Sunday, 28 September 2008

Wicked Weekend

Have now decided I should have become an Officially Old Person years ago! I've had a truly amazing birthday weekend - great plan having a "special" (thanks lovely Debs for this kind euphemism!) Friday birthday because it meant the celebrations could continue into Saturday and Sunday - and they did! Oh, believe me they did. One of my presents from The Toyboy Trucker was a dinky little pink and lilac digital camera, and when I've learned how to delete the worst of the awful fat, multi-chinned, gurning, hung-over pics (big mistake allowing Elle to show me how the camera worked...), I'll attempt to post one or two of the censored ones on the blog at a later date.

As a suitable celebratory present for An Old Person, Elle and The Doctor gave me a truly amazing hot air balloon flight complete with iced champagne. I was practically beside myself with excitement as this has been top of my "things to do before I die" list for ever. However, this, on the morning after drinking my way along the liqueurs shelf of the restaurant at Friday night's family party, was deemed as Not A Good Idea, but I think the hang-over-anesthetic worked well in quashing any nerves I might have had. I couldn't wait and I absolutely loved it!!!!

The Toyboy Trucker came with me (Elle and The Doctor both wimped out at the last minute claiming sudden attacks of vertigo). It's an experience I'll never forget as long as I live.

I did have quite a few of my misconceptions about balloon flights corrected, though - like the pilots have to train with instructors and gain flying hours before they can get their licences - just like with any other flying machines. Stupidly, I think I'd just assumed anyone could buy a balloon and take-off willy-nilly without any rules and regulations. Now I know differently - balloon flights are as tightly regulated as anything else that goes up, up and away. And then there was the noise. From the ground balloons appear silent, and while much of the flight was certainly that, once those burners get going they roar like angry dragons! But oh, it was so serene - and the sensation of flying so slowly and smoothly, just going wherever the thermals and currents took you, gliding with the wind in your face and people all staring up from below on such a gloriously warm and sunny Autumn day was just wonderful. A dream come true...

It was all over too quickly for me and as soon as we'd landed (smoothly, only a bit of a bump despite being prepared in the briefing for all sorts of lumpy landings) I just wanted to go back and do it all over again. I'll definitely use it in a novel - it's very, very romantic being up in the sky, unfettered and unhindered - and in America they have balloon weddings (must have bigger baskets?) which the UK hasn't licenced yet. Do wish they would because it would make a fantastic happy-ever-after...

Then on Saturday night - just when I'd thought it couldn't get any better - The Toyboy Trucker said to make sure my feet stayed on the ground we were going into town for a quiet dinner for two. And I believed him! Hah! We drove into Oxford and ended up at Shanghai 30s - the most sublime Chinese restaurant (it's had rave reviews from all the broadsheets and is the sort of place I've looked at from outside and sighed wistfully) - which is in an Elizabethan house (all twisty narrow staircases, linen-fold panelled walls, and tiny rooms) where Elle and The Doctor and all our friends were waiting in a private room which they'd spent all afternoon decorating (hence the wimping out of the flight) with umpteen balloons and masses of sparkly things and candles everywhere and it was like walking into a fairy grotto. It was so amazing and unexpected that I burst into tears. The food was wonderful, the service out of this world, and between the umpteen courses I worked my way through the cocktail menu... It was a fabulous, fabulous night - and again something I'll remember forever.

Then on Sunday, to round off this spectacular weekend, Elle and I went to a Wedding Fair which was being held in the glorious stately home where she and The Doctor are getting married. This was my first venture into the world of wedding fairs - and blimey, what an eye-opener (even for someone with a double hang-over!). There were things there I'd never dreamed anyone could have/want/need at a wedding (or anywhere else). Amazing stuff. As someone whose entire wedding cost £45 (without the fireworks and champagne, but including the fish and chips) I simply drifted round the wonderful 14th century halls, overcome with emotion, and pretty sure that I'll be awash come Easter when I'm there again in my Mother of the Bride role... Elle and The Doctor seem to already have most things arranged, but I did get a bit overexcited and booked them a chocolate fountain...

Now my OOP (Officially Old Person) celebrations are over I really must, must, must knuckle down and write Moonshine because it's nearly October and I have a feeling I'm supposed to be delivering it in about 6 weeks time - aaargh!!!!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Happy Hippy

As the old song goes - what a difference a day makes!!!! Yesterday, I was way down in the dumps with the rejections - today I'm leaping with joy.

I finished writing the new My Weekly story yesterday morning (the Christmas commissioned one which I'd called A Real Cool Yule, which I'd even given the alternative title of Willow Sticks and Sushi, just in case the title put them off before they even read a word...) - just made the deadline - and emailed it to them last night after re-reading it about twenty million times, convinced that I was no longer able to create a decent short story.... and with no great hopes that it would be anywhere near what they wanted.

And, yes! As always happens in this weird, unpredictable writing world, they loved it! They accepted it this morning - less than 24 hours after I sent it and Woman's Weekly zapped my confidence - and have already put the payment through.

Oh, blimey - the ups and downs of being a writer are enough to drive you doo-lally, aren't they??? Still, today I'm smiling...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Oooh - what a grim writing day. Six rejections - SIX! - in one go!!! And all from Woman's Weekly.

Five short stories - all considered to be "too predictable" - and the 12,000 word three-parter that I'd worked on for soooo long.... Sadly they felt the three-parter was "contrived and old-fashioned".... Ouch!

I've been in this game long enough to know that rejections are all par for the course, but knowing it still doesn't make getting them any easier. I HATE it! It always feels so personal, doesn't it???

Not that I expect everything I write to be accepted - far from it - I'm still without an ounce of confidence, but after writing and selling short stories for most of my life, I was pretty sure I knew how to avoid the "predictable" "contrived" "old-fashioned" pit-falls. Clearly I don't... Sigh...

Must now take my own advice, re-read the short stories, rework them where necessary and send them out again. Which I will do the minute I've stopped swearing and kicking the furniture and sulking. Sadly, though, I feel the three-parter is a dead duck. I can't imagine finding a home for it as it stands and it's too complicated to chop down to make a shorter story. Sod it!

Now going to abandon the blog and writing anything today and go and mutter Bad Words in the garden...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Ultimate Accolade

Wow! It takes a lot to make me speechless I can tell you - but today I am.

My favorite author of all time is Peter Robinson (ace writer of the Inspector Banks crime/thriller series) who I first discovered a few years ago while wandering aimlessly in a charity shop on one of the saddest days of my life.

Peter's "The Summer That Never Was" was a lone crime novel amidst a lot of long-abandoned and never-read literary tomes (probably bought on the recommendation of dinner party guests or the hefty broadsheets), and the starkness of the cover and the bleak title suited my mood. I bought it for a pound, needing a novel that would take me away from the current awfulness of my real life, and devoured it within two days and two sleepless nights.

That one book had me hooked on Peter Robinson's writing and I immediately bought his entire backlist so I could read them in order, and since then have bought every one of his books in hardback as soon as they're published. Which, I hope, will placate those writers who seem to think that buying second-hand is a mortal sin. I've always thought it was an ideal way for those of us who are not so well-off to discover new authors, and if you like them, then you'll buy everything else at full-price rather than miss out. Now, I could do Inspector Banks on Mastermind - well, no, I couldn't because I'd be a gibbering wreck long before I got to the Big Black Chair - but you know what I mean.

Anyway, I'm currently reading Peter's latest brilliant novel, yes, in hardback - All The Colours Of Darkness ( a very clever mixture of Shakespeare and Spooks) and last night I was snuggled in bed totally immersed, when I let out an ear-splitting shriek of disbelief.

The Toyboy Trucker (who'd been asleep for hours) leaped out of bed and stubbed his toe on the bookshelves and swore a lot and was just about to stumble to the shower before I told him it was only 2 a.m. And the bed-sharing cats - Jonah, Luca, Alexia and Dexter- all fled out onto the landing excitedly expecting an early breakfast.

"Why," The Toyboy Trucker asked through gritted teeth as the cats all glared at me, "did you scream? It's not another damn (he didn't say damn) spider is it?" "Noooo,' I gibbered excitedly, pointing to page 162 of Peter's book, "I'm in this book!" "Oh, great," he muttered, crawling back under the duvet. "I hope you're the bloody victim..."

No, but honestly, I couldn't believe it either - but it's true! I'm in it!!! No, really!!!! I'm in All The Colours of Darkness. How cool is that???

The female detective, Annie, is reading one of my books!!!! She's had a nightmare about a particularly gruesome case and needs something to take her mind off the horrors - and it says "... she'd woken, crying, drenched in sweat, at about half past two and been unable to get back to sleep. After making a cup of tea, finding some quiet music on the radio and reading her latest Christina Jones novel for an hour or so, she felt much calmer and finally fell asleep just as the sun was coming up."

How brilliant is that???? I'm immortalised in someone else's novel! And not just any old someone's - but my favourite author's!!! And how lovely to think my bucolic frolics can help to soothe a hard-bitten detective inspector even if she is fictional!!!

There's not much else I can say in this post really - except to highly recommend Peter's books if you like well-written nail-biting Brit crime novels - and to say that DI Annie is clearly a girl of impeccable literary tastes...

The rest of the day is going to be spent de-traumatising the cats and trying to save my marriage. But I'm still beaming from ear to ear. Thanks Peter - you're a star!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Big Sighs and Even Bigger Jeans

Back from the hols... sigh... I took this pic on our last morning from our balcony just so I can torture myself with it. Why does a week away from home go so quickly???? Why can't I now throw myself into writing with some sort of enthusiasm instead of sitting here gazing out of the window and driving myself mad with the "this time last week I was..." routine????

Being back with the cats was the only good point about coming home really. They'd all survived and were surprisingly pleased to see us (they usually sulk for days when we come back) so maybe they've been properly looked after and didn't miss us much at all. The house was still standing, Elle and The Doctor hadn't been arrested, and we hadn't missed any exciting events on the estate, so of course I immediately wanted to jump on a plane and go back again...

However, the downside to a holiday where you do very little other than eat and drink and laze about is that you tend to put on a bit of weight... A bit??? I've gone up an entire size and then some... The jeans I travelled out in aren't the ones I'm wearing now, or even the ones that I wore earlier in the year... My very-fat clothes have been dragged out of the wardrobe, I'm back to thinking about power-walking, dancing, skipping and hoola-hooping (these are the extent of my ventures into the dreaded world of exercise), and I'm going to have re-join Weight Watchers the very minute my birthday is over. Well, there's no point in starting Weight Watchers now only to have it all blown to smithereens over my birthday weekend, is there? So, two more weeks of cheese, cheese, cheese and the occasional chocolate bar (hourly) and maybe some chips - then it'll be healthy eating all the way to Christmas...

However, as I'll be writing Moonshine (I WILL!) in this time and will be sitting down a lot, I'm not hoping for any spectacular weight loss. Writing makes you fat - it does, it's nothing to do with the umpteen easy-to-eat-with-one-hand-while-typing snacks that are mandatory while working out a tricky plot moment.

Sooo - no more food for a while, no more hols til next year, and just the memories of sunshine and golden sands and turquoise seas and the fact that a few weeks ago I was a size 10... oooh, joy...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Buckets and Spades

Tomorrow morning The Toyboy Trucker and I will be jetting off to sunnier climes for our late summer holiday (cue Cliff and the Shads? Er, no, on second thoughts...).

We'll be staying here - in a hotel right on this glorious beach and this will be the view from our balcony - while Elle and The Doctor are left in charge of the house, and more importantly, the cats...

To be honest I don't really care if Elle and The Doctor have a week-long orgy and trash the house (it probably wouldn't notice...) as long as they feed the cats twice a day with their proper favourite meals (which I've left and carefully labelled) and not just any old sachets that come to hand, make sure they're all in their right beds at night, have their bit of night-night chicken breast before the lights go out, and are given masses of cuddles. Especially Jonah and Luca who are our Fluffy Boys and Much Adored.

I pine for the cats whenever I'm away and drive Elle demented by ringing every couple of hours to make sure they're all right. Then I drive myself even more demented by thinking that of course she's bound to say they're all right because she wouldn't want to ruin my holiday if they weren't and I couldn't do anything about it anyway. So now she has to send me phone photos of them with a copy of the day's newspaper behind them so I know she's not lying...

Anyway, despite missing the cats, I really am looking forward to having a week away - even if I'm not quite as svelte as I'd intended to be (I'm never quite as svelte as I've intended to be except for the time when I gave myself salmonella with a home-made and past-its-sensible-use-by-date mushroom curry and lost almost two stone in two weeks and had to be put on a drip - so not a method to be recommended really.) for my beach-appearances.

Back soon... all too soon...

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Wonderful Weeklies

The Wonderful Weeklies of today's blog title are, of course, My Weekly and Woman's Weekly. They've both published stories by me this week - and given me and all the books fantastic page space, coverage and editorial mentions! Two stories in two mainstream and best-selling woman's mags at the same time! Wheee!

You'll gather that I'm absolutely thrilled to bits as this seems to justify my existence (at least to me) and almost convinces me that sitting up here in the spare bedroom for hours on end making stuff up is Work. Am now off to "rearrange" the shelves in every newsagent's within a 30 mile radius...

And I've also just had the new My Weekly commission (on the strength of the 60s' stories) - it's for a 3,000 word Christmas short story to fit around an illustration they've sent. This is what they asked for with the three 60s ones as well, so maybe this is their new modus operandi?

It's a very similar picture (I think again by Lauren Bishop) of a leggy girl in a gorgeous red coat - but this one can be contemporary. As I only have two weeks to deliver it I think I'll probably make it an up-to-date rom com as that's the easiest thing to write. Oooh - now is that being a Proper Writer or is that just taking the easy way out????

My Weekly have already accepted a long traditional Christmas story from me for their Festive Special, so I think I'll have to make this one, which is aimed at their Christmas weekly edition, a bit different... I only wrote three Christmas stories this year, and MW and People's Friend bought one each but Woman's Weekly didn't like theirs (it might - probably was - have been complete rubbish, but I sent it while they were having their "fiction submission turn-around" so I've convinced myself it just didn't fit in with what they wanted at the time...) and it's too late to send it anywhere else now so I'll bank it for next year.

Goodness - a writerly blog post! I think I'll stop now before I ruin it with idle chit-chat about the mess that is my Real Life, and get on with writing the commissioned story which I've decided to call A Real Cool Yule. I'm okay with that as a title - My Weekly may not be, but at least it's given me something to start with - now all I need is the following 3,000 words... Sigh...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

September Spiders

I love September. It's my favourite month of the year: all that mist and mellow fruitfulness, and the colours of the leaves, and the fact that it's my birthday month, and the start of Autumn which is my favourite season, and - locally - "back-end" which means the fairs start to arrive in all the villages. September is a blissful month. Ah, but September has one huge drawback - the indoor invasion of the spider...

I am an arachnophobe. Pathetic, I know. I've tried to be rational about it: I'm huge and even the biggest spider is tiny in comparison. So what??? It makes no difference to me. And no matter how many times people tell me spiders can't hurt me - I don't care! Understand? I just don't care! It's not the hurting/biting thing that scares me about spiders. It's just - spiders. They're simply the most terrifying things on the planet...

However, I'm not scared of all spiders which makes me a bit odd (okay, a lot of things make me a bit odd, but we're talking phobias here so humour me). I'm quite happy with those pale, wispy, long-leggedy, pin-bodied, non-threatening ones that seem to make invisible webs in the high corners of rooms. They remind me of a lot of rather delicate elderly ladies, all apologetic in limp lace and fly-away hair, and I call them Matildas. Matildas are fine. So are the Autumn garden spiders - those little chunky ones who make beautifully intricate dew-diamond webs on the hedges and have lovely stripey bodies. I've always called them Footballer Spiders because of their striped jerseys and I'll happily remove them and the Matildas without a qualm. When I say remove, I mean move out of the way. I'd never kill one. I don't kill anything. And I've even held a tarantula without any problems at all. I thought I might die when it was suggested, but she was incredibly beautiful and furry and moved sooo slowly, just one leg at a time, without scaring me at all. She was more like a little furry creature with a lot of legs than a spider. I even stroked her...

They're all fine. It's the bloody house spiders that send me into a screaming, whimpering, total panic-attack. So, why??? Because they're nasty, that's why. They know I'm terrified of them and they play on it. And they lurk and appear from nowhere and then they run at you. Yes, they do! They don't run away and hide - they sit there, bouncing with menace, and then they scuttle straight at you with pure malice.

I'm so scared of house spiders that I couldn't even Google to find a picture of one for this post. I had to resort to a cosy cartoon. When the nights start to get that Autumnal nip in the air, my spider-radar goes into overdrive. I know they're there, in a dark corner, simply waiting to spring. I can sense them, see them from the corner of my eye. And over the last week they've started to come indoors to bed down for the winter in droves. Why on earth they can't just sneak in, sidle behind the skirting or under the floorboards and go to sleep, I have no idea. Why do they have to run across the floor, or sit on the staircarpet, or hang upside down above the bed first? Because they're thoroughly unpleasant, that's why.

I've got one of those spider-catcher gadgets but I'm too scared to use it. What if I trap one and then the little perspex door opens early and it runs up the handle...? Trouble is, The Toyboy Trucker, Elle and The Doctor are all scared of spiders too - so when there's one in the room, we all sit, transfixed with total terror, hoping one of us is going to be brave enough to catch it, but knowing that we'll actually all wait until it disappears from sight under The Sofa That We Don't Sit On...

I honestly tried not to pass my phobia on to Elle, and when she was little she called spiders Oggly-Goggs and I'd smile manfully as she presented me with yet another chubby fistful of waving hairy legs, and say "Oh, isn't he pretty, darling. Now let him go down the garden..." before being sick in the sink. This was fine until she started school - then all the other children informed her that spiders were scary monsters that would gobble her up - and wham! She became as petrified as I am.

Last year, on a night when it was just me and Elle at home, we had a Traumatic Spider Experience. There was a big one on the staircase wall. A Really Big One. A good six inches across, leg-to-leg. And it was springing and bouncing and being characteristically unpleasant. Neither of us was brave enough to use the spider catcher which was probably way too small for it anyway, it was too late to run and fetch Vee (the only person we know who isn't scared of them), and we wanted to go to bed but couldn't go upstairs without passing it... So, after a lot of gibbering, we decided if I went first, sidling against the far wall, and nothing happened, then I'd stand guard on the landing while Elle came up. Hah! Shaking and sweating I'd just got past the damn thing when Elle screamed. The spider had disappeared. It had dropped off the wall.

On the stairs? On my feet? Her feet? No. It was on my shoulder...

Gagging, I could just see it out of the corner of my eye - and believe me it was really, really h-u-g-e. I was frozen with terror, knew I was going to faint and/or throw-up. It was sitting on my shoulder, about half an inch from my face and I just knew that if it scampered into my hair then I'd die on the staircase - which wasn't what I'd planned for that evening I can tell you. I was screaming. Elle was screaming. The cats all ran away - damn them - I mean, you'd think at least one of our cats would chase spiders - but no. Anyway, in a state of total terror, I was trying to howl "get-it-off-me" but was so bloody frightened it just sounded like one long yowl. Elle was jumping up and down and crying and running around looking for something to rescue me with. "Knock it off me!" I screamed at her over and over again. "For God's sake, just knock it off me before I die!!! Hit it with something!!!"

She did. With a golf club.

The spider, possibly stunned and miffed, scuttled away under the staircarpet. Elle and I spent several dismal hours in the Minor Injuries Unit trying to explain why she'd practically dislocated my shoulder with a Tiger Woods' type blow from a nine iron. No-one believed us. It was touch and go whether they did her for attempted matricide.

So this year, not wanting to repeat that debacle, I secretly bought some Spider Stop spray from the Betterware lady. This is a "harmless but repellent to spiders" concoction of chestnut extract and clover leaf oil which spiders apparently don't like at all, and you spray it round windows and doors, floors and ceilings, to prevent the spiders coming in. I used three bottles. It smelt a bit funny at first, but it soon dried and seemed to work. I was just congratulating myself on my brilliant eco-friendly and humane way of ridding us of the annual invasion, when it all went sadly wrong.

Yesterday - our first chilly night and the first time we'd set the central heating - in the wee small hours long before the alarm was due to go off, I was jerked out of my slumbers by The Toyboy Trucker scrambling from under the duvet (he's a big bloke - it was like an earthquake), shouting "I can smell burning! Quick!". There were some other colourful words in there, but you get the gist. Dazed and confused, I stumbled out of bed, sure that I'd replaced the batteries in the smoke alarms, doing a quick cat-head-count, pulses racing.

"It's coming from under the bloomin' bed!" (he didn't say bloomin') The Toyboy Trucker yelled, now on his hands and knees, sniffing madly. "It must be the damn light socket!" (he didn't say damn, either). I couldn't smell anything, but flapped about the bedroom trying to remember which things I'd always said I'd save in case of a fire. "It's the radiator!" he shouted, using a lot more colourful words as he smacked his head a right purler on the bedside cabinet. "Get the fire extinguisher!"

Not able to remember where the fire extinguisher was but vaguely thinking that I might have used it weeks ago to prop open the garage door and not brought it back in, I blinked and gibbered. Then I smelled it too.

"Um," I ventured as he stubbed his toe on the bookcase while trying to find his clothes, and said something so profane I was shocked, "it's not - er - anything burning. It's warmed-up chestnut and clover oil... I - um - sprayed it round the bedroom to stop the spiders..."

I'll gloss over the next bit. Suffice it to say, The Toyboy Trucker left for work a few hours early, icily silent, and the cats had breakfast before it was light.

Anyway, I now have a theory about my phobia. I think that if house spiders came in pastel shades I might be okay. If they were pale blue and dusky pink and lilac and lemon, I don't think I'd be so scared of them - but until God rethinks his arachnid plan, I'll still be the one armed with Spider Stop and gibbering and having a panic attack in the corner every September...