Sunday 29 May 2016

Raising Stories and Editing Children

Today I waved my baby off to independence.

I've fed it, tended to it and watched it gain weight with relief. I've fiddled and fussed, re-dressed and polished, stood back and, sometimes, admired. I've pulled out foreign bodies with a fine tooth comb. I've had sleepless nights and early mornings, eschewed friends when it was ailing or in need of attention. I've enjoyed gold-dust criticism and selfless help (thank you dutiful readers, truly, thank you) and even accepted the odd prize on its behalf. I've had days when I've wondered what it's all about, this unending, thankless task, and asked whether I was cut out for the job. I've wittered about whether I've done enough to prepare it, if I've sought enough advice, read enough books, been on enough courses. I've dressed it up, packed it off, hailed it back, waved it off again and stayed up fretting—

But I've always enjoyed the ride.

This is the last time I will see my story like this. This is the last pdf version, the closest representation of it in book form, the last chance to raise an eyebrow, question its appearance, because the next time I see my baby, it will be a fully grown book.

And so, in every parent's life there comes a point when we have to let our books go; give them wings and let them fly. It's gone, it's flown and I can do no more. On the 9th June Glass Houses will make its official public appearance and now that my baby is finally out of my grasp I can't help feeling just a little bit ridiculously excited.

Glass Houses will be published on June 9th and is available to pre-order from Amazon and Urbane Publications.

Wonderful readers, join me for the official launch of Glass Houses at the beginning of July? Further details coming very soon.

Monday 9 May 2016

Please Let Me Wash Up

I'm not the biggest fan of domesticity. You wouldn’t need to dip far into my blog to know that. At best the washing, the emptying and re-filling of the ironing basket, the tidying - AKA the 'pile' of yesterday's activity moved to the bottom step to create a hazard to be walked around - the cleaning, the cooker cleaning (only the top, obviously) the food shopping (granted, only ten minutes on the internet these days but oh! the putting away),  the bill paying, the cooking (scrap that one, I find cooking quite therapeutic), the weekly bedding changing (just kidding - annual) are all tasks to be got behind me so that I can get down to the day job. 

And after that's ticked off, well, then I get to write.

At worst, domesticity makes me grumpy. 

I'm not ridiculously house-proud. Sure, I like a general air of tidiness and probably more accurately, a sense of order. I despise having to wade through disorder to search for something when if-it-had-been-put-in-its-proper-place, you hear me, don't you? And I strive for a level of cleanliness to prevent disease. But I'm not trying to prove anything. Show-home perfection is not in my make-up. Until that is, I've spent all day polishing my house and domesticity crown. Then, the remnants of the snack on the scrubbed work surface, the post trail right next to the recycling box, the shoe tree re-planted in front of the cupboard in which shoes rightfully belong, then I could happily kick them, and also the offender, into the next village.

I did say domesticity made me grumpy. 

It's the futility really. It's the digging a hole and filling it in again each and every week. It's the time sap with nothing lasting to show for it. It's the monotony, I suppose. 

Really, wouldn't we all prefer to be doing something else?


No? Checks mirror. Yes, it was me: I wrote that. Let me explain. I have just had an operation on my stomach. I've lost an organ or two, nothing vital, except their absence means that for six long weeks I'm not allowed to lift, reach, open, close, teach, run, jump, shop, carry, push a trolley, iron, fill a kettle, cycle, pour a kettle, lift a pan, move furniture (three months for that one, apparently) and so the list goes on.

It's not so bad, I thought, as I stared wide-eyed at the nurse reciting the list. I shall read.

Let's start with this little lot.
And I could reach the bottom of the to-do list, write some long overdue short stories, prepare well for the launch of Glass Houses, organise my sister's big birthday which ends in a zero, test my daughters on their revision, book their appointments before the third time of asking, start blogging regularly again, catch up on editing and everything else I've abandoned over the last year while I've been book writing and loading the washing machine. 

Phew! Six weeks of all that and you know what, I might actually have a handle on things again.
Ticking off the To-Do list in the sun.
Two weeks in and yes, I am doing all these things. I'm feeling more in control and there's great satisfaction in reaching the end of my, admittedly shortened, to-do list. And yet, guess what's irking me even more than the sun shining but my bike standing forlorn in the kitchen (it's a long, leaking shed story), my depressingly clean trainers in the cupboard (of course), my drawer bursting with pre-operation laundered kit? What irks me more (ok, perhaps not more, but it's significant and better for the story)? 

The washing. The ironing and please God, give me the strength to put the sewing machine back in the cupboard.

You know, I think that when they whisked away some of the insides of my stomach, they took a slice of sense as well. Please remind me of this when I am cursing the many and varied barriers to writing. Please remind me that there is a semblance of satisfaction in being on top of domesticity, that I don't like asking my family to do seemingly simple tasks when they have imminent exams and hectic jobs, that I hate to take my busy friends up on offers to help when I'm the one who has more time. Normality. I think it's normality I crave. 

Feel free to direct me here when I have my normality back.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Multi-texting Driving

My daughter is seventeen. She's learning to drive. She's doing OK and I'm pleased, relieved, that she takes the process seriously. Sitting at the side of her, fingers a breath of air away from the grip of the handbrake, eyes darting, pulse slightly raised, our chat in bullet points at best, has been good for me, too. It's a reminder of just how many things we have to think about when we drive a car. It's easy to forget, isn't it? That's what I tell her when someone who clearly has forgotten, remonstrates from the car behind.

There's the choice of gear, just enough press and depress of pedals, the right-a-bit, left-a-bit, left-hand-down, right-hand-down, the reversing around a corner – six inches from the kerb and don’t forget to check for other cars as you direct the back of the car which seems, oh such a long way away, around an apparent blind corner -  the road signs (circle or triangle, are the colours significant?), the pedestrian crossings, the give way to the right - just not on this exit on this roundabout - the don't-drive-too-fast-now-get-your-speed-up…

It's a wonder anybody manages to drive at all. If I had to have a driving lesson at my age, I'd need a two hour kip to recover afterwards.

Now, I understand and indeed, console my daughter with the knowledge that after a while, it all becomes very 'unconscious' which means that while we're steering, changing gear, checking our mirrors with our unconscious brain, we're hyper-conscious of the potential for that car to pull out in front of us.

That's the theory.

Pic courtesy of  the American Safety Council
But what happens when we introduce something else into the driving mix? What happens when we glance at a text and decide we can quickly answer it? After all, 'yes' is only three letters and we could type that with our eyes closed. And what of social media and that Twitter Notification or a Friend Request that's flashed up on screen? No need to even touch the phone to know that it's – can it be? No way! It's John Smith from school. Phew! His hair's not quite as lush as it used to be! Or how about Snapchat? A photo whilst driving wouldn't harm, would it? Hey, we don't even need to take our eyes off the road to get our reaction across. What happens when we divide our hyper-conscious brain between driving and another task?

More people die.

Those are the preliminary findings of the National Safety Council in America which suggest that 'motor vehicle deaths were 8% higher than in 2015 than in 2014'. This increase is after road fatalities in much of the world had been going down. You can read more about this here

Nobody is suggesting that anti-social behaviour at the wheel is entirely the cause of this worrying trend but it is certainly considered to be a factor in it. So, until mobile phone usage is considered by drivers to be as dangerous as drink driving, other methods of prevention are needed.

Enter the Textalyzer.

Pic courtesy of the New York Times
Police in New York are interested in a prototype of a Textalyzer which would work much like a breathalyser at the scene of a road traffic incident by tapping into the driver's phone and confirming whether or not the phone had been used during the journey. Read more in the excellent New York Times article here. 

There's legislation to be passed and privacy laws need to be respected, but I, for one, would embrace its introduction into this country. Why? Because when I was thinking about the main character, Tori, in Glass Houses, when I was researching the reality of coma, talking to emergency staff about what it's really like at the scene of a horrific road accident, and when I was thinking about the consequences of Tori's one stupid decision to text her husband from the motorway, how it affected her life, the life of her loved ones and, of course, the families of those who died at the scene, never was it more clear to me that from behind the wheel, there is no such a thing as a 'harmless text'.

Glass Houses, ISBN-10: 1910692840, Published 9 June 2016. £8.99. Pre-order Urbane Publications, Amazon.