Monday, 19 November 2012

Neurotic mothers

I doubt I am alone in being a neurotic mother, but I felt I had to confess, because my babies are now grown-ups, so it's not like I can do something simple like going to check they're still breathing in the dead of night, or ensure they're strapped in their car seat or not going to choke on a rogue piece of carrot. These days I really have no control over them so potential disaster is waiting round every corner, on every car/plane/train/bus/bicycle journey. I have imagined every worst case scenario from being kidnapped by bandits in Guatamala to being eaten by sharks while diving, to being murdered whilst driving round the countryside lost. You name it, I've had it. If only I could keep them safe at home, wrapped in cotton wool and dictate what they can and can't do. Like today, for instance, I'd suggest staying inside because of the danger of falling trees (it's very very windy). I KNOW it's not right for a mother to lead their child's life for them, but I can't help it. Wendy Mogul in her very sensible book (though slightly too religious) book 'The Blessing of a Skinned Knee', says: 'The current trend in parenting is to shield children from emotional or physical discomfort. I can't blame parents for reacting with horror to nightly news reports about our violent, dangerous society, but many of them overprotect their sons and daughters. They don't give them the chance to manoeuver on their own outside of home or school.' Well, I do actually give them the chance, and, on the whole, they do it successfully, but it's ME that suffers. I wake at 3am thinking I've had a premonition, that my dream of a giant wave is actually a sign that my son, who is due to take a ferry to Ireland in a few days, will be swept overboard, or the whole thing will roll over and he will drown. And this isn't unusual, every day something happens which convinces me my children are lying there, dying slowly and painfully and I'm not there to help them. I got a phone call from one of my sons the other day. In the background was a curious intermitent beeping. 'Oh my God, are you in hospital,' was my immediate (slightly over dramatic) reaction, sadly spoken aloud. 'No Mother,' came the slightly disdainful reply, 'I'm in the supermarket.' Oops. That was a bit of a give away.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The importance of names

Just realising that the names in my books are pretty randomly chosen and I need to think more carefully about them. A name can tell so much about a person, their age, their social status, their country of origin...

I often think about the whole thing of double barreled names. It used to denote upper classness, but ironically, these days when parents don't marry but give their children both parents' names, the whole class distinction thing is being undermined. No longer can one guarantee the 'breeding' implied by double barrelness - whatever 'breeding' actually means? I love the levelling aspect of it, that you might, in fact, not be in DeBretts, but actually be (in very old fashioned speak) a 'bastard'. Hmmmm.

Anyway, I got to thinking about names because we've been looking for a builder in London recently and went on some website which allows you to find one (hopefully someone reliable and not about to rip you off - is that possible???) And I contacted a very nice gentleman called 'Rimantas Sukackas'. Wow. Try saying that a few times after a night out. It sounds like the heroine in a Mills and Boon novel. My favourite names are both men I actually know. Andrei Constantine Vaselescu - swarthy daggered foreigner comes to mind. And Tobias Alexander Wuttke. That one just makes me want to jump up and salute. Names like Horatio and Tarquin are just mad.

Anyone got any names which are evocative? Let me know. I'm looking for an older man's name, the whole package, I need first, middle (or two) and last.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Struggling with research

My book, 'Sanctuary House' (subtle plug eh???) is about a girl's childhood in a cult house.

My research has taken me in all directions, but most recently I've spent many happy hours looking at grim documentaries on youtube about Jim Jones (of Jonestown 'fame') and various other barking mad cult leaders, such as the Heaven's Gate one, whose madness shows in his manic eyes. If you want to become a cult leader, it's easy to get a step by step instruction manual cataloguing qualities which are most effective. I'm a bit worried I'm going to be reported by whoever it is that monitors computers and finds paedophiles etc. I know quite a lot about cyanide now, including how much you need to kill someone. Haven't yet found how to get hold of it, so if anyone knows, please tell me. I promise this is for the sake of my art only.

I recently realised how important thorough research is whilst reading a book about a cult (that's all I read at the moment, this one is fictional, like mine). I was enjoying it, the balance of tension and humour was good, the characters believable - it had all the hallmarks of a good read. Until the end, when one finally met the cult leader, who'd been deliberately kept in the background the whole way through, and he was this old man with lung cancer, alternately sucking on a Gaulloise (if that's the way you spell it) and his oxygen tank. Having lived through my stepfather's lung disease, I know that if you smoke when an oxygen tank is around you will cause an explosion. It's a complete no no. This mistake made me regard the whole book with less respect, and I began to question whether there might not be other obvious flaws. A pity, and just goes to show how one must be extremely diligent about facts. There's always someone who will know more than you and revel in pointing out that you got it wrong! So, thank God for google and youtube and the whole web bit. I may yet become a computer geek.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

writing - the agony and the ecstasy and the selling oneself

I am restarting my blog though not creating a new one, as this is still 'the start of the rest of my life', but a different start, as soon I will be (in my head, anyway) a 'writer'. A daunting title and what does it mean?

For me, it means I've had some affirmation that my writing is at least okay because I'll have the piece of paper that says 'MA Creative Writing' on it. I know that doesn't mean I'll be successful, or even that I'm a great writer, but it does mean I've had some pretty in-depth writing experiences, shared my writing with some exceptionally talented people and had to try different genres of writing which have (hopefully) helped me to identify where my strengths lie.

We had a chat from an agent yesterday, who, astonishingly, came down from London for two hours. This is the first agent I've spoken to face to face, and what she said about the business was daunting - but then I knew that anyway. Particularly daunting for luddites like me, for whom the word 'networking' sends shivers down my spine. For no one can define exactly how one actually 'networks'. If it means twittering, then what does one say in the amount of words/letters you have to say it in? 'Read me I'm a good writer'? Give a link to my blog? Put one sentence at a time of my book, so over ten years they can read the whole thing? I don't think so.

When I look at twitter, I read what a dog might read looking at my book: 'dgjalgjna;g nea;haeoenavlna[tral'. Something like that. It just makes no sense to me and I never know where the original 'conversation' has begun, so it's like eavesdropping on someone in the middle of their conversation but never actually being able to determine what has gone on. I'm just not that twenty first century.

Still, I know I have to learn, as agents will look at a blog and assess ME on the quality of it, they'll look at twitter and how many followers you've got (in my case, under ten, because I never go on it and my name is something like 'Fivefour twothree' because every name I tried was used up. Not exactly awe inspiring, is it?

Any veteran twitters who stumble across this, please give me some tips. It could mean the difference between publication and starvation - well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but between publication and pub (which is where I currently work). I'd like the 'lication' bit as well, please.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Embarrassing bodies

I'm having a problem with something,and it is, why would people put themselves on a programme called 'Embarrassing Bodies'. I'm not saying the people who go on this aren't brave, and they are undoubtedly desperate, but what I want to know is, what are they desperate for? Is it for their two minutes on the telly? Or is it because of the problems they have? Because if it's the latter, surely it's less humiliating to go to their own doctor and get it dealt with confidentially?

I suppose the third consideration is that they're doing this for purely altruistic reasons, to liberate those with a similar problem and let them know they are not alone. And if this is the case, I can only applaud them.

I suspect it's a combination of the above, but if it were me, I would absolutely not want the entire nation to see me and all my bits. And I would not want to be permanently labelled 'Disappearing vagina lady', or 'Drooping face man'.

And you could be justified in asking why I watch it if I feel like this? I could blame it on my daughter, who finds it riveting, but in truth, I guess I'm as voyeuristic as everyone else who does.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Three drunken men

Friday night at the pub.

I didn't finish till 11.45pm as at end of shift, had to find space in the freezer for a barrel load of the hugest oysters I've ever seen, they were, quite literally the size of a large man's hand. These were part of an order for a private party - a shellfish fest. FOr a famous playwright whose play has just won many awards. So I didn't begrudge it.

Meanwhile, chaos was ensuing around me. Jason was banging on the piano, joined by Rob brushing his drums (remarkably well, considering his condition). Jane swayed and managed to stay upright, Fiona put on her busty washboard and with a rolling pin and a large metal spoon, pumped out some vaguely rythmical sounds. Stewart had previously been wearing it and managed to dislodge one of the bell nipples from a boob. If Johny and Els had been there, the kitchen would have been denuded of several tupperware dishes of baking beans and coriander seeds, plus cheese grater and wooden spoons. Instruments used on a regular basis.

I was, quite possibly, the only one who was stone cold sober; listening to Richard practicing a passage from the COrinthians which he's reading at his mother's funeral. Meanwhile, right in front of me, three large men were wrestling. Inevitably, one fell over, just missing crushing me to death.

A typical night really.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Keeping up appearances

A friend at work, Barbara, remarked yesterday that 'these things always seem to happen to you'. I'm not sure if that's true, but Saturday night, one of 'these things' certainly happened.

We had invited six people to dinner. Six people who hadn't previously been round to our house. For some reason I wanted to give the impression (to people who probably already know) that we are not slobs. No way! We live in military order, everything in its proper place, the carpets aren't encrusted in dog and cat hairs, there are not colonies of spiders inhabiting every room, I clean my windows on a regular basis, my fridge doesn't have unidentifiable objects moulding quietly in tupperware pots. So, what I can only describe as a frenzied cleaning session went on for days beforehand.

The first three duly arrived (five minutes previously we'd suddenly looked at the cooker and started brillo padding large wodges of grease off the sides)and we greeted them warmly. There inevitably followed the slightly awkward pauses, in between remarks about the weather, as we shuffled round, doing our hostessy things. Once drinks were poured, (and in my case, gulped down) we started to relax.

Then, into the room wobbles Flake, our fourteen year old cross collie dog. Flake is a darling, but she has some problems. She's deaf, dementia ridden, smells like a cess-pit and eats shit on a regular basis.

Dave was the first to notice. 'Oh look, she's got a piece of loo roll attached to her foot'. I went over and lifted the paw, and it suddenly dawned on me what it was. With the greatest subtlety, I pulled it off, but that tell-tale ripping sound echoed round the room.

Dave started to laugh. 'That's not loo roll. What's she doing with a sanitary pad on her foot?'

'Oh,' I said hesitantly, 'she gets them out the bin and chews them.'

Something which we take for granted as happening on a regular basis suddenly didn't sound very normal. And it was at this point I realised that the remainder, such as there was, would be on the doormat, in full view of the last couple, who hadn't arrived yet.

'Urghh, that's disgusting.'

What could I say? For us, it was a fact of life.

By then we were all rolling around laughing and Flake was looking embarrassed, but not sure why she should be.

'Thank God Colin and Barry weren't here to see it,' I shrieked, still curled up in hysteria. Dave pointed out they probably wouldn't have known what it was, but they were the ones I most wanted to impress and I would have been devastated.

By 2am I didn't care whether they thought we were slobs or not. My meal had been a success, though my mother-in-laws trusty 'shrimp mould' hadn't slipped out of the tin quite as beautifully as it should have done and resembled something akin to pink cat sick.

But still, everyone ate it heartily. And the 'incident' has been the source of huge amusement the length and breadth of the village.