Thursday, 24 December 2009

Listening for the angels...

I am done with shopping. I have totally had enough of overheated department stores, juggling bags and gloves and overpackaged purchases to get my credit card out. Again. And again. I am heartily sick of hearing endless budget karaoke versions of 'Santa Baby' and 'Fairytale of New York' and am now craving space and silence and still, frosty woodland so that I can pick up that invisible thread that connects us all down thousands of years of Christmases.

Am going out to cut holly and clear my head of vile twenty-first century commercialism and take time to be grateful for all that I have (eg. lovely family, all of you, ten thousand reasonably workable words of a book that has to be in in January) And not worry about the things I haven’t got (enough wrapping paper, a present for the bin men, the particular kind of Lancashire cheese my mother likes.)

Wishing you all peace, love, health and hope this Christmas. And a big tin of Roses chocolates, of course.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

First I do Christmas and then I conquer the world....

The one good thing about having a party on the 18th December is that it forces you to tidy away all the clutter beforehand, and give the house a thorough cleaning afterwards. Spent much of Saturday washing sofa covers and scrubbing the kitchen (don't ask) with the result that everywhere is now looking unnaturally tidy, gleaming and like the home of someone who is in control of the whole Christmas juggernaut.

Of course, this is all a complete illusion, but at least after a last frantic shopping day yesterday the daughters are roughly equal in present terms. This is an annual challenge; balancing the number of parcels to be unwrapped with both the 'wow factor' and the amount spent, and having three girls makes it particularly challenging. Choosing sparkly fripperies that are equal in charm and value and yet still distinctly original and well-suited to the daughter in question requires a range of skills that you could only possibly hope to find if you melted together the brains of a management accountant, a psychologist, Kofi Anan and one of those style journalists who do annoying London-centric shopping features in Sunday magazines.

Anyway, in the midst of all this it's been fabulous to discover that so many people took the time out of their own festive preparations to answer the competiton question for a chance to win a copy of Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper (and it's also been gorgeous to get your messages in the emails too.) The daughters picked two winners each from an empty Quality Street box, and the names that came out are... Peggy, Jacqueline, Kelly, Jayne H, Sri and Susan. I'll email you later to get addresses and put the books in the post (where they'll no doubt spend a quiet Christmas, but hopefully arrive soon after.)

Am now off to look for something to give the children for breakfast. This year I very cunningly booked my Sainsburys online shop well in advance and felt enormously smug and in control. However, when it was delivered on Sunday I remembered that I'd only ordered bizarre seasonal items like dill sauce, mini-sausages-wrapped-in-bacon and 300 lemons and there isn't a box of Cheerios in sight.

(I wonder what toast and brandy butter is like?)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

If I ignore it, maybe it'll go away. (Oh, and a competition question)

The only thing I’ve written this week is a poem for daughter #3 to perform in the Christmas talent show at school. As creative output goes this is undeniably rubbish. Like the poem.

PTA Christmas dinner last night, and daughter #2’s carol service in church this evening, followed by pub with fellow mums and members of the 'Victims of Christmas Support Group'. In my life this is what passes for what, in magazines they call ‘The Party Season.’

Anyway, back to Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper, and Tuscany where it’s warm and there are no queues in the supermarket. Looking back at the soundtrack from the book on my ipod I’m reminded of something I probably should have mentioned last time because it occupies such a central place in the story, and that’s the recurring symbol of the moon. This was there from the earliest stages of the idea, when for some reason I decided that Sarah’s five year old daughter would have a bit of a fascination with all things lunar (Long before I started writing the book I scribbled down a couple of lines of dialogue on a dinner money slip while sitting in the school car park . ‘Mummy, when I grow up I want to be an astronaut.’ ‘And I want to be a rich man’s plaything, but life doesn’t always work out how we want it to.’ This made a brief appearance in various chapters at various times but never quite fit properly and so didn’t end up in the final book, but Sarah and Lottie’s characters, and their relationship, were built around it.) When I came to thinking about the film Lorenzo had just completed it made sense to bring the astrological/lunar theme into that as well, and without really thinking too hard it seemed to weave its way into the fabric of the story.

And the music, of course. This is a song with which I became very,very familiar during The Laura Ashley years because it was on one of the compilation CDs they played in a constant loop. I still like it though, and for obvious reasons it definitely needed a place on this playlist. Other astrology/moon related songs were Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer (you can see an orrery in the video, which is something I also put in the book), Moon River (REM rather than Henry Mancini) and Song to the Moon by Dvorak. I used the Katharine Jenkins version, which is in English, and the spirit of which definitely inspired the Venice-at-nighttime part of the book.

Sour Times by Portishead was the first song on the playlist. For me this summed up the bad place Sarah was in at the start of the book, with her seven-year relationship with Lottie’s philandering father at an end and her self-esteem in tatters. I also discovered this beautiful song by Natalie Merchant which I played to death but never got tired of.

The lines ‘I’ve been treated so wrong I’ve been treated so long As if I’m becoming untouchable’ seemed to be very true of Sarah, and the poignant atmosphere of resignation absolutely sums up her outlook on life and her low expectations for her own happiness.

Try a Little Tenderness, by Otis Redding was, I suppose, Lorenzo’s response to that. And it is such a GREAT song.

As the book was about an Italian film director it was a great excuse to listen endlessly to the soundtrack to Cinema Paradiso, one of the best films ever. (Here’s Josh Groban giving the love theme his treatment.) I also admit that the final scene in my book was very much inspired by the ending of the film…

(Although since getting my author copies I’ve spotted a copy-editing error which, to me, totally ruins the big emotional climax! There’s supposed to be a page break in one of the final pages, which balances the pace or something crucial like that and without it it all feels a bit rushed and tensionless. My fault for not going through my proofs carefully enough. Shall have to go into shops and hand-correct as many copies as possible.)

Talking of author copies I have some to give away. As this is a simultaneous release in the US and the UK I have both Presents and Modern editions, so I'm giving away three of each. If you'd like a copy just email me via the website (still not updated, but it's on my list of things to do, after lose a stone, climb Everest and train the daughters to work the dishwasher) with the answer to this question and I'll pick the winners in my usual random fashion:

Which sixteenth century scientist is the subject of Lorenzo's film? *
*(There's a good introduction to him here. Never let it be said this blog isn't educational.)
On that intellectual note I'm going to go drag myself around the supermarket. Did I mention that daughter #1, AKA the Teenage Drama Queen, somehow managed to persuade us to let her have a party? Tomorrow? As if Christmas wasn't stressful enough.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

At last... Introducing Lorenzo and Sarah from Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper

So, the cheese and pineapple cubes were oddly satisfying. Stress-levels had reached critical point by the time I finally returned home from the supermarket with my tinned pineapple chunks and rubbery mild cheddar, but the half hour it took me to spear them with cocktail sticks was fabulously therapeutic. Am not really a fan of the cheese-and-tropical-fruit combination myself, but have to admit there's something about eating bitesized bits off a cocktail stick that makes you consume stuff you wouldn't usually bother with. Am wondering if it might be a good way to get the children to eat sprouts and Christmas pudding this year.

Anyway, pineapple and cheese on sticks don't actually feature in Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper so I'd better move on and get down to business. Just to re-cap, this was the book I started writing this time last year, when I was still a bit shell-shocked from the bleakness of Tristan and Lily's story and in need of some light relief.

I can't remember when or how I first came up with the idea of a book about a thirty-ish single mother enduring the ordeal of her younger, prettier, more successful sister's wedding but I do know that, with it's slightly larger cast of characters and inherently rom-com tone, I originally thought it would make a good Modern Heat. However, after Tristan and Lily this was exactly what I wanted to write, so gave the basic premise a few significant tweaks and indulgently steamed ahead.

From the outset the book had a very different atmosphere from the ones I'd written before and to reflect this I needed a hero who was a little bit unusual, a little less hard and handsome and polished than his predecessors. If you remember I was initially thinking of casting a young and brooding Marco Pierre White in the role, but unfortunately he failed to grasp that he was merely there for visual guidance and his immensely strong character and flat Yorkshire vowels kept imposing themselves onto the character of Lorenzo to an unacceptable degree. I’m afraid in the end he had to go and Keanu Reeves, in his battered, grey-streaked and world-weary forties very admirably took his place.

Lorenzo Cavalleri is an Italian film director who, from humble beginnings, has achieved huge commercial and financial success and been married to an actress widely acknowledged as the most beautiful woman in the world. The trouble is, none of this has brought him any happiness. As the book opens he is newly divorced and getting ready for the release of his latest film - a sexed-up blockbuster about the life of sixteenth century scientist Galileo, starring his ex-wife and the pretty-boy actor with whom she had an affair during filming. It is Lorenzo’s darkest hour, and he is forced to confront the creative cost of his success. In a desperate attempt to regain some glimmer of artistic integrity and self-respect he travels to Oxfordshire to check out the locations for a project he has wanted to do for years; a film of a little known, lyrical book by a dead poet called Francis Tate.

If the book has a theme I guess it would be authenticity. Lorenzo works in an industry which is all about artifice, but he is a man who prizes authenticity above all else. When he meets Sarah he is knocked sideways by her artlessness and while she might see herself as pitifully unsophisticated, to Lorenzo she is a breath of fresh air and someone who can restore his faith in life and women as well as giving him back his creative vision.

One of the things that sets this book apart from the others is that, for me, it’s very much Sarah’s story. Usually when I start planning and writing a book the hero is the most dominant presence in it, the character that dictates the mood and the action, but I felt very much when I was writing this one that it was all about Sarah. And of course, Sarah represents all of us. I think more than any other heroine I’ve written she is the most grounded in reality and embodies the most recognisable bits of myself and my friends, which made her very easy and hugely enjoyable to write. It also made me really, really want to create a strong and worthy hero for her - a man who would understand her buried sadness and appreciate her generous, curvy beauty.

(Not much to ask, is it?)

On that wistful note I'd better go and join the queue at the post office. Back on Thursday with music and a competition question.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

Back from a weekend away on His home ground in South Oxfordshire, delivering presents to grandparents and godchildren. Driving through postcard-pretty villages with brick-and-flint churches, duckponds and ancient pubs I was reminded at every turn of Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper (the first part of which was very specifically set there.)

Unfortunately I was also reminded of my utter failure to blog about the book and its background and characters as promised last week, and came back up the M40 full of virtuous resolutions to do it first thing this morning. (Or at least after I'd been to the supermarket, the post office and the dry cleaners.) However, a phonecall just now from the lovely and long-suffering secretary at Daughter #3's school, gently reminding me that it's the Juniors' Christmas party this afternoon and that I need to bring in party clothes and 50 cheese and pineapple cubes on cocktail sticks has turned my resolutions to ashes.

(Cheese and pineapple cubes? Does anyone eat those these days? And do I have to fashion them into a retro-style hedgehog?)

Back tomorrow. Honest.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Group Hug

Thanks to everyone who held my hand and offered advice on my mini-crisis last week – I’m hugely grateful, and relieved to say that it’s all looking a bit more positive now (thanks to you guys, a bottle of wine and an hour long call to Abby Green’s Writers’ Helpline.) I’m not actually that much further on in terms of word count, but I now have a stupidly detailed outline. And I’m not afraid to use it.

As of today I also have a big box of paperback copies of Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper, which is out in both the US and UK in January. That means that next week I can seize that as an excuse to take time out from doing battle with the book I haven’t yet written to blog about one that I have! Excellent!

(This is my Italian film director book. Do you want to see what it looks like? It has Ricky Gervaise on the cover!)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

What would you do?

I know it’s been so long since I posted about writing that many people who drop by here will have forgotten that that is ostensibly why I keep this blog—because I'm supposed to be a writer. I haven’t been mentioning it much, not because I haven’t been doing it but because of late I seem to have been doing it very badly, which is all highly frustrating and depressing. The book that I’m working on has been started no less than 3 times now, and each time I’ve trashed ten thousand words or so and gone back to the start, convinced that this time I’ve nailed the small plot/character detail that holds the key to the conflict and all is going to go smoothly from now on.

Unfortunately it’s not really working out like that.

I’ve been stuck on a particular key scene for the last week now, and no matter how I approach it I don’t seem to be able to make it work. The characters don’t seem to be able to relax and talk naturally in the situation I’ve put them in—it’s a bit like working with actors (and Abby Green would know a lot more about this than I do) who are reading the script and rolling their eyes and saying ‘but what’s my motivation?’

I’ve tried to explain their motivation endlessly, but there comes a point where endless explanation becomes a problem in itself. I’ve tried to tell them that they have to do this scene one way or another, or else there’ll be no story and we’ll all be out of a job, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. So now I’m wondering, maybe it’s just because none of us know each other properly yet? Maybe I should pick up the story after the pivotal point and keep writing, and then go back at the end and fill in the blanks?

I find that idea logical but terrifying. Has anyone else ever done it? Does it work? Is it a direct route into another wasted week of sleepless nights and negative word count? And what would YOU do?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Today's comment on contemporary culture

I read with interest that the Advertising Standards Authority have received complaints from several viewers this year's M&S Christmas advert (sacrilege!) Apparently gruff Philip Glenister’s line about ‘that girl prancing around in her underwear’ is considered by some to be offensive and 'demeaning to women.' Gosh. Funnily enough, I don’t feel terribly demeaned when I watch that bit. Wistful, maybe, and slightly depressed. I'm sure lovely, bad-tempered Philip wouldn't consider it a festive highlight to watch me prancing (prancing? Not sure I even know how…) in my grim, workhouse undergarments.

I hope that M&S respond, with due responsibility, by making a second installment featuring Robert Pattinson stripping off to his (100% easycare cotton) boxers. Actually, I think I might complain too, just to add weight to the argument.

(Have just realized that this is the latest in a succession of TV-related blog posts recently.Oh dear, my cultural references are pitifully limited. Come back next week when I shall be analysing the use of dramatic irony in Harry Hill's TV Burp and discussing madness and morality in the X-Factor.)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Home Truths

Happily settled myself on the sofa last night to watch the BBC 4 docu-drama on childrens' novelist Enid Blyton. Helena Bonham Carter was fabulous (and sexy Matthew McFayden was, well… not sexy, but fabulous too) and I deeply coveted her office, her clothes and her ability to write 6 000 words a day. However, the programme was not all sunshine and lashings of ginger beer, focusing as it did on the bitter irony that Ms Blyton was so busy writing about the endless joys of childhood that she ruthlessly sidelined her own children.

Gulp. Better get back to my own book, where the hero and heroine are lying in the afterglow of hot sex on a car bonnet and try not to dwell on the fact that the most intimate thing I’ve done with my husband this week is discuss car insurance.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Catching Up

A thick, grey fog is hanging over the garden today, like the frozen remains of the weekend’s bonfire smoke, and it’s obvious that Winter has really arrived (generously bringing with it a savage sore throat and vile cold. Thanks, Winter.) Seems like months, rather than just over a week since we were away in the Welsh Marches, having breakfast outside in the garden or walking through golden and sunlit woodland to picnic on the hill overlooking this view…

The clocks changed on the Saturday that we arrived, but instead of going back an hour we might as well have turned them back a century as mobile phones were left to languish and we all - even Facebook-fixated daughter #1 - forgot to miss screen-based entertainment. The house we were staying in was once a gamekeeper’s cottage and retained a pleasing air of Edwardian austerity (ie. there was no dishwasher) but the autumn colours of the woods surrounding it were utterly majestic. The daughters went off looking for sweet chestnuts to roast and racing around cathedral-like clearings trying to catch the leaves that spiraled down on each breath of wind. In a cupboard in what must once have been the head-keeper’s office we discovered a dreadful mud-coloured jigsaw of steam trains and they spent the evenings huddled myopically over it in companionable silence.

It’s taken me a week to ease myself back into modern life and into my current book, set in the high-octane world of Formula One and the glitter and glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix. A week, and an awful lot of comforting tea and chocolate. What's everyone else been up to?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Is it Aliens, part of the recession or just my imagination?

But I have a theory that time is speeding up.

A week used to be a solid, reliable space of time in which you could fit in a trip to the supermarket, at least one conversation with your spouse, five bedtime stories to daughter #3 AND ten thousand words on the w-i-p. Now, five thousand words and half a page of Harry Potter and it's time to iron the uniforms for Monday morning again. There must be some scientific explanation for this because how else can it be half term ALREADY?

Anyway, we're going back to the Middle of Nowhere for a few days, where I shall single-handedly attempt to slow it all down again. Whatever you're doing this week, enjoy every minute!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Because You're Worth It and all that

Here in the UK Tuesday evenings have become girls-on-the-sofa night, thanks to a new series of How to Look Good Naked. For the benefit of those of you elsewhere in the world, let me explain: it’s a programme where women with serious body-image issues are put through several entirely non-scientific forms of therapy to emerge at the end of an hour (TV time) with their heads held high and a smile on their faces as they parade down a catwalk without a stitch on in front of hundreds of people.

Admittedly I have to watch some of it from between my fingers—particularly the parts where they have the dismal contents of their wardrobes strung out in public, with all the sale bargain mistakes and remnants from former ages of fashion history prominently displayed for all to see. And I can’t begin to understand how someone who can’t face looking at themselves starkers in a mirror in the privacy of their own bedroom can agree to go on national television on a programme that is mostly about getting your kit off. But I’m glad they do, because it makes for the kind of viewing that gives you a good feeling about life and cellulite, and how often can you say that?

Key to its success of course, is its presenter. Gok Wan makes the whole thing about female empowerment in a way that superior, bullying alpha-girl gang Trinny and Susannah never did. I love Gok because Gok loves women (although not in a biblical sense, obviously) and he shouts out the message that Mills & Boon has been quietly imparting to readers for years: namely, who cares if you have a big bottom/no bottom at all, a rounded tummy/flat chest, magnificent, child-bearing hips/all the voluptuosness of an ironing board? You’re beautiful. In a house with 3 daughters this makes How to Look Good Naked qualify as Educational Viewing.

In the same vein of boosting self-esteem and all round sharing the love and positivity, I have a lovely review for Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride from Julie at Cataromance, in which she says

If it’s a gripping romance rich in drama and passion that you’re after, then look no further than India Grey’s latest: Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride! Her writing is poised and assured and sparkling with deep emotional resonance which will move you to tears. Her love scenes are pure poetry – sensuous, well-written and affecting – and her ability to pen an unforgettable tale that readers will remember long after the last page is turned simply stunning.

Pure poetry. I LOVED that bit. Thanks Julie-- take a glass of champagne and go and join Gok Wan in my VIP Lounge for People Who Make Life Feel Better.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Christmas has already lost its charm(s)

My mother comes round, with the particular air of purpose that a lifetime of experience has taught me to fear, and announces she is going to make the Christmas Pudding this Sunday. For a moment I am so diverted by wistful thoughts of growing up into the kind of person who a) makes a Christmas pudding and b) does so in October that I fail to anticipate what is coming next. She asks me if I know where the Christmas Pudding Charms are as they’re not in the special Christmas Pudding Charms Place in her house.

I instantly have a feeling that I do know. It is not a good feeling.

Attempt to sound simultaneously vague yet reassuring and wait until she has departed before scrabbling amongst the debris of hardened paintbrushes, cat worming tablets and unidentifiable models made from clay and egg boxes on the kitchen windowsill. Heart sinks as I discover an eggcup containing a thick brownish gloop. Further investigation reveals this to consist of a rich mixture of Christmas Pudding dissolved in ancient washing up water, in which the silver Christmas Pudding Charms have been marinading since last Boxing Day.

Horror. Christmas Pudding Charms, once excavated, no longer remotely silver-looking. More a sort of blackened pewter. Help! Can I clean them? How?? Will putting them in some kind of silver-cleaning solution poison us all??? Or should I just keep it simple, leave the country and convert to Bhuddism?

Monday, 5 October 2009

I thought they were called Snickers now anyway?

My brother—my older brother-- ran the Loch Ness marathon yesterday. In 3 hours 48 minutes, after many months of rigorous and disciplined training.

From this I think we can deduce that chronic laziness is not genetic.

(Either that or I was swapped at birth.)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hell-o! I'm Back!

In every sense of the word. It’s amazing what a couple of days in London can do: like add two inches to your hips, kill off a few liver cells, melt your Visa card, remind you EXACTLY why writing for Mills & Boon is the coolest and best job on the planet and make your head virtually explode with new ideas. (Or was that just the hangover? Oh no… there really are pages of excited scribble, involving the words 'rampaging', 'taut', 'catastrophic' and 'walk of shame' in my notebook.)

The summer break is over, ladies. I’m back in business.

(Ahem... This dramatic, cinema-trailer-style revelation is intended to distract you all from the fact that once again I have failed to take a single photograph of my three days in London. Mostly because I failed to remember to take a camera with me. However, as compensation here is a picture of my new hero. Now, isn't he nice?)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

And the Winner is...

I’ve been so busy trying to get myself organized for my annual trip to London for the Mills & Boon Authors’ Lunch (and the associated glamorous revelry that goes on with it) that there hasn’t been a moment to announce that the winner of the Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride competition is Lesley, with Johanna as a runner-up. Congratulations ladies, and I’ll get prizes in the post early next week on my return from the Big Smoke.

Once again this year Abby Green and I shall be setting up our Campaign Headquarters in a shared hotel room with a well-stocked mini bar. Over the next few days I am looking forward to…
  • Applying my butterfly mind (too easily distracted here by the internet, the laundry pile, the telephone, the writing on the back of the cereal packets) to my New Book for the entire length of the train journey and then boring Abby Green with the plot dilemmas.
  • Seeing Abby and Natalie Rivers and Christina Hollis and Michelle Styles and the Kates (Hardy and Walker) and Carole Mortimer and Sabrina Phillips and Sharon Kendrick and Penny Jordan and Chantelle Shaw and EVERYONE!
  • Having hotel-room biscuits in bed for breakfast. With a hangover.
  • Meeting my editor for afternoon tea tomorrow.
  • Not having to decide what’s for dinner
  • Wearing make-up and posh underwear (ie not faded, elastic-less or more than 5 years old)
  • Not having to get up in time for the school run
  • Coming home and hugging the daughters. And Him. Because no matter how much fun it is to go away, that’s always one of the best bits.

Back next week with a full report!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

At last!

After a long journey halfway around the world Tristan has finally arrived on my doorstep. I’m very pleased to see him because it means that I can finally send copies out to people I promised them to as long ago as May. Here’s what he looks like in paperback format…

… hmmm, being brutally frank, not much better than he did in hardback. For a wicked moment I did consider making the contest to think up a caption/explaination of what’s going through Tristan’s head in this picture, but decided it would be cruel. And besides, the lovely Margaret James who interviewed me recently for Writing Magazine came up with the definitive answer to that question. She reckons that Lily "is standing on Tristan's foot and he is too much of a gentleman to say so - he is suffering in silence and being all Zen about it. Or he has got indigestion. Or he has just remembered he is wearing his Manchester United novelty thong because all his others are in the wash and he wasn't expecting to get lucky tonight."

Sorry Tristan, but that did make me laugh immoderately.

Thanks to everyone who’s entered the contest so far. For anyone who hasn’t got round to it yet and would like a chance to win a well-travelled copy of Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride and other assorted goodies (which might just be added to on my trip to London next week—I love an excuse to shop) you've got until Friday to mail the names of Tristan and Lily’s best friends to this address. (*whispers* You can find them in the blog post from 24th August.)

In other news, I am struggling to drag myself out of my blissful state of holiday ennui. Honestly, I am…

Friday, 4 September 2009

Where did THAT week go?

Sorry, have been absent much longer than I intended, due to a combination of post-fabulous-weekend-exhaustion, an avalanche of washing and the last minute frenzied panic of getting the children back to school. The headlines are that my team didn’t bring home the wooden spoon this year (no thanks to me, of course) and that the fancy dress was riotously funny. You can’t ever really say you know your own brothers until you’ve seen them in wigs and dresses, I’d say. We were predictably poor at taking photos, but as soon as those from more organized members of the family filter through I’ll post a selection of edited highlights. One magical moment we did manage to capture was the bit on Sunday night when my Auntie Moira (who has always had an incredible talent for making things feel special and leaving a trail of fairy dust everywhere she goes) gave us all fire lanterns, and we made a wish as we lit them and watched them drift up through the night sky and float high over the dark fields like glowing stars, or very languid comets. It’s a scene that will no doubt go in a book one day, but in the meantime is safely stored in my mental box of Gorgeous Memories.

Anyway, back to business and I find myself thwarted at every turn. Not only have my author copies STILL not shown up, but with the children out of the way at school I’ve been trying to put together a post with Tristan and Lily’s playlist, only to discover that copyright law now prevents it. (See those playlist things over there <-- ?? Purely decorative now, it seems.) Like all authors I’m all in favour of anything that stops the free distribution of stuff people have sweated blood, neglected their children and given up sleep to produce so I’m not grumbling about this at all, but I could have done without the hours of mind-numbing internet searching I’ve endured trying to work out if I can post stuff here that I’ve bought from i-tunes. The answer, I believe, is no but if anyone knows different do get in touch! I adored this playlist way too much not to share it—it’s my favourite of them all by miles, largely because it naturally fit the book so damned well. If you’ve read Tristan and Lily's story you might like to check out some of these songs…. Tonight and the Rest of my Life—Nina Gordon (The mood of this inspired the first chapter to such a degree that a couple of lines are spookily similar. See if you can spot them!)

Gravity of Love—Enigma (Chapter Two… It even mentions a dove!)

Remember When it Rained—Josh Groban (Lily remembers waking up in the night with Tristan.)

This Woman’s Work—Kate Bush. (Tristan’s regrets as he watches Lily sleeping in the hospital in Barcelona.)
My Immortal-- Evanescence and Breathe Me—Sia (Lily struggles to come to terms with what she’s lost.)

9 Crimes—Damien Rice (Loving each other/destroying each other. Sigh. Gorgeous song.)

Now all that I need to do, if everyone hasn’t passed out from extreme apathy while waiting, is post the question. It’s been so long since I began all this that I suspect ‘What is the title of the book I’ve been rambling on about?’ might be a good one, but instead I’m asking for the names of Tristan and Lily’s best friends. (First names only will do—you’ll find them in the post from 24th August, below.) Email me via the website, and I’ll pick out a winner a week today and send them (hopefully) one of the elusive copies of the book, some of my favourite L’Occitane soap from where Lily gets her ‘milk and honey’ fragrance, and some other bits and pieces.

There, now you see I’ve finally got round to finishing this off, and now I’ve gone and mentioned the website. And that’s a whole new chapter on my Things To Do list. (Buries head in hands and weeps.)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Costume Drama and On Location

Since His shock revelation at the weekend that the girls go back to school NEXT WEEK instead of the following one, under which happy illusion I had been joyfully labouring, the week has taken on something of a comical aspect. Like someone in a speeded-up film I am rushing around trying to assemble all the necessary bits of uniform and kit for daughter #2 as well as camping equipment, food contributions and 5 fancy dress costumes for our annual family get-together this weekend.

That's right-- this year the traditional Olympic games have been given an extra twist by brother #2, who (obviously bored in the office one day) has decreed that instead of being allocated countries, the teams will each be given a fancy dress theme. Daughter #1 is clad head to toe in lycra in the Superheroes (rather her than me), #2 has raided the dressing-up box and come up with a glamorous, swashbuckling ensemble for her place in the Pirate team, and #3 is cute as a button in denim and gingham for the Cowboys and Indians. Him Indoors had an alarmingly laid-back approach to putting together his look for the 70s Disco team, but very annoyingly managed to get everything in one quick swoop on the charity shops on Saturday afternoon. (Everything being hip-hugging ladies white flared trousers, black polyester shirt, cuban heeled boots, aviator shades and a loathsome gold medallion. The overall effect is John Travolta meets the Village People and is as camp as Christmas.) I am in The Victorians, so couldn't pass up such a golden opportunity to buy a corset. It's black, with fierce steel stud fastenings up the front and I'm utterly thrilled with it and its instant half-stone weight-loss effect. (Am currently wondering how I can incorporate it into my outfit for next month's glamorous Mills & Boon get together in London...) Quite how I shall manage to compete at table tennis and hula hooping in it remains a mystery. I predict another wooden spoon to add to my collection.

Anyway, in the midst of all this I'm also guiltily aware that I failed to deliver yesterday's promised look behind the scenes on location of Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride, so here it is!(better late than never etc...)

The book opens at a glittering Costume Ball in the grounds of Stowell Castle (no women's polyester flares for Tristan though) and as I wrote this bit when school was out last summer, one of our favourite haunts brought the setting very vividly to life in my head. Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire is the home of the Marchioness of Cholmondelely (famously and incomprehensibly pronounced Chumley) and the daughters and I spent a lot of time hanging around in the gardens, working out where you could land a helicopter and which would be the best place to put up marquees if you were having a party. This is my favourite view of the castle, from the lake where I built an imaginary folly on an island—Tristan’s secret retreat from the world.

By the time school went back and I tripped off down to London for the annual Mills & Boon Authors' Lunch I’d progressed to the part of the story which takes place at Lily’s home in London. As she’s a successful model I decided that she should definitely live in uber-chic, celebritytastic Primrose Hill, so Abby Green and I walked there from Euston (having stopped to pick up fortifying Krispy Kreme doughnuts on the way—it’s quite a distance, you know) to check it out. We bought a picnic lunch from a deli on Regents Park Road and ate it on the hill in the September sunshine, then wandered round looking for the kind of house that Lily might live in. We were really excited to come across the pretty little lilac-painted house in Chalcot Square which for a brief period had been the home of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. I did my university dissertation on Sylvia Plath so had to resist the urge to throw myself down on the pavement outside and lick the paving stones where she once walked, and instead decided that in tribute this would be Lily’s house in the book. (I’m sure Sylvia would be beyond thrilled to know this.)

The other important location in the book is Tristan’s home ground—Barcelona. Now, I love the internet, and its value as a research tool can’t be overstated, but there are some instances where it just seems ever so slightly inadequate— namely when I discovered this hotel tucked away in a tiny corner of the exquisitely pretty Placa de Sant Felipe (with its desperately sad history) and had a sudden and alarming urge to leave the kids with my mother and drag Him off that very weekend for some on-the-spot research. Perhaps fortunately the Hotel Neri was all booked up (no chance of them making space for me—unlike Tristan) so in the end I did have to fall back on the internet. This is the archway into the square...

Spookily this song was already on my playlist for the book when I discovered that the video was actually filmed in the square outside the church where Tristan and Lily get married. The children from the school, who get a mention in the book also make an appearance!

(And in spite of the woman dangerously writhing around on the scaffolding, I’d still love to go there… )
That seems a suitable note to leave on since next time I'm going to talk more about the music I was listening to when I wrote the book. I'll also get round to posting the question for the competition! (Shall try to think of something other than 'Where in the name of Cadbury are my $%*#! author copies'...)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Enid Blyton meets the Spanish Aristocrat

The Mystery of the Disappearing Author Copies has finally been solved, thanks to lovely medical romance writer Lynne Marshall, the wonders of email (and lashings of ginger beer.) Lynne got in touch at the weekend to say that a slightly bashed up boxful of copies of Spanish Aristocrat Forced Bride had been delivered to her house in California. (California, USA…Cheshire, UK…. I suppose I can just about see a certain semantic similarity, though looking out of my window into the dripping green English excuse for a summer it’s obvious that’s as far as it goes.)

Anyway, I'm hugely grateful to Lynne for solving the mystery. Now we just have to work out how to get them from there to here, but while we wrestle with that issue I’m going to get on with saying a little bit about the book and come up with a question or two so I can give away some copies when I finally get my hands on them. Here in the UK the new series of The Tudors began on Friday and so lovely Henry Cavill (face of Tristan) has been on my TV screen and my mind a lot of late. Let’s remind ourselves what he looks like, shall we?

Oh yummy. (Did I mention that I actually came face to face with him last summer when I went to visit Abby Green in Dublin? Oh I did?? Only 252 times???) In writing and in childbirth, the distance of time has a funny way of erasing the pain so that when you look back you only remember the excitement. However a quick glance back into the archive here (and here) shows that in this case my mind isn’t deceiving me. I loved Tristan and I actually, honestly, genuinely loved writing this book.

I think I’ve already mentioned somewhere that the idea for Tristan and Lily's story came to me while I was putting on mascara. It was during the period of stress-related insanity we now fondly call the writing of Taken for Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure, and I could see instantly that the conflict in this new story would be so simple and straightforward that I almost wept with relief. Given the mascara situation would have been very foolish indeed, so I reached for a pen and wrote the synopsis on the back of an envelope, wondering as I did so whether it might just be a teeny weeny bit depressing, even by my standards.

However, I’m nothing if not shallow and the lure of a handsome playboy tortured by a difficult past was too strong to resist. Tristan Losada Montalvo de Romero is staggeringly wealthy, fearsomely intelligent and breath-catchingly gorgeous, but happy he certainly isn’t—a fact which he attempts to blot out in the classic, time-honoured alpha-male way—ie by sleeping with as many beautiful women as humanly possible. When he meets Lily Alexander at a party at his best friend Tom Montague’s ancestral home he is interested only in temporarily blotting out the nightmarish reality of his complicated life and adding her to his list of one-night conquests.

Lily has reached a crossroads in a life that feels empty and purposeless. Along with her best friend Scarlet she was spotted by a modeling scout in her home town of Brighton at the age of 17 and from there drifted into a career she never actively sought, in which she has always felt ill at ease. Secretly she longs for a life that is far removed from the sterile, shallow world she finds herself in. She wants the warmth and security she lacked as a child... she wants marriage and motherhood; feelings which are intensified by Scarlet's blossoming relationship with Tom Montague.

And so it is that, a few weeks after her magical night with Tristan, the news that she's pregnant doesn't feel like a disaster. A shock, definitely, but also a source of secret, surprising joy. It's what she's always wanted, so she can’t think of it as being a mistake. However, telling Tristan about it is a whole different matter. That's the bit where it all starts to go a bit off road.

I incorporated into Lily all my own youthful and very politically incorrect yearnings to get married and have babies. When I was a teenager the phrase ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ failed to stir ambitions of global travel and corporate success in my chest, but conjured images of a house with a fireplace and a big old brass bed, shelves full of books and a pram beneath the apple tree. (Oddly enough, a towering pile of ironing and liberal quantities of Rice Krispies scattered across the floor were absent from this vision.) I suppose Lily’s story is a slightly cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for, but I like to think that it also proves that if you love wholly and selflessly; if you have faith and keep on believing, you can find happiness in one form or another. Lily almost loses everything, but she hangs on to her dream… and in doing so discovers that it wasn’t quite what she thought it was.
Anyway, back in reality we're now in the final week of the summer holidays (news which came as a shock to me when He broke it to me at the weekend. I was firmly of the impression that we had another week...) so chaos reigns around here and I must go and sort it out before it becomes a job for the professionals. Back soon with more background info on the book. Tomorrow-- the setting and locations.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Taking laziness to a new level

We’re at the stage of the summer holidays now where getting dressed before 11am or achieving any sort of efficiency is just a dim and distant memory. Every day new items are added to my list of things to do, but somehow the prospect of naming all daughter #2’s new school uniform, sorting out my office and updating my website is just too overwhelming—I am adrift on a soothing sea of summer apathy and am in no hurry to pick up the oars and row back to shore with its daunting and wearisome array of imperatives. Thoughts and ideas for future books are positively burgeoning in my head like the fat harvest of apples on the tree in the garden (very early this year) No doubt most of these will languish indefinitely in the mental equivalent of our iced-up freezer, however the feeling of storing them up is most satisfying.

A small voice in the back of my head is telling me that I'll pay for all this glorious laziness later. Shall go and feed it chocolate cake and shut it up.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hello! Remember me?

My how you’ve all grown. Last time I saw you you were only so big… etc. Sorry for the unexplained leave of absence—I did fully intend to drop by and do a quick post before we went away, but somehow in the stampede of packing and washing and shopping (for hot water bottles— hard to obtain in July—thermal socks, wine boxes, chocolate rations, torch batteries, more chocolate rations and camping gas) I didn’t have time. And I suppose, more importantly, with the rain lashing down against the window and the wind stripping the baby apples off the trees, neither did I have anything to say beyond ‘why didn’t we book a villa in France like sensible people’?

Anyway, here I am after not one summer excursion but two. Holiday (if you can call it that) number one was spent in Northumberland, where the skies and the beaches are huge and dramatic, story-book castles loom large around every corner. (As a longstanding, diehard fan of Michelle Styles’s books I was deeply excited to be visiting the bleak, grandiose setting of such favourites as An Impulsive Debutante, A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife.) The ancient Teletubby dome tent withstood bracing winds and one short, intense thunderstorm but otherwise the sun shone and the children were in their element, reverting to savages alongside their cousins, not bothering to change their clothes and subsisting on a diet of bacon rolls, crab sandwiches and mini-bounty bars.

One day we brushed the sand out of our hair and ventured into Alnwick where the castle, with its outrageously over-ornamented interiors, brilliant waterpark gardens and mad treehouse kept us all enthralled for hours, and Barter Books which was my idea of earthly paradise and made me seriously consider the possibility of hiding somewhere in the depths of the old waiting room in the hope of getting locked in overnight. (Probably slightly more comfortable than the Teletubby hill tent…) Other highlights of the week included lots of windswept beach games, taking refuge in the Grace Darling museum during a particularly heavy downpour and trekking along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, from where the view was glorious.

(Also getting up early enough one morning to catch a beautiful sunrise...

...And sitting out every evening and watching it set again...)

By the end of the week the weather was turning chillier and wetter, which at least made it slightly easier to tear ourselves away and return to real life (and the end of holiday compensations of a hot bath and a blissful bed.) However, there was barely time to dry out the tent and sort through the washing before we packed up again and headed off to Wales to join some friends who had set up camp on the shores of Lake Bala with their extensive collection of watersports kit. These are the same friends as mentioned here—they of the gorgeous boys with the cool accessories, and it was v exciting for the daughters to be generously given free rein with their canoes, boats, windsurfs and wetsuits (Daughter #3 looked adorable in hers—like a mini cat woman. I, of course, stayed firmly on dry land in the role of coast guard and towel monitor, in the certain knowledge that I would look like a giant walrus.) Returned home with a carful of exhausted, elated children (I include the lovely husband in this, as at some point shortly after entering the Paddleworks shop he regressed to the age of about 17 and is now obsessing about what kayak he’s going to buy) all comparing capsize catastrophes, blisters and wetsuit chafe marks like badges of seafaring honour.

So, now we're home again, and with no further exciting excursions planned for the next couple of weeks the children have quickly reverted to lounging in front of the television in their pyjamas and squabbling over the computer, which is why I have chosen to retreat to the sanctuary of my bedroom with my laptop and a pot of tea. A quick glance at the internet (the only kind of surfing I’m interested in) reveals that my September release—Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride is already available on Amazon. How can this be when I haven’t even received my author copies yet? (Sorry to anyone who's waiting for one) Anyway, it reminds me that I fully intend to get my lazy ass into gear and organize some kind of contest over the next week or so, and also blog a bit more about the book itself and the characters...

Just as soon as I've made inroads into my washing pile, and hopefully excavated my brain from beneath a heap of sandy, mouldering towels in the bottom of a rucksack somewhere. In the meantime, hope everyone else is having a nice summer holiday-- what's everyone been up to?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Holdiay Mode

How can another school year have gone so fast? We are now in the closing stages of the final act of daughter #2's time at primary school; she has run her last race at sports day, taken part in her last play (Grease, last week-- but a specially abridged school version which doesn't involve Rizzo thinking she's up the duff and has removed the word 'virginity' from the Sandra Dee song etc) and all that remains is the heart-wrenching ordeal of the Leavers Assembly (waterproof mascara essential) next Monday.

In the meantime, having said goodbye to Luis the playboy prince I am all set to enjoy a few days of child-free downtime recovering from this latest deadline frenzy and gathering my strength for a full return to maternal duty when the holidays start. I had planned to languish in the garden making inroads into my TBR pile, but summer (which was in full blazing, swooning glory while I was cowering and whimpering over the computer) has now vanished again. This is most unfortunate. Why is it that lying in the sunshiny garden reading in the middle of the day seems wholesome and lovely, but lying on the sofa doing the same thing feels shockingly sluttish and a short step away from drinking vodka in the afternoons and not bothering to get dressed? (Both of which I may possibly resort to as the summer holidays progress...) Suspect the answer may have something to do with the fact that from the sofa there would be no avoiding the Miss Havisham-like dust and grime. It would also place me in perilous proximity to the toaster at a time when I am trying to ease up on my carb addiction and my three-pieces-of-toast-and-honey-a-day habit, so is probably best avoided.

So, that leaves me with something of a dilemma as to how to spend these three days of freedom. The car is in the garage, awaiting the arrival of a part that will stop it belching out black, noxious-smelling smoke, so that rules out the possibility of venturing out shopping (which is actually a relief. I fantasize about shops full of lovely things when I'm shut in my office wearing jeans and oddly-shaped, shrunken t-shirts, but find the reality of traipsing round and trying things on unutterably depressing. Think this is all tied in somehow with the toast and honey etc.) Absence of car also makes it difficult to get out and see friends, many of whom have probably forgotten who I am after 6 months of pretty constant deadline reclusiveness.

Oh dear-- think it's all pointing to one thing. Unless anyone can suggest anything else, I'm going to spend the day cleaning the kitchen, aren't I?

Friday, 3 July 2009


Some Things I Have Not Been Doing
  1. Updating my blog
  2. Enjoying the heatwave
  3. Enjoying Wimbledon
  4. Enjoying much else
  5. Hoovering
  6. Keeping up with emails (sorry sorry sorry)

Some things I have been doing. A lot

  1. Writing
  2. Spooning Calpol into Daughter #3 who has been off school for a week and a half
  3. Saying 'but I have a DEADLINE!' in a shouty, teeth-clenched voice
  4. Deleting (see 1. above)
  5. Eating dark chocolate kitkats
  6. Feeling jealous of Abby Green who is flying off to Venice today

So, what's everyone else been up to?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Guilty Crush

Was flicking through a magazine the other day and had one of those double take moments when your brain says-- 'hold on a minute, who was that deeply attractive bloke back there?' Flicked back, and realised with a little frisson of shame and pleasure that the picture I'd seen was the poster for the film Withnail And I, and the man in question was Richard E Grant.

It flies in the face of logic, but there's something about him in that role that does things to me. Maybe it's because I watched it (repeatedly) at an impressionable stage in my development, in my first term at University when I lived with a girl who was a great fan of the film (and many of the recreational activities therein) or maybe it's simply his cheekbones and that fab coat he wears. Or the fact that he exudes the kind of despair that brings out my latent need to heal and nurture (In theory. In reality this need is so latent as to be completely imperceptible, as my husband will testify whenever he has a cold.) I don't know, but whatever it is he makes me want to strip off, drink heavily and behave very badly indeed

Can someone please be very kind and own up to a secret passion for Russell Brand or Gordon Brown, just to make make me feel better please?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

No More Cakes and Ale

There's not much to celebrate about being 39, but yesterday was such a glorious, golden day that it made an excellent work-avoidance/cake-and-champagne-in-the-sunshine excuse

Today it's all very different.

The sun has vanished and I am sitting despondently in front of my keyboard guzzling anti-ageing multivitamins, swigging water (to promote youthful, dewy complexion and shift hangover) and googling 'industrial-strength miracle wrinkle cream'. Am trying very hard to ignore the siren call of the Double Decker (birthday present from Daughter #2) hidden behind the books on the shelf as it is strictly not in accordance with my new, grown-up regime of vitality-boosting, antioxidant-rich raw foods.

Only 364 days to go until I'm 40.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Hello, Middle Age...

Gorgeous bank holiday weekend here-- the kind of weekend that makes you want to hang out in a park somewhere with a crowd of friends drinking Pimms or go and have a wild party on a beach. Well, I say that because those are the kind of things I feel it should have made me want to do, whereas the shameful truth is that we spent most of the weekend... (looks round guiltily and whispers) gardening.

Not very rock and roll is it? But oh, the incomparable joy of a row of neatly planted lettuces and wigwams for the beans. After all the rain last week everything is insanely green and growing most gratifyingly, bringing to the fore my latent land-girl aspirations and making me come over all Dig-For-Victory and WI. There's something about this lush time of year that makes me want to pop on a floral wrap-around pinny and bake victoria sponge. I'm seized by an urge to do flower arranging in church and lay afternoon tea for the vicar under the apple tree; to sit in the sunshine shelling peas and listening to Glen Miller on the wireless. Don't know exactly why this is, but suspect it has something to do with nostalgia for an age of simplicity, before the invention of the Nintendo DS and Twitter (shudder), when politicians were remote and stern and utterly dependable, and wouldn't dream of spending thousands of pounds of public money on designer loo brushes and novelty pet accommodation.

Anyway, thanks so much to everyone who took the trouble to mail me for a copy of Tristan's book. Now I feel hugely guilty because I had no idea so many of you would get in touch and I wish I had millions more copies to give away. Daughter #2 picked Kristy's name out of the mixing bowl last night, so a copy (wrapped in brown paper and string, in keeping with my current retro-obsession) will be on its way to her as soon as I can stir the daughters from their half-term ennui and get to the post office.

It's raining today, so I'm guessing that my wholesome programme of proposed events (ie. weeding the place where I want to plant raspberries and digging in lovely manure) will not be greeted with delight and enthusiasm by the children. Or, actually, by me, since it is pretty cold. Ho hum. Maybe there is a place for central heating and afternoon DVDs after all.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Poor Tristan...

He's either dead, or he's the victim of a shocking assault by a blonde nymphomaniac. Either way, he doesn't look a) happy or b) like a man in the throes of intense passion, does he?

Anyway, Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride is coming out in the UK in September which seems like ages away, but I happen to have one spare pink hardback copy like the one above. If you email me via the website before next Tuesday I'll get one of the daughters to pick a name out and send it off to you.
In the meantime, on a much more jolly note, if you're anywhere near a radio this morning make sure it's tuned to Radio 4 at 10am, and listen to Mills & Boon goddess Penny Jordan on Woman's Hour. I love Woman's Hour. Jenni Murray's calm, no-nonsense presence in my kitchen kept me sane through many a rainy morning of finger painting with toddlers, and I love Penny Jordan even more, so I'm very excited. She's going to be talking about Mills & Boon's expansion into the Indian market, and actually meeting the winner of the contest to find new authors in India (Congratulations to Milan Vohra!)
Right... I'm off to put the kettle on, make toast and take the phone off the hook...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Blogging Away

I have a post up at iheartpresents today. Well, I say post-- what I mean is bizarre confessional rant about the problems I had writing the book formerly known as Olivier and Bella's story (now called Taken for Revenge Bedded for Pleasure). This is because it's out in the US this month-- a fact which I really should have done more to celebrate, but if you pop over to iheartpresents and can think of anything at all to say to my weird outpouring, leave a comment and I'll pick a name at the end to send a copy to. (And that's exactly the kind of badly-constructed sentence I'm trying to banish from my current work in progress.)

This book might have been one of my least favourite to write, but without a doubt it's my top cover. Look at all that bare bronzed flesh and passion...

And come back tomorrow to compare it to the cover of my September release (Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride) and weep with me over what's happened to Tristan...

Monday, 18 May 2009

Loitering Within Tent

This is what we've spent a large part of the weekend doing. Following the bankrupting Paris experience at Easter, this summer will see us holidaying on English shores (I use the term 'holiday' very loosely) beneath a thin layer of polyester. Our current tent-- a huge blue thing that looks endearingly like the hill where the Teletubbies live-- is definitely nearing retirement age, and hasn't been quite the same since the night that is remembered in family legend as The Great Storm of Robin Hood's Bay 2006 so, feeling slightly disloyal, we went to look for a replacement.

It seems tent technology has moved on quite a lot in recent years. Once considered at the cutting edge of camping cool, our Teletubby dome now seems embarrassingly primitive compared to the interior-designed, pastel-hued polyester palaces in which people don't sleep for a week these days. Or that could just be because my luxury radar is very finely tuned when it comes to anything camping-related, and suddenly the slightest concession to comfort seems almost indecently indulgent. 'It's got storage pockets,' I breathe in awe as we stand inside this tent. 'And a little hanging-rail thing. And flower patterns on the roof.' (as opposed to seagull poo and dog footprints, like ours) Already I am already so won over that I have totally forgotten that a night beneath 'mocca'-coloured polyester is every bit as chilly as a night beneath blue polyester (though it might look warmer on photographs; in all our camping photos our faces are blue-tinged) or that the five-star hotel price tag doesn't actually include an ensuite bathroom, room service or central heating and will still involve traipsing over wet fields to brush my teeth in a grimy portakabin.

Return home with armfuls of brochures (tent porn, my husband calls it) and while we pore over them in a happy wine-haze on the sofa (from which vantage point all the sunny photographs of well-adjusted families in the kind of very clean clothes my children might wear for parties look perfectly plausible) the children-- firmly in the camping spirit by now-- put up His ancient, beer-and-mildew scented two man tent on the lawn (aka the Glastonbury tent, for obvious reasons) and disappear into it for the rest of the weekend. Every now and again one of them emerges-- wild-haired and smelling slightly mouldy--to forage for supplies, but other than that no-one seems to miss the comforts of home (approximately twenty metres away) and are only too happy to exchange soft beds and nagging about dropping crumbs for damp sleeping bags and lawlessness.

Suddenly paying all that money for fitted tent carpets (yes, really) and walk-in wardrobes seems a bit daft. Camping is essentially about getting away from the need to tidy things away into storage pockets, hang up clothes and avoid getting mud on the carpet. Come to think of it, the Teletubby Dome might just see out another season...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Late for school this morning because I was watching Lorraine Kelly discussing false eyelashes on GMTV.

This is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to start.*

* (For those of you who didn't catch it because you were taking your children to school on time, let me just say that the Shu Uemura glittery diamond ones were my top pick. See, I may be a bad parent but it's all in the name of public service.)

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Having a mid-week crisis

5am. Am woken by daughter #3 coughing. Lie there, staring at the ceiling in the half light, wondering anxiously why it is that she sounds like a Victorian child who has grown up in a damp workhouse and spent all her life climbing chimneys, when in fact she is a pampered product of twenty-first century comforts who spends her life lounging in front of the TV and combing the garden for ladybirds to keep in boxes. Conclude this must somehow reflect on my parenting, which reminds me of the imminent necessity of putting together three packed lunches. This in turn leads to gloomy musing on the eternal argument between the senior members of our household (me and Him) and the daughters, which can be summed up in two words: Cheese Strings.

5.30am. Gloomy musing interrupted by the alarm clock (which, being nothing like a real princess, I keep stuffed under my pillow) Get wearily out of bed and trail downstairs. Ruby is asleep on my laptop, and since I feel guilty enough already about being a terrible mother I do not turf her off, but instead switch the oven on and pull out sticky, flour-dusted copy of Nigella's Domestic Goddess book.

5.40am. Make tea.

5.50am. Make scones.

6am. Kitchen is filled, not with homely, comforting smell of baking, but foul, sour fug of last Saturday night's roast lamb from the disgustingly filthy oven. Sniffing disdainfully, Ruby rises from the laptop and takes herself fastidiously outside into glorious, damp morning for fresh air. Follow her, and am spellbound by utter perfection of the misty garden, complete with icing-sugar pink apple and cherry blossom, and exquisite, dew-frosted grass. Briefly consider going to wake the children up to share the magic (surely what a proper wholesome mother would do) but am able to imagine all too vividly the scorn with which this would be greeted by daughter #1, so desist. Go back into the kitchen for more cups of tea.

6.05am. Discover fug in kitchen to have thickened, due to blackened, burning scones.

6.10am. Make more scones.

6.25am. Take perfect, golden, unburned scones from oven. Experience moment of extreme satisfaction.

6.30am. Eat one scone, hot, with pools of melting butter.

6.33am. Eat another scone, with raspberry jam.

6.36am. Notice misshapen scone, which spoils beautiful WI style symmetry of batch. Eat it quickly, on its own.

6.38am. Experience moment of extreme guilt.

6.40am. Survey kitchen, taking in flour-strewn surfaces, chaos of bowls and wooden spoons lying greasily in the sink, spilt milk soaking into letter to be returned to school. Feel very tired. Wish I had stayed in bed.

7am. Am just finishing cleaning entire kitchen (though floor still suspiciously crunchy underfoot) when He appears, sniffs, and asks why I am cooking sausages. Retreat, with admirable dignity under the circumstances, preferring to let lovely plate of scones speak on my behalf.

8am. Offer lovely scone to daughter #1 for her lunchbox. She looks pained. 'No thanks. It's embarrassing. Can't you just buy cheese strings?'

8.15am Offer lovely scone to daughter #3. She accepts enthusiastically, and requests jam and butter to accompany it. Ask if she would also like smoked salmon sandwiches cut into tiny triangles and a china cup and saucer for her water, but discover irony is lost on her as she considers this matter carefully before politely declining. We turn our attention to the matter of a container for the butter, and an extremely depressing ten minutes ensue during which daughter #3 empties the entire contents of the cupboard where ex-ice cream tubs are pointlessly kept, virtually disappearing beneath a landslide of plastic lids and pots. Impossible to match anything up. Am still in pyjamas. Feel in need of vodka with breakfast, but am just drinking fourth pot of tea of the day when daughter #3 discovers large tub and lid that seem to belong together. Put small quantity of butter in the bottom and discover it won't fit into lunchbox.

8.55am. Drop children at school, and head to Sainsburys to replenish supplies of milk and flour depleted by the morning's double scone effort.

9.15am. Linger wistfully in front of cheese strings...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The temperature's rising...

Here in the UK at the moment we're enjoying a) a spell of unusually gorgeous weather, and b) a delicious daily fix of Marco Pierre White in the new series of Hell's kitchen-- two things which are entirely unrelated, but which together are combining to bring a warm glow ( internal and external) to my life. Most pleasing. As revealed last week, in the end MPW didn't make it as the face of Lorenzo, largely because he's way too distinctly the face of himself and I found it impossible to impose a different character and identity upon him. He's as mad as a bicycle, and distinctly battered-looking these days, but it's lovely to watch him being all macho and brutish and rude every night. I'm tempted to try to book a table at the restaurant just so I could gaze close-up at the larger-than-life prints on the walls of Bob Carlos Clarke's iconic photos of him from the White Heat book and shiver in the blast of his blistering fury. I'd be far too excited to eat, which, post-Easter, would only be a good thing.

Anyway, last night the contestants had to make a dish that summed up their childhood-- cue sentimental sniffles all round the TV kitchen, and much discussion on our sofa about nostalgia food. For me the most evocative food from my long lost youth would definitely be what we called 'cowboy toast'-- white bread dipped in beaten egg, fried until it's golden and fluffy (dripping with artery-clogging cholesterol) and eaten sprinkled with (more coronary-inducing) salt and tomato ketchup. This was what my lovely stepmother often made us on Sunday evenings just before we went back to my mum's house after spending the weekend at my dad's, and it brings back slightly bittersweet, melancholy feelings of things ending; of packing bags and being in transit. For Him, childhood food memories were largely of the glorious age of packaged 1970s delicacies, such as Arctic Roll and Angel Delight, and those deeply unpleasant meat pies that came in tins. No wonder he became a strict vegetarian when he was 16.

For my own daughters, their early years can be summed up by the fairy cake. We've talked about my fairy cake baking habit/obsession before, and I even helpfully/boringly supplied a recipe which will produce 18 delicate, cherry-topped offerings that can be eaten in a couple of mouthfuls. However, it hasn't escaped my notice that these modest staples of my girls' formative years are already looking frighteningly retro, and that today's fairy cakes are bigger, blowsier, and more glamorous, decadent and delicious than anything to come from my own oven so far... Take these, for example, which He and I brought home from a rare child-free day scouring the antique markets of Stafforshire/Derbyshire on Saturday. (The arm in the corner of the picture belongs to daughter #3 who was doing a wild dance of excitement at the prospect of getting her hands on the cake with the chocolate buttons on the top...) I can see I'm going to have to up my fairy cake game.

So, what foods evoke childhood for you? Are the memories happy or sad, and are they things that you still eat today? (Think I might make cowboy toast for lunch...)

Thursday, 16 April 2009

I'm back... sort of....

Have been struggling to rouse myself from my easter-egg induced coma for a couple of days and get around to posting, but routine is out of the window, the computer has been hijacked by a crowd of pyjama-clad bandits with unbrushed hair and chocolate-smeared faces and somehow I lack the energy to reclaim it. Anyway, having taken one look at the chaos of scattered cereal and nutella smeared on every surface of the kitchen this morning, I've grabbed a pot of tea and my laptop and retreated to the sanctuary of my bed for a quick catch up.

So, Paris. Lovely, although it would, admittedly, have been even better if I'd brushed up beforehand on how to say 'Daughter #1's tonsils have swollen to the size of Brussels sprouts and are covered with white spots and slime.' Aside from that, the current pitiful state of the British pound made the whole thing eye-wateringly expensive (watching my husband pay almost as much for a cardboard cup of hot water and a separate tea bag for me in the Jardin des Tuileries as he had for a glass of champagne in St Pancras's glorious champagne bar was something of a low point) but the sun shone and the city was beautiful and the girls were thrilled by Notre Dame, and the Van Goghs in the Musee d'Orsay and eating at a pavement cafe after dark. I made a special pilgrimmage to stand outside The Hotel Crillon, where Orlando and Rachel didn't quite get it together, imagined Olivier striding away from the Louvre having just left La Dame de la Croix, and gazed discreetly at beautiful Parisian men (and there are many) for future inspiration. Professional to the end, that's me.

The morning after we got home I marched daughter #1 off to the doctors for antibiotics, and sent her back to bed to recuperate ahead of a long weekend of late nights and chocolate with the cousins while I drafted the other two into Operation Emergency Spring Clean. The sudden sunshine had cruelly highlighted the need for this, and rushing upstairs to make up the bed in my office-that-doubles-as-a-spare-room I was horrified to discover three mugs growing fascinating biological cultures in the manner of petrie dishes, and several landfill sites-worth of chocolate wrappers and odd bits of paper with random phrases scribbled onto them that had been left in the wake of the last deadline. Thankfully I had just unpinned the last pictures of Keanu Reeves (who, in the end, did sterling service as the face of Lorenzo Cavalleri, my Italian film director hero) was lugging the final bags of rubbish down the stairs when everyone arrived.

After that things are a haze of cake (supplied by my lovely sister in law) wine (supplied by the Sainsbury's delivery man) and chocolate (supplied by the easter bunny). At some point we turned our attention to planning this year's family Olympics . Brother #1, who is the official organiser of the games decided that, in a bid to moderate the excessive alpha-competitiveness that is rife amongst the male contingent in our family, all teams should include a junior member and the games should reflect this. This is good news. Left to themselves the men would probably opt for uber-macho events like base-jumping and tractor-mower racing, so as we watched the children playing in the garden the idea of including a hula-hoop element to the competition initially seemed cool.

Until we tried it for ourselves.

Apparently adults are utterly physically unsuited to hula-ing. Hilarious hula-hoop masterclass by the children followed (all of them maestros-- able to keep three hoops going while walking around the garden, playing catch and seemingly without moving their hips at all) but there was absolutely nothing remotely funny about waking up the next morning in such an agony of stiffness that it was almost impossible to get out of bed.

Three days later it still hurts. Any alternative suggestions to the hula-hoop event would be gratefully received.

Friday, 3 April 2009


We leave tomorrow. It's been booked for ages-- long enough for it to have seemed so distant that there was no point in even beginning to think about it or make any plans. In the meantime I've been enjoying vague fantasies about languishing in the sunshine drinking hot chocolate at pavement cafes with the Eiffel Tower in the background (which reminds me of the cover of Taken for Revenge Bedded for Pleasure, and the bloke thereon, but that's a whole different kind of fantasy altogether) and skipping out for croissants in the early morning, dressed in nothing but a glamorous and quintessentially Parisian trenchcoat. This is the legacy left by watching the 80s TV mini-series Mistral's Daughter (based on Judith Krantz's bonkbuster bestseller) at a very impressionable age, and being deeply struck by the scene where Stephanie Powers (!) slips out of the Montmartre love-nest she's sharing with Timothy Dalton to get breakfast, naked except for his coat. (A tiny part of it is about 5 mins 43 seconds into this clip. Oh, the nostalgic joys of youtube.)

Looking back I can see now that all of my teenage ambitions were influenced to an unhealthy degree by the 80s mini-series phenomenon. I desperately wanted to be carried off for a few days of sinful pleasure by a priest (The Thorn Birds), longed to be sent to a strict Swiss finishing school (Lace), and what naughty Abby Green refers to as my 'blood obsession' can probably be traced back to North and South (the original swashbuckling, trashy TV series set in the American civil war, not the tastefully restrained Richard Armitage/Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation of recent years) which featured a succession of 80s hunks with big hair and tight trousers, gleaming with sweat and liberally splattered with the red stuff. * sigh* They just don't make TV like that anymore do they? Perhaps it's just as well.

Anyway-- will report back when we return; however, expect more in the way of touristy queueing for ice cream and the Mona Lisa than carefree running through early morning streets, semi-clad. Such is life.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Quiet blossoming

Not just the daffodils and the pink froth on the cherry trees on the path up to school. Feel like there's a bit of a seasonal change going on in my head too as the last book gradually fades away and the characters from the new one burst into life. (Oh knickers-- that makes it sound like I have some bizarre personality disorder, doesn't it?) Anyway, bursting into life they are, while I potter about in peaceful domesticity attempting to bring order to the chaos and squalor left over from The Deadline Weeks. I'm very, very excited about getting stuck into this book, so I don't hold out much hope for the chaos and squalor being entirely obliterated.

Here's my new hero...

In real life Gabriel Aubry is Mr Halle Berry, but in my (murky, mixed-up) world he's the bad-boy prince of Santarosa and something of a handful. Eeeek.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Out of Touch

So it seems that the sudden demise of my ancient computer is just a tip of the communications-nightmare iceberg here (those Titanic images just won't go away, will they?) Thanks to everyone who left comments here about my email issues: I checked my website yesterday and realised that it was down too. Apparently it's something to do with the server, so now I've let them know it should be sorted soon, (yeah, right!) but big apologies to anyone who emailed and hasn't had a response. For once it's not just because I'm a lazy old slacker!

Of course, the other reason for my lack of communication is that, in the aftermath of finishing the book I think I've just run out of words. My head is filled with echoing empty spaces where sentences should be. I'm guiltily aware that the deadline panic meant I didn't properly celebrate the release of Alejandro's book (At the Argentinean Billionaire's Bidding) with the usual contest and giveaways and background information and stuff. Is it all too late now? If there's anything anyone wants to know more about please shout up. In the meantime (and since I'm now actually boring myself with my extreme lack of anything worthwhile to say) let's just quietly contemplate Alejandro's gorgeousness, shall we...? (via the medium of his real life body double, Argentine polo ace Nacho Figueras)

Hmmm. That was nice. Think I might go and research my next hero now. He's South American. And Royal. And very naughty. Am sure I can just about rouse myself for that kind of challenge...