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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

I Have a Dream

Best writing competition for children in a long time – Dream a Big Dream. It combines encouraging children to think big with practising their English skills by describing their aspirations and writing down how they might achieve their goals. How fantastic is that? Official recognition that reaching for the skies is the way to go.
When I was eleven, I wanted to be a gymnast. My teacher told me: ‘You’ll never be Olga Korbut.’ And that was that. My happy delusion of pirouetting gracefully on the beam or backflipping across the mat to Beethoven’s Fifth was splatted into smithereens by one careless sentence. Never mind that I had the flexibility of an ironing board and the co-ordination of someone venturing out on roller skates for the first time. Everyone but me knew I’d never do a one-handed cartwheel. Which is why big dreams are so fabulous…they can evolve as you mature.
From gymnast to novelist,
still dreaming big

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

But not every castle in the air has to be swept to the ground with a broom and smashed to pieces until it lies wheezing and gasping at the ridiculousness of having dared hope in the first place. Some daydreams – like being a world champion gymnast – need a modicum of natural talent. But often enough, fantasies can be turned into reality by hard work, persistence, determination and a little bit of luck.
Luckily, I had a Plan B dream up my sleeve – I wanted to be a novelist. I started writing my first novel when I was thirty-two. I didn’t finish that one. Not enough belief in my vision. Or maybe not enough belief in myself. Whatever, I decided that novel-writing was for other, more talented people. But that dream wasn’t going away anytime soon. It sat there, pecking away for the next decade, until it was easier to confront it than ignore it. So little by little, I made my goal achievable, in workable, writable chunks. I took online classes. I wrote ten pages a week. Then five hundred words a day. Then a thousand words a day. Then a novel a year. Finally – three novels, a ton of agent rejections and a huge, confidence-sucking amount of ‘Aren’t you published yet?’ later – my ambitions were looking pretty battered round the edges, if not stiff on their back with their feet in the air.
With a huge black crow of doubt twitching away on my shoulder, I forced the big dream out into the sunlight. I self-published The Class Ceiling on Amazon Kindle. The second I committed to that, I met an agent who signed up my latest novel within a week.
So – to all those children out there, wondering whether they can achieve that whopper of a goal, that immense aspiration that burns away, that people ridicule and dismiss – I say go and watch Cool Runnings, the film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team making it to the 1988 Winter Olympics. That was an enormous, impossible, outlandish dream. But it did come true.

Final thought comes from Harriet Tubman, anti-slavery activist and humanitarian:
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.'

Mirror, Mirror

Since The Class Ceiling was published, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot by people who know me is ‘Will I recognise anyone?’ Or in a more quivery voice, ‘Will I recognise myself?’
The truth is the characters in all my books start with a whisper of someone I know. A messy house, a turn of phrase, a funny little obsession, an idiosyncrasy of some sort. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’ve absorbed and retold a story that someone has mentioned in passing. (Note to friends: I am NOT the person to tell about your affairs, haemorrhoids or secret nudist holidays.) But while I’m sure that many readers might recognise a certain ‘type’ of person, it’s highly unlikely they will recognise themselves even if I’d copied them on to the page, personality trait by personality trait.
And how can I be so certain? Because we rarely see ourselves as other people see us.
Unfortunately I know this first hand. I am scarred for life from announcing to a group of my close friends, ‘I think I am very easygoing.’ There was a pause. Then that face that people pull when they’re trying to understand someone foreign. Then laughter so loud it made the cutlery rattle. That was about twenty years ago and they’ve never let me forget it. While I was seeing myself as a jolly, conciliatory, live and let live, anything goes model of laissez-fairedom, my friends were seeing me as an uptight, demanding bulldozer of a woman, rooting her feet as deeply as dandelions with her ‘my way or the highway’ approach to life.

'I'm very easygoing, I am'
(Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at
It’s one of the great conundrums of the human condition that our view of ourselves is so divorced from the vision that others have of us. Let’s take someone afflicted with that most unattractive trait of meanness. Do they look in the mirror and think I truly am the tightest wad that I know, the most clenched together duck’s behind of the entire animal kingdom? No. I swear they are clapping themselves on the back, applauding their lack of truck with fripperies and frivolities. Not for them the superficial life of splashing out on new mugs when the chipped ones haven’t yet cracked in half. Why offer to buy someone a coffee when caffeine is so bad for one’s health? Why be first to the bar when they’re only having one pint because they’re driving? They’re doing everyone a favour – they don’t want the others to feel they haven’t paid their way.
Or arrogant bores with more opinions than manners? Do they regret monopolizing the conversation, barely pausing for breath while their audience slowly slumped to the ground, eyes rolling back into their heads, searching around for a stray fork to jab into a buttock to shock themselves awake? No. They’re probably wishing they’d clung onto the microphone a bit more, educating the great unwashed on the solution to the Eurozone crisis, the reform of the benefits system, the superiority of the latest Range Rover over some fiddle-faddling fast car. Giving themselves a pat on the back for being the most knowledgeable person in the room, struggling to fit in with a bunch of ill-informed losers, who, inexplicably, seemed far more interested in dashing off to get another glass of that dreadful wine just as they were getting to the crux of the matter.
Or bloggers whose wit is so exceptional, so acerbic, so sophisticated that they would be doing the world a disservice if they kept all that cleverness tucked inside their own heads rather than allowing it to roam gaily about on the internet for all to enjoy.

Oh. Oh dear.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Dog days

This year I’m going to become more like my dog. I don’t mean that I’m going to start hoovering up rabbit poo like Maltesers, scoffing twelve crumpets raw out of the wrapper or growing a black beard (I hope). Or God forbid, become like one of our doggy guests over Christmas and find everything from the fridge to the furry bean bag a source of titillation.
But I am going to take a leaf out of her joyful living book. I was watching her on the hill yesterday. Finding delight in simple things - chasing the pigeons and lying in a muddy puddle. Bounding up to her three little canine friends, all different shapes and sizes, without judgment or reserve. Smiling off up to complete strangers, greeting them as though she only expects good things. And then whirling off round the garden with the furry slipper when we got home as though it was simply the most fun she’d had all year. 
Admittedly, in terms of responsibility, she carries very little, which must count for something in the load-lightening stakes. Her tasks  – snuggling up to the son and making him feel that someone in the world is on his side when I’m on the rampage, volunteering to help the daughter finish off her dinner, making sure I don’t let my bum get too big by allowing me a mere four inches of sofa, rushing out to greet the husband when the kids can’t look up from their computers – are not very daunting. But even so, she does them with such aplomb that you can’t help thinking she’s busier than she is.
So, to translate this into human terms, I’m going to make a point of going out to look at my pots on the patio every day and note the exact morning that the first hyacinth bursts through. I’m going to spot the first snowdrop, choose my favourite daffodil in the whole garden when April comes instead of looking out when they’re all over and wishing I’d paid more attention to the signs of spring. I’m going to foster a firm belief that all new experiences will be positive ones and that the people I meet will like me or, at least, tolerate me, as long as I don’t make off with their chicken sandwiches and chocolate mini-rolls. I’m going to find fun in small things – such as discovering the teenage son has downloaded the songs onto his i-Pod that I loved on vinyl. Even my children can’t bicker when we’re all rocking to American Pie or Livin’ on a Prayer.

Yep. It’s going to be a dog’s life this year. And I’m gonna love it.

Nothing like eating a bag of flour to turn the kitchen into Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Cheers to Britmums

Those lovely people over at Britmums - a great blogging network for parents - were kind enough to let me write a guest post for them to bring in the New Year...pop over and take a look to see what's on offer at and check out my post while you are there:

Happy New Year to you all