What I learnt this week: 25th January 2019

From windows to bannisters.

A few weeks ago we had new windows put on the front of the house. It’s a job we said would be the first thing we did when we moved here 19 years ago. But hey, at least we finally got round to it, yes?

It’s claimed they’ll help reduce the noise from the road, and the overhead planes, and reduce our heating bills, though considering the cost of the damn things, the latter is a bit of a stretch. They do look smart though, both inside and outside the house. What I hadn’t factored in, was how much work they would involve. Not the installation, that fell to the window fitters. Thank God. Rather them than me hanging out of the first floor bedrooms…

Inevitably though, the windows didn’t just slide in – ours is a hundred year old house, and nothing eases in, trust me. So now, having had 6 windows fitted, we have six rooms that need redecorating.

While we argue over colours, we thought we’d start on the front door. You see the new windows aren’t white, they’re off white. Yet the front door was white. So we painted it. And because we’d painted the outside, we thought we should paint the inside the same colour. Which then made us realise how shoddy the rest of the woodwork was in the hallway, so that had to be painted, too. Finally, our eyes were drawn to the bannisters, which had been white, once upon a time, but were now yellow. And definitely didn’t match the newly painted door.

Bugger.

Here’s me in action (I don’t believe in dust sheets, or masking tape. That’s what kitchen roll and wet wipes are for). The junk on the stairs is the front door furniture which we now realise is brass, and doesn’t go with the new off-white colour scheme. A nickel knocker and letterbox has been ordered…

Finally, that look of gritted teeth agony on my face? That is real. There’s a reason the start of the word painting begins with pain. Next time the bannisters need doing, we’re getting a decorator in. Or moving.

What I learnt this week: 17th January 2019

A birthday treat…a visit to something older than me

It was my birthday last week, and to ‘celebrate’ we went to the South coast for the weekend. By we, I mean my hubby and I because the boys are back at university. And by celebrate I mean I used my birthday as a good excuse to go to my favourite factory outlet, knowing my hubby wouldn’t be able to complain too much because, hey, it’s my birthday.

Money was spent – my birthday money – damn, okay, maybe a little more than my birthday money but with prices 70% off, it’s more look at how much money I saved. No? My hubby isn’t convinced either.

While we were there, we popped in to see something even older than I am. In fact, the world’s oldest commissioned warship. We last saw Victory in 2015, and she’s had a complete paint job since then. On the left is how she used to look, like a bumble bee. On the right is her new colours. More subdued. More elegant. More in keeping with the old lady she is.

 

During the restoration they discovered, in places, as many as 72 different layers of paint! But she’s now restored to what they believe is her true colours; those she was wearing during the Battle of Trafalgar.

How lovely she looks compared to her modern equivalents. Here is the Navy’s latest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Definitely not pretty, though I suspect that’s not what they were aiming at when they designed her.

A few more photos of Victory as she was looking so smart.

I would end with a photo of all the bargains I bought, but they’re already secreted away in my wardrobe. Not because I’m especially organised, but because if I hadn’t bought them, I wouldn’t have had a thing to wear this week…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learnt this week: 10th January 2019

Happy New Year

Is it too late to say that? Too late to post a blog about Christmas? Damn. If I don’t, then really there’s nothing much else to report. The kids are back to university, the husband back to work, and I’m back to writing (both medical and romance) in a house that feels very quiet.

Well, except for the presence of the builders, putting in new windows. But hey, the sound of drilling, of banging and the constant blast of cold air is nothing compared to having my two sons under my feet for three weeks.

So, did I hear you ask me about my Christmas?

Oh, go on then, I’ll post a photo of my tree.

What did I get up to? It was wall to wall family up to New Year’s Eve, when we collapsed quietly in front of the television and only just made it to midnight. But it was lovely to have two different Christmas days. The actual Christmas was spent with the, let’s call them the more mature generation (my mum and my mum and dad-in-law). Still all sprightly enough that we could enjoy a few days out, including a walk in Marlow on Christmas Eve. Could have been summer, looking at the photos.

Our second Christmas was spent in Somerset, with my brother and his family of teenage girls. My sons have always called their cousins the pains, but at 14, 15 and 16 we now have the occasional glimpse of young ladies. When they’re not getting stuck in the mud on a walk. Or tackling the boys to the ground playing football.

They’re also very useful sources of reference. My middle niece, Tiegan, helped me out when I was writing A Little Christmas Faith, ensuring teenage Chloe was as authentic as I could make her. So of course I gave her the book as a Christmas present. A generous aunt, perhaps not, but a sneaky one, sure. That next generation of readers isn’t going to just fall into my lap 🙂

Happy New year to you all. May 2019 be kind and generous to you. And may you get the chance to read a lot of books (they don’t have to be mine…!).

 

What I learnt this week: 21st December 2018

From a run to the O2

They say running is good for you, so I dutifully plod around my village a few times a week. I do it not just for the health benefits, but for the side benefits. I can eat the crips, chips and chocolate I’m addicted too without too much guilt. It wakes me up, so I’m more productive at my desk. And if I’ve got a particular problem to mull over – particularly a plot issue – it gives me time to think.

Last month, the run had an additional benefit. It led me to The Ultimate Christmas Party in the O2 last night, in aid of Children in Need. You see when I run, I listen to Chris Evans, and that particular day he was doing his Children in Need auctions. The more I heard him and his guests (Tom Odell and Rick Astley) wind us all up into a frenzy over the party, the faster I ran (okay, this is me, fast is relative) so that I could get home and make my bid for a pair of tickets.

And what a night it was. Chris was in fine form (as were Tom and Rick), the O2 was packed, and the audience rocking…well, as it was a radio 2 audience, it was more a polite shuffle.

What I enjoyed most about the evening though was that everyone was in such good spirits. I’ve never talked to so many strangers. From the kind lady who ran after us as we left the restaurant to give me the scarf I’d left behind, to the people in the queue having a laugh about which would be fastest, to the person behind me who moved further away from the stage so a family could sit together. To the lady who accidentally stepped on my husband’s foot and couldn’t have apologised more. There were only smiles. It made me proud to be a radio 2 listener. And that was before I considered how much money had been raised for Children in Need by everyone in the audience.

So I think the moral of the tale is that running is good for you. Not just for the heart, but sometimes for the soul.

And on that profound note, can I wish you all a very Happy Christmas, and may 2019 be a wonderful year for both your heart and your soul. But it may it also bring crisps, chips and chocolate 🙂

What I learnt this week: 13th December 2018

A catch up with Nip and Tuck

For those of you who’ve read A Little Christmas Faith, out now in paperback, you’ll remember Nip and Tuck, the pair of scallywags that Faith took in from the local animal rescue shelter. Ridiculously cute but impossible to train.

They were inspired by this pair of equally cute scallywags – Ted and Oscar – who are owned by friends of ours.

Last Sunday we met up with our friends for a walk in Windsor Park. It was a beautiful day, but a little bit nippy, so the dogs donned their coats. Obviously.

Look at those little faces. It was no wonder I had to make them canine stars of one of my books. And what better than a Christmas book, because they seem to convey all that is good about the season. Cuddly, delicious, mischievous. A time of the year you’re allowed, for a few days, to be lazy and just that little bit naughty.

I loved them so much, I snuck them into my latest Christmas book, A Little Christmas Charm. It’s a cameo appearance, but they didn’t seem to mind. I think they thought the Charm in the title was all about them.

I didn’t like to tell them that actually, it’s my hero, Owen Cooper, who’s the charmer. And that the non-human star of this book is a budgie!

What I learnt this week: 29th November 2018

The camera never lies…or does it?

When I first started out on this new writing life, I was advised to get a professional head shot. Because I invariably do as I’m told (unless it’s my husband doing the telling) I duly had the photo done, muttering all the while about how ridiculous it was. I was in the business of words, not pictures.

A short while later my first book was published, with a photo of me on the back page. I’d also set myself up on Facebook and Twitter. I now had an Amazon author page, a page dedicated to me on my publishers website. A page on the Romantic Novelists’ Association website. On linked-in. Suddenly images of me were everywhere…okay, okay, I’m not that famous. Still, I couldn’t escape the fact that every time I was invited onto someone’s blog, or to write a piece for an on-line magazine, or had a piece written about me in the local paper (yes, yes, local), it was accompanied by a photo.

Wind forward 5 years (gulp – has it really been five?!) and I decided it was time for an image update. So I approached a local photographer, Amelia from Fresh Shoots, with the brief that I wanted something more relaxed than the formal studio photo I’d been using all these years. A photo that said fiction writer, not medical writer. A photo that was more me.

And she took me to a soggy common.

To be fair, she couldn’t help the weather – but oh my God, the stress of worrying about what the damp air would do to the hair I’d meticuilously ironed straight.

Also to fair, the backdrop of the common was stunning. Yes, she made me sit on the boggy ground, but she did provide her jacket to sit on. And then relaxed me so much I forgot I was there to have my photo taken and started to enjoy just being out in the fresh air and having a chat (we writers don’t get out much, remember).

The results were exactly the look and feel I was after…given that we did actually have to put my face in them.

So thank you Amelia. I now have an image that reflects me. Frizzy hair, soggy bottom and all.

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What I learnt this week: 22nd November 2018

The hint of a writer’s life

Well, it’s been a busy two weeks since my last post. And some of it has even been glamorous. I mean, if I read the following on someone else’s blog, I might think wow, that’s what writers actually do.

Last week I was back at the Shard – I know, I know. Wait for it though, it gets better. I was invited by my publisher there for a pre-party drink in the Aqua Shard bar. And when I asked for a Prosecco, they told me they don’t do it – they only do champagne. I gritted my teeth and made the best of it.

After that it was on to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Winter Party in the library at Birdcage walk, where I drank again (alas, no more champagne, but the canapés more than made up for it) and chatted to fellow authors whose names I mostly know from book covers and social media. Here would be a great time to add photos of both events, but I was too busy chatting (and drinking) to take many. Here are two I snapped of the packed library, and myself, my chins (!) and author Laura James.

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Last weekend I had the excitement of going into Works in Windsor and actually seeing one of my books on the shelf. Naturally I took a photo. Naturally I assume Nora Roberts and JK Rowling would do the same.

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Last weekend was also the start of the A Little Christmas Charm blog tour, arranged by Rachel’s Random Resources, run by the fabulous blogger Rachel Gilbey. Sadly I don’t get to move from my chair, but the book stops off at all these fabulous blogs over the course of two weeks.

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And finally, I had a new head photo taken. For an hour I posed in woods and tried to look like a friendly writer, and not like someone who was freezing their butt off and fretting that the damp air was making my hair frizz. Watch this space for the photos, but if you see nothing in the next few weeks, assume the frizz and the cold won.

 

 

 

 

What I learnt this week: 8th November 2018

Turning 21

I know, I know, that could easily be about me, right? No? Damn, my photo gave it away.

It was my eldest son who turned 21 recently, and I was amused to find he’d Googled what he could now do, that he couldn’t before. It wasn’t an exhaustive list:

  • adopt a child
  • supervise someone learning to drive (he’s held a full licence for three years)
  • hire a car
  • apply for a licence to fly a plane/drive a lorry or bus

Legalities aside though, turning 21 feels like a major milestone. At eighteen he was a teenager. At twenty-one, he’s all grown up – at least as far as the world is concerned. Clearly to me he’s still my baby.

So celebrating his coming of age seemed like the right thing to do. It also seemed like a fabulous excuse for a weekend in London.

I set about planning the occasion. A night at a gorgeous hotel overlooking Tower Bridge. Dinner at the Shard. My younger son would come home from university to join us.

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I was looking at a lunch venue – maybe the Sky Garden – when my husband asked the question. ‘Whose birthday is this?’

Guiltily I handed the daytime activities over to him to plan.

We ended up at a football match on the Saturday, and a driving range on the Sunday.

That’s the thing about having boys though, I end up doing things I wouldn’t have chosen…and often (secretly) enjoy them more. The match (West ham vs Burnley) proved to be a cracker, 4-2 to the Hammers. And I was thrilled to see the Olympic stadium for the first time.

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The driving range on Sunday had such spectacular views I happily forgot I couldn’t hit the ball further than 10 yards. My swing is about as smooth as a rusty weather vane, yet unlike the weather vane nothing about it points in the right direction. Who cares though, when you can sit down and look at the Greenwich peninsular in-between embarrassing yourself?

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I hope we gave my son a twenty first to remember in years to come. I’ll certainly remember it, even though I didn’t get to go to Sky Garden. Then again, my youngest son will turn 21 in two years …

What I learnt this week: 25th October 2018

Friends in the right places

For writers of Christmas books, the countdown to the festive season starts around Easter, when the books are written. There’s a break for a few weeks at the start of summer when the book has (hopefully) been submitted to the publisher,  but then comes the edits through July and August, and finally the promotion from September onwards. That’s my round about way of saying a) I have a new Christmas book out (here it is in case you missed it ):

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and b) I’m used to topsy turvy seasons.

It wasn’t too much of a surprise then to find myself paddling in the sea last Sunday. What a glorious weekend we chose to visit friends in Dorset (forget friends in high places, having friends in the right places is the way to go). Saturday we visited Shaftesbury and Gold Hill, famous for the boy on the bike Hovis advert which has been voted Britain’s best advert of all time. Apparently the actor returned last year, aged 58, to make an advert for electric bikes!

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Sunday we went to Durdle Door which is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic coast, formed by the waves eroding the rock. It’s a beautiful sight on any day, but on a gorgeous sunny morning in the middle of October, it was stunning, as was the bay to the left of it (but on the right below, just to confuse you).

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Being a water baby, I couldn’t resist getting into that crystal clear blue sea for a paddle. I’d have swum, too, were it not for the fact that I didn’t have anything to swim in other than my underwear – these are good friends, but I didn’t want to risk not being invited back again.

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Next time I visit them though, I don’t care what time of the year it is, I’m bringing my cossie, just in case.

 

 

What I learnt this week: 11th October 2018

Shorts and Christmas

Last week saw the paperback publication of A Little Christmas Faith – my seventh paperback. Yes, when I counted them up, I was as surprised as you are. I still vividly remember the excitement of the first, Do Opposites Attract. Such an incredible moment when I got to touch (and smell!) a book with my name on the front. My words inside. And though the seventh doesn’t have quite the same giddiness to it, that sense of wonder, of satisfaction and yes, of pride, is still very much there.

Plus this one is sooooooo pretty.

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It’s also available as an audio book which is not only amazing news, it’s another fabulous excuse to show a picture 🙂

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Next week my third Christmas book is out in ebook – A Little Christmas Charm (can be pre-ordered here).

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It might only be October but Christmas really is thundering towards me at the moment. Yet on Wednesday I was writing outside with my shorts on.

It’s a funny old life (umm, it was 23 degrees out there. I wasn’t just being a mad writer).

Though I might be drowning in Christmas on-line, rest assured, in my house, nothing has been done. It will be the usual burst of activity at the start of December, as if I’ve suddenly remembered Christmas is coming. And while I’m being buried alive in to-do lists, I’ll promise myself, yet again, that next year I’ll start earlier…