Friday, 29 August 2008

Woman's Weekly

This is a bragging, trumpet-blowing, writerly post because today I have a short story published in the Woman's Weekly Fiction Special (not the one in the pic, I hasten to add, which is an old issue but was the only copy I could find to illustrate this post) for August - October. And not only do I get a lovely mention in the magazine's editorial column, but my name is splashed right across the front cover. This Week's BIG NAMES, it says, Maeve Binchy and Christina Jones. Well - blimey! Maeve is certainly a BIG BIG BIG name - but me??? Me and Maeve mentioned in the same typeface? As a huge Maeve fan I know I'm not worthy, but I'm THAT impressed! Thank you so much Woman's Weekly!

My story is called Hobby Horse and is one of a series of amusing (?) "factional" stories I've been writing about my childhood. There are a couple of dozen of them so far and some of them have already been published in Woman' Weekly, My Weekly and People's Friend. There are lots more that possibly aren't quite suitable for these mags, but my plan (yes I do sometimes have plans, not always very good ones, but plans never-the-less) is to try and find someone to publish them together in book form as a sort of autobiography. I'm toying with Christina Jones: The Prefab Years as a title, but am aware that unless you're a Baby Boomer you've probably never seen a prefab, and that the yoof-generation think prefab has a much more techo meaning and will expect me to be a whizz with computer gizmos or something...

The stories all feature me, my mum and dad, our dog, my nans (Nannie One and Nannie Two), my cousin Gillian, Brown Owl and her thimbles, and Mrs Filkins, my school teacher, as well as a cast of a thousand and one other rustic mis-fits... Some of the background is true, some isn't, but all of it is heavily embroidered - in the best autobiographical tradition.

Still, I don't suppose it matters much as people will always assume they recognise themselves in your books/stories, won't they? People often say "I know that was me in so-and-so" and you can keep saying, nope, it wasn't and isn't and never will be, but they won't believe you... Mind you, as long as I don't upset anyone too much with my writing, I don't mind.

Oh, yes - I've managed to upset people in the past. You only have to look at my Amazon reviews to see that every man and his dog feels they have an axe to grind about my style/content/factual accuracy. That's fine - but I do think it should be reciprocal. I itch to use the right-to-reply button and say - "okay so that's your opinion - now when you've written a book and had it published please let me have copy so that I can review it in public where thousands of people can read what I think of it on a daily basis"...

I had one (anonymous and written in green ink - honest!!!) hate letter (left for me at a local book shop and they assumed it was fan-mail so passed it on) that wanted me to die because I'd written about fairgrounds in Stealing the Show and she (I assume it was a she) said fairs were dens of iniquity and I should be burned at the stake for suggesting they were anything but. She informed me she'd disposed of Stealing the Show in the dustbin, holding it at arm's length, wearing rubber gloves, so as not to become contaminated by its filth. Oooh-er. I can only assume she'd had a bad experience on the dodgems.

I also managed to upset a lady while on my recent library tour to promote the Pure Passion Award. In the middle of my spiel she stood up and said both I and my books should be banned and burned because they were obscene. As the rest of the audience hung on her every word and I stood with my mouth open (I'm not Jeremy Paxman - can never think of a clever and pithy put-down until it's far too late) she told everyone that my books were pornographic and filled with disgusting sex acts and four-letter words and that I had no place in a decent place like a library... Well! Once I'd gathered my single functioning brain-cell together and tried to protest that (shades of the radio show here?) I didn't write about sex and my characters rarely swore and that I thought she may have muddled me up with another more - er - robust writer, she drew herself up to her full height (and she was a tall 'un!) and said "well, you would say that, wouldn't you?" and plonked herself down again. There was a smattering of applause, no-one knew what to say, I wanted to cry, and the talk kind of petered out...

I suppose the point here is - cliche coming up - that you really can't please all of the people all of the time - and that once you place any part of you in the public domain then you have to be prepared for a mauling.

Anyway, I'm not going to let that detract from my day of showing-off and basking in glory at being linked with the wonderful Maeve. That's a writing *up* as far as I'm concerned and long live wonderful Woman's Weekly, I say!!!

Sunday, 24 August 2008


Well - the trip to the dentist has managed to put paid to much of life as I knew it for the last couple of weeks... "It'll take about ten days to settle down" the dentist had said when The Toyboy Trucker rang the surgery to see if my screaming and sobbing was normal... What he didn't say was that the optimistic ten days would be days spent with a face like a football, days spent watching the clock for the four hours to be up so I could take another handful of pain-killers, days (and nights) spent clutching a hot water bottle to my throbbing face and praying for oblivion, days spent wondering if I'd ever feel human and pain-free again. On the plus side I couldn't eat anything and have lost nearly a stone...

So, here I am almost restored to full health - and with a mountain of things - writerly and not - to catch up with. Sadly, I know the spectacular weight loss will be but a fleeting thing as I'm now so bloody starving that I'll eat anything that's not nailed down. Still, The Toyboy Trucker, Elle and The Doctor - not to mention my friends, and Vee and Em-next-door - have been brilliant. On the days when I literally couldn't crawl out of bed they rallied round and fed the cats, did the washing and ironing (that was a shock I can tell you because I Never Iron), and made me drinky things with a straw (which I couldn't control and dribbled a lot - giving my nearest and dearest an awful insight into what life will be like When She Gets Too Old To Cope).

I've spent my bed-ridden days (in between the sobbing and drooling and dribbling) re-reading my Agatha Christies. How clever was she? And so funny! I don't think I appreciated her humour when I first read them decades ago - but she not only had a wonderful clean writing style, great descriptions and brilliant plots, but a true acerbic wit. There are some one-liners in her Poirot books that I'd kill for. I wish I was clever enough to write crime, but I'm not. I can do straight forward beginning-to-end stories, but nothing that involves convolutions and machinations. Crime writers - you have my unstinted admiration!

The only remotely writerly thing I can tell you about is that my interview with Piatkus/Little, Brown is now up on their website. I quite like it - it makes me sound as though I know a)what I'm doing and b) what I'm talking about. If you'd like to read it, it's at and you just scroll down to my bit and click on the Happy Birthday Christina! heading and follow the links...

Right, now I really must catch up with all the stuff that's been languishing for far too long - including several overdue blog posts. Back soon - I hope.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Open Wide

Today I went to the dentist. After a week of agony, double-dose antibiotics and liver-shredding painkillers, the dentist deemed the site (a technical term?) was fit for excavation. Filled with trepidation that my mouth was going to become the next venue for The Time Team, I set off for the surgery...

So, now it's over and I'm writing this while dribbling and drooling and looking like a lop-sided hamster - but at last the damn abscesses are no more!!!! However, I do have a feeling that the dentist's parting shot of "... and you may find it'll be a little sore for a while..." was one massive understatement. The anaesthetic is just starting to wear off and my gums are throbbing and drumming like Phil Collins on acid and the pain is crunching from beneath my chin (chins) into the top of my head.

The problem was that the abscessi were rooted (hah! pun!) in the roots of ancient teeth beneath even more ancient bridgework. So the excavation involved a lot of sawing and cranking and breaking and yanking. I had to wear welder's goggles and bits of tooth and bridge shot round the surgery like shrapnel. Still, apart from the noise and the smell and the taste of blood I didn't feel a thing. Until now...

The gums - once the offending roots had been removed (there was a not very amusing moment when the dentist cheerfully told me that one of them was a "wriggly little devil and keeps popping back into the cavity..." - far too much information there, thanks) - needed stitches. And then there was this smell of burning. I thought one of the dental nurses was having a crafty fag - but no. It was the sealant. This was a bit scary as I had visions of being gummed (another pun!) up like a double glazed window. However the dentist assured me that it was necessary to seal the site to prevent any food debris getting into the crevasse. Huh - food debris? Food? Eating? Was he mad??? The way my mouth felt I knew I'd never eat again...

So, I'm back home and I feel like sh - well, pretty awful actually. So, I'm going to try and ignore the elephants dancing a samba inside my skull, and the red-hot pincers gripping my mouth, and the fact that my ears and eyes have come out in sympathy, and do the only thing left for me to do.

Sod writing and housework and barmaiding - I'm off to bed with a shot of whisky and the cats and will emerge again once all this hell is over - but don't hold your breath...

Friday, 8 August 2008


Yes I really did start writing this blog post today at eight minutes past eight o'clock on the eighth day of the eighth month 2008 - not for any good reason at all, apart from seeing if I could and also because this phenomenon won't happen again for another hundred years and I expect I'll be dead by then...

And the pic seems so appropriate doesn't it? Time just slips through my fingers. Where the heck does it go? I start writing at 6 a.m. and before I know it, it's mid-day and I've missed an entire morning somehow - and usually have very little to show for it. And days and weeks and months just fly by, don't they? Is time really going faster or is it just because I'm getting old??? Please don't answer that one...

I do have problems with time because I can't wear a watch. They just stop. So do clocks if I touch them. And no, before you say anything, it's not just because I've got the sort of face that'll stop a clock (that was my Auntie Edie - looked like a warthog with a moustache). I used to think my timepiece problems were because my body was filled with magical magnetism but apparently it's because I exude excess acid (lovely!) or at least that's what Elle's science teacher told her. So, I have over the years, developed this infallible inbuilt way of knowing what the time is simply by the light or the position of the sun or just, well, knowing. I can also wake up at a set time without an alarm clock just by telling myself before I go to sleep what time I need to be up. My dad used to so this too, so I didn't think it was odd until I mentioned it at a party and people started avoiding me (although it might have had more to do with my exuding the aforementioned excess acid of course).

I've now convinced myself (but not anyone else) that my inbuilt clock is part of my synesthesia (sp?). This is because I also see words, and particularly the days of the week, in colour. Skip this - it's boring - but if you're interested, Monday is yellow, Tuesday is pale blue, Wednesday is bright green, Thursday is orange, Friday is brown, Saturday is red, and Sunday is silver.

However, as this is now sounding as though I'm barking I'll stop posting about time and colours and do something proper. Oh, just one last thing on time - I'm manically obsessive about getting everywhere early. I'll always leave at least an hour early for anything - can't bear to be late anywhere. The Toyboy Trucker and Elle, on the other hand, leave everything to the last minute. This drives me demented - especially when we're travelling. I have to be at airports and railway stations long before the allotted time - always tell The Toyboy Trucker our flight/train is an hour earlier than it is. He hates it - hates the hanging around - but as I always promise him (it's a lie) that this time I've given him accurate departure details, he daren't risk disbelieving me.

Now I will go because there's writing to be done and as I'm living on industrial strength painkillers because of the toothache I know I'll be asleep before long - but at least I'll know when it's time to wake up...

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Writing - the ups and downs...

Wow! Wonderful My Weekly have just paid me for my set of 1960s stories! What a rapid response that was - from commission to payment in less than a month! I LOVE My Weekly!!!

They've also given me another commission because they were so chuffed with what I did with the last one - details to follow - so, despite all the current angst over other things, I'm smiling - or I would be if I didn't have two tooth abscesses - hmmm - don't ask...

Also sold more stories in Scandinavia - Denmark this time - and the hardback of Happy Birthday (isn't it a beautiful cover??? I can say that because it's absolutely nothing to do with me - courtesy of the lovely and extremely talented Ella Tjader) is out today as well - the hardback is only meant for libraries and book clubs, and the paperback won't be out until November, but I had to post the cover here today because I LOVE it. Today, I've also been asked if I'd like to be interviewed for the Little, Brown website and of course, being a media tart and despite the awful radio experience, I said yes, so that's another item on my writerly to-do list... so, today has been a Good Writing Day - despite the fact that I haven't actually written anything yet.

So that's the writing ups - the downs are that I've got to get on with - um - WRITING. I'm still faffing around with the long story I've started for Woman's Weekly - a sort of family saga - not at all amusing - more dark than I usually do and I fear that I've just wasted my time, and theirs, not to mention about 12,000 words; still faffing around with the opening chapters of MOONSHINE - delivery in November? Hah - what do you think?!; still faffing around with half a dozen other short stories which all seemed good ideas at the time but now don't; still faffing about with everything in fact.

I do wish I wasn't such a flake. I wish I could concentrate on one thing, knuckle down and do it, tick it off and move on to something else - but no. I hop about, dabbling with loads of stuff and not really achieving anything at all. My New Year's resolution is always, always to be more organised - and it lasts about ten days...

Writing is such an iffy way to make a living - well, unless you're lucky enough to be in the JKR class, of course. Writing the stuff is the easy bit - it's the gap between writing it and hopefully selling it and then getting paid that makes it pretty scary. That's why I write all the time - in between the novels - because it's the only way I can make any money. I know I'm practically unemployable (apart from being a barmaid) and anyway I simply couldn't face having to get a Proper Job and wear tights... So, I write anything and everything in a panic-stricken state because I'm certain that one day soon someone will suss that I'm not a Real Writer at all and it'll all come crashing down round my ears.

Anyway, my face hurts like hell now and the teeth are throbbing and The Toyboy Trucker has given me some oil of cloves which he said I was supposed to rub on my gums NOT drink so now I feel sick as well... Don't think I'll be writing anything else today - ah, well, there's always tomorrow...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

My Life

My life is a sort of jumble. I'd really, really like it to be like other people's lives - or at least have some semblance of organisation - but it just isn't... Oh, and the pic isn't at all relevant to this blog post but it's called Heaven Sent which I thought was great (I'd love to think my much-loved departed cats now had wings to help them with their butterfly-chasing, and gorgeous garlands to play with) and it makes it sort of writerly (with Heaven Sent being the title of one of my books), and also given my love of all things whimsical I just thought it was too beautiful not to share... See - I've already gone off at a tangent. That's my life - a mass of tangents - er, tangenti???

So - my life... I've quickly leaned that it's not like any other writer's life - or at least, not any writer that I've ever met. Not that I'm wanting to generalise here or go down the stereotype route - but, well, I live on an estate. And before you think "there's posh", this doesn't involve thirty seven acres, crenellated turrets, sweeping lawns, herds of deer, drawbridges and peasants - it means council.

Despite the best efforts of the tabloids to convince people otherwise, not all council estates are no-go areas or chav-ridden dens of violent iniquity. We've got our messier areas and more colorful residents, true, and no-one with any sense ventures near the municipal garages after dark, but on the whole ours is a nice estate. Built pre-war, it was apparently an experiment in rural living - sort of like a mini Welwyn Garden City - with little groups of houses built round green areas to create small villages. The entire estate was originally built on the site of a medieval castle, which means most of it is protected under various feudal laws - so we've got lots of these little communities built round the aforementioned sprawling village greens with spinneys full of mature trees and criss-crossing streams - and there are still bits of the old castle dotted around (we have parts of the moat and the keep beside our house). So, as well as being very green and attractive, it's a friendly villagey oasis in the middle of a rather pretty and old riverside market town. And yes, I use it in all my books...

The houses are a mixture of privately owned, privately rented and still council and no-one would know which was which. They're built of mellowed red brick - and each one is slightly different. Ours was one of the Tradesman's Houses. These were bigger and given lots of weird skew-whiff rooms and staircases to test the skills of the various bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, glaziers and electricians. The result is a sort of miniature farmhouse effect, with steps up here and down there, loads of narrow corridors, dozens of windows in strange places, high-ceilinged rooms and odd awkward corners - and it's a bugger to clean!!! Not that I clean much as I'm a messy so-and-so. The Toyboy Trucker is always threatening to hire a cleaner but I couldn't have that! One, it would offend my socialist principles; two, I've been a cleaner and I loathed all my clients with a vengeance and I don't want to be loathed by anyone else; and three, it would mean I'd have to clean every nook and cranny before any poor cleaner could set foot in the house.

Being pre-war, all our houses have huge gardens and we all have a tree outside. Ours is an ancient and glorious eighty foot sycamore which is home to various birds, squirrels and occasionally Dexter. Em-next-door has a rowan tree which is supposed to keep witches away and clearly doesn't, while Vee has a flowering cherry. Anyway, I'm digressing again - the whole point of this post was to say that writers can and do come from every class and background, but I'm the only true blue collar writer I know... Lots of writers happily admit to working class backgrounds but now consider themselves middle-class - but I can honestly say that I know my place. I'm definitely one of the lower orders and happy to be there. I have no aspirations to haul myself away from my working class roots - well, face it, it's a council estate, I'm a barmaid, The Toyboy Trucker is a - um - lorry driver - so how much more working class can you get???

As well as Vee and Em, the other neighbours on our side of the green are also Quite Interesting (cue Stephen Fry?). Working from right to left along the terrace, there's Shaz and Dave and their five children from previous relationships; next to them there's Nikki and Memphis. Nikki works in the Eight til Late and Memphis is a roofer. They both wear loads of bling and have tattoos and diamonds in their teeth. Then there's Maudie and Wilf, who are pensioners, and their grown-up son, Jerome. Jerome has a social worker. Then there's Vee, then us, then Em-next-door. And last but not least, on the other end of the terrace, there's Nancy. Nancy used to be called Norman. Norman was a bus driver before he had the op. Nancy was a great help to me when I was writing YaYa Bordello, my drag queen in Heaven Sent. You can always see Nancy buying her frocks at the Wednesday market. Well, to be honest, you can always see her anywhere as she's six foot five and has a Tom Selleck moustache.

There! So now you know about my life. And people ask me where I get the inspiration for my villages and characters from - they should spend a few days round here and they'd know. For every writer, inspiration is all around you - you only have to look. And real life here is definitely far, far stranger than anything I concoct in my fiction - and I absolutely love it.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Radio Ga-Ga

Now, I'll do anything for a bit of publicity for my books - so, when my publishers said they'd been contacted by one of our newish and exceedingly popular radio stations inviting me to take part in their live "Book Babes" show, I leapt at the opportunity. Okay, so with hindsight the show's title should have given me an inkling that this wasn't a literary programme that was going to give Mariella Frostrup sleepless nights, but it's always easy to wise after the event, isn't it???

Another warning sign that things might not go exactly to plan (mine) was that they chose to introduce me by playing Christina Aguilera's "Dirty"... and this was terrifyingly compounded when the lovely presenter said "... and now from one dirty Christina to another..."

I simpered and sweated, as you do, and knew that I was in big, big trouble...

"Tell us about your dirty books," she grinned knowingly.
"Er..." I muttered, knowing that Elle, The Doctor and The Toyboy Trucker were hanging on my every airwaved word, "actually, I don't write dirty books..."
Everyone in the studio laughed. A lot. And I could tell from the body language that this wasn't the response they'd expected.

"Yes you do," the presenter insisted, smiling manfully. "That's why you're here."
"Actually," I muttered in panic, "I - um - write romantic comedy novels and funny short stories and - um - none of them have any sex in them at all..."

More panic-stricken laughter all round. The presenter asked me all about the new book - Happy Birthday - and I could tell by the look in her eyes as I described the feel-good funny bits and the eccentric characters and the villagey background that she finally realised that there was No Sex.

It was getting very, very hot in the studio. I was sweating buckets. Everyone was smiling with gritted teeth and manic eyes.

"Right," the presenter said bravely, knowing that her thousands of listeners were probably now getting a bit tired of this coy shilly-shallying, "but you have romance and love affairs in your books, so there must be some sort of flesh-on-flesh action in them."
"Actually," I gulped noisily into my microphone, "no, there isn't..."

"Ah... Right, well - that makes this next part a bit tricky..."
Next part? I swallowed. What next part? And how much more tricky could it get?
Very, very tricky as it turned out...

The presenter had invited half a dozen other Book Babes into the studio and had asked them to all read out some erotica... Oh, hell on wheels...
"And you," she said manfully, " are going to judge them. You can decide which one is the hottest, most erotic, the most down and dirty of the lot..."

I whimpered and prayed Elle and The Doctor and The Toyboy Trucker had found something more scintillating to listen to.

Well, give those girls their due - they gave it their all. And it wasn't erotica they were reading out - it was porn - pure and simple. Flesh-on-flesh action wasn't in it! Mortified with embarrassment at full-on sexually graphic descriptions that would have made Russell Brand wince and a contortionist give up, I did the only thing left for me to do. I laughed.

I laughed a lot. The presenter and the girls laughed with me - although not quite so hysterically.

"," I stammered when mercifully it was all over, "they were all - um - really good, but I'd have to pick..." I stopped, unable to remember any of the girls' names, "ah - the last one as the winner. It - um - she - was very - er - good..."

They all clapped, breathed a sigh of relief, thanked me with more warmth than I deserved, put The Other Christina back on the sound system, and ushered me out of the studio.

I sat in reception and wanted to cry at my on-air humiliation. The Book Babes were all wonderful - but I have a feeling I won't be invited back to join them any time soon...

Monday, 4 August 2008

Passport to Purgatory

Today I had to renew our passports. Now, I've become very fond of my old passport - it's seen me on some great times over the last ten years - and the photo is quite pleasant - I look all smiley and remembered to lift my chin so I look reasonably pert, and even have normal hair. However, because I spend most of my time away with the fairies, all the new changes to passports had somehow passed me by. Blimey! What a shock...

First there was the photo. No more arranging yourself decoratively in the little booth in Woolies and messing around with the orange or blue curtain to see which background looked best, and then posing coyly while the flashbulb blinded you four times as you smiled and preened and tried to get your best side on display with no sags, bags and double chins on show. Lord, no. Now it's like something out of Big Brother (the George Orwell one - if it had been the other misfit telly one I'd have probably passed without any probs) - with Very Severe Instructions on How To Proceed. First - there is to be NO smiling at any point during the proceedings. Secondly - there is to be NO hair obstructing the face. Thirdly - there is to be No Posing in attractive positions. In short this is a Prisoner Cell Block H photo.

So, with my hair scraped behind my ears (aaargh!) and my fringe tucked up into my hairline (double aargh!) and my lips set in grim non-smiling line (oh - please don't ask...) - I faced the screen. More Severe Instructions appeared. Your eyes had to be Dead Centre. Mine weren't - not even when I wriggled the seat a lot. I'd reached this great age without realising that I have crooked eyes! So I had to tilt my head slightly to the left to get my eyes level. Then the top of your head had to be within one line and your chin within the other. Mine only met this criteria if I hunched my shoulders which was tricky with the aforementioned tilting. So, eventually and looking like a very bad Quasimodo, I pushed the button. Booomph! One searing flash - and that was it! Just the one hit. No second chance to make a first impression. Four identical pics from one press of the button - oooh, there's progress....

So, I tottered outside and waited for the results to slither from the chute. Ohmigod!!! With the booth's full-on illuminations (no nice air-brushing or misty fading here) and the lack of my usual Boris Johnson hairdo to hide behind, every single wrinkle was exaggerated into a yawning crevasse; every pouchy bit was an overfilled saddlebag; every frown line was highlighted like a ploughed field, and I had more crows' feet than - well - crows... Not to put too fine a point on it, I looked like some octogenarian serial killer who'd just had a stroke. Now, I'm not a vain person but I swear I'll kill anyone on any passport control who looks at me and then at my photo and equates the two.

Feeling very, very old and very, very ugly, I plodded off to the Post Office with my completed form (and yes, that had been another minefield - but then I'm not good with forms especially ones that make you write inside the shaded area under pain of death should you stray outside the little box) and the foul photos tucked deeply into my handbag. Suffice it to say that after half an hour's queueing I got the Officious One. The Post Office was very hot and very full of damp pensioners. I was feeling at my lowest ebb. I didn't need the Officious One. He - damn him - looked at my photos and then at me and chuckled - then laboriously checked my form. There was a lot of tutting and cross-checking, but eventually and grudgingly he said it would pass muster. Sadly, I wasn't so lucky with the Toyboy Trucker's application...

The Toyboy Trucker, being born into an army family, had popped into the world on Foreign Soil. There have been problems with this before - but he's got all the relevant bits of paper to prove that yes, okay, he was born outside our sceptred isle, but it was to Brit parents, in a Brit military hospital, and he was and is and always will be a British Citizen. And anyway he's had a passport for ages, so I assumed the renewal would be a piece of cake... Wrong! The Officious One read through all the relevant certificates, paperwork, looked at his earlier passport and pushed them all back to me. "He's not British", he said, sneering happily. "Yes, he is" I snapped back, pushing all the gubbins back under the security grille. "No, he's not," the Officious One thrust it all back at me. "He'll have to have a citizen's interview". Now I won't write down what I said at this point, but let's just say I lost my normal relaxed and let-it-be attitude. Pointing out rather tersely that he was a) British, b) had already got a British passport, and c) was going on hols in a few weeks and therefore need the passport pretty damn sharpish, I shoved the paperwork back again and asked to see someone in charge... Yep, the Officious One was in charge.

Still smarting from my own gruesome photo and knowing for sure that I didn't, as I've so fondly believed for years, look anything like Lulu, I was ready to burst into tears. The Officious One and I stared each other out. He won. I snatched back both applications and ran, hot and sweaty, out of the Post Office.

I went home, stuck pins in a wax model of the Officious One, had three cups of black coffee, and returned to the Post Office. It was still hot and full of damp pensioners but the Officious One was missing. This time I got a Nice Girl. I didn't mention the previous encounter just in case she checked a list of People Blacklisted from the Post Office for Using Profane Language. She whizzed through both applications, sympathised over the cruelty of the new photos, skimmed through the Toyboy Tucker's paperwork, declared everything in order, and said the passports would be with us in a week. I could have kissed her and would have done if it hadn't been for the security screen and the fact that I haven't kissed another grown-up female (apart from Elle)since I stopped kissing my Great Auntie Alma when her whiskers gave me a shaving rash.

So, we'll have our new passports before too long - and the Toyboy Trucker will once again officially be a British citizen. I just wish they could do something with my photo in the magical processing and make me look like Lulu...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Tears and Laughter

Because of Clyde, I haven't felt much like writing or doing anything at all for a few days. I'm not one of those people who can immerse themselves in work to assuage grief. I just fall apart - spectacularly - and feel like crap and cry and hide away doing nothing until it starts to hurt less. Sooo - no Moonshine, no short stories, no Telegraph features and no blogging for a bit. Just a lot of crying and hurting and hating it at feeding times when there's an empty space and at bedtimes when he's not purring in my ear...

However, I did have a prior writerly engagement last Friday that I really, really couldn't cancel - so armed with Kleenex, dark glasses and a pasted-on smile I gave it my best shot. And I'm so glad I did.

Ages ago I'd agreed to be the guest speaker at our local MS society's monthly social day. On the first Friday of each month they get together and have a bit of a party with a speaker in the morning, a nice chatty noisy lunch, then have visits from useful professionals - health workers or alternative therapists, that sort of thing - in the afternoon, and everyone has a really good time. Anyone with MS from anywhere in the county can come along - and they do - and it's a far from down-beat gathering! They all sympathised about Clyde and in the end, despite my initial idea that I'd be the one doing the uplifting, they were cheering me up.

I've been involved with the MS society for ages as A, my beloved and lovely sis-in-law, who died four years ago on the day before her 40th birthday (oh, how she wanted to hang on for her big 4-0), had had MS for a long time and was on the committee and always at the forefront of these lively social events. And she didn't die from MS - if she'd simply had MS she'd still be here now, but she - bloody unfairly - had a double whammy and died from acute myeloid leukaemia. So, because I'd made friends at the MS society and for my s-i-l's sake I always keep in touch, and J - the local organiser who truly deserves a medal for his tireless fund-raising and simply for refusing to accept that there are things MS sufferers can't/shouldn't do and therefore has his lot taking part in adventure trips, fashion shows, bowling and wild dance parties - has been a friend of mine since we were kids. J's MS does mean that he can no longer drive, but because he's a bit of a babe magnet he always manages to have a raft of glamorous female chauffeurs on hand to whisk him off wherever he needs to go. Reading this and blushing, eh, J????

So, I arrived at the hall early and asked if anyone needed a hand with anything. They looked at me askance and said that they were absolutely fine thanks and I'd only get in the way... So, I wandered about, getting in the way, until it was time to talk. Now I'm not good at talking. I mean I'm fine in normal conversation but as I've never actually felt like a Real Writer it always seems sort of fraudulent to stand up there and wax lyrical about my books. However, the MS lot are always up for something different and gave me a rousing cheer. I faltered into my opening and then someone asked me how The Toyboy Trucker was and was it true Elle was getting married? And what was her dress like and how many bridesmaids and where were they going on honeymoon...? Once we'd got a lot of family stuff out of the way I started again.

This time it all seemed to be going well, and I was just explaining the reasonably, in my opinion, interesting stuff about authors having little say in cover design or anything else once the manuscript is with the publishers, when one of the ladies bustled out of the kitchen and put a huge pink and white cake on the table in front of me. 'The candles is a bit wonky,' she said cheerfully, 'but I think it's okay.' 'Oh!' I simpered. 'No - it's just lovely - thanks so much...'

'Tain't fer you,' she looked at me like I was barking. 'Tis for Liz. It's 'er birthday. 'Aven't you finished talking yet? Blimey - 'ow much longer are you going to be, duck? I'll put it back in the kitchen, then.' She swept the cake away again, glaring over her shoulder. 'And get a move-on, there's a good girl.'

A lot of people started clapping then so I just asked if there were any questions and there were. Mostly about Elle and The Doctor's wedding. Then the cake came back and the candles were primed for lighting. Still smarting with embarrassment at my faux pas, I offered to do the igniting honours. Sadly the cake lady had acrylic fingernails and as she held the cake steady and I let rip with the lighter they went up - pooof! - just like that! Followed by a good chunk of my audience, she ran out of the room with her fingers on fire like something out of Harry Potter (I'm guessing here as I've never read/seen Harry Potter but I would imagine they have sort of magical incendiary scenes where people run amok with blazing talons). Mortified that I'd just set fire to someone but with the candles still unlit, I had another go - this time without disaster - and got a smattering of applause from the people who were still in the room. Then Liz blew the candles out and we all sang happy birthday (and yes, I know - if I'd been a Real Writer I'd have got a plug in there for the new book of the same name - but I'm not and I didn't...) and someone (not the lady with the melted nails who came back wearing mittens and giving me a very wide berth) sliced the cake up and we all had it with coffee - and then I dished out copies of some of my large print and audio books and we had a very lively lunch.

It all disintegrated into a bit of a scrum after that, but loads of people chatted to me about the books - and I think, like me, they felt much more at ease when it wasn't a formal "speaking" thing.

By the time I left, the MS society were excitedly discussing plans for their next day's 12 hour boat-trip-and-pub-crawl - and I only wished I felt fit enough to join them... but at least I hadn't cried for six hours and that's some sort of record...