UPDATE!

Feel quite guilty that I haven’t blogged for a while, but this self promoting business is time consuming. However watch this space. 🌸 Or even better download my book so I can catch my breath. No refunds…couldn’t cope with the admin 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Just kidding, you’ll love it, RANDOM ATTACHMENT is WICKED, ACE, PENG, SICK, LEDGE

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International Women’s Day

I wouldn’t say I was born to write.  If I hadn’t become disabled I’d still be teaching in an FE college.  It’s ironic that I worked whilst raising my children yet I ended up unable to work when my children were independent.

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Hard at work thinking about Henry Whittle’s Revenge

As a working mum I felt I had to do it all: contribute financially, maintain a career, cook amazing nutritional meals, clean my house till it gleamed, launder, raise happy, well-balanced children and drop it till it’s hot in the bedroom. I spent ten years close to exhaustion. I think that’s why my condition went undetected for so long; I thought every working mother felt this crap.

I think about how hard the suffragettes worked for equality, their risks, their compromise, even their blood and somehow that’s been misinterpreted. Women can’t do it all; nobody can.

As a woman I want opportunity, choice and equality for my daughters. On the same hand I want my sons to be able to take parental leave without feeling their jobs or promotions are threatened.

I won’t claim to have raised my girls and boys the same; in fact I didn’t raise my two girls the same. I took into account my children’s strengths and weaknesses. Their opportunities though were equal; they all did martial arts, swimming lessons, played with each others toys, learnt to cook, put a wash on, cut the grass and paint.

meI was born in 1967, to Irish parents.  I felt being pretty, well-mannered, happy and singing were my parent’s expectations of me. So I worried I was fat but covered it with a smile whilst singing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.

I married a man of Irish descent and continued on my path of being the woman who did it all as and that’s what he expected.

Yet stay at home mums criticised me for abandoning my children and colleagues resented the time I took off for my children.  My mother in law decided I didn’t fulfill either role particularly well.

I raised my kids to be independent, to enjoy life as individuals, to be content with their own company and not be ruled by money but by dreams.

They still have childhood wounds and insecurities. My marriage, though happy, had glitches. As parents we’ve done a better job than our parents but we’ve made mistakes. My children have seen how I’ve deferred to my husband throughout our relationship and it’s led to the girls being assertive and the boys being respectful of women’s opinions.

I don’t differentiate between my children emotionally; boys are as susceptible as girls to doubt,  identity anxiety and mental turbulence especially now they’re expected to be shredded.  My husband had a hang up about boys crying but I wanted my sons to let it out, express themselves, be open with their feelings.

But today I’m focusing on women.

There are so many amazingly strong and focused women who have paved the way for the rights women have today.  In a way it’s a lot for women to live up to.  I’d probably be a disappointment.  Even though I was emotionally strong and juggling the world I was letting the side down. What was I to do? Be someone I’m not? I was raised to please, to put others before myself, to be subservient. I didn’t know how to challenge my husband.  How to negotiate sharing the load. I didn’t have that skill set when our marriage fell into a traditional pattern. Of course this all turned on its head when I became ill.

I went through a few bleak years; multiple surgeries, chronic pain, immobility.  What floored me was losing my identity. I couldn’t teach or keep house. I spent weeks at a time in bed, high on drugs, low on energy. Who even was I? Other than a burden.

henry front coverIt was the impetus of three women together that changed, not just the course of my life, but who I now am; Grace (Gertrude), Alison; the writer; that’s me (T) and Caitlan (Kitty).  My daughters said write a YA novel; mum you can do it.  In among the regular round ups of how the novel was progressing we came up with a title The Rebirth of Henry Whittle. Which is the first in a trilogy; Henry Whittle’s Revenge and RIP Henry Whittle. The bantar was never ending because we’d turned it into a Netflix series and regularly changed the cast.  We created a soundtrack.  We looked and found an agent. We got our heads around rejection from publishers. The girls supported me when I decided to withdraw from my agent and take ownership back of my work.  Part of me hoped to secure another agent but my attempts were halfhearted. Proceeding down the traditional route without the woman who’d taken a chance on me and supported my development as a writer was too sad.

gertrudetkittyI was very poorly in the Autumn and after a week in hospital in November I panicked that I’d get too ill to fulfill my writer’s dream and so calling on my daughters to scramble a cover together I plunged into self publishing.  I didn’t research it; I have to conserve my energy for writing and I’d no spare cash for professional editing. I didn’t know the rules of social media or the protocol of book reviews so I bowled in with…look at my book!  When you have a degenerative disease and spinal cord damage your health is unpredictable from hour to hour. Pretty much you’re in the shit. I’ve thesaurused; SHIT is THE word!

IMG_0359I’m Twittering; trying to genuinely connect with readers, particularly young adults, through posts that reflect me.  My book shamefully has appeared in every post.  In my defense, other than my children and marriage, my relationship with writing is my greatest comfort. Today Gerty advised me to stop the hard plug; she’s right of course. It’s because Random Attachment  defies my disability;  it’s concrete evidence of my empowerment. I am a woman of substance, yet a free spirit. I’m soaring so high even though my body is sluggish.  So I know I’ve been OTT, pushy, presumptuous.  Yes I’ve much to learn and I will learn. Yesterday I conquered widgets on WordPress.

I’m three months into my self publishing career; I’ve sold books; I’m an author.  I have reinvented myself. Historically I haven’t exhibited feminist behaviour and I’m not writing groundbreaking literary masterpieces, more Mills & Boon with edge.  Yet finally I’m a woman my family are proud of; a risk taker, a chancer, a dreamer.

I live with uncertainty but I know one thing for sure…I will write till I die.

 

 

 

Skin Deep Valentines

cakeYesterday was a fab Valentines. It’s not something my husband and I usually celebrate because over the years working with four children, three dogs and three cats we were always too exhausted.  But the children are grown and my son’s girlfriend bought us afternoon tea for Christmas and immediately I booked it for Valentines.

It did not disappoint: cappuccino, mini banoffee tart, chocolate mousse, pear cake, quiche and tiny hot toasties.  Umm delicious…And among them Random Attachment.

My book has given my husband and I lots to chat about; like all writers the dream of a bestseller lingers in the air.  It’s probably a bit weird bringing my book with me when I go out; which is rare due to my condition.  I sound like an old car; one with a blown engine. I like including it in my little excursions, finding photo opportunities.  Letting readers know a bril YA awaits https://www.amazon.co.uk/RANDOM-ATTACHMENT-Gertrude-T-Kitty/dp/1790375347/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1550235599&sr=8-2&keywords=random+attachment

When I was twelve (forty years ago) I was already searching for that Disney magic; that charging hero with shoulders wider than a cinema screen.   I was very much a child, not sassy or wise like pre teens are now.  So much has changed in my lifetime, not just technology but identity and love.

skindeepI would have adored Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt when I was twelve; I loved reading it yesterday.  This would be soft porn when I was twelve; easily a bestseller and like Grease the talk of the playground. I remember being madder than hell (internally – no way would my mum tolerate any expressions of anger) when she said I was too young to see Grease. Everyone was talking about the cinema scene and it was the first time I considered lying and seeing it secretly.

Now I’m the mum.  This is not a criticism because the intimacy between Jenna and Ryan was mutual, tender, romantic.  I’ve no doubt they were in love; it’s the sort of first love you hope for your daughters. Not the – flash in the pan I’ve had my way with you love.  Or the – you’re not going out with friends because I own you love. Still…I can’t help wishing she were a year older. One might say what’s in a year but a lot at that age. If I was Ryan’s mum I’d be terrified he’d engage in a sexual relationship with Jenna because legally she’s under 16.  If it ended badly there could be legal ramifications.  I know it’s only fiction and the fact that I’m worried is because Lisa creatively formed real characters.

I think if Ryan was a nerd and not girl savy the age gap wouldn’t bother me but Ryan at sixteen is a young adult, he’s sexually active; Sadie wasn’t his first.

“That was the thing about the girls who chased me.  They lived in their own little worlds in their heads.  They made their own realities and I was just there to make them feel good.  It didn’t bother me.  I never got attached. It was just sex.”

He’s shaving, working, responsible for his mum.  He’s functioning as an adult although his language and emotional struggles reflect he’s still young and needs supports.

But maybe his maturity is what led to his friendship with Jenna which blossomed into love…and if any girl needed to see herself reflected as desirable in a boy’s eyes…it’s Jenna that it’s now.  We can’t always empower ourselves; sometimes we need to be told you’re beautiful.

I don’t want to get into the age thing deeply.

A quick music interval to put my one concern aside.  Fav song at the moment is My Ye Is Different by OSH a Brit rapper from Croydon.  I love the accent; it’s gritty and feels like home.

 

Back to Skin Deep. Firstly I love the novel’s Britishness; I’ve read so many American romances that sporadically I need a taste of England.  I think Skin Deep is on par with my favourite YA American writer; Courtney Summers.

Laura Jarratt’s timing gently moves the romance along and I was engrossed in Jenna and Ryan’s lives and relationships.  All the characters were relevant and I was glad the attack was a sub plot and not some – did he do it? dilemma because the warmth and trust between Jenna and Ryan would be compromised.

This novel is easily a one sit read; other than a dash to the kitchen for a cuppa and a walnut whip.  I know what you’re thinking – she ate all that and still needed a walnut whip?   D’on’t judge.  I was not going to bed till I’d had my Valentine Disney moment when true love wins out and that required chocolate.

The line in the book that resonated with me the most was:

“I felt guilty for feeling suffocated again, but I hugged her back because I loved her.  And I didn’t understand how those two feelings could sit in a person side my side.”

Because it mirrors a line in Random Attachment:

“Joslyn sat on her throne at the kitchen table, carmen rollers in, plucking her eyebrows.  Noting the empty bottle Mia tensed, her mum had stolen Jesus’ miracle and turned rent money into wine again. Mia’s anger tasted all the more bitter because she had to swallow it.  How do you tell your mum you love her but you hate her more.

In one way I want to dislike this book (professional jealousy; a mild form).  Electric Monkey (Egmont) passed on my novel The Rebirth of Henry Whittle, three years ago.  The feedback was great:

“Henry Whittle, I think, is one of the most distinct novels I have read in some time and really enjoyed the noir Mean Girls element to if.  For me it felt a little too adult focused…”

My novels are hard to place; I see that.  Why? Because they’re books aimed at older YA readers 14+ and have crossover to women’s fiction but the voice is very much YA/NA.   My books are contemporary romance; the characters do make love. There is a criminal sub plot so there’s violent content. And no matter how much publishers say they like the premise, the characters, the writing, they are uneasy with some of the content. So I self publish; that way it’s the story I want to tell, written the way I write.

So I’ve had an agent, I had my book edited, I’ve been passed over and that makes me even pickier. A novel needs to be better than mine for me to appreciate it so credit to Laura Jarratt…Skin Deep is a top teen read and so even though my blood pumps green envy it’s a

5 out of 5 ♥♥♥♥♥

booksI must make one last point.  I’ve read two cracking adult thrillers recently  Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear and Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell.  Two great reads, both books I’d recommend though I didn’t award full stars.  I read across all genres even Andy McNab; I don’t have a rating guide, I simply tell you how I feel at the time I read the book.

Sending hugs to anyone who needs them xxxx

The Agent

I guess we write for different reasons.

Me? I was desperate. I needed to escape from my bed, from my pain and immobility.  My daughters said write a book, about an assassin and an orphan.  A man who could dip in and out of right and wrong.  A girl plagued by bullies with hair extensions and lip fillers.

There was no plan, no character analysis, no plot, only a focus to get up every day, shower, sit at the laptop and type.  The word organic is so overused but that’s what it was. This natural ramble, through lives of people I would like to know, and others I hoped never to cross. There was nothing high brow or complex about my words.  They were distractions from pain and a loneliness I never wanted to share with my family.

henry front coverHow did I come up with my protagonists names? When I turned my laptop on Phoenix would flash in the bottom, left corner and Whittle was the first pop-up in my brain.

Phoenix Whittle; it felt perfect. Henry, a name ones associated with a solid citizen not a special forces hitman.

Writing felt comfortable; pain easing. I’d spend three/four hours a day with Phoenix and Henry.  They became as real to me as my family.  I love them.

I had bad days. When my fingers wouldn’t work. When brain fog blocked all creativity. I remember as my third spine operation loomed I felt panicked that if something went wrong my novel would be lost.  I finished it about two am before leaving at 5am for the hospital.

It was a month later that my daughters said send it off.  Like it was the easiest thing to do.  I’m not a researcher, I never will be. I leap, I don’t look. I’m inpatient.  I spent about half an hour googling how to get published before getting overwhelmed.  If I was to do this I had to make it easy on myself. I wrote a naff query letter.  I’m not great at selling myself or pretending to be something I’m not.  I have very limited energy. I have spinal cord damage and making a cup of tea is a challenge. Getting an agent seemed an insurmountable challenge.  No one was more surprised than me when agents began requesting the full manuscript.  I still got a lot of no’s…until one asked could she ring me to discuss representation.  We chatted; hearing someone as excited as me about Henry and Phoenix had me ecstatic.

We met at a patisserie in Notting Hill Gate.  I’ll never forget it.  I had no clothes…really.  I lived in pjs and lounge wear.  I had to get a whole outfit, coat, shoes, the lot from NEXT. I hadn’t traveled unassisted in 5 years.  My daughter came on the train with me and helped me up the station stairs.  I told the literary agent I’d be in a pink coat and she said she’d have red lipstick. I was nearly combusting with excitement. I won’t lie; I saw Waterstones and nearly keeled over imagining my novel on display.  I was so naive.

We ordered drinks; I desperately wanted a pastry, a sugar rush, but was too nervous to eat in public.  She was lovely, not intimidating, but confident and cultured.  Her enthusiasm matched my own and when she offered representation, I knew this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I’ll always remember the fun I had saying ‘my agent’; it was mad.

What comes next I hold myself totally responsible for.  We spent about seven months editing.  There were times when my gut told me no, this isn’t what Henry and Phoenix are about. My silence led to a dilution of my characters. They lost that rawness. The completed novel was in many ways improved but sadly tame.

Editors at Penguin, Bloomsbury, all the biggies, were queried and read the manuscript with interest.  The no’s came quick.  The feedback was positive, but they felt Phoenix’s voice wasn’t strong enough or it wasn’t dark enough.  I wasn’t too put out. I don’t think I ever expected the route to publication to be that easy. I thought we’d go forward and rebuild but a distance emerged.  It might have been my imagination but I felt I’d been passed over for the next bright spark. We’d had a meeting and my agent spent more time talking about her latest discovery than Henry & Phoenix.

IIMG_0314 decided to take a break. Which lasted about a week. I had the bug so I continued with a second project I’d begun in between editing Henry Whittle.

Random Attachment had me seriously questionning representation.  It was quickly obvious my second novel was going down the dark route…borderline Young Adult/New Adult – not suitable for under 14’s. A route I new my agent wasn’t comfortable with.  So I emailed her and called it off. What upset me was, not saying adios to getting published, but cutting myself off from the first person who believed in me as a writer. It was like I was ungrateful, but if all I have is my writing, then I can’t compromise.  It has to be my words, my way.

I miss our emails, our patisserie meetings but I feel like I’m running through a field of barley, the sun on my back.  My legs don’t drag when I write.  My head doesn’t hurt from nerve damage when I’m with Mia, Flynn, Phoenix and Henry…my Henry.

Then there’s you: WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, the Writing Community.  Just tonight I found another writer in my genre just starting her journey and I feel excited for her.  I want her to write a brilliant query letter, to find a champion for her work. Yes get edited if it’s within your budget but don’t rely totally on others to make your dream reality. If you gut speaks…listen…talk up. Don’t make my mistake and put the responsibility of success on your agent’s shoulders.

And if you can’t afford editing before submitting your work don’t let that stop you. If your premise is original and your characters solid you have as good a chance as anyone else. Be daring. Share your writing with as many as you can.  Feedback is like gold dust. Self publishing is rewarding and confidence building.

My main advice is this: enjoy writing; don’t chase the money or prestige. x