Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Why Kindness Matters

Last night I retweeted a lovely positive thought from a running friend (the running community tends to be a supportive, encouraging bunch) about kindness… and provoked a troll who came out of his cave to tell us exactly what he thought of us. Some people, it seems, will have a pop at anyone which is a great shame when there’s more than enough unhappiness and pain in the world. Perhaps the troll thought I was a bit of a Pollyanna which is ironic because the only reason I’ve been trying to hold on to any moments of comfort and joy is because this year’s been so demanding!

Like everyone else, our family’s had its share – quite a large one, in fact - of unhappiness, illness and tragedy. A full life comes with ups and downs, light and shade – it’s part of being alive – so we have to cherish the good times, take pleasure in small moments and make the most of every day. My birthday, at the end of November, brought a moment of pure happiness when I looked round a restaurant table at my daughters, their husbands, my granddaughter and my husband. 

A few hours later we were rushing to the south east to a hospital emergency department where my mother-in-law had been admitted for a life-threatening condition.

My mother-in-law remains seriously ill so we’re all doing what we can to ease the situation. Tom’s been at her bedside or with my father-in-law for much of the time and there’s been a lot of commuting up and down the M4. It’s a tough time full of uncertainty but I’ve been very touched by kind messages from dear friends who write or pick up the phone to say they’re thinking of us.

Maybe it’s the time of life or maybe it’s the time of year, but I’ve thought a lot lately about the reading which always marked the end of term at the traditional girls’ grammar school I was very fortunate to attend. It’s St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 13 on the nature of love which, though I’m not religious, always moves me for its beauty and poetry. If I close my eyes I can still hear the words and that closing line falling into the hush of a final assembly or a Christmas service at St Martin’s Church in Epsom. ‘So now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’

Kindness - love if you like - matters because it’s what makes us human, gives us comfort, and brings us hope for the future. I may not always succeed – I know I’ve failed plenty of times - but I’ll continue to try to treat others as I would hope to be treated then I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did my best.

I mention the troll incident to my dear friend Jill who reminds me that back in our school days trolls were plastic dolls with coloured hair that we stuck on the ends of our pencils. A fleeting thought crosses my mind that a few real life trolls could do with a pencil up the bottom… but that would be unkind, wouldn’t it?

Friday, 27 November 2015

Beyond The Comfort Zone

Our roller coaster year continues, hence the radio silence. Last week saw me back at hospital for what I hoped would be the final appointment for what’s euphemistically known as Women’s Troubles… though I daresay there have been moments when Tom might feel that this Woman’s Troubles have resulted in a few Man’s Troubles too. Tom and I are ushered into a small room with a male consultant and his male colleague leaving me feeling slightly outnumbered. The consultant introduces himself. His name is so wildly inappropriate for a gynae that I have to suppress giggles. We engage in a little ‘why we are here’ session and he asks how my libido is, explaining, in a low voice, ‘your sex drive’ just to make it clear, I suppose, that he’s not asking about the welfare of a small pet. ‘Fine,’ I assure him, resisting the urge to add, ‘how’s yours?’

The next step is a small procedure. ‘We’ll do another biopsy whilst we’re there,’ he says, momentarily rattling my composure. Another? Will there be any of me left? Ah well, it’s good to know that I’m being checked and double-checked. Having learned the drill now, I remember, once I’ve donned my hospital gown and fetching plastic bootees, to exit the theatre side of the changing room not, as last time, back to the consulting room which caused the theatre staff to think I’d done a runner (in a backless gown!).

I’m greeted by the Professional Hand Holder (you know it’s going to be bad when the NHS provides someone to hold your hand) who was so lovely to me last time only this time she’s down the business end with the consultant and his colleague so I have new and equally lovely Hand Holder. After several eye-watering minutes , and a few disconcerting moments when the consultant’s head pops up from my nether regions to give me a progress report, it’s all done and I hope very much that’s the last of it. I do have to say that throughout, I’m treated with great kindness and care and I’m truly grateful for all the staff involved for looking after me.

‘I don’t suppose you’d be interested in writing a piece for me?’ asks a dear, supportive friend in happier news. I readily agree since the piece is a lovely feature for a glossy supplement and I’ll be paid real money! I really enjoy feature writing, more so than fiction at times, especially after the heartache that comes after devoting blood, sweat and 90,000 words to a favourite novel (step forward Follow A Star) for it to be largely ignored. Discounting, that is, the dear lady who bothered to leave a ‘meh’ review on the same day the world was reeling from the Paris attacks. Who does that? Anyway, back to the feature, nothing not to love, although a little daunting because the deadline’s quite tight and it involves chasing people (very nicely!) for information. After a couple of sleepless nights turning it over, I deliver my copy in time and to everyone’s satisfaction - all of which considerably lifts my spirits. Not to mention, my bank account. Hurray!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Day of Contrasts

One of the joys of working freelance (and let’s not think about the downside of that fluctuating income) is being able to rearrange my own hours. I have two deadlines looming, but after week that brought news of the death of my 92-year old aunt (a good age, yes, but another member of that dwindling generation in my family lost) and saw my sister in A&E with concussion after she fainted and fell down a flight of steps at a station, we decided to make the most of a blustery, sunny day.

I’m not religious, haven’t been since I was little girl, but I love visiting cathedrals for the beauty of their architecture and all the skill and effort that goes into their making. St David’s is a favourite.

We then had a brilliant walk on the stunning beach at Whitesand where a passing stranger ‘complimented’ me on my hat. Cheeky b*gger.

And Tom and I grappled with the mysteries of the selfie.


It was one of those glorious days when the beauty of nature was almost sublime, yet a few hours later the images in my mind’s eye were juxtaposed with the horror unfolding in Paris. A day of extremes indeed.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Container of Our Years

We’ve had the pleasure of my younger stepson and his girlfriend’s company for a few days. Between jaunts, they’ve been meticulously tracing and compiling family trees, something I’ll never have the patience or energy to do. It’s not just the double and triple checking of hand-written entries in various logs that bothers me; I can’t help but think of the inconvenient truths that lie behind some of these official documents. Are you really who they say you are? Mostly though, it’s just that I don’t feel that those long-dead ancestors, whoever they were, make me the person I am.

However, when my stepson produces an old ordnance survey map for Epsom in 1912, I’m very moved to see the outlines of two tiny little squares which instantly fill with colour and life. One represents the small Victorian cottage on the edges of Epsom Downs where I grew up, where I watched the ebb and flow of the seasons in the racing stable opposite from the bedroom window and where our family was ruled by Zorba, our naughty miniature dachshund. The other, another Victorian cottage, represents the first home Tom, my daughters and I shared. Our financial circumstances meant we had to consider properties other buyers rejected, but we walked in and saw past the wall-to-wall battleship grey d├ęcor and fell in love with the place which became our very happy home.

Occasionally we’ll drive past these two houses; the first still bears the wooden house name plate my dad made, the curtains that cost me hours of swearing and tears still hang at the windows of the second, but what’s most important about these homes are the memories they hold, those are the real fabric of my life.

The last month has created many moments for reflection. We attended a funeral for Tom’s cousin, a much-loved man enjoying a full, interesting life who suffered a fatal heart attack aged just 62. My parents-in-law are adjusting to the after-effects of my mother-in-law’s emergency hip replacement. And, in contrast, I’ve had the utter joy of ‘row, row, rowing the boat’ with my granddaughter and making her giggle.

To return to houses and memories, my novella Only True in Fairy Tales was inspired by growing up on Epsom Downs and includes a Wurst, a badly behaved dachshund and Gracie, the dog I always wanted, a retired racing greyhound. Writing friend, Tina K Burton and her husband Paul, gave a home to greyhound Cherry after reading my novella and today sees the launch of their book Fifty Tails of Grey, a collection of true stories about how and why people came to own their first greyhounds. All proceeds from the sale of their book will be donated equally between The Retired Greyhound Trust and Greyhound Rescue West of England. Tina says in her dedication that their hope is to help present and future hounds find love and kindness – now, isn’t that a happy ending?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Many a Slip

Ah, why did I talk about light at the end of the tunnel? Less than two weeks after we gathered as a family to celebrate my parents-in-law being married for a magnificent sixty years, my poor MiL is in hospital recovering from an emergency hip replacement having broken her hip in a fall. Our immediate concerns are to help both MiL and Dil get over the shock and to do what we can to assist MiL’s recovery.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn Light

I had such plans for this year; writing plans for a novel and a novella, running plans for another Cardiff Half Marathon. But I hadn’t bargained on the posterior vitreous detachment, which temporarily knocked out a big old chunk of the central vision in my left eye, or the debilitating health problem which saw me fast-tracked then, thankfully, declared free of anything sinister. Just a couple of loose ends to tie up and all should be well again.

Perhaps things do happen for a reason; this year also brought the utterly amazing experience of being with Lily and Russ when their daughter was born, and with no deadlines to worry about, I’ve had the joy of spending unhurried time with our new granddaughter. Having Rose and Si move closer was an unexpected bonus and makes getting together a lot easier; a couple of weekends ago, for example, we had brilliant time at the Millennium Stadium watching Wales play Uruguay.

However, with my personal goals in disarray, there have been moments when I’ve questioned who I am. Am I’m still a writer if I don’t produce a new book? A runner if I’m not training for a race? Getting the all clear from the consultant put the spring in my step which has enabled me to really up my running mileage; I won’t be running the Cardiff Half this year but – fingers crossed – I’m going all out for Llanelli in March. And now the worry has lifted, I’ve started writing again too, because I want to and for the pleasure of it, not because I feel I must. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ that comes with being published that I don’t enjoy, like the inevitable stinging review and fretting about what everyone else is doing so it’s easy, in low moments, to be dragged down by it. Voracious reading has helped me regain my writing appetite, and this wonderful post by literary agent, Lizzy Kremer, reminded me that the only ‘right’ path out of the writing wilderness is the one we choose for ourselves, the one we take hopefully and with joy. There’s a little autumn light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Summer's Lease

Blue skies at Goodwick yesterday
‘Someone’s going to be busy,’ says the cashier at Wilko eyeing our bucketful of cleaning goodies. Summer in west Wales, like the roses outside our kitchen window, showed early promise before being battered by strong winds and heavy rain leaving only a glimmer of hope. But today, the sun is shining so what are we doing to make the most of this rare bright day? Why, we’re scrubbing the boat, of course!

Actually, one of the aspects of sailing that I really like is the ‘playing houses’ bit, making another home from home. We’re currently working our way through washing the teal and white upholstery covers, we’ve tackled the mainsail cover – which included The Thing That Crawled Inside, Cr*pped Itself and Died (discovered when Tom shook the mainsail out over me, Rose and Si when we were eating our sandwiches) – and now, I’m cleaning the inside whilst Tom sorts out power and water to clean the outside.

For a 23ft boat, Blue Nun’s surprisingly spacious with lots of headroom, which is one of her plus points. The DVD player with drop down screen in the forecabin (to watch what? A Perfect Storm? Dead Calm? Overboard?) is a questionable asset and the Porta Potty (bleurgh!) is definitely going to be replaced by a boat loo. To be fair, my sprucing up of the interior is more of a psychological ‘out with the old, in with the new’ kind of clean, but it’s when Tom turns the power washer on the exterior that the satisfying transformation begins and Blue Nun starts to regain her sparkle. All told, it’s been a good day!

Swabbing the decks!

It was a good day, with lovely weather, three years ago when Lily and Russ got married and now, of course, they have Bee! Congratulations to them and to my parents-in-law, aka MiL and DiL, who celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary on Thursday. Given that MiL’s had to overcome serious health problems this year, we’ll be particularly pleased to raise a glass to their continued happiness when we meet for a family party later this week.

And finally, a small celebration of my own; the German edition of Only True In Fairy Tales. I studied German for part of my degree and produced a very average dissertation after struggling through original historical texts, however I’m pleased to say that reading this delightful translation is banishing painful memories of those dry old tomes and introducing me to words that are much more fun to learn. My thanks to Choc Lit and to Heidi.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Please Release Me: A Blog Splash and a Gale

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog splash for fellow ChocLiteer Rhoda Baxter to celebrate the release of her latest book, Please Release Me, which has a rather unusual premise for a romantic novel. In Rhoda’s own words, “Please Release Me, is a contemporary romance with a touch of the paranormal, published by Choc Lit Ltd. It’s set in a hospice (granted, that’s not the most intuitive setting for a romantic comedy…) and features Sally, whose body is a coma while her ghost gets to walk through furniture; Peter, who reads to his comatose wife every day; and Grace, who is the only person who can see or hear Sally’s ghost. It’s a story about moving on in one way or another and about how people need each other, especially when they think they don’t.”

Something else you need to know about this book is that Rhoda’s generously donating half the royalties from it to Martin House Children’s Hospice.

When Rhoda invited me to take part in her blog splash she suggested ‘being stuck’ as a possible prompt because her characters are unable to move on. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just bought another boat that I thought of Veryan, the first and loveliest of our boats and when, on an early Epic Voyage, we found ourselves galebound in Ramsgate…

“To describe what I did this morning as ‘waking up’ would be stretching it. Although we were expecting a gale, it blew up really quickly” my sailing diary records. “One minute I was washing up in the cockpit and the next I was leaping ashore because the boat was jumping around all over the place. We felt very vulnerable on our mooring but couldn’t move because the wind was driving straight onto a pontoon. We did what we could to make the boat safe, then waited… and waited, but the gale didn’t stop. It blew throughout the afternoon, evening and all through the night making even the most innocuous sound seem threatening.”

Veryan (and her crew) take a battering!
However, there was a silver lining to that storm… 

“Last night was one of the worst of my life after one of the nastiest journeys, but it suddenly occurred to me that if the advice is to write about what you know that this is what I should be writing about! Some of the characters we’ve met here would fill several books …”

Well, two so far, Turning the Tide and Follow A Star (directly recalling that time in Ramsgate!) which just goes to prove that sometimes you need to be stuck to move on. And once we set sail again, next summer, who knows where those adventures will lead?

Please Release Me

What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after …

Please Release Me by Rhoda Baxter is out now and you can buy it here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Slice of Dundee (with a Topping of Edinburgh)

Tom, to his great credit, is presenting a paper at The Society for European Philosophy and the Forum for European Philosophy Annual Conference in Dundee. This leaves me with some freewheeling time to explore a city that’s famous for the three ‘js’; jam, jute and journalism. Keen to find out more, I head for The McManus, a neo-Gothic building designed by George Gilbert Scott which houses an art gallery and museum.

An exhibit in ‘The Making of Modern Dundee’ reminds me that Dundee’s also famous for the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879; there are pieces of the collapsed bridge, fragments of glass from the doomed passenger train, and poignant memorials to lost lives. It’s a bleak story in this dark, almost empty gallery so I move on only to find myself standing in front of a couple of enormous whale harpoons. Whale oil, I now know, was essential to jute processing, softening the material and making it flexible, but these relics from the whaling industry still make me uncomfortable, as does the story of the poor Tay Whale whose skeleton looms just above my head.

In search of something lighter, I flee to ‘Landscape and Lives’ but finding myself alone in a room of teeth, claws and beaks, I start to feel ridiculously freaked out and head upstairs to look at the paintings in The Victoria Gallery instead. Oh god!  Another vast empty space - except for all those faces caught in freeze frame!  I have a strange, unnerving sense that a conversation has suddenly halted because of my presence and actually have to force myself to walk round the room.  

Normally I love museums, but something’s bringing me out in goose bumps here,  Nerves shredded, I escape into bright sunshine and find myself passing the famous Howff cemetery. Might as well pop in whilst I’m passing, I think.  It’s a lovely day, a few people are sitting on benches eating their sandwiches, nothing to spook me here…that is until I reach the shadowy paths away from the sunlight. 

At this point there should have been a photo - but it won't load! Spooky!!

I give up and decide to cheer myself up with tea and cake, except that everyone in Dundee’s had the same idea so I end up instead with a takeaway coffee and a Sicilian lemon muffin and find myself a bench by the Tay where I finish reading Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home which, after the museum and cemetery, seems almost cheerful!

After Dundee, and a wonderful drive along the beautiful east coast, we end our visit to Scotland with a real treat, thanks to Lily and Russ who presented us with a Loch Fyne voucher. Thank you, both, for a wonderful evening and a superb meal!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Sea Fever

‘I think I’ll try an offer,’ says Tom. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think the same as before,’ I reply. ‘I’m still concerned about time and money.’
‘Hmm,’ says Tom.

The subject of all this intense thinking is a rather forlorn yacht lying locally whose owner has run out of, er, time and money so has put her on the market for what’s really a very competitive price. After we sold the dreaded Pig Boat, there were a couple of years when we were both quite glad to be free of all the responsibilities (ie bills) that boat ownership brings, but it wasn’t very long before Tom starting poring over boat ads and shouting, ‘come and look at this one!’ at regular intervals.

Perhaps it was because I was fed up with looking at the rain and perhaps it’s because, in these PhD days, part of me’s nostalgic for the guy who liked to mess around in boats, but eventually I’m persuaded to view one of Tom’s discoveries. We clamber aboard and as I peer down the companionway at the clutter below, I feel… excited! For all her shabbiness, it’s only going to take some elbow grease for this Cinderella to go to the ball. She’s the kind of boat that would suit us admirably; perfect for the kind of pottering we now plan to do, a little bolt hole, somewhere to plan, to dream, to write or just watch the seascape around us. Except, of course, we agree after much discussion, that it’s probably not the best time for us to buy a boat, unless, of course, the owner is willing to take an offer…

‘We own a boat!’ says Tom, a little later. And so a new chapter begins!
First meal in the cockpit!
With guests, Rose and Si

For the last two weeks, we’ve had the immense pleasure of having Lily and Bee staying here, plus Russ at weekends, whilst their bathroom is being replaced. Home Thoughts hasn’t appeared because it’s been such a unique and important time and I’m really going to miss Bee’s big, big smile first thing in the morning and seeing her arch her back and wave her little arms signalling she’d like to be picked up. We’ve introduced Bee to lots of sea air and, when Rose and Si joined us for the Bank Holiday we also took a few snaps of us girls together.

Taking the air at Aberaeron

All the girls!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Cheers, Boos and Coos!

156 has an 'Uh-oh' moment.
On Tuesday, pretty much on the spur of the moment, I decide to run the last of the Poppit Sand Series, a 5k race hosted by Cardigan Running Club which you’d be correct in thinking takes place on the wide beach at Poppit… Except it’s two laps of a looping course which begins on the road, encompasses marshy wetlands, stepping stones, grass, a long stretch of the beach and a narrow path across the dunes. It’s nine years since I last ran this course and my first mistake is to line up thinking I’m going to ace it, because, hey, I’m a hardened half-marathon runner now, aren’t I? Looking round though, I notice that the other entrants are predominantly – two thirds, in fact, - male and that although there is a handful of women in my age range they all have the wiry, determined look of seasoned club runners about them. I start to suspect this may be quite tough, a suspicion confirmed when the starter klaxon sounds and everyone else goes off like bats out of hell leaving me jogging along at my usual half marathon pace.

We hit the wetlands and I remember there’s been quite a lot of rain here over the last three weeks. Hovering by the first of a chain of muddy pools of unknown depth wondering about the best approach, I’m splattered by a big beefy man splashing straight through the middle. Lesson learned, I charge across wet stepping stones – eek! – up slippery banks, across boggy grass and merciless sand all the while pursued by a runner so hot on my heels I can hear his breath! Damnit, I think, I haven’t done all this work to be lapped at the last minute! You will NOT get past! But then, double damn, the runner in front of me STOPS in the part of the path so narrow and overgrown, I can’t get overtake! Gaargh! We reach the clearing and I manage what, in my head, is a sprint finish… although video evidence suggests otherwise… plus everyone else seems to have got there before me. I’m 90th out of 114 runners, but with the same time as nine years ago and some great memories. It might have been tough but I loved every minute!

On Saturday we set off down the M4 eagerly anticipating the Wales v Ireland game at the Millennium Stadium, a warm up for the rugby world cup. A severe traffic jam means we only just take our seats in time, but at least we turn up, unlike the Welsh team who put in a truly lack-lustre first half performance and barely redeem themselves in the second. ‘You want to get your money back on that,’ says Tom pointing to my brand new rugby top. It’s still an enjoyable occasion, though, and always worth savouring the atmosphere and the sound of 74,000 people singing. A couple of Bellini cocktails and an Italian meal afterwards also lift our spirits.

We complete our big day out by popping into see Lily, Russ and our granddaughter - since all the names in this blog are altered to protect the innocent, I’ll call her Bee. Thank you so much for all your good wishes; Bee’s coming out the other side of her operation very well with only a small scar to show that anything happened. As for me, I’m that lost cause, a hopelessly smitten grandmother!  I’ve never been that fussed about babies (there, I’ve said it) before but, seeing how quickly Bee’s personality is unfolding is nothing short of miraculous to me. Today, when I hold her in my arms and talk to her, she talks back!  Well, she smiles, coos and gurgles at me… to be fair, it’s not much of a conversation, but to me it’s the best feeling in the world!

Monday, 3 August 2015

When the Bough Broke

There was a moment last Tuesday evening when it felt as if the world was crashing down around us. 

Earlier in the day, my daughter had taken her new daughter to the doctor to discuss a red swelling that had appeared on the baby’s chest. Antibiotics were prescribed and a follow-up appointment made, but events took over. Our granddaughter was admitted to hospital that night and had emergency surgery the next morning for what had suddenly become a large abscess. 

I can’t even begin to describe what a traumatic time it’s been, but my granddaughter is now home, albeit with a truckload of antibiotics, painkillers and visits from the community nurses until her wound is healed. My daughter and son-in-law have been absolutely amazing and are hugely grateful to the NHS staff – out of hours, children’s’ assessment, the surgical team and everyone at The Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital of Wales who took such great care of them. All I can do is add my heartfelt thanks to theirs.

In recovery: Dad-in-Law & Mum-in-Law meeting a brave little girl!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Moments in Time

The Icing on the Cake!
An Anniversary
‘Friends and wine…’ reads the message on the anniversary cake the five of us are about to cut, ‘… the older, the better!’.
 An unbelievable thirty years has passed since we first met as young mums-to-be at our antenatal class, but the friendship we discovered back then remains as strong as ever. My goodness, how these women have been there for me! We’re very different personalities who forged a common bond over the vexed question, ‘does yours do this?’ In the beginning, ‘does yours do this?’ applied to our new babies but has subsequently applied to toddlers, teenagers, husbands and, lately, body parts. Sigh. Many thanks Hazel, Julia, Rosemary and Ann for your love and support - and special thanks to Hazel for the amazing cake!

Here’s to the next thirty years!

A New Discovery
‘Fancy trying that new Persian restaurant?’ Tom asks Ma. Ma, who is up for anything new, readily agrees so we trot down the road from her house to Miniature in Epsom’s Upper High Street and have an absolutely delightful evening. The food’s delicious, the atmosphere’s calm and relaxing and our waiter, Navid, not only tells us about the dishes but explains some of the culture and history behind the cuisine too. Well worth trying if you’re in the area.

A successful evening!

A Meeting of Four Generations
I’ve been so looking forwards to seeing Ma meet her first great-grandchild and it’s a wonderful moment with each being fascinated by the other. Even the weather’s kind to us; warm and sunny so we can take plenty of photos to capture some memories we’ll always treasure.

Giving Ma the Beady Eye!
Four Generations

And Finally... where did that time go?

Monday, 13 July 2015

In the Pink

Yes!’ I hear myself exclaim, ‘and she’s very alert too!’ The shop assistants, who’ve been gathering round the pram making noises about how dainty and pretty my new granddaughter is, smartly return to work before Proud Nana can warm to her theme. It’s taken less than a month for me to become That Woman who attributes superpowers to her grandchild! 

I’ve come to spend a few days with the new family to help them catch their breath, but as Lily and I steer a wonky path, juggling new baby, new pram, new parasol and new sunhat on what should be a perfectly straightforward walk in the sunshine, I’m reminded of just how many complications one tiny little person can create! But, oh, so much joy and wonder too! 

 There’s nothing more flattering than the intent stare of a new baby in your arms, listening with rapt attention while you spout forth on everything from the birdies outside the window to James Naughtie’s departure from Today. It’s brilliant to see how quickly she’s changing and becoming herself… did I mention I’m convinced she can already say ‘hello’?

On Saturday, Tom picks me up from Cardiff and we drive to Bristol to help Rose and Si move into their new flat, along with Si’s mum and stepdad. Rose and Si are relocating from Surrey and we’re all delighted they’ll be so much nearer so it makes for a very jolly day. Here’s wishing them every happiness for their new adventure.

It’s been lovely spending time with all my girlies. My dad rather ambitiously hoped for six daughters, but my sister and I did our best to boost the number of women in the family by producing two daughters each. He would have been thrilled to bits to see my daughters getting on with their lives and to have had a great-granddaughter. ‘Our house has turned pink,’ says my son-in-law, Russ, at one point, looking a bit perplexed as he holds up a pile of little baby gros in every shade of the colour… all I can say, Russ, is that’s just the beginning!

Monday, 22 June 2015

New Life

Brand new baby, happy grandmother!
‘Your blog’s going to be interesting this week,’ says my son-in-law after 48 of the most intense hours either of us has ever experienced. We’ve been joint birthing partners to my elder daughter and can smile at each other, because, of course, I’m not going to reveal details of a profoundly intimate occasion. I simply want to express my gratitude to my daughter and son-in-law for the immense privilege of allowing me to be present when their daughter came into the world.

With so much of what makes up human life being reflected back at us through the prism of our computer screens we can spend hours living vicariously ‘liking’ all the places seen through other eyes - those seashores, sunsets and foreign cities – without ever feeling the sand between our toes or the rain on our faces. But no YouTube rehearsal equips us for the visceral power of real, raw life. I feel enormously fortunate to have been there when my father took his last breath and now to have seen my brand new granddaughter take her first.

Already this new life is changing those around her. My daughter is now a mother, her husband a father and it’s lovely to see them so thrilled with their daughter. My younger daughter and her husband are relocating and will be living much nearer to their new niece which is really exciting and I’ve taken stock too, thought of all the things I’ve done in my life so far and allowed myself a moment’s pause to say, ‘do you know, this isn’t so bad?’ before rushing towards the next goal. I thought we were a close family before, but this new little person has drawn us even closer in our common desire to keep her safe and give her a future that’s bright and happy. Welcome to the world, baby girl.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Six Years, Six Happy Choc Lit Moments!

Happy birthday to my publishers, Choc Lit. Six years old today! To celebrate I’m revisiting six of my favourite moments with the wonderful people who made my writing dream come true.

Dec 2009 Signing my first contract. I wrote about taking those first steps to publication here.

Just a bit happy at signing that first contract!

May 2010. On seeing the first copies of Turning the Tide “Look what the postman just delivered! For someone who’s supposed to be able to tell you about these things in words, I’m really struggling to describe the feeling of seeing everything I’ve worked and hoped for come together. Choc Lit produce the most beautiful covers; this photo doesn’t really do it justice – you can’t see how gorgeous the title looks in its matt silver livery. I’m utterly thrilled and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to hold a copy of Turning the Tide in my hands at last.”

June 2012 Picture This. Posing with – among other things – a plastic blow up palm tree! My first photoshoot with Adam Fradgley for National Express.

October 2012 Enjoying the razzmatazz for my second novel, Move Over Darling. That moment when ‘Doris Day split Fifty Shades of Grey’ and 'Baring it All in Best magazine'!

June 2014. Follow A Star – my third novel, the one that was such fun to write, is published.

August 2014  Wearing an imaginary crown when my first novella, Only True In Fairy Tales reaches an Amazon category number one. I absolutely love this cover, it’s so sweet!

So many happy moments and with a novel and novella in progress I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a few more. Many thanks to everyone who’s supported me during my writing journey. Here’s wishing the lovely Choc Lit team a very happy birthday with many more to come.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Waiting Games and Midsummer Dreams

This week’s been all about waiting – waiting sometimes calmly and sometimes in abject terror for the troublesome symptoms in my left eye to settle and waiting for happier news from Lily and Rose. For a control freak who likes instant results the uncertainty of all this waiting is somewhat testing so I’m taking my mind off it by joining in the promo for fellow Choc Lit author Alison May's new novel Midsummer Dreams which is out this Friday 12 June – not very long to wait at all!

Alison’s given us three dream-related prompts to think about… which in my current state of heightened tension rather reflect my immediate concerns, however, here we go!

I had a dream: Ooh, of waking up and being able to see perfectly! Imagine a day that didn’t begin like the blur of an impressionist painting speckled with shrapnel and ghostly floaters! Of being free from glasses and contact lenses. Ah, but that is just a dream.

I had a nightmare: Hmm, the opposite of above, but living in fear is living in a cage so best to think positively. When we were in Edinburgh recently, we listened to record producer Robin Millar’s Desert Island Discs. Robin Millar’s been registered blind since the age of 16 and eventually lost his sight completely. His sheer determination to meet his condition head-on is a remarkable demonstration of triumph over disaster.

My dream for the future: If we could all just be a little kinder to each other, to treat others as we would wish to be treated – wouldn’t that make the world a better place?

Watch out for other bloggers dream-related posts this week. You can buy Alison’s Midsummer Dreams here:

Four people. Four messy lives. One party that changes everything …
Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect.
Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself.
Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers.
Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach.
At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

The painting is 'Dinas and Carn Ingli from the Coast' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 1 June 2015

Get Happy!

When they were small: Rose and Lily
Friday sees me at A&E again with another episode of flashing lights and severe visual disturbance in my left eye. I have the great good fortune to be seen by the same consultant ophthalmologist who saw me last year and remembers me. Even better, she’s able to tell me that all appears to be in order and sends me away with a follow-up appointment in six weeks’ time. Hopefully all I have to do is wait for my eye to settle down, although the whole frightening business has given me a few sleepless nights.

Trying to concentrate on the positive, I was interested to read what Professor Paul Dolan has to say about happiness in this recent article from the Telegraph. Apparently, nobody gets any happier with extra cash after a salary of £50,000 … fair enough, although I reckon I’d be like a dog with two tails if I ever made half of that! Joking apart, because, of course, happiness is not about material possessions (although there’s a lot to be said for new shoes) I certainly agree with Professor Dolan’s five ways to be immediately happier. Getting outdoors, for example; we have a little south-facing suntrap at the back of the kitchen where, assuming it isn’t lashing down with rain like today, we’ll often take a short tea break. And having started thinking about the nature of happiness, I’d add three suggestions of my own:

1. Sit in your favourite place. I love our large bedroom; it’s one of the rooms which attracted to me to our deeply unfashionable dormer bungalow. With its duck egg blue walls and dual aspect windows, it makes me very happy indeed to sit there on a lovely afternoon feeling the sun on my face and looking out across the sea.

2. Read a good book. As well as being a big fan of nature writing, I love a bit of ‘rural noir’. This week Daniel Woodrell’s bleak, poetic Winter’s Bone has distracted me from my eye problems.

3. Flick through some favourite photos. Revisit those happy memories for an instant pick-up. This one (top) of Lily and Rose makes me laugh every time I see it – despite the protests from the girls about putting them in the same clothes (which saved a lot of scrapping, I can tell you). Both my daughters have exciting challenges this week which will bring big changes… but it doesn’t seem a moment ago that they were little dots eating milk lollies! And I also love this photo of Ma … who’s probably laughing at something naughty she’s said!