Thank you for the music.

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I’m struggling through my latest book edits at the moment. I’m full of self-doubt and the seeming impossibility of the task. Then, two weeks ago, I got a recharge when I went to see Take That headline at Hyde Park. Some of you will groan at that, my Dad will say, ‘take what?’ (he’s been saying that for twenty-five years – with my dad there’s no such thing as an old joke) and others will wish you could have been there too. Music is one of the things, like books, that can unite or divide. It’s subjective. It’s personal. It reaches into our soul and touches each of us differently.

I went to my first TT concert when I was sixteen so it’s fair to say I’ve seen them more than a few times and most of those have been with the same person. We’ve been best friends since 1994 when we were allocated the same halls at Uni. On our first night out together we discovered our love for TT. It wasn’t cool to like them then ( I appreciate some would say it’s not cool to like them now). Anyway, they were our first strike on the ‘what do we have in common’ list and they remain a lasting bond in our friendship nearly twenty-two years later. For us, their music encapsulates a lifetime of  highs and lows. It transports us to when we were carefree students; young and untethered to any place or anyone, when we didn’t need to worry about our grey roots or the signs of age on our bodies,  when our most pressing decision was where we were going on our next night out, when we swapped clothes incessantly, when we lived and breathed our daily lives, when we went to the students union for the day to drown our sorrows because Robbie left ( any flimsy excuse would do!) A time before marriage, before children, before grown-up heartbreak, before she found a lump and told me not to cry, before social media, almost before mobile phones, before ‘selfies’ were called ‘selfies’ they were just ugly, mostly drunken, photos!

Last Saturday was a beautiful warm summer evening the sky blushed pink before tipping over into a navy night sky. We were only 2 among 65thousand others but for one and a half hours we were in a world of our own. It’s been proved that music can alter the way you feel. It can make a bad day better. It can make a good night feel amazing.

They say you never really know someone until you live  with them  – we lived together for three years and she knows me in a way very few others do. She truly knows the shade of my soul. It’s time trickery that we’re now closer to forty than twenty. And even though there are only three where once there were five, their DNA has not altered. Gary Barlow has gone from hero to zero and back to hero again. Their brand is unashamedly ‘pop’ and they are as far from being a ‘boy band’ as Bieber is from his pension, but we still (unashamedly) love them!

I counted my blessings in Hyde Park that night, so thankful to have my wonderful friend beside me healthy and well. Life is busy, it gets in the way all too often; she’s in London, I’m in Belfast.  When we meet we push the reset button; reminding each other of the girls we were in the 1990’s; young, ambitious, fearless. We remind each other of who we still are when you strip away what we’ve become. And because she thinks I can do it, I know I can do it.

Thank-you Julie and thank you ‘boys’ for the music and all the excuses you’ve given us over the years to get together. Could it magic? Definitely. x

 

Holiday Hell or Heaven?

keep-calm-schools-out-for-summer-1The sun is setting on the first day of summer holidays for 2016 (who am I kidding? There hasn’t actually been any sun!) and already my four year old spent most of the afternoon in his bedroom on ‘time-out’ while I took deep breaths and tried to keep a handle on my temper. He’s bright, energetic and has been likened on occasion to the Tasmanian Devil, in a word, he is challenging. Challenging at the best of times, but all day everyday for eight weeks, quite honestly, has me reaching for the gin bottle. I know I’m not the only Mum to be frantically booking every summer scheme within a ten mile radius, because summer, for some of us SAHM’s is a colder version of hell.

Oh, I know I should be grateful for these long summer days with my boys – it’ll go all too quickly and I am privileged to be spending it with them. But the reality is sometimes it’s much more appealing to be walking out the door for a day at the office, or somewhere – anywhere that is quiet, where no one is being punched or wrestled to the ground, where there are no constant shouts of ‘Muuuum’, or groans of ‘Noooo’ as soon as I suggest something I’d like to do, or that the dog needs a walk, or that maybe they should peel their eyes from a screen and actually converse instead!

Familiarity breeds contempt; fact. It would happen to anyone. Can you think of anyone you could live with and happily spend all day, everyday with and not feel the odd pang of irritation? I find summer holidays the perfect breeding ground for  a healthy dose of motherly abuse – I hope I’m not alone in this. The days are long, its usually raining, they’re usually tired, or pimped up on sugar; it’s a lethal combination. I know if they saw me less they would be nicer to me – I see proof most evenings when their Father comes through the door.

And so forgive me, call me a bad mother, call me ungrateful, but there you go, summer holidays do not mean endless blissful sun-drenched days of fun with my children. They mean hardcore negotiation and more juggling than ever as I try to keep everyone reasonably happy.

So, for what it’s worth, here are my top tips for surviving the frontline of motherhood that are the summer holidays:

  • Early bird catches the worm – or at least a wormhole of time before they get up. Summer nights mean late nights and in another week (and with a bit of luck) both of mine will be snoozing late which means I can get up early and get my day started my way.
  • Plan – have a plan for each day and make sure everyone knows what to expect the night before so there’s no fallout in the morning when you suggest oh, lets say a family dog walk (are you seeing a theme here? Young boys have enough energy for a trampoline 24×7 but none apparently to walk a dog!)
  • Holiday schemes – use them. That’s all I’m saying.
  • Bribery – Always works.
  • Gin – after 5pm its perfectly acceptable any day of the week (it is the holidays after all).
  • Smile – These are the days of our lives. These messy, chaotic, loud, busy, hassled, exhausting, long days are the ones we’ll always want to return to. Love them.

Please share your holiday hell or heaven with me. I’d love to hear them.

 

 

Human boys and puppy dogs.

IMG_5252If you follow me on social media thingys you’ll have seen that we’ve a new addition to our family in the form of a Weimaraner pup. (Because trying to pull together a second book, look after two boys and oversee a house renovation is not enough -I only have myself to blame!) But hopefully it will explain why I’m taking the approach of motherofalllists this week and complied bullet points on the similarities I’ve noted between pups and young boys:

 

  • They love food.
  • They pee everywhere.
  • They love to play.
  • They’re really sleepy when you wake them up.
  • They give the best cuddles.
  • They’re incredibly cute.
  • They love Mummy (see point 1 as it’s usually Mummy i.e. me who supplies the food – I’m not stupid, I know there’s a connection – I think it even extends to my husband!)
  • They know their name, but choose to ignore it at will.
  • They’re noisy.
  • They’re irritable.
  • They grow very fast.
  • Sometimes they don’t understand ‘No’ as an answer.
  • When they choose not to understand ‘No’ as an answer they whine – a lot!
  • They need praise for going to the toilet.
  • They’re exhausting.
  • They enjoy the simple things (see point 1 and point 3 ).
  • They’re fun.
  • Sometimes they need a short lead, sometimes they need to run free.
  • They both have keys to my heart.

Learning not Reading.

 

Reading, for a lot of people, is a past-time, a pleasurable hobby, something that is done on the beach, something you do when you have time to spare. But for me, (and everyone else who writes) it is so much more than that. Because if I want to learn how to be a good writer, I need to study those who are already accomplished at it. The genre that I write is women’s literary fiction, so that is what I read in order to learn and to know my own marketplace. There’s no ‘is that a banana in your pocket’ moments, no heaving bosoms. (though I know there is a very successful market for this and fair play to those writers and readers, but it’s just not my thing.) I don’t read for ‘fun’, I don’t read for escapism, I read to learn. I have to read in order to try and figure out how they do what they do (and hope that by some kind of osmosis it will rub off on me).

When I’m reading I’m learning – or at least trying to. I usually have a pencil to hand and I mark up passages or words or descriptions. I’m not just consuming, I’m trying to consummate.

However, most people associate ‘working’ to be in an office, beside a phone, or in front of a computer. They (i.e. my husband) see me sitting down at home, cup of tea often to hand and a book. They think – ‘nice life if you can get it’ – they (he) doesn’t understand that I am actually working –  that in order to write something decent myself I have to read – A LOT. I have to learn, I have to know what’s out there, I have to study the invisible craft of writing.

But reading – that’s easy right? No. Those of you with young families don’t need me to tell you that time is of the essence. Even this basic activity demands that you carve out the time for it – preferably before you climb too exhausted into bed of an evening. You need to set your alarm half an hour earlier, you need to get off social media (yes, I should be reading right now instead of doing this!) you need to switch off the TV. You need to make the time. You need to be disciplined, you need to see it as part of the ‘job’.  So, if you see me reading don’t think it’s my ‘spare-time’ cause it’s not. There’s always a 101 other things I probably should be doing, but I know if I want to be a successful writer I have to take the time to study the craft.

N.B. Currently reading ‘A Country Road, A Tree’ by Jo Baker. It’s fab and I’m off to spend some quality time with it now.

Happy Blog Day.

 

For Kathryn.

UnknownIt’s my blogaversary! I can’t believe it’s been a year since I began pontificating on this blog. According to my stats I’ve posted forty times. FORTY!! And I know some of you have been with me from the start, so I’d like to say a huge big thank you for all your support and comments throughout my first year. I’ve learned a lot, mostly due to @ERMurray  guidance and I’ve ‘met’ some really awesome like-minded people who make my writing journey feel much less lonely.

So what about the ‘writing adventure’ I blogged about a year ago? Well, I’ve completed another draft of my second novel. It’s currently with my editor, and after she has sprinkled some editing magic on it, I will do some more work with it before sending to my agent for her all important ‘first read.’ The thought alone makes me feel queasy and light-headed; so many years of work and effort and it all comes down to one answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’… and then, at the weekend I came across this quote from the late and great Muhammad Ali, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.’ Many years on, I am simultaneously terrified by the thought of not ever being published, as getting published. At least I know I’m in good company. Thanks Ali.

For last week’s homework I was given a box with with several items in it and a genre – Fantasy. This is the result. I hope you enjoy.

Chicken Licken

‘You’ll get used to me soon enough, Chicken Licken. Isn’t that right Susan?’ Paula, my manager, was standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders gently massaging them into my flesh. I smiled towards the new girl who was standing one step further back than was sociable. That step spoke volumes. It said a hundred things. It said you’re crazy, it said don’t be touching me, it said I don’t want this job.‘She calls everyone chicken, but only the new ones get licken with the chicken.’ I said. Paula guffawed and gave one of my shoulders a light slap with her hand.‘Tsk – you’re bad Susan. You really are.’ She gave a dramatic sigh that started high and ended up in a silent wash of exhale and then trotted off down the remaining line of check-outs. Her large bundle of keys, that signalled her seniority, jangled in her wake like sleigh bells. In fact, Paula reminded me of Santa – always happy, smiling and more rotund than tall. But I knew her secret. I knew it was all an act. I knew the happiness was only on the outside just like I saw what that poor new girl was thinking.

‘The gift’, my grandmother called it, for I can see what people are thinking and feeling. I can see their colour. My world is like a permanent rainbow painted on the inside of my eyelids. It’s a filter that’s always there, like smell; I can’t turn it off. Everyone, apart from Granny, thought I was lying. Her mother had ‘the gift’ but then sometimes it skips a generation – that’s what happened with her. ‘Can’t see a bloody thing except what’s in front of me,’ she used to complain.

I learnt early that human adults pretend – A LOT! They say things opposite to what they’re feeling. The other kids my age would believe them, and when I didn’t, I’d be accused of eaves-dropping. Adults don’t believe that a child can see who they really are. Granny said I should use it for good, that I should put it use. Somehow, I don’t think working at the check-out in Marks and Spencer is what she had in mind. But here on earth people are suspicious, they’re angry and worst of all they don’t believe. They don’t believe we even exist. My job here saves me. It saves me from the weight of other people’s pain; knowing is so heavy. People don’t want to talk at a check out – not really. There’s no time. I’m saved by the beep of my scanner. I’m a stranger, a check-out girl. They don’t expect me to be able to help them. But with Paula I had to. I couldn’t bear to watch her cover it up with cheery chicken lickens.

You see Paula was a deep blue – the worst kind. Some days it was so dark I could hardly breathe; I’m like Superman and kryptonite. She’d always mask it with a smile and her jaunty little walk, but I’d know. I’d know she wanted to die. So on her last deep blue day, the worst I’d ever seen, I followed her to the staff locker room. She didn’t hear me come in, she was standing behind the door of her locker so all I could see was her legs and her feet but the blue was all around her. It hung thick and dense like fog. I walked quietly towards her even though my throat was closing up and my chest could hardly rise for the weight on it. “Paula,’ I said as gently as I could. She didn’t move or reply. I reached out and pulled the door of her locker fully open to reveal her staring down into a little box. Inside there was a hairclip and a button. She reached her fingertips in to gently touch each one. Then dragged her weary eyes from the box to meet mine. I could hardly breathe, being that close to her. Her colour winded me. But I knew what I had to do. So I put both my hands on each of her shoulders and tipped my head towards hers so our foreheads were touching and I absorbed as much of that deep blue from her as I could. It felt like ice through my veins, oh, the pain of it.  But I got most of it – apart from the blue crack through her heart. I’m not a miracle worker, you need The Boss for that.  It’s bizarre what some of them will cherish: a green bead, a pair of tweezers, a button, or a hairclip. Each one produces a colour. Tears can’t fall in space, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t crying… these people need to learn, a little belief goes a long way.

Nx

** Warning: future posts will probably contain a lot of cute puppy pics!!**