Sunday, April 28, 2013


Three Things I Never Thought I'd Do As A Mum

Eat as much fast food as we do.  Actually, it's not really the food, it's the Drive Through delivery system.  On a bad day of tantrums and bad tempers (and that's just mine) the combination of a soothing drive, someone else cooking, food he likes, and not having to toddler wrangle in a crowded cafe is sheer bliss.  The pulling funny faces in the mirrors at each other is kinda fun, too.  I am starting to come to terms with the fact that I might just have to get used to doing this a couple of times a month.  And saying, "no love, they don't do beans and sausages here" each time.

Shout.  I still think I do too much of this, but it's getting better.  It started when he fought free of my grip and went running off, gleefully giggling, down the middle of the road.  The only thing that stopped him in his tracks was a banshee bellow, delivered at my full (and not inconsiderable) volume.  I'm getting better at picking my moments, but for a while after that, every time he did the opposite of what was asked, I saw him in my mind's eye running out in front of a bus.  A friend calls this The Fear.

Love This Much, This Fast.  There's a saying in adoption: "fake it until you make it".  It's about demonstrating and modelling loving behaviour in advance of feeling the love, accepting that it can take time to form a bond and feel that strong attachment.  I haven't had to do much faking.  Sometimes it feels like he's forcing my heart to grow, to fit him inside.

Four Things I Hoped I Would (And Do)
Embrace The Mess.  There are stickers on my loo seat.  Breakfast cereal behind my sofa cushions.  Ball pit balls everywhere.  Crumbs everywhere he can get to, and everywhere I could swear he can't.  It's hard to get in the shower sometimes, because of the legions of bath toys.  I never get to tidy or dust our bedroom (although his is spotless!)  There are books upon books upon every surface.  I am now adept not only at laying my hands on every kitchen utensil and pan without having to look at them (which I could do before) but also setting my feet between the building blocks, bouncy balls, toy phones, toy steering wheels, bobbins, soft toys and sundry ribbons and string that migrate onto the kitchen floor, also without looking (which is a new skill).  I love this.  All of it.

Get Outside.  In all weathers.  The trick is to make sure you're wearing wipe clean clothing, too, because at some point he's going to find the mud – even in a drought – and at some point he's going to want to ride on your shoulders.  One day we came home with mud, cracker crumbs, snot AND leaves in my hair*.  Result.

Paint.  I'm not arty, but I always loved playing with paint and crayons, and I didn't my lack of artiness to mean he didn't get to play this way.  Although it takes more time to prep and clean up than he spends doing it, it's worth it.  See above.

Love This Much, This Hard.  It hurts.  It takes my breath away.  It terrifies me so much I wake up wondering how I'll manage when he leaves home (!).  It's sheer joy and unadulterated euphoria.  It's perfect and real and wonderful.  And forever.

*Yes, I could wear a hat.  But only for about five minutes before it becomes a game...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Writing with Room Service

© Orlando Florin Rosu | Used by Permission

Let me say, first off, I love my family. And the smartest thing I ever did, hands down, was have my children. But the thing is, I have always written best in total solitude—and solitude is not an easy thing to come by, when you have a family.

Which is fine. I don't believe in ivory towers, and on most days I can find enough hours while the kids are off at school, or after everyone's asleep, to get some writing done. It's just that every now and then, I grow nostalgic for the days when I could just get lost within the writing of a book—when I could sleep and eat and bathe (or not) in rhythm with the writing, staying up till 3 or 4 a.m. if words were flowing well, because there wasn't any need to wake at 6 and get the household on the go.

It's pure nostalgia. I'm not yearning to return to those days. While they were productive, they were also Very Lonely, and I'm happy with my life as it is now. But in the middle of the writing of The Firebird, I stumbled on a compromise that lets me have the best of both worlds, really: I lock myself into a hotel room for a weekend.

My hotel of choice is the Royal York, in downtown Toronto, but it also works in a Holiday Inn, or a Motel 6, or whatever you've got near you (not too near, mind—you don't want to be so far away that you'll waste all your writing time travelling there and back, but you don't want to be so close that people will feel they can call you back home for "emergencies").

I leave home on a Friday night, having stocked up the fridge and made sure my husband and kids have enough DVDs and video games to keep them all entertained, and I pay for an extra half day so that once I've checked into my room I don't have to come out again till Sunday suppertime.

And for the time in between, I just write. 

I can't do it too often, of course. All that room service doesn't come cheap. But it's well worth the effort of saving and planning, to just feel that wonderful feeling of total immersion—no TV, no Internet, nothing to pull you away from the book. And no dishes to wash.

My Canadian publishers, Simon & Schuster, were so intrigued when they found out that I did this, that they even made a short video trailer about it, which I'm sharing here. (Full disclosure: my hotel room doesn't look that neat when I've spent a day in it, really, and I'm much more likely to order a salad from room service than chocolate cake, but the cameraman liked the cake better).

For someone like me, who can sometimes spend two weeks just writing one chapter, a four-and-a-half-chapter weekend's a Very Big Deal. And I'm home for the hugs from my kids Sunday night, and to take them to school Monday morning. The best of both worlds.

How do you balance work and your family and time for yourself? 

(Come back Thursday, to find out what Julie's been up to...) 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When Two Worlds Collide

Sometimes two things together are greater than the sum of their parts. 

I have found that this happens in my writing more and more these days. I have two ideas which are completely unrelated and one day they find each other in my brain and…

There is a shiny new idea, pulsating with life and possibility. Silver and glinting. Tentacles of plot points reaching for completion.

Supposedly I am not the only one this happens to:

Two-idea notion

“What usually works for me is to take two idea-sources and combine them. As with a metaphor, the tension between the two ideas leads to interesting possibilities. It’s a way of drawing surprising answers out of your unconscious mind.” – Orson Scott Card

Here are some of my ideas that collided to make something new:

Stone circles + angry teen girl
Grumpy teddy bear + and a story at midnight
An assassin + never growing old
A divorce lawyer + A Christmas Carol

And my most recent collision… a songwriter + ????, well you’ll have to wait until I’ve written it

Now I’m wondering what I could create if I mixed up my ideas. Would they create something even greater or will they flop around deflated and flaccid?

What has happened when your ideas have collided?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Inspired by Books

Have any of the books you’ve read made you dream of doing something in particular?  Or have you ever been inspired by a book to do something in real life?  I have.

Book cover courtesy of Wikipedia
I can’t remember when I first read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but I know I loved it even more than A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy, both of which I’d enjoyed.  It wasn’t so much the story of spoiled Mary and her transformation into a happy, loving little girl that caught my imagination, however, but the garden itself.  The image of a secret garden, enclosed by tall brick walls and covered in trailing roses stuck in my mind.  A creaking iron gate, a pond, an intelligent little robin hopping round the place, gravel paths and a riot of flowers ...  I wanted that garden!  And I still do.

My husband and I recently moved to the countryside and the house we’ve bought has a large garden.  Not a walled one or even one full of flowers – most of the flower beds contained nothing but ugly bushes of one sort or another – but a garden nonetheless.  And now I am determined to transform it into the secret garden of my dreams.

This may take years – in fact, there’s no doubt about that, it will – and I’ll have to do most of the work myself, with a little help from my DH as we can’t afford to get in a garden designer and a team of landscape gardeners.  But I don’t mind because it’s going to be fun.  It’s going to be a challenge.  And I will learn as I go along.

A couple of weeks ago I made a start.  Not on the garden itself, but on the learning part.  I had a lesson in brick-laying.  My daughters thought I’d gone mad, but in order to have a secret garden I need brick walls obviously and I want to build them myself.  Ok, so one lesson probably won’t be enough for me to build an entire wall straight away, but I figured I could start by building raised flower beds at least.  How hard can it be to lay bricks in a rectangle?  (Sort of like Lego, but bigger, right?)  Then I can grow things like vegetables without having to bend over too much for the dreaded weeding.

I really enjoyed the lesson and although I was clumsy and felt like I was the slowest brick-layer in the history of mankind, I managed to build a little wall.  (We were indoors practising, thankfully, as the weather outside was freezing!)  I even managed to do the pointing and I learned to always use a spirit level to lay the bricks evenly.  I can do this!  And I’m even more determined now I’ve tried.

Patience isn’t one of my greatest virtues, but if I start now and build say 5 metres of wall every year for the next 20 years, I might have my secret garden.  And in the meantime, I can create the flowerbeds and paths inside it.  Now doesn’t that sound great?  Oh, and if any of you feel like coming over to help, it might not take quite so long and you can enjoy the tranquillity of my secret garden too :-)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Big Week for the Heroine Addicts... celebrating birthdays and books

Sometimes you wonder just how much you can cram into a week...well this week three heroine addicts have/had birthdays Anna, Julie and moi (and for one of them it was a big one ending 0). And as if that wasn't enough...Julie has a new book out today...Dear Thing
You can find it here

Claire and Ben are the perfect couple. But behind the glossy façade, they've been desperately trying - and failing - to have a baby for years. Now, the stress and feelings of loss are taking their toll on their marriage. Claire's ready to give up hope and get on with her life, but Ben is not. And then Ben's best friend, Romily, offers to conceive via artificial insemination and carry the baby for them.
Romily acts in good faith, believing it will be easy to be a surrogate. She's already a single mother, and has no desire for any more children. Except that being pregnant with Ben's child stirs up all sorts of emotions in her, including one she's kept hidden for a very long time: Ben's the only man she's ever loved.
Two mothers-and one baby who belongs to both of them, and which only one of them can keep.

And the small paperback of The Cornish House is out

You can find it here

Can a house heal a broken heart?

When artist Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will be the fresh start she and her step-daughter desperately need. Trevenen is beautiful but neglected, and as Maddie discovers the stories of generations of women who've lived there before, she begins to feel her life is somehow intertwined within its walls.

But Maddie's dream of a calm life in the countryside is far from the reality she faces - and as she pulls at the seams of Trevenen's past, the house reveals secrets that have lain hidden for generations.

So please join us for cake and champagne to celebrate a fabulous week of birthdays and books!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Novel idea

My last post was a woeful long time ago, but since it announced my becoming a mummy*, you'll probably understand the long absence. 

Since then, I've been doing a lot of reading on my Kindle app on my phone, with the brightness turned down as low as it can go, held at a funny angle so as not to be apparent to the two-year old trying NOT to go to sleep in the toddler bed behind me.

File:Jane Austen 1870 cropped.jpgMy other reading time is courtesy of audio books on the cd player in the kitchen. Northanger Abbey has recently been making me laugh out loud, and I have always loved Jane Austen's defence of the novel in it.  This time, when I stood in the kitchen burning the toast, I ended up giving the section below an ovation.  How apt, how clever, how unashamed is this defence?  Given the criticism that women's fiction and romance still attracts (*yawn*  Really, critics?  Are you still playing that same tune?  Get over it already.) I love this quote even more....

"... and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding — joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.   Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.   Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine–hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens — there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.    “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language."   Well said, Jane!   *If you're wondering, there are no words in the English Language to describe how perfectly miraculous, breath-stealingly joyful, inventively mischievous and utterly tireless he is.  He has two speeds: 100 miles and hour and unconscious.  We are bewitched, dizzy in love, and enslaved!

Friday, April 5, 2013

playing games

© Renamarie | Used by Permission

I'm on holiday with my family right now (which is why my post is a day late). We're on the Isle of Wight, which is a lovely place to be, except for this April, when it's blowing freezing cold winds and scattering snow everywhere.

All of this means that we're staying indoors a lot, playing games. My six-year-old son and my husband have a tournament going on with a car racing game on the iPad; they spend hours talking about it, what cars they've earned, which ones they want, how they're going to improve them. I get motion sickness just from doing one lap, so I'm exempt from this particular game, but my son has devised this other game in which he gives me ten toy cars, keeping about thirty for himself, and I have to choose which ones are best for particular tasks and races. Then he does the races himself, and he always wins. My job is to complain about this.

Every night since we've been here, we've retired to the pub in the evening for food and for the latest bouts in our long-running Uno game, which my son is currently winning. We don't let him win—that would be unheard of in our family, we're all far too competitive for that—he's just very good at Uno.

This afternoon we went ten-pin bowling (I won, twice, naturally, because I'm American) and then we tried to have a walk on the seafront but it was so cold we found another pub, which had Monopoly, and played that for a couple of hours, over crisps and a pint.

Aside from the 'what if' game I play with myself all the time, I don't often play proper games. It's something I tend to save for holidays or for the rare evening when we have time between dinner, homework and bedtime. My parents play bridge socially; I used to play Dungeons and Dragons socially, but I haven't done that for years. Sometimes I feel that I should make more time for playing games.

At the lake where we spend our summers, there's a weekly cribbage tournament up at the general store, and that's something that sums up what I like about playing games: it brings people together. Even if you spend the whole evening talking about nothing except the cards, you still feel as if you know these people better afterwards.

What are your favourite games? What do you like about them?