Last Week I Met an Author.

Last week I met the author Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE. She has written 35 novels, sold over 30 million copies and is apparently worth in excess of 300 million dollars. That’s a lot of books and an awful lot of money.

When I think of us all tap, tapping away on our iPads and laptops with our spellcheckers and predictive text working overtime, I wonder if when she began in the 1970’s she wrote on a manual typewriter with a dictionary and thesaurus to hand.

She was charming and very beautiful. I was star struck and developed a rather strange lisping stutter. I did however manage to ask her how disciplined she was about her writing. Ridiculous question of course, but surprising that I managed to utter any words given the sudden vocal constraints. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I told you she starts at five o’clock every morning and with only a short break at lunch, continues writing all day. Ahh! So yes, really rather disciplined.

So with this in mind, I have adjusted my daily schedule to, if not exactly rising at five, certainly by nine o’clock I am wrestling once again with my final editing. I’ve begun researching appropriate agents and pondering over query letters and all the while, thinking about beautiful Barbara and how hard she works, day in, day out despite being over 80. Quite an inspiration. I just wish I hadn’t have offered to find her a cab … of course she had her driver waiting for her downstairs … what a durr I am.

Katie xx

Is there anyone who really inspires you to write or work?

Rugby and Baking Bread …

When I was in England, I owned a bread maker. Cumbersome, bulky and noisy, it did however produce, with very little input from Yours Truly, a magnificent loaf.

Imagine for a moment if you will, the smooth, mellow smell of freshly baked bread drifting from room to room; Can you hear the blade of the knife cracking through the crust? Can you see the sharp crumbs exploding outwards before the knife finally reaches the air-filled soft pillow of bread lying within? And the silky butter glistening, sliding and melting into the billowing warmth until finally one’s salivating mouth can savour and devour the taste, the texture, the pure heaven of a simple slice of bread and butter?

From this, I trust you have deduced that I love bread.

With delights and joy such as this, is hardly surprising 12 million loaves are sold every day and that entire books have been written about baking a loaf of bread. And yet, since living here in New York, I have tasted only one good loaf and it cost just shy of 7 dollars. “7 dollars?!” I hear you screech … yes. It used to make me screech too, now I just whimper and close my eyes as I painfully hand over a ten dollar bill. Don’t even bother work out how much that it in pounds. It’s simply, a lot. There is cheaper bread, but it is grim, partly due to the excessive sugar content. So, because I am essentially tight, I bought an american bread maker, flour and yeast, and for the next consecutive ten days I made a loaf of bread. Surely in the long run, this would be more cost effective? Apparently not. Ten days, ten disasters.

Dropping a loaf of bread with the consistency and weight of a London brick makes quite a noise as it travels at speed down 49 floors in a refuse chute. The crashes, rattles and hollow echoes boom way their way down to the basement. Another disappointment. Another bread-making disaster.

The Colonel raises an eyebrow at the latest effort, a twitch of a smile faintly teasing at his lips. “No toast for breakfast then?” He tentatively asks, looking at the gnarled solid body of inedible, semi-cooked flour in my hands. I harrumph and turn to go to the refuse chute at the end of the corridor once more.

“I could use this thing to sodding knock you out,” I mutter, clutching my loaf.

“And half of Manhattan,” he snorts with laughter.

On his return from a trip to London, he brings me presents. Amongst the other more romantic trinkets, there is a kilogram bag of strong bread flour and some yeast. He is nothing if not eternally hopeful and practical. The flour is Canadian, the yeast British. I try again.

Loaf number eleven I could smell as I woke. I don’t do jumping out of bed for fear of dislocating something, but this morning was the exception. A little jump and consequently having to limp to the kitchen, I peered through the viewing window of the bread maker. Dear God it worked! Hallelujah!

It is not perfection, but with a little help from Britain and Canada, I have made my first half decent loaf of bread. The Colonel and my son are still asleep having been up all hours watching some rugby which apparently was quite important. They have since gone back to their respective beds looking dour.

I wonder if the prospect of bacon sarnies for breakfast will raise the mood. One minor issue if I’m having to import flour and yeast, I suspect my loaf of bread is probably going to cost significantly more than 7 dollars …. hmmm. Might need to have a re-think.

Katie x

Food Shopping – Oh The Joy!

We live in an apartment. It’s an apartment in Manhattan with one of those downstairs reception hall places with people in uniforms who sit behind a big modern desk with lots of telephones and say, “Have a nice day” each and every time you pass them. That’s a lot of “Have a nice days”. They also give me a spare key every time I forget mine and call me to ask if I need the fire department when I set off the smoke alarm in the kitchen. Its a bit posh for me, but they’re lovely and we understand each other.

Yesterday I made the unfortunate decision to go to Costco to do some food shopping. Now, just to be clear, I obviously have aspirations to be a Waitrose or Wholefoods kind of ‘gal but I believe that I must have some Scottish ancestry which makes me … shall we say, ‘careful with money’. Therefore Costco is my weekly shop.

I had forgotten that at weekends however the trains often have delays because this is when maintenance work is done. I had also forgotten that if it looks like it’s merely drizzling from the apartment windows, it is actually gale force one zillion with horizontal rain once you step outside.

Being Autumn, I had worn my ‘Glasgow’ coat which the Colonel bought me on a posting to Scotland a couple of years ago. My lovely coat with its fleecy lining reaches mid-thigh, and has a hood with soft fluffy bits that frame one’s face. It is supposed to be completely waterproof. I now know that it is not.

I sat in a puddle on the train squeezing ineffectively the drenched sleeves whilst listening to my Audible book “Next Steps in French” by Paul somebody and muttered in French every few seconds the response to his questions. I can now say, “I am afraid of flying, so am planning to take the Eurostar”. I know for a fact this sentence will never be useful to me, but perhaps the next chapter will be more relevant.

By the time I had walked from the subway station and arrived at Costco I was wet from my forehead to my knickers and from my knickers to my squelching sodden shoes. My neatly written shopping list had turned to papier-mâché in my pocket and the quirky turquoise ink that I like to use had transferred, not only onto my right hand, but clearly I had been touching or wiping my face rather a lot too. In fact, the only part of me which was dry was the back of my head, and as for the soft fluffy hood delicately framing my face? I looked like I was draped in a collection of small drowned rats’ tails.

Having squelched and shuffled my way round Costco, it took an hour and a half to get from the checkout queue back to my apartment. And, as I walked into the reception hallway, three wide pairs of eyes looked at me from behind the desk.

“Don’t say it!” I said through gritted teeth. “It’s not a good day.”

They looked sympathetically up and down at me, tutting and shaking their heads. Then they nodded, looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Ma’am, have a better day!” and roared with laughter. Bollocks to the lot of them.

As for the “Next Steps in French” by Paul somebody, by the time I had gotten home and onto the next chapter, I could say, “I was about to book a taxi when you called me”.

As I’m too tight to get a taxi, I don’t see that this is ever going to be relevant either … although perhaps it would have saved me the delayed trains, the soaking knickers and the turquoise face … as for my Glasgow coat … I don’t believe the fluffy bits will ever look the same.

Katie x

Ps. Before you ask what the relevance of the picture is, there isn’t any, it just made me feel wonderful simply looking at it!

Mental Health and Selfies …

I don’t follow the Kardashians, or their voluptuous bottoms.

I think I might quite like a derrière like theirs, but I wouldn’t want surgery, and if I had to do those squat exercises … Well, nope. I’d squat down once and my knackered old knees wouldn’t allow me to stand back up again. Indeed, I think I’m beyond a pert bottom. Besides, if my arse was that curvaceous, without a cut-out hole in my mattress, I wouldn’t be able to sleep on my back at night.

But enough of the Kardashian’s, let me ask you about selfies: the pouting, the posing, the need for attention and adoration culminating in the form of a love-heart-shaped ‘like’ … Is this slightly odd behaviour? In the old days it would have been called vanity, now it’s just, well, normal. What do you think?

Of course, looks fade. One day we will all be old; what was once plump and taut will soften and droop; our paper-thin skin will crease and wrinkle and ’tis a brave soul who will want to flaunt it then. So perhaps the young should embrace their beauty and youth and put it on display to all and sundry because all too soon those days are over. Perhaps.

But shouldn’t we instead of following those simply with outward beauty, start positively celebrating those who have worked hard and achieved big? Those who have struggled and conquered? Those who have their beauty within?

Or perhaps we should stop looking over the garden fence altogether at the apparently greener grass, and start watering our own instead. Or maybe, I should just start trying those squats …

Food for thought? …

Katie x

Joining a Book Club

It has finally happened. I have conceded. I have joined the ladies-who-lunch brigade and have been accepted into what is, by all accounts, a rather smart book club on 5th Avenue.

What was I thinking? I have yielded to my vanity!

This is not an opportunity for a bit of Joanna Trollope and a girly natter over chocolate biscuits squeezed into someone’s cosy flat. No. This book club is for grown ups. Smart women with multiple degrees, serious careers and a penchant for reading Virginia Woolf. Shall I be caught out on day one as an imposter and fraud who loves the merry romp of a Jilly Cooper rather than anything marginally, even fractionally heavier? Quite possibly.

Well, I shall just have to stop ruminating and clutching madly at my hair with tremulous hands and go to the bookshop. I have to purchase not just one, but two books which need to be read within 3 weeks. I’ve made my bed and now I shall lie in it, with the books no doubt.

Just a teensy thought, I wonder what one wears to a book club meeting on Fifth Avenue? Hmm … my book shopping might need to include some clothes shopping …

Think I’m going to nail this!

Katie x

Any experiences of book clubs?? Help me please!

Finishing The Book …

Writing.

Editing.

Rewriting.

And repeat …

If we were to travel back thirty years, I would have been daily banging my fingers on the typewriter keys making a click, clickety click as the type bars struck the inky ribbon and left their imprint of blackened letters onto a white sheet of paper. And when the words in my mind refused to flow, I could rip the sheet of paper out with a forceful and resounding whoosh of the roller, scrunch it up between my hands with fury and hurl it into the waste paper basket across the room.

In today’s modern computer-abundant world, just holding down the delete key doesn’t give that same painfully exquisite release of frustration. It’s a shame really. Of course I could simply throw the iPad at the window or indeed the nearest person, but somehow the repercussions of that would most likely not be proportional to my momentary frustration.

So, I continue to write, edit, rewrite and drive myself mad with trying to create something that is, in my mind, not perfection, but the very best I can do. After all, isn’t that what we should do … our very best?

Katie x

Any tips or suggesstions for getting through over the last hurdle?

Road Trip!

Where do you go when teased with the lure of the white sands and balmy climes of the Bahamas, Cuba or the British Virgin Islands being only a mere hop, skip and a jump of a plane journey away?

Well, you pack up a tent and go on a road trip instead. Err, of course.

America is big. Vast. However, in a week we covered well over 1000 miles and popped into 7 different states. I say popped because at times it was somewhat unintentional what with the Colonel’s driving and perhaps more relevantly, my map reading. We popped in, and with a little oops, popped out again.

In truth, his driving is irritatingly good; I am simply a poor passenger with a habit of yelping and clutching white-knuckled onto the door handle if I think we’re either going too fast or are going to crash. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. So, this being a regular occurrence led at times to a fairly high stress journey (more so when driving in Manhattan where my fears were completely validated looking at the number of dents in the cars. Did you know, they actually have bumpers over their bumpers for protection here?)

However, and back to the road trip … We wiggled our way along the smaller roads, avoiding the pot holes, cracks, lumps and bumps which in the U.K. we appear to have considerably less of and I consequently shall never complain of again. We googled some road signs, delighted to find that sometimes one can actually turn right on a red light. It does leave a rather large margin for error which is perhaps not entirely sensible, but I didn’t make the rules. And rules they like. Oooh they are strict. But it keeps things in order, mostly; and we like order.

And then we drooled.

Fresh, bright white clapboard houses stood proudly, their slatted shutters painted varying shades of greens and blues framing the huge Georgian-style windows; colonial pillars supported the grey roofs covering verandas which themselves were filled with pots of flowers and plants and tables and chairs, offering a peaceful place to sit and watch the world go by. Wide wooden steps led down to the gardens and with no hedges or fences indicating where one plot started and another ended, they seemingly merged into one another allowing for clear uninterrupted views.

The gardens themselves were simple but perfectly neat. Manicured lawns with flowerbeds planted up close to the houses. Hydrangeas with their huge pom pom flower heads, hibiscus, hostas without a slug to be seen, box balls in abundance and lots and lots of trees. Nothing too taxing for the gardeners, but everything colourful and wonderfully healthy. With a hot climate and plenty of rain, everything flourishes there and yet surprisingly very few grow their own vegetables and fruit. Not an apple espalier or raised bed in sight.

There were no overgrown jungles of front gardens there. No black, brown and blue overstuffed bins spilling out their contents onto the weeds on the driveways. It was perfection and it was beautiful. I suspect I would struggle to keep up with the Jones’.

Towns with names like Great Barrington and Lennox offered shops for the wealthy where a cushion would cost well over a hundred pounds, but always the service was impeccable as if that should take the sting out of the tail. We looked, we touched, but rarely bought.

The campsites were clean and quiet and only once were plagued by mosquitoes, but the local pharmacy offered more anti-mozzie sprays and more importantly, soothing anaesthetic creams than you could shake a stick at (at a cost of course).

The beaches were litter-free and the sun shone. What more could we have asked for? So whilst the glamour and glitz of the Bahamas will no doubt beckon again another time, this time we have saved our pennies and enjoyed the beauty of another little world for a short while.

And, as I type and watch my sunburn begin to peel and scratch madly at the line of bites from some little blighter of a bug which starts at my ankle and heads towards my bottom, I do wonder if there are mozzies in the Caribbean …

Katie x