Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas One and All

Here's wishing y'all a very Happy Christmas, and hoping it's free of disasters, family quarrels and Marley's Ghost.

I will be disappearing from the internet for a bit to spend time in the bosom of my family as it were, but mainly to ogle at David Tennant tomorrow night.

Thanks to all who've come by this blog this year - those who comment and those who don't - and especial thanks to all you lovely people who've come and bought copies of my book.

The good news from my editor pre Christmas was a) very good sales b) she liked book 2 (phew!) c) she liked the idea I've had for book 3. (double phew!).

I think after nine years of trying I can finally call myself an author....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Romantic Novelist's Association Prize

I am hugely proud to be a member of the Romantic Novelist's Association, so it is with great pleasure that I direct readers of this blog to the fact that the longlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year has just been announced on the RNA website at:

I'm pleased to see a few of my writing chums on there, including Kate Lace who also doubles as the RNA's very fine and dynamic Chairperson.

If you like romantic fiction, go and take a look. You'll be in for a treat or two...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pastures New Online Launch Party

Finally, finally. I have this sorted.

I have now got my online launch party up and running at :

All readers of this blog and their friends are very very welcome to attend.

Thanks to Political Umpire's very clever suggestion I am investigating the possibility of linking my radio interviews on the blog, but not sure if I can.

You can listen again on Radio Cambridge to Friday's edition of Cambridge Calling. I was on just after 9.30am.

Today I did Radio Cumbria and Radio Suffolk prerecorded. The Radio Suffolk one went out this afternoon, but not sure about the other. Will track down details and post here later.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stop press!

For anyone remotely interested, I am going to be interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Cambridge Calling, 95.7 FM and 96FM, tomorrow morning around 9.30am. They originally asked me to be on at 9am. but I figured they wouldn't want to interview me on my mobile in the school playground...

I am also doing Radio Cumbria on Monday morning, around 11 I think.

An Embuggeration.

As most people will have read by now, Terry Pratchett has just revealed that he is suffering form early onset Alzheimer's.

I am a huge fan of TP who along with Margaret Atwood (for different reasons) is my favourite living author, so I was really dismayed to hear this. He seems tragically young to be afflicted by this vile disease, but in true TP style points out he isn't dead yet, and is planning several more books while he still can. I wish him the opportunity to write many more as Chrimbo in my household won't be the same without a Pratchett Tome being passed round the family. In fact on Spouse's side we're all such fans that more then one usually gets bought.

I haven't got much time to do a lengthy discourse, but I fell in love with Terry Pratchett one holiday years ago. A friend was reading Reaper Man and sat giggling by the poolside. When he'd finished, he passed it onto Spouse who was also soon roaring with laughter. So I grabbed it after him, and was completely hooked. Reaper Man remains one of my favourite Pratchetts. It tells the story of how Death, who always speaks in capital letters and though affected by humans never quite understands them, gets bored of collecting souls, and decides to take a holiday. He goes off to work on a farm, where no one can cope with the fact that they are looking at a skeleton, so they just think he is a skinny farm hand (except of course for children who aren't so daft). In the meantime all the undead, the zombies, the vampires etc come back to life, and as Death is also responsible for animals, each animal gets its own Death, in his absence. After much mayhem and hilarity, Death realises he's needed and goes to put everything right. He takes on all the animals again, apart from rats, who get to keep their death, complete with his little black cloak and scythe. The Death of Rats squeaks at his victims in capital letters.

From there I went back and read Pratchett's earlier books like The Colour of Magic, where Rincewind the cowardly wizard pursued round the Discworld (Pratchett's insane world - which is a flat disc balanced on four elephants who stand on top of a giant turtle swimming through space. Believe me, it makes perfect sense when you read it), and Witches Abroad (another favourite) where I encountered the wonderful creations that are Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg for the first time. One glorious brilliant thing about Terry Pratchett is that he gets women in a way I have never seen another male novelist do. There's a line in Monstrous Regiment about ironing which is so true I really couldn't believe it had been written by a man.

Another thing about him, that many people in the literary world at least, seem to miss is that he isn't just writing comic fantasy novels, but he is holding up a mirror to our world in every story he writes. So in Moving Pictures he satirises Hollywood, in The Word, it's the press who come in for a bashing and in Monstrous Regiment it is war and armies (but not, I think solidiers who get a sympathetic hearing). He is always on the side of the common man against overbearing authority, for colour and life and imagination against greyness and dullness, and common sense and decency against wrongheadedness and cruelty.

I haven't read a single book of his that hasn't made me roar with laughter and want to WRITE LIKE THAT. I hope he has the opportunity to write many more. And above all I hope he keeps his sense of humour and courage through the trials that are to come. Somehow, I think he will.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pasytures New

I have been feeling a bit glum this week despite the excitement of the book launch, as there are a couple of things that are getting under my skin at the moment, neither of which I can do anything about.

Yesterday my good humour was restored by a conversation with the children on the way home. I had just been to the Post Office to pick up a parcel that hadn't been delivered last week. In it was a copy of Closer Magazine, where woohoo! I love my publishers! - Pastures New as featured as one of their books of the month.

Ooh Mummy, does that mean you're famous, said no 2.

Nooo, but it's still nice.

Mummy's famous, Mummy's famous, chorussed no 4 and then demonstrated her new found reading skills by reading the blurb out to me. It was only afterwards I realised the book underneath mine is called Call Girl, about a prostitute...

Can I read it? (PN not CG) demanded no 2.

I don't think it's quite suitable, I said. I don't go for too much sex in my stuff (far too scared of winning the Bad Sex Awards, see http://womanwhotalkedtoomuch.blogspot/2007/11/bad-sex-in-fiction-awards-2007.html for Marie Philip's brilliant take on this year's winner to see why. That and the worry of my mother reading it.) however I'm all in favour as a writing friend of mine puts it of bad sex IN fiction, which is a lot easier to write. So I do have a thread running through the story of Saffron's search for her lost libido, which takes her among other places to a sex shop, an attempt to dress in exciting lingerie without her seven year old noticing (based - ahem - on a similar true life experience) , and eventually to poledancing lessons (not at all based on true life), which probably isn't quite what a nine year old should be reading.

That's not fair, said No 2 crossly. You're my mum. I've GOT to read it.

At this point no 3 piped up with, What's Paystures New about then?

At which I collapsed in a little hysterical heap.

I think Paystures New is an excellent title for a book. Though my blogging friend Rivergirlie has suggested Pastries Nouveaux which might be even better - perhaps for the French edition.

I feel a competition coming on. Watch this space as I am dammit going to organise an online launch party, and I had one idea for a comp, but no 3's given me a better one. I shall also be stealing by lovely bloggy friend BecandCall's Root Shoot and Marry Game again and as this is a launch party for a romantic novel, I think it has to probably be around the subject of heroes. Any excuse to get pictures of Johnny Depp, David Tennant, Richard Armitage, Daniel Craig and Russell Crowe up there. I may have to expand it though as I have far too many heroes. I haven't even got started on the oldies like Sean and Clint and lovely lovely Jimmy Stewart... Sigh. Be still my beating heart.

Anyway. I will keep you posted as to what's happening and readers of this blog and anyone else who cares to join in, you are most cordially welcome.

In the meantime, if it isn't too much of a change of direction, I am working on my Auschwitz blog and will be posting it shortly I hope....

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Auschwitz/Auschwitz Birkenau

I have been promising a report back about my trip to Auschwitz for some time now - and though it probably doesn't sit fantastically well with the comparative frivolity of having a book published, I want to write this while it is still fresh in my memory. I appreciate it's not the most cheerful of subjects, so by all means, anyone out there who isn't interested, please look away. (Political Umpire, I know you will be!) It also isn't intended to be an indepth analysis of the history, so maybe a bit short on detail, but rather it is a personal reaction to what I saw there. Part of me feels it is rather arrogant to write it at all - after all what more can I add to the reams of words written about the Holocaust? But another part of me thinks remembrance is important, and so for what it's worth here is my testimony to what I saw.

We travelled to Krakow halfway through October, and arrived to freezing cold weather. It snowed on our first morning, so our trip to Auschwitz (which is an hour and a half by taxi from Krakow) was slightly bizarre, as we passed snowfilled fields juxtaposed with trees dancing in autumnal reds and golds.

Our incredibly helpful taxi driver took us to the entrance, organised our tickets and guide books and said he'd meet us in two hours.

I must confess, I walked through the gates at Auschwitz with some trepidation. As I posted before I went, Spouse and I took a trip to Buchenwald many years ago, and though we only walked around the perimeter fence, it was eerie enough to make the blood run cold. I wondered how I would feel going to the camp which has become synonomous with the Holocaust.

We were struck first by the fact that the original camp at Auschwitz (at first used to round up Polish anti facists and the aristocracy) was made up of red brick buildings, and looked more like an army camp then anything else. This is because it was originally army barracks. One of my friends remarked it wasn't how she'd imagined it from the footage you see, and this is because, the bits you associate with Auschwitz are at the secondary camp, built in the mid 40s when the first one got too small.

The place was packed, full of people on tours, going in and out of the barrack rooms, which were set up as exhibitions. With that many people you'd expect a lot of noise. But visiting Auschwitz is unlike any other tourist attraction (if indeed that's what you can call it) I've ever been to. It is a sombre, sometimes distressing business, and one feels disinclined to chat even with the closest of companions, unless in a whisper. Anything louder feels disrespectful somehow.

In one of the first rooms we came to, I spotted this on the wall, which for me expresses perfectly the reason, anyone with breath in their body and humanity in their soul, should at some point in their life make a pilgrimage, if not to Auschwitz to somewhere similar.

As readers of this blog are probably aware by now, I think history is fantastically important, and I think this quotation sums up why. Stumbling across it gave me the answer to why I was there at all, to why anyone comes to visit a place of such suffering. I am fortunate never to have lived through dangerous and cruel times, but it behoves those of us who are so lucky to bear witness and remember for future generations the cruelty inflicted by man on his fellow man.

The Holocaust is unique in the annals of human evil in that it was done in such a cold blooded calculated, way. We came across rooms where there books open listing in great detail prisoner's names, and addresses, and why they were there, and how they died. I find it incredible that anyone could ever deny the Holocaust took place, because it's all there in black and white. My German wasn't up to deciphering a lot of it but it was easy to get the gist. My good blogging friends Political Umpire and Dave Hill were discussing the David Irving business at Oxford last week, and I am sympathetic to their reasoning no one should give airspace to his obnoxious views. But actually, having been to Auschwitz, I think we should go one better then that and just laugh at them. How he can claim to be a credible historian and deny the numbers is beyond me. Because it happened. There is evidence. And what's more the state recorded what they actually did.

This of course is the most iconic image of Auschwitz. Arbeit Macht Frei - I think translates as Work makes you free, the irony being here of course, that most of the inmates of Auschwitz were literally worked to death. To the left of the entrance is a little wooden hut where a sentry apparently sat.

When people first came here, I wonder what they thought? Did they know that they were going to certain death? To begin with Iget the idea, the deaths were more arbitary then planned, and a result of cruelty and neglect. As I mentioned previously the original inhabitants of the camp were dissident Poles, but already in their treatment you can see the seeds for the order and regulation of the Final Solution.
Every single Polish prisoner was photographed and given a number. Many of those photographs were on the walls in the exhibition rooms. I don't think I have ever seen anything more haunting and terrible. The pictures are in black and white, and whether it is the way they were shot, or simply that the faces were so thin, but the thing that struck me principally were people's eyes. There were pictures of old men looking resigned, younger men looking defiant, children holding back tears. On all their faces there was a look of reproach that I cannot understand how anyone could ignore. Surely whoever took these photos must have had some sense of remorse about what they were doing? Or maybe not. Somehow somewhere in the hell that was Auschwitz, normal humanity seems to have walked away and looked on the other side.

The prisoners were housed in the barracks above. They slept in some instances in bunks, and others on straw and matting on the floor. There were roughly 400 to a building, which had poor sanitation and was freezing cold. Even in October it was cold. I dread to think how bad it must have got in the depths of winter. Disease was rife and thousands perished simply from illness and poor malnutrition,and it's easy to see why.

Here's an example of the sort of detail which makes Irving's position so laughable. Here is (I think from memory, I couldn't blow the picture up anymore) a list of the women who came to the camp, when they arrived, when they died. Each of the pictures I mentioned above had the prisoner's date of birth, arrival at the camp and date of death. When Jews were brought here, they weren't photographed, but their details were recorded meticulously. There have been (and sadly will be again) genocides in the world since the Holocaust, but the bureaucratic way it was done does I think make it chillingly unique. How could the people who worked here have squared this laborious detailing of people with the knowledge of the brutal way they were treated? I think that is the thing that shocks you over and over again at Auschwitz. What made ordinary people behave in this way? How was it that Rudolf Hoss, the camp's commander was able to work day after day sending people to their deaths and then go home to his family and drink wine with his wife (as described by Laurence Rees in his excellent TV programme and book about Auschwitz)? It does defy belief.

Here is the entrance to one of the most chilling places in the camp: the so called Death Wall. Prisoners were taken and housed in a barracks to one side, and then stripped naked before being taken out to be executed at the death wall below. Or they were hung on posts as punishment for hours on end. One of the many cruelties was using other prisoners who got better food and conditions as a result to carry out this work. What would any of us do in such a hell hole to survive? I wouldn't like to bet on nobility carrying the day. I doubt I would be that brave.

And here is part of the Death Wall itself. Reconstructed and with touching memorials to the people who died here. Despite the very sombreness and terrible nature of it all, it is possible to take heart from the fact that people haven't forgotten, and do come here to remember and mourn. Thousands died here, but individually, many of them are still remembered by family and friends, which is, I think a testament to the strength of man's spirit.

One particularly unpleasant aspect of camp life was the daily roll call which took place here in all weathers. Often prisoners were made to run round the block without shoes, on cobblestones till the cobbles ran red with blood. There were attempts at escape apparently, and the Polish resistance was active, but what could you do against an enemy which wore you down till you were physically too weak to do anything, or which dealt with insurrection by shooting every tenth prisoner?I think, not a lot is the answer.
And yet there were people who defied the regime. We visited (not pictured) the cells where Zyklon B was first adminstered (again the systematic way it was done is what shocks - you can still see the pipework going into the cells), and I came across the cell of one Maximilian Kolbe. As a catholic his name was familiar as a martyr who gave his life for another prisoner, but I hadn't realised it was here. A shrine is now set up in the cell to his memory - whatever you think of religion, it is another small step in favour of the human spirit rather then against it.

This is the original gas chamber. It didn't seem appropriate to take pictures inside so I didn't. I was quite surprised in a way how small they were. People were stripped and shaved, and told they were going to shower, and taken inside a very small room with tiny windows at the top, and then locked in while the room was pumped with gas. It took them twenty minutes to die. After that their bodies were removed and burnt in ovens next door. This was also done by other inmates. I did find it quite hard to picture that, because it was utterly horrific, but coming out we came pretty much straight to the spot where Rudolf Hoss was hanged at the end of the war, and despite being generally against capital punishment I have never felt more strongly that hanging was actually too good for him. Compared to the suffering people underwent in his camp, his end was relatively swift and painless. I didn't and still don't feel the slightest remorse thinking about that, which I find quite striking, as perhaps it illustrates how easy it is to fall into the notion of revenge. If I could feel so little compassion for the man when I have only seen what he did, how much more must those who suffered at his hands felt?

We came away from the main camp feeling very sombre, and rather sad. There is no other way to experience it I think.
"Very sad place," our taxi driver said, as he drove us the three kilometres to Auschwitz Birkenau - a cliche perhaps, but nonetheless true.

Here is a picture you will no doubt recognize for it's iconic nature. This is the main entrance to Birkenau, and was where we've all seen in war footage and photos, the people were taken off the trains and divided. Those considered weak - the elderly, nursing mothers, children under fourteen, were separated off and made to walk down the train tracks pictured below. They're gone now, but in the distance they would have seen the chimneys of the gas chambers, little realising what they were going to.

There was a steady plod plod plod as we walked around which can only have been a fraction of what it sounded like. And maybe, because I've seen it so often, or maybe because there is nothing left (the Nazis burned the camp as they left), I could picture it all too well. Thousands and thousands of people being stripped naked at the side of the tracks and then forced to walk down the track to their certain deaths. We wondered how they could have been so passive, but I don't know how much people understood what was about to happen to them. Plus they were weakened by days in the cattle trucks, and if you were there with your small children would you risk being shot? Probably not, if you didn't know that you were facing certain death.

One of the saddest things in the exhibitions, is the property that was left behind. There are displays of glasses, wooden legs, bowls, cups, toothbrushes. Most heartrending of all to me though, were the suitcases, still with people's addresses on, and the shoes. The shoes really did for me. Thousands upon thousands of pairs of shoes piled high behind glass, some together, some separated from their partner - a tragic metaphor for the families ripped apart perhaps? - many of them with the heels worn to absolutely nothing, where the owner has walked how many miles to what end? These people were fed the most preposterous lie, that they would be repatriated from the Ghettos and given a new life in the East, so they took with them everything they owned, and instead were sent to their deaths, their belongings stolen. The shoes seemed to symbolise that in a particularly tragic way.

The lucky ones - who were given a second chance - were marched off to the quarantine section of the camp, pictured to the right in the picture. Here they stayed for a year to get fully inured to the camp conditions, unless the cold and disease hadn't killed them first. The huts you see are reconstructions and I counted 25 of them roughly, and about 15 rows. About 200 people were crammed into each hut. The turnover was vast. For Irving to say that the figures of the Holocaust are wrong is arrant nonsense. If anything I wouldn't be at all surprised if the numbers were greater then currently thought. Even with the Nazi's thoroughness, the throughput of prisoners was such that they might have got it wrong

Conditions were impossibly bleak. Prisoners wore thin clothing and ate less then 1000 calories a day.

They slept in bunks in huts like this, which must have been even colder then the ones at the main camp.

Again sanitation was an issue and disease was rife. Quite frankly it was amazing anyone survived it.

Here is the remains of one of the gas chambers. A lot is often made of the obeying orders line the Nazi regime took. Here is evidence, if it were needed that the architects of the Final Solution knew that it was wrong - why else would they try to hide what they'd done?

I was moved to tears here by a plaque simply bearing the message in memory of the people who died. Such a simple phrase. So many many victims. It's shocking and sad and to our fortunate eyes almost incredible to think such evil should ever come to pass.

For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.

I started with a quote and I end with this one from the memorial at Auschwitz. For despair we should always feel about such evil acts and we should learn the lessons of history, and take heed.

Sadly, I feel the cry of despair resonates across the decades and can now be heard in Darfur, Zimbabwe, the Congo and many others.

I would like to feel that we have learnt our lesson, but as Michael Palin said who visited Auschwitz in his recent tv series (coincidentally shown the weekend I was there), I'm not terribly hopeful.

But so long as places like Auschwitz exist and remain as a memorial to the great evil that was done there, and so long as there are people who come and still remember, maybe we stand a chance of learning from the past.

As we walked alongside the tracks, the only sound we could hear was the tramping of feet. There were several school parties visiting the day we went, and many of them walked back down the track. At first, I was slightly shocked, I don't know why - it didn't seem respectful and Auschwitz is a place that demands respect. But then, I admired them in a way. A bit of me didn't want to walk on the tracks, to cover the ground where so many people suffered, and I think perhaps that is the wrong reaction. Walking in their footsteps is a form of pilgrimage perhaps, and a way to honour and remember the dead.
Visiting Auschwitz wasn't an easy thing to do. And I am not sure what words I can use to describe how I felt when I left. To say I'm glad I went seems not quite right somehow, but I think it was a good thing to do.
As I said at the beginning I think the purpose of visiting is to bear witness and to remember and pass on the knowledge to future generations. The future is the path untravelled, and if the cry of despair has any purpose, it must surely we all have to hope give us the opportunity to change that future before it happens.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today's the Day!

Sorry to keep wittering on about this. But I've never had a book published before, and even though I have been in the industry for far too long, I have never got over the excitement of seeing a book I've worked on make it into a bookshop, so to have one I've written selling in Tesco's from today, is just bloody unbelievable.

I've been hugely helped by a lot of people on the road to publication but I would like to say a special thanks to my wonderful agent, editor and everyone else at Avon, and also to the RNA, which in my (unbiased, clearly) view is the best professional writing organisation in the world.

I don't usually go hugely personal on the blog (apart from my splurge about my dad several months ago) - I guess like the majority of bloggers I like to build a little wall around the bits I am prepared to write about and those I'm not, but I hope you'll forgive me here if become a little indulgent.

When I first wrote Pastures New it was going to be set in a Surrey market town, similar to the one I live in - write what you know and all that. However my very brilliant editor felt that as Amy my heroine was giving up life in the city, she needed to go a bit further afield. I was at a loss to begin with as to where to send her, and then I had the brainwave of sending her out to Suffolk, as that is where my mother's family comes from.

I've talked a fair amount about my paternal grandmother, whose name I blog under, but I think it's time to mention my maternal one. Her family came from a little village in Suffolk called Bures, and many many years ago my mother took us there. My great great grandfather (I think - I'm sure MT will correct me if I've got it wrong) ran the water mill at Bures, a lovely little village that sits I think on the River Stour (may have got that wrong too) - if it's not Stour it will be a tributary thereof. My mother wanted to find the grave of her great Uncle Bob, whom she thought was buried in a graveyard which bears the charming name of Cuckoo Hill. I remember us scouring for ever to look for his grave and not finding it.

Having a) a scene in the book where my heroine encounters my hero sitting in a graveyard and b) liking the idea of a town like Bures (which is actually Bures/Bures St Mary) which straddles a river, and so half the town is in Essex and the other half in Sussex (my hero is a GP, so I was able to get in the odd topical comment about post code lotteries), I decided that I would base my town on Bures.

So last autumn I took a very enjoyable day trip out to Suffolk with my mother and we went back to Bures, so I could take some photos and get a feel for the place. We found the graveyard again, where stupidly I didn't take any pictures, but it is the basis of the graveyard Amy sits in in the book. We also looked for members of the Clark family (my grandmother's maiden name) but again couldn't find any.

Then we went to Stourbridge, so I could get some pictures of a high street, to form the basis of the high street in the book. And from the trip Nevermorewell (so called because the air so good, local tradition says you're never more well then when you're in Nevermorewell) was born.

The High Street in the book isn't exactly like this, it's more of a conglomeration of Stourbridge and my own town - but that's the fun of creating an imaginary landscape.

This though is a pub very much like the one I send another character Saffron too.

And these cottages in Bures, bear a passing resemblance to Amy's. One of them may or may not be Great Uncle Bob's which my mother remembers visiting in the thirties.

And the church at Nevermorewell probably owes a lot the one at Bures. I discovered here, from my mother that Suffolk churches are huge because of the wealth of the wool trade in mediaeval times - a snippet that trickled into the book as I've made Amy and Ben both interested in local history.

And finally, here's the river at Bures which I couldn't actually see from the graveyard, but Amy and Ben can see in Nevermorwell. I also added a huge country park next to it, where all my characters go out on a country walk. This isn't anywhere near Bures, but I think (again from memory) it's somewhere near Saffron Walden - my mother took us there a few years ago as it was the site of country walks which my grandparents took in their courting days.

The personal I find always has a way of sneaking into fiction. I have dozens of little things in Pastures New that have either happened to me or someone I know, and have popped up in an unexpected way when I came to write them.
I wrote a lot about my father earlier this year - when writing the character of Harry I had really been thinking about my father in law, who was a keen gardener. It was only when Mad Twin read it, and commented on the fact, I realised a lot of his philosophies were coming straight out of my father's mouth.

I used a rather dramatic incident from my childhood to form the basis of a secret that Ben is keeping.
Spouse losing his wedding ring in his parents' garden and it coming up on a leaf makes an appearance too.
As does the shillelagh...

I don't know if it works like that for other writers, but that's the way it works for me.

And it gave me great pleasure to create Nevermorewell and think of my mother's family when I was doing it. I come from a very large extended family, and as I've got older, and my children occupy me more, it is one of the sadnesses of my life that there is never enough time to go and visit, as they are in the main too far away to hop over to see them while the kids are at school, and there always seems to be so little time during the holidays.
I have several wonderful aunts, the oldest of whom loomed large in my childhood as the aunt who tried and failed to teach me to knit. She was also the most elegant person I have ever known and to me as a child always seemed so bright and sprightly and full of life.
She's now in her eighties and getting very frail. I haven't been able to see her for far too long.
A couple of weeks ago I did nearly get to see her, but unfortunately the timings didn't work out. But this week she's staying with my mother, to whom I've just sent a copy of the book. I had a phone call last night to say my aunt, for whom life is pretty difficult now, had been reading bits of it out to my mother all evening and getting so much pleasure out of it that she took it to bed with her.
An unexpectedly moving bonus, I think.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second Book itis

I have been suffering from a severe case of second book itis.

As you are all boringly aware by now I have just completed the second book, just as the first book hits the shops.

Book no 2 is a very different beast to no 1. It's faster and more furious. I've concentrated on four different characters rather then three, and I've spent significantly less time with them then I did with Ben and Amy, the characters in Pastures New, who lived in my head for nearly four years by the time I'd finished with them.

Book 2 is also not really my second novel - if you count the unpublished ones it's my fourth. So you might think I'd got the hang of this writing malarkey now.

You might.

But actually, I approached the writing of book 2 with a huge amount of trepidation. Up until now, though the aim has obviously always been publication, to a degree I could please myself, and write what I liked, not what someone else wanted (there is, believe me a difference - having sat at the receving end of manuscripts which are fabulously written etc etc but not at all what I was looking for, I am well aware of how the commercial writing world works.And there is no point writing something that nobody wants).

This time around, I not only had a deadline and an editor as well as my agent to please, but I also had to overcome the psychological hurdle every author faces of feeling you're only as good as your last book. As an editor I never quite understood this phenomenon, knowing that I was going to love the stories of most of the authors I was fortunate enough to work with, but oh, how I understand it now.

It is - paralysing. Utterly utterly paralysing. I finished dealing with the edits of Pastures New earlyish in the year, and then was supposed to get down to business. I had my characters: Mark a divorced dentist (where my story began) about to be sued by a z list celebrity; Emily a lawyer realising she is in the wrong job, relationship, life; Rob whose happy go lucky exterior hides a painful secret; and Katie, who is ridiculously eager to show she has a perfect life. I've brought them all together at dancing classes. I had a very detailed plot worked out. I knew exactly where the story was going. Getting started should have been a piece of piss.

It was at this point I think I began to turn procrastination into an artform. I started to spend an unhealthy amount of time in the blogosphere (not that I'm sorry about that, I've gained readers by doing it, and made some new bloggy friends as a result), I got slightly obsessed with housework (most unlike me), and I kept getting ideas for other books - Livy a character who belongs to another book entirely wouldn't stop chattering away in my head, until I had to firmly tell her where to go. If I come to write her next, I expect someone else will do that to me.

(I have to apologise here. My head is a very strange place - and I don't expect non writers to get how I quite happily cohabit with people I have made up populating my brain. I know my husband thinks its certifiable. And he's probably right).

Thanks to Kate Harrison I got myself in hand by joining the Novel Racers who blogged every Friday about their progress on her blog.

So slowly but surely I got myself going.

I then did what my writing friend Penny Jordan assures me happens to her every single time, namely wrote pretty much the whole back story in the first three chapters. The friend I showed it to quite rightly pointed out that I had far too many characters in Chapter One, so I went through and ruthlessly lost a few.

Over the course of the summer term, progress was patchy and slow, I kept missing self imposed deadlines, but promised myself I would get the first quarter done before the summer holidays. I duly did, and as I wanted feedback to see where it was going sent it to both my agent and editor, who - phew! relief - liked it so far.

Then it was the summer holidays.

So, I stopped. For a bit.

I had this vain thought that maybe I could get up in the mornings before the kids and get an hour done each day.

This was clearly folly, as a) I am lousy in the mornings and b) actually when the kids are home they fill my head so full of their needs and wants and desires there's no room for anything else - not even my fictional friends.

So reluctantly I consigned Mark and Emily and Katie and Rob to wait in the wings till September, when I knew I would be rejuvenated and reenthused enough to meet them again.

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Writers who are way behind on deadline do not need their eldest child to start secondary school at the time when they need to be getting going again.

I just hadn't factored in how much emotional crap goes into guiding an eleven year old through those thorny first weeks at a new school, or how much it completely debiliates the creative part of your brain...

All of this is by way of explanation as to how I got to be soooo behind my deadline that I had to write 50 000 words in three weeks.

I think next time (if such a thing shall forunately come to pass)

I shall a) make sure I'm well into it by the summer and b) actually get some childcare over the summer so I can have a bit of time to keep the thread going. Trying to get back into it after a six week break was murder...

I have no idea whether it works or not, but as a wise writing friend of mine observed, you can't actually tell yourself if its crap or not.

There are one or two scenes which I saw so clearly in my head, and tantalisingly I haven't got down in the way I wanted to, but one or two others where I had a blast. I'm also proud of a few of the jokes - at least one made Spouse laugh - and I really enjoyed the ride.

Inspirations this time were mainly taken from Green Wing and this fabulous poem:

Dance like no one's looking
Love like you've never been hurt
Work like you don't have to
Live like heaven on earth

I always use music as background and to get a feel for a scene.

This time my playlist is rather long and includes:

The First Cut is the Deepest - Mark's broken heart
The Weakness in Me - Emily's life dilemmas
Fifteen Years - the future Rob and Mark may have if they don't sort themselves out
The Boys are Back in Town - for when they're lads out on the pull
The Miracle of Love - for all the falling in love bits
Feel - For Rob. How I listened to that track over and over!
Can't Get you out of My Head - I think all my characters feel that at some point.
Slipping Through my Fingers - the way Mark feels about his daughter
Shape of my Heart - just for the feeling it engenders
Fields of Gold - for one of the scenes I had trouble with
and Nights in White Satin - for the feelings again.

It would be so neat to do a virtual book where I could put the soundtrack over the words, but I don't think the technologies quite there yet.

That's it.
I am officially cured of second book itis.

Now I've got to think about the next one and choose one of four ideas bubbling about in my brain...


I think I'm about to come down with a severe case of third book itis!

Frantic as ever...

Well. I've done it. Four weeks ago I was about fifty thousand words into the New Book, and panicking ooh ever such a smidgeon. I've managed to write the next fifty thousand words in a fraction of the time it took me to write the first. I think a looming deadline might have had something to do with that. This being the first time I've written to a proper deadline, it occurs to me that I write the way I give birth - not much happens for ages and then it's all hands to the pump for the last five minutes.

My deadline was Friday, so I have just managed to do it, despite a near nervous breakdown yesterday when I was whizzing through to print off the pages I had made alterations on, and I kept pressing the wrong bit of the print key so my stupid computer was a) printing off the whole thing before I was ready and b) constantly getting jammed up.

I might have just managed it had I not had to pick no 1 up from computing club. She said a tad dramatically in the morning, Since I can't do anything else, I have to do computing.

Still, I thought, I can just manage to print off the remaining pages I need before I go to pick her up.


It was at this point I realised I had fifty print jobs backing up in the system and the sodding thing ate my paper again.

I went to get no 1 and then had to deal with her near hysteria on the subject of her geography homework which she absolutely had to go online right now to sort out, and her RS homework which was to draw a picture (currently impossible) write a poem or a story. She opted for a poem as it was quicker then a story, then said she didn't know what to write. I, I nearly screamed at her, am not going to write it for you (which I think might have been the heavy hint she was giving me). My slight frenzy about getting my manuscript printed went completely over her head, as geography had to be in today, so was clearly a priority. (We sooo need to get the internet on another computer).

At this point bil turned up early to go the gym with Spouse, so I took time out from printing. It was gone five by now, but I thought there was just a chance I could get to Mail Boxes Etc before six. Spouse also arrived home early, so I ran upstairs thinking, yes, yes, yes. I can do it...

To discover, no, no, no. The sodding printer had eaten more paper.

I suppose if it had been the day before the deadline I would have gone the extra mile. As it was I decided I knew when I was beaten. So I gave up and had a cup of tea instead.

Last night I sorted out the homework - supplying some suggestions of words no 1 could use for her poem - she then suffered writer's block till I told her to go for a walk round the house, and she came back and knocked it out in about ten minutes - sorted out the printing and then sat down with a glass of wine.

I put it in the post today and got home to an email from my agent telling me she's out for the rest of the week, so I may as well send it to reach her on Saturday....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Life Imitating Art

Of late, this blog hasn't been much about the mania of being a mum of four, but today. Oh today. Oh yes it is...

The day was supposed to go like this.

10.20 No 1 picked up by new friend from secondary school's dad (whom I don't know) to go to ice skating party for the day.

I was meant to be revising The Book prior to sending to my agent (I've finished, I've finished!)

2pm I was meant to be helping at no 4's Christmas Fair
4pm No 2 had a party to go to.

But what actually happened was this.

All was going swimmingly, till an hour after no 1's departure, when I got a phone call from the dad I didn't know to say she'd fallen over on the ice and had possibly broken her arm.

My children have form in this department. No 1 has already suffered one greenstick (playing piggybacks at school, her friend landed on her. Embarrasingly, friend's family are Spouse's patients...)

No 2 fell off a telephone table aged three and broke her arm in two places resulting in an operation (this was also the day I found out to my consternation at the time, that I was pregnant with no 4. It's all go in our house).

Readers of this blog may also remember she broke her arm in Switzerland on holiday last year.

So omens for it merely being a strain, I have to say weren't looking too good.

I rang a friend to say, Soreeee can't help at the Fair, got in the car and drove the half an hour it take to get to the Ice skating rink, picked no 1 up and was at our local A&E (which miraculously, despite the PCT's best efforts hasn't shut yet) at 1pm.

A&E was absolutely packed - full mainly of small boys who'd injured themselves playing football. It took us an hour to see a triage nurse who rather unhelpfully said he didn't know where to suggest she had an xray as it seemed to hurt everywhere. He was convinced it was a sprain, which made me feel a bit better, but no 1 is a stoical little soul and I suspected she was in a lot more pain then she was letting on.

At 2.30pm a paediatric nurse had turned up so we were able to repair to the more child friendly surroundings where the paediatricians hang out and eventually no 1 was x-rayed. However the very friendly doc was worried that she may have broken a very small bone that doesn't show up easily on x rays, so she splinted it, and we're back to Outpatients on Tuesday morning - inconveniently at 8.30am. On the upside the hospital is very close to no 1's school, so at least I can get her there easily...

I rang my mother to seek expert advice (she's an ex nurse, which is rather handy) and her immediate response after instructions to elevate the arm, and press frozen peas on it to reduce swelling was to say, you should put it in a book.

Which of course (this having happened before) I already have.... Pastures New indeed has a scene in which my hero's son breaks an arm. That will learn me....

I had also coincidentally just written a scene in The New Book in which my hero's daughter has a rather dramatic accident. As the subject matter of a lot of it is about our over litigious society. my hero makes a point of declaring he won't sue anyone as a result of the accident. In a life imitating art kind of moment, I could feel the frisson of anxiety when I went to pick no 1 up as to what my reaction would be... I think the dad was heartily relieved when I said, Oh, they normally break their arms with us. I felt very sorry for him, it must have been a hell of a thing to do....

So now we're back home, no 1 has had calpol and has her arm propped up. Even if it's not broken, that'll be no swimming, tennis, dancing or writing for a while. But she can play the piano right handed and is luckily a little bit ambidextrous, so may manage the writing.

It's certainly never dull in my house...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm so excited....

I'm so excited...

I just can't hide it.

I'm about to lose control

And I think I like it...

Feel free to sing along....

The reason for my merriment is not alas the football (I am up here tapping away because I cannot bear to watch to the bitter end).

Nay verily.

It is because....

TA DA!!!!

I have copies of this...

Well, two copies to be precise. The rest of my author copies follow on later.

It looks even better in real life then the cover would have me believe. And I am slightly recovering from the shock of seeing my name on an actual book, wot I appear to have written.


I'm still excited...

I just can't hide it...

Dode do dedo

And I think I like it...

Picture me doing a virtual back flip. and you might get the picture.

Meanwhile book two is tantalisingly close to the end and I am daring the children to be sick this week... I will be blogging about that one shortly.

Suffice to say it has been a mad few weeks spent flinging words on the page, and when I'm done I'll have to reread and see if they make any kind of sense. I do know that all the lawyers of my acquaintance are going to be sent a huge fat list of questions as I think my courtroom scenes probably owe more to This Life then anything else...

I hope after that, normal service on this blog will resume.

Watch this space.

PS. I'm still excited....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pastures New Update

I realise I have been appallingly quiet, but am still frantically trying to finish my next book.

However, I have an important update. Namely my website is finally up and running at:

I nearly had a nervous breakdown doing it, but thanks to a very nice man in India last week I got it sorted.

I have also - tada!! - given full rein to my directorial fantasies and posted a video ad on You Tube for your delectation and delight.

I hope to be running an online launch party and am trying to arrange a signing session at my local Waterstones about which more anon....

Monday, October 29, 2007

Now I've Heard it All

Not really meant to be blogging as am frantically trying to finish a book. If I hit my target for this week I do promise an Auschwitz blog, but later rather then sooner.

However. I just had to drop by and say this...

I think it is time we added another -ism to the many exisiting -isms which benefit us all on a daily basis.

I have just been listening to the Jeremy Vine show where they have been discussing the obesity epidemic.

A very learned professor came on to say that a) there is no obesity epidemic and b) it only exists in the minds of the upper and middle classes who don't like looking at fat people.

As a middle classed person I am clearly guilty of fattism every time I stop my children eating the Macdonalds they so richly deserve and giving them some of that awful home cooked stuff.

Perhaps the learned professor might like to ask himself if he perchance is guilty of middle classism. It seems most of the chattering classes have it in for us (which is pretty rich really as they're more middle class then we are).

I see also in today's paper that wicked middle class parents are at it again in the form of social engineering. Apparently children who are born earlier in the academic year do better then those that don't, so now we're all at it like bunny rabbits in late December/early January to make sure our offspring arrive in the autumn term so they can get ahead of the rest and have an unfair advantage over their working class peers whose parents weren't clever enough to read the same piece of research in the papers.

Hmm... Apart from the bleedin' obvious fact that babies don't always come to order like that, I can't say that I know a single person who has planned their babies that way. (Me, if I were to have my time again, I'd go with what I've got, summer babies who get to school a whole lot sooner). And it doesn't really account for the fact that no 3 is an end of June baby and read earlier then no 4 who is a February baby (although of course she falls foul of the edict that states as the youngest in the family she is also going to be the thickest).

The world's gone completely mad...

And if further proof weren't needed, I also read in today's paper that there are at least 60 Iranians studying nuclear physics at our universities. And it is only now that someone has questioned whether this is - er - a good idea.

Although in that instance, plus ca change. Twenty years ago I looked after a bunch of foreign students in Liverpool. Most of them were from the Middle East and at least five were from Iran. They were ALL studying nuclear physics and the one Iraqi chemical engineering (I kid you not). Even then I thought it was barking....

But presumably by merely saying this I am going to end up with creating another ism - perhpas antiIraniannuclearphysicsstudentism.

But then.

I am middle class.

What do you expect??

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fear of Flying Part 2

Diazepan and champagne.

Well that works.

Though the headache the next day was a bit much.

Having spent the weekend away from the bosom of my family I feel it is only fair to spend the rest of the week in the bosom of my family, so it may be some time before I post a proper account of my trip.

I have just realised as well that my deadline for book 2 is scarily close, so if I'm quiet for a bit, that'll be why...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fear of Flying

"We're going to fly very high, and very fast."
Peter Richardson, Comic Strip, South Atlantic Raiders c 1990

The feelings of terror felt by the passengers on board the plane Ricky Coltrane ended up flying in this hilarious episode just about sums up how I feel every time I go on a plane. I hate flying. And what started as a slight angst some years ago, is now a pathological terror. I utterly disgraced myself on the way back from Menorca to the point where no 4 was holding my hand saying, There, there Mummy (surely the wrong way round). The alternative of course is never to go anywhere at all.

So this week I swallowed my pride, went to see my very lovely and understanding GP (who is so lovely and understanding he is partly the inspiration for my hero in Pastures New) and now have a nice little box of Diazepan to take if I get nervous. Not the whole lot obviously. And not with alcohol, or as he put it, too much alcohol...

My proposed alternative is forgetting the diazepan and drinking lots of champagne instead as that got me through one flight very happily. I ended up feeling that we would just bounce off the clouds like cotton wool as we came into land.

Hmm.... I wonder what diazepan AND champagne will do.

Best not go there I think.

I am also feeling rather twitchy about the fact that I am not going to be picking the kids up, though my lovely friend is, as I've never done this before. Which is clearly ridiculous as Spouse is only round the corner. But there you go. As I posted some months ago, if there is something to worry about, I will find it.

That aside, I am looking forward to Poland tremendously. I've never been before, and it has a romantic hold on my heart from my teen days when being the good catholics we were we cheered on Lech Walesa as the hero of Gdansk, and all wore Solidarnosc badges.

And of course, Krakow is where the last pope was born. I didn't always agree with him in life, but I did think the manner of his dying was particuarly moving.

On top of that, once I have got over my angst and guilt about leaving my family behind. I've got a whole weekend off. No children. No responsibilities. No worries.

Spouse reminded me seriously last night that we were to remember we were abroad and not get drunk and disorderly in late night drinking holes. Just in case I had forgotten how to look after myself. I think we might all be a bit long in the tooth for investigating Krakow's nightlife, but I'm sure we'll have fun anyway.

I will be blogging about it on my return, but it's half term next week, so I may be a wee while.

Must dash, as I still have to pack.

And remember to take my diazepan....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Flat as a pancake.

I've had a slightly surreal day.

Tomorrow I'm off on the epic Polish trip (trying desperately to keep my flying nerves under control and NOT feel guilty about leaving the sprogs), so I spent the day in the main sorting the house out for the onslaught of four children and a husband home alone.

I was planning to go for a run, but then realised I needed to pop into town to pick up various bits. I know, I thought in a moment of brilliance, I'll take the bike (biking being the bit of my triathlon training that somehow I never get to).

The only trouble with this brilliant idea was that my tyres had gone flat since I last got on it, so I had to pump them up first. The back one didn't seem too happy at all, and in fact the whole cycling thing turned into a bit of a nightmare as it was squeaking away like anything by the time I got back. I know I don't cycle very often, but it shouldn't be THAT knackering to do it...

I got home in time to finish sorting washing before Spouse arrived home for lunch. Thursday lunchtimes usually involve Spouse dashing in for half an hour and a sandwich, while I sort the kids out a picnic tea as they do tennis later.

Thursdays are my most complicated day of the week, as I pick the younger three up from school, drop no 2 off at no 1's school for tutoring (we are doing the same for no 2 we did for no 1 though we may leave it up to her if she sits the exam or not), and then take nos 3 &4 to their tennis lesson. No1 meanwhile has taken to sitting in the library till 5pm to do her homework and then walking down to meet us. I pick up a friend's daughter from school, so she drops no 3 back to me.

Though this all sounds hideously complicated, I actually enjoy my Thursday afternoons as there's quite a big gaggle of mums most of whom I know fairly well, and we actually get to talk to one another while our sprogs play tennis. In between lessons they also run riot with their mates in what is a pretty safe environment.

Today, however, nothing went according to plan.

I got in the car at 3pm ready to go to school. I started the engine which died. I tried again and second time it fired up. I should have been warned, but once it was going the car seemed fine, so I forgot all about it.

Until I walked back to the car with four children and only quarter of an hour to spare to discover the bloody thing was dead as a dodo. Oh shit. I'd probably left the lights on last night and the battery was flat. Spouse would be sooooo pleased (it's not like he never nags me about that or anything).

I piled all the kids out, plus the back pack with all their clothes in, tennis rackets and a cold bag with their tea, thinking oh bugger, it's a long way to the school with all this gear, when I ran into a very generous friend (who is already helping me by having ALL the kids tomorrow), who bailed me out and took us to drop no 2 off then back to the tennis club. We did have to take an old chair out of her car and put it in mine to fit everyone in, but still...

I got to tennis, sorted the little ones out, rang the AA who on learning that I was actually ten minutes from my car, said they'd text me in fifty minutes. Fifty minutes took me to ten minutes before no 2 was due to be dropped off, so I left a somewhat less then coherent message on my mate's phone (which she later told me she heard while she was in the middle of teaching her class, as she'd forgotten to turn her phone off), and THEN realised that my sodding phone was running out of juice too.

Luckily Super Organised Friend was there and said ring them back and give them my number. As I was about to do this, the AA sent me a text to say their man was on his way. Phew. I rang no1 to tell her what was happening and SOF kindly said she'd sit with everyone till I got back, while I raced back to my car.

I then texted my friend back to say I'd be back in time and waited for the AA man. As he arrived my phone rang. It was my mate, but as I went to answer it my phone died. So now that battery was flat too.

AA Man was very efficient and diagnosed a very dodgy elderly battery (so not my fault then. Double Phew.), and told me to drive it for half an hour and it should be ok. Only trouble with that scenario was that I was worried it wouldn't start again if I left it for too long at tennis. So I decided the best thing to do was to go home, try and recharge my phone, ring Spouse and get him to pick us up, and cycle back to tennis.

All of which I duly did, so I was able to text my mate to say all was well and ring SOF to say I was on my way back. I pumped the back tyre up again, thinking maybe I'd not done it enough earlier. I DID have a moment of thinking perhaps I should go on Spouse's but stupidly it was only a moment and I got on mine instead.

I was two minutes away from the tennis club when I realised the ominous squeaking my back wheel had been replaced by the sound of metal hitting concrete.

Now my bloody tyre was flat too.

It just wasn't my day.

Spouse's first words when he greeted me were, you've left the lights on one too many times, so though I didn't think I was to blame for the state of the battery, apparently I am.

We left the bike where it was, brought everyone home and Spouse went out later to fetch no 1 from her tennis lesson and my bike.

Luckily HIS car's battery isn't flat.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is it really sad...

... To be so stressed and anxious about watching the rugby that I can't bear too so am sitting at my desk trying to pretend to write instead. But because I can't bear not knowing what's going on, I keep checking the internet at intervals, so I know we are a point adrift?

I think it probably is.

Luckily if England get through tonight to torture us further I will be away in Poland and likely to miss it.

I am going to Poland to celebrate the 40th birthday of a very good friend. Some months ago we met up with Lovely Friend (who has featured on this blog before) and suggested a day at The Sanctuary as a birthday present. Turns out that VGF has always wanted to go to Poland and visit Auschwitz, which cheerily is what we are doing. Having visited Buchenwald once (Spouse's German grandfather was imprisoned there by the Russians after the war - a little known fact is how many Germans died at Russian hands there. In the main these were ordinary folk, not Nazis, but that's another story) I have a feeling it is going to be an intense and probably quite difficult experience.

Spouse and I drove to Buchenwald from Wolfsburg not long after the Wall came down, and when the East German roads were still in their original parlous state. I can't remember how far we travelled but it took us about four hours longer then expected, so we arrived at Buchenwald at dusk, which was too late to actually go in the camp. It was incredibly spooky walking around the perimeter though, and without wishing to seem too fanciful, there was a pervasive sense of evil in the atmosphere. Just before we left we stumbled across a path going into a wooded area, where a stone slab had been erected in memory of the thousands of Germans who died in the period following the war. And as we looked into the wood, we were suddenly grimly aware of hundreds and hundreds of crosses. Of the five people who went into Buchenwald with Spouse's grandfather, only he and one other survived, and his health was shot to pieces.

Spouse and I were so shaken by the experience I remember we travelled in silence for about two hours, neither of us willing to speak about what we had seen. And yet, we really saw very little of the real horrors, because of course aside from what the Russians did, there were the cruelties inflicted by Ilsa Koch the so called Beast of Buchenwald.

It was a grim experience visiting the scene of such horror. But I think an important one too. If we are ever to learn the lessons of history, then we have to face what has happened in the past (something until recently the German people have, perhaps understandably been very reluctant to do).

So though I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to visiting Auschwitz, I am pleased to have the chance to go, as without VGF I probably never would have opted too.

And on a somewhat lighter note. I get a weekend away with three girlfriends. Something I have never ever done before.

Last time I went out with LF and VGF we got chatted up by some builders. There was one nearly young enough to be our son who took a shine to VGF. It was therefore somewhat embarrassing for her to meet him some weeks later with her husband (also a builder) and discover that they er - know each other.

At least if you chat up a Polish builder, VGF's husband (also known to this blog as pyromaniac builder) he won't know me.

Oh dear. Oh dear.

I think Krakow won't really be ready for us...

I have just been informed by no 2 that Johnny Wilkinson is the best (I agree) as he has taken us to 14 -9 and I am hoping that that will be enough. So the stress continues for another week, which coupled with the stress of Lewis Hamilton only being 4 points up in the Grand Prix, makes me very glad I'll be away.

PS From the cheering downstairs, I take it we won....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Oh and...

Here is my very lovely and gorgeous cover. With many thanks to all the lovely people at Avon for working so hard to make it happen (particularly the very long suffering designer, who is probably cursing my name by now).
Pastures New is coming out on December 3,to a Tesco's near you, priced £6.99.
I am working very hard on trying to get a website up at: but having problems between computers so there's nothing there yet, but I will keep you posted.
I am hoping to organise a launch party, and will probably also do an online version as per my Running on Empty party. If I can get my act together and work out how to do it, I may also follow lovely Marie Philips example and sponsor my launch party for my favourite charity, Tadworth Court Children's Trust. Spouse and I went to a charity ball in aid of it the other week, and I am feeling inspired to do something again. Last time we attended a similar ball I ended up running a marathon, but I think sponsoring my launch might be a tad easier...
As you can see. My real name isn't Jane Henry. But I think you probably knew that by now.

A bonus from the charity ball was that Spouse bought some kit from the Formula 1 Williams team (well, it had to be done, and it was for charidee.) We brought home the most expensive, fleece, shirt and cap we've ever purchased, only to discover looking at the labels that Frank Williams has trademarked the Williams name.

Which leaves me wondering rather, if I'm going to get in trouble with my cover...
Perhaps I should revert to using Jane Henry after all....

On having too many children...

I realise that I have been rather quiet on the posting front recently. This is mainly because I am trying to be disciplined about my writing, as for the first time since I have been at this game, I actually have a deadline. In fact it is a scarily close deadline... So I'm in a bit of a panic.

Added to which I seem to have more freelance work then I've had in a while (great), am trying to get a website together when I have only got internet access on my laptop (long and boring story) and my laptop refuses to take the website programme I am using (even longer and more boring story.) So I have a work in progress vis a vis the website sitting on my main computer and I can't transfer it to the internet. If the truth be known, internet access or no internet access, I think I might have trouble as last time I tried to do it I had to rope my lovely and helpful computer whizz kid bil in.

On top of which, I have too many children.

It's simple as that. One of them simply has to go.

After weeks of paying more attention to no 1 because she has started secondary school, during which her siblings have helpfully not demanded my atttention (much) the worms are turning en masse.

Take today for instance.

It rained. I was going to walk everyone to school anyway but nos 3&4 fought so constantly and vociferously from the moment they awoke to the moment we left the house, we ended up late and I took the car.

I got home and had to do some housework, yesterday having been spent chucking myriad amounts of chemicals down our horribly blocked drains. Spouse ended up rodding the ruddy things out in the dark (another long story). I did however manage a chapter of the book yesterday.

Today I put washing on (I couldn't for three days because of the blocked drains), cleaned out bathrooms and loos (dittos) and tidied bedrooms. Then I had a phone call from no 1 to say she'd forgotten her pursebelt - again - so I dashed out to leave it in the office for her (a totally fruitless trip as it turned out as no one knew anything about it when I went in), managed to do a bit of editing work, grabbed a bite to eat, and popped in on some of Spouse's rels who were visiting mil (mil you understand, doesn't grasp the concept that working at home does actually mean that you aren't on call for social visits).

After school, I cooked tea in a hurry, went to pick up no 1 at 4.30 as she has computer club, fed no 3 in more of a hurry before taking her to brownies at 5.15. At 6pm bil and sil arrived to go to the gym with Spouse, so we all had a cup of tea, before I sat down for five minutes with no 4 to help her with her homework.

So far so good...

No 4's homework took up so much time (oh, ok, I was multi tasking and making soup at the same time, in between checking my emails), that we were late for brownie pick up.

Nos 3&4 picked up where they left off and ended up disappearing up the stairs in floods of tears. No 3 being particularly put out that somehow the puppet she had made at brownies had mysteriously broken... No 4 swore blind it wasn't her.

After much cajoling and a few biscuits (there are times when only bribery will do quite frankly), I got the little ones to bed, in between trying to help no 2 print off pictures of King Arthur which she needed to inspire her to do a drawing of him. It was about half an hour before her bed time when she suddenly let slip (having not even started said picture which had to be in for tomorrow)that actually she had some geography homework for tomorrow too, and could Mummy just do something about mountains for her.

No, Mummy bloody well couldn't was the not (I felt) unreasonable response when I realised what she was after.

Besides, I said when did you get this homework?

Today, she said, butter not melting in that particular cheek.

Well I'll just write to your teacher and say you didn't have time because of your other homework.

But Mummy, you can't, she wailed.

Mummy not seeing the wood for the trees lost the plot rather when no 2 hysterically announced that she would be in so much trouble for not doing it.

I'll just do it for you and write a letter to your teacher to say that she should give you more time, shall I? I said, which of course produced more hysterics, plus a lecture from no 1 on a)how mean I was being and b) how this really wasn't helping.

I couldn't quite get to the bottom of the hysterics until no 2 finally admitted she'd actually had the homework for a week. So cross was I that she had left it to the last minute, I forgot completely to tell her off for lying to me.

It transpired that all she needed to do was find some information about mountains. We have a big book about the Earth, with pages and pages on mountains. It is positively Mountain Manna to a desperate mother in need of a miracle. So she took that to bring into school tomorrow. Problem solved.

Why did you tell me your homework was given to you today, I asked, when I remembered about the lying thing.

Because I thought you'd be cross, was the sheepish answer.


This is to the mother who has always made a point of saying, whatever you've done, however cross I am, I'll be crosser still if you lie about it...

Still lesson learnt and all that...

Nice evening? Spouse said as he walked in from the gym.

Oh, yes peachy....

I'm just off to lie in a darkened room.

For a very very long time.

I think I might have to stay there till my children grow up....

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Stitches

Many moons ago, I blogged about the proposed demise of our local hospital's A&E. Despite a valiant campaign fought by our brilliant MP Chris Grayling, our A&E department has already been downgraded to minors only and should I need the assistance of an ambulance it will be taking me to St Helier some five miles (and forty minute drive in heavy traffic) away.

I do as you can imagine, feel rather strongly about the issue of local hospitals being shut down as I think it is only a matter of time before people start dying as a result of this wrongheaded and foolish policy.

So it is with great pleasure that I am happy to promote In Stitches by Dr Nick Edwards, himself an A&E doctor, who is spearheading a campaign to get the tide turned. Nick says he believes in the NHS and the principles of the NHS. Me too. So do go and get hold of a copy of his book. And if you are unlucky enough to be living in an area where your local hospital is facing closure, kick up as much fuss about it as possible. Eventually someone somewhere will have to start listening...

PS I don't know Nick personally, but as soon as I read the comment by Patricia Hewitt I knew I had to get a copy - Patricia Blewitt being the person who finally put the nail in the coffin of our A&E by declaring that as the people who live in my town are all rich we don't need an NHS hospital. If you live in Surrey you are automatically able to pay for health, schools etc....


A new book (In stitches; the highs and lows of life as an A&E doctor, by Dr. Nick Edwards) has been written looking at what it like working in the NHS and A&E in particular. Despite its tongue in cheek style, issues important to anyone who works for the NHS or uses the NHS are addressed. It has been written by a doctor who with one hand supports wholeheartedly the ideals of the NHS and in the other hand is frustrated by the way it is being run.

It is hitting national interest, appearing in the Guardian Newspaper and Newsnight amongst others. It can be bought from good book shops, a couple of not so good book shops and from (type in stitches in the search for books bit.)

Read on for a synopsis of the book…………

Despite the headlines, actually the NHS has just had its best year ever.'
Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, eulogising to the BBC, 22nd April 2006

'Despite what the politicians say, things seem to have gone a bit tits up recently.'
Dr Nick Edwards, A&E doctor, ranting to his mates down the pub, 22nd April 2006

Dr Nick Edwards is an Accident and Emergency (A&E) doctor working in the UK and a passionate believer in the NHS. However the reforms, political correctness and the Anglo-Saxon culture of binge drinking and fighting and the resulting A&E visits are a strain on his sanity. So to keep up his morale, he began writing down his feelings - a form of literary cathartic therapy - the results of which make up this book.

From dealing with cardiac arrests and car accidents, to people with 'Arrest Avoidance Syndrome' and others who hadn't quite read the big red sign above their heads as they walked into A&E, In Stitches paints a vivid picture of what it's really like working at the sharp end of the NHS today. It's funny, it's heartbreaking and it's infuriating. It's also more informative than any government press release.

So join Dr Nick Edwards as he describes the frustrations and joys of working in the NHS. The traumas and tragedies, the patients and colleagues and most of all the successes and humour that make up life at the front line of medical care: Accident and Emergency.

Note to reader: Ever-conscious of meaningless targets, the author would like it to be known that 98% of the stories contained in this book were written in under 4 hours!

Example Extract from the book

A sign the world has gone mad?

What has had happened to my patients today? They seemed to be getting lost when I sent them for X-ray. I'd given the same directions as normal, there had been no secret muggers hiding in the hospital corridors and as far as I know, no problems with space - time dimensions in our particular corner of the universe.

I went to X-ray to investigate. I found it quickly because I knew the way. However, I looked for the signs for X-ray and they were gone. The nice, old-fashioned and slightly worn signs had gone; they had been replaced by a sign saying 'Department of Diagnostic Imaging'. What the hell? I know what it means but only just and only because I have been inundated by politically correct 'shit-speak' for a number of years. What a pointless waste of money; to satisfy some manager, they replaced a perfectly good sign with one that means bugger all to 90% of people. Why don't they change the toilet sign to 'Department of Faecal and Urinary Excrement' or the cafe to 'Calorific Enhancement Area'. Who makes these decisions? Who is employed to do such pointless stuff? Why? Why?? Why???

I needed a caffeinated beverage in a disposable single-use container - management-speak for shit NHS/Happy Shopper instant coffee. I went to sit in the 'Relaxation, Rest and Reflection Room', previously known as staff room. There, the nurses were moaning that tonight one of their colleagues had called in sick and to save money their shift would not be covered by a bank nurse. In A&E, staff shortages can seriously undermine the safety of patient care.

I am sure this genius plan was decided by some personnel manager who I doubt has ever seen a patient, cannula or trolley, and therefore is obviously an expert at making nursing planning decisions. We have a hospital that can fund unnecessary new signs, but not replace nurses when they off sick. So, tonight who is going to go looking for the patients when they got lost on route to the Department of Diagnostic Imaging?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Things Eleven Year Olds Do When They Are Left To Their Own Devices Part 2

Well it was all going so swimmingly. We have had no tantrums. Most of the homework is getting done, she seems to be getting lots of merits. And most important she is happy.



This week so far we have had:

1) A rainy Monday morning. Did I say rainy? I am too restrained. It was howling a gale here at 7.15 and the driving rain was coming down in sheets. You can't go out in this, I said. Luckily Spouse drives the others in on Mondays, so I had time (though not the inclination, it has to be said,as I was feeling somewhat delicate after a family party on Sunday), to drive her in.

We rang her friend to say I'd give her a lift to, but the answerphone was on. Five minutes later Friend's Mum rings back and says oh she's gone.

No problem I thought, I'll just pick her up on the way.

Oh the best laid plans.

Through the pouring rain I made it to the spot where no 1 and her friend meet. There was no sign of her friend, whom we hadn't seen on the way. No 1 rang Friend up. No reply.

Perhaps she's gone back home, I said (as mooted by her mother). So we drove round there. I went to knock on the door which was well and truly locked. I was flummoxed and feeling guilty. The poor child was tramping the streets getting soaked. I couldn't understand how we'd missed her.

By the time we'd got back to the car no 1 had managed to track down her friend who was already at school (how??? I nearly crashed the car in my surprise). Friend was also (not unsurprisingly perhaps) rather hysterical thanks to the rain and being so wet. I was feeling guiltier then ever, till no 1 told me that her mother had given her a lift. Thank FUCK for that...

2)Friend's leg has been hurting since doing a jazz dance class on Friday. This obviously means she can't walk to school. So on Wednesday having established that her mum couldn't drive them (for some reason no 1 has decided to walk round to Friend's house, which is in the opposite direction from school), they blagged a lift off Friend's very accommodating Granny, a fact of which I was totally unaware until

3) Yesterday. Nos 1& 2 started clattering about at 6am. No 1 is feeling anxious because Friend is worried about being late for school, so although they could happily leave at 7.45 they are leaving at 7.30 and Friend wanted no 1 to meet her at 7.30 till I put my foot down. No 1 therefore decided she had to get up earlier and I have no idea at all why no 2 joined her. I felt obliged to stir myself from my pit around 6.40 (which quite frankly is like the middle of the night for me. I like my bed) to make sure they weren't burning the house down.

Getting up earlier didn't seem to make any difference to no 1's timekeeping mind, as she still left at 7.30 ( funny that - one of the reasons I never get out of bed before I have to is because however early I get up it has no effect whatsoever on the time I leave, so I may as well get some sleep), and that I thought was that.


At 8.17 (the time I am normally chivvying the others out of the door) the phone rang .No 2 answered it which meant when I picked up the phone two seconds later I couldn't hear who she was talking to. No 2 then put the phone down, we lost the connection, No 2 hadn't a clue who it was so I was none the wiser.

Thank the lord for 1471 is all I can say. I rang back and it transpired it was Friend's poor beleagured Granny (who must rue the day she moved into a house en route to school). No 1 and Friend were there, because Friend's leg was still hurting her. Granny had to go to work and couldn't take them in (they had fifteen minutes by now to get to school), could I oblige?

Luckily I could, Thursdays being the other day in the week that Spouse does the school run. Even more luckily all the others were ready to go, so Spouse shoved them in his car and set off and I followed in mine. Part of his route goes past Friend's Granny's so I had a terrible Schadenfreude moment to see the look on no 1's face when he drove straight past them.

Why didn't you ring me:? I asked. My phone's out of credit was the crestfallen response (What? Already? What with that and school dinner money, this secondary school lark is costing me a small fortune).

I dropped them at school. Thanks to Friend's leg I felt obliged to take them right up to the school gate which turned out to be a big big mistake. The school is down a cul de sac and about a thousand other children were also being dropped off. I am never never ever going to do it again. It took me half an hour to get out again, but at least they got to school on time.

In all the stress I had forgotten to remind no 1 to meet me at the tennis club after school. For the last two weeks she's been doing her homework in the library first and coming to find me later. And of course, now she couldn't text me, and I was unsure about the school policy for passing on non urgent messages. Thankfully they seemed quite understanding when I rang in, and no1 managed one last text to let me know she'd got the message. Double Phew.

Last night was spent unpicking the events of the morning to discover a) how it had taken fifty minutes to go a few hundred yards (no 1 had walked back to Friend's house that's how) and to b) after a long conversation with Friend's mum, make sure we are now all singing from the same song sheet to ensure that they are to meet at 7.45, if one of them is late they are to wait no longer then 7.55 and then go on alone, and if there is a crisis they will ring by 8.10am. I have also made it abundantly clear that I am not there to jump every time they cock things up.

Honestly, I said in exasperation. You're causing me more work then the other three put together. (Don't get me STARTED on homework crises).

The message seems to have gone in. This morning went off smoothly with no panicky phone calls (I put some extra credit on last night), so far so good.

Or so I thought till I went to tidy her bedroom and discovered that her pursebelt is still sitting there complete with the dinner money we gave her last night.

Which means I will have one hungry girl at the end of the day. Which is a bit of a bugger as she has a dance class straight after school.

I can feel a frantic phonecall demanding a lift and food coming on...

Friday, September 21, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different....

I've not done this before, and I am not about to make a habit of it, but I really really wanted to post this fab story Mad Twin has written on a subject very dear to our hearts, namely what it's like to be a twin. Though I hasten to add in this story of twinniness gone awry there are no similarities whatsoever to our own relationship. But when I read it I instantly recognised (as idents the world over probably do) that slightly odd feeling that you get when you see your twin and see yourself in a mirror, ever so slightly askew.

So here it is. The only time I'm going to hand over my blog to someone else. I hope you agree with me, she deserves it....


In the throes of an ecstatic embrace, a small egg travels down a fallopian tube. The time being right and the millions of sperm being strong and willing, within 3 days it is surrounded by the thousands that have survived the harsh acidic jelly. Each jockeys for position, until at last one makes the breakthrough and invades. The new union of egg and sperm brings with it a fervour of division. The ball of cells moves down into the womb doubling all the way till it suddenly splits into two identical spheres that bury themselves in the comfort of the rapidly thickening walls. The multiplying and dividing continues apace whilst the host of all this activity (soon to be known as mother) continues life unaware of this miracle occurring within her body. It is not until she misses her period, that she thinks something might be afoot, by which time the cells are differentiating too, into areas that will soon form head, heart and limbs. As the woman begins to make sense of this life changing event, as her body starts altering; breast swelling; constant nausea; unbelievable weariness, the small spheres continue to develop. Brains, eyes, mouths, ears, noses, hearts, bones, limbs form with increasing rapidity. By the time she attends her 12 week antenatal appointment, 2 tiny but perfectly formed little girl babies are floating in the watery darkness. Two children linked by their cords to a shared placenta, dance an embryonic dance, mirroring each others movements as they touch, wave, hug, suck thumbs, kick, burp, urinate and sleep.
The pregnancy progresses, the babies, grow and grow. Their mother moves beyond blooming to elephantine and complains of back ache and swollen feet. The babies begin to fill up their environment till a month to go they face each other across the tightened womb. A week to go and by some invisible sign, the first child turns and dives downwards as if inviting her sister to play a special game of tag. The game involves hours of painstaking struggle through the dark canal that causes their mother unspeakable pain. At last with a large rush and a push, the elder child is out in a world of bright lights and confusing noises. She is removed quickly, and cries an obligatory cry, not for the pain of separation from her mother, but from a deep primeval loss of her sister. The younger child follows 5 minutes later and she too cries inconsolably until, when both babies have been Apgar checked and weighed, they are returned to their mother’s chest. To the amazement of the adults watching, they turn immediately towards each other; hands almost touching, movements almost mirroring each other; as if to say, “there you are then, now everything is alright”
Thus do Celia and Delia Appleby arrive in the world and grow into it. Twins are obviously hard work, but, their mother tells her friends, at least they entertain each other. From the earliest age, they are happiest lying side by side. When they learn to sit, they love to sit opposite each other. They touch and cuddle, laugh at each others faces, gurgle noises only they understand. It is two and half years before they speak to another human being; and although their first words come out in perfect sentences, they seem more entranced with their own secret language. They are politely responsive to their parents and kindly enough when in the company of other children; but in all honesty, their mother admits, by the time they are 5 they appear to want for nothing in the world except each other. Their favourite occupation at this age is to sit opposite each other and copy each others movements, as if recreating their first days in the watery womb.
“Ceely,”Delia says.
“Deely,” her sister replies.
CeelyDeelyDeelyCeely who can tell which is which and who is who? Their parents have difficulty, their few friends struggle, strangers have no chance. When they sit like this looking into the mirror of the other, even they sometimes pause and wonder.

They are bright girls and do well at school, though this is not without problems. Their answers are so similar sometimes, and they seem to often achieve the same mark in tests, that every now and then a new teacher queries whether they have been cheating. But the school is proud of their clever twins and it is quickly explained how their congruence in looks seems matched by a congruence of thought. Concerns are raised from time to time that the twins seem somewhat set apart. They join in games with the other children but only as if they are one. On the rare occasions when one child is off sick, the other sits alone wistfully waiting for her sister’s return. But since they are polite, hardworking and a credit to their school, these worries usually fade away.
To most observers, the twins seem to be in equal control of their relationship, but to their mother’s eye, it seems as if Celia, the older twin, is always in charge. When the girls are eight she is entranced to hear they are mirror image twins. She redesigns their bedroom accordingly, so that each half reflects the other. At ten, she is fascinated when they visit a hall of mirrors. Leading her sister into the centre, she stands them so that they look beyond each other to the mirror behind to see a chain of twin,mirror,reflection that reaches into eternity. And at twelve when they go to secondary school it is Celia who decides that they cannot be separated, even though Delia expresses a half thought that maybe it might be interesting to try it for a change.
The mother who observes this also observes Delia’s occasional forays into independence. Once when Celia is ill for a week, Delia makes a new friend at school. But on Celia’s return, the friendship withers in the older sister’s disapproval. On another occasion, Delia goes swimming with a different girl and does not invite her twin. When she comes home, she finds Celia sobbing inconsolably and so she cannot bring herself to try this again.
These are minor incidents, however. At eighteen, it is inevitable that they will take their three identical A levels ( Chemistry B, Biology A, Maths C) and start a Biochemistry degree in London. They enter the big city with the excitement of any teenagers on their first trip away from home. They enjoy setting up their double room in the image of the one they left behind, the furniture arranged to reflect each other, photographs reproduced in reverse on the other wall.

At first all is well. They settle into their course with satisfactory marks. But London is not their small town and the double life that makes them so quirky at home soon gives them the reputation of being oddities. After a while, a small crack appears between them. Celia begins to find that the roaring traffic, the hustling crowds and the late night parties make her long for that small town. Whereas Delia, thinks this hubbub is full of unexplored possibility and wants them to use this opportunity to look beyond their noses. It is Celia’s will that prevails,however, and Delia finds herself confined more and more to their double room, poring over course work together. Occasionally she voices the opinion that it would be interesting to go out to a show or a nightclub, but Celia is never keen. The younger twin is left wondering in the darkness at bedtime, whether this is all that life has to offer.

Their first year passes quickly. When they return after the summer holidays it is to a small bedsit in the home of an elderly widow who lives in the suburbs. Now their journey to University is twice as long and must be shared with hundreds of sweaty commuters.
“If it wasn’t for the course,” Celia sighs after a long and compressed journey back, “I’d be inclined to move to a smaller city”
Delia sighs for a different reason, if it wasn’t for Celia, she’d be inclined to live here permanently. And that sigh causes the crack to become a small fissure. Autumn passes. The mellow mists being followed by torrential rainfall and leaves on the line. In icy November Celia succumbs to a godawful flu virus, leaving Delia to make the long journey to town alone. Each day she rushes back full of concern, to nurse her sister. But when the initial fever has subsided and Celia is sitting up eating soup and watching daytime TV, Delia relaxes a little. She chats a bit to fellow students after class and finds them warm and friendly. One night she even joins them for a quick drink in the bar. Her conscience does not allow her this treat for long, and she soon makes her excuses and runs for the train.
Celia’s sickness has a strange effect on her for a while. Although she seems better within a week, she complains that she is “too exhausted” to go in to lectures. It takes another fortnight of Delia’s gentle needling before she can be persuaded to undergo the daily ordeal of the tube train to college. Two weeks that transform Delia’s life. After the first tentative meetings with her fellow students, she finds that Jane and Anna have become friends. More surprisingly she realises that if Celia objects, this time she will keep them. But her sister is, at first, too absorbed in catching up on lost work to notice anything amiss. She heads for the library the minute lectures are over, and for over a week, she accepts her sister’s decision to wait for her in the bar. It is as Christmas approaches that she finally catches on. Classes are winding down, she has caught up with the backlog, and one day she wants to head for home straight away. Delia’s refusal surprises and then angers her,
“What’s the problem? There’s nothing going on around here.”
“Well actually,” her sister hesitates, “I wanted to have a drink with my friends”
“Friends? What friends?” Celia is puzzled, “We don’t have any friends here. There’s just us.”
Delia bites her lip.
“That’s not … quite … true. We don’t have friends. But I have now, and I’d like you to meet them properly.”
Delia explains about Anna and Jane, how they got talking and how Celia’s trips to the library have kept the conversation going.
“They’re nice, really they are. Please come and see.”
Celia is about to resist, but when she sees her sister’s stricken face she has no option but to give it a try.
The evening is not a success. Anna and Jane have a livelier temperament than either of the twins, which is why Delia is drawn to them. But to Celia their talk seems loud and vulgar. In her rush to judgement she misses their knowing glances and ironic asides. After an hour and half, during which she has barely said a word, she whispers to Delia that she wants to go home. With a sigh her sister makes their excuses but on the way back is uncharacteristically sharp. At home she faces her Celia across the room and snarls,“Why do you always do this to me?”
“Do what?”
“Immediately dislike anyone I choose to like. And worse, just sit there, not even being prepared to make an effort”
“But—” Celia is overwhelmed by the onslaught. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t. You know I didn’t want to come out but you did. So I tried. And I really did try really. But what could I say to them? I mean all that rubbish about Big Brother and pole dancing. What a waste of an evening.”
“They’re having a laugh,” growls Delia exasperated, “They don’t take it seriously but it’s fun just to chat. Life doesn’t all have to be about molecular structure and optical isomers. There are other conversations.”
“And I don’t want to have them,” shouts Celia.
“But I DO,” cries Delia.
They look at each other horrified by the implications of what they have just said. They are suddenly aware that of the chasm that is opening between them and stand teetering nervously on the edge.
It is Celia on this occasion who pulls back and sighs,
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t get it. But if you want to be friends. Well I’ll give it a try”
Delia is grateful for her sister’s response, she realises what this has cost her. They hug and make up. For the last week of term they agree to compromise. Twice they stay in, twice they go out and once Delia goes out alone. The evening separation is hard but, they agree, it does them good to have a break from each other. They leave for the holidays reconciled, yet conscious of the fragility of the peace that they have made.

Christmas comes, Christmas goes. There are reunions, long walks, too much to eat and drink, presents opened by the fireplace, late nights and lazy lie ins. Their disagreement is forgotten for this short respite with their family. But as they start the train journey back to London, the conditions of their ceasefire hang unspoken in the air between them. The term starts nervously, with each twin trying to make sure the other sees how much they are trying to make it work. But try as they might, Celia cannot like Anna and Jane, and Delia will not give them up.
It is the flood at Anna and Jane’s house that brings about the final crisis. Once Delia’s friends are over the shock, they ask the twins to join them in their next house. Celia wants to say yes, but her sister immediately says no.
Backwards forwards forwards backwards
The argument rages until Delia reaches a cold clarity. Unless she can persuade Celia to make this move, they will be trapped together in their double room in a chain of twin mirror reflection reaching into eternity. In desperation she throws down her final challenge.
“If you won’t – I will.”
Celia freezes. Somewhere inside she knows this is the only path across the canyon that now yawns between them. But she cannot see how to make the first step. Instead she turns her back on her sister and retires to her bed.
Delia tries to rouse Celia but she is ignored. For the first time in their lives they go to sleep without saying good night. All through the next day Delia packs while her sister’s back is firmly turned against her. That night whilst Jane helps bring Delia’s boxes down to the car, she maintains her steadfast pose until the very last minute. Delia makes one last entreaty to her sister,
“Come with me. Please”
Celia turns and coolly says, “You seem alright without me. I’ll stay here thanks,” and turns away to avoid the sight of her sister’s tears, a reflection of her own.
Delia drags herself away. But she rings the minute she arrives in her new home. Celia does not answer. Delia rings again and again. The next day she calls round but the landlady is out and her sister will not come to the door. On Monday she hopes to see Celia at lectures but the older twin does not turn up. On Tuesday, she catches their landlady who reassures her that Celia is upstairs and all is well, so she decides to leave it for a few days. She tries to adjust to her new life as a singleton and finds it wanting. She likes Anna and Jane, but the evenings in their company in their new home seem somehow insubstantial. She misses the twinly end of the day chats, their intuitive responses to the same incidents. She does not want to go back, but she feels as if she has been washed over a cliff and is drifting randomly in the current. A week without speaking to her sister is unbearable. On Saturday morning, she decides to visit Celia one more time, determined to find a way back in.
Meanwhile all week, Celia lies in her bedroom, hugging her duvet. Occasionally she gets up to eat toast or have tea, but then she subsides miserably underneath the covers. Once or twice her landlady knocks to ask if she is alright. She shouts an effort making cheery reply and remains on her bed. In her dreams she wanders through a hall of mirrors calling for her Delia. But she cannot find her sister anywhere, and all she can see is mirror after mirror reflecting each other into an uncertain eternity.
At the very moment Delia turns into her street, Celia awakes. Half asleep still, she looks into the mirror and thinks her sister is back in the bed opposite.
“Deely,” she jumps up to hug her. But all she finds is the cold hard glass of the mirror.
Without thinking she throws herself at the mirror as if it can bring her sister back to her. She hurls and hurls herself at the implacable glass until at last it shatters and the splinters and shards are thrown across the room into her face, her body and her arms. She is dimly aware that she hurts and is bleeding, and there are voices calling her. And Delia is there after all, to staunch the blood and call an ambulance as if she has never left.

Now a locked door separates the inseparable sisters.
Delia visits every day. Her sister seems smaller somehow, still wrapped in bandages, eyes slightly dulled with medication. They never say much, the nurses notice. Instead they sit opposite each other mirroring their arm movements as if performing some strange religious rite.
Which is which and who is who?
There are days when even they wonder.

copyright c Virginia Moffatt, 2007