Saturday, 29 April 2017

'Bonds on Tour' 10th Anniversary Special...

This weekend I have been on holiday. Yes! A mini-break! I gave the French Riviera a swerve and spent the Bank Holiday weekend in Clarach Bay, Ceredigion. Three days and two nights of down time and fresh Welsh air. It’s a lot cheaper than Saint-Tropez and loads less pretentious. In the interests of clarity, I need to explain that I'm writing this before the holiday has even begun. It doesn't matter. As I type, days before it commences, I know I'll have had a fab time.

When I was a kid, family holidays always meant Wales. A caravan near Aberystwyth to be precise. They didn’t happen every year, but when they did, it was the best thing ever. A road trip, broken up by a picnic lunch in Bala (Gwynedd) and then a week in a caravan by the sea. Bala has some of the most beautiful lakeside scenery imaginable but obviously we stayed in the car. In the car, in a layby at the side of an A-road, with foil-wrapped egg butties and juice. For me, the smell of egg is synonymous with giddy excitement, to this day.

Marking my territory c.1980. 
It’s not just egg sandwiches that bring back memories. Like most people with a sense of smell, seaside ozone takes me right back to childhood – buckets and spades, walking barefoot on tarmac, and shivering in a wet cossie as you head back to the caravan for a shower. More randomly, Brut aftershave is mixed in there too. It seems my Dad felt the evenings at the on-site Family Entertainment Club were a decent enough reason to make an olfactory effort. I have no memory of Brut at any other function. Just the Club in Wales, every other year.

‘But why is she boring us with all this now?’ you mutter, as you shake your head in befuddlement and wonder WTF is going on. WTF indeed? Well let me tell you. This weekend will have been the 10th year in a row that my family have revisited the very same caravan site of our childhood memories. This weekend will have been the 10th year in a row that we’ve done 'Bonds Reminisce on Tour'! Bon Anniversaire everybody!

'Bonds on Tour' in 2014.

Each year has involved a different collection of people. This time we only have the hardcore family members (everyone else has ‘plans’) but five adults, a small child and a toddler will have been near Aberystwyth for the Bank Holiday weekend, just as a selection of the family has been, every May Day weekend since 2007.

In some ways nothing has changed since the 1980s - the geography of the Welsh coast is pretty similar – but in others ways, EVERYTHING is different. First of all, there's no layby packed lunch. We still stop in Bala in a convoy of cars, but we go to the pub to eat. The pub! Six year old me couldn’t have imagined such decadence. Secondly, whilst I leave my bucket and spade, swimming costume and jelly shoes at home, I replace those items with wine. Several bottles. 'Bonds on Tour' is surprisingly boozy. The other change we include in these grown up, modern day times, is to hire two caravans instead of one. Inevitably it means one of them becomes the Toilet Caravan, whilst the other is the Socialising Caravan, but needs must. It’s a system and it works. Can we all pause for a moment to recognise my selflessness – I sleep in the Toilet Caravan. Yes, I am a living saint.

My brother Dom, 1992.
My brother Dom, 2007.
This year will have been properly chilled out. Apart from having to satisfy the whim of two small children now and then, it will be relatively stress free. (Although possibly not for my sister, who is technically responsible for said small children.) But in a prior year, the Toilet Caravan doubled as the Revision Caravan, as my youngest brother revised for his Spanish GSCE, and I planned a day of top-notch super-duper lessons for a Local Authority inspection in the week that was to follow. Life can throw all kinds of crap at you, but it will never interfere with the 'Bonds on Tour' weekend.

So, my prediction, based on previous knowledge is that we will have eaten a lot, (been) drunk a lot, and I will have taken a book I intended to read, only to discover the caravan has WiFi and I will have spent my time reading Twitter instead. There will have been crashing waves, twinkly stars in the night’s sky, and loads and loads of fresh air.

Glan Y Mor Caravan Park, Clarach Bay, Ceredigion.
For all your family fun needs.
But now it is Monday and it is done for another year. There is every chance that as you are reading this, I am sitting in jammed traffic on a bypass somewhere, making a three and a half hour journey last nine. Fingers crossed that isn’t the case, but even so, it would have been worth it. Sometimes it’s a mistake to look back, but not with this. This weekend will have been epic.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Hello Free Time, My Old Friend...

As promised, there'll be far less talk about Carry the Beautiful, for now. (Available here! In paperback and ebook! Buy it! It's great! Woohoo!) Sorry. Far less talk, starting from now.

Now things have died down regarding all that jazz, I get to watch films, catch up on boxsets and actually pick up a book or two before cracking on with the next project. It's been emotional. So let me share what's been filling the void that Carry the Beautiful (available here!) has left.

Everyone's reaction to the last
three seconds of episode one

First off, Line of Duty. Yep, it is utterly marvellous. I ended up missing the last series, so have jumped back into series four. I'm not entirely sure I know all the back stories but it doesn’t matter. It is proper edge-of-your-seat telly and Thandie Newton is spectacular. So there. I am so over the US-style twenty-four episodes a season that seems to have become standard. It means that I see a programme that looks great but is too overwhelming to bother starting. Give me a juicy, succinct six-parter any day. The last episode of Line of Duty is next Sunday, but catch up on Catch Up if you want a thrill.

Last Autumn I read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty in a day. It was funny, dark, and a perfect satire of primary school parents and the politics of the school run. It was set in Australia, in a beautiful coastal town, and subtly skewered the characters everybody recognises - from the pushy parents, to the ineffectual teachers, to the bitchy gossips. Now they’ve made a TV series and against my will, I quite like it. I’ve no idea why they’ve moved it to a US setting, or why they took out so much of the humour, but if you’ve never read the book it is a perfectly decent way to pass the time. Alternatively, read the book. No spoilers from me, but the character of Celeste (Nicole Kidman in the show) is a fascinating study of denial and Stockholm syndrome.

Liverpool Ladies' Spring season has started. Woohoo. I despair of the seemingly haphazard way the FAWSL schedule matches but the ones I can get to, I get to. Over Easter my three year old niece was talking to her uncle about football. He raved about Everton for several minutes and she listened and all was fine. Then I showed her a picture I had on my phone, of myself and Tash Dowie after a match a couple of seasons ago. It felt massively important that she saw football was for everyone. It was the exact opposite of my experience growing up. My niece may never show an interest again, but at least she knows female footballers exist. If you can see it, you can dream it and then be it. Simple but true.

On a similar theme, let me end with my latest box set that I am devouring. Stand by. A few days ago I purchased the first four series of…The Golden Girls! Yes, you heard. I am nearly done with the first twenty-four episodes, and considering they were written in 1985, the comedy stands up incredibly well. So far I haven’t face palmed, muttering ‘I can’t believe they used to say that’ at any point. Whilst everything is rubbish out in the real world, spending time with Blanche, Rose, Sophia and Dorothy has become essential. Once again, if you can see it, you can dream it and then be it. Getting older never looked so much fun.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Almost Finished Banging On...

There will come a time, hopefully in the very near future, when I sit down to write this blog and my thoughts do not immediately turn to the writing, publishing or launch of Carry the Beautiful. Soz guys, but we are not there yet.

Yes, I know this is getting tedious. It is for me too. But as this blog has become a record of all the blood, sweat, tears and emotion of the entire 'I want to write a book' dream, I feel the need to share the events of the past week - for posterity only. Definitely not for anyone's interest or public demand. I promise I will shut up about it soon. Probably. 

Regular readers will know the book came out last week. That means it became available online in paperback and ebook formats. And whilst I knew that wasn't the end, I had assumed it would signal a calm, chilled out period of time whilst I regrouped and got ready for beginning the next project in a month or so.

This is the exact opposite of what happened. After feeling all jolly at everyone's good wishes on the launch day, the same feelings lurched dramatically into nausea and panic when I realised real people were actually going to be reading the damn thing. After all the build up, I'd forgotten that people other than my family (who have to be nice) will have paid money for a product I provided.

Day by day people sent me photos on Facebook or Twitter of their copies of the book arriving in their homes. Current mates, old friends from years ago, and friends of friends I didn't really know, all commented on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram that they had their copies. It was utterly thrilling on the one hand. I'd written a book and people had my book. That is the dream! But on the other hand it was terrifying. I'd written a book and people had my book. That is the nightmare!

As the week has gone on, I have got used to it and the panicky nausea has been truly tempered by the positive things people have said. At the time of writing I have two 5 Star reviews on Amazon, and two 5 Star reviews on the Carry the Beautiful Facebook page. The buzz of reading those was amazing. I've also had some lovely emails from my scariest reader - a retired English teacher. She definitely knows my grammar is a bit dodge in places, but she said wonderful things that made me smile. I imagine she is having to turn a blind eye to a lot of my nonsense.

Whilst all this is going on internally, externally I am having fun. I've posted a copy to the British Library as required. (I am convinced they will just type the details into a database before pulping it, but still.) I've put copies in several Oxfam drop off bins, as well as leaving one on a train I was on. I know my sister is leaving a copy in Mauritius after her holiday, so that's Africa boxed off. A friend in Japan has ordered one so that's Asia taken care of, and Australia is well and truly served by my relatives ordering copies for themselves. I just need to crack on with North and South America, and then global domination is pretty much mine. And the Arctic and Antarctica of course.

Until that day, I shall continue to swing between elation and the urge to puke. Whilst I'm doing that, have a lovely week, folks.


Monday, 10 April 2017

From Conception to Birth in Four Short Years...

So the day finally arrived. 
After bleating on about it, like the most irritating of irritants, the day dawned and Carry the Beautiful was officially published.

I always knew I wanted to write a book. I just thought it would be when I got old. I assumed I'd retire from whatever job I'd ended up with in my sixties, sit in a wing backed chair facing a window, and write a long sprawling saga in a flowery notebook, whilst wafting about in a kaftan and drinking gin in the afternoon.

Reader, it has not been like that one bit.

During the Summer of 2013 I started to plan this novel. Early inspirations were the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that is written at the front - Not psychic? Remind yourself here - and the desire to write a contemporary 'coming of middle age' novel. I spent that Summer working out the plot, choosing characters names, finding images of people online that looked like the characters I was forming in my head and working out the structure of it all.

Exhibit A is my planning notebook. It was glued by my side as I wrote every chapter, and only got ditched when the first draft was done.

In September 2013 I started to write Chapter One. I did about a chapter a week, maybe more. This was the easiest part of the whole process. It didn't matter if it was rubbish. It didn't matter if it made no sense. It just needed to be written. The first draft was finished in the Summer of 2014.

Then came the editing. This took ages. I read it. I read it again. I changed spellings and words. I broke up over-long sentences and made sure the elements of suspense were suspenseful. I read it so much I could recite all 311 pages of it by heart. But it was clear that this was not something to be done alone. The overall structure and characters needed to be critiqued and I couldn't do that because A) I thought it was great and B) I was sick to death of reading it.

November 2015 came. (I told you the editing took ages). I sent it to an editor - Claire Dyer of Fresh Eyes. She read it and reported back within the month. Her feedback was fab. Massively encouraging (she was the only person other than me to have read it at this point) and also very useful. She gave me practical information about industry standards - paragraphs and speech marks were different to the way I'd been taught, and indeed taught in school. Also, she told me where new chapters were needed, and where current chapters could be cut. (The sex scene did not make the edit. Soz perverts.)

I worked on her changes, polished everything up, and then in January 2016 sent an email to my immediate (but large) family to see who wanted to read it and give me feedback. Some of them jumped at the chance. So the willing participants got sent a Word doc and I awaited their comments.

Exhibit B is the Word doc that got passed around the family. It was printed off by my Dad, who stapled it into sections. He later told me he had read the last two sections the wrong way round but it had still made sense. So that's good. *eye roll*

Thankfully all family feedback was positive. Obviously they were not objective in the slightest, and clearly only wanted to keep me onside so I didn't sulk, but still. More encouragement was great.

Alongside all this I was sending out three letters a week to literary agencies, trying to get someone to represent me. I was confident I had a decent book, but breaking through the slush pile and getting an overstretched agency's attention was impossible and ridiculously boring. I decided to stop after nine months and crack on with it myself. 
That takes us up to September 2016. (If you want to read about the trials and tribulations from then to now, it's all here.) I started this blog, began to learn about publishing shizzle, and got my Word doc all spruced up into a real life novel to sell.

Exhibit C. It's only a sped-up GIF of me fanning my book pages! (Not a euphemism.) Get in.

I spent most of Friday online, updating web pages and profiles about the 'available now' status, as well as answering lovely messages from friends and family. 

I also got very drunk.

I still think there is a place for the gin-drinking-kaftan-wearer at some point, but for now it will have to wait until I retire. I've got too much writing to do before then.

Have a lovely week folks.

PS. To all the people that liked, shared, retweeted and commented on all my random Social Media output on Friday (and every other day tbh) THANK YOU. It was lovely to receive so many messages and notifications. I hope you enjoy the read.