I’ll admit it. I love scrabble. Don’t be too harsh on me.
I’m fully aware it’s seen as an old people’s game, a dull person’s game, a tediously lengthy game for the quiet type with a bad haircut and an annoying habit of absently pulling at their nasal hair. Whilst I currently do indeed have a bad haircut, I do not however put my fingers up my nose, well, certainly not in public.
The Colonel and I take our games seriously. We have taken competitiveness to another level. We have a large black book for our scoring and an extensive list of words that are and are not allowed. No slang, abbreviations, Latin and absolutely nothing from the Urban Dictionary. Quite how “gonad” was allowed in I’ve yet to work out, but I digress …
The last game was won by The Colonel by a mere three points. This result was met with ecstatic fist punching and jubilant hysteria from himself and much screeching, cursing and howling from Yours Truly. This daily release of emotion is a wonderful antidote to any pent-up frustrations of being held in confinement.
Strange we may well be as we find ridiculous pleasure in bringing out the longed-for seven letter word, or in utilising the ‘J’ on a triple letter score, but one thing is certain … it sure does pass the time in a very happy way!
P.s. How are you passing your free time? And dare I ask, do you play Scrabble?!
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.
Is there anyone who really inspires you to write or work?
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 …
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?
Any tips or suggesstions for getting through over the last hurdle?
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 …
I am now a modern woman. I have an App and it is called Audible.
I have precisely one book in my Audible library and of the twelve hours of listening that is required before I can pronounce I have finished it, I have completed just one hour, thirty-five minutes and a smattering of seconds.
Presumably, I can only imagine that because the book is about various women, it is therefore being read by a number of women, one of whom has a rather irritating voice. Nasal, whiny, like a cat in a fight. I don’t enjoy her chapters very much and thus far she has read a lot of them.
The issue I have is one of multi-tasking. I had imagined that I could walk around New York listening to my book whilst running a few errands, window shopping, picking up the groceries. No. It simply doesn’t work like that.
I find myself walking aimlessly in the wrong direction clutching at my ears trying to stop the earplugs from falling out, yet again; I stand, endlessly staring into shop windows, seeing nothing, just listening to the story; I gaze at displays of fruit for so long that I am asked by random strangers if I need help; and all the while I am trying to concentrate on a book, a plot, numerous different characters and all delivered by a nasal, whiny voice.
Perhaps I should persevere. Perhaps I should revert to a physical book with lovely pages to touch and feel. Perhaps I am simply too long in the tooth for this audiobook malarkey. And yet, when I heard of people who by June had already read fifty books that year (were they showing off?) I question how on earth they managed this. Do they too have audiobooks and spend their days plugged into their phones, whilst simultaneously running their multinational conglomerates? Or do they read through the night with a torch under the duvet?
I shall, for the time being, persevere. And if I reach the stage whereby I want to bludgeon the nasal voice to death, I shall revert to a proper book with proper paper pages. I shall hide with it late at night under the bedcovers, with a torch and its undoubtedly dying battery, just like I used to as a child. After all, isn’t that what normal people do?
Should those words even be permitted in the same sentence together? Some might think not.
Yesterday I took my (almost) 21 year old son to three shops. He coped admirably in Sephora (a beauty emporium to any understandably baffled male or otherwise readers). In a nutshell, when asked at the entrance if we needed assistance, I whipped out my phone, showed a screenshot of what I wanted and boom! We were in and out in less than four minutes. Now that’s a good shopping experience according to him.
Second shop – J Crew for women … even I was bored; uninspiring and rather ordinary clothes with disproportionate price tags. There was also a sale consisting of a couple of rails of crumpled, make-up stained unwanted items, many of which were on the floor being trampled on. I love a bargain like the best of us, but .. So with my son ambling behind me and despite trying to make the occasional positive remark, we lasted rather less than four minutes.
Final shop – J Crew for men … ‘Jacob’ came to our assistance with a friendly manner and a rather natty scarf tied around his neck. Good looking shirts, shorts, trousers all laid out neatly, no fuss, no noise, no mess and and yes, even a sale. And with Jacob folding and refolding everything within his sight, there was order. What more could we ask for? In less than ten minutes we left with a fab pair of shoes, big smiles all round and a joyous Jacob.
How does this happen?
It has been known to take me weeks to find the perfect pair of shoes. And yet, perhaps therein lies the problem. Am I seeking a form of perfection that most probably doesn’t exist?
Should the thrill of a bargain override this need for perfection? Does order and presentation really matter that much?
Dare I suggest that we, the fairer sex, can spend days trawling the shops, searching endlessly with a picture in our minds of a particular article of clothing? Will we ever find it? Or do we actually enjoy the trawling process?
And finally, if we believe that perfectly beautiful clothes will make us equally perfectly beautiful, do men have that same perfectionist gene? Or do they have more realistic expectations?
Shopping is, I find, a frustrating but occasionally necessary pastime. I have no answers except that I clearly need a Jacob to iron out the creases in my life and clothes, and perhaps occasionally I can borrow his rather natty little scarf. It’s really rather perfectly lovely.
If you have any, please give me some solutions … I have too many unanswered questions here!
To travel and to explore surely encourages one’s mind to expand and to stretch out the personal boundaries of one’s self. I’d like to think so.
It has been several weeks since I moved to New York and I fear I have neglected any writing both on WordPress but also on the book. So after a metaphorical whipping I am back on the sofa tap, tapping my fingers and urging the grey matter to shake off the cobwebs. Ah, but I sit here and there is such a view, so I simply gaze and gaze.
We are high up in a building where light floods in through floor to ceiling windows giving views to the west and north. The Hudson River is a constant moving body of water with boats and cruise ships travelling up and down. Beyond the river, cars and trucks can be seen in miniature over in New Jersey and below, people rush around doing their daily business; all busy, all with purpose. Fire trucks and ambulances scream their sirens every few minutes; horns are blaring, there is shouting, laughing, arguing. A glimpse of the green trees of Central Park gives a little respite to the hard angular surroundings. The buildings, the glass, the steel, the concrete, the brick; the beautiful, the ugly, the noise, the chaos. And I gaze and gaze ….
I explore daily and osmosis is forcing an absorption of the sights, sounds and smells. It is inescapable and dirty, exhausting and so very noisy. But it is also exhilarating and liberating. Anonymity is freeing and here nobody pays any attention. Anything goes.
So I shall continue to explore and absorb, but will now find a little balance in my day and write and tell you all about it (if you can bear it!). The book also is toddling along but now with renewed vigour and the desire to find the light at the end of the tunnel. But in the meantime, the river is an absolute mill pond today and there are three small sailing boats barely moving across the water and the sun is just catching their sails in the light …
I love to write. I need to write. So why have I allowed a diddy little move across the pond to take precedence over writing this week?
All I need is just a couple of hours each day to sit and tap, tappety tap. A bit of editing, a little rewriting. Simple. And yet tiny doubts have been creeping to the forefront of my mind. Doubts are clever little blighters. They ensnare and suffocate any lingering fragments of confidence. Will the book ever be good enough? And then the inevitable happens; procrastination claws its way in and takes a firm hold.
There is always another box to be packed (despite an army of packers due next week), or the need to ponder for far too long over whether I need my wellington boots in New York City; or whether I should take some sachets of bread sauce mix for when I can’t be bothered to make it from scratch. Important decisions you see. Oh, I have no doubt of my ability to procrastinate! I have honed my skills over decades; frankly I could have a Masters with distinction in procrastination.
I believe a little discipline is required in Mrs Colonel’s house. A sharp rapping of the knuckles and the occasional poke with a pointy stick.
I am not a lounge lizard who wanders around the sitting room mid-afternoon still wearing pyjamas. I do not shuffle around the kitchen in Donald Duck slippers and a matching onesie as I peer bleary-eyed into the fridge at noon. I go to bed early and get up early. I love mornings and am annoyingly bouncy from the moment I see the light creeping through the gaps in the curtains. I must be hell to live with.
But my point is this … we all have the same 24 hours in a day and we all choose to use it differently. And I have been lazy for the past week and have not set aside a couple of hours a day to write. I have not (and never will) be seen wandering around in the Donald Duck slippers and matching onesie, but without the structure of writing daily, I may as well have been. Just wait a moment whilst I bludgeon myself to death …
To be fair, I have been overhauling my relative’s garden for the last several days, but that’s besides the point …
Poignant Pause …
Excellent! Knuckles have been duly rapped and a pointy stick has metaphorically poked me. I have given myself a little talking to and told you, my wonderful WordPress friends of my failings. I am now a new woman and ready to do some more editing and re-writes … Quick cup of tea first though, it’s still early …
Since arriving back home, I’ve spend the last 12 hours alternating between walking like a zombie and lying on the sofa mopping my fevered brow. Actually there is nothing fevered about my brow in the least but I was hoping to portray an image of a broken woman. A broken woman with jet lag who would be the grateful recipient of peeled grapes being fed to her by her doting husband. I’ll admit this scenario is unlikely, however I can categorically say that I am pooped, knackered and done in.
Being on holiday in a city is very different to spending a week flat-hunting and trying to understand how ‘the city that never sleeps’ actually works. One is swept into a false sense of security by the fact that the language is, by and large, the same. Do not be fooled! Trying to understand the rights, wrongs and the pitfalls of a chaotic, manic city where everything is different is not easy.
Attitudes are different, tone is different and requests often come across as orders. Networking is key and the phrase ‘The Land of Opportunity” holds strong. Tipping compared to Blighty is a very different system and costs. Ultimately, living in New York compared to London is expensive. Very.
We’ve been introduced to some good people and thankfully have several friends already living there which no doubt will ease the transition. But at the end of the day, the transition has to be made by us.
As a note to self, I have to remember not to say ‘golly’ or ‘gosh’ too often and whilst saying ‘poppycock’ amused me, it raised a few eyebrows. It’s just such a glorious word …
Am I excited? Hugely! This is such an adventure … This is The Land of Opportunity where anything can happen! Who knows, maybe I’ll come back in a few years time with bright white teeth and the most enormous pair of knockers. How thrilling! I jokingly mentioned this to The Colonel and he went a little pale – Oh poppycock, golly and gosh! If he doesn’t know when I’m joking, then I’m doomed in America …
As ever, all tips and advice will be gratefully received 🤓🤓
I’ve been to New York before, twice as it happens; but I’ve never come with more than just a few spare pairs of knickers, a clean shirt and my makeup bag. No. This week I’m here to find a home. My findings so far:
The weather changes rather a lot. I seem to have been alternating between shivering and sweating profusely. (Don’t ever believe your mother if she delicately reminds you of the little rhyme, “Horses sweat, men perspire but ladies merely glow.” It’s either bollocks or I’m a horse.).
The local supermarket alternates between Aldi and Waitrose but with an American accent. It is also called a grocery store. The staff are either incredibly helpful or utterly terrifying in equal measures.
Every tiny and limited amount of space is crammed full with beautifully presented produce and more choice than you can shake a stick at. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly need to eat dandelion leaves or miniature kale but they make it look so delicious that I’ll be sure to give it a go in due course, once I’ve worked out where the Granny Smiths are …
The Colonel sent me out to go and get some provisions (that’s another word he appears to have adopted). It took me over an hour and I came back with two very shiny apples, a pack of Polish ham and some goji berries. I don’t know what goji berries are, but apparently they promise eternal youth. This solitary outing cost me our budget for two days and consequently I haven’t been allowed out on my own since.
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?
On our first day in New York, I learnt how to cross the road. That is to say, I learnt how to cross the road without either being arrested or run over.
In London, when you want to cross to the other side, you choose a relatively quiet moment in the traffic, randomly step off the pavement and with a few smiles and apologetic hand waves arrive safely on the other side. Not here. No.
Firstly, you only cross on the zebra crossings. I like this rule. I like things to be black and white. If only in the U.K. they would adopt this stance on drink driving. How about just saying absolutely no alcohol rather than a rather questionable amount which differs between body type, sex and how much you’ve eaten. So basically if I’m an overweight man who’s just eaten a pizza with extra dough balls, I’m safer in the car after a glass of wine. I’m getting off the point as per usual, but you get my drift.
Back to the roads .. Secondly, there are no buttons to press when you want to cross the road (saves on children’s arguments as to whose turn it is) and there are no beeps telling you when it’s safe to start walking. You have no control and have to pay attention. There is however a lit-up picture of a big red hand instructing you not to move under any circumstances, and when its time to cross, a picture of a white man who appears to be running. I’m not sure that running is necessarily required, but I’m not going to argue with this instruction, so run I do.
The problem occurs when people start moving across on the red hand when no traffic is in sight. This confuses the rules in my head. I therefore spend rather a lot of time looking baffled and starting to cross (at a run of course) and then changing my mind. This in turn, confuses everyone around me. I felt yesterday like a piece of toast being pushed down into the toaster when the power wasn’t on … I just kept on popping back up again. Unfortunately the other pieces of toast behind me bumped into me and that upset everyone. Being shouted at in an American accent is quite disconcerting, “What the fuck lady? You can notdo that.” As established earlier, I’m clearly not a lady and my response to them merely confirmed this further.
It goes without saying that we all have a book in us; after all, we’ve all experienced something worth writing about or indeed have the imagination to create a story. And so, like many others, I started writing. I wrote with enthusiasm, passion and joy. And when I finally typed the words The End, I had a little cry (more of a dribbling howl in truth).
And then the editing process began.
I now spend more of my time googling grammar, such as when to use a semicolon or a comma than I do on Facebook, cooking and checking my emails combined. This is not normal. Surely I should already know all of this? But now I’m questioning everything. The structure, the grammar, even the actual purpose of the book. I am beginning to doubt myself.
Perhaps that is why there is indeed a book in all of us, but very, very few actually end up on the bookshelves. It’s quite a challenge. It also makes me admire those who have worked endlessly and tirelessly to produce a book. You have succeeded! Bravo!
Now, back to those wretched semicolons (and is that hyphenated or not?) … Give me strength …
What do you struggle with most when writing your blog or book?
Wife kissing handsome husband goodbye at the door as he leaves to go to work.
Wife sees handsome husband wearing the tie that she had tried to wash, instead of, God forbid, paying money and sending it to the dry cleaners.
Silk ties do not like being washed.
Silk ties return to the tie rack neither cleaner nor the same shape, or indeed size.
Wife thought she had discreetly (secretly) thrown away said ruined tie.
The moral dilemma? Should I have let him go to work with dodgy tie, or admit to the consequences of my money-pinching ways?”
I think I might have made the wrong choice …
“Why in Gods name did you wash it?” he spluttered, eyebrows rising dramatically.
“Umm, I thought it was polyester?” I blatantly lied. His eyebrows lifting even further confirmed he didn’t believe me. “I don’t have polyester ties!” he spat through somewhat gritted teeth.
“Well, it was dirty. You had dribbled on it.” I said. The best form of defence is attack. Wrong course of action however.
A stomping back upstairs, roughly removing both coat and suit jacket ensued amid much huffing and puffing. I followed cautiously.
The new and clean tie appeared to be rather problematic in putting on. This caused further and considerably noisier huffing and puffing. “It takes a very precise and careful hand to tie a tie properly,” he informed me.
“Oh,” says I, duly informed. “And, um for how long have you been practising this um ‘art-form’?” I question innocently.
“Since I was eight,” he mutters.
I collapsed in a heap of guffawing laughter, and a small twitch of his lip and a wiggle of his nose confirmed I was forgiven. “I’ll give you a lesson in tying a tie if you like!” I giggled hysterically. “Pah! I’ll give you blasted lessons!” he laughed feigning indignation.
“I’ll bin this one then,” I giggled, holding up the mis-shaped offending tie.
“Pah! It’s got years of life left in it!” he laughed, trying to snatch it from me.
“Not with a socking great rip in it, it hasn’t!” I shouted, running down the stairs with it.
“You wouldn’t!” he laughed and chased me to the front door where for the second time this umorning, I kissed him gently and held him close. “I love you” he whispered, “So very much.”
So. Should I have,
a) Let him go to work in a grim tie
b) Admitted the error of my ways, but been slightly more apologetic
c) Told him it was his own fault for having silk non-washable ties and polyester would suffice
d) Tied the tie for him whilst changing a plug, reading a map and reciting the periodic table.
Sometimes the truth hits me like a slap round the face with a cold, wet fish. Deeply unpleasant with a lingering odour, but eye opening once the scales have been pulled from my eyes, if you’ll excuse the pun.
The more I write, the greater is the realisation that I need to read more, more, and even more. Education is key and that is the truth.
Writing a memoir of course also requires experiencing life so that there’s actually something to write about. It wouldn’t exactly be a bestseller if I wrote about the fluff that accumulates in my navel even if I had a social media following of tens of thousands (unless of course they too were navel gazers).
Not being a highbrow or educationally sophisticated reader, I like a light-hearted book. Bill Bryson is my latest and has me giggling happily on the train, in the bath and sometimes in the coffee shop where I’m supposed to be writing. Thankfully books are not expensive because the truth is, I need a few. I’ve pondered with a Kindle, but I worry about it falling in the bath. I don’t know the difference between an e-book and an audio book, but if they are the ones where Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones come out of a pair of headphones, I don’t think that would be awfully safe on my bicycle. So I think I shall stick to the good old fashioned paperback and remember when it falls into that bath, to fan out the pages before putting it on the radiator, otherwise one has less of a book and more of a brick and that’s not terribly easy to read.
It is rather ironic that I write endlessly about moderation. But in truth, I am fascinated by it.
Now, according to that fellow Aristotle, the Golden Middle Way is the desirable middle ground between two extremes; one being that of excess and the other, of deficiency.
As an example, he uses courage as a virtue, being in this case the Golden Middle Way. But if that courage is taken to excess, it would manifest as recklessness and, in deficiency, as cowardice!
Ooooh I love these Ancient Greek philosophers with their faintly dodgy beards … they were a clever bunch of cookies.
So what is it that makes some people so able to maintain the ‘Golden Middle Way’ in their lives, and yet others follow the path of extremes? Is it simply self control, or are we born that way?
Why is it that I absolutely have to eat an entire packet of ginger biscuits in one sitting, whereas my lovely friends would only have one or two? Perhaps I’m overthinking this and I’m simply more hungry.
Ps. Exactly what is it that you have a lack of self control over? (Ahem! Nothing smutty if you please)
Pps. Sorry about the picture, I couldn’t find one of Aristotle, so this will have to suffice.
Forgive me for sharing, but I’ve been faintly hysterical. To clarify, I am most certainly not looking for sympathy. That was very kindly given, free of charge by the staff in the coffee shop. I think it’s the only thing I’ve had free of charge there, the place costs me a small fortune.
My lovely coffee shop has endured months of me sitting in my usual spot, tapping away at the iPad whilst buying a few desperately expensive lattes and a chocolate brownie or two. We chat and laugh and they ask about my writing, and are the most kind and friendly bunch of people. Suffice to say, should I ever get this wretched book published, I’ll have to sell quite a substantial amount just to break-even, in order to compensate for the amount of coffees I’ve bought.
Each day they hear me come through the rickety door as the little bell above gives a jingle and a jangle. They call out with a cheerful, “Morning! Your regular decaf latte, in a mug not a cup and saucer? We’ll bring it right over!” and I smile coyly, blatantly ignoring the snarls and filthy looks of the other customers in the queue in front of me as I take my place in the corner with the cushions and the squishy seat. As the morning progresses, I change my order a little and try not to be quite so predictable. Sometimes I ask for extra cream or try an Americano in anticipation of moving across the pond, but I don’t really think that’s going to help me.
But today was different. Today I began the final chapter of the book, which is now less of a book and more of a friend. I friend I have created and although at times I have loathed it when I have come to a tricky section, I also love it with a passion that makes me want to weep. And sadly today, that is exactly what happened.
I was writing about the final few kilometres of my trip on a squeaky bicycle called Claude, when suddenly it dawned on me that it was nearly over. Through writing, I had been re-living this ‘journey’ of mine, and now, for the last time it truly was coming to an end. To the horror of everyone, this realisation suddenly found me wailing, howling and dribbling into my flat white with extra cream. Bless them, the girls came straight over, the men more slowly and somewhat nervously. (They wisely understood that women-of-a-certain-age in a state are to be treated with caution …)
As I wiped my mascara’d cheeks with a unlimited pile of Farrow and Ball coloured napkins, I explained how I would miss coming to their lovely coffee shop and writing and as I snivelled and dribbled, I thanked them profusely for all their kindness.
“Err won’t you still have a bit of editing or something to do?” one of the girls tentatively asked.
“Oh! Oh yes!” I exclaimed, brightening somewhat. “In fact, lots of editing and umm re-editing and things like that,” I carried on. “Err, yes of course … you know, spell-checking and things!” I trailed off at this point, quite unsure what on earth I was talking about. But this seemed to appease us all and the world seemed like an infinitely better place, with all-round smiles and lots of slaps on the back and reassuring, ” Well, you’ll be here for weeks then!”
“Thank goodness for that!
The men disappeared with sighs of relief that all was now well, and the girls gave me my first ever free coffee as a get better soon gesture and offered more Farrow and Ball napkins to wipe away the eye makeup which was apparently now on-my-chin-makeup. And we sat and chatted happily together about the benefits of waterproof mascara vs falsies. I thought falsies were fake bosoms, but they’re all a lot younger and infinitely wiser so I’ll heed their advice. So, when it really is all finished, spell-checked and edited, I’ll simply go to America as planned, have an Americano and get myself some falsies. Sounds like a fabulous plan – odd how the Colonel looks ever so over-excited …
Any tips, advice, suggestions for finishing a book? (Including editing and finding an agent or publisher or …. anything). Thank you x
No, of course it’s not really wretched, I’m simply being a drama queen because I am frustrated. Supremely frustrated.
I’m frustrated because with no published books under my belt, how on earth can I really justify the time I need to write?
I feel as though because I’m not (yet) an author, it’s rather self-indulgent, pompous and pretentious to announce that “I need to be alone!” and mop my fevered brow. Whether it was Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich who said it, I don’t recall, and frankly it doesn’t matter, my point is that I do need to be alone but I feel a bit of a drama queen saying it. Admittedly I don’t need to do the mopping of brow with a delicate white handkerchief, but in case Renee Zelwegger isn’t available for the film version of the book, I’m happy to practise my craft and step into the role …
So, I keep sloping off from the packing up of the house (we’re moving), the cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and general ‘life’. (Nb This is also said in a woe-is-me type of voice, despite the rather odd fact that I rather enjoy it) So, in order to give myself a little bit of writing time, I am shirking my responsibilities by hiding behind the door of the kitchen, tap, tapping away. Did I mention that I was moving house?
Once I have got book number one done and dusted and it’s flying off the shelves in every bookstore from London to New York (optimism and a total lack of reality are currently my default setting), then I feel that I am justified in disappearing off for several hours to write. I can then type madly, hitting the iPad with such ferocity simply to get out the words, sentences and paragraphs that are endlessly trying to burst out of my head and are longing to get onto paper before they are forgotten and lost in the dusty crevices of the grey matter.
Oooooh I’m exhausted! Forgive my rant, my frustrations and my inner melodramatic diva who has momentarily escaped the confines of my middle class British background. I shall resolve this. A little self control is required. A little earlier rising in the morning, allocating specific writing time and then using that time correctly instead of drinking tea and looking at Facebook. Oh yes, I can do this! Discipline is all it takes!
In the meantime, I think I need a little lie-down in a darkened room with some whale music, except the sounds of running water .. well, I needn’t go into that …
Perhaps I’ll just hide behind the kitchen door again; there’s a socket for charging my iPad, a very friendly spider whom in hushed tones I like to chat to about the benefits of waxing vs shaving (oh yes, that hairy arachnid needs to know!) … and at least the ginger biscuits are close to hand …
Towards the end of my cycling trip last summer, I came to the conclusion that both Claude (the bicycle) and I needed a little attention. So I hosed Claude down with water, gave him some oil for his squeaky bits, and found a lovely lady in a beauty salon for myself. I did however go in the hope that any cleansing and moisturising treatments for me, would be marginally more gentle.
She took one look at me and started tutting with a slow shake of her beautifully coiffed head. This was perhaps not the best of starts, but always one for believing that the truth can hurt, I ignored this and persevered.
An hour and a half later and I reappeared a new woman. She had been given a fairly tough job, but managed in a short period of time to perform nothing short of a miracle.
During this time however, we spoke in a mixture of my bad French and her decidedly better English about beauty. I asked her how it was that French woman always seemed to be so well put together and just naturally beautiful.
Her response was as follows:
She said the English were like sparkling man-made Christmas trees; adorned with flashing coloured lights, baubles, tinsel and weighed down and covered from top to bottom in some form of the latest trend in decoration.
The French on the other hand, were simply healthy trees with just a few plain candles to enhance their natural and pure beauty and nothing more.
This was of course her own opinion, but one thing did resonate. That being, there is beauty in simplicity. Life doesn’t have to be covered in sparkling lights to make it perfect. perhaps there is truth in the proverb, “All that glitters is not gold”.
Who do you think is the most beautiful woman in the world?
Ok, minor confession. I made the teensy weensy mistake of setting myself a deadline which I may have inadvertently shared with some of you. The deadline for having the first draft of the book ready was Valentines Day. Yes, I am fully aware that that was yesterday.
And, well, in truth, to be frank, and without putting too much emphasis on my inability to write when I’M SO FLIPPIN’ KNACKERED THAT I CANNOT EVEN SEE STRAIGHT, LET ALONE WRITE, I have to admit that it is therefore, consequently and any other conjunctive adverbs that you can squeeze in, not quite there yet.
I’m sorry if that came across as a little bunny-boiler-ish and overly hormonal. In the simple language which I love and understand the best, I’m just a little ‘pooped’.
Normal service however will be resumed immediately and indeed, I’m only a week away at most. So please forgive me. I’ve had a busy week where life has somewhat overtaken me, rammed, scratched and battered me, but I’m back on the straight, narrow and hardworking path of yet another wannabe author once again.
Right! Socks have been metaphorically pulled up, cap straightened and shoulders pulled back. I am ready to finish the last few chapters. I’m on the home run and raring to go. Just a quick cup of tea and I did spy some ginger nut biscuits hiding in the cupboard …
Have you ever missed a deadline? And the consequences were ….?
It appears to me that there are a plethora of budding authors here on WordPress.
Indeed, some already have beautifully bound books sitting on the shelves. Oh, how we long to be in your shoes! How we dream of being that far along the published line, with our designated writing rooms and a spouse who when visitors appear at the door, whisper that you are not to be disturbed as the genius, the ‘artiste’, is ‘at work’.
Said genius might perhaps be wafting around in a silk negligee and matching robe with a cigarette holder firmly clamped between glossy scarlet lips as she drops ash on the carpet whilst dictating to her loyal and dependable secretary. Of course if the author is of the male variety, one presumes that there would be less of the silk negligee and more of the smoking jacket and cigar, but I’m frightfully broad minded these days, and frankly, anything goes.
Some however have finished writing and are desperately and nervously waiting for the telephone to ring. Waiting in excruciating anticipation for their editors, agents or publishers to gush in delight, gasping with excitement at the marvellously original manuscript that you have sent. Cover to cover they have devoured your novel whilst rubbing their hands in glee at the potential film rights whilst already looking at potential Oscar winners to take the leading role. Oh! Oh! Oh!
And then, there are those of us (and I include myself in this grouping) who are daily, weekly or whenever-we-can-ly tap, tap, tapping away at our computers and iPads.
We live in a never-ending rollercoaster of hopeful optimism and desperate pessimism. We continue with life, with children, families, jobs and dreary mundane problems sucking out the very life within us; whilst in the deepest and dustiest crevices of our grey matter we secretly harbour and nurture a tiny and often fleeting glimmer of hope. A candle light so faint it can barely be seen. And so we continue to write, to throw our vulnerable selves, our mind and souls onto the pages for all to see, just in case, just in case …. we can succeed.
So carry on my friends! And if ever you wish to be seen in a flimsy and quite possibly highly flammable silk negligee whilst holding a cigarette, don’t forget that smoking is terribly bad for you, but frankly I may well come and join you. My tongue is, as ever, firmly lodged in my cheek, however, with all sincerity may I say, let us keep writing, keep working for as well as loving to write, we also love to read each others work. And one day, one day, that little glimmer of hope just might turn into a roaring flame.
Are you writing with a purpose in mind, for pleasure or a combination of the two? I won’t ask if you have a penchant for negligee, but … do tell …
I am as ever, reading about three books on the go. I cannot claim that this is even in part due to a wondrous ability to multitask. No, this is simply because there are so many fabulous books out there and I want to read them all, now. I am nothing if not needy, demanding and impetuous.
As some of you know, moderation has never been my thing. Indeed, a tendency to get marginally overexcited when encountering something new has a partial influence on my inability to have a modicum of patience. Therefore finishing one thing before commencing something new is a tad alien to me. (This probably accounts for the chaos in my life!)
My point here is this. I have recently started a book by Sarah Knight entitled “Get Your Sh*t Together”. Interesting title (she says with a pompous sniff) and one which certainly made me wonder how on earth it could have ended up on the shelves of such a middle class shop as Oliver Bonas. However ….. I now see why she has the honour of being a ‘bestselling author’ of more than one book.
If like me, those dark, dank and dreary days of winter are already taking their toll on you, buy this book. Buy this book and then read this book. (Unless you have an understandable aversion to bad language. To say it is peppered with it throughout, would be an understatement).
It is simple enough for even the intellectually stifled like myself. Frankly if it wasn’t for having another two books to read, this could be done and dusted, cover to cover in less than 48 hours. And …. it’s worth it.
It is inspiring even for those who have their life well and truly in their own minds, on track. For the rest of us mere mortals who are floundering slightly with ‘to do’ lists that never are truly done, and daydreams that never seem to materialise into something tangible, it is absolutely worth a few very happy hours of sinking into your favourite armchair whilst the dark rain falls outside. It truly is, for any fellow procrastinators out there, a kick up the backside and an alternative way of getting one’s sh*t together, without an irritating little man with a megaphone shouting, “Get up and get a life!” Frankly I’d want to hit him with a shovel, but occasionally it’s what I need.
How do you combat the winter blues?
What books get you excited? (Nothing smutty please!)
I have finally found my home away from home. It is simply a little coffee shop between the river and the park. It has wooden floorboards, huge windows and soft armchairs filled with cushions. There are beautiful pastries and fresh fruits in wicker baskets, smells of roasting coffee beans and hot chocolate and has now most firmly become a part of my daily routine.
I sit, drink copious amounts of coffee and write.
I used to find that writing on the underground worked a treat until I realised that going round and round on the Circle Line in order to type up the next chapter was probably a little odd to say the least; and somehow writing at home just seemed to be difficult. It was too quiet and the overspilling ironing basket would give me the evil eye, and the cupboard with the ginger nut biscuits would call to me a little too often to guarantee a lifetime free of the dreaded cellulite. So the coffee shop it is. They do have a rather delicious chocolate brownie which just happens to come with ice cream but I digress.
Like so many of us, it took a little while before being able to feel entirely comfortable and entitled to while away the hours in someone else’s space; but within a week I found myself feeling as though I was simply ‘a home away from home’. The staff became chattier to me by the day and even better, knew how I liked my coffee. And now? I feel like one of those people (usually men dare I say it) who go into their local pub and are asked, “A pint of your usual sir?” Oh yes, I feel as though they have accepted me into their fold and I’m loving it.
So, as I tap, tappety, tap away with the world moving around me and gentle music playing in the background, I have now reached the momentous point of being one third of the way through the book. There is still a long way to go, particularly in light of the fact that I have a notebook completely full of barely legible notes to make something of, but it’s a good start. I’m out of the starting gates, have done a few furlongs and am galloping midfield with a mass of others.
There are many on the same course, and whilst some are ahead, some behind and some have fallen at the first hurdle, I am doing my very best to keep on the straight and narrow. I’m only a little way through with the inevitable Becher’s Brook or another huge challenge or six to contend with, but with a good wind behind me and my bank account allowing for the continuation of daily coffee and chocolate brownies with ice cream, with a little luck I shall finish before the clocks go forward in the spring. I may of course be something the size of a whale with a coffee addiction by that point, but I will, with a little luck have a book. Battle on McDuff to myself and all of us!
Where is your most favourite place in the world? Do you have somewhere away from home that you love to visit?
Work on the book has been a little slow of late. Ok, so if the truth be told, I’ve been procrastinating rather a lot. It’s incredible how I can find little excuses and reasons to not write. And suddenly a week has passed. Then two. And before I knew it, the habit and routine of writing has flittered away. We all know that it’s very hard to start a good habit and mightily easy to let it slip. Don’t we all favour the easiest route in life?
So yesterday I made myself a promise. I would take my bicycle and iPad on an outing and set myself up in a coffee shop and actually get to grips with the book.
So as I sit here, bouncing around on excess caffeine, I have made enormous progress. There’s a huge amount of work to be done, but it’s a good start and clearly this works better than trying to find a place in the house where I can sit and write without being disturbed by the jobs that I see needing to be done and the telephone ringing. Clearly I could never be self employed as I don’t appear to have the discipline.
Thankfully I am surrounded by at least six others on their various computers and iPads also tap, tap, tapping away so there is no sense of guilt that I am occupying one of the most comfortable seats by the window and letting two cups of what I had thought was decaffeinated coffee but is clearly not, last two hours. I think I’m nearly done here for the day as if I have any more to drink I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling, but clearly for me this is the way forward. The fact that they play lovely music, have rather delicious chocolate brownies and I get to do a bit of people-watching makes it all the more fun. I think I can get rather used to this.
What gives you inspiration to write? Do you need to get out of the house?
There are a lot bloggers here who are writing, or have been pondering for years on writing a book. Well, I fall into the latter category, have a mass of material and am now just starting to try to put it all together.
The problem (and oh and there are so many), is that all I want to do is to have a month to myself in a small room with no distractions. The likelihood of this? Nil. So I have to improvise.
Yesterday however, I did something completely out of character and perhaps more in line with an activity for the over 70’s; I took the Colonel to visit Ham House and gardens. But before you offer my unfortunate husband any sympathy whatsoever, he has a trip to Rome this week and therefore is in no position to make a fuss or complain, not that I am remotely jealous (she says with a derogatory sniff and twitch of her nose as she beats the green-eyed monster to the ground with a large shovel).
I had cycled past Ham House a couple of months ago and put it on the old bucket list. And well worth it too. Built in the 1600’s it made us stop and gaze and wonder and take a trip back into the life and times of the Fire of London and the Plague, when maps were dubious in their accuracy, baths were a rarity and men and women of a certain class and wealth had their own designated areas in the house.
A couple of particular rooms that both the male and female apartments had within the house were tiny ‘closets’ (not as in dressing room or to be confused with a bathroom), but a tiny room with a fireplace and an area for some sort of a daybed and a desk where he or she could escape to, rest, or write. Can you imagine?! What a joy!
Now understandably these rich souls had to deal with all sorts of other problems that we generally don’t have (such as giving birth to 11 children obviously not all at the same time without the wonders of mind-altering and pain-blocking drugs, infancy death, no clean water and therefore drinking beer instead – were they all drunk? etc etc) I do however rather envy them having their very own ‘closet’. One could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet. I could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet! Of course, there isn’t really much room here in our military house to create such a room and I suspect our housing officer might raise an eyebrow or two if I started knocking down the occasional wall but you get my gist. A place of my own, with a log burner, armchair, lots of Jane Churchill fabric, a secret stash of ginger nuts and a large no entry sign on the door (in a pretty eau de nil distressed piece of shaped wood). Perfect.
But sadly, unless I compromise, take refuge in either the clothes cupboard or the understairs cupboard and switch the log burner for a hot water bottle, I fear I shall have to continue with my writing in the comparative norm like everyone else of the kitchen, with my iPad attached to the wall by the cable that isn’t quite long enough to reach the little table and chair as I forgot once again to charge it overnight.
So yes, I stand and type, grasping an hour here, an hour there trying to create a book so wonderful that eventually someone, anyone, ideally a desperate agent will give me a flicker of hope and perhaps, just perhaps one day on amazon at 0.001 pence you might be able to find a book written by me, about a woman and her lowly bicycle Claude … who knows?
And, in the meantime, I think I might just move the Colonel’s uniforms from the cupboard and try and make a little more space … I can almost fit in there if I bend my legs to the left and push the handbags and shoes to the right … oh! So that’s where I hid my jewellery when I was away … golly now I can tell the Colonel it’s back from the menders …
Where do you write? Do you have a perfect hideaway?
Time management is not my forte. In truth there is no management. I flit from one thought or task to another with extraordinary ease. I start something, bore easily, become distracted and like the proverbial butterfly, flutter away to something else. The end result? An over-filled brain of constant thoughts and ideas, and an awful lot of half-finished jobs.
An ex-boyfriend of mine (the same one who gave me the self-help book with post-it notes in the appropriate pages) told me that I was not a ‘Completer Finisher’. Apparently there is even a term for people like me! I finished with him pretty smartish so not quite sure he was entirely correct.
However, to contradict myself, from time to time I find something that I genuinely enjoy and lo and behold I become addicted. (If you know me well, alcohol may well spring to the forefront of your mind, but I was thinking of something more positive like, cycling perhaps.). I become obsessive about it and am completely driven and focused. This is all well and good if it’s a positive activity, not so much if it’s something like drinking alcohol, over-eating, under-eating, biting ones nails (having typed this, I now realise that I can lay claim to all of those). Once again, this rather reconfirms my out of kilter ability to moderate. Fair enough, my total lack of moderation.
My mother used to say, “A little of what you fancy does you good.” And yes she was right, but then again she wasn’t having to peel the wine bottle from my arms as I lay on the floor wailing. I do think however she wondered, and often despaired no doubt, as to why I hopped from one ghastly secretarial job to another. The answer, they bored me rigid.
People however have never bored me. I love talking (one on one, rather than in large groups … it’s a social anxiety thing). And most of all I love it when I meet someone whom I ‘click’ with. The problem is that I get terribly over-excited, want to scoop them up, take them home with me and force them to tell me their entire life history. Slightly strange I grant you and hardly surprising that I struggled socially in my youth. But I need interaction to other human beings, because otherwise I bore myself. And that is why I must go and get a job as soon as I’m back from my bicycling adventure. It’s when I try to engage the postman in some chatter and I can see his eyes glaze over as he backs nervously down the path, then I know that I have to get out more. I suspect he thinks I’m a complete fruitcake, but living in London I suspect, or rather hope, that I am not alone.
Online dating was enormous fun! Again lots of people to chatter to, but of course they were always utterly confused when after a lovely evening together and I had listened with enthusiasm to their various tales, I said, “Thanks awfully and super lovely to meet you, but we’re simply not a match! Toodle Pip!” And with a breezy smile I’d be gone, and they’d be left scratching their heads looking utterly baffled. You see, as a friend, they’re fabulous, but as a future husband, hopeless. By the time pudding had come along my mind was starting to wander, by coffee I was losing the will to live, so in order to find a lifetime partner (awful word, apologies) I was going to have to meet someone slightly extraordinary who kept me hooked, interested and completely on my toes. Thankfully for the male population of the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire, after four long years of searching, I found The Colonel and we are both as nightmarish as each other, so really it’s a match made in heaven.
So you see this butterfly behaviour when I lose interest, and obsessional behaviour when I find my passion, is really rather an extension of my lack of moderation. I do wish that I was normal, but there is a positive here ….
Whilst a lot of things will find me filled with ennui at the tedium of it all – paperwork, political debates, Post Office queues and quinoa (I don’t do ‘bland’ and that’s at the top of my list, along with semolina), I do have passions and they include … you. I adore my WordPress friends, my non-Wordpress friends, blogging, writing, reading, cycling, tennis, quirky people and crumpets with masses of butter and a tiny dot of marmite. You are all my passion, not just for the here and now, but if you can possibly tolerate me and I don’t bore you senseless, then I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. Sorry about that …
Do you have a passion? Do you bore easily or are you disciplined and finish tasks?
Strangely, despite thinking that this is what authors required, I didn’t have to have total silence, a large vat of proper coffee, all in a beautiful summerhouse at the bottom of a perfectly manicured garden complete with Mac computer, mini fridge and the requisite six packets of ginger nuts available to nibble on, or rather, devour. No.
In actual fact, I was on a rather hot and steamy underground train, tapping away on my phone with a gentleman’s less than savoury armpit six inches from my face and a small child with a scooter cracking it into my shins every two minutes.
I think that I’ve had a rather childish dream of writing romantic novels (please note the use the word ‘novels’ rather than ‘books’; I am nothing if not ambitious, also rather deluded), yes, romantic novels in a perfect little setting where the sun always shines and a proud husband occasionally taps tentatively on the door with offerings of pots of tea or lunch on a tray for his hard working and tremendously successful wife, The Novelist. Oooh yes, I’m warming to my theme! Visions of sitting holding court on Graham Norton’s sofa are springing to mind; lunches with Stephen Fry to discuss plot lines and evenings with previous Nobel Prize winners in literature ….. ooooh yes! (Or do you have to be dead to be a winner?? Might have to rethink that one…)
But just momentarily back to reality as The Colonel (aka Husband Dearest) marches up the stairs wearing nothing but a pair of pants and one sock, peers around the bedroom door to see me tapping away in bed, glasses perched on the end of my nose and muttering like a faintly mad thing.
“Do we actually have any clean socks in this house, or shall I wear a pair of the boys Star Wars ones for meeting the General this morning?” A rather withering look from him, a muffled yelp from yours truly from beneath the soft feathery down of the duvet and I bound out of bed in search of clean socks and an ironed shirt and revert guiltily back to wifely duties.
I clearly have ideas substantially above my station, those of grandeur and success. I am also, as most of you know, slightly unhinged. But, if you can’t dream then how does one progress?
So I shall continue to dream about summerhouses, expensive computers and a housekeeper perhaps to ensure that clean and ironed laundry is continually available to every member of the family, and possibly guests as well.
But one thing I don’t need to dream about is writing. I don’t need to dream about the pleasure that writing actually gives me. And if finally, a long way down the road I manage to finish such a thing as a book, then yes, my dreams will have come true. And perhaps meeting Graham Norton and Stephen Fry will have to just wait for another day.
What do you dream of? Do you dream of writing a book … ? What’s stopping you? Xx