakley. Go and check out what they have to say about it!

I don't really want to dwell on the negative because there were some really good parts of the programme-- the contribution by Richmond editors Tessa Shapcott, Jo Carr and Meg Sleighthome for a start, Sharon Kendrick's robust dismissal of some tired old cliches, and some of the details about the history of the company (like the fact PG Wodehouse used to write for them!) were all great. So it's silly to get so disproportionately irritated by Celia Brayfield's (herself a writer of women's fiction) contribution which was breath-takingly spiteful to readers-- many of whom I suspect cross over between Mills & Boon and her books. Her considered opinion is that HMB books are written in 'tired' and 'hackneyed language', and that the editors have to go through manuscripts removing the cliches; 'But you can always see the holes where they've cut them out.'


Always, eh Celia?

She must read a lot of them to have noticed that. Which is odd considering she then went on to say that they're 'the lowest common denominator of reading, for people who can only just about read.' It makes you wonder why she wastes her oh-so-valuable time on them. And yet she must because, I mean, nobody would be stupid enough to judge and publicly denounce something they hadn't read would they?

(Celia also calls them 'mediocre'. I bet she'd give her eye teeth for some of Penny Jordan's 'mediocre' sales. 84 million books worldwide. Ouch. That must bite.)

Thankfully Fay Weldon came along just in the nick of time and hit the nail on the head (what a shame Celia Brayfield wasn't standing in the way). Her comment 'I will fight to the death for readers to read what they want' reminded me of Virginia Woolf''s argument in 'A Room of One's Own' in which she denounces exactly Celia Brayfield's obnoxious brand of literary snobbishness

This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women....
So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair on the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve is the most abject treachery...

All in all the programme delivered few surprises, but there was one notable one. Julian Boon's voice. Mmmm... deep, mellow, delicious, and oddly out of place at 11.30 in the morning. I wonder if the powers that be would agree to him doing the 'Book at Bedtime' slot... reading a Mills & Boon, of course....

Payback time

The Cold, which has been threatening since the beginning of last week, has arrived with a vengence. This definitely feels like a punishment for too much drinking and late-night partying in London, and while I know I should be hugely grateful that it delayed its appearance for a week, am feeling far too full of self-pity to manage this.

This morning will see me retreating to bed with a notebook (though it's unlikely that romantic inspiration will strike when my head is full of wallpaper paste) a lemisp and the radio, so that I can listen to this on Radio 4 at 11.30. Am slightly nervous at this prospect-- for reasons so beautifully and concisely expressed by Kate Walker, here, and also incase after listening to the bit about the writing course I realise that I don't have what it takes to be a Mills&Boon author.

Think I shall also arm myself with the biscuit tin and several pieces of toast and jam, to ward off feelings of insecurity and because ancient medical lore says you must feed a cold. Technically I think that means today I'm eating for two.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Back from London...

...slightly reluctantly. I missed husband and daughters lots (mostly at odd random moments, when brushing my teeth or waking suddenly in the night) but blimey, did I have a good time.

I kind of fell in love with London a bit, which took me by surprise as for a long time I’ve maintained a stubborn prejudice against it. This stems from a nightmare visit a few years ago during which I came to the conclusion that attempting to negotiate the capital with a pushchair and small children is a bit like trying to climb Everest in stilettos—ie. dangerous and ultimately futile. This time it all felt very different as I left my Bloomsbury hotel and strode purposefully off to meet my lovely editor.

We met over afternoon tea in the most astonishing and fabulous place—the Wolseley hotel in Piccadilly, which looks like an imposing 1930s bank. My editor was very excited when I arrived as she’d just spotted Cilla Black-- but frankly I was so thrilled to be meeting her that James d’Arcy could have come striding in and I wouldn’t have glanced twice at him. (Well... maybe I would... but only to show how seriously I take research....)

Returning to the hotel several hours later I found Abby Green in residence (luckily, having arrived first, I’d already bagged the best bed and most of the hanging space in the wardrobe) and so began forty eight hours of non-stop talking, punctuated by regular sessions of eating and drinking. That night we met fellow Presents authors Kate Walker, Michelle Reid (both of whom had generously brought along their lovely men to share) Jacqui Baird, Christina Hollis and Natalie Rivers and it was one of those evenings that speeds by in a blur of great company until you suddenly realise it’s 1.30 am.

On Friday morning I’d intended to get up early and take in shops and culture, but was badly led astray by my room-mate and ended up spending the morning eating croissants in bed and watching trash tv. Eventually we got ourselves smartened up and set off for the AMBA lunch, which was held in the RAF club in Piccadilly. I was pretty excited to be there as the hero in the book I’ve just finished (gorgeous Orlando Winterton) is an ex-RAF fighter pilot, so I half expected to see his portrait on the walls alongside all the other distinguished officers. Disappointment that I didn't was more than made up for by meeting up with friends old and new (including lovely Donna Alward, who'd come over from Canada) and by the glorious food. Afterwards the Q&A session, led by Michelle Styles, was great—exactly how I always felt lectures should be when I was at university—interesting, informative, relevant, and carried out over delicious pudding and petits fours.

In the couple of hours between lunch and evening drinking we walked over to Selfridges where Abby, Donna and I went in search of the underwear department while the other members of our party went for a cup of tea. I took the opportunity to nip off and buy a going-home present for The Daughters in the form of a vast box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts (unavailable in the cultural wasteland of the north) and then realised I was going to have to carry them around with me for the remainder of the evening, thus significantly hampering my attempts to look sleek and businesslike. Luckily, on arriving at the Oriental Club where Mills & Boon were holding the annual Toast to the Authors we discovered a cupboard in the huge and stately ladies cloakroom and, leaving the doughnuts in there, sailed forth to drink champagne.

It was a lovely evening. Not only did I get to put faces to many familiar names, but also cheer on Kate Hardy and Kate Walker as they collected beautiful diamond-studded pins for 25 books and 50 books respectively. Then it was time to collect the Krispy Kreme package and make our way through dark streets to the restaurant where the partying continued...
(Trish Wylie and Fiona Harper)

(Meg Sleighthome of HMB, Michelle Styles and Abby Green)
(Natasha Oakley)
(Fiona Harper and Donna Alward)
It's perhaps something of a miracle that the doughnuts did finally make it home pretty much intact and were met with cries of rapture from the daughters, who are now desperate for another fix.
Ha. It looks like I'll just have to go back to London as soon as possible....

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Double life

You can tell the new school year has started by the excessive amount of paperwork that is suddenly gathering on every surface in the kitchen; letters about trips and after school clubs and dinner money demands, all waiting for a response (or a cheque.) You can also tell by the fact that the children have got their first colds of winter.

Daughters 1 and 3 are the first to succumb, appearing from their respective schools yesterday scarlet of nose and streaming of eye. My initial reaction was one of solicitous sympathy-- which quickly turned to horrified recoil as I realised I'm going to London tomorrow for three whole days of pretending to be sleek and chic. This is hard enough already. I want to ditch my usual scruffy bag with its permanent collection of Polly Pocket accessories and ancient till receipts, and go minimal with a teeny-weeny handbag containing nothing but a lipstick and a credit card. I want to waft expensive perfume. I do not want to cart around 4 boxes of Kleenex mansize and create a ten metre exclusion zone around me with the reek of Olbas oil, so have been administering calpol at arm's length, guzzling vitamin C and trying not to breathe in too deeply when I hug my patients. I'm sorry to read over on her blog that Kate Hardy is already suffering, and sitting here sneezing I'm resigned to a similar fate....

Spookily enough, this week marks the first anniversary of the day when I heard my first book had been accepted. That was on September 20th 2006, at about 3.45pm, and exactly a year on I'll be having afternoon tea with the very lovely Mills & Boon editor who made that call! I'm really excited-- and not just about the thought of tea and cake (though that does have a strong appeal, of course...) We may have exchanged countless phone calls and emails in the meantime but it'll be the first time we've ever actually met, and the timing seems wonderfully fitting.

Other highlights of the coming trip include meeting up with all the friends I've made in the last year (which seems, in lots of ways, to have flown by-- but on the other hand I feel like I've known these lovely friends for waaaaay longer), and indulging in the sort of food and drink extravaganza that promises to make the last days of the Roman Empire look positively abstemious in comparison. There's also the lure of all those shops, and the prospect of sharing a hotel room with a certain Abby Green, and maybe locking her in the bathroom until she's written the first chapter of my book for me while I raid the mini bar and watch satellite television.

It'll also be a tiny bit weird to step out of my mummy role for three days. I haven't left the children for that long before (though in case anyone from social services is reading this I should probably point out that I'm not leaving them on their own or anything) and I'm not sure how I'll cope, so I hope Abby won't mind if I inadvertently slip back into the groove and cut up her dinner and make her brush her hair. It's the harvest festival at school on Friday morning, and it could take quite a bit of retail therapy to ease the sting of not being able to see daughter #3 being an ear of corn, or daughter #2 singing a song about marrows. However, I'm looking forward to hearing what my husband manages to put together by way of a harvest gift. His will be the one containing the four pack of beer and the family-sized pizza.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Er... still no writing....

Events seem to be rather conspiring against me in the work department this week. First there was the inconvenient matter of having been turned into an anti-social, maternally dysfunctional, monosyllabic slacker by Amanda Ashby's fantastic book, then there were the two days with daughter #1 off sick from school.... and then yesterday saw the arrival of two cheery chaps from British Gas who came to drink gallons of tea, tell long, rambling anecdotes and slightly rude jokes, and dig up my kitchen floor.

It emerges that the lovely under-floor heating effect I've been enjoying so much on these cold mornings is not entirely a good thing, as we don't in fact have under-floor heating. What we have instead is leaking hot water pipes.

As a result the kitchen now looks like something from an early Tudor peasant dwelling with a bare earth floor, and while I'm a great fan of period features it's not a look I'm very thrilled with. It's got to stay like that until it's all dried out, which could take 'a while' apparently. Perhaps I should strew it with herbs and weave a rush mat or two.

Speaking of 'not very thrilled,' in the midst of all this-- and much to the amusement of the Gas Men-- the advance copies of book 2 arrived. I'm not really feeling the love for the cover, which depicts a staid-looking couple having a snog over the back of an uncomfortable sofa in a terribly smart sitting room. Since most of the action in the book takes place on a yacht I'm slightly puzzled. Oh well. It's an excellent excuse to post another picture of the lovely Alex Pettyfer, whose fallen-angel looks inspired Angelo (who of course, is older and colder, but just as beautiful...)

Here's the book. It's out in January in the UK, and at no point in it does the hero wear a beige shirt, I promise...

Friday, 7 September 2007


The downside of autumn. Coming soon to a bathroom near you.


More reading than writing

This was the week when, having returned the children to school, I was supposed to throw myself headlong into a rigorous working routine, shun all calorific indulgence in favour of carrot sticks and low fat cottage cheese, and-- as suggested by Rachel at the start of the holidays-- clean the fridge.


Have achieved precisely none of the above, and it's all Amanda Ashby's fault, as from the moment the Amazon man delivered my copy of 'You Had Me at Halo' and I just sneaked a little look at the first page it was clear that I wasn't going to get a stroke of work done until I'd read it all. It's totally and utterly fab. I can't stress that enough. Totally. And utterly. Fab. Funny, (she has the greatest turn of phrase and the wittiest dialogue in the known universe) but it's also just a great idea that's simultaneously outrageous and completely believable. I'm about three-quarters of the way through, and I kind of don't want to finish it... (Though of course, if I don't, how am I ever going to get any work done?)

I suppose I should just be very relieved that my lovely husband spotted Abby Green's September release (The Kouros Marriage Revenge) in the shops last week when the ink was virtually still damp from the printing press, so at least I no longer have that one calling to me in a distracting manner from my TBR pile. I read it in huge, greedy stretches over the weekend (which accounts for the back-to-school chaos) and loved every page. Alexandros is so hot; fiercely arrogant and alpha, but there's one scene which really blew me away. I'd better not spoil it by saying which one, but it's quite near the end, and it kind of shows how relationships balance on a knife-edge, how the smallest gesture and the simplest act can alter the entire emotional landscape between two people. The whole book's beautifully executed-- damn her-- and definitely not to be missed.

In other news, I haven't forgotten about the website competition, but am waiting to post the name of the winner until I hear from her that it's OK! The draw took place amid appropriate formality and ceremony (or what passes for it in this house) on Wednesday evening, and the runners up are Jenny, Lily and Nathalie. Congratulations! Thanks so much to everyone who entered-- as it was my first ever competition I wasn't sure what to expect, so was pretty overwhelmed by the number of people who got in touch. It was so great to hear from you all, and I can't wait to do another competition when the next book comes out in January. Hurrah!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Oh dear

So of course, the smugness of a couple of weeks ago was completely misplaced. I wish someone had pointed out to me then that as well as school shoes there was PE kit, trainers, pencil cases and football boots to buy (Football boots?? But I have three daughters! This was never supposed to happen!) I'm blaming you lot!

As a result of a lot of last-minute dashing around assembling the above items I haven't yet got round to organising the draw for my website competition. This is going to be done under very strict controls-- a bit like the National Lottery, but without Terry Wogan and music from a boyband. (Have to confess at this point that I haven't got a clue who presents the National Lottery draw as I'm far too disorganised ever to remember to buy a ticket. Am also terrified that if I did I'd instantly lose it and then discover-- six months later when I remembered to check-- that I'd won ten million pounds and couldn't claim it. Would then be sentenced to a lifetime of bitterness and recrimination as I searched endlessly through coat pockets, old handbags and the mulch of rubbish in the car....) Anyway, the draw is going to be scrupulously fair and impartial, and will take place tonight. I need to get to work on the book, and can't properly sketch in the secondary characters until I know who they are and what their names will be!

The children are back at school and the house is very strangely quiet. That must be why I can hear the piece of chocolate cake in the fridge calling to me so plaintively...