Friday, 28 May 2010

Why did I just do that?

Sign up to twitter. I don't even know how to use it, and since the only two questions I can answer in sentences of less than 140 characters are 'Do you want a cup of tea? and 'Do you want a glass of wine?' I really don't think that I'll ever be able to use it for meaningful communication, even if I can fathom how it works.

When you sign up the first thing it asks you, in what is no doubt meant to be an encouragingly matey way is 'What's happening?' The only response I can think of to that is 'I haven't got a clue.'

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Beautiful Blogger!

Ages ago, during the dark period of The Book That Would Not Die, Francine nominated me for a Beautiful Blogger award. Well, now I’ve been to the hairdressers and had my grey roots touched up and have slapped some lovely peony pink nail varnish on my toes (mostly on the nails, but a bit on my actual toes as well) I’m ready to accept it. Here are the five questions I have to answer to qualify. (And my answers, of course.)

1. Where were you five years ago?

  • In May 2005 we were still - just - living in our old house and I was feeling nostalgic and wistful about packing up to move here in mid-June. Daughter #3 was about to start Big School, so the packing inevitably involved getting rid of vast quantities of small pink items of clothing and baby toys.
  • Hovering around the computer (ancient hunk of beige space junk that was finally consigned to the skip in the council tip in January) to check emails 58 times a day and see if an editor at Richmond had got back to me about my partial submission (the one that grew up to become The Italian’s Defiant Mistress a year later)
  • Working, on a very part-time and reluctant basis, at Laura Ashley.Camping out in the new house while we ripped out the kitchen and knocked down walls.
    Writing in bed on a laptop with Ruby the Airhead Cat while builders trooped in and out downstairs.

2. What is/was on your things to do list?

Back then my things to do list would have looked something like this…

  • Finish packing
  • Finish unpacking
  • Finish decorating (just one room would be an achievement, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed it. When I decorate there’s always a length of skirting board or a bit of doorframe that retains its yellowing gloss paint as I always lose interest before the end.)
  • Finish working at Laura Ashley
  • Finish book

3. What 5 snacks do you enjoy?

  • Toast and honey
  • Tunnocks Tea cakes – not just because they’re utterly delicious and surely that marshmallowy stuff inside consists mainly of air and is therefore virtually calorie-free, but because their retro red and silver striped wrappers add a jaunty air to any teatime table. Although mainly I scoff them straight from the biscuit tin.

  • Dark chocolate ginger biscuits.
  • Chocolate-covered salted pretzels (Trenda, I love you)
  • Carrot sticks*

    (*one of these may not be strictly true, but has been added in the interests of promoting a healthy balanced diet to the readers of this blog.)
4. What 5 places have you lived?
  • This house
  • The big Victorian house with the Minton tiled hallway and the collection of traffic cones in the front garden, at University in Manchester
  • The studio flat He and I shared when we first got together that was so small you could make a cup of tea in the ‘kitchen’ without getting out of bed
  • The 1930s house we bought because we loved its original period features, and could afford it because the estate agent called them ‘scope for modernization.’
  • This house again.

5. What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?

  • Ah. Let me just state from the outset that I would make the world’s worst billionaire. Too much choice and too many important decisions utterly messes with my head, so the first thing I would have to do was offload the vast bulk of my fortune to prevent myself spending it all on Tunnocks tea cakes and dying prematurely of a condition related to excessive marshmallow consumption. Obviously, I’d offload the cash by donating it to friends, family and lots of Very Worthwhile Causes rather than buying hideous coffin-sized designer handbags and status transport (cars, yachts, jets and all that), but I’d have to hire someone to choose the causes from my longlist or I’d go completely mad, lying awake haunted by thoughts of the people I had neglected to help. I’d also…
  • Get one of these...

I’d really love a little cottage in the middle of nowhere (as someone who is incapable of thinking far enough ahead to shop for an entire week I’m not cut out for life too far from civilization long term so a permanent move would be off the cards) but would find it impossible to choose between the wilds of Scotland, the Northumberland coast, or lush green Herefordshire cider-country, so this would be the ideal solution.

  • Pay for Ruby the Airhead Cat to go into an expensive Rehabilitation Facility for Serial Bird Killers.
  • Only ever wear cashmere socks.
  • Still probably become an obsessive, paranoid recluse who would be convinced all my friends only like me for my money and would alienate everyone by forcing embarrassingly large amounts of cash on them all the time. My children would probably turn into despotic divas with unhealthy addictions to plastic surgery and online gambling and I’d end up living alone in my caravan with Ruby the Reformed Serial Bird Killer Cat and my collection of cashmere socks.

    And that’s why I don’t bother with the lottery.
If anyone else fancies doing this let me know because I'd love to read your answers. (The Three Kates? Michelle? You Minxes? Go on!)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

New beginnings

Am able to show my face on the blog again, having just written the first page of my new book.

I had intended to get stuck in long before now, but the past week has been entirely swallowed up in catching up with things on the very neglected home front. It’s been absolute heaven to wake up in the morning (in clean sheets) and to have nothing more urgent to contemplate than sweeping up fallen apple blossom and wisteria petals, painting the mirror I bought for the daughters’ bathroom six months ago and lounge around on the sofa reading Michelle Styles’ fabulous latest – Compromising Miss Milton. (I suppose that wasn’t strictly catching up on stuff on the home front, but whilst doing it I did notice that there was a pre-sucked chupa chups lolly cemented down the back of the cushions so it was a useful domestic exercise, as well as being one in gorgeous writing and delicious characterization – wry, witty Adam Ravensworth is surely one of Michelle’s sexiest creations.)

I also spent a larger than usual proportion of time watching TV, where the whole ‘who’s going to be Prime Minister’ game was unfolding. I can’t help thinking that for several days Gordon Brown must have just been willing the other two to agree on something so he could hand over the keys to number 10 and throw his vast collection of red ties onto the woodburning stove in some lovely little cottage by the sea somewhere. And poor Sam Cam… I’m sure it says more about me than it does about her, but from my vantage point on the sofa with the biscuit tin I’m sure I saw the glint of resignation and despair in her eyes as she stepped through that black front door into a life where ‘family downtime’ is going to be an abstract concept. Incidentally, daughters 2 and 3 are passingly gratified to have had a close encounter with the new Prime Minister (who visited their school the day after that first TV debate) although they’re both a bit nonplussed about why he got the job and not Gary Barlow, since he had the distinct charisma edge.

But anyway, the new government is in and the new book has been started. Now begins a period of tough decisions and hard work for both me and them. And spending cuts too. (Deliberately not using the 'tightening the belt' metaphor for this, as thanks to the stone I've put on recently this is a physical impossibility. Ho hum.)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Now, where was I?

The honest answer to that is 'asleep on the sofa' for most of the day, although in the light of my recent working routine and the news that lack of sleep can kill you I think that definitely comes under the heading of Sensible Precautions rather than Outrageous Laziness. Am in a sort of post-book haze, which is a very nice place to be anyway, but which is further enhanced by slight champagne hangover from celebrating and a sort of cloud of soft-focus happiness brought on by a lovely weekend at my cousin's wedding.

Little did I suspect last October when my lovely cousin announced that she was marrying her gorgeous boyfriend on a beach on the West coast of Scotland (not just any beach, but more of that later...) in May that I'd still be writing The Book That Would Not Die. If I had I would have given some thought to my outfit well in advance instead of leaving it until the day before we left, when I'd been up for four nights in a row until 3am. This is not a good start to any shopping trip, much less one which involves searching for an outfit that combines wedding chic (silk, high heels) with Scottish beachwear practicality (goretex, polar fleece, wellies) In the end - having caught sight of my haggard reflection in the fitting room mirror in Jigsaw - I rushed to Boots to spend silly money on Chanel foundation before heading home to peer despondently into the depths of my wardrobe for something to go with my wellies and goretex.

Because of an unfortunate combination of school exams, Very Important Meetings at work and the grimness of an eight hour drive with children we'd decided a while ago that it was best to leave them and spouses at home, and for the brothers and I to do the trip Old Skool, squabbling on the back seat of my stepmother's car all the way up to Arisaig. This is where, every summer of my childhood, we met up with my cousins to go feral, sleep in a mildewed 1930s showman's caravan and wear the same clothes every day for two weeks. (Clothes which subsequently appeared on the next child down in the photographs the following year.) The beach my cousin walked along to marry her man was the one on which we used to dune surf, find exquisite shells brought in on the gulf stream and build sand boats, and even though it's been nearly 30 years since I was last there it's as beautiful as ever. And as empty. Apart from the farmer who used to drive his cows across the beach, I can't remember ever coming across another living soul for the entire time we were there, which is odd because I've since read that Ewan McGregor used to spend his summers there too. Humph. I never saw him. (Probably just as well, given the wearing-the-same-clothes-for-two-weeks thing.)

Anyway, after the past few frantic weeks it was pretty much the perfect place to be (total perfection would have been achieved with the addition of a couple of degrees on the temperature, and maybe Ewan McGregor striding over the dunes...) My cousin made a ravishing bride, wrapped in plaid with sprigs of gorse in her hair, and there was something timeless and deeply moving about the ceremony on the shore - Walter Scott meets Richard Curtis. Luckily there was a brisk wind, which meant that I could pretend that the tears streaming down my cheeks (the Chanel spray-paint durable foundation was a wise investment after all) were a result of extreme weather rather than extreme soppiness. Expect a wedding on a beach to appear in a book sometime soon.

I'd taken a print out of the book with me to read through while I was away, but needless to say it stayed in its envelope. However, I did do some significant Thinking about it, and finished it properly when I got back, amid much weeping and loud music. I've been writing this one for so long that the playlist has grown and grown, but the song I was playing most at the end was this one. Sniff.

I'm now looking forward to getting to know my children well enough to pick them out in a crowd again, and making inroads into the ironing pile while thinking about the next book. It's been in my head for most of the time I've been working on this one, and it's quite a departure from anything I've done before. Can't wait to get started. I'm sure it'll flow from my fingers and be finished in a month


Wednesday, 5 May 2010

OK, would you now please...

... kiss the person nearest to you, in celebration of the fact that the book is finished.

Thank you.

Sorry for being so elusive these past couple of weeks. Back tomorrow - with photos - to tell you what else I've been up to, around the all-night, chocolate and caffeine fuelled sessions at the keyboard, and to catch up on everything else. (Including the lovely news that I'm a Beautiful Blogger! Thanks so much, Francine, but do you want to take it back now in view of my pitiful no-show recently?!)