Friday, 17 December 2010

Office Party

Just a few hours left until daughter #3 breaks up for Christmas, which means it’s my last proper working day of the year. If I had a real job I figure this would probably be the day of the Office Party, so in order not to miss out this year I have decided to host my own. In honour of the occasion I have put on an extra squirt of perfume and a jumper with a minimal amount of bobbling, and am preparing to crack open a tub of Marks and Spencers’ Christmas Soup. I shall then give a short speech, thanking myself for all my effort this year (glossing over the horribly missed deadline in April. Or was it originally meant to be February?) and inciting myself to further endeavour in 2011. I might even drain the last inch of red wine left in the bottle by the cooker and make a toast to all of you lot, who buy my books, say nice things about them, continue to visit this blog even though I'm rubbish at keeping it updated, and make me laugh.

I wonder if Ruby the cat will pull a cracker with me?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Cold.

As in, a) it is - very - and b)I have one. Have been feeling extremely sorry for myself, although was temporarily roused from my slough of self-pity by the drama of this morning's school run. Here in Cheshire we have escaped the worst of the snow (although the frost the last two mornings has been very Lion, Witch and Wardrobe-esqe) but rain early this morning had frozen fast, coating the roads and pavements with an inch of glassy ice and making the journey to school a cross between an extreme sport and a comedy sketch. I don't suppose the three cars we passed half-buried in the hedge were laughing much though.

Anyway, The Cold (both kinds) has just added another challenge in the annual game we call 'Getting Ready for Christmas'. Every year as I struggle to fit in work, basic I domestic duties, shopping and queueing in the post office around attending nativity plays, carol concerts and making cheese and pineapple cubes for 50 children for the class party it strikes me that this does have real potential as an actual board game and I resolve to make up a prototype and send it off to industry insiders the moment I have time. It'll be marketed at women, obviously, and will include things like 'Make your own mince pies - go forward 3 spaces' and 'Fail to find anything remotely flattering to wear for husband's office Christmas party - miss a turn'. 'Come down with revolting cold and bore everyone with your moaning' will also warrant a missed turn while 'Get your children to eat sprouts' and 'Post all presents before last possible dates and avoid paying three hundred pounds in special delivery rates' will earn you an extra turn and a champagne cocktail token. I'd really want Lauren Child to illustrate it. Anything else I should include?

I'll leave you to ponder that and retreat gratefully into Fictionland where my hero and heroine are at a wedding in sunny Italy. Let me know your ideas and we'll share the profits, OK?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like...

...(dare I say it?) Christmas.

Oh yes. Not only is it snowing, in a charming, fluffy, Pinewood studios way but, dear blog readers, I can smugly reveal that I have survived my first assault on the shops, and even have a stash of carrier bags under the bed to show for it. Yesterday* saw the annual concert of the Young Voices Choir (not to be confused with New Voices, which I have constantly done over the past couple of months, much to the irritation of my daughters and no doubt editors and other writers to whom I've conversed on the subject of the recent M&B contest) at the MEN arena in Manchester in which the daughters’ primary school always take part. Over the years this event has become a sort of seasonal starter’s whistle in my mind; the children are whisked away to warm up their vocal chords and us mums are deposited in the centre of Manchester with an entire day and a whole lot of extremely yummy shops at our disposal. As a campaign veteran (the t-shirt worn by daughter #3 yesterday says Young Voices 2003 on it and has been worn by both sisters) I now know that it’s a mistake to slip into Harvey Nichols champagne bar too early, so held off until we had more bags than we could comfortably carry and had spent more money than we could comfortably afford (and had tried on more perfume in Selfridges than was perhaps quite sociable. But at least it meant we could spread all our shopping out nicely.)

After the shopping and champagne comes the squeezing carrier bags into the narrow tiered seats of the arena and watching 6000 children sing their socks off. I have actually used the little circling device on my computer to show you where daughter #3 was, but you can't even see the circle. She's in the last section lit by white light, next to the blue-lit one. See her? Yes, there! Isn't she gorgeous?

There's always a moment when the children start to sing and the hairs on the back of your neck rise. This year it was their version of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours that set me off. Sniff. I knew that second glass of wine was a mistake.

(I was too busy reaching for the tissues to record that bit, but did remember to whip my phone out and find the camcorder function a little later. Here's one minute of World in Union. In the corner of the screen you can see the fabulous light up balloons we took so the children could spot us!)


Anyway, after getting back at midnight last night and waking up to thick snow this morning, today has had a funny kind of suspended-reality feeling that has been most un-conducive to getting stuck into the next book, and most conducive to getting stuck into the stash of posh Harvey Nicks mince pies I bought as presents. Oh dear. (Am clearly very closely in touch with my inner cavewoman and compelled by a primitive instinct to lay down winter fat to keep out savage cold. However, since cavewomen were not burdened with the task of buying three thousand Christmas presents or fitting into jeans, I probably should pay more attention to my outer 21st century writer-with-a-deadline-and-half-a-stone-to-lose and step away from the HN foodhall bags.)

On a positive note, I have managed to do a bit of light packaging up, so books will be on their way to Kristy, Ruth, Joanne, Denise, Janette, Kelly, Joanna, Mary, Amanda and Amanda. I don’t have as many copies of Her Last Night of Innocence as I’d thought, since on closer examination the box that I thought was filled with them contained a number of translation copies too Japanese Spanish Aristocrat anyone? Or Greek Powerful Italian? If you'd like a book in any other language let me know and I'd be delighted to send you one if I have it.

Right, had better pile on a few more layers and brave Siberian conditions to go to the post office. Am already looking like a cross between a teletubby and an extra in Dr Zhivago, however. Hope I don't meet anyone I know. How's the weather with you?

*was, in fact, Monday, but since I have the kind of goldfish brain that can't retain information like how to upload stuff from phone to blog this didn't get posted yesterday. Sorry!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Why Blogging isn't Remotely Like Riding a Bike

It’s funny, but when you don’t blog for a while you kind of forget how to. Lying in bed this morning, mentally running over the things I had to do today (buy hay for guinea pigs to insulate them against forecasted arctic weather, buy Galaxy Cookie Crumble chocolate for me for same purpose, work on outline for next book, hunt down missing mugs in daughters bedrooms) I realized with a tiny jolt of shock that I hadn’t blogged for ages - so long I'd kind of forgotten how to.

Usually the silence in the aftermath of a deadline means my brain has left the building along with the book and I've done nothing interesting enough to report to my own husband, never mind the blogosphere at large. However, on this occasion I don't even have that excuse, since last week I went down to London and spent a lovely afternoon drinking tea with my editor and talking books, projects, possibilities and Kiera Knightley (not sure how we got onto that subject) before going to gorgeous RNA Winter Party. Abby Green had found us a gem of a hotel in the shadow of Big Ben, a stone's throw away from the luscious library of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers where the party was held and Heidi Rice joined us for a drink and a plate of fish and chips (literally - one plate, 3 forks. Classy girls, us.) in the bar downstairs before we sashayed round there. Met up with Natalie Rivers, Fiona Harper, Sharon Kendrick as well as a handful of lovely M&B editors and numerous fantastically cool people (Hello Rachael! Hello Jude!) I had a long-awaited chance to catch up with Margaret James, whose delicious book The Silver Locket was responsible for making me so unsociable on holiday at half term. All in all it was a really good evening. (I'm choosing to blank out the painful five minutes when naughty Abby and I were completely incapacitated with giggles over some of the titles on the library shelves. Honestly. I'm 40 not 14. She is a Very Bad Influence. I'm going to get my mum to write a note saying I'm not allowed to be her partner again.)

Moving swiftly on (and assuming a serious, professional expression) I also have book news. Tristan and Lily’s story – Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride is coming out in the US in January 2011 under the far nicer title The Society Wife, and the other day the UPS man brought me a big box of author copies. So, if you’re in a part of the world where Tristan and Lily haven’t previously ventured drop me a line (including your postal address) via the website sometime this week and I’ll put your name into a draw for one of five books.


I should also mention that Her Last Night Of Innocence, which is a December release, is now available in the UK. You might recognize this as the work formerly known as The Book That Would Not Die, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog (or as regular as you can be when I only update it once every Preston Guild) you might remember how much fun I had writing it (clue: a bit less than being tied to a chair and forced to watch wall-to-wall Hollyoaks for seven months) By the time it was finished I’d lost all perspective on it and thought I might just quietly ignore its release date. However, I’m not sure that’s either very mature or, as a professional strategy, very impressive, so – heartened by the fact that it’s been in the no 1. Spot on the M&B website for the last couple of weeks I’m going to crack open the box of copies that’s lurking under the sofa in my office and a send few of those out too. Email me with your address if you’d like one.
(*Warning: Please don't be fooled by the cover. At no point do Cristiano and Kate while away the evening with a hand of cards, nor is Cristiano in the fourth form at school, despite appearing in his uniform on the front. )



My final piece of exciting news is that I have finally summoned the confidence to end a miserable two-year relationship with my last vacuum cleaner, and yesterday, after prolonged lobbying from the daughters, replaced it with one of these.


The theory was that even they might be moved to take an interest in dust-removal with a machine that’s pink and has eyelashes, but actually it’s so lovely I want to play with it all by myself. The guinea pigs will just have to shiver a while longer. I’m off to hoover under my bed.



Monday, 8 November 2010

Where was I?

Book is in. House is a mess. Outside it appears to be Autumn-on-the-cusp-of-Winter. Have no idea how or when this happened, but it's all most upsetting. In the manner of a confused elderly person I shall turn up the heating and retreat back to the world of fiction, where there are no dinner money reminders or toothpaste-encrusted basins to clean.

(Am often struck by the irony of longing and longing for a book to be finished, counting down days/nights/words to The End. And then feeling totally desolate. Ho hum. Some people are never happy.)




Friday, 22 October 2010

Hello Goodbye*

It’s been a whole month, a lot of words, a few extremely late nights, a complete career change for my hero but quite a lot of writing pleasure since I last blogged. Sorry for the long silence – this has been one of those books that has really absorbed me and made me feel like I’m living a parallel life - in a hulking great castle on the Northumberland coast, which is no bad thing (except for where real life is concerned, where it's resulted in a distinct falling off of domestic efficiency. Oops)

I haven’t exactly finished and sent the book off yet. It’s due in in the first week in November, but the daughters break up for half term today and we’re going away tomorrow, so I needed to get to a place where the end was not just in sight, but in touching distance. I always want finishing a book to be like the scene at the beginning of Romancing the Stone when Kathleen Turner sits at her desk, tears streaming down her face as she types faster and faster until she gets to The End. There have been a couple of books when it has been a bit like that for me, but mostly the way I work is a lot more messy and less organized. I write in a big surge of energy and focus, faster and faster without reading back over anything, until I get to the last chapter. And then I grind to a complete halt because I can’t go on to the grand finale until I know everything else is all in place, so I have to go right back to the start to do a thorough revision job before I write the ending. That’s the stage I’m at now – the reading-back, tidying-up, weeping-with-horror-at-the-holes-and-glaring-inconsistencies and wondering-if-there's-time-to-write-a-completely-new-book-in-a-week stage. Lovely.

Anyway, I can do all that on my printed-out ms while we’re away at the Cottage in the Middle Of Nowhere again this half term. I am so ready for a week without screens (apart from the TV variety, albeit with only 4 channels and a slightly grainy picture) and as I’ve been stuck inside for weeks, haven’t got round to getting the chimney swept and haven’t cooked anything decent for the last month – I'm also ready for lots of walking, open fires and proper food. And reading. And getting up in the morning (not with an alarm and not at a time that begins with 5, obv) to a house that doesn’t look like the ‘before’ sequence in ‘Grimefighters’. I shall try very hard to ignore the fact that I’m only going to come back to all that at the end of the week and hope that by then I will be so much restored in body and spirit by all the wholesome fresh air, exercise, red wine, time with my family that I will be able to face it with serenity. It is just my process. I must learn to love it. (Though if it was anything else I'd be taking it back to the shop and asking for an exchange to a more efficient model.)

So, before I go what I need to know is, what’s your process and have you learned to accept it?

* (To rather appropriately quote The Beatles, who have had a couple of random mentions in the book. Who knows why?)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I know, I know...

I said I’d come back and blog about London and this year's AMBA lunch and so far I’ve notably failed to deliver, which I think we'd all agree is totally unlike me. (No snorting at the back, thank you) The reason for this is that I’ve returned home feeling quite spookily full of creative energy - as well as wine, chocolate and lovely pudding - and am desperate to throw myself wholeheartedly back into the book. Think this is probably the result of hanging out with fabulous writers and talking process, heroes, conflict and romance, and also because for a long time I’ve had a lot of other stuff cluttering up my head and stealing my writing time. Now, suddenly, my calendar is clear and my brain is working overtime. (If it could start having fascinating ground-breaking epiphanies about parts of the story I haven't already written, that would be great.)


Anyway, in lieu of a proper report I'll leave you with some of the pitifully few photos I remembered to take...


Sharon Kendrick, Lynn Raye Harris, Karin Stoecker and Lucy King at the AMBA lunch (Just look at the glasses of water - aren't we all good? Or is it just that the wine has been knocked back already?)

Abby Green, pretending to be a paparazzo




My new favourite place to work.


If I don't post much in the next week or two, it's either a) an excellent sign that I'm fully immersed in the world of the book and am incapable of sensible comment. Or b) that I'm not, and am buried under the duvet with the biscuit tin. (Occasional clues as to which is applicable might possibly be available on Twitter.)

In the meantime - I'm definitely sparing a thought and a biscuit for those of you anxiously awaiting New Voices announcements and feedback. So many entries, so much talent - and so much courage for putting it out there. There might only be one winner, but for many people this is the first step on a great journey. My advice is don't be too worried about getting there quickly - just enjoy the scenery and the people you meet on the way.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

On the go

I'm sure there must be some kind of mathematical-type equation for the phenomenon that occurs when you're desperate to write, when the characters are holding lively, witty, heartfelt conversations in your head and dramatic scenes are presenting themselves vividly every five minutes, and the rest of your life is so busy and full of stuff (workshops, admin, getting your grey roots obliterated in readiness for presenting yourself in public at the annual Mills & Boon author lunch and Toast, sorting out the Home Front in advance of a three day absence etc) that it's virtually impossible. I think it might involve the concept that creativity + inspiration is inversely proportional to opportunity. Or something. (Help me out here, maths genius Ros...)

Anyway, I'm off to London tomorrow, and I will be taking my laptop to write on the train. Last time I did that I was writing a sex scene in a hot tub on the balcony of an alpine chalet. It all got a bit embarrassing as I was wedged in beside one of those aftershave-scented, iphone-dependent commuter boys, and I KNOW he was reading what was on my screen rather than his spreadsheet of sales figures. This time, to avoid embarrassment all round I have extravagantly invested fifteen of your finest English pounds upgrading to first class, on the basis that the increased space might mean that anyone sitting nearby is out of reading-range, and will probably be far too busy and important and high-powered to be interested anyway. (But just incase, I'm thinking of taking a copy of one of my books. 'Here,' I can say kindly. 'You can read a proper printed version, if you like.')

Back next week with headlines and photos. If I remember to a) pack my camera and b) take it out of my bag at all. Am v v looking forward to being enveloped in M&B sisterhood and talking/drinking/laughing/eating* enough to sustain me through long deadline weeks ahead...

* (admittedly, eating not usually a problem during deadline weeks. But can't argue with primitive instinct to lay down fat for survival in hard times. Ho hum.)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Eeek! Exciting!

At last the day has come when the New Voices competition is up and running, with a very glamorous and gorgeous website, just waiting to be filled with glamorous and gorgeous first chapters. If you have one tucked away inside your computer, now's the time to expose it to daylight, print it out (because mistakes are always a million times more noticeable on paper for some reason), give it a polish and then get it posted. What have you got to lose?


On the same subject, this Thursday sees my contribution to the search for Mills & Boon’s next signing with a special library event in which you can (hopefully) find out the highs, lows, facts, figures, dos and don’ts you need to know about writing for the world’s best-loved romance publisher. The cupcakes are ordered, the library ladies are prepared, and there are even a couple of spaces left (At least there were on Friday – you can check by phoning Nantwich library 01270 375361. But don’t put it off, in the manner of uber-procrastinator me, because they were down to the last few tickets!)

If you’re coming to the event from out of the area and don’t know your way around do drop me an email (via website mailbox) and I’ll get back to you with Useful Info. (How hard it can be to find your way around a town the size of the average B&Q superstore I don't know. But email me anyway!)

Friday, 3 September 2010

All Good Things Come To An End...

...including the summer holidays and my Balfour Competition. After our final trip (involving much excitement, planes, trains, an A-List celebrity, Abby Green, unflattering clothes, Natalie Rivers, a shopping centre and Heidi Rice, amongst other things - more details at some point in the future) all girls are back at school today and the house is quiet. So messy it looks like hundreds of teenagers broke in and held a rave here while we were away, but quiet. You can't have everything.

Last night, in between searching for pens that work, hockey socks, Jane Eyre and ties, the daughters picked out the names of ten people who will be receiving copies of Emily's Innocence. Thanks to everyone who contacted me - wish I could send out copies to you all, but well done Caroline, Kelly, Kristy, Amanda G, Amanda C, Peggy, Jane, Denise, Jayne and Jacqueline. If you left your address I'll get your book in the post today, if you didn't I'll be emailing!

And at some point, I'm going to get my (mysteriously wider) ass into the White Chair of Creativity and write. And write and write and write...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Gah!

Nipping off to squeeze the last bit of fun out of the summer holidays at an indecent hour tomorrow morning - did intend to pick out names and get books sent off before we went, but got a bit sidetracked by the Great Washing and Packing Challenge. Which means there's still a couple more days to drop me an email with the number of Balfour girls and your address. I'll choose ten winners when I get back!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Balfour Legacy, part 2.

It’s only August and there’s still a week left of the summer holidays, but today is one of those crisp, blue-sky apple scented mornings that leaves you in no doubt that autumn is sneaking up on you. Going outside before the daughters emerge from their beds I was so captivated by the dewy lushness of the garden that I felt sorry for Muffin, banged up in his hutch, and opened the door so he could lollop around. An hour later, realizing that he’s breakfasted extravagantly on the lettuces my husband planted out at the weekend I’m not sure that this was such a good idea. Muffin however, has tasted freedom as well as twenty one romaine lettuces and has no intention of giving himself up. Oh dear. Garden will look a good deal less lush tomorrow morning.

Anyway, moving away from Muffin’s Guilt and back to Emily’s Innocence - a big thank you to everyone who’s mailed so far with the answer to the question. It took a while to get my author copies, but when I did I got quite a few so I’m going to pick out ten names to send books to. If you are leaving an answer on the website, perhaps you could also leave your postal address too, to save time if yours is one of the names picked out (If you’ve already left your answer without an address don’t worry!)

It might seem a bit odd that I’m blogging about the background to this book when the plot and the characters came from an outline rather than from my own head. However, although the process of writing a book for a continuity series is very different from writing one in the ordinary run of things, it requires a HUGE amount of creative thinking to bring the characters to life and make them move naturally along the path carved out for them. I’ve said elsewhere that it feels like writing backwards. Usually I start with characters and flesh them out enough so that they themselves dictate the course of the action through their responses and choices, however, in a continuity you already know (broadly) what’s going to happen. You just have to make it work, and this means doing an awful lot of reading between the lines and thinking in the bath.


This was the first time I’ve ever created a fictional kingdom in one of my books, and it was huge fun. The only information I was given about Santosa was that it was ‘a small island principality off the coast of Brazil’, so the rest was up to me. A lovely couple of hours of cyber-tourism led me to the island of Fernando de Noronha and this became the inspiration for Santosa.






The view from exclusive Santosan restaurant,
The Purple Parrot...












...And the scene upon which Luis looks down
as he flies Emily home from the ballet on the mainland








And the beach where Luciana's birthday party was held, with 'Rico's monument'...


I’ve blogged before (over at Nalini Singh’s blog *shameless namedrop*) about the way fairy tales have a habit of working their way into my books, and the story that echoed through this one was Red Riding Hood. It appeared from nowhere on the first page of the prologue, then dissolved into thin air again, only to resurface as the sexual tension mounted. I was a bit surprised by this, as it’s not a story in which I’d ever identified any strong romantic elements (unlike Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella – both of which have influenced previous books) but I when I came to think about it, it was the darker aspects – fears of being powerless, preyed upon, devoured – which were relevant here. I had an image in my head while I was writing – a very precisely remembered illustration from a fairy tale book I had as a child, of endless tall black trees and a slender figure in a billowing scarlet cloak running through them (I wish I could find it now), and this totally informed the build up to the love scene between Luis and Emily. I love it when that kind of random-thought thing happens and guides the writing.


The other thing that forms the backdrop of a book is the music I listen to while I'm writing. Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson (pinched from daughter #2's itunes account) was Emily's theme song, while the mighty King's of Leon's Use Somebody was Luis's. Other songs on the playlist included All Saints Pure Shores (for its beachy Santosan vibe) Tiny Dancer (for obvious reasons) and a couple of songs by a band called Dexter Freebish Kate Hardy drew my attention to a couple of years ago now. And assorted other odd things that must have made sense at the time, at a particular stage of the book but haven't been given much of an ipod airing since (Stronger anyone? Didn't think so... It's a strange business, writing.)

I think the only other thing to say about writing this book was how fab it was to be working alongside other authors - both from a fangirl point of view, but also because of the support we gave each other. I was in regular, hand-holding contact with Kate Hewitt and Carole Mortimer and Sharon Kendrick and it really did make the whole thing seem like quite an adventure. The best bit of which is now, when I get to actually read the books I got such tantalising glimpses into back then! (Am currently LOVING Sharon's book, Kat's Pride. Kat is a fantastic heroine. And as for Carlos... *fans self* Off to read more...)

Keep those competition answers coming and I'll pick out names at the weekend!

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Balfour Legacy: Emily's Innocence

Okaaaay... Have done the arduous ‘back to school’ shopping trip for uniform and shoes and am beginning to make headway with the washing landslide, which means that there’s nothing to stop me finally getting around to doing the long-postponed post about my contribution to the Balfour series. Well, nothing apart from three daughters lounging untidily and noisily around the house and a book that’s demanding to be written, but the pile of author copies currently cluttering up my desk is ruining the otherwise zen-like minimalism of my workspace (ha!) and I really need to re-home them before I can apply myself properly to Kit and Sophie. So, I'm hiding out in my bedroom with tea, toast and my laptop to bring you the lowdown on writing Emily's Innocence. Listen carefully, there'll be questions at the end!


When my editor first mentioned the idea of the Balfour series to me I was a pathetically easy-sell. ‘Big English country house… wealthy patriarch… wives, mistresses… eight daughters…’ ‘I’ll do it.’

I knew straight away that this was going to be exactly my kind of book, and I was even more excited when I got ‘the bible’ – a booklet detailing all the background, characters and story outlines for each of the sisters – through the post. Flicking through, finding the story that had my name on it and starting to read about Emily and Luis was a real heart-racing, hand-trembling moment because, in spite of my eagerness to be involved in the series there was a worry lurking in the dark recesses of my mind that I just wouldn’t connect with the story or characters I’d been given.

But the moment I read the phrase ‘incorrigible playboy bachelor’ I knew everything was going to be alright. As someone who has veered helplessly towards serious, tormented heroes in the past it felt like an absolute gift to be presented with the task of creating a shameless playboy and I started writing with great enthusiasm. Luis quickly sprang to life on the page with his sarcastic asides and wisecracking one-liners and I adored writing the bits with him in it. OK, let’s be honest – I just adored him. Here’s the face I based him on…




However, it was when I got to about the halfway mark in the book that I suddenly hit a wall and realized that, much as I was having a ball creating a wicked, unapologetically shallow hero with his mind permanently below his waist (or that of any passing beauty) I’d actually pretty much neglected to the ‘hero’ part of his job description. I’d always aimed to develop depth to him through the action of the book, but the way I’d written him that journey was simply going to be too long to accomplish in 250 pages! So, after a long and increasingly excited conversation with my editor one day I put down the phone and went back to the start, introducing a darker edge to Luis’s character and a more powerful motivating force behind his behaviour. The original story outline in 'the bible' specified that his older brother had died, leaving Luis as the reluctant heir to the Santosan throne. By taking that a step further and making Luis indirectly responsible (or so he sees it) for Rico’s death it opened up a whole goldmine of emotion for me to romp about in. (India Grey's Obvious Tip for Aspiring Writers – give yourself enough material to work with and it makes the whole business of getting words on the page a great deal easier!)

As for Emily, the outline specified that she was the adored baby of the family, ‘however, the indulgence of her father and her sisters has not ruined her character – she remains down-to-earth, beautiful and good, a stronger version of her graceful, kind-hearted mother.’ I have to admit when I read that my heart sank a little as it can be a challenge to create a heroine who is virtuous and sweet without making her come across like the annoying class swot. However, I decided Luis was my secret weapon here. He's exactly the kind of person who would address this head-on and voice all those issues directly, forcing Emily to confront the possiblity that her irreproachable values and high moral standards are just hypocrisy and naivite in disguise. Introducing this alternative perspective on Emily’s character early on made her feel more human to me, and from that point on I really bonded with her. Here’s how I pictured her…






It was in email conversations with Natalie Rivers and Michelle Styles that I explored the importance of ballet in relation to Emily's character, and it threw up some interesting points. Emily is regarded as a brilliant dancer, which implies a certain ease with her own body and openness to physical expression, yet these were the very things that her uptight character struggled with most. Call me sadistic, but I like to see a character struggle, and so it was this discrepancy which formed the core of Emily's conflict and the basis for her journey. Who better than louche, sexy Luis to help her overcome her inhibition?

So, that's a little introduction to the characters... come back on Thursday when I'll be talking about the background, setting and inspiration behind the story. In the meantime I'd like to make some inroads into this pile of author copies and send out the neat postcards I've had made. For a chance to get one email me via the website (there's a link somewhere over there <--- but it's got a bit lost amongst all the other stuff) and answer this simple question: How many Balfour sisters are there? (You can find the answer in the above ramble if you look closely enough!)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

All Camped Out

Back home for good now after nomadic couple of weeks camping in France, and then in my stepmother’s field for our annual family get-together (aka the Olympics). However, joy of waking up this morning between clean sheets in a proper bed is somewhat mitigated by feelings of utter despair at the overwhelming amount of washing, sorting out and putting away of kit required, so have retreated up to my office to comfort-eat pistachio nuts and catch up on emails and computer stuff. Alas, now feel completely overwhelmed by that too.

France was lovely. We went with friends and, unwilling to squander precious holiday driving long distances, decided to go no further than Normandy where we set up camp on a site in the grounds of a fabulous, crumbling chateau. We were right on the shore of a huge lake, where the children could canoe and fish for the giant carp we glimpsed in its olive green depths (and which would occasionally leap up, as if laughing at their efforts.)

We were in the lush heart of Calvados country, and it was absolutely beautiful…



This was the setting I chose for Taken For Revenge, Bedded for Pleasure and it was every bit as luscious as I'd pictured it. In many ways, with its fields of cows and orchards and timbered buildings it was a lot like Cheshire, but distinctively French and ergo more stylish. I repeatedly got us lost by failing to read the map because I was so busy gazing out at the glorious countryside and shrieking with excitement as I caught glimpses of fairy-tale castles behind ornate wrought iron gates, and farmhouses, looking like film-sets and displaying the kind of effortless distressed elegance that I constantly fail to achieve at home, which appeared through boughs of ripening apples.

In the evenings in our lakeside camp the seven children turned our tent into a gambling den, obsessively playing Black Jack for mini Mars Bars while we sat outside conducting comprehensive taste-tests on the local cider and wine and spotting shooting stars. One day we went to Honfleur and took refuge from a torrential downpour in a pavement restaurant for a long, boozy and memorable lunch (which sparked off lots of inspiration) and another we drove up and along the coast to Arromanches, soaking up the D-Day history with avid fascination. Faded, fabulous Deauville was another place where inspiration was everywhere (although sadly tall, dark, handsome James Bond actors were nowhere to be found...)


I don't think we would have managed to drag ourselves home at all if it hadn't been for the lure of the Family Olympics a few days later, and the necessity of putting together fancy dress costumes. This year each team was given a letter of the alphabet to base their theme around: as Team G, my nephew (pictured below - how cool?) came up with the idea of Goths, which gave me the perfect excuse to give my corset another outing. (Had to let the laces out at least an inch from last year though. Oops. I blame Cristiano.)

The weekend flew by in a warm blur of wine, nostalgia and laughs interspersed with the odd game of Swimming pool Egg and Spoon and Lawn Darts. I enjoyed an unprecedented level of success in the games this year (demonstrating particular finesse in the Spud Tossing event, though I say so myself) however, I have to admit that the fact that the Goths brought home bronze medals was largely down to my competitive, competent alpha-male team-mates (Thanks boys!) No room to bask in glory though as Gold went to Daughter #3 in Team C (Circus) and Silver went to Daughter #1 and my sister-in-law in Team M (Military - showing that you can be killer competitors while also looking like Cheryl Cole in the Fight for this Love video. How is that fair?)

Anyway, now we're home and they've returned to languishing in their bedrooms like consumptive Victorians while I trail around sorting out the aftermath of two camping trips like a below-stairs skivvy, I'm wondering if introducing some kind of competitive element into household chores will induce them to help? Speed Ironing, perhaps. Or Hoover Relay. Or how about The 'Pick up all your Stuff from the Floor before I take it to the Charity Shop' Challenge? Think this might be my only chance of getting back to my poor neglected book...

So, what's been happening while I've been away? Fill me in on all the news!


Monday, 26 July 2010

Some things I would blog about if I had time to blog...

  • Books I’ve read recently
    Particularly Abby Green’s Breaking the Sheikh's Rules, which has gone right into my top ten Modern/Presents books somewhere around the number one slot thanks to a combination of a really sexy hero, the most appealing and adorable heroine and the kind of setting that makes me sigh with nostalgic satisfaction. I’m not usually a huge fan of sheikh books for all sorts of reasons, but this one hooked me in on page one with its lush Irish backdrop and the horses – there was something about it that whizzed me right back to the first Mills & Boon books I ever read as a teenager and reminded me exactly why I fell in love with them. I’ve also just finished Michelle Reid’s Balfour book – Mia’s Scandal, which features another really fabulous, memorable heroine. It was - predictably - gorgeously written, pacy, sexy and satisfying, as well as being really interesting to see bits of the wider Balfour puzzle slotting into place, and find characters I’d got to know pretty well pop up in a different setting. Made me want to go back and re-visit my Balfour book, so it’s pretty convenient that…

  • My author copies finally arrived!
    Emily and Luis are in the building. I, however, will not be for much longer as we are about to go on holiday, making it extremely bad timing to blog in detail about the book and do a contest. Gah! Will get to it when we get home again, but in the meantime, talking of contests…

  • Mills & Boon’s New Voices Contest has just been launched.
    If you have ever harboured any ambition to write for the world’s biggest and best-loved romance publisher this is a fab chance to give it a go. My take on it is that it’s not so much about winning an i-pad or an editor – though one lucky, talented person is going to wake up with an almighty champagne hangover at the end of it all – but about being given that crucial little push to start putting your dreams in motion. I often wonder how long it would have taken me to stop faffing around and finding excuses if Penny Jordan hadn’t told me to go away and write a chapter and send it to her within two weeks, so if you’re an uber-procrastinator like me you can look on this as your call to action. Start writing over the summer, ready to put something up on the website in September (under a pseudonym if you’re shy) and take advantage of a whole lot of free and honest critiquing. (Which might hurt, but will be a taste of things to come if you get accepted!) And tied into the contest is...

  • The event I’m doing at Nantwich Library on September 9th.
    I’m doing away with the workshop thing and am going for a much more relaxed, informal discussion on Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Mills & Boon Romance (And Possibly Several Things That You Don’t) so Nantwich Library is the place to be if you have burning questions about lines, love scenes, layering conflict, or anything else – even if it doesn’t begin with ‘L’. I'd really love to see you, if you're remotely thinking of coming. (I think you need to phone the library to book places - details are here on the romance is not dead website.) I’m fully intending to max up the girly afternoon tea opportunity, and am really looking forward to doing my first M&B event on home turf, in the library where I used to spend Saturday mornings sitting on the mustard-coloured scratchy carpet reading The Wild Swans (my absolute favourite book for years – I borrowed it so many times I don’t know why my mum didn’t just buy me a copy for Christmas. Sniff.) Anyway, on the subject of home turf, daughters 1 and 2 came with me last week to the launch of…


  • An exhibition in our local (gem of a) museum entitled Nantwich People Past and Present. Penny Jordan and I are both included, along with a surprising amount of interesting and inspiring people for such a tiny rural market town. I am in a corner, nose to nose with Isabella Blow. And not many people can say that.



Tuesday, 20 July 2010

So girls, here's the plan...

The summer holidays are upon us. You can tell that because the sun has suddenly disappeared and the sky is all leaden clouds and weird yellow light, and my kitchen is liberally smeared with jam and filled with the sound of CITV warring with Jason Derulo. In spite of all that it feels great to be freed from the tyranny of the school run and the need to iron uniform, although this year the 'end of term' feeling of relief is tempered by the fact that, for the first time, I’m embarking on the summer holidays with an unfinished book all spread out messily in my head. Back in May, in a moment of optimistic delusion after I’d submitted the last book, I pledged to have this one finished by the time the kids broke up from school, to a) make up some lost time, and b) allow me to morph into Doris Day Mummy for the summer. Back in reality, where it takes me an average of 5 months to write a book, I’m a woman in need of a Strategy.

Luckily, thanks to my writing guru Michelle Styles I have one...


Generally I’m an all or nothing person – a ‘shut myself away and turn into a hero-obsessed, sleep-deprived, what-day-is-it?’ type person, or someone who thinks “oh well, only three more hours until I need to make a start on dinner, so there’s no point in switching the computer on today" so writing during the holidays was always going to be tricky. A while ago Michelle blogged about a method she was experimenting with, of writing in word-chunks. She’d found that 750 words at a time worked for her, but suggested I try a smaller number, like 250. And because she is wise and wonderful and I was prepared to give anything a go, I did.


And ladies, so far I have to report that it’s working like a charm. I wake up, write 250 words (which takes about twenty minutes) Go get breakfast, while my mind ticks over the book not the squalor in the kitchen, then go write another 250. Have a shower, while dialogue and details go round in my head, and write another 250, and so on whenever I can through the day. I’m hardly breaking any writing speed records, but I’m not completely neglecting the little darlings either and am keeping the book fresh in my head and moving on the page. Of course, we’re only on Day 4, and I still have the challenge of keeping it up while packing for a week’s camping in France, dealing with the washing when we get back, getting ready for the next trip (which involves both camping and fancy dress costumes) and simultaneously providing amusement (well, providing food and clean clothes anyway) for the children. (Deep yogic breathing and smile of forced serenity....) But I think it might just keep me sane.

Is anyone else juggling the roles of writer and Person I.C.O Junior Entertainment this summer? How are you managing, and do you fancy giving the 250 word challenge a go? Let me know!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

I think we'll call this Irony

Yesterday was Sports Day at both Big and Little schools. Daughters 1&3 were both taking part - at Big school it’s optional and since Daughter #2 shares my deep apathy when it comes to competitive physical exertion she certainly wasn't going to be putting herself forward for the house long jump.

So how come she was the one I ended up sitting with in A&E for FIVE HOURS yesterday? And is she the only person to manage to break her arm watching sports day?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Incredibly...

...and at long last my website has been updated.

It’s been such a long time coming because my web-slave is a very good friend who has been going through the mill with family issues, so any time we have spent together in the last six or seven months has been more about wine and sympathy than brisk professionalism (always a stretch for me.) Anyway, after a couple of evenings, a Thai takeaway, several tubes of Pringles and several more cans of whatever lager it was that the supermarket were trying to get rid of after England's dismal exit from the World Cup… my husband and he have nailed it. (I think. I'll send chocolate to anyone who spots any mistakes!) Watch out for info on the Balfour book coming soon…

(Although I’m beginning to think I imagined ever writing the Balfour book. Still no sign of author copies yet, and no word on their whereabouts. Will keep sleuthing…)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

And Now... Not Writing

Another reason why I don’t like to post about writing is because the moment I do you can guarantee that something will happen to disrupt it. In this case, it’s been daughter #2 coming down with a really horrible, full-on dose of flu. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is now, though for the first 24 hours I was on high-alert, checking her over for rashes and asking her to put her chin on her chest every five minutes (in the last book I had a child with meningitis and did far too much research into symptoms than is wise for a hypochondriac, over-anxious mother.) Anyway, she seems a little bit better this morning and is sitting up and watching In the Night Garden, half with a cynical, almost-teenage eye and half with the eye of a poorly girl who just needs comfort.

So, some of the things that occured to me as I lay on the fold-out bed in daughter #2’s room and didn't sleep last night were…

1. That I really should clean the children's rooms more often. Particularly the skirting board behind the dressing table.

2. That my hero probably should discover the truth about his father earlier in the book. I originally assumed he would find this out at the end, but maybe it might be better if he knew all along?

3. That I need to make a vet's appointment for Muffin the rabbit and the guinea pigs to have their nails clipped. Because I am NOT doing it myself with the nail clippers, ever again. (Who would have thought such a tiny foot would bleed so much?)

3. That there are only eight more writing days until the summer holidays. And that's not including Sports Day, Leaver's Assembly, daughter #3's End-of-Term Play, Sick-Child days or Small Animal Care appointments.

4. That my Balfour book (see gorgeous cover, below) is out in a couple of weeks and I haven't had any author copies yet. Which is a shame because I haven’t done a contest and giveaways for ages and I'm definitely going to with this one.


So, all in all not a wasted night then. I just wish I had the energy to put any of the above into action...

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Writing

I haven’t been writing about writing much lately, have I? It’s not because I haven’t been doing it – I have, honest – but I used to blog a lot about the book I was working on, and the characters (some more than others, admittedly) and now I don’t seem to do that so much. I’m not sure why this is – it certainly isn’t a conscious decision. I think perhaps it might be something to do with the fact that these days I find I’m writing less and less to a plan, so I really don’t know where the book is going, what’s going to end up in the final version and what will hit the cutting room floor.

With this story I feel like I’m walking in thick fog, but I’m not worried because I know the characters very well and I trust them to steer a good path through it. I love the heroine particularly much. She’s called Sophie and she reminds me a little of Sarah in Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper but with lots more confidence and a much naughtier sense of humour. The hero is a little more elusive – but deliberately so, which is OK. The key words for his character are ‘distant’ and ‘disapproving’, and the closest I can find to a physical representation of the man in my head is this one…(partly for his upright English looks, and partly for the qualities of the character he plays here!)

The theme tune for the book is this one (the key line being ‘Living alone is all I’ve ever done well…’)


I’m enjoying writing this one. Just have to focus on the voices of the characters in my head and not the tick tock of the deadline clock. So what about everyone else? Is it fog or bright sunshine in your writing world?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Capturing the moment. Or not.

Like me, Glastonbury is celebrating a milestone birthday this year. Well, not Glastonbury itself – as one of the most ancient inhabited sites in Britain that’s reassuringly older than me – but the music festival, which is held every year on Pilton fields. Here’s me as a chubby-cheeked, shiny-faced (hungover to the back teeth) student there, half a lifetime ago in 1990.
Sadly, this is about the only picture I have of that weekend - no exciting shots of bands onstage (there were some great ones), mud (there was lots), or strange people dressed up as trees (a significant number), which got me thinking. These days my daughters can't feed the cat or make a cup of tea without getting photographic evidence for their Facebook pages, but back then I think photography was more the preserve of proud parents and middle-aged tourists than the average Glasto-goer. I guess I like the fact that we were all too taken up with the moment to think about the photo-opportunities, but I do rather regret it now. (Although since I clearly failed to pack either make-up or a mirror perhaps I shouldn't)

So, can anyone make me feel better? What exciting events have you attended and totally failed to record properly?


Monday, 21 June 2010

The Colours of Summer



Pink bowl + pale green beans (+ glass of rosé) = happy me

Thursday, 17 June 2010

It's not the destination, but the journey...

On Tuesday* I went on the Orient Express with my mother. For her it’s been a bit of an ambition for a long time, although I think that she probably originally envisaged the train sliding through exotic-sounding stations in the warm dusk as it sped on its way to Venice, rather than past smoke-blackened northern mill towns between Crewe and York. But anyway, she’d been looking forward to it hugely; me, if I'm honest, not so much, due to the fact that my current book is calling to me in increasingly desperate tones. When she told me that the journey was going to take 3 1/2 hours each way my first thought was ‘but I could drive it in 2 1/2!’ and my second was ‘Can I take my laptop?’ I didn’t actually get around to saying either to her as that was the moment she dropped the bombshell that we had to be at the station by 7.15 am.


But it was fabulous. I mean, really fabulous. I shall never be able to stagger onto an overcrowded, grimy Virgin Pendolino to Euston again without remembering getting on board the Northern Belle, sitting down at a table laid with damask and crystal and being handed a bellini. Here’s a few pictures of our beautiful carriage (which we had to ourselves, so could giggle like schoolgirls without being overheard)






















Stepped off the train at York, buoyed up by champagne and smoked salmon and slightly disorientated - it was like a kind of top notch restaurant you might find in a Harry Potter novel, where you enter from one place and find yourself in entirely another when you come out. My brother lives in York and we spent the day shopping and hanging out with him, so actually the destination was pretty cool, (specially as I got to pick up my delicious niece and nephew from school and have an hour with them before we had to head back to the Train of Indulgence) but that's beside the point. Having spent a lovely couple of hours in the company of a group of interesting, wise and wonderful women at the National Trust writing workshop I did on Sunday, and talking about the road to publication, the idea of enjoying the journey in its own right was definitely uppermost in my mind.


One of the several squillion differences between the Orient Express and the 17.09 Virgin Express service from Euston to Crewe (aside from the slightly sticky seats and the commuter with his thigh pressed right up against yours in the tightly packed carriage) is the much slower speed at which it travels, and the way that allows you to notice so much more - like the lupins growing wild at the side of the track, and the shadows of clouds moving across the big green fields of unripe wheat. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that getting somewhere quickly (ie to publication, for the purposes of this clumsy analogy, which is directed at the ladies I met who are waiting for editor feedback / trying to muster the strength and energy to start again and submit / facing the prospect of beginning a new writing project in a new genre) is not necessarily the best way. Travel slowly, indulgently, and notice stuff on the way. And don't just save the champagne for when you get there either. Celebrate the journey.


* I would have put this post up yesterday, but spent most of the day (without exaggeration) trying to work out how to get the photos I took on my phone onto my computer. Only when my husband had spent the entire evening trying to do the same did we conclude that the installation disk that came with my phone is faulty. 'Dear Samsung, you owe me 9 hours of my life back and a stress-reducing hot stones massage in a technology-free spa in the Himalayas. Could you also explain to my editor that another writing day lost was your fault, not mine. Thank you. Yours in extreme frustration and techno-loathing, India Grey.'



Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Weekend, and Workshop

Post birthday depression has descended, along with grey clouds and rain, after weekend of blazing sun, champagne and celebrating here in the green heart of Shropshire. Oh to wake up to this view every morning…





(...although having to drive across two fields to reach the road and getting out of the car twice to open and close gates would make the school run unbearably complicated. Would have to home educate, or better still - send the children out to work on the land while I wrote lyrical poetry based heavily on A.E. Housman.)


Anyway, back to the weekend. Some friends came down on Saturday evening and we ate outside as the sun slipped behind the hill and the fields gradually dissolved into velvety darkness. The daughters had decided on a formal dress code and had raided the dressing up box for my old University ball dresses and hand-me-down outfits from weddings past, while the men dusted off their dinner jackets. I wore a dress from years ago that had to be held together with safety pins and high heels that kept sinking into the lawn.






















Later, when the cheap candles we'd bought from The Co-Op had all burned down into waxy puddles we set off sky lanterns...




Sunday morning was so glorious and green and golden that it would have been a criminal waste not to celebrate it with champagne and breakfast outside, after which we set off to explore. Acton Scott recently featured in a BBC TV series here in the UK called Victorian Farm and the children wanted to spot the celebrity animals who'd made an appearance. (The actual cottage in which the programme was made – authentically minus electricity, running water and an indoor bathroom – is also available to rent. Am charmed by the idea in theory, but as the absence of a hairdryer in the otherwise five-star appointed house we stayed in caused a minor crisis I don’t think we’ll be making a booking anytime soon)



All teenage cynicism and ennui dissolved in the face of newborn chicks and piglets and the competitive task of crushing grain in some kind of huge, clanking iron contraption that was much harder than the junior members of our group made it look. (Must look out for one on ebay – the perfect way to keep children gainfully employed and away from screen-based entertainment, as well as providing excellent personal work-out opportunity. Was reading somewhere recently about a diet that allows cakes and biscuits as long as they’re home-made, on the basis that the calories expended in the cooking makes up for the ones ingested in the eating. Feel that if you’d made your own flour first you’d definitely be allowed second helpings too.)



Yesterday, in a continuation of the weekend's impromptu Victorian theme, on the way home we stopped off at Blists Hill near Ironbridge and wandered around the shops with the stash of farthings and thre’pences exchanged in the bank there. Daughter #1 has a Home Economics GCSE module today and we bought a perfect enamel pie dish for her chicken and ham pie and ate cones of chips fried in beef dripping while looking, urchin-like, into shop windows. By now I was so thoroughly immersed in the whole Victorian vibe that I had to fight the urge to go into the drapers shop (just like the one in Cranford!) and squander our remaining ha'pennies on a bonnet trimmed with silk flowers and lace. Remembered just in time that it might cause the daughters some playground embarrassment and look a little incongruous in the harshly lit aisles of Sainsburys.


However, on reflection it would have been a justifiable purchase after all, since I’m giving a workshop on writing romance this coming Sunday at the National Trust’s Quarry Bank Mill, which is a place so steeped in Victorian ambience that it makes you want to take up sewing samplers and swigging laudanum. I'm not sure if there are any places left, but if you're in the area and would like to come along you can find out the details, and the number to call, here. (I might not have bought the bonnet, but I can't promise I won't turn up in my corset...)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Countdown

Less than 12 hours to go of my thirties. Am torn between the urge to raid my daughter's wardrobe, book myself some botox, put the Bacardi Breezers on ice and go out and grab a toyboy, or go shopping for sensible shoes and supportive undergarments and join a Bridge club.

Will probably just finish sorting out the cupboard under the stairs instead. Denial always such a comfort at times like this.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Why did I just do that?

Sign up to twitter. I don't even know how to use it, and since the only two questions I can answer in sentences of less than 140 characters are 'Do you want a cup of tea? and 'Do you want a glass of wine?' I really don't think that I'll ever be able to use it for meaningful communication, even if I can fathom how it works.

When you sign up the first thing it asks you, in what is no doubt meant to be an encouragingly matey way is 'What's happening?' The only response I can think of to that is 'I haven't got a clue.'

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Beautiful Blogger!

Ages ago, during the dark period of The Book That Would Not Die, Francine nominated me for a Beautiful Blogger award. Well, now I’ve been to the hairdressers and had my grey roots touched up and have slapped some lovely peony pink nail varnish on my toes (mostly on the nails, but a bit on my actual toes as well) I’m ready to accept it. Here are the five questions I have to answer to qualify. (And my answers, of course.)


1. Where were you five years ago?

  • In May 2005 we were still - just - living in our old house and I was feeling nostalgic and wistful about packing up to move here in mid-June. Daughter #3 was about to start Big School, so the packing inevitably involved getting rid of vast quantities of small pink items of clothing and baby toys.
  • Hovering around the computer (ancient hunk of beige space junk that was finally consigned to the skip in the council tip in January) to check emails 58 times a day and see if an editor at Richmond had got back to me about my partial submission (the one that grew up to become The Italian’s Defiant Mistress a year later)
  • Working, on a very part-time and reluctant basis, at Laura Ashley.Camping out in the new house while we ripped out the kitchen and knocked down walls.
    Writing in bed on a laptop with Ruby the Airhead Cat while builders trooped in and out downstairs.


2. What is/was on your things to do list?

Back then my things to do list would have looked something like this…

  • Finish packing
  • Finish unpacking
  • Finish decorating (just one room would be an achievement, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed it. When I decorate there’s always a length of skirting board or a bit of doorframe that retains its yellowing gloss paint as I always lose interest before the end.)
  • Finish working at Laura Ashley
  • Finish book

3. What 5 snacks do you enjoy?

  • Toast and honey
  • Tunnocks Tea cakes – not just because they’re utterly delicious and surely that marshmallowy stuff inside consists mainly of air and is therefore virtually calorie-free, but because their retro red and silver striped wrappers add a jaunty air to any teatime table. Although mainly I scoff them straight from the biscuit tin.

  • Dark chocolate ginger biscuits.
  • Chocolate-covered salted pretzels (Trenda, I love you)
  • Carrot sticks*

    (*one of these may not be strictly true, but has been added in the interests of promoting a healthy balanced diet to the readers of this blog.)
4. What 5 places have you lived?
  • This house
  • The big Victorian house with the Minton tiled hallway and the collection of traffic cones in the front garden, at University in Manchester
  • The studio flat He and I shared when we first got together that was so small you could make a cup of tea in the ‘kitchen’ without getting out of bed
  • The 1930s house we bought because we loved its original period features, and could afford it because the estate agent called them ‘scope for modernization.’
  • This house again.


5. What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?

  • Ah. Let me just state from the outset that I would make the world’s worst billionaire. Too much choice and too many important decisions utterly messes with my head, so the first thing I would have to do was offload the vast bulk of my fortune to prevent myself spending it all on Tunnocks tea cakes and dying prematurely of a condition related to excessive marshmallow consumption. Obviously, I’d offload the cash by donating it to friends, family and lots of Very Worthwhile Causes rather than buying hideous coffin-sized designer handbags and status transport (cars, yachts, jets and all that), but I’d have to hire someone to choose the causes from my longlist or I’d go completely mad, lying awake haunted by thoughts of the people I had neglected to help. I’d also…
  • Get one of these...


I’d really love a little cottage in the middle of nowhere (as someone who is incapable of thinking far enough ahead to shop for an entire week I’m not cut out for life too far from civilization long term so a permanent move would be off the cards) but would find it impossible to choose between the wilds of Scotland, the Northumberland coast, or lush green Herefordshire cider-country, so this would be the ideal solution.

  • Pay for Ruby the Airhead Cat to go into an expensive Rehabilitation Facility for Serial Bird Killers.
  • Only ever wear cashmere socks.
  • Still probably become an obsessive, paranoid recluse who would be convinced all my friends only like me for my money and would alienate everyone by forcing embarrassingly large amounts of cash on them all the time. My children would probably turn into despotic divas with unhealthy addictions to plastic surgery and online gambling and I’d end up living alone in my caravan with Ruby the Reformed Serial Bird Killer Cat and my collection of cashmere socks.

    And that’s why I don’t bother with the lottery.
If anyone else fancies doing this let me know because I'd love to read your answers. (The Three Kates? Michelle? You Minxes? Go on!)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

New beginnings

Am able to show my face on the blog again, having just written the first page of my new book.

I had intended to get stuck in long before now, but the past week has been entirely swallowed up in catching up with things on the very neglected home front. It’s been absolute heaven to wake up in the morning (in clean sheets) and to have nothing more urgent to contemplate than sweeping up fallen apple blossom and wisteria petals, painting the mirror I bought for the daughters’ bathroom six months ago and lounge around on the sofa reading Michelle Styles’ fabulous latest – Compromising Miss Milton. (I suppose that wasn’t strictly catching up on stuff on the home front, but whilst doing it I did notice that there was a pre-sucked chupa chups lolly cemented down the back of the cushions so it was a useful domestic exercise, as well as being one in gorgeous writing and delicious characterization – wry, witty Adam Ravensworth is surely one of Michelle’s sexiest creations.)

I also spent a larger than usual proportion of time watching TV, where the whole ‘who’s going to be Prime Minister’ game was unfolding. I can’t help thinking that for several days Gordon Brown must have just been willing the other two to agree on something so he could hand over the keys to number 10 and throw his vast collection of red ties onto the woodburning stove in some lovely little cottage by the sea somewhere. And poor Sam Cam… I’m sure it says more about me than it does about her, but from my vantage point on the sofa with the biscuit tin I’m sure I saw the glint of resignation and despair in her eyes as she stepped through that black front door into a life where ‘family downtime’ is going to be an abstract concept. Incidentally, daughters 2 and 3 are passingly gratified to have had a close encounter with the new Prime Minister (who visited their school the day after that first TV debate) although they’re both a bit nonplussed about why he got the job and not Gary Barlow, since he had the distinct charisma edge.

But anyway, the new government is in and the new book has been started. Now begins a period of tough decisions and hard work for both me and them. And spending cuts too. (Deliberately not using the 'tightening the belt' metaphor for this, as thanks to the stone I've put on recently this is a physical impossibility. Ho hum.)