A Fabulous Christmas Present

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So we’re into December madness and I’ve just staggered back from the shops laden with bags, but with barely anything ticked off my scrumpled-up list, which I’ve been clutching for the past three hours in the hope that it might provide inspiration.  It didn’t.  I’m trying very hard not to be a last minute smash-and-grab shopper, but it’s not going very well.

I don’t know about you, but I’m truly rubbish at shopping – especially of the Christmas variety.  I’m always intimidated by those who claim to have done it all in November and have it all wrapped.  What do those people do in December, then?  Apart from chuckle smugly?

Here’s just a few of the reasons I’m a terrible Christmas shopper:

1. I’m always badly dressed for it, usually with a big thick coat which brings me out in a full body-sweat as soon as enter any of the big stores here in Brighton.  I hate being too hot.

2. I can only do impulse buying, which only works out if there’s no queue.  What scuppers me completely is if I’m left for any time at all to look at my purchases – at which point I lose my all of my confidence.   Then I sometimes dump the stuff and run.  (It’s not something I’m very proud of.)

3.  I’m a shopping envier, always on the look-out for what’s in other people’s baskets. Which means that sometimes I get to the check out and desperately want to buy what the person in front of me has got, but by then it’s too late.

4. I have a unique ability to buy presents which look cheap, but were actually very expensive, rather than the other way around.  Which is quite an impressive shopping trait, given that I live near T K Max.

5. I’m staggered by the amount of stuff I have to buy, which leads me into an existential anxiety loop about what Christmas really means and the impression I’m giving my kids.   This sometimes gets so bad, I have to give up on shopping altogether and do something more spiritual – like go for lunch.  Which leaves my Christmas shopping undone and it all to the last minute – hence the terrible cycle of last minute panic buying continues.

All that aside, however, I do genuinely love giving people presents – especially on the rare occasions I get it right.  Although I set the bar far too high far too early when I bought Emlyn a Wurlitzer Jukebox when we first got together.  I can’t top that.

I also like receiving presents, but this Christmas, I’ve already had my best present.  Another three book deal from the fabulous Pan Macmillan.  I’ve just had an email from my brilliant editor, Wayne Brookes, showing me the press release.  Hooray.  Now that really is a fabulous Christmas present.

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We’re Going On A Bar Hunt

 

 

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Greetings to all you reading this blog.

 

I don’t know about you, but our summer went by in a flash and it’s only when I scroll back through the photos on my phone that I realize just how much we did.  We had such a great time with the girls, mucking about in Paris, eating peaches in the French countryside, going to Wilderness Festival and crabbing in the Isle of Wight.  I ate and drank in the sunshine and now I’ve put my flip-flops away and realized how tight my jeans are, that it’s time to get back on the straight and narrow and summer is over.

 

I’m not moaning, though.  I love September.  I love the whole idea of a new start.  New projects and new school years for the kids and… well…new jeans.  Oh and socks.  I love socks and boots and central heating.  

 

And most of all, I love a cosy night out in the pub catching up with mates – which brings me onto the latest offering from Rees towers.  It’s the first book I’ve written with Emlyn for some years and it has been fabulously illustrated by the very talented Gillian Johnson.  The brand new first copies have just arrived and we’re so proud of them.  It’s called ‘We’re Going On A Bar Hunt’ and is written entirely for any parents (like us) who have not only read and re-read the children’s classic ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ but have also booked a babysitter and tried to recapture their sense of youth. 

 

There’ll be more written about it here in due course when the book hits the shops on October 17th, but here’s a glimpse of the front cover.

 

If you would like the chance to win a signed copy and be the first of your friends to see it, we have one copy to give away to the lovely readers of this blog.  Send your details in on a message to me and I’ll put your name in the hat.

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‘Hunted’ soon be available in the US…

Emlyn’s hot thriller, ‘Hunted’ is out in the US soon. If you haven’t read it, get hold of it now!

Emlyn Rees

Cover reveal: here’s how the first Danny Shanklin novel, ‘Hunted’, will be appearing in the US in October with HarperCollins’ hot new crime fiction imprint, Witness:

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Feel like getting your order in early?

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Make A Change

It’s been a hectic couple of months, here in Brighton.  Emlyn has been launching his new crime fiction list, Exhibit A,  whilst I have been finishing my latest novel, ‘The Key To It All’, which will be out next March with the lovely Pan Macmillan.  I had such fun writing it, until the last month, when the plot had became so huge, it was like reeling a hot air balloon into a backpack, trying to finish the damn thing.

Thirteen novels in, and each time I completely forget how hard finishing a novel actually is.  As usual, there were many tears, and I had to haul the girls out of bed to type ‘The End’ as is the tradition, making them take a close look at my haggard face and solemnly promise me that they will never, ever, do anything as reckless as become a novelist for a living. They yawn-talked an affirmative, before going back to bed, muttering about the madness of their mother.

So the slow process of emerging from my novel-writing hibernation has begun, with a to-do list which has stretched into several pages.  As well as the awful tasks, such as sorting out ‘the pile’ of nasty paperwork and getting around to tackling the kids spare clothes cupboard (which has been a perma-list item for three years), there’s nice things on the list too, like booking up summer festivals and selling tickets for the wine tasting evening at the little one’s school.

My task for today is raising sponsorship for the walk we’re all doing on Sunday for Parkinson’s UK in Hylands House in Chelmsford.  I hate going begging for sponsorship, but this is a cause which is very dear to my heart.

My lovely mum has been suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years.  She’s fought it bravely, despite the punishing drug regime and the hideous days when the drugs don’t work at all and she’s frozen and completely able to move.   Mum has always been an inspiration to me, but her steely determination when faced with the colossal challenges of living with this dreadful affliction, makes finishing a novel seem easy by comparison.

Mum was the one who encouraged me to write and to follow my own dream of being a novelist.  She taught me that with a bit of confidence, you can make your own luck. Sadly, the one thing I can’t change is her dreadful suffering.

She reminds me all the time that there’s no point in moaning, because you never know what is just around the corner and that life is for living joyfully, right now.  Today.

If you know anyone who has been affected by Parkinson’s Disease, you’ll know how awful it is.  If you’d like to help find a cure, then please help me support Parkinson’s UK.

My just giving page is:  http://www.justgiving.com/familyRees

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‘A Twist Of Fate’ is out now!

It’s August, and ‘A Twist Of Fate’ my latest novel hits the shelves.  Hooray.  I’m very excited that it’s finally out.  That said, it’s always a bit strange around the time of publication, as there’s a big build-up and then nothing actually happens.  It feels like one of my babies is starting school and I can’t help pacing anxiously, waiting to hear news – whether someone’s spotted someone buying a copy in Asda, or if there’s been a nice review, or, most importantly, if anyone’s actually reading it.

 

Fortunately, publication week has started off well with a fabulous 5 star review in Heat.  This is what they had to say:

 

‘It’s 1971, and in a snowy forest two baby girls are handed over to East German gangsters.  One is sent to an orphanage on the Polish border where she can be certain of hard work, hunger and abuse; the other is sold to a moneyed American couple and destined for a life of mega-privelege in the West.  For more than 40 years, their paths cross without either one ever knowing the truth about their start in life.

 

It’s perfect beach-bag fodder, with drama on just about every page.  As the girls grow up, they face and endless stream of betrayals and tragedies, and even the occasional good day. It’s classic Jackie Collins territory, by which we mean it’s freakin’ ace.  Evil stepbrothers!  Double-crossing, drug-dealing hookers!  Secret babies!  Yachts!  Blackmail!  It’s got the lot.

 

Pack it in your hand luggage and expect to spend a day of your summer hols reading…and refusing all food, drink and conversation.’

 

Even better, my fabulous publishers, Macmillan have hooked up with Champneys for an amazing promotion, where you can win a luxury two night spa break, with loads of treatments in a Champneys resort.

 

Plus, there’s loads of samplers available in Champneys spas and resorts.  If anyone is in Brighton on 28th August, I’ll be in Champneys doing a special event at 6pm, so come along.

 

Here’s the details of the CHAMPNEYS COMPETITION, which I urge you to enter:

 

 

Details of my event: http://www.champneys.com/Day-Spas/Event

Click on the cover above to order or click HERE

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.

 

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Olympic Fever

 

So, how do you really feel about the Olympics?  To be honest, I’ve been a bit bah-humbug about the whole thing ever since London won the bid.  And I’m not alone. There’s even been a snipey series on TV about the imaginary behind-the-scenes shenanigans and decisions-by-committee disasters. 

 

We’re all so collectively brilliant at Brit-bashing, aren’t we.  It’s going to rain and then rain some more and we’ll come last and it’ll all be RUBBISH.  And they haven’t included Beckham in the GB team. Shame on them.

 

These are just a couple of the opening gambits in many of the repeat conversations I’ve had with cabbies and other fellow non-ticketees about the inevitable failings of our 2012 efforts. I’ve talked myself into a huge cynical sulk about how – even if I could have been bothered – I’d have had to get up at 4 a.m. to log onto the unfathomable Olympic website having re-mortgaged the house in order to be able to afford tickets to see anything remotely decent. 

 

I have secretly poured scorn on the fluky friends who got cheap opening ceremony tickets, the smug ones who’ve bagged the cycling, rowing and horse-riding, and the downright rich ones who will be at the athletics final.

 

But it doesn’t matter that I haven’t got tickets because I’d rather eat my own head than battle through  the massive crowds and pushy A-types not observing queue rules.  Besides, they’ll have had no time to do a Jamie or a Gordon make-over on the food, so the hotdogs will be inedible and the water eye-poppingly expensive.  And quite frankly, you get a much better view on the tele. 

 

Oh yeah, and that’s all before the traffic conversation, which we’ve all had. Have you tried to drive around London recently? I mean, what have they DONE to the traffic lights?  OMG! Don’t get the cabbies started on that one.

 

But suddenly, the Olympics are upon us and my eight year-old wants to go to Stratford anyway and see if someone will ‘give’ us tickets on the gate.  Like we might be the benefactors of  some sort of Charlie and the Chocolate factory golden ticket scenario.  Because she’s clocked that her mother is too poor – slash – too lazy to have got tickets for the once-in-a-lifetime event happening on her doorstep.

 

This isn’t just hype from watching too many adverts.  No.  This is genuine childlike excitement.   She’s collecting cards and playing Olympic top trumps and learning facts about our brave Paralympics athletes and Oscar Pistorias.  I even caught her and her little sister in the bath doing impressions of Rebecca Adlington, our swimming hopeful coming up for air having won gold.

 

And I have to admit the kids’ enthusiasm has broken me.  Because now I’ve started to remember being a kid myself and watching the 1984 LA Olympics Opening Ceremony and all those white grand pianos playing Rhapsody In Blue and it was the most spectacular thing I’d ever seen.  And how I fell a little bit in love with Daley Thompson, our Decathlete champ, when he did his victory flip on the matt. 

 

So now, despite myself, I’m starting to get excited about the hours of justifiable TV watching and the prospect of getting overly-competitive from the sofa about completely random sports whose rules will remain a mystery, but for a fortnight I will be an expert on.

 

I’m even a bit sad that I’m not going to the Olympic village, although I will be popping along to see the Torch when it’s in our neck of the woods next week.  With all the bunting left over from the Jubilee, hosting an Olympics barbeque doesn’t seem like such a bad idea all of a sudden. I shall even put our home-made Good Luck Team GB poster in the window.   Because, you know, even though it might rain, when we’re not slagging ourselves off, we Brits are pretty good at organizing things.  Which means that there’s always an outside chance that London 2012 will be epic.

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Why work-at-home parents work much longer hours than those in regular jobs

Despite the revolution that the internet has brought about, allowing so many of us to work at home, let’s be honest – culturally, we’re not all quite there yet on how it should work.  How many times to you hear people say, ‘Yes, but I work one day a week at home’ in that apologetic tone, as if they think everyone else suspects them of being a slacker?  If you work at home all the time, then the chances are you feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone else all the time, too.   Nobody ever says to the work-at-home parent, ‘Oh my God!  You must be frazzled.  You must work so hard.’

But that’s the truth. Whilst working at home gives welcome flexibility to many careers and allows many women like me to work after having children, those of us bashing away at our laptops in the kitchen, or trying to make a call in the freezing loft-conversion study, are actually working much longer hours than we would do if we commuted to an office.

The work guilt seems to be much stronger in the work-at-home parent (although this might be termed a work ethic).  We work through lunch because breaks don’t really exist.  And if you do happen to make a sandwich in the kitchen, it also involves clearing up breakfast and unpacking the dishwasher.  There’s no leisurely company expenses lunches in swanky restaurants, or an hour of mooching around the posh shops, or gym-trips like my friends in offices have.  I found myself snarling at a friend who was flying business class to New York, but happened to have conveniently booked a ‘me-time’ day on the company either side of her actual meeting.

OK, so it’s not all easy for her.  She might get the glory of being a career girl in a highly paid job, but she also has to pay a nanny most of her salary to pick up her kids and help with their homework.  But the trade-off for working at home and actually being there for your kids is not that easy either because quite often you neither do your job in the most effective way possible, nor parent terribly well.

You can always tell the work-at-home parents because they turn up consistently late to the school gates with a five-mile stare, and the anxious frown of someone who hasn’t even got half way through today’s to-do list.   As a writer, I’ve often just got into my flow by the time I have to leave for the school run, and having just written a murder or a sex scene suddenly find myself presented with a painted egg-box, or a handful of gluey pictures to inspect from my five-year-old and have to react appropriately. It’s jarring to say the least.

The problem too is that, with your home as your work environment, there’s no switch off and work seeps into home-life no matter how much you don’t want it to.   The amount of times I spend shushing my children as I try to write a pitch, or burn the teatime fish-fingers whilst I’m on a call to my agent, or am furiously mouthing for the kids to creep quietly through my study to the garden, when all they want to do is play, are too many to count.  With no shut off comes no planned down time and work seeps into evenings, weekends and even holidays.

People with office-based careers seem to earn automatic respect and many do, I’m sure, work long hours and find it depressing that they’re not at home.  But they also get the camaraderie of work colleagues and the mental switch off of walking out of the house to a new – and probably cleaner – environment for the day.

As more and more women change their careers to opt for working at home, I would caution them to check over the fence to really make sure that the grass is greener on the other side.  Because they might just find themselves in their kitchen at lunchtime in their tracksuit bottoms, mourning for their powersuits and Pret-A-Manger.

My new novel ‘A Twist Of Fate’ is published by Macmillan 2nd August. Perfect holiday reading. Order now.

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The Truth About Summer

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And here it is…I give you…Summer.  Ta da!  After a couple of false starts, it finally feels as if the rain is over and summer can begin.  Brighton certainly thinks so.  On the way back from the school run, I saw people with towels under their arms, walking towards the sea like zombies, pre-nine o’clock.  What is this?  The Med? 

 

You can’t knock the dedication of the sun worshippers.  These are the girls and boys, who know that they can strip off and lie on a beach in a bikini or shorts all day, reading a book, or lying with headphones on, just simply looking great.  They make the art of doing nothing seem not only impossibly glamorous, but blissfully effortless too.

 

I never been one of those people. 

 

Don’t be fooled by the sun-worshippers.  In my experience, of all the seasons, the summer bills itself as the most effortless, but is actually the most effort.  And once it starts, there’s no respite from barbeque preparation and beach trips.

 

And there’s personal effort required, too.   Whilst everyone else is oooh-ing and ahh-ing at the weather, the bikini season fills me with dread.  I always think that when summer hits,  I’ll be ready.  I’ll be waxed, tanned and sorted with funky little skirts and tops, but it never happens.  The sun comes out and Bam! I go into a full-scale panic.  That denim mini-skirt?  With these legs? You’ve got to be kidding. 

 

Then I go through the guilty stage and start muttering to myself: Why didn’t I go on a diet when it was raining? I could have been to Pilates, yoga three times a week and now it’s too late, because any second now I’ll have to expose upper arms.  Thighs even.  Eek!

 

I scour women at the school gates.  Oooh, she’s got nice Birkenstocks.  Are Havaiana flip-flops still in?  Why is she wearing that T-shirt and not sweating?  Actually, why is nobody apart from me sweating? 

 

It’s not the stripping off thing that worries me about summer.  Don’t get me wrong, I like nice weather, but during the day I’m indoors working and looking at it through the window.  Nobody talks about it because we’re supposed to be happy, but looking out at nice weather, when you’re too busy to be in it, is slightly depressing. 

 

No doubt, I’ll do what I usually do and pluck an old favourite frock from the cupboard and hit the English Riviera in my large sunhat and shades, assuring myself that it’s OK, because you get all sorts down on the beach.  There’s even some whiter than me.  Besides, it’s hardly a fashion parade, when a beach trip is a military operation with three kids and a husband in tow.

 

Within minutes of arrival, I have replicated what looks like crash site as the kids strip off.  Then I field-marshal multi-directional questions, delving to the bottom of my bags for sun cream, hats, jelly shoes and swimming costumes.  In seconds they want sandwiches, drinks, crisps, then it gets chilly and they all want jumpers and towels.

 

As the carnage spreads and my entourage race around with pots of sea water and squirty water guns, and slimy sea-creatures for me to examine, the tanned girls in their skimpy bikinis and little towels usually leave.  I should feel sorry for them, but I don’t.  Go on, love, that’s it.  Go and read your book in peace.  Skinny cow.

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Festival Angst

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This weekend the Brighton Festival rolled into town.  On Saturday, I took my little one down to the Children’s Parade to cheer the parents and kids as they valiantly whistled and drummed past the shops in the freezing drizzle in spectacular costumes, including Tinkerbelles in wellies and carnival queens in parker jackets. 

 

Afterwards, we wandered past the Sky Arts tent and happened to catch the brilliant poet Ben Mellor doing his set.  Then we went on into the fringe HQ where people were milling about, being loaded up with flyers, the Mums glued to the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus who were belting out show tunes, whilst the Dads ogled the girls in skimpy mesh costumes who were advertising their contortion show.

 

By four o’clock the kids were exhausted and cold, but I was reluctant to go home.  Look, all this music and theatre on our doorstep!  Experimental dance! Classical music! The Ladyboys of Bankok, for Goodness sake.  We should DO something, I implored, but they rolled their eyes and dragged me home, tripping over myself as I read all the bumph and tried to make a plan. 

 

Once they were on the sofa, in the warm, they were difficult to budge.  They seemed perfectly content to eat crisps and discuss The Voice, whilst I spent the whole evening fretting that we weren’t all in Hove Park to see the Baricade, the European troupe of acrobats and tight-rope walkers.

 

I think the root of my festival angst is that, inside, I’m still the student who did a turn at the Edinburgh Fringe a million years ago and think I can be spontaneous and cool about festival going.  Sadly, I have discovered that as a grown-up with three children, it’s not so easy.  I turn up after a show has finished, when the comedians have gone home, or to the queue in the ticket office to find the last tickets went last week.  And then I get chatting to someone at the school gates, or in the supermarket and they say (like they did about Barricade) ‘You missed it?  Such a shame.  It was amazing.  What were you doing instead?’  Then, I cringe with a fresh wave of festival angst.

 

For twenty years I lived in London, which is like being in an arts festival all the time.  You get a free Friday night and flick through Time Out and have no clue as to what to do as the choice is so overwhelming.  You get into a ‘I could if I wanted to’ kind of mentality and go to the pub instead.

 

When I moved to Brighton, one of the things I loved  most was the fact it was a cosmopolitan kind of a place, with just enough comedy, theatre and live music on for the choice to be manageable and, as a result, do far more artsy stuff than I ever did.  But now I’m overloaded.  The guilt of not doing it all is too much and with The Great Escape music festival arriving on Thursday, when scores of cool bands will be playing within half a mile of my living room, my festival angst is ramped up to the max.  It leads me to wonder: Is too much choice a bad thing?

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Box set addiction

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This morning, Juice, our local radio station (which is worth a listen just for the ads) had a breakfast show competition to win tickets to see last year’s X-Factor finalists who are performing at The Brighton Centre.  The two phone-in competitors had to answer trivia questions about last year’s show and I have to admit it was quite gripping in it’s sheer ‘oooh, I should know this’ factor.  The kids and I sat in the car staring at each other.  Who replaced Frankie Cocozza?  Ahh, Amelia what’s-her-name.  Of course.

I was stunned by how little information I had retained, despite picking up snippets of the show, although I wasn’t one of the 13 million who watched the final.

Perhaps it’s as they say, that booze, age and children stunt the memory (I have a high score in all three categories).  Or perhaps it’s just that television does something to your brain and it really is hypnotherapy for the masses. You only have to put a screaming infant in front of a Baby Einstein video to see that this is true.

I sat in the hairdressers this week and all the mags were shouting about how brilliant TV suddenly is, with The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent and Titanic, but I’m not going to get suckered in.

What I really want is a new box set. Box sets are – after house prices and schools – the most common topic of conversation during your average dinner party or night out at the pub. A box set addiction like mine is a guaranteed conversation starter.  Box sets elevate TV into a proper modern art form.

And it has to be a box set.  I can’t do episode by episode. Homeland, for example, has simply fluffed me for a new series to sink my teeth into.  I’m too much of a junkie to be able to stand being drip-fed the divine Damian Lewis on a Sunday night.  It’s too frustrating.

It’s like the eighties all over again when we had to wait a whole week before the next episode of Fame.  But this is the twenty-first century people, when you can watch a whole series if you want until your eyes bleed (the first series of 24); become so engrossed that you become one of the characters (like when I turned into Carmella from The Sopranos or Tina Fey from 30Rock); develop irrational crushes on the male leads however unsuitable (David Duchovny in Californication – OMG!) or suitable (Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights – I could seriously marry him); and make you re-assess your opinions on, say, gangland crime (The Wire), the police (The Shield ), or even making your own drugs (Breaking Bad).

So I need my next fix.  Suggestions please?

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