Friday, 29 January 2010

Cause for Celebration

The balloons are out and the bunting is up in the kitchen, and not just because last night saw the start of a new series of Secret Diary of a Call Girl with James D’Arcy in the role of sexy editor of Belle De Jour’s sexy book. No, yesterday The Birthday Season kicked off here with Daughter #3’s 9th, and from now until early March it’s wall-to-wall cake, wrapping paper and hard negotiations about how many friends should be allowed for a sleepover.

Sounds like the perfect time to take refuge in my own book, which might just get a whole lot sexier thanks to a weekly dose of inspiration in the form of lovely James. Here's a taster of what's in store for Thursday nights , with Billie/Belle summing up at the end how I feel too... (although in my line of work the opportunity of being taken on a desk by James D'Arcy so far hasn't presented itself. In reality, anyway. Shame.)

Monday, 25 January 2010

This is where I wish I'd said yes to that naked charity skydive...

My mammoth struggle with this book has seriously cut into my blog-browsing time (as well as several other areas of my life, like my lying-in-bed-at-the-weekend time, and my shopping-for-daughter #3's-birthday-presents time) so it took me several days to notice that lovely Kate Hardy tagged me to provide seven things that you might not know about me.

Now, the first time I did this (as part of the Scribes team) it was a challenge because I am an open book (a not very interesting open book with hardly any pages and very large font), the second time it was even harder and the third time I had to resort to cheating. However, that was ages ago now so I thought I'd give it another go in the hope that I've changed into an intriguing and mysterious person with a wealth of fascinating secrets in the last two years...

Sadly, I find that not to be the case. Here's what I came up with...

1. I’m a secret thumb-sucker. Not these days so much (although at deadline times my husband has reported nocturnal lapses) but definitely up until I was quite grown up and went to university. Healthier than smoking and cheaper than alcohol, as a method of stress reduction I’d thoroughly recommend it. (Not instead of alcohol, of course. Especially not over a romantic dinner.)

2. My chief ambition in life is to be able to put on lipstick on without a mirror – you know, in a deft, elegant flick at a restaurant table or in the back of a taxi. Penny Jordan can do it. (Wistful sigh. If I ever master the art of mirrorless lipstick application, my next ambition is to be like Penny Jordan in every other way.)

3. I absolutely hate coffee (unless it comes with added calories and sugar in the form of coffee cake). Tea, on the other hand, is essential to my ability to sustain normal function. In emergency any old teabag will do, but at home it’s always a blend of loose leaf Assam (ie. Indian) and Earl Grey. (Exactly.)

4. I wear perfume every day, even if it’s just me, Ruby the Airhead Cat and the computer and I look like Waynetta Slob. As long as I avoid mirrors it gives me a happy delusion of glamour. (This is my current favourite )

5. I am the least white-knuckle person I know. And the least competitive. Both the idea of willingly exposing myself to physical risk and the concept of trying to prove any kind of superiority over other people make me want to go and hide in a cupboard. I think Olympic downhill skiing would probably be my worst possible career choice.

6. The first romantic novel I ever read was Imogen by Jilly Cooper. I was ten years old and we were on holiday in France. One hot afternoon when the adults were sleeping off the wine from lunch I found my stepmother’s copy in the car and, having long since galloped through my own supply of Roald Dahl and the Pullein-Thompsons, started to read. Instant Road-to-Damascus type revelation of what life was supposed to be like.

7. I have a new review up at Cataromance! (I know, I know, this doesn’t really count, but it’s a good one and I was trying to find an excuse to casually mention it, OK?)

Anyway, moving swiftly on from my embarrassingly dull life, what is exciting is that tomorrow the fantastic PHS Book Club starts with a discussion about Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper! Come along and be brutally honest because that definitely makes the debate more interesting, so criticisms and bits that didn't work for you are very much up for an airing as well as polite comments. (In a book discussion group in our local library I once made an impassioned monologue slating everything that Charles Dickens ever wrote, so as a believer in the principle of karma, I'm ready!) Hope to see you there...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Monday morning, 6 am

Wake up and lie in the dark, listening to the gurgle of the central heating, fighting post-weekend ennui and thinking about all the things I have to do today. Top of the list is update this blog, so I run the last week back in my mind and try to think of something exciting/interesting/profound that I could possibly say about it.

Panic. There is nothing. Heart racing I slide beneath the duvet as I come to terms with the fact that I am a mad recluse who sits hunched at the computer all day hugging hot water bottles and wearing His down-filled body warmer (green and over-large, therefore making me look remarkably like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – or, more accurately, a thirty-something one) and only tearing myself away for raids on the biscuit tin and the school run, where I often fail to make conversation with anyone – partly because of the ninja turtle lookalike thing, but also because I am still listening to the people in my head. (You see? Virtually certifiable.)

Am at the point of wondering if anyone will notice if I fabricate a glamorous weekend in Provence or meeting Robert Pattinson at a dinner party, and then I remember that it’s now only a week until the launch of the brand new shiny PHS Book Club, where Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper is the first book up for discussion. The relief! Something to blog about. (I love Donna Alward even more than I love the marshmallow cupcakes daughter #2 and I made from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook yesterday, and that is a considerable amount of love.) A book club for category romance is such a fantastic idea that I can’t believe no-one’s done it before so I utterly can’t wait for this one and warn you that unless for example James D'Arcy arrives at my house and proposes on the doorstep (marriage or anything else) or I get spotted by a modelling scout who's just realised the Thirty-something Mutant Ninja Turtle look is the Next Big Thing and whisks me off for a life of international stardom, I'll probably mention it a few more times between now and the 26th January.

Get up feeling much lighter of heart and more positive of outlook. Happy Monday everyone.

Monday, 11 January 2010

I think it's called 'Progress'

Up until Saturday I’ve been writing on a computer that dates back to the late Victorian period with a hulking great beige-coloured monitor that took up half my desk. We acquired it about 7 or 8 years ago (roughly about the same time we acquired daughter #3, though not by the same means) from a friend in exchange for a bottle of wine and an Indian takeaway. Over those years I wrote my very first, tentative and badly flawed attempts at opening chapters and far-fetched synopses on it, and from the days when it did have internet connection (via a long cable that used to snake across the floor at our old house and regularly trip up daughter #3 as she took her first tottering steps) it still has stored somewhere in its dusty recesses my first emails with Penny Jordan and the editor at Richmond who read my initial submission. Sadly, it couldn’t quite keep up with the advent of wireless and broadband, and although it sounded like concorde taking off and sometimes refused to switch on, it still functioned as a decent enough word processor. Decent enough for me to have written 8.3 books on anyway, but in the last week I've been getting increasingly worried about it making it to the full 9.

All of which is an elaborate way of trying to justify the fact that I found myself in the apple shop on Saturday handing over my credit card completely on a whim and walking out with a big box containing this...

It's the depth of a slim box of matches, utterly silent, very beautiful and slightly terrifying. Every time I come into my office I get the impression that it's waiting in superior disbelief for me to write something worthy of such sleek perfection on its tiny, brushed steel keyboard. It's very clever. I actually wouldn't be surprised if it summarily deleted entire pages and just sent a terse message saying 'Do better.'

Wish me luck...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The North Wind doth Blow...

I’m over at iheartpresents at the moment, and if you’ve nipped over here from there you might be looking for this post in which I pondered the serious matter of hero material for Powerful Italian Penniless Housekeeper. (I probably should point out that in the end MPW didn’t get the job.)

Yesterday we had snow – several inches, as soft and white as angels’ feathers that meant the Big School closed and the kitchen was filled with hulking adolescents, red-cheeked and steaming gently as they drank gallons of hot chocolate between snowball fights. This morning, letting Ruby the airhead cat out, I am very relieved to see that no more has fallen in the night so school will be open for business again and I can get back to work. But blimey, is it cold. The air has a metallic sting to it that feels like it has come straight from Siberia and everything is hard and glistening in a way that is so much more sinister than yesterday’s voluptuous softness. It makes me want to make rice pudding, and other calorific comfort foods.

Take care out there, everyone.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

To be... (Or not to be, which is probably the likely outcome)

So the fireworks have faded into the (deliciously clear) night, the last sky lantern has drifted silently and serenely across the big full moon and, suddenly, it’s January again.

But it has been a lovely Christmas.

As always, the majority of the week was spent on the sofa in front of the fire in assorted variations on pyjamas, but – oh joy – as my clever and fabulous husband bought me a sumptuous cross between an oversized cardigan and a dressing gown in whisper-soft pale grey cashmere I was even more than usually unapologetic about this. It is a thing of such glamour and loveliness that it almost makes me believe I can turn into the kind of serene person who rises early to drink herbal tea and calmly dash off a couple of thousand inspired words before doing an hour of yogic meditation and facing the school run with calm competence. In fact, I may not take it off much in the next grueling month as I thrash out this book, although I do have to admit that this will test its personality-transforming capabilities to the limit.

Which brings me neatly onto Kathy's point about New Year’s resolutions. In the past I’ve been a bit casual about these for the simple reason that I’m all too aware of my dismal lack of willpower and know that by vowing to swap chocolate and wine for gym membership (shudder) and carrot juice I’d be setting myself up to fail spectacularly. However, since this is the year that I’m going to turn 40 I’ve reluctantly decided that it’s probably time to be a bit more grown-up in several areas of my life. So, in view of that and the curent Book Situation I’ve come up with the following:

  1. To be... unafraid.
    This has a pleasingly grandiloquent ring to it, but it actually means I intend to stop lying awake staring at the crack in the bedroom ceiling and worrying that it’s a sign of drastic subsidence and the entire house is going to implode any second, in the style of that building in Venice at the end of Casino Royale. It also means I'm going to try to give up obsessing over life-threatening illness, hideous freak accidents and my children becoming a statistic in the government’s figures for vicious crime, teenage binge drinking and cyber bullying because let’s face it, there are so many more appealing things to obsess about. (James D’Arcy, Daniel Craig for starters. And both together since I watched Flashbacks of a Fool the other night. Good film. Great soundtrack. Glorious first five minutes.)
  2. To be... more efficient.
    Oh yes, this is the Big One. The time has come for the High Priestess of Procrastination to embrace the concept of time management. I absolutely can’t continue to lose whole days to ‘research’ (browsing youtube) or messing about rearranging a couple of paragraphs before deciding to scrap them and start again. I need to sharpen up and force myself to focus. I need a masterclass in efficiency and self-discipline from Kate Hardy, or Kate Hewitt (both uber-romance goddesses with families and an awesome catalogue of brilliant books behind them.) And I as my hopelessly-messed-about-with and book is due terrifyingly soon, I need it NOW.
  3. To be... more wholesome.
    Must give up scoffing chocolate digestives straight from the packet and feeding the children supermarket pizza because I’ve been too busy not writing to cook something proper. Shall capitalize on last year’s success with the runner beans and lettuces and bring forth a bountiful harvest of organic goodness from the meagre soil of our garden this summer. (Though obviously have to master 2.) Time management first. And also not compromise too much on 4.) which is….)
  4. To be... more high maintenance
    Because I know it’s the depths of winter and baths are for wallowing and dreaming and drinking wine/tea/damson gin and reading, but really… would it kill me to drag a razor over my legs once in a while?

    Gulp. There they are and I feel weary already. Now I’ve told you mine, you tell me yours!