Sunday, 25 November 2012

Well Hello Dolly...

If somebody had told me last Sunday that seven days later I’d be blogging about a new addition to the family I’d have said, ‘You’ve lost the plot.’  Instead, it turns out to be me who’s lost the plot.  How else could I have agreed, on the spur of the moment, to throw the door open to an eight week old scrap of feline fluff.  We have a beagle for goodness sake!

Perhaps it was because my daughter caught me unawares.  At the time I was deep in thought bashing out ‘misery writing’.  I’m currently venturing into unchartered waters writing ‘seriously’ with The Ex Factor.  My mood, as a result, was down.  What’s the quickest way to elevate the blues?  Swap The Ex Factor for The Ah Factor.  Eleanor walked into my study.  ‘Look at this,’ she said.  An iPad was thrust in my face.  Filling the screen was a little black and white face with a tiny pink nose.  ‘Ahhhhh,’ I cooed.   It would take the hardest heart not to respond similarly.  I grabbed the iPad and found Mr V.  ‘Look at this,’ I parroted my daughter.  Whereupon the iPad was batted away and Mr V said, ‘No, I’m looking at this.’  His football team on the telly of course.  Perhaps it was also because of my husband’s reaction.  Certainly I found myself experiencing a surge of rebellion.  I flounced out of the lounge and back to my study.  ‘Can we have it?’ Eleanor pounced on me.  ‘Of course!’ I purred.  Pouncing and purring.  It was a sign...

Eleanor was in raptures.  Also thoroughly confused.  How had she managed to pull this off without a major battle of wills?  But she didn’t stop to analyse it.  Just got straight on the blower to her school friend.  ‘My mother’s agreed.  Yes, I’m sure.  I have no idea why.  Just stick a reserved sign on its head.  We’re coming over.  Yes, now.’

I abandoned my writing, picked up my purse and we drove to Pets At Home, the creature equivalent of Westfield.  Any animal worth its salt will have a field day in there if given free licence with its owner’s wallet.  Half an hour later we’d picked up a pink pet carrier, pink feeding bowls, pink litter tray, pink collar (yes, it was going to be a girly moggy whether it liked it or not), fluffy basket, scratching post, toy, kitten milk and food.  We left clutching a mile long receipt and an appointment card with the in-house vet for worming, vaccination and micro-chipping.  Eleanor shot me an anxious look.  ‘You are definitely feeling okay aren’t you Mum?’  ‘Never better,’ I assured whilst mentally thinking that Manchester United had an awful lot to answer for.

When Mr V came home he was greeted by the family hound that was a gibbering wreck.  Woof woof woof woof woof woof’, said the dog.  Translation:  Have you any idea what’s been going on here while you’ve been out?  They’ve only gone and got a CAT.’   ‘Geddoff,’ said Mr V and locked the dog in the utility room.  Whereupon my daughter, clutching the new arrival, greeted her step-father.  Mr V froze.  ‘What is that?’ he spluttered.  Meow meow meow meow meow meow,’ said the kitten.  Translation:  Fancy not having enough brain cells to recognise what I am.  You must be a Manchester United Supporter.’

The kitten was then named.  Several times over.  She started off as Jingle, became Belle, then Jingle-Belle, Flora, Ivy, Whisky, Brandy, Holly, Molly and Folly.  At one point we liked them all and pondered whether to call her, for short, JBFIWBHMF.  But we couldn’t pronounce it.  Folly was probably the most apt considering the madness of it all, but at exactly the same time my daughter and I cried Dolly!  So Dolly it is.

The dog remains unimpressed.  Especially as I’ve accidentally called her Puss a few times instead of Pooch.  Introductions between feline and canine house occupants are progressing.  The kitten has remained as cool as a cucumber throughout.  Not so the dog who initially went to pieces.  Day One she barked herself hoarse.  Day Two was better.  No bark.  But possibly because her vocal cords had seized up.  Day Three she just looked brow-beaten.  Day Four, she walked off in disgust.

So there you have it.  We now have a cat.  Which reminds me.  What is a cat’s favourite movie?  The Sound of Meow-sic...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How to Write Good

Having proof read my last novel several times over, I gave the thumbs up for it to be converted into an e-book.  The lovely Rebecca Emin is absolutely ace at formatting for the likes of Amazon (  Certainly a techie pleb like me relies heavily on a clever clog like Rebecca.  However, before Rebecca sorted out the paperback version, I decided to run through Lipstick and Lies one more time.  Seeing your work in a different format can reveal previously unnoticed errors.  I downloaded my novel and began to read.

Along came the first howler.  My character Cass, mother to a six month baby boy called Eddie, was doing all sorts of wonderful motherly things...but not to Eddie.  Instead she was lugging Ethan around on her hip.  This wouldn’t be quite so catastrophic if Ethan didn’t happen to be forty years old and the boss of Cass’s husband.

I went screeching over to my computer and whizzed off an email to Rebecca.  Minutes later, the MS had been amended and re-uploaded.  My heartbeat quietened.  Confident that all was now well, I continued reading.  But...wait.  What was that?  The character Jamie had just exchanged a few noisy words with his wife.  He was upset.  So upset there was a tic going in his cheek.  Except for some reason I’d typed stick.  Since when did hacked-off characters go around with lumps of wood in their faces?  I went to pieces.  So much so I couldn’t think straight.  What was the correct word?  I began to doubt it was even tic.  Wasn’t that some sort of flea?  Perhaps it was tick...or weren’t those marks our teachers gave us?  Howling in frustration, I opted for the word nerve.  Another hasty email went flying through Cyberspace to Rebecca.

Thoroughly unsettled, I returned to the MS.  What would I find next?  I didn’t have long to wait.  The character Cass was deep in thought.  So much so, her mind was whirring.  Except Cass was so distressed it was actually her wind that was whirring.  Cue instant vision of my character staggering about clutching her guts.  Once again I raced to my computer and belted off an email to Rebecca.

So all I can do is sincerely apologise to those who downloaded a novel with more clangers than that programme in the early Seventies.

Which reminds me.  A writer died and was given the option of going to Heaven or Hell.  She decided to check out both places first. In Hell she viewed a steaming workshop full of writers chained to their desks.  ‘Oh my,’ said the writer, ‘let me see Heaven now.’  Moments later she ascended to Heaven.  Again she witnessed a steaming workshop full of writers chained to their desks.  ‘This is just as bad as Hell,’ the writer gasped.  ‘Oh no it’s not,’ boomed a mysterious voice, ‘here your work gets published...’

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Didn’t we have a luver-ly time the day we visited...Stratford-upon-Avon

Last Friday I waved good-bye to a very disgruntled pooch and set off, with Mr V, to the birth place of William Shakespeare.  Appropriately, our hotel was called The Mercure Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare.  I had Googled the place beforehand and was in awe of this historical building with its Tudor facade, stone floors and open fires.  Which is why, when we pulled up outside a small yellow building, I knew without a shred of doubt that Mr V had driven to the wrong place.  ‘But I thought it was called The Shakespeare Hotel,’ he said.  Clearly there are a few hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon that adopt the Bard’s name somewhere within theirs.  So after a bit of sat-nav tweaking and a drive through countryside with thatched cottages straight off the lid of a posh chocolate box, we arrived at our proper destination.

Now the thing about old places – and let’s face it, this was ancient – is that the minute you walked inside there was a shift in ‘atmosphere.’  Beamed ceilings dared you to bang your head.  Walls were lined with everybody who was anybody back in the sixteenth century.  Pious faces sporting pointed goatees or heavily coiled braids stared down at you.  Most of the faces looked aggrieved.  There were lots of ruffles and tight corsets.  No wonder the occupants of the heavy frames looked so utterly pained.

Our room was up two flights of creaking stairs, the second of which was narrow and winding.  Mr V stooped upon entering our room. He flung the suitcases down and immediately reached for the contraption where sixteenth century collides with twentieth-first.  The television.  More particularly, football.

Later, Mr V went to meet our friends in the bar.  ‘I’ll have a quick shower,’ I said, ‘and will join you very soon.’  The moment I was on my own – television now silent – I became aware of the building’s sounds.  Creaks, groans and tapping abounded.  I ignored it all and went to the bathroom.  Twiddling the shower taps, I stepped into the shower.  No water.  I twiddled the taps the other way.  Still no water.  In the end I pressed down the pop-up plug and tried the bath taps.  Hurrah – water.  I’d barely lowered myself into the foaming depths when the room’s smoke alarm went off.  Wrapping a towel around me I fled, dripping, onto the landing.  The smoke alarm stopped.  I ventured back into the room.  I’d got as far as lathering myself up when the smoke alarm went off again.  Exit one towelled female who this time gave an elderly couple a bit of a turn.  I was barely submerged in the water for a third time, when the smoke alarm went off yet again.  I ignored it.  It was only when my ears were literally ringing that the ruddy thing stopped.

Five minutes later, I was just pulling on a sweater when there was the sound of gushing water from the bathroom. Wisps of steam curled from under the door and into the bedroom.  I yanked the bathroom door open.  The shower was in full flow.  Reaching in I turned off the taps.  I’d barely exited the bathroom when the water started again.  And this time there was a little outbreak of goosebumps on the back of my neck.  Where was Derek Acorah when you needed him eh?  For the second time I switched off the taps.  ‘Okay,’ I quavered to thin air, ‘I’m going downstairs now.’

That night, I slept badly.  Whether this was because of strange noises that prevailed, or a little matter of the room’s sloping floor impacting on the bed, I’m not sure.  All I know is that I went to sleep with one hand hugging my pillow and the other grimly hanging on to the wooden side lest I shot out the bottom in the night.

Haunted hotels aside, it was a blissful weekend and I thoroughly recommend a visit to this historical town.  Mr V and I enjoyed an open topped bus ride which departed from the Pen and Parchment Inn and rumbled past Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Mary Arden’s house, New Place, Nash’s House and Hall’s Croft, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Holy Trinity Church and the old 15th Century Grammar School where Shakespeare was educated.

And did you know it was actually William Shakespeare who invented the knock-knock joke? Yes, really.  Which reminds me.

Who’s there?
Iago who?
Iago to the store.  Do you needa anything?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Remember Remember the 5th of November...

Actually I never remember the 5th of November.   Fireworks don’t ‘do’ it for me.  After years of having a dog that cringes at every bang, and reading horrific stories in the newspapers about firework accidents, I’d be quite happy to see them banned.  However, what Guy Fawkes Night does have a tendency to do is remind me that the Christmas season is edging closer.  And so the Christmas shopping has begun.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Mr V as he watched me, crouched on the bedroom carpet, huffing and puffing over cellotape that had adhered itself to everything other than the present I was wrapping.  Without waiting for an answer he began rummaging through the carrier bags dotted around the room.  This is an action which ever so slightly drives me potty.  ‘What have you bought me?’ he asked.
The dog appeared from nowhere, tail wagging expectantly.  Her eyes lit up at the sight of wrapping paper.  She joined Mr V and also began searching the carrier bags.  ‘Get that dog out of here,’ I said irritably.  The cellotape was now on the Christmas paper, but not in a straight line.  I pulled it off and promptly ripped the paper in the process.  ‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ I cried.  I crumpled the paper up and prepared to start all over again.  Mr V had finished going through all the carrier bags.  ‘There are no Pro V1 golf balls,’ he said disappointedly.  I rocked back on my heels and regarded him.  ‘There’s no Father Christmas,’ I answered back, ‘but you don’t hear me complaining.’
The daughter came in.  ‘Oooh, Christmas presents.  What have you bought me?’  I stood up.  ‘Out!  Now!  All of you!’  I shooed them out and shut the door.  A quick check in the carrier bags had me opening the door once again and making a smart dash to the dog’s basket.  The dog looked at me as if to say spoilsport.  I removed the pack of chews and squeaky Father Christmas toy she’d swiped and took them back upstairs.
Meanwhile, I’m currently wrapped, stacked, ribboned and bowed and feeling tremendously proud of myself.  All that remains are the Christmas cards to write.  Which reminds me.  How do you know Santa is male?  Because no woman would wear the same outfit year after year...