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!!!