Rejections and Party Preparations

Can you tell what it is yet?

Can you tell what it is yet?

I think my brain might just explode. Everyone take cover!

I always overthink things – it’s a major flaw and one I’ve battled with all my life. Mostly these days I deal with it by being so tired I can’t think. Besides, ignoring the cleaning and laundry and reading or writing a book instead doesn’t take much thought!

But once I enter into party-prep mode, my brain goes on overdrive. It’s as if it says, “Ooh, planning, I recognise this! This is what you did to earn a living. Hurrah, I’m needed. Think. Think. Think!”

So I wake at two in the morning, planning how I’ll make and decorate the piñata, and how I’ll keep it a secret from the kids. I plan how to make superhero cuffs to the nth degree. I stress over how to make a Ninjago cake, and what to do when the icing turns out germoline pink rather than lego red.

Not exactly things worth stressing over. Definitely Middle Class problems: especially in a world of refugees and politics and homelessness.

7 pairs of cuffs ready to go

7 pairs of cuffs ready to go

Which means then I feel guilt for my triviality. For rushing home to mow the lawn after dropping the children at school, rather than rushing to work to do something important and serious.

Except I worked in marketing. In car insurance. Not exactly earth shattering: hardly making the world a better place.

Perhaps planning just the right Jungle Scramble obstacle course, or Superhero Musical Statues, or Spiderman piñata is actually making the world a brighter place.

Who knows?

At least I’m being brought to earth by my ‘day job’ such as it is. My first rejection arrived this week. A lovely ‘thanks but no thanks’ which arrived at a speed to suggest the query wasn’t even read.

Never mind.

I suspect a pink ninja might not be appreciated!

I suspect a pink ninja might not be appreciated!

Rejections mean I’m trying: it’s like bad book reviews. It means I’ve written a book that someone read and had a reaction about.

Rejections mean I’m trying to find an agent, to get my books published and into children’s hands where they belong. I’m engaging with the world I want to belong to.

So bring on the piñata and the pink icing, bring on the rejections.

But most of all, bring on October, so I can let my brain drift back into its happy fog!

Thankful Tuesday: 2013 365 Challenge #86

Remembering Summer

Remembering Summer

Today I am thankful.

Grateful to my husband for getting the kids dressed this morning while I had a shower. Appreciative of the lovely ladies at No. 1 – a drop-in centre run by the Oundle Baptist Church – who entertained my children while I had a chance to catch up with my Mummy friends. I’m grateful to the library for letting my kids run riot and read books loudly, without once saying shush. I’m happy with myself for packing lunch boxes and with my children for eating their sandwiches. I’m immensely thankful for the amazing ladies at Rainbow for another 90 minutes of marvelous craft. And for their assistance in the creation of painted flower pots, woolly sheep, decorated bunny biscuits, easter bonnets and pretty eggs.

Finally, I am grateful to the lovely agent who rejected me today with this email:

You and your book sound absolutely marvellous and, though unfortunately we are unable to represent you ourselves, I think other agents will be interested and I do wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

I’m not sure I would have been happier if it had been an email telling me to send the full manuscript. In fact I can safely say I am happy that it wasn’t. The rejection (even if it’s all lies) has given me a spring in my step whereas a request for the full manuscript would have spun me into despair, as I’m well aware the remaining 200 pages are not as polished as the first fifty read by the agent.

Feel the warm sun

Feel the warm sun

At the end of my carefully planned and perfectly executed day I feel more positive than I have in weeks. The kids have had fun, I’ve had a nice chat and hubbie came home in time for baths so I could walk the dog. During my walk I made a plan to sharpen Dragon Wraiths and hopefully elevate its position in the Slush pile. I feel rejuvenated.

After today I understand why parents sign up to things like baby yoga, swimming, tumble tots, musical minis and so on. I’ve always felt we cover most of those activities at home, or the kids do it at nursery, and therefore I don’t need to spend more money on expensive classes. But now I get it. It’s structure. My day today was structured. I didn’t ask the kids what they wanted to do (as I do normally), I TOLD them what we were going to do, with a caveat that we’d review the schedule at lunchtime if we were tired.

I used to think giving them choice was good parenting because they were learning to make decisions and it meant if they later didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t take full responsibility. Now I see they like knowing what’s going on as much as I do. Maybe not all the time. But starting the day with a plan and a motivated Mummy occasionally might make all our lives easier.

Now what the hell am I going to do with them tomorrow?


“Mummy, Lucas pushed me.”

“Lucas, we don’t push. Say sorry please. Sophie, don’t provoke your brother. I saw you snatch his Transformer. Give it back and apologise.”

“No! Won’t! It’s my turn. Lucas isn’t sharing. You said we had to share our toys.”

The younger child stood with her arms wrapped around her chest, bottom lip stuck out like a shelf, while her brother glared and held his hand out for the stolen toy.

“Share, yes, but we don’t snatch. That’s not acceptable behaviour. Give the toy back to Lucas or you will get a timeout.”

Claire watched the domestic drama unfolding before her with something akin to horror. She shivered as the scene dragged out memories of her own siblings. Being the youngest she realised she must have sat, as Lily was doing now, on her Mother’s lap, watching as Ruth and Robert yelled and fought. I’m glad I don’t remember. With only two years between them, she and Ruth had mostly been allies. Robert — six years older than Claire — considered himself above childish games by the time she was old enough to join in.

Too busy being the school swot and doing his flute practice. Teacher’s Pet.

Claire considered Josh’s children, with their sun-bleached surfer hair and nut-brown skin, and thought they were far too like him to worry overly about homework. Except Josh is a doctor, so he must have tried hard at some point. And what does it mean anyway? I worked my butt off at school and now I’m facing the sack and reading kids’ books to kill the time.

The two children were still squabbling but quietly enough that Fiona chose not to intervene. Claire listened closely, hoping to glean some nuggets of parenting insight for her two weeks with Sky.

“They’re not normally this bad. They’re bored. We’re used to chucking them outside to run off their fidgets. I didn’t pack for this kind of weather though: We don’t really get snow.”

Claire jerked her head up and gazed at the other woman. It was the first time she had said anything voluntarily to her since they’d met up in the hostel, despite them all sitting down to dinner together. Josh had manfully kept up a stream of anecdotes and idle observations while Fiona stared at Claire through tired eyes.

Searching her brain for a sensible response, Claire cleared her throat and replied, “it’s not normal this late in the year. Last March we were in t-shirts and cracking out the barbeques. Then it started raining at Easter and didn’t stop until autumn.”

“We don’t get much rain either. No wonder you Poms talk about the weather all the time. You get so much of it.” The corners of her mouth raised in a tiny smile before her attention was dragged back to peace-making between her eldest children.

Claire became aware of the tremble in her hands. Fiona intimidated her. She was so poised, and beautiful, and always calmly in control of her gaggle of kids. The prospect of having one small person under her care for a couple of weeks had Claire waking in terror.

“Does it come naturally? Being great with kids?” Claire heard the words and was shocked to find she had spoken them. Fiona looked surprised too, but not offended.

“I wouldn’t say I’m great with them. It’s different with your own anyway. They’re not ‘kids’ they’re your kids. They have personalities, ones that are infuriatingly close to your own. So you understand them and love them for it. It means you clash too — they know how to press your buttons, that’s for sure. And no, I’m sorry to say, being a parent doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it, like anything else.”

Fiona’s words surprised Claire. Ruth always makes out like being a Mother is the most natural thing. How she wanted kids more than anything and loved Sky from the minute she popped screaming into the world.

“How did you know you were ready for kids? You and Josh?”

“Ah, there’s never a right time to have kids. If you’re in a relationship you think will last, and you both want kids, then you just take the plunge. No one is really ready to be a parent. You learn on the job.”

“Did you give up your career? I think Josh mentioned you’re a doctor?”

“I haven’t given it up, no. On the other hand I have been on maternity leave three years out of the last six, so I’m not legging it up the career ladder. I have the rest of my life to do that, but they’re only little once.” She looked at Lucas and Sophie, who were running round the sofas screaming and giggling and occasionally wrestling each other to the ground. She smiled and caught Claire’s eye.

“Thank goodness.”


A daughter’s rejection and 2013 365 Challenge #22

Jungle Party Prep box

Jungle Party Prep box

So far I seem to be taking the agent rejection thing in my stride. I’ve sent out about ten submissions and had two or three rejections. That’s fine, I expected it. Occassionally if I really liked the agency I’m disappointed but I certainly haven’t taken it personally. However I have discovered a type of rejection today that does hurt.

My daughter’s.

I spent the afternoon painting props for my daughter’s Jungle party, which we’re having in our house this weekend. Nothing fancy just a giant palm tree, a pin-the-tail-on-the-zebra and some leaves for Musical Leaves (think musical chairs). I showed them to her after nursery and her first response was “that one isn’t quite covered. You missed some.” And that was it.

And it HURT.

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

I wanted to yell all sorts of rude things at her. Analysing my over-reaction afterwards I realised that I wasn’t (that) bothered that she didn’t like my jungle leaves. It was more that she was being exactly like me. When my husband does house DIY I’m much more likely to say, “what about this bit?” than “well done that’s amazing.”

Breeding a mini-me has forced me to come to grips with my worst habits and traits and it’s HARD. I’m also worried that she won’t enjoy her party because of something I haven’t managed to get right. She has talked about her birthday party pretty much every day since the last one and it’s become a big thing in her mind. Settling on having a zebra party (which I have expanded to be a jungle party) has put my ingenuity to the test. So far I have only failed to source a zebra cake (and I don’t do baking) so not sure what I’m going to do about that. Hoping I’ll find a store that will do one of those print-from-picture things.

Anyway, as today has been mostly party prep and a couple of query letters I haven’t done any research on Alnwick Youth Hostel. I’m trying to decide whether to send Claire to the castle or focus on her first night in a dorm. You’ll find out in a minute which I chose!


Claire put her key in the lock, opened the door,  and peered into the room as if someone might jump out and attack her. It was dark so she reached inside for a light switch, hoping no one was asleep. Surely no one will be in bed at 8pm?

A quick scan of the bunk beds showed them all unoccupied. Claire released a breath she didn’t realise she had been holding and stepped into the room. It looked like only one or two of the four beds were taken, as there were only two bags in the room. Relieved to be alone Claire shut the door behind her and had a proper look at the room. The walls were blue and cream and there were stripy curtains in similar colours.

It’s not about to win any décor or luxury awards but at least it’s clean.

She looked closely at the beds and realised that both bottom bunks had been claimed by the current occupants. Maybe I should have come straight to the room this morning, I might have been able to claim a bottom bunk. She didn’t fancy the idea of climbing up and down a ladder in the night. I haven’t slept in a top bunk since I was about eight and I got concussion falling out in the night. Thank god mum thought it was time for me and Ruth to have our own rooms.

The memory brought others to mind. How Ruth used to wriggle, shaking the bed as she shifted position every fifteen minutes. How her snoring that would resonate up through the mattress when she had a cold. Claire felt a chill prickle her skin. She hated sharing her space with people. Except Michael. The words entered her mind only to be shoved away.

Claire chose the bunk furthest from the door and tucked her bag in the corner. She removed her nightie and wash-bag from the rucksack and threw them on the bed to stake her claim. Then, with nothing else to keep her, she decided it was time to go and have dinner. She hesitated before taking her iPad from its position stuffed between cashmere sweaters. She had avoided having it on display in the hostel in case it marked her as different, but she needed to spend some time on Twitter and the other social media sites and it would prevent her from looking like an idiot by herself at dinner.

The hostel dining room reminded Claire of school dinners at primary school, before she was whisked away to join the same school her father had attended. Not that there had been girls there in his day. The dining hall there had been rather more opulent.

Claire chose a seat in the corner and prayed no one else would join her. There were a few people in the dining room but it wasn’t crowded. Claire ordered the most palatable thing on offer, then loaded up her blog and tried to think of something interesting to write. She had spent the day in a giant second hand bookstore – largely because it was warm and she didn’t have to walk anywhere. She wasn’t a big reader, but had found herself caught up in some silly romance with a bright cover. The book was in her bag upstairs. Purely for research purposes, so I can embody the backpacker spirit.

“Hello, may we join you?”

Claire looked up from her iPad to see two blonde girls standing in front of her holding trays. A swift glance confirmed what she already knew – that there were empty tables in the dining room. Claire hesitated. She couldn’t bring herself to tell the women no, feck off. But at the same time she didn’t fancy being crowded in by a couple of strangers. She noticed a flicker of consternation whisk across one of the girl’s faces and relented.

“Of course, please.” She gestured to the empty seats and sat back so her iPad wasn’t taking up table space. There are two of them, it’s not like I need to make conversation. Claire resolutely stared at her screen, giving off her best Metro-travelling vibes, the ones that created an area of blank space around her even when the trains were crushed with commuters. It failed.

“Hi, my name is Ola, this is my sister Francis. We are from Sweden. The nice man at reception said you were staying in our room, so we come to say hello.”

Claire looked up and stifled a sigh. She couldn’t ignore them now, no matter how tempting it was to pretend she didn’t speak English. “Hi, I’m Claire, nice to meet you.”

“You are English yes? You travel long?”

The one Claire thought was Ola was clearly puzzled that someone would choose to travel solo round their own country in the middle of winter. Or that’s what I would think anyway. Who knows what she’s thinking under that beautiful Scandinavian mask. Claire tried to decide whether to come up with a story more interesting than the truth, but she couldn’t find the energy. She settled for a slight twisting of the facts.

“I’m a writer. I’m researching a piece on hostelling in Britain.”

The girl who hadn’t yet spoken, Francis, lit up at the words. “You write for Lonely Planet?” She spoke the words reverentially, as if Lonely Planet were on a par with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“No, sorry, it’s an independent piece.” She finished speaking then gazed away, signalling that she had no more conversation. The girls took the hint and began talking quietly to each other in their own language.

I wonder if they’re talking about me? Claire eyed up the lasagne and garlic bread the girls were eating and wondered if it was too late to change her order.

If one of us is going to reek of garlic all night, I want it to be me.


Snowy, crafty day and 2013 365 Day #20

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

We’ve had a glorious family day today.

The kids got dragged around the job centre and supermarket yesterday so we promised them a new magazine, a trip to the coffee shop in Oundle, our local town, and sledging at grandma’s today.

And that’s what we did.

I have been cutting, sticking and colouring for about three hours this afternoon and I put a much happier little girl to bed tonight than last night.

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too...

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too…

I love how kids live in the present and don’t hold grudges. You get back what you put in, then and there. Wonderful.

Unfortunately I also got another rejection email today. A really nice one from Julia Churchill:

Thank you for giving us a chance with this. I’m sorry to say I don’t think it’s one for me.

While this has some nice points, when I take a new writer on I need to feel such a high level of conviction that I could sell their work, and I’m afraid I’m not quite there with this. Of course, it’s a really subjective business. Another agent may well feel differently.

Wishing you the best of luck with it, and a good 2013.

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging...

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging…

How lovely is that? As rejections go it actually left me smiling. Unfortunately I really liked the sound of the agency Julia works for, so I was disappointed.

What I take away from it though is that I really need to work on my query letter and/or synopsis for Dragon Wraiths. The response came back so swiftly I can’t help but think it was rejected off the cover letter. I have struggled to sell the story in limited words because it’s a four-part novel and it’s difficult to encapsulate it all in one or two paragraphs.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

My husband still thinks I should self-publish Dragon Wraiths but I am reluctant. The more I read about self-publishing the more I’m not sure it’s for me. I really do need help in selling myself and my work and I can’t afford to hire an editior.

I would take a punt on Dragon Wraiths if it was easy to get it kindle-ready but unfortunately I have four different fonts in the novel that are essential to understanding the story and my kindle software changes them all to one font! (Unlike bloomin Microsoft Word which has decided to change my novel document into about four different fonts when I copy it over to WordPress. I’ve had to retype the whole of today’s post while listening to my husband snoring upstairs. Not happy!!)

Anyway I haven’t had any time to do research today so not sure what Claire is going to be getting up to. I’m struggling to keep my eyes open already and my darling husband is cooking dinner while I tap away… I think I might chuck her out into Berwick and see what she finds.


So, this is the northernmost town in England? Whoop-di-do. Claire looked around the high-street and sighed. There isn’t even a bloody Starbucks. Caffé Nero just isn’t the same.

Claire had gone back to her room after breakfast to type up the notes on her interview with Hattie. She’d been determined to spend the day in her room playing on the iPad, but the greyness had closed in until she was driven out to seek colour and coffee.

Before she left the hostel, Claire did a quick search on interesting information about Berwick. Her research threw up thrilling facts like Berwick meant Barley Farm. That seems about right. Stupid hick town. I wonder why Scotland wants it back?

Claire decided to explore Berwick in an attempt to discover what made people think hostelling was so amazing. As yet nothing had cropped up to recommend it. Her idea of a vacation was to bake on a beach and read airport-purchased paperbacks. She always did some sight-seeing but it was the normal tick-box stuff: pyramids, opera houses, mountains. As far as she could tell Berwick’s best offering was a few boring bridges.

What do Backpackers do all day? They can’t shop; they have no money. There’s no Sky in a hostel, internet is only available at £3 an hour unless you have a smartphone and what penniless student can afford one of those? How many times can you wander round places staring at the architecture?

After two hours of exploring Claire’s feet were throbbing, her back ached and her brain was numb. What am I going to tweet about? The number of arches in the Royal Border Bridge?

She remembered Hattie recommending a trip to some Priory on a nearby island that apparently was accessible by car at low tide. The old woman had raved about it so much Claire had almost been tempted until she’d checked it out on Wikipedia. It looked like a pile of old rock. She had never heard of Lindisfarne, and doubted anyone she knew had, so it didn’t count as a tick-box visit.

Spying a bookshop, Claire decided the best thing she could do was plan her route and get through it as swiftly as possible. I wonder if I can stay in more than one hostel at a time? The wind whipped round her as she crossed the street and ducked into the store. She paused beneath the warmth of the heater while thoughts churned in her mind. The brief didn’t say anything about having to actually spend the night. Maybe I could check in, make a cup of Earl Grey in the kitchen, and move on. Cheered by the thought Claire scoured the shelves for a map of Britain. She needed to plot all the hostels and work out the shortest possible distance to drive around them all.

In the back of her mind a nagging feeling tore at Claire’s new resolve. No matter how much she loathed Carl it was not in her nature to shirk a responsibility or put in a half-hearted effort. The happy feeling seeped away like a wave on the sand. I am going to have to do this properly or not at all. Not for them but for me, for my professional pride. Damn.

On the shelf near the maps Claire saw the colourful spine of a Lonely Planet guide to Britain. She grabbed it and took her finds to the till. The sky seemed a little more grey as Claire hobbled back to the hostel on blistered feet.

Claire spent the afternoon in the Bistro cross-referencing the YHA hostel guide, the Lonely Planet book and the map. When she finally collapsed into bed at 9.30pm she was almost smiling. At least I know where I’m going tomorrow. Well I know what it’s called anyway. I wonder what Wooler has to offer.

She was about to close her eyes when her mobile phone beeped. Two thoughts went through her head like lightning. Ruth’s got her results back, and Carl is texting to gloat. Reaching for her phone without turning on the light Claire held the screen up to her sleep-blurred eyes. She blinked until the words came into focus.

Hey Claire. How are things? I miss you. Can we talk? Michael.

Claire’s heart thudded beneath her cotton nightie – bought for dorm-sharing days. What the hell does he want? She tried to think dispassionately about Michael but couldn’t manage it. Instead her mind filled with the look of pain in his deep brown eyes the last time she saw him. As if she had reached around during an embrace, stabbed him in the back and yelled, “Speak hands for me!”


Rejection and the 365 Challenge Day #16

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though...

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though…

I received my first rejection for Dragon Wraiths today. I’m quite happy about it. I’ve sent out about a dozen query emails for the novel (did I mention just how long it takes to research an agency, choose the right agent, pitch the query letter as close as possible to what they want and then send it?) and this is the first reply I’ve had. So it was a rejection, so what? Aren’t you meant to get about forty rejections before you’re accepted? So that’s one step nearer.

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

It reminded me of a bit in Clare Balding’s great autobiography My Animals and Other Family where she and her brother are told a jockey isn’t a real jockey until he’s fallen off his horse a certain amount of times (I think it was sixty but if I go and check I’ll start reading the book again and I already have no idea what I’m writing for today’s Claire post so that will scupper it entirely.) Anyway, the kids keep falling off their horses deliberately, in order to build up to the magic number. Their frustrated mother points out that it doesn’t count if you do it on purpose. I’ve sent out query letters before but I haven’t put my heart and soul into them. This time I’m doing it properly so this is my first genuine rejection. Only 39 to go.

IMG_9930 (2000x1333)

Taken in the field across from our house. I get to walk this every day (when my knee isn’t playing up as it is now!)

As mentioned above I don’t know what I’m writing about today for my novel. I’ve spent the last twelve hours with two fragile, screaming, over-tired preschoolers, taking them to play with their friends and then going sledging. My nerves are zinging and I’m only fit for bed. So I’m just going to write and see what happens. Apologies if it stinks! I have joined the YHA and am just waiting for my membership card in order to be able to send off for a guide to the hostels. Once that arrives I’ll be able to start my proper research, plan out Claire’s travel route and get on with the novel proper. Until then it’ll probably be another post introducing characters which hopefully won’t be as boring as it sounds.


“Please pass the salt.”

Claire located the salt pot amidst the silverware on the table and handed it to her father. He thanked her without making eye contact and returned to demolishing his lamb roast.

Chewing the slightly over-cooked meat, Claire looked up at her parents’ bowed heads and wondered when they got so grey. And boring. I remember when they used to talk at dinner. Maybe I’m making them feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t a nice thought. Claire was used to not getting a prodigal-son welcome when she came home but the constraint surrounding her at the dinner table that evening was suffocating.

“Kim’s dyed her hair red for a role in a Shakespeare play.”

“Hmmm.” Her mother speared a green bean and put it in her mouth.

“She looks great, like a life-size pixie.”

“Hmmm.” This time it was a baby carrot that felt the fork.

“She’s having her nipple pierced and leaving Jeff for the cleaning lady.”

“Hmmm… I beg your pardon?” Her mother’s face whipped up and she looked at Claire for the first time since they sat at the table.

“Joking. Just wondered if I was actually here.”

“It’s not healthy to talk and eat, it causes you to take in too much air. Your father suffers from heartburn so we have silence at the table.” She spoke the last words pointedly and returned to the massacre of the vegetables.

Sighing quietly, Claire focussed on eating her dinner as swiftly as possible. She had had plenty of time to regret coming to visit her parents in the two days since she’d arrived. She had barely shared three words with her mother and tonight at the dinner table was the first time her father had even appeared. She was shocked to see how old he looked.

Has it really been so long since I visited, or has he been aging in double-time since he retired?

Claire tried to turn her mind away from the mausoleum of the dinner table and think nice thoughts. Her future wasn’t exactly swimming in them. In the morning she had to load her hated rucksack into her loathed old banger and drive 300 miles to stay in a flea-ridden youth hostel. She had taken the decision to invest in a Sat Nav, having found it difficult to even get home to her parents’ house without the inbuilt one in her company Audi. It had taken until an hour ago for her to bring herself to plot in the route to Berwick and she was shocked to find out it was going to take at least five hours to get there when she left in the morning.

Probably six or seven in that stupid car, it only manages seventy-miles-an-hour downhill with the wind behind it. I’m going to have to leave at 5a.m. to get there by dinner time. She looked around the table at the chewing waxwork figures of her parents and gave a tiny shrug. That’s not going to be a hardship. I might not want to go to Berwick but I can’t wait to leave here.

As she tried to get comfortable in the z-bed her mother had deigned to put up for her, claiming the linen in the spare room was in the laundry, Claire mused that at least she’d had some practice sleeping in a lumpy bumpy bed. That was the only prep she had done for the big adventure that was due to start in a mere twenty-four hours.

It’ll be fine, she thought sleepily. I’m good at winging it.