Tag Archives: reading

My Book Problem

This summer we had the hall painted, which meant that the enormous pile of books that are stacked on the wardrobe on the landing, from head height up to the ceiling had to come down.  I’d say, roughly, around five hundred seriously dusty books.  Hmmm, actually maybe more…possibly twice that.  And this is just the overflow stack.  The bookcases in every room are already rammed, the shelves in the loos teetering, plus the towering piles next to each side of our bed.

So I’ve had to take stock, which is not easy.  You see, if I can remember a detail from a book – like a character, or an atmosphere or setting, or even just a good line of dialogue – it’s like they’re part of me.  They’re my friends and it pains me to get rid of them, even though I’ll shortly be taking boxes and boxes of them to charity. 

I’m a writer, primarily because I like writing, but also because I love books.  For me, there is simply no better form of escapism. I can’t be doing with electronic books, or taking a tablet to bed. No, I need a physical book, where I fold over the corner of the page before I go to sleep, or leave it splayed on the sand next to my beach towel.  Books whose pages get slightly crinkly with moisture as I gallop through them whilst reading in the bath.  Books that have red wine, or gravy splattered on them as I’ve stood by the stove stirring a pot. 

I’m not a deliberate book hoarder.  If I read a book and love it, I pass it on immediately to a friend with strict instructions for them to read it.  I often end up missing the book so much, though, that I buy another copy of the book, just to have it.

Keeping books I love isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it’s just after thirty odd years of collecting books, the problem is sheer volume.  And it doesn’t help that I’m married to a man who is exactly the same.

Problem one is of course, of my own making.  I’m talking about all of my own books and the ones I’ve written with Emlyn.  This is not meant as a humble brag, or even a brag, but as an author, it feels immoral to throw one’s own books away.  Do I need two Polish copies of A Twist Of Fate? Can I even read the title? No, but even so.  Someone, somewhere in another country, speaking another language I’ll never understand actually read the words I wrote.  It’s a fact that doesn’t get less amazing with time. 

Then there are the books of friends who are authors.  There are a lot of them, many of them personally signed at launches.  I have to keep those out of sheer solidarity with our fellow scribes.  I’ve been dusting off rare proofs, celebrating the life of these books that went out into the world, full of potential and hope.

Also in the collection are dozens that I’ve been carting around since university.  Ones that I think make me look clever – like Milton’s Paradise Lost, a battered set of Thomas Hardys, (plus the books I actually read, rather than swatted up on the Lett’s notes), the Edith Whartons and George Elliots. 

Then there’s all the  non-fiction books  –  on all sorts of eclectic subjects, from health, to all the history of various wars, out of date travel guides, to obscure books we’ve used for research – The Mabinogion anyone?  Oh, and let’s not forget the books we’ve inherited – like my father-in-law’s grandmother’s set of embroidery books.  What to do with them?  They’re so pretty – all embossed in gold.

I think the book problem would be easier to deal with if I didn’t keep buying new books, but I can’t help myself.  Bookshops are like sweet shops for me.  I just can’t resist. 

So recently I’ve tried a new tack.  I’ve decided that I’ll try and re-read books I’ve forgotten about.  Earlier this summer, on my first post lock-down trip to the very brilliant City Books in Hove, I bought a copy of The Magus, by John Fowles.   Admittedly, this was a first stumbling block in the new strategy.  I knew I had it somewhere in ‘the pile’, but who knew where, so I treated myself to a new copy.

Back in the late eighties, when I first read The Magus, it was incredibly popular and I remember loving it, but couldn’t remember very much about it.  It turned out to be a good summer holiday book – the setting is a sun-soaked Greek island. It follows the story of Nicholas Urfe, an arrogant young graduate who sets off to teach in the island’s school where he comes across a private estate, ‘Bourani’.  He soon meets its owner, the bonkers-rich recluse, Maurice Conchis. 

The Magus of the title – it was revealed about half way through – refers to a tarot card which represents a magician, and soon Conchis is conjuring up some weird mind-games that keep Nicholas – and the reader – guessing as to his purpose. The plot gets thicker and twistier. About three quarters of the way through, I nearly gave up, but I persevered and in the end, I did feel the re-read was worth it.  It’s a keeper.

Ah, but, damn it, I’m trying to create space.  So I have a copy going spare.  It’s a bit sandy, but any takers?

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The Truth About Summer



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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Beach blues


OK, so here’s the thing – and I know this is controversial and may sound weird since I spend all of my holidays out here in the Med, but I hate the whole sunbathing-on-sandy-beaches thing.  I do, I really do.  Beaches should be so fabulous, but they are so stressful.

For starters, there’s the stripping off thing.  This tummy of mine was never designed for a bikini, or for public scrutiny.  When it’s out in the fresh air, I spend lots of time looking at it, thinking that one day it might be different, but somehow that day has never arrived.  Believe me, it’s a lifelong disappointment.  Even when I was a kid in those seventies bikinis with the plastic ring bits, I’ve never looked that good in a two piece.  Three hefty pregnancies haven’t helped, either.

Anyway, so caught up have I been in pool and shutter painting, that when the kids begged loudly enough to be taken to the seaside, I realized to my horror that I wasn’t even remotely beach ready  – if you get my tufty drift.  Fortunately, Denise had a spare half hour.

Denise runs a beauty clinic in posh Portals which is an air-conditioned paradise for the buffed, botoxed, bronzed brigade.  As I stood on the thick carpet in reception, I took one look in the mirror at my unkempt bushy eyebrows and almost screeched out loud.

But you can’t screech in Denise’s.   The whole place is wall-to-wall soft peachy fluffiness.  Peach towelling beds and peach walls and there’s piped pan-pipes playing loud enough to drown out the scraping of feet and the ripping of wax and plucking and all the other peachy bits that goes on behind each peach curtain.  Considering the levels of pain that goes on, the place is as peaceful as a church.

I guess I set a new low for them, because when I lay on the bed the thin, beautiful Spanish girl took my foot in her hand and looked at it as if it were a dead thing washed up on shore.

But, boy she was good.  Half an hour later, I was more-or-less bikini ready.  (Before you ask, I’m  not quite old enough to declare myself a swim suit person.  That’s really throwing in the towel and I’m too vain for that.  That would be like telling the kids I’m forty!).  

So soon I’m on the beach, breathing in, doing that leaning down with your elbows behind you thing that they talk about in Grazia, making all sorts of vows to myself about when my sit-up regime will start.

And everything would have been fine, if I could’ve assumed that position, except that wasn’t possible.  Because the second big disadvantage of any beach trip is my kids.

Don’t get me wrong – I love them.  I love that they love the beach,  but from the second we arrive, it’s carnage.  Clothes are flung everywhere as they wrestle into bikinis (in which they all look amazing, I might add) as I trot around after them squirting sun-cream and muttering about hats and sunglasses and armbands as they slip out of my grasp into the water. 

Within seconds they’re back with a barrage of questions: Can I have my flippers/goggles/bucket/spade/towel?  Can I have an ice-cream/ drink/fishing net?  Can we get a banana boat ride/slide-pedalo/sun-lounger? Will you look after my crab/shells/OMG what is that?

I settle each demand and think about how I might open my book, but guess what?  The towel-draggers are hungry and they want the picnic I’ve bought in the cool box.  And thus begins the hell of making sandwiches.  Thus called because I turn into a witch and everything I produce is full of sand.

But that’s not the worst bit of my summer beach experience.  Oh no.  Being hot and sweaty and covered in sticky melon juice is nothing compared to the private ego bashing that the beach trip involves.  Because everywhere you look, people are reading books and I can’t help but pathetically hope that one of them is reading my book.

Emlyn keeps reminding me that my book isn’t even officially until next week, so it’s unlikely that I’ll see the airport edition anywhere, but I can’t help scanning each book cover and marvelling at what the public at large are reading and battling with chronic writer’s insecurity.  My spouse watches me nervously.  He knows from experience the consequences of accosting readers on the beach.

I guess I haven’t recovered yet from my J R Hartley moment at Gatwick when I asked for my book and the kind lady in Smiths waved me to the back of the shop, saying that the pile at the front had gone.  A blessing at least, but seeing Forbidden Pleasures alone on the shelf surrounded by so many other books, made me experience the kind of crowd claustrophobia I last experienced trying to get out of the O2 arena. 

It’s my baby and it’s special. I rescued it and sidled up to a girl who already had several books she was dithering between.  ‘Get this,’ I urged her, thrusting my book at her.  I went on to explain the roller-coaster plot and how it would be perfect for the beach.  How I’d written it just for people like her. ‘But I’m on holiday with my boyfriend,’ she said sceptically, ‘I doubt I’ll get much time to read. I just want something that makes me look good.’ 

As the saying goes, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

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The Truth about Rustic Living


We’re now into week two of our annual six weeks in Mallorca and it’s even more hectic than usual.  I always feel a bit guilty leaving behind friends for the summer to hang out here in the sunshine – it appears so decadent, so showy-offy to have a home abroad, but believe me, rustic living is  not for the faint-hearted. It’s no wonder that I have to drink the amount of icy blanc de blanc I do out here. Seriously.

I always expect long lazy days of summer, but out here the days zip by at an alarming rate.  And it’s not even as if we have the usual contingent of guests.  The serious partying starts next weekend.  One has to get one’s liver in training.

Emlyn has always jokingly described our tumble-down finca in the mountains as ‘camping with bricks’ and this year, I have to say, he’s more right than ever.

We arrived last weekend after a gruelling, torturous journey courtesy of Sleazy, which, thanks to the air traffic control strike took all night, to find that the house was in serious need of some TLC.  As well as the fridge, phone and the dishwasher all being kaput,  every towel, sheet, pillow and pillow case were mouldy, along with all the crockery and the ant invasion was clearly in the final phase of a serious a military take-over.

After a couple of hours fit-full dozing, we awoke to the usual wall of heat and the fug that you get when you sleep next to a fan, to walk outside into the deafening symphony of cicadas. 

On our last visit at Easter, we’d instructed the gardener to ‘let the pool go’.  I was kind of praying that he wouldn’t have understood my Spanglish, but the old water tank was duly a murky green half-filled pond.  Emlyn jumped in with the kids, shouting to me, ‘Come on, you wuss – you’ve swum in Hampstead ponds, this is no different.’  I begged to differ and instigated operation ‘drain and scrape’ immediately.

So I’ve spent all week chipping old paint off the walls, which satisfying as it is, has resulted in sunburn and bruised knuckles. But interestingly, the kids have had more fun plodding about in two inches of water, fishing for water boatmen with the net, than they ever have done when the pool is full.

But finally the place is taking shape.  The Middle One and I went to the garden centre and came back with bulging tomato plants and bushy basils to tart up the back eating area.  Then The big one and I painted the shutters in a lovely shade of Mediterranean green, which has resulted in us both looking like Shrek as the extra durable paint doesn’t seem to respond to my weak white spirit. 

So still on my to do list are: unpack the bags, sit on a chair and read my book.  I’m hoping I’ll get round to it…eventually.

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A Little Bit of Escapism…

Why does everything pile up at this time of year?  The end of term is nearly upon us and I’m inundated with stuff to do – like sort out the leaving card for The Middle One’s teacher, attend the end of year Mum’s nights out, as well as the school fairs, plays, tea parties and sports days – the list goes on.  And it’s all happening along with the sudden cram-it-all-in-before-the-summer socializing. Oh, and Wimbledon.


Thank God, the football is over.  Yes, yes, despite my profound sense of ennui, I did succumb to watching the England games – quietly singing ‘I was right, I was right, I was right,’ to the same tune as everyone else chanting, ‘In-ger-land, In-ger-land, In-ger-land’.   (I really do hope they’ve left our extra syllable in South Africa.)

Those over-paid, under performing, pathetically pampered players should be ashamed of themselves.  Wouldn’t it be fun if we still had the old-fashioned stocks as punishment? I’d love to throw a few rotten tomatoes at that lot.  Fabio Cappello – take that mouldy cabbage.  Ha!

I’m clearly not alone in feeling like this.

On the Monday school run, I saw a white van man screech to a halt beside a skip.  He got out, ripped his white flags off the top and dumped them ceremoniously amongst the mattresses and fridges.  Then he spat on top of them.

Didn’t I say the world cup would be bad for the country’s morale?  As I said: I was right.

But I’ve got more important things to worry about.  Namely, that I’ve asked the neighbours to house-sit whilst we’re on holiday, which would be fine, except that I’ve started to look at my house from their point of view. And the painful truth that has been lurking in the back of my mind can no longer be avoided.  It’s a tip.

But that’s not because I don’t tidy up.  Oh no.  I spend vast quantities of each day tidying up.  I’m the Duracell bunny of tidying up. I don’t think I’ve ever once been up or down the stairs in my house without armfuls of stuff to be redistributed.

Yet despite my thin veneer of cleanliness and my ability to make my house look just about presentable for an hour or so, just look closer and you’ll see that every single cupboard and drawer is bursting with stuff.  Stuff, stuff, stuff.  It’s Everywhere.   Today was the day that the creeping tide of The Stuff had to be stopped.

But before long I was huffing and puffing and wondering why I can’t be even slightly OCD?  I’ve got some friends who are REALLY REALLY OCD (RROCD). But not me.  I’m rubbish at this tidying and ordering lark. It’s bad enough coping with the never-ending laundry for a family of five, but opening the play room door seriously makes me lose the will to live.

Anyway, today I was under siege from the toppling tower of toddler debris whilst having an imaginary fantasy about calling the white van man and cheering him up by paying him a fortune to take everything to that skip, when a delightful email pinged up from my publishers.  A timely reminder that life isn’t all about cleaning and sorting out the domestic debris.

You see, publication time is approaching.  FORBIDDEN PLEASURES will be hitting the supermarkets and all good bookshops near you on 5th August.  Check out the new swanky cover above and tell your mates that their summer read is nearly here.

Thrillingly, there were some early reader previews from Chicklitreviews.com  – which I’ve posted into the reviews section of this blog.

It was just the motivational boost I needed.  I hoofed everything back into the playroom and rammed the cupboard shut, before scampering back to my  study.

So where was I…?

Ah yes.  That sultry night in Rio and the gorgeous  Argentinian stud with the mysterious brunette in a backless dress and stolen emerald necklace…

I felt better in an instant.   You see!  A little bit of escapism is just what a girl needs.

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The children of writers

Today the super-shiny proof of my latest novel, Forbidden Pleasures turned up.   It’s not being published until August, but here it is, in print.  It’s a cause for much celebration over the breakfast table.

After we’ve all ‘oo-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ and taken turns to stroke it, we have a big session of ‘finish the sentence’.  It’s a tradition.

Emlyn reads, ‘Lois was in the senator’s arms…?’

‘When she heard the shot,’ I reply, not missing a beat.

It’s the big one’s turn.  ‘Does anything really matter, apart from this?  Apart from us?’ she reads.  ‘And then…?’

‘Easy!’ I say, munching my toast. ‘And then his lips were on hers in the moonlight.’

‘Well done, Mummy,’ says the little one, clapping her sticky hands together in the booster chair.

But the middle one has learnt to read too and she wants a turn.  She opens the book at a random page and reads slowly.

‘She leaned down and flicked her tongue over -’

‘Give me that!’ I yelp, lunging over the table to grab the book.  ‘Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?’

Emlyn laughs, but I again I’m left worried about how this weird profession of ours will affect our kids in the long-term.

I like to think that they’re getting a totally normal childhood, but I supposed there are little ways in which our writing life infringes on our family life.  The kids fridge magnets that get commandeered to attach reviews in pride of place in the kitchen, the haphazard pile of foreign editions wedging open the playroom door, the tiny scraps of paper bearing sacred nocturnal jottings that must never be touched or moved – even if they happen to be on the back of homework.  The promised bed-time story that gets postponed because one of us has ‘book head’ and has retreated to speed type the section we’ve been puzzling over all day, which only surfaced when we were flipping the fish-fingers.

And then there’s the irrational superstition about the post. In our household, the post gets shuffled through and discarded, until we find ‘The Precious’.  These are envelopes containing an invoice statement from our agents.  When one of these arrives,  Emlyn rubs it in a Gollum-like way and makes eyes at me.  The invoice inside tells us how much we’ve been paid, but neither of us have a clue how much this may be.  It could be say, news of twelve pounds eighty-eight pence royalties from Latvia, or a big load payload from Holland, where our books have always been popular.

Back to this morning, and the little one says ‘are my words in there?’  It’s sweet that she’s remembered, although technically she only typed a space, in between ‘The’ and ‘End’ which belonged to her sisters. I remember now that hot summer night, when I hauled the girls out of bed to come and type ‘The End’.  Exhausted, wrung out, I wept as they typed.  ‘Promise me you don’t become writers,’ I wailed.  ‘Look what it’s done to your old mother.’  They looked disturbed and went back to bed, but I was too absorbed in post book-birth to worry.

Despite my warnings, however, the big one is showing worrying signs of becoming a writer.  As I did as a child, she wanders around all the time with a pen and a spiral bound notebook.  She read some of her work in progress the other day to us.  I didn’t have to look at Emlyn to know we were both thinking the same thing:  She’s good.

So good in fact that afterwards, we did have the hushed conversation:  would it technically be plagiarism to nick one of her descriptions?  Surely as writers, breeding our own metaphor machine is allowed?

Fortunately, the middle one is showing promising signs of being a level-headed future accountant.  Not long ago I found a big pot of money under her bed.

‘What’s this?’ I asked.

‘I’m saving.’

‘Saving for what?’

She shrugged.  ‘Food…University…Stuff.’

She’s six.

‘Look, Mummy, I know the precious have stopped arriving,’ she added, with a sympathetic look.

I had to explain that thanks to the postal strike at Christmas and the literary agents desire to save paper, invoices were now arriving by email and no longer by post.

It took a moment for this to sink in.  But it still didn’t dent her resolve.

‘Whatever happens, I’ll look after you,’ she told me, hugging me close.

That’s what you want your kids to tell you, right?  But when you’re eighty.

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Foisting myself out into the great unknown

Well Hello! This is my first ever blog. I feel a bit weird about writing it, foisting myself out into the great unknown. Somehow with books, it’s more civilized. By the time my words are written, edited, polished and published I feel a reassuring distance from them. If I happen to see a punter in a bookshop pick up one of my books, then after the initial adrenalin rush, the only panic I feel is because I can’t recall the character’s names or remember how to pitch my novel well. There’s a vague sense of pride, but the words in the book have nothing to do with me anymore. Whereas this…well this is immediate. Scary. There might be…feedback.

As a writer, feedback is a tricky area. Asking for it never turns out as you expect it to.  I’ve learnt never, ever to ask someone in a bookshop if they’re going to buy my book. It terrifies them and puts them in a horrible spot. Quite often they refuse to believe that you’re actually the author, as if anyone might pose as an author for fun.  People also don’t expect authors to actually talk, as if talking and writing are mutually exclusive. I suppose people assume that female authors ought to be bouffy and dressed in a white power suits and bespectacled and tweedy if they’re a man.  The last time I told someone they were holding my novel in their hands, they demanded proof of ID.  So I had to get out my bank card, dropping nappy wipes and baby milk in the process.  So terribly glam.  They didn’t buy my book.

But nevertheless the desire for feedback is undeniably strong. When Come Together came out, Emlyn and I stalked a man in Manchester train station who was reading our book. He remained glued to the pages all through the ticket buying, through the barrier, onto the train. He didn’t stop reading, but he didn’t laugh once. By London, even though he hadn’t looked up from our carefully crafted comedy, we were both despairing and Emlyn refused to let me grill the poor bloke as to why he hadn’t so much as smiled. It was just as well, as it turned out later that he was a critic.  He said our book was hilarious. Never trust the critics, I say.

The next time I saw someone reading our book, Emlyn wasn’t on hand to stop me. I marched up to the poor unsuspecting woman on the beach and asked her if she was enjoying the book in her sandy hands. She said that she was, but was quite confused that I’d asked. Again, I guess you don’t expect to see an author in a bikini. When I told her that I’d written that very tome with Emlyn, I turned to introduce him and saw that he’d disappeared into the sea with our daughter and looked as if he was swimming the channel to get away from his embarrassing wife. And this is a man who hates cold water. The woman left the beach almost immediately and I was left standing there, scratching my head.

So I guess you have to be thick-skinned when it comes to feedback. I saw one of my books on a second-hand stall on the beach front the other day. My eldest asked the stall-holder how much it was. He said a pound, but she could have it for fifty pence, as it wasn’t very good!

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