Sunday 30 November 2008

Flat Broke

On top of the bad cold and bronchitis (me), the man-flu (The Toyboy Trucker) and the snuffles and sneezes (the cats), the last week has been pretty crappy for various reasons. Particularly writing ones. So, this is yet another cautionary writing post because I think it's only fair that you should know I have the brain of a retarded amoeba. And that may be a little unfair to the amoeba...

I was considering not blogging about this horrendous mess at all. I thought about keeping it all to myself and simmering and panicking and weeping alone - and then appearing with another bright and breezy post when I felt better. But that wouldn't be right. I started blogging to be honest about my life - real and writerly - and that's how it's got to be. So - here we go...

This year has been a particularly badly-paid one on the writing front for all sorts of reasons. I've sold quite a few short stories, but no serials and very few features. Several acceptances have been payment on publication - and publication won't be until next year. My sales figures for the novels are frankly pretty disappointing. And the advance on my last two book deal was very, very small indeed. The smallest I've ever had in 10 years of being a novelist - and something I accepted because it was better than not being published at all (been there, didn't want to go there again). My (then) agent was ill and away from work at the time my contract came up for renewal and the negotiations were done more or less without any input from her. This was my choice. I didn't have to do it. I knew it would make things difficult financially, I knew I'd have to keep working in the pub, and I thought I'd be able to make up the difference with magazine work. My choice.

So, as with all my novel contracts, I assumed (note the dreaded "a" word there) that payments would be divided into four for each book as they always have been in the past: one on signature of the contract, one on delivery of the manuscript, one on publication of the hardback, and one on publication of the paperback. So far so good... Memo to self: read your contract! Read every bloody word. DO NOT rely on someone from your (then) agency (not my agent I hasten to add) emailing you to tell you "the terms are exactly the same as the last two contracts" and accepting this as a good enough reason NOT to plough through the small print yourself...

Yes, I've been happily sitting here, merely weeks before Christmas, thinking that all my festive spending (and it's not massive - but we do like to eat) and those bills that always come in with the Christmas cards (especially the last enormous vets bill), and possibly the purchase of a nice new little laptop from PC World (to replace the current crashing-and-freezing model) so that I can actually do some writing and earn some money, will be covered by the small but much-needed and very-welcome Happy Birthday paperback advance.

When it hadn't arrived earlier this week, I breezily emailed my lovely editor to ask when it would be paid. Bless her - she had to tell me that it already had been. In August. On publication of the hardback. That there was only ONE publication payment on this particular contract...


No money to come!!!! Not a bloody penny!!!!

And yes, it's my fault. I should have read my contract. I should have done my maths and realised that the money I was paid in August was actually a third of the contract deal - and therefore I'd had all I was going to get for Happy Birthday. I should have - but I didn't...

If I'd known/realised then I'd have budgeted. I'd not have spent it and the unexpectedly lovely German royalty money on silly things like bills and getting the decorating finished and a holiday for next year and a bit off the mortgage. If I'd known/realised that was the last money I was going to be paid this year then I'd have saved it - but I didn't...

So, after a few days of complete panic, a lot of stomping around declaring Christmas cancelled, several bouts of histrionic weeping and screaming, and even more bouts of deep, deep gloom, doom and despondency I've at last accepted the awful truth. This Christmas will be done on a shoestring. It will be a return to the Good Old Days.

It'll be a challenge but one we'll cope with, I'm sure. We've been through worse - and we're lucky, at least we've still got jobs and a home - and we're warm and safe and well-fed.

So - there you have it. I can have books in the charts, can win awards, can be published in umpteen countries - but I still can't afford Christmas. It's just one of the many unpredictable joys of being a writer... but oooh, how I wish I'd read that bloody contract....

Monday 24 November 2008

Mainly Man Flu

This is Dexter. Today he's got a cold. So has Jonah. The cats get colds like children - one comes home with it and - whoosh! - they've all got it... Alexia started this one, and passed it on to Emily, Flo and Maddy, but being girls they didn't let the sneezes and snuffles interfere with their lives. They still managed to eat and play and chase things and bring home bits of other people's dinners and dead mice/frogs/unidentifiable things. Not Dexter and Jonah though. Oh, no. They're boys. They're suffering. They're wrapped in their blankets in their little beds looking very, very sorry for themselves. They need to be ministered to, and tended, and fed by hand, and coaxed with warm chicken breast and lightly poached fish. They have, without doubt, got the feline equivalent of man flu.

Which, of course brings me neatly on to The Toyboy Trucker. I told you he'd get man flu didn't I? What a bloody palaver. Didn't matter how many times I said "it's just a cold" - he roared and shivered and stomped and groaned and moaned and sneezed and coughed until I thought he was going to burst. And of course no-one in the history of the universe has ever felt as ill as he did. No-one had ever suffered so much. No-one had had such a high temperature, such a sore throat, so many aches and pains... I was damn thankful when he took himself to bed with Lemsip and Benylin (do they sound like pole dancers to you, too?) and left me in peace alone with blissful hours of trash telly...

Which, in turn explains why this post is ages late - because then I caught it too. Not man flu, of course, I'll leave that to The Toyboy Trucker and Jonah and Dexter - but a really nasty cold with an awful chesty cough, which then developed into bronchitus and tonsillitus, and has meant I've had to have antibiotics, and has rendered me pretty unpleasant for the last week. I've even spent a few days in bed. And the computer has been on strike again, and I've really not had the inclination to even try to fight it - so I've done nothing to Moonshine, nothing to the WW stories, but did manage (after studying Womag's fantastic pages) to finish and submit that short story to Best, and two features to My Weekly and two features to Woman's Weekly as well. Still not a great output for someone who fondly imagines they're making their living from writing, even on an "ill week"...

Because the blog has been all over the place, I've not kept up to date with the Weight Watchers stuff either - well, because of the cold I didn't go to the meeting last week, but have lost another 3.5lbs in the last 2 weeks, which because my head is still too muddled to work this out, I think means I've lost half a stone now and have another stone to go before Easter - which is - um - 14lbs in about 17 weeks??? Which, allowing for about half a stone gain over Christmas (I kid you not!), then I have to lose 21lbs in 17 weeks, which means - and - ooooh! I really, really don't care!!!!

The only other thing that's changed in the last week is that Em-next-door is moving at Christmas. I'll really miss her - she's lived next door for seven years and we're good friends and had some great times. And of course we're all wondering who we'll get in her place... It'll have to be someone pretty special to fit in round here...

Watch this space...

Saturday 22 November 2008

Mad Hatters

Today I went wedding-hat-shopping with Elle and my ma-in-law. That is, Elle didn't want to buy a wedding hat because she's having something called diamond spirals threaded in her hair (no veil - no ta-ra-ra - no flowers - no hat), and I didn't want to buy a hat because I'm having a fascinator. So we actually just went shopping for ma-in-law's wedding hat.

I'll cut the whole boring thing short here by saying we didn't find one. Not one. Clearly not a good time to look for wedding hats - the only hats we found were Santa ones or ones with flashing antlers and although they would look quite amusing on ma-in-law I don't think she'd see the funny side. Having exhausted Oxford's hat shops we're going to try Reading and Newbury. After Christmas.

Ma-in-law is wearing red to the wedding. I think we're all wearing red except Elle. We'll look like Arsenal Ladies Second Eleven. Ma-in-law wanted a frou-frou cartwheel hat in black and red. She's quite short and Elle and I did say we thought a big hat would make her look like a mushroom. Fortunately she's a bit deaf too.

I tried on some fascinators. Couldn't afford them because they were Jasper Conran and therefore about three hundred quid a feather, but it was nice to see what they'd look like. Once she'd stopped laughing, Elle took pictures on her mobile phone to send back to The Doctor because she said I looked like an electrocuted emu. As this wasn't the look I was aiming for I put them back. I may re-think the fascinator. Maybe fascinators aren't for people like me who tend to look a lot like Benny Hill.

There was a funny moment in Debenhams (Debenhams has been "modernised" recently - which means they've done away with much of the floor space and now have all the departments crammed together upstairs like a posh jumble sale and the lower floors that used to have all sorts of nice sections like haberdashery now just house massive escalators) when Elle and I lost ma-in-law. It's quite hard to spot your own small bubble-permed pensioner in a sea of small bubble-permed pensioners. Especially when they're all wearing the same coat.

Giving up the search in the melee that was the evening-wear department (Dolce et Gabana sequinned vests at £2,500 anyone?), we thought she might have decided to go downstairs, so we took the plunge earthwards on the down escalator. Halfway down to the basement we passed ma-in-law sailing upwards alongside us. We all waved at one another and made extravagant hand gestures indicating that she should stay put and we'd her meet at the top. Suffice it to say that no sooner were we on the up escalator in hot pursuit when we passed ma-in-law sailing downwards. We all waved again. This went on for almost half an hour. What seemed quite funny at first soon became bloody tedious.

In the end, I stayed at the bottom and Elle stayed at the top. Ma-in-law didn't arrive at either of them. Feeling a bit worried that I'd have to go home and tell The Toyboy Trucker I'd mislaid his mother in a department store, we searched high and low (literally). Forty five panic-stricken minutes later we eventually found ma-in-law having a skinny latte and a Danish in the coffee shop with a man from Croydon who had lost his wife in bedding.

Nothing much else to say about the day really except The Toyboy Trucker declined to come with us because he has a cold. It'll be man flu by this time tomorrow - or I'll eat my hat....

Thursday 20 November 2008

Ivy, Interview and Interruptions

Well - phew - the Radio Europe interview went really well. Just finished and apart from um-ing and er-ing far too much (as always) I managed to keep up a flow of (hopefully) reasonably sensible dialogue. Hannah, the interviewer, was brilliant (she'd done loads of research, was very upbeat and asked all the right questions), let me chat for ages about Happy Birthday, gave it masses of plugs, and even allowed me to get a good name check in for the RNA and the Writers Bureau. So - that's that completed successfully, then. Mind you, this being my life, it could have all gone horribly wrong...

The neighbours (Wilf and Maudie) are getting to grips with their garden. They chose today, just now, while I was doing my interview, to decide to remove the rampant ivy which partially covers their house wall - and ours. I actually quite like the ivy because it makes the house look softer, the birds feed from the seeds, it looks pretty in the winter, and gives us some much-needed shade in the lean-to in the summer. However, Wilf and Maudie have decided (more likely someone in the Weasel and Bucket who's seen a BBC2 prog with Griff Rhys-Jones on the decimation of ancient buildings and totally misunderstood the structural difference between a 14th century abbey and a 20th century council house has told them) the ivy is eroding the brickwork and invading the roof tiles and the chimney and will therefore destroy the house by February, and so it has to go.

Wilf knocked on the door just as I was waiting for the phone call from Spain and explained they'd need to get into our garden to hoik out the ivy roots that can't be reached from his side. I said okay, but be quiet because I'm going to be on the phone... Wilf laughed. He probably thought I was talking to the speaking clock. Wilf is the only person I know who still phones the speaking clock.

Anyway, Radio Europe phoned me just as Wilf and Shaz's Dave knocked on the front door and shouted that they'd have to bring their ladders through the house because they couldn't negotiate the side alley into our garden (too complex to go into here - just need to say that Wilf was instrumental in getting all the alleyways in the terrace gated-off by writing to the council complaining that "schoolboys keep riding up my back passage"). So, while I'm trying hard to sound professional and calm on live radio, Shaz's Dave and Wilf are thundering through the house with ladders and bolt cutters and a buzz saw (for the ivy roots - hopefully) and loudly singing Alesha Dixon's "The Boy Does Nothing" - very badly.

Radio Europe thought it might be better if I went somewhere quieter. Like Budleigh Salterton? I went upstairs into the study. Dave and Wilf grinned at me through the study window from the top of the ladder and waved and sawed (nosily) at the ivy and sang some more Alesha Dixon. I closed the window and pulled the blind, phone under my chin, still trying to sound calm and cheerful as I explained to the ex-pats in Spain why I wrote romantic comedy rather than something darker.

Then Jerome called upstairs from our hall, looking for Wilf. I ignored him. I hate Jerome being in the house anyway because his electronic tag causes all sorts of interference with our electricals (and we've got enough problems with the computer) and the phone picks him up in a series of intermittent squawks. As Jerome reached the foot of the stairs, I vanished in a flurry of Morse Code bleeps, so Radio Europe and I dived into the bathroom. I did the rest of the interview sitting on the loo.

When I came out, Wilf had fallen off the ladder, Dave had cut himself and Jerome had eaten three rotten apples which I'd earmarked for the birds and some ham that was well past its sell-by and was set aside for the cats...

Most of the ivy, I'm happy to say, is still in situ and is likely to stay that way.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Spandex, Surprise and Spain

I haven't been off living it up in Bad Blogger territory - honest. It's the computer having a funny turn again. It's decided to shut down on me halfway through anything I've tried to do over the past few days. A joint problem with a) the server and b) the hard drive (allegedly). We've had it sorted (allegedly) and it should keep going now. I really hope it manages to stay alive until Moonshine's finished (although I've got quite good at remembering to save on to the memory stick each night - but you don't want to know how damn long it took me to learn how to use the memory stick... I know a child of three can do it - but I can't.) - and no, Moonshine won't be finished by Christmas. Not a chance. Not now. That's the deadline of Oct, Nov and Dec missed then - oh, well done - that has to be a deadline-missing record - even for me...

During the intermittent moments while it (the computer) has been behaving itself I've been writing Moonshine in tandem with some more stories for Woman's Weekly. Yes, I know it's masochistic given the last lot of rejections, but I had these ideas and they wouldn't go away...

Then we had the two parties over the weekend - a sort of grown-up one and a 1970s night (hence the pic). Now, I'd have expected the 1970s one to be the shocker - but no! It was fun - camp, noisy, nostalgic, enjoyable - but nothing remotely odd happened. (Well, apart from everyone we know wearing acrylic fright wigs and spandex and platform shoes and singing Long Haired Lover From Liverpool a lot.). No, it was the posh party one that threw up the big surprise.

With hindsight it was a great *what-if* plot line - but at the time I was too stunned to think of anything apart from how the hell do I handle this... Quick scene setting: glitzy restaurant in Oxford; a crowd of people known to both me and The Toyboy Trucker (some to both of us, others individually); we all travelled separately and met in the bar. After the initial scrum, and clutching drinks, we all started introducing ourselves as you do. The Toyboy Trucker fought his way through the mob and said "... and this is P who works at our place and this is S, her new boyfriend..." And I turned and smiled and started to say hello - then stopped. S, P's new boyfriend, was someone I knew well. Very well. But not quite as well as I knew his wife...

Aargh!!! Well, what would you have done? S and I just stared at each other in frozen horror, I babbled something stupid at both him and P, then avoided them like the plague for the rest of the evening. It's none of my business. Or is it? I won't tell S's wife - not a chance! I won't tell P either - that's down to S, isn't it? It made the evening really weird though, and I felt very uncomfortable. Discussing it with The Toyboy Trucker when we got home, he agreed that it was best to leave it alone. I'm sure someone, somewhere will inform all interested parties pretty damn soon - but it won't be me! Will keep you posted of any developments...

Oh, and the Spain bit in the subject line is because I've been asked to do The Book Show on Radio Europe Mediterraneo on Thursday this week. I got very, very, very excited about this because REM is based in Malaga, and I had visions of being whisked off by private jet to a few days of sun and sangria - but bugger - no... It's being done over the phone. I said I hoped it would be in English as my Spanish O level was pretty dismal and things have gone right down hill linguistically since then - and they've assured me that REM is the biggest English-speaking radio station in Spain - a station especially for ex-pats on the Costa del Sol, Costa Blanca and Costa Dorada. Last week REM's Book Show had Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes - oh goody - no pressure there then!!!!

I'll let you know how it goes - but until then - um - adios amigos....

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Shock Frocks

Now this is exactly how I see myself as Mother of the Bride - all those frills and flounces and layers of petticoats - and the long gloves, oooh yes - and the feathers in the hair... I absolutely love it!!!

Elle, of course, won't.

Anyway, I'm only talking about frocks because this afternoon Elle got a phone call to say that the bridesmaids' dresses had arrived and were ready for the first fitting. As only one of her bridesmaids was available, and because I love going the wedding frock shop, I tagged along. And oh my! They're gorgeous.

Sadly (because Elle now reads this blog) I'm not allowed to describe them in detail as everything to do with the wedding has to be a SECRET - but anyway, they're silk strapless designer cocktail frocks, boned and shaped to give maximum ooomph. And believe me they do. Elle's having her three closest friends as bridesmaids (they've been friends since infant school) and they're all glam blondes so they'll look absolutely stunning. N, the one available bridesmaid, turned up with no slap, scraped back hair, and dripping from today's non-stop rain. Then she shimmied into her dress and - wow! I went all misty-eyed. God knows what I'll be like next month when Elle's dress arrives from the designers (scary stuff - it's an Ian Stuart and cost as much as my first HOUSE!) and she puts it on for the first time... The frock shop ladies think I'm an emotional wreck now - they ain't seen nothing yet...

While Elle and N and the frock shop ladies fussed around about whether there was too much cleavage on show (I said there could never be too much cleavage in my opinion and got frowned at), and if there should be a tie belt or a silk wrap and if the bridesmaids' shoes (satin, killer heels, diamante buckle) should be dyed to match the frocks, I just drifted among the frou-frou rows and rows of satins and silks and lace and net and all that lovely glittery stuff and sniffed back happy tears...

I did try out a couple of fascinators (tricky little buggers - especially with wet hair) but they didn't look their best with my jeans and cagoule. Then, before I could become too besotted with some sparkly and way OTT jewelery, N shimmied back out of her frock and Elle said she thought it would be better if I didn't come when C and K try theirs on if I was going to cry so much and we went home.

However, that wasn't the end of the tears today, because I've now just wept with laughter at the local paper's coverage of the launch party. For a start they've stretched the head-and-shoulders photo to cover the whole of the top of one page - like a banner - but made it very thin so that the balloons and my face are elongated to about three feet wide and a couple of inches high (like when you look at yourself in the back of a spoon - er - you do do that, don't you? It isn't just me, is it? Is it? Oh - right...) and Ian (who is very tall and very skinny) looks exactly like a much-fatter much-squatter Matt Lucas... And you can't see hide nor hair of a bloody book.

Then there's the coverage... God bless local journalists for getting straight to the nub of the matter. It reads: "Christina Jones recently held her birthday party in the local book shop. As well as books there was an artist drawing goblins. Owner Ian Collett said "we were heaving all day"." No mention of it being The Bookstore's 10th birthday, or my book launch, or the fact that the book was called Happy Birthday and I was a local author. No mention of Jane at all. Oh, and the goblin artist had been engaged by Ian to sit in the children's section to keep the kiddies amused. And I can only assume Ian was heaving all day due to a surfeit of cake and fizz... Such typical local press coverage and absolute bliss!!!!

Weight Watchers update: I've lost 2lbs of last week's 4lb gain. Which means, I think, with the aid of my logarithm tables, that I'm now 3lbs lighter than I was when I started WW FIVE weeks ago but still 2lbs heavier than 2 weeks ago... Bugger. And we've got TWO parties this weekend... sigh...

Oh, and on a writerly note I've amazed myself with steaming ahead with Moonshine after weeks of faffing and procrastinating - somehow it seems to have suddenly all fallen into place - I just love it when that happens. And today I've sent 5 short stories to Allers in Sweden, 3 to People's Friend, and another off-the-wall one to Yours. I'm wondering if the TaB rejects might be any good for Best. I've never succeeded with Best - so, still dreaming about frocks and frills and flounces, I'm now off to look at Womag's brilliant subbing guidelines...

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The Birthday Party

With apologies to those of a literary bent who might think I've gorn all upmarket and am alluding to Harold Pinter in today's title. Sorry - nope. I'm still as downmarket as ever and this is just about my little local shindig launching Happy Birthday which co-incided nicely with our local indie Bookstore's 10th birthday - so we had a joint party on Saturday.

This is me, looking chubby and mumsy and dressed as Harry Hill (I thought I looked nice and smart and reasonably tidy for a change - didn't realise how huge the damn collar was until I saw the pics - sigh...) outside *my* window. I get so excited when I see my books on shelves in shops. I'm always so grateful and I don't think the magic will ever wear off.

The whole shop was awash with balloons and bunting and glittery stuff (and wine and cake) for the party, and it was lovely.

Fortunately the local press and photographers arrived early, so all the embarrassing pictures of me and Ian (the Bookstore's owner) fighting our way through bunches of balloons were taken before anyone arrived. Unfortunately, The Toyboy Trucker still managed to get this shot of me, Ian and the photographer as I was being eaten by balloons... ", that's it, love - we don't wanna see yer face - just the new book - that's it! Lovely! Nah - don't smile - no need, we can't see you... smashing... "

As with everything in our town, the event was flatteringly well-attended - (yes, I've done the soul-destroying signings in Strange Towns where there's been me and fourteen shop staff and absolutely no-one else all day) - mainly because a) if there's a bit of a crowd gathered anywhere here, people come and have a look in case there's been an accident or something exciting and b) there were balloons. We also had a bit of a scrum drummed up by the Town Crier in full traditional regalia, marching through the town ringing his bell and bellowing his birthday greetings from an unfurled parchment. He bustled into the shop (still ringing and shouting) followed by a lot of children, two dogs and several drunks. The mayor, also in full regalia, was slightly behind this raggle-taggle procession, but finally made it.

Then there was cake-cutting and champagne-popping and more balloons and lots of clapping. I smiled a lot and signed books - any books - and chatted to all and sundry. Most of the all and sundry were my friends and people from the estate who find the book stuff quite amusing. Still, they kindly bought copies of Happy Birthday and let me sign them - and there were even quite a few people who didn't know me from Adam and came along simply for the signing session which was very flattering. One woman seemed quite affronted that I'd actually written a whole book, by myself, and didn't live in London. She felt, she explained quite seriously, that I couldn't consider myself a proper author as everyone knew all writers lived in London, but she thought I'd done ever so well anyway...

My good friend and fellow-local-writer, Jane Gordon Cumming, was there as well, signing copies of her fabulous rom com A Proper Family Christmas (top tip: buy it for Christmas pressies - it's brilliantly funny) and was only a little fazed by some of the estate's more colourful residents. After meeting Vee, Jerome, Shaz and Memphis and a couple of The Toyboy Trucker's fellow drivers (all shaven heads, piercings and tattoos) who'd come along to offer their solidarity and see what there was for free, Jane said knowingly that she could see where I got my characters from... However, nothing but nothing could have prepared her for the arrival of the Snowdons.

The Snowdons also live on the estate, but not in our terrace, and I first met them during one of my evening shifts at Hairy Harry's. They'd come in for a meal - Mr and Mrs Snowdon, both in their seventies, and their middle-aged daughter Marcia - and it was they told me, the first time they'd ever eaten out. It showed. Hairy Harry's is a pretty run-of-the-mill estate pub with a fine pub grub menu - anything with chips - the Snowdons were Dressed Up for the occasion. In evening clothes dating back to the 1950s. Mr Snowdon had a tuxedo and a flat cap. Mrs Snowdon was wearing a fur stole. And Marcia looked like something from the Ascot scene in Pygmalion but possibly not Audrey Hepburn. I served them with Chicken New Yorker and Chips three times with extra tomato ketchup and three halves of shandy without batting an eyelid.

So, I really shouldn't have been surprised that they'd Dressed Up again for their visit to the Bookstore. This time they looked like rustic extras from an Agatha Christie adaptation. I was touched that they'd made the effort. It was, Mr Snowdon informed me and the whole shop, very loudly, their first visit to a book shop. He didn't hold with books. He'd never read a book. They gave you ideas. However, Marcia liked them so they'd come along. He then insisted on introducing me to everyone as Mrs Townsend "... she'm worth a mint, this gel... millions she'm got from that ol' book writing. Blame wrong if you asks me - why would anyone wanna pay money for them ol' books. Loada bloody rubbish she writes..."

Yes, I kept a straight face. I'm not sure about Jane - I didn't dare to look at her. Elle, who was there as moral support for just such an occasion, simply screamed with laughter and ran away, and The Toyboy Trucker staggered outside for a restorative cigarette. Anyway, I bravely signed a book for Marcia who curtsied (not that I can make any comment about this as when I was first introduced to Katie Fforde many years ago I was so star-struck that I also curtsied...).

Anyway, on the whole, the party went well. I sold nearly fifty copies of Happy Birthday, ate a lot of cake, drank too much fizz, and carried several balloons home while lustily singing Bobby Shaftoe.

And now I can't wait to do it all again next year!

Sunday 9 November 2008

Book Winners

Sorry for the blog silence recently - my computer is having an off spell - a very off spell - anyway, while it's allowing me thirty seconds online, I'd like to announce that Ellen and Lori have been picked as the winners of last week's double-book-giveaway. Congrats to you both - you'll both be receiving signed copies of Margaret's Dr Devereux's Proposal and my Happy Birthday. If you could let me have your snail mail addresses via the email link on my website then I'll get the copies of Happy Birthday in the post straight away. Many thanks for taking part - and I really hope you'll enjoy reading both books.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Happy Birthday - again!

Because the computer has currently got the heebie-jeebies, this post should have appeared last Thursday and didn't - so it's a bit out of date, but I'm sure it won't matter and anyway it's only a bit of trumpet-blowing really. Soooo...

Hurrah! At last! Happy Birthday is published today! Well, in paperback (the hardback in August doesn't really count as it was for libraries and book clubs and not for general sale in shops) and I'm so pleased with it. Well, not with the writing of course, because that would be showing off, but with seeing it as a real book in its lovely, lovely Ella Tjader cover. Digressing a bit here - I emailed Ella to thank her when she did the stonking cover for Heaven Sent, and she replied and said she'd done a lot of book jackets but I was the only author who had ever said thank you. I couldn't believe that. She's brilliant - and unless you're a huge name it has to be the cover that makes readers pick the book up in the first place. So here's another massive thank you to the lovely Ella - a genius par excellence!

Hopefully, Happy Birthday will be on bookshelves in shops soon, but I never go and look any more just in case it isn't. There's nothing more gutting than excitedly tiptoeing towards the alphabetical lists in WH Smith or somewhere only to find that I'm not nestling cosily between Erica James and Belinda Jones...

This was another of my early and naive writerly assumptions - that every book published just automatically ended up in book shops. Wrong! The publishers have reps who trawl the stores for months, wheeling and dealing and trying to get/buy shelf space for their latest titles. Some succeed, others don't. I've had two books that never appeared anywhere. They were available on Amazon etc, but as for real shops - not a sniff. I've no idea why this happens - but it does and has, and hopefully it won't happen with Happy Birthday...

Oh, and as a bit of good news after all the recent rejections, today I've sold two more stories to Allers in Sweden and a longish, youngish romance to People's Friend. Three hits in one day - this has cheered me up no end I can tell you. People's Friend also asked for more young rom coms - so if any of you have anything remotely suitable languishing on your pc maybe PF is the place to try??? I'm certainly going to have another go.

If the computer behaves and stops crashing and freezing, I'll post again tomorrow about my book launch party on Saturday which was great fun and quite funny (especially the bit with the photographer and the balloons, oh and the town crier and the mayor in full regalia - oh yes, and especially the man who thought he knew me intimately and that I was someone called Mrs Townsend...).

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today - November the Fifth - is my wedding anniversary. Well, not just mine, The Toyboy Trucker plays a fairly important part too, of course. This morning he left for work really early, but woke me up in the darkness with a kiss and a cup of tea and a tiny Toblerone (I love him! He knows me so well!).

And after he'd gone, and I'd staggered knee-deep in hungry cats to the kitchen, I found a hand-written anniversary card from him. Now, we don't usually do anniversary cards because we know how we feel and tonight's anniversary firework party says it all for us - but we've had a particularly trying year for all sorts of reasons, and he'd written:

"I just wanted to say thank you for sharing my hopes and dreams and for being wonderful. You support me, laugh with me, make my successes sweeter and my disappointments more bearable. I'm so lucky that you share my life. Where would I be without you? Happy anniversary - with all my love always..."

I was in bits! Awash! Schmaltzy? Maybe - I don't care. Bring it on! I thought it was just wonderfully romantic... All these years together and he can still surprise me and make me go - oooh!!!

And we're having fireworks and champagne and fish and chips on the village green outside the house tonight - and everyone turns up and joins in and it's great. We had a Novemberthe Fifth firework wedding (and an even more explosive wedding reception which is why the majority of our wedding photos have a paramedic in them) because we love fireworks... And to celebrate this and to give Heaven Sent another bite of the cherry (and because other people find it amusing, I think) Little, Brown have asked me to post a piece about my lifelong love of fireworks and the wedding day (I left out the bit about the paramedics because it's scary) on their website - so if you want to know what really happened (except not the bit involving the paramedics) go to....

Now off to read that card again, feeling even more gooey and romantic and starry-eyed than usual...

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Reflections on Rejections

Lordy! I'm absolutely amazed the postman didn't have a hernia delivering my mail this morning. There were eleven chunky packages - all from Take a Break...


Eleven stories rejected in one hit.

I didn't even remember submitting eleven stories and thought there must have been a mistake and they'd sent me someone else's manuscripts as well - but no, sadly they were all mine. Take a Break must have been storing them up for ages to give me a lovely surprise... Eleven rejections in one go has to be a record - even for me. And despite me saying, when I subbed them, that if they weren't accepted then I didn't want the manuscripts returned, I've got them back in all their unwanted glory. And, as I've said, they all came in separate envelopes.

Eleven envelopes each containing one rejected story, one standard letter saying they were rejected as they weren't suitable, and one set of guidelines to explain to me what "suitable" is. Aaargh!!!!

Eleven rejections at once is a pretty good way to knock the bounce out of even the most cock-eyed optimist - and with the eleven unwanted and unloved manuscripts in front of me it makes it sort of even more gruesomely real... So, yes - sob! It's official. I'm a failure. No, worse than that, I'm a fat failure. I'm probably going to have to eat cheese. Or a Toblerone. Or both. Together.

Now (half a day on from the above litany of awfulness) I've stopped swearing and pouting and grizzling and behaving like a prima donna, and have taken notice of a) the guidelines, and b) my rejected stories, and c) re-read my latest copies of Take A Break and Fiction Feast, and have to grudgingly admit they might have a point. Okay, they might be right. All right - yes, they were right. Maybe my stories weren't quite suitable... just maybe... But I'd have appreciated them being not quite suitable in smaller quantities. The sheer volume of not suitableness is just a bit overwhelming.

So, being positive here, currently I'm sitting with eleven TaB rejections, five Woman's Weekly rejections, and that three-part serial that might just be okay for My Weekly when it's been rewritten with all the bleak bits removed... So, being even more positive, that means I've got sixteen already-written stories that just need a bit of a tweak (and a serial that probably only needs working on for a day or so!!!) - then all I need to do is find a new home for them... Piece of cake (oooh no! Don't mention cake!) - this writing game is easy-peasy - just have to try and work the eleven rather sordid TaBs into something nicely cosy for People's Friend, and cull the WWs into something sassy with a twist in the tail for TaB... There! Sorted! Bring on the next problem...

On the plus side, Little,Brown have sent me three great reviews for Happy Birthday which all appeared in papers over the weekend and it isn't even out yet. This cheered me up no end as everyone seemed to like it and said all the right things like - funny, warm, cheerful, humorous, charming, compassionate, well-observed characters, satisfying story lines, gentle, romantic and lovely.... Two of them even said they loved it, and they all recommended it as a Good Read.

I'm not bragging you understand - just trying to offset the grimness of ELEVEN rejections...


Sunday 2 November 2008

BIG Book Giveaway!!!

I've got loads to blog about (Halloween, the Radio Oxford broadcast, organising the Happy Birthday launch party in Abingdon next Saturday, finally decorating the hall/stairs/landing, eating 6 chocolate meringues in Asda car-park, having a cold) but it'll have to wait because today I'm giving away books!!! New books! As-yet-unpublished books!

I'm really excited to have been included in a joint romantic novel giveaway with Harlequin Mills & Boon. Not only will the winner receive a signed copy of my latest bucolic frolic, Happy Birthday (okay, so it's out this week but it's not out yet), they will also get a signed copy of the sizzlingly sensational Dr Devereux's Proposal by Margaret McDonagh.

Margaret, as regular blog-readers will know, is one of my closest friends (and given to encouraging me to eat my body-weight in ice-cream, and to spilling the beans on most of my misdemeanors - as only truly good friends can), and she's been kind and generous enough to include me in her own HM&B giveaway.

Margaret is a terrifically talented and prolific author who writes warm, sexy, believable romantic novels about the most gorgeous medical men you'll ever meet, and the lovely, flawed and compassionate women who are lucky enough to get to fall in love with them, all set in glorious surroundings (Dr Devereux's Proposal is set in Cornwall and I was there). Oh, and I fell head-over-heels in love with Dr D on the first page!!!

You have two chances to win copies of these signed books. Simply answer the two questions at the end of this post – the answers can be found on Margaret's and my websites. Visit the NEW BOOK page on my website - – for an extract of Happy Birthday. And at Margaret's website – – for an extract for Dr Devereux's Proposal, found by going to the BOOKS page.

Margaret and I will each draw a winner next week and the two lucky people will get signed copies of both books. We'll both post the winner's names here and at Love Is The Best Medicine at the HM&B Medical Romance site, so do check back to see if it is you!

My question: What is the name of Phoebe's best friend and chief bridesmaid in Happy Birthday?

Margaret's question: What is the name of the greyhound Lauren has rehomed in Dr Devereux's Proposal?

Good luck!!!

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Fooled Again

Ho-hum... This is me. Today. After Weight Watchers. I'm the one in front of the mirror.

I really, really thought I'd lost at least 4 lbs this week and was almost at lovely Overweight, and nearly ready to slither into the scarlet silk mother-of-the-bride frock - but no. No! No!! No!!!

I stepped on to the scales full of anticipation. Pah! One measly pound! One! Off - not on - but even so... Okay, I know the post-charity-walk hot choc and crumpets probably didn't help, but I'd walked for miles, and since then I've practically lived on homemade lentil soup... It's sooo disappointing.

Our Weight Watchers leader suggested I should cut down on my portion sizes. I snarled. I've gone down three plate sizes already. I absolutely refuse to eat from a saucer. She then suggested I did more exercise. Hah! I already walk 4 miles a day and do half an hour of dance exercises in the morning and I hula-hoop - a lot. How much more exercise can a girl do when she's got a pub to work in, and cats to look after, and a family to irritate, and a book to write, I ask you. Well, I asked her, actually. She smiled thinly (everything about her is thin) and said she thought cheese might be the problem.

Cheese is not a problem. Cheese is my lifeblood. I'm a vegetarian. Take away the cheese and what's left? She suggested the low-fat variety (I've tried it - it's like plastic and it doesn't melt) or a very thin sliver of eye-wateringly strong cheese just for the flavour. I explained that I LOVE strong cheese, the stronger the better. A thin sliver would merely whet the appetite, tempt the taste buds, drive me insane with desire, encourage me to eat the entire block. She sighed (thinly) and said I'd have to be prepared to make sacrifices...

I've made sacrifices. I've given up Toblerones. I've given up drinking. I've given up damn near everything. I WILL NOT give up cheese.

On the plus side - I have lost 5lbs in 3 weeks, which is nearly half a stone and therefore sounds like a lot. But it doesn't look any different and the m-o-t-b frock still doesn't meet round my chest or my bottom. Elle suggested I wear red underwear and a long coat. The Toyboy Trucker just sniggered unhelpfully and said no-one would be surprised to catch glimpses of me escaping from my clothes and why change the habits of a lifetime.

I'm now sulking - and fantasising about cheese...

Monday 27 October 2008

Did It!

My poor feet will never be the same again - but despite the best efforts of the weather to scupper the charity walk, we all made it. Eventually... The rain was biblical, the wind was maniacal, the sky was dark, the route was underwater - but we did it!!!

Looking like a trail of Patagonian refugees, muffled in every type of waterproof clothing invented, we trudged and sploshed and giggled our way round the University Parks. It was fantastic fun - honest. There were sixteen of us in our group and between us we'd raised just under £3,000 in sponsorship - so again, a massive and heartfelt thank you to everyone who was kind enough to sponsor me - I really, really appreciate it. I now have a certificate to say that I managed to walk 10 kilometers (the minimum was 3 and we just kept going until our feet and the rain demanded that enough was enough...).

There were several hundred people taking part, and overall the sum raised yesterday was a phenomenal £50,000 - and we're really, really close to the target now. Apparently, once the relatives' area is up and running, any money left over is being spent on developing and landscaping the centre's gardens, for patients and visitors - to make the whole awful process of being there just a little more bearable. The centre for cancer excellence will be officially opened next month - and I'm really proud to have been a little part of making it happen. We're carrying on with the fund-raising, of course, but for me, this walk was a really big step in every sense of the word.

I did take some pics with my birthday camera but sadly have - um - mislaid the charger and the battery's flat and I can't upload them. As they'll probably be a series of dark, dank trees and heavily-muffled dripping trudgers this might not be a bad thing...

And yes, I cried. I was fine until I read the "memory cards" on everyone's chests. Far, far too much loss and sadness there. Particularly heartbreaking were three very young and pretty teenage girls all walking for "my lovely, darling mum", their cards covered in hearts and kisses... I was in bits.

While I was walking, I thought a lot about everyone who has told me they'd lost someone to cancer, and especially my dearly-missed Pat and Ali and Win and Paul and pa-in-law - and had a feeling they'd be pleased and proud but also, knowing them, chuckling a lot at my saturated discomfort - especially at my hair which doesn't take well to being rained on and wouldn't have looked out of place on Jimi Hendrix...

The only casualty was a bloke who ignored all the health and safety briefings (and the very odd mass-walker warm-up with a mad Green Goddess look-alike) and decided to run the course. He was dressed in the latest Lycra running gear, and some very expensive sports shoes - and he came a proper purler on the slippery ground, rolling down a small incline and ending up looking like a very thin mud-wrestler. After we'd helped him to his feet (he was sooo gutted and as mad as a wet hen), Elle said he looked just like the Pepperami advert...

We got home mid-afternoon, and ignoring the frizzed-out hair and aching feet, dried out by the fire with hot chocolate and crumpets (the pedometer said I'd used an amazing 914 calories so this seemed okay) - and all said we'd do it again - but probably not this week!!!

Thanks again to everyone who sponsored me, supported me, and sent lovely messages. I really hope that we've helped in some small way.

Now on with Moonshine. Yes, really....

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Up Yours

This morning I sold my first short story to Yours! As this was also my first ever submission to Yours, I'm chuffed to bits. I'd never thought about sending anything to Yours before, mainly because they seemed to be such a closed shop. However, I always read my ma-in-law's copy when we go to visit, and the stories always seemed to be my sort of thing - blue-collar, middle-aged, feel-good, amusing... So, I did all the boring-but-vital stuff like studying the magazine inside out, working out the word count of published stories (mine ended up at about 1500 words), dreaming up a suitable plot (light-hearted look at middle-aged first-time love) and then emailed it, addressing it simply to the Fiction Editor, as I didn't have a name.

Since sending it (about 3 months ago) and deciding it was a lost cause, I've discovered the phenomenally wonderful and helpful site (ooh, I wish I'd discovered it ages ago!) - - and found out that the Yours fiction editor's name is Marion Clark and she likes to have a 150 word synopsis and short author CV as well as the story. Wise after the event, I reckoned my submission really didn't stand a chance.

But - whoopee - this morning, despite not getting my submission quite right, I've had a lovely email from Marion offering to buy my story. Sorry to go on - but I'm so excited by this. I'll never get over the thrill of selling a story to a new market. I'm just relieved that the story was suitable which means that Yours kindly overlooked the rest of my submission faux pas. I'll certainly do it right next time. And there will be a next time - nothing spurs you on better than a sale, does it?

And then, because it has been One Of Those Really Lovely Days, I've also sold Happy Birthday audio rights to Isis, and have been told that I'm (well, Happy Birthday) going to be a feature/review and win-a-book competition in the November 1st issue of Inside Soap magazine. As well as all this, I got an advance copy of the People's Friend Xmas Spesh - in which I have a festive feel-good story (PF readers must live in a lovely old-fashioned cosy cocoony world - and I love writing for them). To round off this lovely day of Good Writing Things, I was offered a slot (also on Nov 1st) on BBC Radio Oxford to plug Happy Birthday and promo my Happy Birthday launch party (at Abingdon's Bookstore) on Nov 8th.

Oh, there is one more down-to-earth writing snippet - I also got my UK royalty statements this morning. As predicted/expected they were nowhere near as sensational as the German ones... Sigh... Still, I did get some money (£168.63) for my five mainstream books still in print, so it was good news really - and £168.63 is a lot, lot, lot more than I'd expected and I'm going to spend it on finishing decorating the hall/stairs/landing which we started five (yes FIVE) years ago and never got round to finishing because life (and death) got in the way.

Ooh - yes! And it was Weight Watchers - and despite the Manc Lit Fest excesses and the cake tasting I've lost another 1lb this week (must all be down to the 0 points sick soup???). So only 6lbs to go to be Overweight! Yay!

I probably won't blog for a few days now because there are lots of meetings and things to sort out for the charity walk (many,many thanks again to all those who have sponsored me) on Sunday. But I'll be back on Monday - if not before - no doubt in a very sorry state, to let you know how we all got on...

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

This is a sinful and disgusting post. So all those on diets please avert your eyes. I've been eating CAKE. Loads and loads of cake - and it was total bliss.

Elle and I spent the afternoon with the wedding cake designer - yes, designer. Not a baker, or a cake maker, or someone down the road who does a lovely light sponge - a DESIGNER.

As with everything else to do with the forthcoming nuptials, the cake has to be special. I, in my old-fashioned innocence, fondly imagined that the cake designer would be some sweet apple-cheeked old dear who had an album of photos of past wedding cakes - you know the sort of thing - "... and this is one I made for our Celia's Japonica and young Dirk last summer..." - with three pillared tiers, a nice covering of white icing, a few sugar paste flowers, with a little plastic bride and groom on top...

Oh how wrong can you be!

The designer was young, efficient, artistic and kept her creations on her laptop. They didn't even look like cakes. They looked like sculptures, works of art, things that should be exhibited in a gallery... They were stupendous concoctions - both in appearance and price. Lordy - the price! With one cake I could pay my mortgage for three months...

I kept pulling "you've got to be kidding" faces at Elle, but she was having none of it. She was entranced. I dared to mention a bit of rich fruit cake and royal icing. Elle and the designer looked at me as though I'd farted in church.

Apparently wedding cakes can be anything at all - but clearly not rich fruit and royal icing... They can be any shape, any colour, and made of practically anything edible... They are carefully designed confections to tease and engage all the senses (not my words). They are NOT white with - god forbid! - a bride and groom on top! Not unless you're being ironic.

The Toyboy Trucker and I had a nice rich fruit cake (made by his dad), covered in marzipan and shiny white icing - and yes, with a little bride and groom on top. We must have been very ironic indeed.

The designer showed us dozens of pictures and having discarded the "individual cup cakes on a Pyrex spiral" as being far too Tate Modern even for Elle - and me getting another glare for asking how any newly-wed couple actually cut a cupcake with the ceremonial knife without drawing blood - we rapidly moved on to mix and texture.

Having established that Elle and The Doctor had a fancy for their cake to be made of chocolate sponge (oooh - goody!!!), we swiftly moved on again from the content of these amazing cakes, to shape and structure. This time I kept my mouth shut about three tiers on little Doric pillars.

The cake Elle has in mind (and she's a girl who knows her mind, let me tell you) is to be huge (I cheered up here as this clearly means there'll be loads of gorgeous chocolate cake going begging come Easter...) and original and sort of like a volcanic explosion with different layers of dark, milk, and white chocolate (it gets better and better!) - with shards of carefully curled, shaved and shaped chocolate springing from it like a gigantic sunburst. The designer sketched a few ideas. Elle got very excited. I just tried not to think about the cost.

Then the really good bit - the tasting. The designer emerged with lots of freshly-baked miniature cakes in every shade of chocolate known to man. Some were just sponge, some were enrobed in thick, thick chocolate icing, some were oozing with chocolate cream, others were all three...

And this is where Elle stopped being a cool, calm and collected bride-to-be with her wedding tick-list on her BlackBerry and reverted to childhood. Okay, yes, so did I. For nearly half an hour we chomped and slurped our way through more chocolate than you'd get on an away day at Cadburys. She had chocolate all round her mouth, on her hands, in her hair and down her jacket. Me too. We giggled and cooed and groaned with greedy pleasure as we stuffed yet more gooey, gorgeous chocolate into our mouths until we felt sick.

It was absolutely fantastic. Heaven. My ultimate fantasy. And whatever cake she chooses - even if it isn't rich fruit and white icing with a little bride and groom - it'll be worth every damn penny... Although I now have a sneaking feeling that tomorrow's Weight Watchers weigh-in may be a very sorry affair indeed...

Monday 20 October 2008

Manc Lit Fest

Well - the Manc Lit Fest has been and gone and it was a heady experience. Some parts of my trip Oop North were wonderful, others not so - but overall I had a great time.

Anyway, starting from the beginning as in all good stories - we set off (The Toyboy Trucker and I) from Oxford station (we decided to let the train take the strain as the ads say and not drive - nothing to do with carbon emissions, everything to do with not having a clue where to park in Manchester) and I'd packed the overnight bag, sorted out the cats' welfare with Elle and The Doctor, left spare keys with Vee and Em-next-door as Elle frequently locks herself out, and covered every eventuality. All the Toyboy Trucker had to do was remember a) to get some money from the ATM and b) pick up the mobile phone with all the Manchester contact numbers programmed in. And did he? Did he buggery.

We were standing on the platform at Oxford just as the train snaked into view when he confessed. Well, the money wasn't too much of a problem as we guessed they had banks in Manchester, although it meant, because I hadn't packed sandwiches, we'd have to starve/dehydrate on the 3.5 hour journey, but the phone was something else. Once we'd fought our way on to the train (memo to self - never again try to get on a train with twenty million home-going students, thirty million back-packers, and assorted pensioners on a cheap-day special) and had a bitter but short-lived row, we tried to find a seat.

Hah! Not a damn chance. We stood, cheek-by-jowl (literally in my case) with several dozen other morose passengers, crammed in the little vestibule at the rear of the train. It was that rattly, noisy, windowless bit they use for bicycles and unidentifiable lumpy packages. We all bounced against each other and bits of door handle all the way to Stoke-on-Trent. And that's a long, long time to share in close proximity with a group of complete strangers and a husband who's forgotten to do One Simple Thing.

Anyway, at Stoke we bit and scratched and kicked our way into two seats (mercifully not together) and my stomach rumbled all the way to Manchester.

In Manchester the sun was shining. This was lovely, of course, but as we'd believed the weather forecast, we were bundled in thick sweaters, boots and Peter Storm waterproofs. We were hot. Very hot. And smelly. And still not speaking. We trudged to the hotel to check in - and oh joy! We'd clashed with Man U playing at home and every United supporter in the world was checking in before us. The queue snaked three times round reception. Tersely I suggested to The ToyboyTrucker that he should go and find a hole in the wall to get some money while I checked in.

Cutting a long story short here, things did get a bit better after this. He got the cash (eventually - but only after he'd had to call out someone because he'd used the wrong pin number three times and the machine swallowed the card - but as it took over an hour to fight my way through the Man U fans to check in I wasn't aware just how long he'd been gone and he didn't tell me this bit until later...), I got the key, the room was lovely. All we really needed was the mobile phone to be able to contact the Lit Fest organisers to let them know we'd arrived and David at the Writers Bureau ( who was taking us out for a meal. Of course we could have gone down the old-fashioned route and used the room phone to call people if only we'd had their numbers.

We had another row in which The Toyboy Trucker reminded me cruelly of our trip to the Isle of Wight lit fest when I'd forgotten to pack any underwear...

Fortunately, Writer's Bureau David was far brighter than us, and knowing our hotel, turned up there to collect us. From then on things got soooo much better. David took us out on a tour of Manchester's night life and we visited old pubs and modern bars and had the most fantastic meal ever (sorry Weight Watchers!) at EastzEast (simply the most gorgeously decadent Indian restaurant in the world) where I'm sorry to say I made a proper pig of myself (well, I hadn't eaten all day, okay) and chomped steadily through the most glorious vegetarian menu I've ever encountered. Then we went for more drinks, and a wander round some of Manchester's lesser-known historical areas (I LOVE all that Gothic architecture) and ended up in an outdoor bar watching a multi-cultural late-night music festival. It was total bliss (thank you David - you're a star!) and about as far away from life at home as it was possible to get.

Then on Saturday it was the Lit Fest, and no-one seemed to mind that I hadn't phoned them to confirm I'd be there, and I had a ball. I forgot to be nervous because it was all so glam and swish and I was so excited. My fellow-panelists, Penny Jordan and Mavis Cheek (yes, I was in awe!), were lovely, as were the organisers, and we had a riotous couple of hours in Tiger, Tiger extolling the virtues of romantic writing in all its many hues, and our novels in particular, to a very appreciative audience (thanks, Pat!). I must admit I always feel such a fraud at these things because they're so far removed from my Real Life, but everyone seemed to enjoy it and they laughed with me (not at!) and we all sold and signed books at the end, so a good time was had by all.

Then, talking to each other again, we were back on the train (complete with seats!) and arrived home just before midnight to a rapturous welcome from the cats and a note through the letterbox from Elle to say she'd just locked herself out and couldn't remember if I'd left a spare key anywhere but not to panic because it was after she'd fed the cats, oh, and did we realise we'd forgotten the mobile, and she and The Doctor had gone for a night out in London and not to wait up...

And now it's over, and it was wonderful, and I've got to get back to reality and writing and barmaiding and forget about my glamorous couple of days living the high life Ooop North. Sigh....

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Only Kidding

Ooops - sorry - this has been sitting in "drafts" for almost a week. I was so excited about gearing up for the Manc Lit Fest that I completely forgot to post it before I left, and now I'm back and it's a bit out-of-date if you see what I mean...

Clearly, I'm in danger of turning into an archetypal Bad Blogger - so to rectify things here goes...

Believe it or not, this picture actually isn't me after today's Weight Watcher's weigh-in - although it's close, of course... In fact if you saw a photo of me next to it you'd probably not be able to tell us apart...

And, because I promised to be honest about my WW weigh-ins, I lost 3lbs this week!!! Now I only have 7lbs to go before I leave Obese and become Overweight. I was so thrilled that I'd lost weight, I tried on the Mother-of-the-Bride frock this afternoon and bits of it do up! Result! Just need to get the rest of it to comply before Easter...

However, the Weight Watchers meeting was slightly odd today because Nikki and Shaz from the terrace turned up. They're both considerably younger (and a lot thinner!) than me so I was a bit surprised, but they said they wanted to lose weight in the run-up to Christmas. As I thought they usually went to Bums and Tums in the community hall where they could wear very tight things in Lycra, I did wonder at first why they'd enrolled at Weight Watchers where the opportunity to display your body is fortunately fairly limited...

Then, while we having the post-weigh-in meeting (learning about the calorific value of various types of delicious cottage cheese while fantasising about doughnuts and Toblerone) it came to me. Of course! Both Shaz and Nikki are banned from Bums and Tums after the unfortunate incident with Jessica, the instructor, and Shaz. Well, it was unfortunate for Jessica that Shaz caught her giving her Dave (Shaz's Dave, that is, not Jessica's - Jessica didn't have a Dave of her own because she'd muscled in on Shaz's if you get my drift) a bit of private tuition behind the community hall's disabled parking bays. And Nikki, being Shaz's friend, weighed in (clever linguistic usage there!) with her fake Radley handbag...

Anyway, Shaz and Nikki enjoyed Weight Watchers, but sadly used an entire day's points when we stopped off at the kebab van on the way home. I was boringly virtuous and just had pitta and salad and a diet Coke.

I have a feeling this saintly frame of mind might not last as no doubt I'll eat my (considerable) body-weight in lovely things while in Manchester - and then next week, Elle and I are going for a tasting session at the wedding cake designers...

So, that's my weighty story - and there's not much else to say about today really. No more exciting influxes of unexpected money, or sales or rejections - but I have written a whole chapter of Moonshine - and NOT eaten anything fattening - yet...

Tuesday 14 October 2008


This morning - this wonderful, glorious, splendiferous morning - I have received royalties. Now, you might think for a writer this is nothing to make a song and dance about - but for me it's a BIG, BIG deal. Royalties have been sadly lacking in my life. I was, I'm sorry to say, sadly misled about royalties.

Having learned everything I knew about royalties - the magic money that allegedly appears "just like that" in your bank account every six months - from a Jilly Cooper novel where the heroine received her royalties in just such a way (yes, I know it was fiction, but I knew no better and I believed it, okay - oh, and I was also under a similar misconception about VAT payments courtesy of a Dick Francis novel but that's another and infinitely more painful story), when I first had a book published I assumed that's what would happen to me. That every March and September for the rest of my writing life some massive amount of money would be deposited in my account. Enough money for me to live a life of idleness, gluttony and hedonistic sloth until the next royalty payment was due.

Oh, those heady, innocent days...

As no-one in authority (here I mean my agent or publisher or anyone else slightly grown-up in the writing world who should have known that I was a total dill-brain) disabused me of this notion, and also because my first novel - Going the Distance - had a titchy advance and sold loads of copies courtesy of the WH Smith Fresh Talent promo thus providing me with a four-figure royalty sum just six months after publication, I was convinced that my Jilly Cooper idea was in fact correct. That for every book sold, you, the author, received 10% of the cover price. That my life of grafting in the pub and panicking about the overdraft was a thing of the past. So, come the next book and next royalty period, I simply expected the same amount to arrive. Hah! March came and went; so did April. Not a sniff of a royalty sausage.

I remember, to my everlasting shame, ringing my agent to enquire where my royalties were. When she said there weren't any I had a temper tantrum. No, I did. Honestly. I roared and screamed and drummed my heels on the floor. What, I enquired loftily, did she expect me to live on?

Oooh - the embarrassment when she explained (way too late in my opinion) how the royalty payment system works... Simply, you have to sell enough books to earn out your advance and then you get percentage royalties (read your contract, poppet) on every copy sold after the publisher has clawed back what you've been paid. Oh, the mortifying shock! The pain of realising that, even once I'd sold enough copies (about 27 billion) to pay back the (tiddly) advance, I'd then receive a small percentage of the cover price of each book. So, after the massive (and non-existent) 27 billion sales I'd get something like .05p per copy if I was very lucky...

And then, it was explained, that if books went into supermarkets the publisher paid to have them on the shelves, ditto the bookselling chains especially if your novel was to have a prominent position like at the top of the escalator or an end-on shelf-display - and don't talk about promos or windows! Just don't! So, those sales cost the publisher dearly, didn't cancel anything off your advance payment debt, and earned you, the author, sod all. But think of the kudos, poppet - the joy of seeing your book on the shelves in all those famous shops...

Bugger the kudos! Kudos didn't butter no parsnips in this house I can tell you. What I wanted - nay - expected - was hard cash. I wanted royalties. And there weren't any. And there never have been. Until today...

Today, much to my incandescent joy and surprise I've been paid loads (well, okay for me it's loads - for other authors it probably isn't) of dosh from Germany. Royalties. Real royalties. For Sommernachts-Zauber. This is the German version of Love Potions, and it came out (fabulous floral cover, by-the-way, which sadly I couldn't paste on here for some reason) in May this year. They paid me an advance of 5,000 Euros for it (which was lovely and made us and the bank manager very happy) last year, and the royalty period was only up to the end of June - and - bless its lovely flowery little cotton socks - it's earned me 7,000 Euros - IN A MONTH!!!!! Which means, I suppose, that to have earned out the advance, it must have sold tons of copies in Germany (although no-one has actually told me this and of course it might be some huge mistake) and right now I don't care because I've got ROYALTIES!!!!

And yes, I am going to sponsor myself and everyone else on the charity walk with lots of it because - well - because I damn well can!!!

P.S. I've just read this through and I know if I read it on some other writer's blog I'd go "smug cow" - so please, please don't think this was written to brag or show-off - I'm so skint and I was just so thrilled and excited!

Monday 13 October 2008

These Boots Were Made For Walking????

Much as I think these boots are the most gorgeous things I've ever seen, there is - for once - a serious reason for me using this particular pic of fabulously coloured boots that probably were never made for walking, and - again for once - a serious reason for this post.

On Sunday 26th October I'm joining the "It's Not Just A Walk In The Park" to raise money for Oxford's brand new custom-built cancer centre. And because I'm useless at asking for money and want to get the begging bit out of the way - I have an online sponsor site, open now until January, under my married name (Jones being my maiden name) as the whole family are taking part. It's at:

- and I'd be so grateful if anyone would/could pop along there and sponsor me. Thank you!

I've never taken part in a charity walk before but I do walk at least 4 miles a day as part of my exercise regime so I should be okay... The cancer centre is absolutely state of the art and the reason we're fund-raising is to provide, furnish and equip a dedicated relatives area. Sadly, having lost so many friends and close family to cancer in very recent years, I know how desperately important it is for relatives and friends to have somewhere to go during procedures, stay near-at-hand overnight, or just to - well, wait.

There are hundreds of people taking part, and I'll be walking with The Toyboy Trucker, Elle and The Doctor as well as all our friends and most of the people from our estate (which should be - um - amusing...). We have a choice of T-shirts (I think Debs had this dilemma recently too) that are either obscenely tight or like marquees... Think, given the current Weight Watchers outing, that mine will have to be one of the latter! Anyway as we have to wear the names of the people we're walking in memory of emblazoned on the front of the T-shirts, mine will need to be large...

So, on Oct 26th I'm going to be walking in sad-but-proud memory of my best friend Pat (bowel cancer), my sis-in-law, Ali (leukaemia), my substitute mum, Win (bone cancer), my lifelong biker friend Paul (oesophagial cancer), and my dad-in-law Don (stomach cancer). They were all a huge part of my life and I loved them all very much and their deaths broke my heart.

I know this blog post is a bit downbeat, but the fund raising really does mean an awful lot to me and even more to those who are currently undergoing treatment as well as their friends and families.
Thanks for reading this...

Friday 10 October 2008

When You've Got A Minute, Love

"When you've got a minute, love..." Those six words are the drinker's mantra and the barmaid's nightmare. Whether you work in a city bar or a country pub, you'll hear them over and over again. They'll be uttered by dozens and dozens of people a night, all with leery grins and empty glasses. You'll hear them in your sleep. They'll become the most irritating words you've ever heard...

And as I'm definitely a barmaid who writes rather than a writer who works in a pub, and because yesterday was a pub day, I thought I'd expand a bit on the other side of my working life.

I've been a barmaid on and off since I was eighteen. I've worked in cocktail bars, nightclubs, fancy restaurants, posh pubs and complete dives and I love it. People are funny. People in pubs are even funnier. There's nothing like working behind a bar for people-watching and I get loads of inspiration for my writing from my barmaiding. Barmaids are mother-confessors, lovers, mistresses, best-mates - all things to all men. The punters seem to forget you're a real person with a life outside the pub, and they regale you with the most hair-raisingly intimate details of their lives, never dreaming that they'll suddenly meet you face-to-face over the frozen peas in Tesco.

We've got two pubs on the estate - The Weasel and Bucket (which I lifted lock, stock and - er - barrel - how apt!) for the pub in Seeing Stars, and Hairy Harry's which became The Barmy Cow in Love Potions - and I work in both as and when needed.

This week, as well as the fair and Weight Watchers and the writing (what writing???) I've been needed in both and yesterday had to dash between the two. First it was a very busy lunchtime shift in the Weasel and Bucket. My near-neighbours, Maudie and Wilf, came in for the pensioner's special. It was goulash. Sometimes it's curry or chilli depending on what colour it turns out. We always serve it with rice and chips and bread and butter and a pudding, and for three quid it's quite a bargain and very popular among the older estate residents.

Well, Maudie and Wilf were halfway through their goulash, when who should walk in but their son Jerome with Nancy from the end house. Together. I don't mean holding hands or anything, but together none-the-less. Tracy, who was on lunchtimes with me, couldn't stop giggling. She's very young and not as used to Jerome and Nancy as we are in the terrace. Because it was sunny and autumnally warm yesterday, Nancy was in a pretty floral shirtwaister and peep-toe sandals but her moustache totally ruined the look. They ordered two pensioner's specials which Tracy was all for serving them, but I stepped in because neither Nancy or Jerome are a day over 45.

In the end Nancy settled for one full-price spag bol and asked for two forks. Maudie and Wilf got a bit worried over Jerome having a fork (probably because Jerome's social worker doesn't like him having pointy things in case he attacks his electronic tag or an innocent bystander) and no dinner, so I gave him some bread and butter and a spoon. This came in handy for his pudding which was yellow and lumpy so it might have been something and custard. Then they went and joined Maudie and Wilf for a game of shove ha'penny and, by the time I left, everyone seemed very happy.

And, yes, it bothered me afterwards that none of this seemed remotely odd to me...

Then last night I had to do three hours in Hairy Harry's. Fortunately this shift went without incident - unless you count old Arthur Pedley (yes, he was my template for Slo Motion but as he doesn't read anything other than The Sunday Sport I don't think he'll ever realise it and try to sue) being caught trying to beat the smoking ban (still) by having a crafty fag in the gents. As he loudly and fairly aggressively refused to relinquish his cigarette, I put it out by dousing him with the remains of a pint of cut-price Amber Ale. Arthur dropped the dog-end down his singlet in shock and smouldered for ages. We had to close the gents for an hour as the smell of burning pensioner and warm beer is never a good combination.

Hopefully I won't be needed behind either bar for a while as I must, must, must write Moonshine - but after yesterday's double-whammy, at the moment all I can hear in my head is the plaintive cry of "when you've got a minute, love..." Aaaargh!!!!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Weighty Matters

Well! This is it then - this will be my staple diet for the next - oooh... forever and ever I suppose (or at least until I can fit back into the scarlet silk mother-of-the-bride frock...). Yes, I've done it. Gone back to Weight Watchers - and ooooh noooo! It was far, far worse than I'd even thought... I now need to lose 10lbs just to get out of the scary "obese" zone and into the much more friendly "overweight" area. And 20lbs to get back to where I was when I reached my WW goal earlier in the year.

And yes, Mags, I blame YOU! Best friends DO NOT force other Best Friends to eat their body-weight in ice cream (so many flavours, so little time) in one short week's holiday, or stuff toffee apples and candy floss to explosion point in a mere 48 hours... It wasn't even as if I had any say in it, was it? You asked me, and, as a good friend, I had to do it... It had absolutely nothing to do with that family-sized box of fun-sized (not very funny now, thank you very much) Toblerone I had for my birthday and ate in three days, or not being to keep my hands off the cheese, or the fact that a meal's not a meal without something gooey, sweet, syrupy/chocolatey at the end of it... I shall post my WW losses (and gains - oh, the shame!) on the blog every Wednesday to frighten myself into sticking to it.

The trouble is, overall it's not such a huge amount to lose before Easter - but there's Christmas in the middle - so, the plan is to stick to it before the festivities, eat myself silly for a week, and then become a diet-bore again until I can shimmy into the scarlet silk. Watch this space...

Other ramblings - the fair was lovely. I had a great time. Monday was dry and cold, Tuesday was wet and warm - and both days I was joyously working on the toffee apples and candy floss (the least said about the amount I ate the better) stall. I'm allowed to do this as I'm the proud owner of a Food Hygiene Certificate. I got it as part of my NVQ in Hospitality. The brewery I'm employed by insists on all bar staff having an NVQ in Hospitality - we spent a weekend in a country house hotel trying not to kill each other or poison the guests, and learned all sorts of exciting things and did team building which went well until Naomi ran off with one of the waiters and we were a person short. Anyway, sorry, I've digressed - the fair was fun, the stall was snug, and it was great for people-watching. Nothing funnier than watching the one-day cabinet ministers and judges and minor royalty from our local boys public school, let out for the occasion, down burgers and chips like there was no tomorrow and then leap on to vomit-making rides like Body Count or Meteor Strike and - well - vomit...

Oh, and I've heard back from My Weekly about the serial. They are still accepting serials (but only short ones) but are pretty well stocked at the moment. However, they're considering Back-to Back, but only if I rewrite it to make it more family-friendly and less edgy. So while Woman's Weekly found it old-fashioned, My Weekly want it more cosy. And MW didn't think it was contrived, but intriguing and exciting. And I always thought MW and WW aimed for the same market - still, I'm delighted to be given another chance with it so will try my damnedest to turn it into something saleable.

Now starving and going to slink off to bed with a tomato and GK Chesterton.