Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And now for some light relief.

Ok, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I just HAVE to post about this year's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. I know: terribly puerile programme, watching overpaid, undertalented people shame themselves all so they can secure that tv/book/record deal. It's totally reliant on schadenfreude and bad jokes by Ant & Dec. And it is my guilty pleasure. Oh yes, it is.

I remember first watching it the year Peter Andre & Katie Price were in it (2004?). I had never really seen it before, and I only started watching because no 4 was in hospital, and there was bugger all else to do of an evening when you are tied to a hospital ward with a coughing two year old, other then watch crap tv in the parents' room. Meanwhile, Spouse at a similar loss at home ended up watching it too, and we were quickly addicted. Admittedly Spouse now watches it, grumbling all the time about the lack of sensible things for them to do - he would rather it was about proper survival skills and working together, rather then sitting round all day bitching and then taking part in the odd trial - but I think that is part of the fascination of the programme. Throw a bunch of egotistical people with something to prove or sell, who don't know each other together for three weeks, give them hardly any food, and nothing constructive to do, light blue touch paper and retire.

And boy this year, has the action been explosive. In case you have been inhabiting Mars for the last two weeks and hadn't noticed, Gillian McKeith (aka once-upon-a-very- long-time- ago- before-she-got-found out as "Dr" Gillian McKeith) has rather stolen the show this year, or certainly the column inches in the newspaper. By dint of being the absolutely wussiest person ever seen on the programme (previous contenders include Paul Burrell and Natalie Appleton), and having phobias about everything you can think of, and probably several you can't, Gillian McKeith has been chosen for every single bushtucker trial apart from the ones she's exempted from on medical grounds. (FFS, she's 51, Jenny Eclair is 50 - what's so wrong with her she can't do certain trials?) At every single trial Gillian has screamed, shuddered, and three times "fainted" and been given oxygen. The last time was live on air, and perfectly timed. She's clearly an actress manquee.

Up until last night I just thought she was a self delusional, slightly mad, selfish old bag. But then she gave herself away. Having been sent to Jungle Jail for cheating (Oh yes, you did cheat, Gillian, but then you've made a career out of that), she went hysterical - and if the Sun is to be believed, declared she was pregnant - and then spent the next 24 hours bitching about being there. When confronted by Stacey Solomon (who has turned out to be one of my unexpected favourites on the show simply because she has such a sweet personality) as to why she didn't go home, given how many phobias she has (indeed, given how phobic she is about insects why go on the programme at all, huh, Gillian??), she revealed that if she breaks her contract she'll "never work in TV again" (You're doing a good job of ensuring that anyway, Ms McKeith) - ie, there's a new tv programme in the offing.

She then went off to do a trial with Dom Joly (who's behind her back comments have been absolutely hilarious), revealing when it turned out to involve water that a) she couldn't swim and b) she's phobic about water. Surprise, surprise, thanks to Dom's help (the man has the patience of a saint. Dom for King of the Jungle, on that trial alone), Gillian "overcame" her phobia, and got 5 stars for the camp (a damned sight better then the nul points she brought back the other night when she couldn't even be arsed to do the trial). She is now so much "better" she was able to walk calmly across the bridge rather then crawling across as she has done previously. Later on she mentioned to Stacey that the person who will understand her position most is Katie Price, who got endlessly voted to do the trials last year, thereby giving away that far from having never seen the show before, she's clearly studied it carefully to see how she can maximise her airtime. And guess what it's succeeded.

My prediction is that as soon as she's out of the jungle we will hear she's signed up a deal for a new TV show in which "Dr" (she'll probably make up some degree in psychology or something) Gillian McKeith will help poor unfortunate sods more desperate for fame even then she is, to overcome their phobias too. Given her caring empathetic manner, they will be in for a very very bad time.

It's actually quite a shame that Gillian has taken over the show like that, because it means we've seen less of Lembit Opik (or Lemsip Biscuit as my genius niece christened him) , who is clearly as mad as a box of snakes, and possibly the most irritating person in camp after Gillian. Nigel Havers found him so annoying, he's claiming he would have killed him had he stayed. (That I would have liked to have seen.) Neither has there been a chance for Jenny Eclair to really dig her nails into Kayla wotsit (the Playboy model, only there for the gratuitous shower scenes by the pool), and you can see she's dying too.

My favourite slebs are Shaun Ryder (hilariously rude to Gillian, and then all politeness in apology, which she rudely rebuffed, as well as doing a good line in bitching about the other campmates with Nigel Havers), Dom Joly (just plain funny, down to earth, and I don't know why you're there Dom, unless you're putting your kids through private school), Britt Ekland ("she's a better actress then I am" surely one of the quotes of the series), Sheryl Gascoigne (gracious, kind, and you have to like someone who said about Lembit Opik when put in Jungle Jail with him, "I think he's got a touch of OCD. That's ok, I'm used to that.") and Stacey Solomon (who's cheery good nature might be a bit annoying, but is so well intentioned you can't help but like her - says the woman who found her infuriating on X Factor, so that's a bit of a turn up for the books).

I was really liking Nigel Havers till he walked, but after his hissy fit in the courtroom, and revelation of how much the others bored him, I went off him. Plus I think he should have stayed a bit longer. I still haven't worked out what Alison Hammond does, but she seems quite cheery. Jenny Eclair makes me laugh, but I haven't seen enough of her to form a proper opinion. Linford Christie was awesome on the trial he did, but I suspect is a bit of an arrogant tosser. Kayla is a blond bimbo unless proved otherwise. Aggro Santos is the male crumpet, unless proved otherwise (but seems harmles enough). And Lemsip Biscuit is in a category all his own. He does give me the creeps a bit. He's my age ffs, with a 21 year old girlfriend. Plus he has a very strange chin. And to think he was in parliament all those years. Dear god, we get what we vote for...

Am disappointed to discover that thanks to some football or something, I'm A Celeb isn't on tonight, but it does mean I won't have to choose my other guilty schadenfreude pleasure of The Apprentice, which makes me laugh equally.

Grown woman gets her kicks from watching the insanely desperate slug it out on TV.

Sad, but true...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est

When I was 12 years old I was really fortunate to have an incredibly inspirational English teacher. Among the many brilliant writers he introduced me too, Wilfred Owen remains one of my favourites. At that age, of course I knew about World War One and was dimly aware of the great sacrifices that had been made (whenever we were on holiday, my father used to make a point of finding the local war memorial and taking a moment to honour the dead), but I hadn't really grasped how terrible and futile it all was. That was until Mr Ward introduced me to this poem:

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time:
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes, and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

I think it was the image of the man's drowning face that really brought it home to me. Up until then, my notions of warfare were very much based on old war movies, and boys in the playground playing out war fantasies. Ever since then, I've been simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the stories I've read about that particular war, which seems to have been more pointless then most.

Normally on Remembrance Day I tend to think about my dad and fil who were both lucky enough to survive World War 2, but yesterday, I found my thoughts straying to those two great uncles I mentioned in my previous post.

Ernest Ophir Clark (or "Ophie" as he rather sweetly appears on one census when he was small) joined up in 1915, serving in the 5th Battalion of the London Rifle Brigade and died in December 1916. He wasn't killed in battle, but died of an illness (I'm not sure what) that he presumably contracted from being in the trenches. He was 20 years old, and Jemima's third child, and second son, and is buried in Merville Cemetery in France.

Alfred Thomas Clark, enlisted with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in 1915, but ended up with the Hampshire Regiment. He was Jemima's oldest child, and she must have thought she'd got away with it, as he survived all the way to the last week of the war. He died on 4 November 1918 in the Battle of the Sambre - the same battle Wilfred Owen died in.

Last night we caught a wonderful programme that Jeremy Paxman had made about Wilfred Owen. I knew he had a period suffering from shell shock, but I hadn't realised how thanks to some progressive treatment from the doctor who treated him (normal treatment of shell shock at the time consisted of firing your frontal lobes with electric shocks to reprogramme the brain to get back to battle), he started to write the war poems for which he is remembered today. Neither did I realise how influential Siegfried Sassoon had been on his work. Ironically, Sasssoon ended up in the same hospital because the government didn't want him writing any more anti-war treatises, only for him to influence a poet who went on to write some of the greatest anti-wa r poems ever written.

It was an incredibly moving programme, not least because it was cut through with readings from letters Owen wrote home to his mother and sister, in which he spared no detail of the horror of what was happening. Touchingly, in the last letter he wrote, just before the battle of the Sambre, when he and his men were sitting in a dugout, he talks of the peace he has found with them, and how unafraid he is, though the battle rages above him.

The Battle of the Sambre was the last offensive of World War 1. The aim was to take the German line on the other side of the Sambre-Oise Canal. But as the British approached to put up temporary bridges, they came under heavy fire - and it was in that bombardment Wilfred Owen (and I'm guessing Alfred too) lost his life. Tragically, Owen's mother got the news as the bells were ringing to announce the armistice. He was, by all accounts exceptionally brave, having opted to go back to the War so he could keep reporting how it was through his poetry, and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Alfred on the other hand, as far as I know, didn't have an exceptional war, and won no medals that I know of. His loss though, for his mother and family must have been equally catastrophic. I found myself wondering about how he and Ernest would have been, had they lived. I knew all their surviving siblings: Mabel(May) my grandmother, her sister Madge, and youngest brother Herbert. I recall them all with much affection, though May died when I was relatively young. It seems strange to think there were two other great uncles whom I might also have known. And that is the tragedy of World War 1 for so many families, no one in the country was unaffected by it. Owen's phrase "the pity of war" was an apposite one.

Another great poem speaks to me of their loss. It's an almost tender lament for the loss of so much of the nation's youth. Read it, remember, and weep.

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Following on from my previous post...

Here is my great granny Jemima Clark (nee Cleary) getting kissed by the Mayor of Ramsgate. Couldn't embed it sadly...

Jemima must have been about 77 then or possibly a bit older, I suspect she may have been a trifle dishonest about how old she was, as I've had rather a lot of difficulty tracking her down. Mind you that is also because she doesn't appear anywhere as Jemima till she's 18, and before that I suspect she was going under the name of Mary Ann Cleary, a name she unfortunately shared with a cousin, so it's easy to get them muddled.

What I do know about Jemima is that her father Thomas Cleary drowned when she was very young - according to the stories left behind by her youngest son (my G uncle Bert), Thomas had an unfortunate habit of taking his coat off over his head without undoing the buttons. He made the mistake of doing this on Barking Docks on a windy night and fell in the Thames and was drowned. Mind you, Bert also claimed that Jemima's hair went white at 16 when she saw someone fall down out of a window and die in front of her. As shock of said experience also turned her deaf, I think Bert may have been embellishing a bit. He was a bit of a one for tall stories...

My mother describes Jemima with a degree of dislike, as she lived with them after her husband (the wonderfully named Ophir, who was a mill worker), and was a bit of a drama queen to say the least. (Her younger sisters on the other hand, describe with glee the way that Jemima taught them rude words when they were very young). My own grandmother, reacted to Jemima's histrionics by always keeping a very tight lid on her own emotions, something she passed down to my own mother. Mostly, I think it's a good thing, but occasionally, I suspect Jemima's is a better way. Though, I am also inclined to agree with my grandma that forcing Ophir to convert from the Baptist faith to the Catholic one on his death bed was not her finest hour.

She lived apparently as a very merry widow, and numbered several male friends in Ramsgate, as well as the mayor. Though history, alas, does not record whether she kissed any of them...

I can understand why my mother found Jemima's histrionics difficult to stomach, as my grandmother had to manage alone during the war, with six children and a sick husband (who died in 1944, the same year as Jemima), and probably needed a demanding mother like a whole in the head, but since I've been researching her, I've some sympathy with her too.

She not only lost her parents young (haven't tracked down what happened to her mother yet), and lived with extended family for most of her childhood, as far as I can tell from the censuses, but she lost not one but two sons in the First World War. Ernest, her middle son, died of illness in 1916,aged 20, and Alfred the oldest died in the last week of the war, in the battle of the Sambre, the same battle that Wilfred Owen died of. Factor in the loss of twins, Wilfred and Winnie, who died at 6 weeks and were so small they had to buried in drawers (a story that held fascination for me as child, and now seems unbearably poignant), and I think she probably had every right to the odd moment of histrionics. Of her seven children, only three survived to adulthood. I can't begin to imagine that must do to you.

I currently have a strand of my current wip which focuses partly on WW1, and Lily, the heroine shares some of Jemima's experiences. She's not at all like Jemima, but I've been inspired by what happened to Jemima to come up with Lily's story. Best be warned though, you need to get out your hankies...

I'm rather glad that Jemima was able to live the life of Reilly in the 30s, seems to me like she deserved it, histrionics, and all...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy Families

About a year I blogged here about my cousin Angela Marshall who had sadly just died. I may have mentioned that she was a pretty amazing person. She was certainly incredibly generous and one of my favourite relatives growing up. This was quite an achievement, as I have A LOT of relatives...

The measure of just how special Angela was, is that I am not the only one in the family to feel this way. I am not even the only member of my immediate family (there are eight of us), to feel this way... There are 35 of us in my generation (yes, that's right I have 28 cousins on my mother's side, and according to latest records about 57 second cousins)and Angela meant something to us all. She had no children of her all, but she was like our own special fairy godmother as children, and she didn't leave us without showing her extraordinary generosity once again. In her will, as well as leaving something to her first cousins (my mother and her siblings), and her nieces and nephews, she also left something to each and everyone of us cousins. All that she asked was that we had a party in her honour.

So on Saturday we did. And what a party. As I mentioned in my previous blog about her, Angela worked for Elstree Studios for many years providing sound effects for films as varied as Star Wars, The Omen, and Mel Gibson's Hamlet (I can still remember the gasp round the table from a dozen women at a family wedding when she casually announced that she'd met Mel - this in the days before he turned into a religious fanatic). On the same occasion she also regaled us with tales of the "Shout" (an exercise when she got a group of people together to make a particular set of sound effects) she organised which involved lots of deep breathing and panting noises for a scene in the second Hell Raiser film (if you've seen it, it's a scene involving writhing bodies under sheets returning from hell). Some time afterwards she and a friend were in a bookshop in LA when they spotted Clive Barker, and proceeded to stand behind him making similar noises...

So thanks to the Elstree connection, we were able to have the party in the function room at Elstree studios, complete with cardboard cutouts of Angela in her youth standing next to such luminaries as Patrick McGee (her first job was working on The Prisoner) as well as the inevitable Storm Trooper. Angela, was, we were reminded by one of her colleagues extremely dismissive of SF when they worked on the original Star Wars... (It didn't stop her taking us to see the film at Leicester Square though, which has left me with a lifelong love of SF, so I have to be grateful to her for that too).

There were several speeches from both family and friends, but one of my cousins had managed to put together a video of Angela's life with a Star Wars theme which was both memorable and moving. The same cousin had also found some Pathe reel footage of my Great Grandmother Jemima Clark (nee Clary) being kissed by the Mayor of Ramsgate at some shindig on Ramsgate beach. The story goes that my aunt was at the cinema one day, when the Pathe news came on, and one of her friends, said, Sheila, isn't that your grandma? And it was. As I've spent the last few months researching Jemima (among others)for the family tree, and her story has informed quite a lot of what is happening in the latest wip (about which more in a later blog) it was really brilliant to see her in the flesh as it were. Particularly as it brought forth a rash of stories from my mother and aunts about what a raver she was. Who'd have thunk...

The children were only slightly overwhelmed by the vastness of their family (last family party took place when they were all very young and time & geography means they've not met many members of the extended family before), Spouse has got used to it over the years, but elected to stay put with his fellow Outlaws for company,which is probably a wise move. As even one of my cousins said, It's quite overwhelming for US, let alone any other poor sap we bring into the family...

However overwhelming or not, it was fantastic to see so many of the family (only 3 in my generation didn't make it and they're all abroad), there was (inevitably) not enough time to get to meet everyone, but a really fun time was had by all.

Angela wanted us to party, and we did.

Shame she couldn't have been there too...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Have you missed me?

I have just looked at the blog and realised to my shame that it has been over three months since I last wrote here. Damn. That sounds like I am going to confession - Bless me readers for I have sinned and it is far too long since I've made an entry here.

I'd LIKE to say it's because I have been having a wonderfully riveting time, or that I have been deep at work in my new book, but neither would be strictly true.

I did have a pretty good summer - after last year's debacle I had got myself a little (ahem) hyped up before flying out to Turkey, but thankfully not only did I withstand the flight without turning into a gibbering mess, I also had the most relaxing holiday I've had in years. And I mean literally YEARS. So I think we can safely say that my anxiety levels are way lower then they were this time last year, and I am feeling normal again. Yippee doda.

I had meant to blog all this on my return, but somehow got into such a laidback state of mind, never quite managed it. Suffice to say we hadn't been to Turkey for years, and really enjoyed going back. We stayed in the middle of nowhere (after some slightly misleading info from the travel company about how close we were to the local town), which was great for peace & quiet but slightly inconvenient when trying to cater for a family of 6 (the only "shop" was a little hut by the beach where a woman sold beer, milk and bread - all the necessities then - and there was one cafe, which was nice, but the menu got a bit limited). We therefore had to rely on the dodgy bus provided by the site to take us supermarket shopping, which ran mainly on Turkish time, which is very different from the UK variety.

That aside, we did manage a couple of trips to Bodrum by boat (a trip that also ran on Turkish time - the boat journey being 2hrs longer then advertised), which was impressive but way more touristy then last time we were there and Ephesus which was was fantastic. If you ever get to Turkey, go to Ephesus - it's the best place I've been to for really imagining the past - even if the info from the guides was dodgy to say the least. And miraculously, the kids even enjoyed it, especially wandering round the enormous ampitheatre at the end.

So, Turkey, was a major success, and when we got back we were swiftly up to Derbyshire to visit my family, and belatedly celebrate Aged Ma's 80th birthday. This too was enormous fun - we all booked cottages in the village my sis lives in, and for a week it was pretty much like the Moffatts had invaded. We did some great walks, had a wonderful picnic at Chatsworth, Spouse & I managed to nip over to Sheffield Cathedral to find the George Chapel where fil has a seat in his honour, and it didn't RAIN ONCE. I have never ever known it sunny in Derbyshire, and it was lovely. This being us though, we couldn't escape a teensy bit of adventure, so when we got back from Sheffield, Spouse and I then had to go straight to Derby Hospital as the eldest had an hand injury sustained from nephew's rather sharp football shooting skills. Luckily, it turned out not to be broken, which is what usually happens to us. The next day we took the kids to the cinema, and when I came out I discovered the car was making funny noises (Spouse had gone home by this time). I thought I'd managed to blow the engine up (there's nothing like being confident about one's driving skills), but after a call to the AA I ascertained that some bastard had stolen our catalytic converter. Yes. That's right. Apparently the scrap metal value from catalytic converter's is high. Sodding thing cost £547 to put right and OF COURSE our insurance didn't cover it. Grr.

Got home and discovered Spouse was reorganising bedrooms, so the rest of the holidays was spent throwing stuff out and trying to make the little ones' bedrooms habitable. To which end I have actually succeeded, so for the first time in years, you can (most of the time) actually see their bedroom floors.

So that's the summer done and dusted. And now we're well into the new term, and I have managed to do some writing. In fact it was all going great guns till last week, when I developed the cold from hell, from which I am just recovering. As I have a deadline of the end of the month, I had better get moving sharpish.

So hear endeth the lesson for the moment. I had hoped to blog about sooooo many things... The brilliance of Sherlock for example and my new crush on Benedict Cumberbatch to match my old crush on Martin Freeman; the books I'd read on holiday - highlights including Somewhere Before the End by Diana Athill, and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger, weirdly compulsively haunting, great atmosphere, crap lots, but lingers in the mind nonetheless, and Tamsyn Murray's My So Called Afterlife, a lovely moving teen ghost story; Bouquet of Barbed Wire and my weird crush on Trevor Eve considering he always plays jerks; the return of Spooks and my not so weird crush on Richard Armitage, but my deep fear that his time on Spooks is probably numbered, to name but a few.

But alas Time's winged chariot and all that, and I Do have a book to write. But at least I've blogged again. Thank you for your patience if anyone is still out there, reading. I'll try not to leave it so long next time....

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dr Who Series 5

I have been really crap at blogging this year, I am not entirely sure why, but it's the reason I haven't blogged AT ALL about Dr Who apart from my very excited response to Episode 1 here (and I never got onto the Ashes to Ashes finale which I loved, sigh.)
So to make up for it I thought I'd round up my thoughts in general about the new series of Dr Who and how I've coped without David Tennant (sob).






The answer to that is, pretty well, actually. Considering how much in love with DT's Doctor I was, Matt Smith has done a brilliant job of coming up with something new & different from Tennant's Doctor. It doesn't always work - he wasn't very convincing in the Daleks episode for instance, and sometimes I long for the more emotional version of the Doc we had from David Tennant, but for his enthusiasm, bonkersness, and sheer chutzpah, I am really loving this version of the Doctor. It's also great to have him paired with a companion as mad as Amy Pond is, who apart from that brief flirtation when she tried to snog him (oh and yes, as pointed out by Medium Rob her rather callous attempts to do so again on her wedding day, tut, tut, Amy), isn't really interested him, and he isn't at all interested in her, except as the girl who doesn't make sense. This doctor is a bit more detached, and well alien then the previous version, and I rather like him for that.

After the dazzlingly brilliant start to the series, there was I suppose an inevitablity that not even the Moff could keep up that pace (I have to add here, that as not only do I share my maiden name with the writer, barring an extra T, I also share my married name with one of the characters. I am therefore, obliged to love this version of Who(-:), and at times it was rather uneven. As others have pointed out, Moff could really do with editing the scripts he hasn't written better - Amy was poorly served by one or two other writers - Chris Chibnail I am looking at you - and turned at times into a cipher who just did a lot of girly screaming and not much else. She (and we) deserve a lot better then that.

I didn't mind the Daleks episode, which seems on the whole to have been universally loathed, but it wasn't as good as the rest. The Daleks revealed their hand way too soon, and it would have been more fun to have the Doctor trying to persuade everyone they were evil for longer (I did LOVE the Dalek offering tea), plus the guy who played Churchill was a bit crap, so not one of the series' better efforts. I was also not wildly keen on the Silurian double parter, but that was because it was penned by Chris Chibnail who wrote the inexecrably awful first series of Torchwood - and considering that it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

However, I pretty much loved the rest of the series, from Sophie Okenedo's fabulous Liz 10, to Toby Whithouse's vampires in Venice (Vampires? Venice? Written by Toby "Being Human" Whithouse? I couldn't fail to like that one), it's been inventive, fun, and as the Moff has said had a fairytale quality to it.

One thing that didn't quite work initially, as Rory's relationship with Amy - the main questions being why would feisty Amy settle for such a wimp, and why would he stay with someone who is being so horrible to him - which lacked chemistry at the beginning, and until he apparently died in Amy's Choice (another cracking episode - hugely helped by Toby Jones' masterful depiction of the Dream Lord) I didn't think Amy cared a jot about him. However after that point, it was clear that the relationship was deeper then it appeared & his second "death" though it felt a bit repetitive at the time gained extra significance as the series drew to a close. Particularly poignant was the moment in Vincent (crap monster, but otherwise another brilliant & incredibly moving episode), when Van Gogh asks her why she's crying and she doesn't know, and she knows she's forgotten something important but can't remember what, which paralleled with the Doctor's reactions to her forgetting gave a pathos that was much needed. I love Steven Moffat's writing, but I agree again with Medium Rob he doesn't always get the emotional depth that RTD did, and while it has been a nice change to have more restrained emotions, there are moments when RTD would have given it more and Steven Moffat failed to do so, which has meant that at times things have felt flatter then they should.

Having said that, the emotion ratchetted up beautifully for the series finale. Oh God how I loved the series finale. It was such a roller coaster of a ride, and for the first time in a two parter, with Amy shot by Rory, Rory really an Auton, River stuck in the Tardis, and the Doctor locked in the Pandorica I really did believe there was a possibility that this time the Doc might not be able to sort it out. I felt sure Rory wasn't going to live to tell the tale for a third time, at least... I also loved the Rory/Amy storyline - Rory realising Amy had forgotten her, Amy remembering at the point that Rory realises he isn't human, Rory shooting Amy, Rory waiting 2000 years for Amy - Why are you so - human? asks the Doctor, Because right now I'm not, fantastic! - them being reunited in time to forget the Doctor. Wonderful, heart rending, touching stuff.

I know it was a huge cheat for the Doc to get out of the Pandorica with such ease, but oh, the sheer fun of all the time hopping, and the madness of the Fez, and the Pandorica opening in front of Amelia (Caitlin Blackwood was awesome as Amelia, hope she can come back somehow!) and Amy being inside, meant that I didn't care really. Because despite the cheats, and the Doctor being dead, but not really because he was lying, Steven Moffat tied up the loose ends and the odd bits (like the Doctor coming back to Amy in Flesh and Stone - a scene I found really touching first time around seeing it from Amy's pov, but had such added resonance when we realised what the Doctor was actually saying to her & why it was so important for her to remember what he'd told her when she was seven. Just realised I haven't mentioned The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone - two of my favourite episodes this series, for a) having River Song in them,let's here it for River! and b) bringing the angels back and making them scarier), and also left some things unresolved. So we still don't know why silence will fall or who is saying it (I don't know why, but I keep thinking of poor mad Dalek Caan, sounds like the sort of thing he'd say, if he hasn't been rewritten in this new improved universe), nor do we know why the Tardis exploded. And from what River said to the Doctor at the end, it sounds like we're going to find out who she really is, tantalisingly soon.

River Song has been one of the best bits of this new series for me - she's a match for the Doctor, the witty repartee between them is top notch (I loved the Honey, I'm Home/You're late exchange, fabulous!), and as the series drew to an end I think their relationship has deepened and become more interesting. I can't wait to find out what's going on there.

So, while I still miss David Tennant, and I am at times finding the tone of the new series so different from the old as to be a bit jarring, overall I think this has been my favourite series so far. There were some misses, but not many, it could do with more emotion, and I hope they get the script editing sorted next time, but it was fun, it was exciting, it felt different and new again.

Do I really have to wait till Christmas to see Matt Smith in action again?

Dammit, I do.

PS The proof of the pudding is that the kids who were so attached to David Tennant they were threatening not to watch the new series have been totally blown away too. Top marks Mr Moffat, top marks...

Friday, June 25, 2010

A tale of two signings...

This is only the second time I have gone into a book shop with copies of my book and signed them. There is something both incredibly egotistical and also exposing about standing up in front of people and politely asking them if they'd like a signed copy of your book. (A metaphor for writing perhaps. You have to be egotistical to do it, but it also exposes you in a way that can be quite scary.)

My first signing session took place in my local Waterstone's a couple of weeks ago. It's a bright friendly shop, well stocked, in the middle of a busy shopping centre. As I know plenty of people locally, I was hopeful that I could bring a few punters in. But going upstairs and seeing a table set up piled high with my books was a tad unnerving. As was the cheery, I'll leave you to get on with it then, shall I? from the manager.

Luckily, I had a hidden army with me in the form of not only my offspring but several of their friends. I sent them out with bowls of chocolate, and instructions to tell people to come up and get a signed copy of my books, and it worked a treat! Though the majority of books I sold were to people I knew, I also managed to palm off a few on some complete strangers. In some instances the sale was dead easy. Apprentice wannabes, eat your heart out!

I was hugely grateful to a couple of my online friends, @craftyfuschia and Caroline Praed for making the effort to come out and join the fun, and was pleased to have sold in the region of 30ish books by the time I left - it may have been more, my pilates teacher arrived after I'd gone home and came knocking at my door with more copies for me to sign.

The town was very busy with punters going to see Jordan (unlike her, I didn't demand you spend £20 on my books before I talked to you(-:), but as most of her punters weren't really interested in my books, I don't think I lost out...

Last week was a whole different experience. I popped up to Church Stretton to sign copies at Burway Books. (Have I mentioned that Burway Books is my favourite bookshop in the world?? No, really?? You can find them here.)

Although the shop itself is tiny, the knowledge of its owner, Ros Ephraim is encylopaedic, and there isn't a book she can't get you if you want it. There is a store not only of huge knowledge here, but Ros and her colleagues Emma and Hils make bookselling a really fun thing to do. I spent the best part of a day with them, and haven't laughed such a lot in a long time.

Church Stretton were having their summer festival that day, so to promote both the bookshop and me, Emma dressed up as the Walker bear (I was very glad I wasn't wearing it I can tell you...) and we went out with flyers to bring the punters in. Church Stretton is a lovely town at the best of times, but the atmosphere was wonderful as people ambled about the different stalls, some in costume, some singing, some dancing. It's the sort of thing you can't do where I live as the community is too big, but it made me want to up sticks and move up there immediately.

After an hilarious hour giving away flyers and confusing children as to who the bear actually was (I felt like I was in an episode of The Apprentice), we hightailed it back to the shop, where I provided bucks fizz and chocolates to anyone who'd take them, in return I hoped for a signed copy of my book. To begin with Emma and I sat outside the shop, but people seemed to think we were chatting to one another (well we were!) so in the end I did it solo, and despite being hugely hard work, and feeling even more like I was in an episode of the Apprentice, it really paid off. The sales were slow but steady, and at the end of the day I think I'd sold the majority of the stock (Final totals: BP, 20, LC 5, SL 2 -not bad at all). I'd also learnt a lot about how to make the best out of a signing situation, and it really is about being bold and putting yourself out there, excruciating as that can sometimes be, while retaining a smile on your face and encouraging people who might not otherwise be interested to look at your book.

I thoroughly enjoyed both days out and am grateful to the staff at Epsom Waterstone's and the fabulous Ros and Emma at Burway Books for making it so easy!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And a very quick plug....

On Saturday 12 June I will be signing copies of this at Epsom Waterstone's in the Ashley Centre from 12-2pm

Alternatively, you could go and buy some very expensive riding gear from her at Lester Bowden in Epsom. If you have ever been in Lester Bowden (think the Grace Brothers from Are You Being Served), you would know just how incongruous this is...

Alternatively, if you can't make either event, please come and find me at Burway Books in Church Stretton on Saturday 19 June from 12-2pm, where my competition comes in the form of the Church Stretton Literary Festival.
If you could make it, would love to see you at either event!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

We have a winner ... or two!

Many apologies for the delay in announcing this. My feeble excuse is, half term (including a sleepover which went on FOREVER) and an inset day yesterday, which involved a trip to Chessington (I have therefore seen Hell's holding station twice in the last week...) I'm sure that Caroline is A LOT more organised then I am, but I am delighted to announce, not one, but two winners. Mainly because lots of you didn't realise you needed to come up with an idea for a holding station for dead people. So all those of you, I put in a draw to get a copy of Black Boxes, and drew it at random. I'm delighted to say that MissieLizzie won.

I loved all your ideas for holding stations - good work, people - and was very tempted by both the idea of a bookshop (reading for eternity, heaven!) and Wimbledon. However, I couldn't resist Aliya Whitely's inspired idea of a cross channel ferry. It was the seafood buffet wot won it(-:
A holding place for dead people... that would need lots of comfy seating, some light shopping opportunities and maybe somebody playing the piano badly, just so everybody has something to moan about other than how they karked it... I'd go for a cross-channel ferry. Hull-Rotterdam, maybe. I seem to remember that has a seafood buffet - that should cover up the stench of death. I think I'm taking this too seriously. But I really would like a copy of the book.
Thanks to everyone who took part, sorry you couldn't all win (though as the head teacher of my childrens' infant school used to say, you're all winners, really). And I hope you even come back and visit here from time to time. I do post more often this usually... honest!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes

A book review and a competition. Two for the price of one, eh?

Nina, her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit with her aging parents.

Her previous attempt to see them ended in tears. Disowned for falling pregnant while at university in England, she was not allowed into the house.

This will be her final chance to make her peace with them.

But Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine. What she finds is not the land of her youth, a place full of memories and happiness. Instead she meets dead people. Lots of them.

Malta, it transpires, is a transit lounge for recently deceased spirits and somehow Christopher enables her to see them, speak with them and help them.

And, in return, they help Nina come to terms with her own loss. One so great that she has yet to admit it to herself.
I've followed Caroline Smailes' blog for several years now, and I am a big fan of her quirky style and imaginative way of marrying her words with briliant typography. Unique is a word that gets bandied around far too much, but Caroline's style, is just that - unique. I can't imagine anyone else writing the way she does, because I don't think anyone else could.
I was lucky enough to attend Caroline's launch party at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green on Tuesday (fans of indy bookshops, please go if you are ever in the Wood Green area, it is fantastic. You can find out all about it here) I had already decided I was going to enjoy Bees, when I read the blurb, but the minute Caroline read out an extract based in Liverpool (like me, she's an English grad from Liverpool), I knew I was hooked.
Actually, the Liverpool connection is a fairly minor one, but that doesn't matter, because Caroline takes us on a journey to Malta (an island I've never visited, but would love to now) that is so vividly haunting, the memory of this book will linger with me for a long time.
I loved the idea of Malta as a transit lounge for the recently departed - when Nina, the heroine visits her mother, she also gets to meet a variety of ghosts, who are there to help her come to terms with the secrets of her past, and to help her find redemption.
This is in many ways a very spiritual book - there is a lot of religion in here -but it's a kind of spirituality that's really earthbound. I loved the depiction of a hippyish Jesus, who paints his toenails because his feet are ugly, and drinks cans and cans of Cisk (Maltese beer -which Caroline kindly provided at her launch party and I can confirm tastes very lovely indeed) to see if he can get drunk (he can't). I loved the character of Tilly - a resentful house ghost, who is very very angry (touchingly we get to learn the source of that anger & see it healed) - but most of all I loved Nina, a woman who has cut ties with her past, and whose grief at what she subsequently believes is a punishment, is blinding her to the possibility of happiness in the future. As Jesus tells her she is caught in a hell of her own making - a hell on earth, which only she can escape.
This isn't always an easy read - there were moments when I was wide eyed with shock at things Caroline's characters revealed, and I wasn't always sure how she'd tie everything up. But as she deftly draws the strands together at the end of the book, I was completely transported, greedily devouring each page, unable to bear coming to the end. Mostly nowadays, when I read a book, lack of time means I rarely get to reread it, and often I'm not drawn back to it gain. Like Bees to Honey is such a thoroughly absorbing, and alluring read, that I am sure it is a book I will return to time and time again, because it's the kind of book that grows and ripens with each rereading.
I loved it. I'm sure you will too.
To celebrate the fact that Caroline and I shared our publication day yesterday, I am today giving away a signed copy of Like Bees to Honey to the person who comes up with the wittiest idea for a holding station for dead people. Particularly if you can tell me why.
Competition runs till midnight on 31 May. Please leave comments on my blog below.
Caroline is doing the same with The Bridesmaid Pact, so if you want to win a copy of that, hop over here now!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I'm so excited... I just can't hide it...

I'm about to lose control and I think I like it...

Tonight is the last ever episode of Ashes to Ashes. I have been very bad about blogging A2A this time around, not quite sure why, but may try and attempt a whole series round up next week.

Suffice to say, at the moment I am in the blissful but enjoyable position of not having A CLUE about wtf is going on, except, that a) I think the number plate of the Quattro is significant b) the box which Gene kept the roll of film in is one which all returning WW1 vets had (I got this courtesy of Spouse as his grandad had one), so am guessing the disfigured soldier Alex keeps seeing is a WW1 soldier, possibly related to Gene. In fact, maybe it is Gene... Have a feeling they are all dead and about to cross over or something and Gene needs to LEARN a Lesson... but I may be wrong about that.

In the meantime, I shall sit back enjoy the music (the soundtrack to A2A is SUPERB) and ogle at Gene for one last time, and laugh at Alex's Dennis the Menace jumper as it is EXACTLY like one I knitted for Spouse c 1987. He insisted on having it in mohair, and then put it in the wash, so it ended up fitting a teddy bear. Hmm.

Am devastated it's the end for Gene, but I guess he can't go on forever.

I just hope in true cowboy style he goes out in a blaze of glory....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Bridesmaid Pact

As I am rapidly losing the will to live as noone still appears to be in charge (I was rather beginning to favour a Labservative deal, myself (-:), I thought I would share this joyous event with you instead. Today copies of The Bridesmaid Pact have arrived, and it is indeed a thing of beauty to behold. I can't believe all the hard work has finally paid off, but it has. I keep looking at it, it's so lovely. And now you can too.

It looks like I will be signing copies of The Bridesmaid Pact sometime in June in Epsom Waterstones, and I am also returning to Burway Books on 17 June to help sell books in their lovely shop. Will keep you posted about both events.

Friday, May 07, 2010

So I was wrong...

Hope is a very annoying word and I won't be using it again...

And the winner is... none of the above and certainly not us. If it's a Lib/Tory coalition Labour voters disenfranchised; if it's a Lib/Lab coalition Tory voters are (plus that would be obscene); and as LibDem voter I feel utterly disenfranchised. No one voted for this. The country needs strong leadership and is going to get muddled mixed message leadership and financially we're going to be in more of a mess then we would have been with an outright winner. What's clear is that the electoral system is in desperate need of reform. Tories are at least talking about it, but can they - will they? - deliver.

The good news is Nick Griffin didn't get in. Hurrah, hurrah. And all the BNP councillors in Barking & Dagenham lost their seats.

Oh and that nutty evangelical Tory in Sutton & Cheam also failed to oust the sitting MP.

And Jacqui Smith lost her seat. So not ALL bad...

Question is, how long can Gordy keep pretending he's still our PM. And will they have to pull him physically from no 10, shouting It's ME they want. You know it makes sense....?

I optimistically told no 1 she'd be old enough to vote next time, but I think we might going to the polls again, rather sooner then that...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Future's Bright... but is it orange??

Well I hope you all voted. I feel passionately that everyone should vote, not only for the suffragettes (Every day, I walk past the cottage hospital where Emily Davison died after throwing herself under the King's horse at the 1913 Derby, and while I think she was bonkers, I appreciate the sacrifice she made so I can vote), but also for all those people in the world today who don't have a free and fair vote. Our electoral system might stink,but at least you can get out and exercise your democratic right.

Now the question is, what colour are we going to wake up to tomorrow morning. Despite Nick Clegg's surge following the Leaders' Debates I doubt he's going to pull it off, so I don't think the future's orange, sadly. I'm expecting a kind of muddy brown, which seems appropriate. Dear God, though, please don't let me wake up tomorrow to still find Gordy in charge. I really couldn't stand that. Nor am I overthrilled at the prospect of David Cameron being held to ransom by 9 MPs in Stormont. That doesn't strike me as exactly democratic.

What I DO hope can come out of this election is that the parties will be obliged to work much more closely together for the good of the country. Lord alone we need it. What none of the buggers has been saying clearly (with HOW much more conviction I would have cast my vote if one of them had) is what a godawful financial mess we are in. Whoever is in charge, cuts are going to be made, and they are going to be painful and deep, but for us to keep afloat, sadly necessary. If Labour hadn't squandered the fruits of seven years (or more) of plenty, we mightn't need it, but sadly they did and we do.

I would have also gladly cast my vote for a proper coalition government, which put aside party politics for once and put the needs of the country first for once, and took the great and the good from all the parties, and turned their minds to the common good, namely how to solve the financial crap without destroying people's homes, livelihoods and sanity. I know it's a pipe dream, but hey... in the words of my favourite Doctor, Hope, nice word. I like it. So whatever the future holds, orange or no, here's hoping we get better government, our electoral system is reformed and we can all look forward to that brighter future.(cue a playing of Over the Rainbow).

My cynical head says of course, that the songs for the election are Tell me Lies, by Fleetwood Mac and Won't Get Fooled Again by the Who, but for once I'm going to ignore my inner cynic.

This at least has been the most exciting election of my adult life, plus the debates appear to have generated a renewed interest in politics which can only be for the good, and maybe, just maybe, we are on the cusp of a major change.

Hope. Like I said. A nice word. One I like...

Friday, April 23, 2010

#Nickcleggsfault In praise of Twitter

Around this time last year I belatedly woke up to the fact that all my online contacts seemed to be rabbiting on about something called Twitter. I realised the Famous in the shape of Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross were on it, but I couldn't really see what it would do for me. I was already on Facebook (frankly a part of social networking I've never got to grips with, as it seems pretty infantile to me, though that maybe because I mainly FB with my children), I blog, and according to my husband (who may well be right) I spent far too much time on the internet as it is. So I turned my back on Twitter, as for the same reason I don't update my FB page (why on earth would anyone be interested in me having a cup of tea?), I didn't think it had anything to offer.

I changed my mind when a blogging friend dipped her toe in the twitter water and I was so intrigued by the tweets appearing by the side of her blog, I sort of followed her in. At first I was completely confused, and I still didn't get why people would care what I was up to at any given moment, but I quickly realised that the joy of twitter is that it can go from the absurd to the profound in a matter of moments. The sheer fact of having to put thoughts into a mere 140 characters is a great discipline for any writer, but particularly for one as verbose as me. And to my surprise there was alot less navel gazing, and I'm scratching my bum what are you up to? then I was expecting.

Sure there is some stupidity, and when the occasional twitterstorms (such as the one surrounding Jan Moir's distasteful article about Stephen Gately's death) arise, there can be an element of the nutty mob about it, but in the main, the people I meet on twitter are not only supremely sane, they are witty, sophisticated, wise and fun.

Take, for instance, yesterday. I don't buy the Daily Mail, and hadn't seen the headlines, but gathered quite quickly that the dear old self restrained DM had been gunning for Nick Clegg on the grounds of his Nazi sympathies. Erm? Nick Clegg? A Nazi? What was going on? Within seconds, thanks to a twitter friend, I'd been pointed in the right direction of the offending article that Nick Clegg had written eight years ago. Yes I did say eight. You can find it here. I agree with every word as it happens. I wonder if that makes me a Nazi? Not only that he gleefully pointed out the Mail's own less then glorious Nazi past here. So we engaged on a twitter conversation about all of that, before slipping into less profound topics (as you so easily can on twitter) such as the comparative merits of white asparagus (as eaten in Germany) against green .

It is probably fair to say that the twitterati are not big fans of the DM. So very swiftly a new hashtag appeared #nickcleggsfault and created a trending topic (to those unfamiliar with twitter, people get on the bandwagon with a particular topic and identify it with # - and as a relative twitter newbie I don't think I can explain it much better!) People blamed pretty much everything yesterday on Nick Clegg (me too - the fact that my house is in untidy remains his fault), from running out of houmous to not being able to get any writing done. You've got to even blame the volcano on him. It was a glorious spontaneous response to the anti Nick Clegg crap in the papers (even from people who DON'T support him), which had me hooked to the computer for most of yesterday, and reminded me of just why I love twitter. We may not have much going for us as a country at the moment, but boy do we still have our sense of irony. Today I note the topic is still trending. My favourite comment of the day so far, is Labour is a wasted vote #nickcleggsfault...

As a result of the time spent yesterday on twitter (yes, yes, husband you are right) when I should have been cleaning, I was very late putting the washing out, didn't have time to do the shopping before the school run/swimming lessons and opted to do sainbury's at 7pm. Which is how I found myself unpacking shopping at 8.15, and putting sheets on beds at 8.45 And that I promise you is ALL #nickcleggsfault

Friday, April 09, 2010

Better late then never...

... And about a thousand years after all the other Whovians online, here's my response to New Nu Who.

What can I say? It's the Easter holidays, I was away last week, and have painting a bedroom this week, so I haven't had any time to blog about the return of two of my favourite TV programmes (Thanks BBC for bringing Ashes to Ashes back the same weekend as Dr Who, magic...)

Anyway on to the new Doctor. Unlike a lot of people it seems, I wasn't too worried about Matt Smith. I'd seen (and liked) him in Party Animals, I think he has a very alien face, and I loved his opening lines at the end of the last Special. Plus, Steven Moffat is in charge. Steven Moffat who's written every single one of my favourite Nu Who episodes. Of course I would have loved to see David Tennant go on for ever, but I suspect we all might have got sick of him in the end, and part of the joy and brilliance of Dr Who, by the very nature of having a hero who periodically changes, is that it can constantly reinvent itself. And hurrah for that.

So, I was prepared to like it. I was prepared to even forgo the loss of David Tennant for the sake of Steven Moffat's writing, but I wasn't prepared to be so utterly blown away by last week's opener. It felt invigorating, energising, and most of all fresh again. I was just as excited as I was five years ago when Dr Who returned with Christopher Ecceleston. Spouse and I sat down to watch it rather nervously, wondering what RTD would do to our favourite nostalgic TV show, and then as now we were blown away by the sheer fun and raw energy of it. That fun and energy has ebbed away of late, much as I loved DT's swansong, so it's nice to get it back again, even if, being Steven Moffat we got a lot of monsters under the bed too.

From the moment the Doctor burst into young Amelia Pond's life, it felt like we were on a roller coaster - I loved the swimming pool in the library, the way he kept twitching, the food thing (fishfingers in custard - inspired!!). I loved young Amelia/Amy. Loved it that he came back twelve years too late. Loved grown up Amy handcuffing him to get some answers. Loved her calling him the Raggedy Doctor. Loved the scary aliens. Loved the retro feeling (both the village green and the hospital reminded me of the Jon Pertwee era). Well, I just loved the whole thing really.

I didn't love the new theme tune, but hey, that's a minor quibble. In five minutes Matt Smith made himself the Doctor and pretty much eradicated all thoughts of David Tennant from my mind. Pretty impressive (though I can't fancy someone who is young enough to be my son). I think I am going to really enjoy this version of the Doctor, he's quirky, bonkers and fun, while Amy is clearly going to be a match for him.

SO Woohoo, for new Nu Who. Can't wait until tomorrow.

Lucky I have Ashes to Ashes to keep me going till then isn't it?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The RNA Pure Passion Awards Lunch, otherwise known as a Shoe In

As a mother of four, I really really don't get out much. And the chance of me going somewhere posh and putting on a pretty frock are normally zilch.

However, this year the RNA, ie my favourite writing group in the world, celebrated it's 50th anniversary. PLUS, I was on the longlist for the main award which was dead exciting. However, the awards ceremony was on a Tuesday, and the domestic commitments I have at present, meant I felt I couldn't commit to going unless, I miraculously made the shortlist (needless, to say, dear reader, I didn't). Having decided NOT to go, step up the hero of the hour in the shape of my lovely mother, who decided I needed a treat and was very happy to come and do the school run and cook tea on the day in question. Yay for lovely mother, particularly as she stayed for several days and did all sorts of helpful things round the house. It was like having my own personal fairy.

So my personal fairy having waved her magic wand, Cinderella could make it to the ball. I had with help from the youngest bought a posh dress (see here for a picture of me wearing it. If I was an organised blogger, I would have PICTURES. But I'm not, and I am a bit short of time, so am sending to you my friends' blogs instead, sorry about that. You can go here for a Proper Report and pics of the winners, and here for pics of the partygoers, and very glam they look too!). I had also at Christmas bought myself some luvverly sparkly shoes. The first rule of any RNA do is that you are going to have a good time. The girls (and some boys) of the RNA really really know how to partaaay!! The second rule is you HAVE TO HAVE lovely shoes. I am absolutely crap at describing clothes & shoes and wouldn't know my Jimmy Choos from - well any other kind of posh shoe maker (bit of a bugger that, when writing contemporary fiction, always have to get my editor to tell me where to look(-:) - but it is a RULE at RNA dos that the most important item of clothing you wear will be on your feet. So a pair of lovely sparkly shoes was an absolute must.

Alas, dear reader, two minutes before leaving I had a catastrophic shoe disaster. I put my glam shoes on and the elastic on the strap broke. It was irreparable, I was inconsolable, AND I had a train to catch. Amazingly for me, for once I had actually left myself enough time. So realising that not only did I have to wear a scrappy pair of sandals, but also the only tights I could find were THICK BLACK UGLY WINTER ones, I decided there was nothing for it, I was going to have to scour the streets of High Street Ken (dammit, why did we have to be in such a pricey part of town?) for a pair of new shoes and some lovely soft shiny tights to wear with them.

So I came out of the tube station and went straight into some serious shopping. My first foray into Clark's was a total waste of time. They only seemed to sell what the children would no doubt have referred to as "Old Lady" shoes. The next shop up the road, I walked into and straight out again when I saw a price tag of £100 on a pair of shoes that looked like they'd have been overpriced in New Look. I criss crossed up and down the road, with an increasing sense of desperation. Either the shops I went into didn't do sparkly party shoes, or they did at exorbitant prices.

Finally, I decided I had one last shot, and entered a really blingy shoe shop with shoes bearing such outrageous sparkles, it had to be designed for a potential RNA partygoer, and there on the first shelf I looked at, miraculously sat a pair of sparkly shoes very similar to the ones which had earlier let me down. My fairy godmother was certainly working overtime.

So it was that ten minutes later, having also purchased some suitable hosiery from Boots, I found myself tottering into the loos at the Kensington Garden Hotel and completely changing my footwear. Now suitably shod, I was ready, at last to enter the fray...

And what a fray it was. Within minutes of arrival I had encountered a fellow writer who lives in my home town, whom I've been promising to meet for months, several writing friends whom I haven't seen for a couple of years, a friendly agent, my lovely publishers, one of my fellow Avon authors, Miranda Dickinson and shortlistee (sadly she didn't win), who I've been tweeting with since the autumn and so on...

Thanks to my very very late purchase of a ticket I was on a table where I only knew a couple of people, but this being the RNA, it really really didn't matter, as I may or may not have mentioned another RNA rule is that a) everyone is incredibly friendly and b) most of them love to talk. So do I. Which is why I feel right at home.

Our wonderful Chair, Katie Fforde gave a lovely and funny speech, despite battling a hideous cold and then passed over to guest of honour, Barry Norman,who gave a warm and witty speech and endeared himself to every writer in the room by telling us, that while filmstars didn't make him starstruck, writers did, because he knows how hard it is. Fittingly, as the RNA is such a stalwart supporter of unpublished (or prepublished, as some of us prefer to think of them) writers, he made no distinction between those of us who've been lucky to secure a publishing deal and those who are still working on it, which is just as it should be.

There were six awards this year:

The RNA People's Choice was won by Louise Douglas for Missing You
The RNA Love Story of the year by Nell Dixon for Animal Instincts
The RNA Romantic Comedy of the year by Jane Costello for The Nearly-Weds
The Harry Bowling Prize (for a prepublished author) by Debbie Johnson
The Romantic Film of the Year was An Education and Lynn Barber accepted the award.
The Romantic Novel of the Year for Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon.
While I was naturally disappointed that Miranda didn't win, I was also really delighted for Lucy whose stories are lovely, and for her editor Isobel Akenhead who is another twitter friend.

Meanwhile two lifetime achievement awards were given to the awesomely talented Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope, both very worthy winners.

After the excitement of the awards, everyone got down to the serious business of partying and we all took ourselves over to the Goat pub across the road, where I was delighted to meet another couple of Twitter friends: Tamsyn Murray (get her fab book My So Called After Life now!! )and Brigid Coady, as well as meeting the wonderful Jill Mansell in the flesh after having been online friends for ooh, at least eight years. If you ever want a good heartwarming read, with dollops of real life, and brilliant humour, Jill's your woman. Rumour Has It saved my sanity last summer on holiday, and am already in the queue for her next one.

The only downside to RNA parties is that there are so many people you can't get to meet them all, so there were a few writing pals I waved at briefly and never spoke to, but I'm hoping to make up for that in the summer, when (sssh, don't tell Spouse) I hope to get to their summer conference.

All in all it was a fabulous, brilliant day (oops I was one of the last to leave the pub), and huge congrats go to the RNA Committee for putting on such a great bash. I had a great time. And would have, with or without the right pair of shoes...

Friday, March 12, 2010

More shameless self promotion, oh yeah, yeah. (Or How Not to Write a Book)

Actually have been very very slow to announce this, but here is the gorgeous cover of my next book, The Bridesmaid Pact which is coming out on May 27th.

The Bridesmaid Pact tells the story of four friends: Doris, Sarah, Caz and Beth, who watch Diana and Charles getting married as eight year olds and and make a vow to be each other's bridesmaids when they grow up, and then for a variety of reasons fail to do so...

I think I am quite pleased with the end result (though so far all readers seem to have cried, I presume this is a good sign(-:), but I can honestly say this book was an utter pig to write.

When I started it, it all seemed to be going so well too - as I blogged here - though I recognised from the off this book was going to be a slightly painful one to write, the first few scenes did literally write themselves.

But oh dear, god, once I got going, it was like getting blood out of a stone. I spent the best part of last year not being able to settle to it - as I may have mentioned before Prevarication is my middle name - and whenever I did sit down to write it seemed to go painfully slowly. Initially I was supposed to finish by the end of the summer term. FAIL. I was only a quarter of the way through. My lovely editor kindly extended the deadline to October, and my plan then was to take my laptop away on holiday and write while my children splashed happily in the pool. MAJOR FAIL. As blogreaders may remember, thanks to a panic attack which sent me to Casualty the day before we went, I was in no fit state to do anything when we got there. I did, however discover, that writing by hand made the story flow better. So I bought some notebooks and started to scribble away. This was all fine and dandy up to a point, but when I came home my panicky state meant I could barely bear to go near a computer, so I ended up writing the majority of the book by hand.

It was only when I came to type it up that I realised a) how little I'd actually written (the book was probably about 20 000 words light on its first draft and b) how very long it takes to type things up. So it was I had another deadline FAIL and Spouse wasn't best pleased when we went to my mother's for the weekend and I spent the whole time typing away on the laptop.

However, I got there in the end. Finished book sent it off and waited for a response.

Now, my normal MO for writing is, I get an idea, the characters form in my head, usually a pivotal scene jumps out at me, all during my prevarication period, and THEN I sit down and write a reasonably detailed synopsis. It's kind of like an essay plan, or a hanger on which the bare bones of the plot are laid out, and I fill in the gaps. I've got into that way of writing, and its where I feel comfortable. However, this time, my brilliant system went tits up.

For a start, the characters all started clammering to talk to me. Although Doris is my main character, the others wanted their share of the limelight too, and they all wanted to tell their story in the first person (something I haven't attempted since my very first failed ms), PLUS there had to be a lot of switching back and forth between past and present which quite frankly did my head in. And I was conscious the whole time that I needed to get their individual voices right - Doris was relatively easy, she's quite dappy but also terribly smart (I knew two fearfully clever girls at uni who were brunettes but behaved like dizzy blondes, then freaked boys out by being cleverer then them, and I thought it would be fun to have a character like that), and Caz, who is probably the spikiest and least likeable character I have written was great fun as she belligerently popped out of nowhere, but in my first draft Sarah (the sensible one) and Beth (the shy one) were in danger of appearing interchangeable, though I hope I've sorted that now.

Another reason that this book was hard, was because while I haven't had any of the experiences my characters have, I did dip into a whole well of emotion from things I have experienced to tell their stories, and it turned out to be quite a difficult thing to do. I think it would have been tricky anyway, but the writing and rewriting coincided with one of the most stressful periods of my life in recent years, and hence the first draft was a little short on humour, shall we say. Again, I hope I've fixed that now(-:

Finally, when I came to do the first rewrites, my lack of planning showed through woefully - my editor said wisely that it was like trying to fit a jigsaw puzzle together, and I can tell you getting the bits in the right place was bloody hard work. And I had another Major Fail when I missed that deadline twice (I really thought I could do it before Christmas, but no, and then promised to get it in in January, and Christmas was such a disaster I missed that one too.)

I am IMMENSELY grateful to all the lovely people at Avon who a) have been sympathetic and understanding beyond the call of duty during my trials and tribulations and b) have bust a gut to make up for my tardiness, whilst also working their rocks off to get me the loveliest cover imaginable. Thanks guys, I promise to do better next time.

When it came to rewrite 2, I then realised that for a wedding book, it wasn't really very weddingy. So I spent ages researching dresses (I am really really crap at describing what people wear), and tapped into as many wedding memories of mine and other weddings I've been to, to get the right feel. Phew. I think the balance is right now.

But my worst moment was at the copyediting stage, when I had less then a week, as it came in over half term, and I realised to my horror that NONE of my dates matched up. I think I've got it right now, as I had to write a proper timeline (NOTE TO SELF: Do this at the beginning next time), but if you do happen to find a mistake, please don't send me dozens of emails to tell me. I really don't want to know...

Still, I got there in the end, and like I say, to the best of my ability (it is almost impossible to judge your own work accurately) I think its ok. I certainly like the characters and their situations, and I hope I can make you laugh and cry with them.

Having done it all wrong this time around, I am hoping to learn from the experience next time. So my latest plan is to disappear periodically to the library with my laptop to escape the perils of internet timewasting and make me feel like I'm properly going out to work. Working from home, particularly with my current set of domestic responsibilities means it's all too easy to put work on the back burner. I am hoping if I can discipline myself a bit more, I stand some chance of meeting my next deadline. Well that's the plan....

As usual, my story has a soundtrack, and for the Bridesmaid Pact it goes like this:

White Wedding by Billy Idol - had to be soundtrack for the book, didn't it? I've always loved the energy of this song, and I think it's particularly apposite for Caz's wedding at the beginning of the book.

You Know I'm no Good Amy Winehouse for Caz. You have to hand it to Amy, she has a brilliant knack of turning her personal disasters into fabulous songs. Caz is the wild child of the quartet, so this song sums her up.

However, when I heard Wire to Wire by Razorlight on the radio one day, I thought wow, this could have been written for Caz. It really fits her self destructive sadness, and sends shivers up my spine. Fab, fab, fab song.

I love the high energy of Let me Entertain You by Robbie Williams , which is a great party track and totally suitable for Doris' joie de vivre, battiness and hen night with her mates.

Pure by the Lightning Seeds is one of my favourite love songs, and just for Doris and Darren's relationship. Pure and simple all the time. I'm always a little in love with my leading men, but I adore Darren. He's very cute.

The Shadow of Love by the Damned is a great gothic song which fits Caz very well - if she were to get married, I can see her doing it goth style...

and Always on my Mind by the Petshop Boys (yes I know they covered Elvis, but I do love their vierson) is just right for Caz and Charlie

Thanks to a flurry of tweets on Twitter one day, I had a great Fleetwood Mac fest, and have ended up with Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac for Sarah - is there a better break up song?

As well as, Love is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse - the sad poignant melancholy of this song fits Sarah's sense of loss perfectly.

Caz doesn't know her dad and feels the loss keenly, so Oh Daddy by Fleetwood Mac (thank you Twitterverse) was the obvious choice here, more for the emotions then the lyrics. I think it is powerful, sad and heartrending. Perfect!

Songbird more Fleetwood Mac for Beth, who hides a painful secret, and somehow this song sums up her pain for me as well as giving hope for the future. Plus it's just BEAUTIFUL.

The Man with the Child in his Eyes for Beth and Matt - don't know why, it seems to fit their story somehow.

The Sadness Runs Through Him by the Hoosiers is another heartrending song which fits Beth and Matt, whose situation particularly gets to me.

Before I fall to Pieces by Razorlight is for Caz, who has to stumble a little on the way to finding redemption. Again this song seemed to capture her perfectly.

Hurt by Johnny Cash is the pivotal song of the book, for Doris and Darren particularly, but for al the characters in their own different ways. And it always makes me weep...

And finally, Doris is obsessed with all things Disney and this is a book about friendship, so You've Got A Friend in Me by Randy Newman from Toy Story is the perfect swan song!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vote for me, oh yeah.

OK, so here's the thing. My publishers have suggested I enter this blog competition and for pubbed/unpubbed authors who blog, and asked me to ask you lovely people to vote for me. At which point I have come over all English and embarrassed (picture me BLUSHING here) and feel like a total twat. In fact I feel just like Laney Boggs in She's All That when Zac suggests she run for Prom Queen. (Waddya mean you haven't seen She's All That - go and watch it right now, if only for the fantastic dance scene at the prom.)

Anyway. I've entered. Vote for me. Yeah, Yeah. Otherwise. Vote for someone else whose blog you like more. Really, I won't mind. Well, not much...

That is all.

IF you do feel so inclined you can vote for me here and earn my undying gratitude. That was worth it now, wasn't it?

PS have tried and failed to add a widgety thing. But apparently I should have this on my blog too. Am so no good at this kind of stuff(-:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boy meets Girl

I seem not to be blogging very much at the moment, though I'm not sure why, as ironically I seem to have a little more time, but somehow not much inclination.

I HAD planned to blog about the finale of Being Human, but seem to have missed the moment, so I'm saying nothing except, waahaahaaaay!!! for that ending, I was on the edge of my seat all the way through and nearly jumped up and punched the ceiling when the identity of the vampire brought back from the dead was. Bring on series 3!!

Next week looks like being busy, and I should really be blogging this Monday, but I'm going to get ahead of myself for once, and do it now.

Next Monday you see is a very important day for Spouse and me as it marks a quarter of a century of us being together. Oo-er, now I feel PROPERLY old. When my parents used to talk about 25 years ago I used to think how can you remember that far back? And yet I can remember THAT day incredibly clearly...

Spouse and I first met in the October of 1984. I'd been at Liverpool University three weeks, and on my very first day had made friends with someone who later became my flatmate, and remains a good friend (albeit that she now lives on the other side of the world). My friend had spent two days in Liverpool the previous year. and had there encountered someone on Spouse's course. They got on rather well and spent the rest of the year writing to one another (my friend hadn't quite twigged that he had a romantic interest in her). Needless to say this boy had mentioned her name ad nauseam all year, so that when she turned up at Liverpool, Spouse and his mates were keen to meet the mystery woman.

In fact it was two of Spouse's pals who met her first, and one of them, a rather gobby Scouse medic took a shine to her. Such a shine that he invited her out to a nightclub with him. He made the mistake of asking her in front of a group of us who were sitting having coffee in her room.
Panicking slightly, my friend said yes, on condition he invited all of us. The medic panicked equally and turned up at Spouse's house, demanding back up.

And so it was, that I found myself one cold October evening in the Willow Bank Pub on Smithdown Road (later to become a favourite haunt) , with my girlfriends and a bunch of blokes who were so shy they all hunted in packs. One of them, needless to say, was Spouse.

I'd like to say at this point, that Cupid shot his arrow, it was love at first sight, etc etc, only that wouldn't be true.

What actually happened was, my Adonis, was crouched over the bar, fag in one hand, beer glass in another, and in a gesture which I later realised was the result of crippling shyness, he covered his hand over his mouth every time he spoke.

He seemed nice enough, and was delighted I was soft southerner like he was (there weren't many of us who'd ventured up north), and immediately started talking to me about nightclubs in London. I think he was showing off, but it made no impact on me, as I'd only managed to go out to one nightclub at that time, and hadn't rated the experience. We had several polite conversations during the evening and that was that...

Now one of his friends, on the other hand... well he made an impact on me, but sadly I didn't on him.

If you'd told me at the end of that evening I'd be marrying the shy dentist who chain smoked I think I'd have probably laughed in your face.

Over the course of the next few months, we met at various parties. Though I was never part of any kind of cool dudey gang, it certainly gave us first years a certain cachet to get invited to all the second year parties and feel more grown up then we did in hall. As time went on I found myself more often then not talking with Spouse in the kitchen at parties, usually sharing the bottle of vodka he'd secreted in his voluminous (obligatory) student black coat. With his entertaining conversation, black jacket, skinny jeans, black pointy boots and GREAT taste in music, I wasn't exactly falling for him, but certainly a party when he wasn't there was rather dull. Mind you, not sure my twin would say the same. She was first introduced to Spouse in a cab after a very wild drunken Liverpudlian night out (I used to go and stay with her in York and have CIVILIZED weekends), and the memory haunts her still... There was also the memorable time when Spouse, one of his mates and I were at a party that was heaving with so many students it was a wonder the house didn't collapse. As a result of the chaos the police were called, and we got to see the strong arm of the law up close and a little too personal. (I will never forget the sight of a female copper, built like a brick shithouse, pushing some poor sap against the wall for making some sarcy remark as he left.).

Come the January, I was still thinking we were mates (I was interested in someone else, who alas wasn't interested in me - do you see a pattern here?), until one party when I spent ages talking to him and he seemed really solicitous of me. Rather stupidly it didn't occur to me that things could develop into anything else, so I thought nothing of it and then didn't see him for a while. I might have been kidding myself there though, as I do remember looking out for him at various points and being disappointed that he wasn't there.

Come the week before term ended, and it had been several weeks since we'd seen each other. On the Friday night there was a disco in hall, and I had bought a ticket. However I had arranged an evening with my other, inexplicably-disinterested-in-me love interest, so I decided I wasn't going. Getting back at midnight, I still thought I wasn't going, but the disco was so noisy I knew I was never going to sleep. plus, Id spent MONEY on a ticket, so I changed my mind.

And so it was that I wandered into the Rathbone Hall Disco on March 15 1985, rather late in the evening and clocked Spouse in the corner. I must go and say hello I thought, but got distracted dancing and talking to my mates. Eventually at about 1.45, fifteen minutes before the end of the evening (nothing like leaving things to the last minute, eh, but I didn't know Cupid was about to start playing funny games with me), I summoned the courage to talk to him. Now why was I feeling nervous, when I thought I didn't fancy him? Hmm, funny that...

We got chatting and chatting and I was dimly unaware that he was trying to ask me to dance. In fact I was so unaware of the fact, that it was quite surprising to later discover his friend was poking him in the back, saying Go on, ask her to dance. Eventually Spouse took the hint, and we headed for the floor for the last few dances of the evening. I can't remember which order they were played in, but I do know we danced to: I Want to Know what Love is, by Foreigner, and Drive You Home Tonight by the Cars - pathetically after all this time, I still go weak at the knees when I hear those songs...

I don't know how it was with you when you were young free and single but the general etiquette when I went to discos was that if you weren't interested you pushed off after the first dance. I didn't know that I was interested, but I was in the mood for a little fun, so I hung on for the second dance, and had a moment before the third when I took the split decision to be chilled and see what would happen next...

What happened next was much snogging and me walking out on his arm, much to the surprise of all our friends. THAT was so much fun, seeing everybody's mouths agog, as I hadn't admitted ot anyone I was interested in Spouse (hell, I hadn't admitted it to myself till that moment). We went back to my room and spent the night talking (yes, talking, really, I was quite innocent in those days), and I suddenly realised, hey I like this guy, like really like him.

As he left we tried to arrange a date.
Can you do tomorrow he said - nope, had already got a date with Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats at Liverpool Empire Theatre.
What about Sunday? (Oops going out again with other love non interested in me party, tricky one). Busy I'm afraid.
We got as far as Tuesday and arranged a date to go the cinema. I can't remember what we saw but I still remember the nerves of choosing what to wear, followed by the panic that he might blow me out, and the weird realization that I'd gone from being quite relaxed in his company to insanely nervous. How had that happened? We were supposed to go out the next night, but he'd forgotten he had an exam (I mean, how do you forget exams??). Two dizzying evenings together followed, (during one of which he introduced me the Mamas& Papas and the Zombies - California Dreamin' and She's Not There, also make me go weak at the knees) and then I was going home on the Saturday, so we went out the Friday night and pulled another all nighter, before he took me to the coach station. By the time I left I can remember counting the seconds till we were parted and wondering how I was going to bear a whole month away from him. Within a week I had gone from vaguely interested to completely smitten.

I'd had a blinding and very funny week, but as he saw me off on that coach, much as I wanted it to,I really didn't think it was going to come to anything. We'd had a fun end of term and that was it, or so I thought.

Shows how very very wrong you can be...