Dear Victoria Wood

Back in January, I wrote a post about how I felt when David Bowie died, about how his legacy touched my family and how he had become like the edgy, cool uncle when we’re listening to music. I had to acknowledge however, that he didn’t really have a defining influence on my life. I didn’t make a profound discovery about myself through listening to his music. I just love it and besides, I wasn’t that cool.

So yesterday, when I heard about the death of Victoria Wood, I knew that there had been a seismic shift in my life.

It wasn’t the fact that I cried when I heard The Ballad of Barry and Freda on the radio and then again when I watched the Spaghetti Sketch on the News.

Regular readers to this blog will know that on the 1 to 10 scale of sadness with 10 being utter despair and 3 being slight melancholy, I’m a lost cause at anything past two and a half.

It was more that it reminded me of when Victoria Wood was the defining influence in my life and it made me realise that much of my sense of humour and my frequent inability to take things seriously, are down to her.

Victoria Wood books

So this is a letter from my teenage self, explaining what she means to me.

Dear Victoria Wood,

Hello. How are you? Sorry, I’m a bit nervous writing to you. I know I shouldn’t be. You seem really lovely on television so I expect you’re just as lovely in real life. You can tell that about a person, can’t you? It’s all in the eyes according to my Mum.

‘If the smile doesn’t reach the eyes then run a mile, Annie. Also never trust a man with a beard.’

Good advice I’m sure you’ll agree and it means that you are both trustworthy and lovely according to my mother because you don’t have a beard and your smile always reaches your eyes. In fact, you look as if you’re having the time of your life when you’re performing. It’s as if you’re talking to a room full of friends and I love that.

Sorry, I’m rabbiting on now instead of telling you the reason for this letter.

I wanted to say thank you. From the bottom of my heart and the heart of my bottom. Sorry. Again. I stole that line from Fry and Laurie. Do you know them? They’re my other favourites. I wrote to them as well.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wanted to thank you because you sort of saved me. That sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? I do like a bit of drama but I like comedy more. I have filled my life with as much comedy as I can – I particularly love you, of course. And Blackadder. And French and Saunders. I watch everything over and over again.  I memorise all the lines.

My friend and I performed your ‘Self Service’ sketch last year at the church revue. I played the Julie Walters part. I wasn’t very good and I didn’t understand half the references but I loved it. I love making people laugh. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

You’re brilliant at it of course and I think the way you play with words is very clever. My friends and I can’t say, ‘Malibu,’ ‘pochette,’ or ‘you’d be very middling at modelling, Madeleine’ without laughing now. Actually, that’s another thing. I’ve made some really good friends because of you –  friends I can laugh with and say,

‘Hello, I’m looking for my friend, Kimberley. Have you seen her?’

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. For making me laugh and helping me to see the funny side of life in all the silly little things that happen. I’m going to try to keep making people laugh in some way if I can, ideally until chips come down their noses. I hope you approve. I reckon you do.

Much love and a plate of macaroons,

Annie x

 

 

 

The reluctant cat owner

‘Shall we get a cat then?’

No-one was more surprised than me when I uttered these words to my husband at the beginning of October last year. We’d been talking about getting a pet for years but failed to commit. There’s always a good reason not to get a pet.

For the past ten years, I have used the excuse of small children. They effectively serve as pets in their constant need to be fed, kept clean and played with. They can also be toilet-trained, thereby for me, offering a key advantage.

My children have wanted a pet ever since they were able to talk. As their other friends got pets, I was always ready with a new excuse relative to the animal in question.

Pets

‘Macey has a guinea-pig.’

‘Too small and squeaky.’

‘Eva’s got rabbits.’

Which promptly got eaten by a fox, providing me with a ready-made get-out clause.

‘Ella’s got tortoises.’

I struggled here as actually, tortoises are very cool – a prehistoric-type pet, which you have to hibernate them over the winter – these are animals I can relate to.

Really though, I wanted a dog. I’ve always wanted a dog ever since my Dad said I couldn’t have a dog and bought me a rabbit to shut me up.

I did love the rabbit though. He was fierce and grey. He used to scare foxes away by thumping on the floor of his hutch or throwing his metal food bowl.

Once we took him to the vets and a dog in the waiting room started to howl at the smell of rabbit. Smokey (for that was his name) thumped with aggressive persistence until we opened the box, whereupon he poked out his head, giving the dog such a look of rabbity terror (don’t mock until you’ve experienced it – think Paddington bear stare with an edge of Watership Down carnage), that the poor hound recoiled in horror.

paddington bear stare

Anyway, scary rabbits to one side, in the cat versus dog debate, I have always been a dog person. My husband is a cat person. In the spirit of marital harmony, we decided that we would work towards owning both but that, for practical reasons, the cat should come first.

Being a wise man, my husband realised that he had to let me decide the right time for the cat. I was the one who needed to get my head around the idea of becoming a cat owner.

I think my essential issue with cats is that I am jealous of them. They’ve got life sussed. They get food when they want it, attention when they feel like it and then just do their own thing when they don’t. They spend most of their time sleeping in a warm place, ideally under a radiator, by a fire or in a handy patch of sun. I for one, want to come back as a big fat Tabby living with a kind old lady, who likes to over-indulge me and always has the heating on. Happy life sorted.

So we found a cat, a kitten to be precise because I was determined that if we did this, we did it properly. Our first family pet would be a cute kitten arriving at Christmas for the children to love and adore.

I warned my husband that I was prepared to embrace the idea of the kitten but couldn’t promise any more than that.

The kitten arrived two days before Christmas. He was tiny and black with wonky blue eyes and a face like a bear. He seemed very relaxed as he sauntered into our lives. The children were over-joyed. My husband was like a teenager in the first flush of new love. I felt a bit like I had when I’d first become a mother – worrying if he was warm enough, was he getting enough food and what on earth were worming tablets (actually that is less of an issue with a baby tbh).

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I booked a precautionary trip to the vet. The vet was relaxed. He chuckled as he placed the kitten on the gigantic weighing-machine. The cat weighed
400 grams – less than two pats of butter. The vet suggested kitten milk to help build him up a little.

Christmas day started well. It was fun having a kitten. We held a democratic vote and finally decided to name him, ‘Buddy.’

Buddy was quite sleepy during the afternoon but then everyone is sleepy on Christmas Day afternoon. We gave him some kitten milk later on. He lapped it up and then threw it up. As the evening wore on, he became even sleepier. He fell asleep in his litter tray. He couldn’t walk anywhere without falling over. As kittens aren’t regular pub-goers, we became concerned.

After the children were tucked up in bed, my husband and I started to get very worried. We began to use words like, ‘listless,’ and ‘dehydration.’ We tried and failed to give him water.

I cradled him in my arms as tears pricked my eyes. ‘I never wanted a bloody cat,’ I told him. ‘And now look what you’ve done. Don’t you dare die. You’ve got to grow up so that you can go out into the world and bring back a huge mouse to make me scream. I love you, you little bugger.’

My husband phoned the vet, his face pale with worry. It became even paler when the vet told him how much it would cost to treat a kitten on Christmas Day. We shrugged at one another. We had no choice. He took him to the vet and we spent twenty four hours fretting. Finally, the call came late afternoon on Boxing Day. Buddy was okay. I went and stood in the garden and had a little cry.

A month on, he’s doubled in size and behaves like a toddler. He is an original ankle-biter. He likes to skip and gambol just in front of my feet making it impossible to walk normally. He is currently sitting on my lap as I type this, sleeping, his breath steady and a little bit squeaky.

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I was telling a good friend about him the other day.

‘How’s the cat?’ he asked.

‘Cute. Annoying,’ I replied.

‘Just like having a child then,’ he observed. ‘With the childhood part all done in one year.’

‘Huh,’ I said. ‘I hadn’t thought of it like that but yes, that’s exactly what it’s like.’

So there you have it, I am a reluctant pet owner with a toddler cat. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and play with him – they grow up so fast these days.

Then it’ll be time to get a puppy.

labrador puppy

A short but heart-felt post

In my family, I’m known for my emotional outbursts. I cry at many things – Christmas adverts, piano-backed TV moments involving mums and daughters, anything adorable or sad involving children. I am basically a leaky bucket of a woman. So I wasn’t surprised today when I felt tears spring to my eyes at the news of the death of David Bowie.

But why? I didn’t know him. I’d never met him or seen him play live. I can’t claim ownership of his music or style. My defining musical era was the eighties when both music and style were decidedly dodgy. I came late to the Bowie party (I’m late for most things so it seems appropriate).

I have been listening to the radio today and the wall-to-wall tributes. Many people tell stories of having met him or tales of how his music influenced their lives or just made them happy. I have wept through most of the anecdotes and songs but I am still left wondering why.

I think it’s because David Bowie was born in south-east London and so was I. He played one of his first gigs at a pub a few miles from where I live now (The Three Tuns in Beckenham, now sadly a Zizzi but I reckon David would have approved of the Arancini). We were both born on the 8th of January. I told everyone on Friday that he’d released his new album, Black Star as a birthday present for us both. I even proposed a champagne toast to him.

But most of all, I think I feel sad because my family adopts their musical heroes as part of the family. James Taylor and Stevie Wonder are both uncles, Carole King is an aunt. Therefore, David Bowie must be godfather to my children. My eight-year-old son has always loved Ziggy Stardust and used to giggle as he sang about the, ‘spiders from Mars’, when he was five or so. My daughter and I held hands and wept with pride as Team GB walked out to ‘Heroes’ at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. My husband and I do a nifty duet to ‘Space Oddity.’

And that’s the reason. He’s one of our family. He’s that cool, edgy uncle with the effortless style and that misfit way that we adore. And he always will be.

 

My Perfect Christmas

I love Christmas. I mean really love it. There can never be enough tinsel, too many fairy lights or sufficient sausages wrapped in bacon wrapped in sausages and so on for me.

I want it to be perfect too. I want snow to fall, chestnuts to roast on an open fire and there to be peace and goodwill to all people.

Of course, deep down I know that these things won’t happen, that roasted chestnuts are actually a bit dry, that in my forty one years on this earth, it hasn’t snowed once at Christmas and that you only have to turn on the News to see that peace and goodwill are a little way off.

Still, I think it’s important to hope and to believe. That’s actually what Christmas is about for me – the excitement is in the build-up, the thrill of expectation before the reality of the actual day – a lovely reality, but not quite like the dream.

With this in mind and for your festive delight, here are the dreams and reality of my own Christmas.

 

The Dream

The weeks before Christmas are enjoyed at a leisurely pace. I have been making thoughtful home-made presents since September. All the gifts are purchased by the end of November, cards written in the first week of December and everything wrapped by the 10th.

I attend lots of wonderful Christmas parties wearing a different amazing dress and shoe combination to each one.  I always dance in a stylish and dignified manner and leave at a sensible hour. I never have a hangover.

On Christmas Eve, I watch The Snowman snuggled up with my children and let the Christmas spirit wash over me. In the evening, I watch It’s a Wonderful Life with my husband, weeping over the ending because this is what Christmas is all about. I go to bed early so that I am on sparkling form the next day.

Christmas Day is sheer bliss. The children sleep in until eight, they open their stockings, which are filled with thoughtful and useful presents. We sit on the bed enjoying a family breakfast of croissants and coffee. No crumbs are made or jammy fingerprints left on the duvet.

My husband cooks the most magnificent Christmas dinner and we sink into post-lunch happiness, watching a film, playing games and supping on Champagne.

By the evening we are sleepy, happy and possibly a couple of the other seven dwarves as well. We fall into bed feeling content and very lucky.

 

The Reality

The weeks before Christmas are endured in a screaming panic. I have been making thoughtful home-made presents since the 18th of December and the remains of my Christmas Chutney are still welded to the counter-top like the some kind of evil super-glue. I order the last present from Amazon on the 23rd of December and still refuse to pay for postage, praying to the god of super-saver deliveries for benevolence. The presents are all wrapped by 2 am on Christmas Day.

I have one Christmas party to attend along with a rising panic about what to wear. I do not own any amazing dresses and the last time I wore my posh shoes, I sustained a blister the size of a Jaffa Cake. I am always the first on the dance floor and the last to leave. My hangover lingers for the best part of a week.

On Christmas Eve, I watch The Snowman snuggled up with my children. By the end, we are all sobbing and my son is wailing, ‘Why do you make us watch this EVERY year?’

In the evening, I watch It’s a Wonderful Life with my husband, weeping over the fifty or so presents of varying size and shape still to wrap, and the fact that apparently this is what Christmas is all about. I feel the spirit of a bad back and sore shoulders wash over me as we head to bed around
2.30 am utterly exhausted.

Christmas Day is weary bliss. The children sleep in until six, they open their stockings filled with lots of plastic and useless presents and we enjoy a hundred weight of sweets, chocolate and coffee for breakfast. There is an alarming brown stain left on the duvet, which I ignore.

My husband cooks the most magnificent Christmas dinner and we sink into post-lunch torpor, watching a film, playing games and supping on Champagne.

By the evening we are sleepy, happy and possibly a couple of the other seven dwarves as well. We fall into bed feeling content and very lucky.

May your Christmas dreams and reality be similarly wonderful.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

 

The Twelve Not Quite Perfect Moments of Christmas

 

  1. When your child catches you knocking back Father Christmas’ favourite tipple on Christmas Eve.

drunk Cinders

  1. When during your impressive twerking routine at the Christmas party you realise that your skirt is tucked in your knickers. Again.party dancing
  1. When your mother-in-law offers to help you sieve the gravy.mother in law
  1. When you start to believe that socks really are a great Christmas present.cat in socks

5. When your child declares ‘babyccino’ to be the son of God when answering the vicar’s question during your local church’s crib service.vicar of dibley

6. When you decide that home-made gifts really do make the best presents,resulting in burnt chutney, bendy gingerbread and a kitchen that would make Mary Berry weep.

ratatouille

7. When the highlight of your festive TV season is the Peppa Pig Christmas special.

watching tv

  1. When buying new Christmas lights is preferable to untangling the ones you carelessly stuffed back into the box last January. christmas lights
  1. When some joker decides to give the dog sprouts.gag
  1. When Granny decides to act out ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ during charades.horrified child
  1. When your mother misinterprets your request for boots and instead of the knee-high beauties you’ve been coveting, buys you a pair of Dunlop wellies.

disappointed gift

  1. When you decide to make egg nog. And realise that any drink with ‘egg’ in the title really is as disgusting as it sounds.marilyn

Avoid all of these and you might just be in for the perfect Christmas – enjoy, my friends!

 

 

 

A not quite perfect guide to Christmas cooking

Each year as Christmas approaches, the spirit of thrift and enterprise descends upon me and I decide that there is nothing people like more at Christmas than a home-made gift. What do you mean you wanted perfume? I’ve made life-sized gingerbread versions of you and your family – be grateful!

Therefore, every year I try to create something thoughtful and wonderful. You will not be surprised to hear that it often ends in failure.  So, as we stagger towards Christmas with daily hangovers, mild exhaustion and that nagging sense that we’ve forgotten to buy bread sauce, I thought I would lighten the load by sharing with you some of my least successful, festive culinary moments.

Homemade marshmallow

Never try this unless you are a degree-educated physicist who actually understands the correct way to boil sugar. I neither understood nor owned the correct equipment. All I will say is that using a meat thermometer (fear not for it was clean) and estimating that the correct temperature is somewhere between ‘chicken’ and ‘turkey’ is not the way to go about this. I did manage to produce something pink and gloopy but unfortunately it bore a worrying resemblance to human intestines. Not that festive, even when wrapped in shiny cellophane and tied with a sparkly bow.

Homemade panettone

I’ve always wanted to be able make bread and one day I will learn provided I can develop a less impatient and more conscientious approach to cooking. I did buy a proper panettone tin and I did make a proper dough but I either under-proved, over-proved or looked at it funny because I managed to produce the flattest panettone ever. Unfortunately no-one from the Guinness Book of World Records was there to witness it. It did taste nice heated up and served with ice-cream but then everything does, doesn’t it?

Home-made chocolates

Who knew that chocolate could separate just by heating it up? Not me. Still, the addition of cream and butter seemed to help and it turned into some reasonably acceptable fudge.

Home-made chocolate spread

This actually wasn’t a culinary disaster but I made it for my daughter and ended up eating it myself which turned out to be a disaster when I stepped onto the scales on New Year’s Day.

The gingerbread house

I decided that my children deserved an end-of-term treat and made them a proper gingerbread house with boiled-sweet glass windows, gingerbread versions of their lovely selves and Santa and Rudolf sitting inside by the fire (yes, my friends, I MADE a fireplace). I had to cut out templates, measure the gingerbread with a ruler and use enough royal icing to cement an actual house. I was up until midnight the day before decorating it and ate so many sweets as a ‘reward’ whilst I worked that I couldn’t get to sleep for about three hours afterwards. The result was lop-sided and probably would have failed all building inspections but my children loved it. The following year I went to a cake shop and bought a gingerbread house mould.

Gingerbread house

It’s not all disasters though and I have one particular recipe that I re-visit every year and which has become reasonably famous in at least three houses in the south-east London area. So as a little Christmas gift for you, reader friends, here is a link to the spicy Christmas Chutney recipe by the wonderful Mary Berry. It never lasts beyond Boxing Day in our house and goes with meats, cheeses and probably leftover Christmas pudding too.

You’re welcome.

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1158/mary-berrys-christmas-chutney

 

Cover Reveal: The Revenge by Holly Martin

I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover for The Revenge, the new book by the super-talented Holly Martin due out on 1st December. It’s the third book in the fabulous Sentinel series and is available for pre-order right now. 

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Book Description:

He was created to be her back up and now he’s out to take her place

After the Oraculum orders Eve’s execution, she has to flee her home in the fort as those that have been guarding over her are forced to turn against her. Amongst the chaos, a new Sentinel is named. Adam, Eve’s half-brother.

Adam has spent his life incarcerated by the Oraculum while Eve was allowed to grow up with a family and friends. Now he is hell bent on revenge. He rules over his Guardians and his new kingdom with arrogance and a cold heart, but his one ambition is to make Eve’s life a living hell. Nowhere is safe from him, not even her dreams.

With the threat from the Putarians moving closer, her own Guardians betraying her, the survival of the world hinges in the balance.

Above all else, Adam must be stopped. But when Eve has a prophecy of her and Adam saving the world together, she quickly realizes she needs to work with him not against him.

But can Eve get through to Adam before it’s too late? Or will Adam’s evil heart result in the destruction of all?

Praise for The Sentinel (Book 1 in The Sentinel Series)

It’s a book you HAVE to read, because it’s incredible. An outstanding book that has left me bereft its finished. I wished I’d savoured it for longer. This book was one of those that once you started it was impossible to come away from. It was fast paced, exciting, full of suspense and action that had me gasping in shock at twists I never imagined could happen. It’s a story of courage and adventure. And no matter how dark it gets, there’s always love and hope. – Victoria Loves Books Blog

It’s really hard to find the words to describe how amazing this book is.
This is definitely the best debut I’ve read this year! I just love this book, I want you all to read this book, in fact you all need to read this book! – Love of a Good Book Blog

If you want to pre-order this book so it pops straight onto your kindle on December 1st then pop over here. Its only 99p/99c

UK http://amzn.to/1GQcNOt

US http://amzn.to/1S7aAOX

And if you haven’t read the first two books in the series yet, then pop over here and get your copy, all three books are 99p/99c at the moment

The Sentinel

UK http://amzn.to/1giKNVp

US http://amzn.to/IKSOUk

 

The Prophecies

UK http://amzn.to/1DZ8ECN

US http://amzn.to/1khpDuY

Treat Yourself

Last month I wrote a post about how much I love autumn. I’m going to level with you now (we’ve become close this year, so I know I can) – I am at my happiest season-wise after the clocks go back, when the heating is on and with the curtains drawn.

I love summer (I’m not seasonist) but when the temperature sinks, you can breathe like a dragon and the promise of Christmas is but a whiff of mulled wine away, I come into my own.

The weather may turn a little grim, the air may be a little crisper but like a professional trouble-shooter, I am ready for anything. I have the boots, I have the gloves, I have the fluffy socks, the bobble hat and the duvet-type coat. I know what to do when life is less than perfect.

I am the woman who wrote a book called Not Quite Perfect after all. In it, sisters Emma and Rachel are starting to get the feeling that life is less than perfect, that the grass is possibly a little greener elsewhere. Obviously, if they were friends with me, I would soon teach them that a less than perfect day can be soothed away with the right treat.

For I am all about the treats, particularly when the weather gets chilly. And as we all know that treats are better when you’ve earned them, I’m going to share my top five for the end of a not quite perfect day.

You work hard, my friends – you deserve this.

  1. Donning a pair of warmed pyjamas fresh from a toasty radiator.
  2. A plate of hot-buttered toast enjoyed in front of an episode of Downton Abbey.
  3. Sinking into a bath of Heavenly Gingerlily Molten Brown loveliness (Mr. Matey also works well) with your book of choice.
  4. A Double Decker and an episode of Gogglebox.
  5. Stuffed crust pizza and a glass or two of Malbec whilst watching Saturday night Strictly, preferably with family, friends or both.

And if that hasn’t got you in the mood, my lovely publisher Carina and I would like to spoil you rotten in a competition to win a signed copy of my bestseller, Not Quite Perfect and a special treat.

To enter you just have to RT & follow me and post a pic on Twitter of your favourite treat after a #notquiteperfect day. Simples.

NQP CONTEST

Good luck & keep treating yourself!

My beautiful garden

 

It’s important to have a dream, isn’t it? Some dreams are big-scale – ending poverty, ensuring that all children receive an education and living in a world where Mary Berry is in charge and cakes are currency (we’re on the cusp with that one).

Most dreams are smaller in their ambitions but important to the people trying to realise them. They may involve ensuring your children’s future happiness or just clearing out that drawer in the kitchen which is inexplicably filled with take-away leaflets, a ball of rubber bands, endless bits of string and keys for locks which no longer exist.

One of my dreams (apart from all of the above) is to have a beautiful garden. Regular readers will recall the highs and lows that my husband and I have experienced since moving to the ‘money-pit’ last year. Aside from the leaking water, cracks in the walls and dodgy electrics, the garden has demanded our attention with the ferocity of an angry toddler. If there were a gold medal at Chelsea for, ‘most evil bramble,’ or, ‘world’s biggest dandelion,’ we would be in with a shot.

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Sadly, we are gardening amateurs. We’re not used to this level of horticultural intensity. Our previous garden was the size of a bath mat. We’ve done our best but it is dizzying.

One week, we attacked the front garden, cutting, weeding and spraying prodigious amounts of chemicals, which carried more warnings than a nuclear power station. Meanwhile, the back garden spread its roots and grew to heights not previously seen since Prince Charming was faced with ‘thornageddon’ during attempts to reach Sleeping Beauty.

The following week, we took on the back garden, whilst the front garden (knowing we weren’t looking) clearly entered a competition to, ‘grow as many weeds as possible in seven days.’

We were like dogs chasing our tails; big, stupid gardening dogs, chasing our tails round and round the garden.

One of the things we needed when we moved into the money-pit was a new fence. We parted with the GDP of a small African country and now we have one. It is lovely and during the re-building process, an extra patch of soil was created and with it my new dream.

The patch is about fifty feet long and six feet wide and as soon as I saw it, my little brain got excited and made me fetch my, ‘Grow Your Own Vegetables’ guide. I have lots of books like this – little volumes of dreams, as yet unrealised. I also have one all about bread-making and another (rather ambitious one) which encourages you to have a completely home-made Christmas. I haven’t opened it yet.

‘We can grow peas, carrots, runner beans, lots of herbs and fruit trees – we have to have fruit trees!’ I told my husband one Saturday morning, having looked at all the pictures in the book but none of the words.

‘Sounds great,’ he replied. ‘Shall we go to the garden centre this morning?’

A Saturday morning trip to a garden centre (with cake and coffee obviously) is my catnip but I resisted. ‘I think we need to have a look at the soil first. It might need to be improved.’

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In our house I am the gardening expert because I watched a whole Alan Titchmarsh series once, know the names of all the Gardener’s World presenters and have successfully grown tomatoes in pots.

‘Okay,’ agreed my husband. ‘Let’s go and have a look.’

I fetched a small garden fork and gave the ground an experimental prod. It bent one of the tines. I looked up at my husband.

‘It’s very dry. Maybe I’ll try and water it,’ I suggested.

I gave the ground a liberal dousing and then tried again. It was as hard as the ‘Panettone’ I’d made the Christmas before last (I use inverted commas here because without them it would be insulting to proper Panettone)

‘Maybe we should try with this?’ suggested my husband carrying a large garden fork. I stood back and try he did. In fact, he tried so hard that he dug up a huge slab of concrete and a dandelion root the size and shape of a large parsnip.

‘I think we are going to have to improve the soil,’ I concluded.

So that is what we have done, reader friends. Over the course of several weekends, my husband and I have dug over each section of soil. We have pulled out pieces of rock that look as if they’ve come from the moon, extricated gigantic weeds and held up gnarly tree roots for inspection like a fishermen showing off a prize Bass. We have dug over, raked and made friends with worms. We even bought a wheelbarrow, for Dimmock’s sake! It took flipping ages and we only managed about half the stretch but it was oddly satisfying and once done, it looked pretty good – a blank canvas ready for something wonderful. I went to bed that night dreaming of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Paul Simon was there too for some reason.

The following weekend we decided to attack the next section. My husband strode down the garden to review last week’s work with me following closely behind. My heart sank as I looked at our newly cultivated soil, now covered with a multitude of tiny turds

‘Oh.’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘We have managed to create a great big cat and fox toilet.’

And so we had but you know what? All dreams face set-backs and the best dreams take hard work, perseverance and cat repellent. I will have my beautiful garden one day. It’s just a work in progress.

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Stephen King is my muse

About six months ago I experienced a crisis of confidence. To be honest this isn’t unusual. I’m pretty sure writers have these on a semi-regular basis. I have a theory that if you can limit them to one a month, you’re doing pretty well.

I was probably doing something unhelpful like reading a bad review or feeling that everyone else had a bestseller/better cover/twelve-book deal for a squillion pounds and that basically everything I wrote was a waste of good memory space (the eBook writer’s equivalent of ink in case you’re wondering).

Of course, what you need to do when you’re feeling like this is either drink copious amounts of gin, give yourself a sharp talking-to or phone your editor.

Happily for my liver and self-esteem, I chose the third option.

I have been very lucky with my writing career to date and it’s largely because of my editors. A relationship with an editor is unique. It has to be close but not too close, you have to be able to pour out your soul to them and not be offended when they point out your failings. They need to help steer you on a constant path and offer up some tough love when it’s needed.

I asked my editor if I should undertake some kind of course to help refine my style and hone the craft. I had just finished my third book and knew that I was improving with every novel I wrote. However for me, writing is a journey and to use the London to Inverness train line as a metaphor, I had just reached Stevenage. There’s a long way to go and I want to get better at this, ‘words on a page’ lark.

She smiled. It was the smile of a favourite teacher – all-knowing, never patronising. I sat up straighter in my seat, ready to receive the truth. ‘You’ve read On Writing, haven’t you?’ she asked.

I nodded.

‘Well then,’ she said. ‘Pretty much everything you need is in that book.’

And you know what? She’s right.

I’m not writing off (hur hur) courses or groups or any of that good stuff but if you need a friend to lay it on the line as far as writing is concerned, Stephen King is your man.

I recommend this book to everyone because it’s a mighty fine book. It’s a bible for writers and it’s absolutely fascinating for anyone with a grain of interest in the written word.

Stephen King and I occupy very different writing genres but as far as practical advice and insight goes, there is no finer teacher.

What writer can’t fail to be enlightened by the advice,

‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’,

or emboldened by the words,

‘…you must not come lightly to the blank page.’

Who isn’t amused by the assertion that,

‘Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes’,

and who can argue with the observation regarding appropriateness in writing (originally from George Carlin) that,

‘…in some company it’s perfectly all right to prick your finger, but very bad form to finger your prick.’

However, the biggest reason I love this book and why I re-read it before I begin a new novel is because Stephen King takes no prisoners. I‘m a pretty direct person and I appreciate directness in others, provided I respect what they have to say.  Needless to say, I respect Stephen King and all the advice he’s prepared to offer me.

This book is the equivalent of your straight-talking, slightly edgy uncle who comes to visit from time to time. You’re a bit scared of him but fascinated too because he’s got magic in his bones and he used to take large quantities of drugs.

It’s this edginess that inspires me. He talks about his muse as a guy in a basement, smoking cigars while he does all the work. This guy has a bag of magic called inspiration and he makes you work for it.

Well my muse is Stephen King. He sits on my shoulder and oozes disappointment as I use another adverb (I could have written ‘ill-advisedly’ here but I resisted). He nods in silence as I edit out unnecessary words from my narrative and raises an eyebrow if I manage something good.

I don’t always get it right. Who does? I am a typo-monkey and an adverb-junkie but I keep trying. I think that’s what he wants me to do. That’s all any writer can do.

So next time you feel a crisis of confidence about your writing and don’t know what to do, reach for this book. Even if you’re not a writer, reach for this book.  As the great man might say, it’s a little piece of,

‘…uniquely portable magic.’

What more do you need?

On Writing by Stephen King