Back Again

Big Ben

Big Ben

Good morning and Happy New Year! I hope you all had lovely celebrations last night.

I saw in the new year as I’m sure many mothers of small children did: sleeping on the sofa from 9pm until 11.45pm, waking up for a glass of Baileys and a mince pie, watching the spectacular fireworks on the TV, then crawling in to bed.

Our daughter came in an hour or two later, after having a nightmare and, because it’s been a hectic week, I let her spend the night with us.

It seems appropriate that I spent the first few hours of 2014 in the position I suspect I will occupy all year: jammed between husband, children and my need to write. I lay awake thinking about what I really wanted to be doing – apart from trying to sleep in a space the size of a park bench – and I knew I wanted to be writing.

I have spent the last few days cleaning and being a (grumpy) parent. Tiredness and PMT have guaranteed the grumpy bit. It wasn’t really the best time to have extra children in the house, but my daughter was missing her friends so I duly invited some over. I tried to stay out of their way and do cleaning, which mostly worked. It’s wonderful to have a clean and tidy house, miraculous even, considering she had two friends for a four-hour playdate, almost immediately followed by another friend for a sleepover, and the rest of his family the next day for lunch. The phrase “Shovelling snow while it’s still snowing” springs to mind.

The ten-minute firework display is amazing

The ten-minute firework display is amazing

And now the new year is here. The house is clean (for now), the friends have departed, and it’s time to figure out what I want to do with the time I get in the week to ‘work’. Will that be housework or will it be writing? I suspect that, without the driving force of the daily blog and Two-Hundred Steps Home, it will be even more of a constant juggling act between want and need, duty and desire.

Last year, the blog and Claire became my duty, with a daily deadline to fulfil. That made it much easier to ignore the housework (and the family!) This year I won’t have that excuse. It will be interesting to see if I am strong enough to keep writing anyway.

So it seemed important to get up this morning and write. Even this little blog post is enough to keep the fires burning, I hope. I’m not sure what I’ll blog about. Looking at my most visited posts of 2013, it looks like book reviews and articles about self-publishing (with a little bit of kids’ craft thrown in) are what attract visitors. Not the writing and parenting posts that fill up 90% of this blog! So maybe a few more reviews and a bit less whinging. We’ll see.

What resolutions and plans do you have for 2014? How will you make them happen? I’m thinking some hard and fast commitments, written down, will help. So, I will publish two more books this year. And I will (try to) continue to blog daily, but without killing myself or neglecting my family (too much). There, it’s said. No going back now!


Daily Blogging has taught me to say, “Bring it on”: 2013 365 Challenge #284

Happiest on the mountain top

Happiest on the mountain top

I wrote a couple of days ago about how I am content with life and was surprised to realise that, beneath the depression and the tiredness, it’s true.

After our discussion on the importance of a five-year plan, hubbie commented on how much I’ve changed over the last few weeks. I don’t think I have, or if I have it isn’t over weeks but months. But I do feel a change in me: an increase in confidence, in self-belief and in courage. I believe in my choices – both as a writer and a parent – and I’m starting to be able to take life in my stride.

I happened to mention to a friend recently that I have a first class degree. She immediately joked, “Oh, I only have a 2:1, but I had a life at university.” And I didn’t get upset and defensive. It’s true: I didn’t have much of a life outside study at university. It used to bother me, like I did it wrong somehow. That university should have been about making amazing life-long friendships, drinking until two in the morning, or winning at hockey.

Conquering mountains

Conquering mountains

I spent university in the library. Sometimes in the gym (to avoid being in the library). In my second year I had terrible depression and I remember spending most of the year in my dark and damp uni accommodation, listening to Metallica, not sleeping much and feeling miserable.

During the vacation before my third year I worked in a bar and made some great friends. I met a lad and thought all I wanted to do in life was be a bar manager.

I realise now that was because I found somewhere I belonged. Behind a bar I could be me: I didn’t have to keep up with the pretty girls or the brainy academics. People were nice to me because they wanted me to serve them and not throw them out. It was fun. When the lad dumped me at New Year (in hindsight, thank god!) I thought my life was over. It took until Easter (and the support of my amazing flatmates, bless you), for me to put my world back together. I then worked twelve hours a day for six weeks to get my dissertation written and still get my first.

Knee agony but still smiling

Knee agony but still smiling

I seem to have spent my whole life since then trying to fit, trying to work out why I don’t have life-long friends; why I don’t want to go drinking or talk about fashion. I found my place, briefly, when I joined the Guide Association as a leader and realised hiking mountains is in my soul (if not in my knees!) But I lost that connection through depression, when I quit everything and went travelling (and climbed some more mountains!)

Since having kids I’ve tried to be the perfect parent: to get the right mix of love and discipline, together-time and independence, crafty mess and tidying up. Mostly I felt like I was doing it wrong.

Then, I started the daily blog challenge, and everything changed. I found my place in the world. Through writing every day I found that I like and I’m good at it. Not brilliant, not amazing, but good enough. I discovered how to edit, and to find a pleasure in editing. I met some amazing friends: friends who see the world the way I do. Through sharing my parenting highs and lows, and reading the stories of other mums, I’ve discovered I’m doing okay.

I lived my life after uni

I lived my life after uni

The support, community and daily contact of the blog has built a wall of confidence around me that I never had before.  The amazing thing is, even though I can feel the depression pulling at me: even though I’ve had days recently when I wanted to end it all, I can see that it’s mostly caused by lack of sleep. On a day, like today, when I managed to get five hours’ sleep in a row, I feel like I could sprint up Mount Everest. (Except I’m still so goddamn tired!)

My daily blog challenge has pushed me to the limits. But it’s stretched me open and connected me to a whole world of like-minded people. Ones I didn’t necessarily come across at school or university or even in my day-to-day life. Not that I don’t love the friends I’ve made in all those places. Now I’m more confident I love the differences, too. I love that I can have someone tell me I didn’t have a life at university and I can nod, and think quietly, “I had my life. I had the life I like to live: I read, I slept, I ran, I studied. It was enough. I did all that other stuff after I graduated.” I’m no longer making excuses for who I am or where I’ve come from. I feel empowered.

Blogging daily is a bit like therapy. A bit like life. Sometimes it hurts and you don’t want to do it: but those are the times when you learn the most about yourself and what you are capable of. To anyone considering taking on this crazy challenge next year, or to anyone thinking of taking part in NaNoWriMo, or any other challenge where you push yourself and commit yourself to finding out what’s beneath your skin, I’d advise you to say, “Bring it on.”


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“So, this is the place that’s lured you away from city life?” Kim looked out the window at the painted houses, dull beneath the clouds covering the summer sky, and snorted. “It’s not really your style. Is there even a Starbucks in this town?”

Claire tried to ignore the mockery in Kim’s voice. “I won’t be living here, at least not for a while. And, for your information, I no longer need to live within five minutes of a decent cup of coffee. I’ve broadened my horizons.” She dropped her prim voice and added, “Besides, there’s  Starbucks in Poole, so I can nip over on the ferry.”

The girls laughed and, for a moment, it felt like the old days. Then Kim sighed. “You’ll be so far away. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since you left home.”

“That was nearly ten years ago. We’ve never seen much of each other – we went to different schools and different universities. You moved in with Jeff, I went to Manchester. We don’t have to be in walking distance to be friends you know.”

“It’s not the same. I wanted to bike over and talk to you, and you weren’t there.” Her voice held a hint of accusation and Claire braced herself for further attacks.

Kim sighed again. “Sorry. I know this isn’t your fault. Jeff says I accused you of causing the miscarriage – when you came to see the play. I don’t really remember; everything is foggy. If I did, I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. I’m sorry I thought Michael could be trusted to keep his big gob shut.”

“Things are definitely over between you two, then?”

Claire thought about all the things her friend didn’t know about; Josh and the unnamed Scottish man and even Neal. For the first time it felt like a hundred years had passed since they’d last spoken.”


“I can’t say I’m disappointed. He never seemed right for you. Too boring. You need someone to make you laugh.” She stopped. “Poor Jeff, I’ve made his life a misery and he must be grieving as well. Even though it was only early on, it was his baby too.”

She fell silent again, and Claire glanced over, worried she was crying. Her face revealed dark thoughts, but she seemed in control of her emotions.

Turning her attention back to the road, Claire followed the SatNav’s instructions to take them to their B&B. They hadn’t managed to get beds in the hostel and Claire had to admit she wasn’t disappointed. She wasn’t entirely sure Kim was up to staying with strangers.


The B&B overlooked the bay. Claire looked out at the slate grey water, topped with white. The skies had grown darker and darker as they drove south and now they hung ominously overhead. Claire hoped it wasn’t a sign that they should have stopped driving and turned back.

“What do you want to do?” She looked over at Kim, who was also staring out across the sea. “Are you hungry?”

Kim looked blankly at her and the gloomy light from the window highlighted her sunken cheeks and the flatness of her eyes. She turned her face back to the window without speaking.

When she didn’t answer, Claire filled the silence with bright and brittle words. “Well, I’m hungry. Plus I need to contact Conor, see if we can catch up tonight. Then we can carry on into Devon and Cornwall tomorrow. You’ll like Conor, he’s full of Irish charm.”

She ran out of words. It felt like trying to get through to Sky when she was having a tantrum. Only much worse. All the emotions in Kim were raging on the inside; like watching a storm through thick glass.

“Do you want me to take you home?”

“I want to go to sleep and never wake up.”

Kim’s words poured like ice water over Claire. Her mind went blank. She wanted to bundle Kim in the car and take her back to Jeff, or the hospital. To people better suited to deal with the despair. Instead she took a deep breath, letting the air fill her lungs, and forced her lips to smile.

“Well, I’m not going to let you do that. Let’s go for a walk along the beach, spend some coppers in the amusement arcade then let Conor buy us dinner. It will all seem better tomorrow.”

She tugged her friend gently and was relieved when she allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. As she led her from the room, Claire looked one last time at the wind-tossed sea and hoped she was right that it would be better in the morning. It couldn’t be worse.


2013 365 Challenge #1

New Year's Eve 2006 in New Zealand (on my honeymoon)

New Year’s Eve 2006 in New Zealand (on my honeymoon)

This is the first installment of my 2013 challenge to write a section of my new novel every day (see previous post).

Next installment tomorrow.

Happy New Year to everyone.


Chapter One

“Claire, could you come into my office for a quick chat?”

Claire looked up from the stack of artwork on her desk and resisted the urge to frown, knowing it would leave creases in her foundation.

“Sure Carl, now?”

“Yes please,” he said over his shoulder as he headed back to his own, larger, glass cube on the other side of the office.

Intrigued that he hadn’t sent Julia or phoned through his summons, Claire slipped on her heels, pulled on her jacket and headed after her boss.

“Come in, sit down, would you like a drink?”

Carl was already seated when Claire scratched on his door and opened it.

“Earl Grey please, black, no sugar,” Claire said as she lowered herself onto the black leather chair, glad she was wearing tights.

Carl pressed a button on his desk. “Earl Grey and an espresso please Jules.”

Carl shuffled the paper on his desk and didn’t look up. “How’s the Birds Eye piece coming together?”

Claire looked at the bald patch starting to appear on Carl’s crown and answered in a monotone. “Fine. No dramas.”

“And the Vodafone ad?”

“Shooting next week.”

“Right.” Carl took an audible breath.

Just spit it out, Claire thought as she watched the words fighting to be released from his mouth.

“The Board would like you to hand over your existing clients to Steve.”

Claire sat forward. She hadn’t been expecting that. Aware of her movement she immediately sat back and looked sardonically at Carl.

“Am I being fired?”

“No,” he said quickly, “of course not. You’re one of our best Account Directors. No, think of it more as a change of direction. We’ve secured a new deal with Coca Cola.”

Claire raised her eyebrows before dropping them quickly. Coke? That was a big deal.

“They’re sponsoring the YHA.”

“The what?”

“Youth Hostel Association.”

Claire looked blankly for a minute, not making the connection. Then her brain kicked in. “That doesn’t seem a likely combination – isn’t youth hostelling all about being healthy and the great outdoors. Not something you associate with Coca Cola.”

“That’s the point. After the Olympics they want to improve their healthy image. They’ve decided a year’s sponsorship of the YHA will improve the perception of their brand in the UK.”

“So I’m getting that account? It doesn’t mean I have to hand over all my other deals, surely? Even someone as big as Coke must understand they’re not our only client.”

“Of course not. Actually you won’t be managing the account, I will.”

Claire felt her heartbeat begin to speed up. Something wasn’t right. Carl was looking shifty and he never looked shifty. It was as if he was bracing himself.

“So, come on then, what am I going to be doing?”

“Um. You’re going to be staying in the hostels.”

“What?” Claire nearly stood up but remembered at the last minute to relax back into her chair. Stay in control, Claire, don’t let him get to you.

“The bigwigs want someone on the ground, living the hostelling dream. They want someone to visit all the hostels during the year of promotion, to feedback stories on Twitter and Facebook, you know how it goes.”

“Why can’t you send one of the interns?” Claire could hear her voice sounded higher than usual. She swallowed and took some deep breaths.

“Polly and Molly have finals this year and Sally has a cat.”

Claire looked incredulously at Carl, then over his head through the glass wall of the office.

“What about Julia, she looks like she could use a holiday.”

“This is not a holiday and my PA is indispensable.”

“And I’m not?”

Their eyes clashed and fought before Carl smiled and leaned forward across his desk. “Come on Claire, be reasonable. Think of it as an adventure.”

“You want me to go and sleep in bug-infested bunk-beds in the same room as a bunch of smelly, over-sexed, students for a whole year? You must be mad.” She looked around the office as if seeking something to help her escape. The office was bare except for some piece of modern art and a photograph of Carl’s inexplicably beautiful wife.

“No Claire,” Carl said in a quiet voice. Claire turned to face him, her pulse beating loudly in her ears. Like any predator, Carl was at his most dangerous when he was silent. Forcing herself to meet his eyes she saw the glint in them and swallowed. Carl didn’t frighten her; she’d been around too long and knew she was good at her job. Even so she felt her palms getting clammy as Carl stared at her, one eyebrow slightly raised.

“Who did I offend?” Claire could hear the resignation in her voice. Resignation, was that her only option?

“No one my dear. Think of it more as an initiation challenge.”

It was Claire’s turn to raise an eyebrow. This was unexpected.

“The Board feel you have potential but they’re not convinced of your loyalty, to them or to our clients. Think of this as a sabbatical to consider your next career move.”

“Up or out?” Claire suggested, her lips twisting sarcastically.

“Well I wouldn’t put it quite so crudely but yes, as usual, you have encapsulated the essence in a pithy one-liner. That’s why you’re such a valuable member of the team.”

Right, thought Claire as she stalked back to her office. What a load of crap.


A New Challenge

My new project will be based on a travel-journal

My new project will be based on a travel-journal

An email landed in my inbox from WordPress last week, looking at the best daily and weekly blogs of 2012.

It got me thinking whether I could do something like that. I have struggled to even write a blog post every week since I started my WriterMummy blog back in March 2012. Maybe I need a challenge to keep me motivated next year. Something like NaNoWriMo, to force me to write and post daily.

Except I don’t blog unless I have something to say and some weeks nothing much happens, particularly when I’m writing a new novel. Then I thought, why not use a first draft of a novel for my blog?

I originally came up with the idea of 365-365 – writing a book in instalments with each daily entry being 365 words long. That would challenge my daily writing and my need to be more concise. But I suspect the second 365 might be more than I can manage so I’m going to stick with trying to post something every day, starting with a new project.

The story needs to lend itself to short episodes so I came up with the concept of travelling. Ten or twelve years ago I travelled around New Zealand and kept a diary. Recently I helped my sister self-publish her travel journals from America to New Zealand.

I don’t want to do New Zealand though, as that feels a bit close to home (and a bit like cheating, as I’d probably reuse chunks of my diary.) So then I thought what about someone travelling around the UK staying in hostels? The next thought was Why? And how would I integrate a story arc (or even a character arc)?

I came up with the idea of a main character who is a bit smug with her own life. Maybe she has a sister who is a single mother or a brother facing divorce and she’s happy with her middle-class existence, with her designer shoes and handbags and pristine flat. How would she cope staying in youth hostels? Then I had to figure why she would choose to visit youth hostels, which made me decide it would be part of her job. Maybe she’s an advertising executive and her client has asked her to visit the hostels to improve the advertising campaign. Maybe she will write some of her posts on Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure I’ll figure some more out before I write my first post tomorrow!

As you can see, I hope my posts will cover how my writing ideas develop (I’m a pantser mostly, so plot as I go) and how I go about research. As I haven’t visited many hostels in the UK I think the YHA site and Google Maps will be my friends.

Fingers crossed I’ll manage to keep up with my challenge, but if not at least I’ve given it a go! See you in 2013 for episode one.

Happy New Year!