Art in August #29 – Wonderful Warwick

The Fabulous Georgians

The Fabulous Georgians

We had an amazing day at Warwick Castle yesterday. It’s the first time any of us have been and we didn’t really know what to expect.

The Horrible Histories added so much flavour – the actors were superbly in character it felt like being in a permanent play.

We managed to squeeze in the opening of the portcullis, the sword in the stone play, the trebuchet and the jousting. Unfortunately torrential rain drove us away before the eagles, and we didn’t even get to walk around the castle grounds, but that just gives us plenty to look forward to next year!

I decided to take my ‘big’ camera – my Canon 40D – which I rarely use these days, since the £200 repair bill last time my son went near it. I’ve forgotten how squinty-eyed it makes me, how much I want to photograph everything I see, and how hard it is to capture the perfect picture.

Jousting Dark Knight

Jousting Dark Knight

I left it in automatic mode most of the time, because my attention was on the children rather than light and aperture settings. For the jousting I hoped that would mean at least some half-decent pictures. Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into consideration the rope bisecting my view. Pretty much every picture has a rope in perfect clarity, with blurry jousting knights behind… Sigh. I’d have been better off using the iPad, or just enjoying the spectacle.

Never mind, I managed to get one or two nice shots (out of 156!) and next time I’ll know to sit where the rope isn’t in my way, or leave the camera at home and enjoy the day! 🙂

I feel like we’ve finally had our summer holiday, now we’ve made it to Sea Life and Warwick Castle. Doing both trips within a few days has taken its toll though (or I was stressed about going and now I’m fine) because I slept for twelve hours when we got home. After a couple of nights of only getting two or three hours’ sleep, it seems incredible.

Thank you to hubbie for taking care of the dog, the kids and himself, while I slept almost non-stop from 6pm to 6am!

A Taste of Summer and a Countdown Deal

Enjoying The Sun

Enjoying The Sun

The sun came out to play today. We had planned to go swimming but a last minute check of the website revealed that the pool was closed for a gala. I wasn’t disappointed, as it meant we got to go to the farm instead. With the strange orange globe in the sky warming our skin we watched the children ride ponies, feed goats and bet on racing pigs. Glorious.

It was still sunny, wind-less and dry when we got home, so the children were able to play on the trampoline and climbing frame (even if it did mean de-pooping the lawn, only for the kids to go back in to the playroom five minutes later).

Then I sat watching Olympics on the iPad while the kids did puzzles and the open patio doors let in a cool afternoon breeze. A tiny taste of summer.

I’m praying to the Universe that this weather holds for half term. Parenting is always easier outdoors and I appear to still be woefully all out of patience.

The fact that I spent the day still in a grump shows me, more than anything, that I need some help restoring my mental balance. And before summer arrives for real. Now there’s a target.

P.S. Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes  and Dragon Wraiths are both (hopefully) 99c currently on I’m trying out the KDP Countdown Promotion but it’s not going to plan as a) my new covers don’t seem to have loaded, b) I couldn’t do a countdown deal on the UK site because my book was too cheap (even though Amazon set the UK sale price) and c) I can’t see if the countdown deal has gone live – even though it’s meant to be there for the next 30 hours – so I daren’t promote it. However, if you’re in the US and want to grab my books for a bargain, click the links (and let me know if it works!)

Sea Life and Cbeebies: 2013 365 Challenge #363

Giant Sea Turtle

Giant Sea Turtle

We went to Sea Life today, as a family day out before Daddy goes back to work. It’s a bit of a trek from us, so we loaded up the iPad with Cbeebies programmes and set off before 9am.

Thankfully the children chose to watch Room on the Broom and Gruffalo’s Child, rather than the usual Octonauts and Charlie and Lola. I think I know every episode by heart, although I haven’t actually watched many of them.

I’m grateful for Octonauts, though, because I think it’s a large part of the reason why a trip to the aquarium was their choice of destination.

Being a Cbeebies programme, you know it’s mostly educational and fits as much in the ‘good’ screen-time category as the ‘mind-numbing TV’ one. However, it isn’t until you wander around Sea Life that you realise how great it is.

Stroking a star fish

Stroking a star fish

I saw a lion fish in one of the tanks and immediately identified it and knew it was poisonous. My daughter wanted desperately to see an octopus (like Professor Inkling) and we were as interested in the tiny creatures, like sea horses and jelly fish, as we were the sea turtles and sharks.

Aside from the lead characters in Octonauts (which, if you don’t know, include a polar bear, a penguin and a cat, living in an underwater pod saving creatures big and small) the programme appears to be both realistic and factual.

I do wince at the sight of a huge-headed polar bear working alongside an octopus and a rabbit of exactly the same size, and some of the other crazy things that happen in kids’ cartoons. But for the love it has given my children of the underwater world, I am truly grateful. I for one am not someone who ever complains about the cost of my BBC licence fee.

Mesmerising Jelly fish

Mesmerising Jelly fish

I also learned some great facts at the aquarium that I’m determined to use in my writing at some point, for their poignancy and humour. These are my favourites:

Female octopus lay up to 100,000 eggs and starve to death during the 6 months spent guarding and tending them.

Clownfish [think Nemo] start life as males and live inside a sea anemone, together with a female clownfish. The female prevents the males from changing sex by bullying them. When she dies, the largest male changes sex and takes her role.

Brilliant observations on the roles of women / mothers in nature. There has to be a story there, right?


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:


Claire’s shoulders prickled as she walked across the car park. In her memory she could see Conor hurrying to catch up with her, as he had done four months before, after her interview. Now she was away from the room she realised she was shaking.

How could he just sit there and act like we’ve never met? Just because I don’t want to come and live in this backwater town and be the little wife?

The vehemence of her thoughts shocked her. Conor had never suggested that she play second fiddle to him, or sacrifice her own career for the sake of his. In fact he’d suggested nothing at all except that he wanted to be with her.

Is that so bad?

She reached the relative safety of her car and her resolve crumbled. With her head slumped forward against the steering wheel, and her heavy hair creating a shield, she gave in to the grief that had swollen inside her chest. Despite the days of silence, she hadn’t really believed he would ignore her so emphatically.

At the edge of hearing, a tapping infiltrated her misery. Before she could analyse it, it stopped. She sank her head further into her hands, her sobs growing louder. With sudden violence, she smacked the steering wheel in frustration and jumped when the sound was followed by the click of the passenger door opening.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, you’ll break something. Your hand, probably. These old cars are built like tanks.”

The smooth voice slipped in between her ribs like a knife. She inhaled deeply, but kept her hair shielding her face, unsure how to react. She felt him brush the hair behind her ear, felt the heat of his breath on her face as he leant in close to look at her.

“It’s not advisable to wear mascara if you’re going to have a good cry, you know. You look like an 80s rock star.”

With a swish of hair she turned to face him, fury igniting inside like a raging fire. “Get out!”

Conor flinched but didn’t move.

“I mean it. Who the hell do you think you are, coming in here, cracking jokes like you haven’t ignored me for a fortnight? All because I want to have a life of my own. You’re pathetic.”

His face paled but he held his ground. “I’m sorry. I handled it badly. You surprised me, that’s all, and everything sort of crashed in.”

“You knew I was going to leave: I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t going to stay after the end of the assignment.”

“I know.” His voice barely crossed the space between them. “But wanting to leave is different to actually getting a job offer somewhere else. It was so final, and you hadn’t even mentioned it.”

“I’d only just found out about it! Conor, you act like we’ve been together for years. I’ve known you precisely four months; we were dating for a few weeks, if that. I don’t owe you anything.” Her anger surprised her and she wanted to apologise, but the car rang with her hot words.

“I’m sorry that’s how you feel.” Then, almost to himself, he added, “It seemed longer than that.” He paused, as if he wanted to say more, and then moved to open the car door.


He hesitated. Claire didn’t know what else to say. She just didn’t want him to leave, not like that. They sat in silence for a hundred years.

“Are you staying in town tonight?”

Claire nodded. “At a B&B. I couldn’t face the hostel again.”

“Come for a drink? Or dinner?”

A dozen different responses warred in her head and eventually her mouth formed round the word, “Okay.”

He reached for the door. “Text me your location; I’ll pick you up at 7pm?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Without looking, she heard him open the door and close it softly behind him.


She saw the text flash to say he was outside, and checked her reflection in the mirror one last time. A pale, worried, face looked back at her and she forced herself to smile. Whatever happened, at least there would be resolution.

They walked in silence down to the town, without touching. The air crackled between them with all the charge of the lightning strikes she’d seen at the concert. Looking across at him she saw the tension in his face and knew that he felt it too. He turned towards her as she scrutinised him, and his eyes were a stormy sea. He opened his mouth to speak and she felt goosebumps trickle across her skin.

“I’ve missed you, too.”


Flexible Minds: 2013 365 Challenge #322

Morris Dancers

Morris Dancers

It seems everything has an up side, when you look at it. Hubbie and I are pretty rubbish at making plans at the weekend. The children don’t do any classes and we don’t have set routine things like cleaning or shopping because I do all that during the week. About the only thing we try and do is go swimming on a Sunday morning at the local pool.

The children had swimming lessons at a gorgeous private pool for a while, until it became far too expensive, and we kept up the routine all last winter. In the summer, of course, we swim in my mum’s little pool. But last week it was time to restart the weekend swim.

So, eventually, after I had written my post, and the children were fed and dressed, we made it to the pool. Only to find out it was closed until the afternoon to non-swimmers, because the pool was broken. (They have a snazzy moveable floor and they lift the ends to under a metre for the little kids. Only one end was stuck above the water level.)

Reindeer and elves

Reindeer and elves

We managed to just about redeem last weekend by a trip to the nearby indoor play centre, and we actually had a lovely morning. This week we made sure we had learnt our lesson. After we were up and dressed and ready to leave, we phoned the pool to see if it was open. It wasn’t. Unfortunately we made the mistake of letting the children hear the conversation and “Want to go swimming, now!” ensued.

We looked into going to a different pool but, like me, hubbie isn’t great at unexpected new. So we dithered. The children whined. They’d already had a whole day of broken plans on Saturday, after the abandoned trip to the zoo, and had coped with that brilliantly.

It turned out hubbie was a bit lost about the whole thing, too. I guess we all get something stuck in our heads. So, by mid morning, a plan was required. Grandad wasn’t answering his phone, the weather was too dismal for a walk.

A yellow elephant?

A yellow elephant?

Thankfully I remembered seeing a flyer on the kitchen table about Christmas events at our local garden centre! Hurrah, it was the day. We’d already missed the parade and the arrival of Father Christmas, but I was okay with that, as it’s a bit early for them to visit the grotto. But I knew there would be other activities, so off we went.

It was great. We met the horses that pulled Father Christmas’s carriage. There were morris dancers and most of the staff were dressed as elves. We had to hunt for balloons and flags, which had been given out during the parade (a nice old man found a couple under some shelves!), but even that was fun.

We didn’t bother with the Punch and Judy or the biscuit decoration because it was heaving. But we went to see the reindeer and we started to queue for face painting. There were six children ahead of us in the queue after twenty minutes (it was free!), when another genius idea popped into my head (I’ll do anything not to queue).

Spooky man with glass ball

Spooky man with glass ball

“Why don’t we buy a cake and go to Grandma’s and I’ll paint your faces when we get home?” I said brightly, muttering quietly, “As long as you don’t look in a mirror,” much to the amusement of a waiting mother. “Can I have a blue cat?” Littlest Martin said. “Of course,” I nodded, praying the cheap face paints I bought and never opened had blue.

So, that was the plan. We were lucky enough to find the balloon man with few children waiting, so we had some balloon models made on the way out. The children asked for Father Christmas and an elephant and got Father Christmas’s teddy and a yellow thing that looked more like a giraffe. They didn’t care.

We watched the spooky many with the glass ball and we went to the supermarket for cake. When we got home I painted a blue cat on my son’s face (my first attempt at face painting and it wasn’t so bad, considering my set doesn’t have black!) and my daughter did her own.

DIY Face Painting

DIY Face Painting

And, do yo know what? There were virtually no trantrums all day. A whole weekend of mixed up plans and last minute changes and they took it all in their stride. They’re three and four years old. They put me to shame! (I’ve been known to have a tantrum or two if things don’t go to plan.)

So even the bits of parenting you think you’re rubbish at – being consistent, making plans without letting the children know in case they change, changing your mind at the last minute, refusing to queue – even those things can turn out to have value.

Everything happens for a reason. 😉


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:


Claire’s ears thrummed with rage, as she drove blindly along the country lanes to the hostel. How dare he? How dare Robert interrupt like that? Wasn’t it enough that she was saving his arse, looking after his brats while he went of canoodling with his new lady friend?

She wrenched at the wheel, to avoid a pigeon sitting in the road, and nearly put the car in the hedge. Adrenalin coursed through her body, making her hands tremble. She loosened the vice-like grip of one hand and slammed it against the horn, even though the bird was now twenty yards behind her.

By the time she reached the hostel her anger was piled high like the stacks of clouds lining the endless horizon, obscuring the blue sky and promising a howling storm. Claire pulled into the right driveway, glad she’d already visited the hostel once to check in, and abandoned the car.

Striding into the hostel she wondered what exactly she was going to say to Robert. She hadn’t yelled at him since she was twelve; she certainly hadn’t had such an overpowering urge to gouge his eyes out since they were children.

The hostel seemed deserted as she stalked through the rooms, and her anger began to seep away. She reached the red lounge and stopped short at the sight of two boys wrestling on the sofa.

Great. I had to bump into the kids before finding Robert. I don’t even know which one is which.

Forcing a smile on a face that ached with tension, Claire slowed down to a walk, hoping these were indeed her nephews.

“Hi boys, great to see you. Where’s your father.”

“Bonjour, tante Claire, comment vas-tu?” the youngest boy beamed at her. Claire reeled as if she’d been shot.

Oh crap. Robert didn’t mention that the brats don’t speak English. What the…? I haven’t done French since school.

“Bonjour, ça vas bien, merci.” She smiled brightly, hoping no further communication would be necessary. Pummelling her brain for the word for father, she stuttered, “Où est ton père?”

One of the boys pointed out the door and rattled off a sentence that Claire didn’t understand. She tried not to look blank, but the amusement on the boy’s face suggested she’d failed. He mimed talking on a phone and Claire nodded. With a half wave she turned and hurried out.

Robert I am going to kill you.

She found him sitting in the courtyard, looking relaxed in an open shirt and sunglasses propped on his head, despite the clouds gathering above them. As she stood watching, he spoke into the phone in rapid French. Something about his demeanour brought to mind sweet nothings, although he spoke too fast for her to understand a word. When it didn’t seem likely that he would end the call anytime soon, she cleared her throat.

Robert looked up without a trace of embarrassment. He gave a cool nod and raised one hand as if signalling to a secretary to give him a minute. Claire felt the blood rise again, and looked around for something to hit him with. Robert’s eyes widened slightly and he said a rapid farewell before hanging up the phone.

“You’re here finally, then.”

Claire ground her teeth. “You’ve got some nerve. You called me away from a business meeting, you failed to mention your boys only speak French and now you have the audacity to act like I’m some tardy underling. You can take your brats back to Geneva with you, and you can rot.”

She took some satisfaction from the look of consternation on his face. With a vicious grin and a toss of her hair, she spun round and went in search of a cup of tea.