Friday, December 31, 2010
I was tempted not to make any goals this year; but that’s possibly because at the moment everything feels very chaotic. I function much better when I have structures in place (hence ‘Scary Kate’ and the organisation/time management stuff – and it has to be my structure, not something imposed on me, or I feel boxed in and it doesn't work). Bottom line: I need to do some streamlining and take certain actions to get my life back into balance.
The best thing there is to keep it very simple. So, this year’s goals, in order of priority:
1. Learn to say no.
2. Work smarter rather than harder.
3. Find some kind of exercise that I enjoy doing, schedule it in and stick to it.
And I’ve started already because I’m not justifying them – that comes under #1 :o)
Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? I’d love to hear them.
I wish you all health, happiness and fulfilment for 2011. Happy New Year!
Given the situation with Dad, I was expecting it to be a rough year, which was why I planned lots of nice research trips with DH and the kids to keep me going. Those were the good bits of the year: visiting Venice and Paris for the first time, and finally getting to see Pompeii and Vesuvius.
The rest of it – Dad was seriously ill with pneumonia in January and we didn’t expect him to pull through. Somehow, he did, but we lost an awful lot of him. There were several further ‘blips’ throughout the year, where we lost a bit more of him each time, until he passed away in December. It was a very long and painful goodbye, and I spent the whole year grieving. And then another family crisis blew up just after the funeral. (Not blogging about it, but I am not impressed by certain people’s behaviour.)
As for how the resolutions went – er, they didn’t. Complete lack of headspace resulted in complete lack of progress.
I am determined that 2011 is going to be much, much better.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Listening to: whatever the kids are playing
Reading: next on TBR
Didn’t even set foot outside yesterday as it was subzero all day. So I worked in the morning, and spent the afternoon playing board games with the children.
This morning, there was a total lunar eclipse - the first visible from the UK in 3 years, AND it's on the winter solstice. (Edit: this is the first time the eclipse has coincided with the winter solstice since 1638, when Charles I was on the throne.) Sadly, the position of the moon (low north-werst horizon) meant that I didn’t get to see it properly – the view was blocked by the trees in the field at the back of our garden. Did anyone else get a good view (and/or pictures)? (There is also going to be a partial solar eclipse on January 4. Yup, Kate Nerdy is back. Actually, I can remember my parents being fascinated by eclipses as well, and they both taught me constellation names when I was tiny.)
Today, I’m blogging over at the PHS in the Travel Tuesday slot. You can guess where I’m talking about *g* - and do go over and say hello.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Listening to: whatever the kids are playing
Reading: next on TBR
Touching wood as I write this, we seem to have been spared the major snow dumps that the rest of the country have suffered. We had maybe 4cm of snow on Friday (just before we went out for a Christmas meal with friends) but it has been incredibly cold here – when DH went Christmas shopping on Saturday morning it was minus 9.5C, and it’s meant to be minus 11C tonight. (Oh, and we were officially the coldest place in the country on Saturday night, with minus 16C recorded by the assistant head gardener of Blickling Hall.)
Quiet weekend – visited both parents’ graves on Sunday (it was my mum’s anniversary; I knew the first time would be tough, but it had to be done) and then popped in to see my stepmum.
Plans for today: work this morning, then board games/Wii/X-box with the kids. It’s freezing fog outside and the ungritted roads (i.e. the half-mile between my house and the main road) are skidpans, so I’d rather stay home safely in the warm than go out. Plus, having taken the last three weeks off, I need to catch up with myself.
Does anyone out there have nice plans in the lead-up to Christmas?
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Listening to: Christmassy music in car for the kids; more sombre chamber music for me
Reading: next on TBR
Dad’s funeral service was lovely. The reading was 1 Corinthians 13 – which was what he read at my wedding, so I had a bit of a lump in my throat (and I did crack a bit during ‘Abide With Me’ – it’s that bit about ‘death, where is thy sting?’). It was very poignant, attending my dad’s funeral in the church where my mother’s buried, in the same week of the year that she died. Not my favourite time of year.
But I hope I did him proud with the eulogy. It was nice to talk to his friends and colleagues afterwards, as well as family I hadn’t seen since my mum’s funeral, and share some of the good memories.
And I’ll leave you with the poem I read as part of it: 'Remember Me', by Christina Rossetti.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Listening to: Bach violin concerti
Reading: Nicola Cornick – Confessions of a Duchess and Scandals of an Innocent (both very enjoyable and just what I needed to take me out of things)
Apologies for my continued absence (and for worrying people). Apart from sorting out things for the funeral, I’ve also been laid low by another lurgy. I hadn’t stopped coughing from the one I had more than a month ago, so whether this is just a worsening of that one or another one on top of it, I have no idea. My GP says I have croup and am clearly brewing something as, despite judicious use of paracetamol, I still have a temperature. I hurt all over (from coughing), my throat feels as if someone’s scrubbed it with wire wool, and the cough means I’m getting sleep in chunks of an hour or two before a coughing fit wakes me up. I’m just hoping that the antibiotics will sort it before Wednesday, because I absolutely cannot cough my way through church. I have a eulogy to deliver, and it’s very, very, VERY important to me.
Tomorrow is rushing round sorting things out: aka car service, dropping cards in to the florist for laminating and attaching to wreath, taking a pile of parcels to the post office, and doing my Christmas shopping (now my royalty cheque has finally arrived with my agent and I can flex my credit card, knowing that I will be solvent again before the bill comes in. One downside of being self-employed is that your income stream is neither regular nor predictable).
And then, on the work front, Wednesday is the Harlequin ‘Open House’ party. I am going to do my best to show my face and sound cheerful. It isn’t fair to readers who enjoy the annual bash to go in being all mopey, even though Wednesday will cut me to the bone. And if you want to mosey along, here’s the link to the publicity about it and there will be links there to the parties. Lots of authors (including me) are offering books as prizes, and the hosties are usually great.
Thank you to everyone who’s emailed me privately with good wishes, or left me messages here or on FB, or sent cards. It’s really appreciated. (And apologies to those I've worried by not replying - unintentional, just am not my usual organised self right now.) I guess as I’ve lost my father gradually over the last couple of years, I’ve had time to do much of my grieving already. But it’s the little things that make me cry now. The odd phrase, a snatch of music… ‘The look of a room on returning thence.’ I couldn’t read that Hardy poem in my eulogy. It’d break me, and I want to do my father proud and not cry my way through it. My aim is to make everyone remember the good bits, and to make them laugh through their tears: because that’s what he would want.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
I spent a nice quiet morning with Dad yesterday, reminiscing, and came home while it was still light as I know he’d worry about me driving on the icy roads. He passed away last night; and, although it's a happy release because the last year hasn't been kind to him, I'm going to miss him terribly.
It's a comfort that my last words to him were ‘I love you’, and I know he knew that. And I also know he’d expect me to mark his passing with a bit of Shakespeare (very long-running gag about how I can come up with a Shakespeare quote for almost anything, which used to drive him crazy when I was in my early teens, but then became a ‘what can I challenge her with now?’).
So I think it has to be from Hamlet. (Very apt, because dementia really is a poison.)
He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.
Dad wouldn’t want people to remember him as he was towards the end of his life. He’d want people to remember him how he was: a larger than life character who was the life and soul of every party. At any social do, find the group of people who were laughing loudest, and my dad would be at the centre.
This is how I remember him (1997 - and there was indeed a dog about to leap on his lap).
A dog he'd cuddled right from his puppyhood. (He no longer had dogs himself at this point, so he used to come and borrow mine.)
And back when I was little.
He was always happy to dress up and play the clown (son in particular was delighted with this).
And he passed on to me a love of cake...
Rest in peace, Dad. Sleep tight, and God bless.
Friday, December 03, 2010
He had a comfortable night but is still the same today (albeit with much shallower breathing). I'll be going over later this morning.
It's officially publication day - A Christmas Knight in the UK and US (and in advance from the Mills & Boon website in Australia) and Red Wine and Her Sexy Ex in the US. But I hope you'll forgive me for not being quite in the mood to be professional author, all rah-rah-rah publicity and talking about the books/updating my website properly. Right now, being there for Dad at the end is my top priority.
Stay safe if you're in awful weather conditions, and have a good weekend. Mine, I hope, will bring peace, because Dad's really suffered enough. Bless you all, and thanks to those who've emailed me, texted me, left nice messages here or on FB. It helps in what's been a very raw week. xxx
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Thank you so much to everyone who's left messages of support here or on FB or emailed me (especially the ones from readers that I wasn't expecting) - really, really appreciated. In tough times, you really do find out who your friends are - and I'm both humbled and heartened to discover that (a) more people care than I knew, and (b) my worldview (i.e. that everyone is nice until proven otherwise) is spot on.
It's going to be a bit of a tough week, I think. December is not my favourite month of the year, as I lost my mum in December (and had Chloe in hospital for a week for her first Christmas, and I knew too much about her condition than was good for me!).
Anyway. Hope everyone else is having a better week than I am, and that if you're in the UK you stay safe in this horrible icy/snowy weather. And, um, happy December.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Listening to: Corelli (well, it’s snowing – I need something calming!)
Reading: Tamsyn Murray, My So-Called Afterlife (pinched from daughter – great fun and agree with daughter that ending was great); Sarah Morgan, The Twelve Nights of Christmas (Sarah’s Christmas books are always fab – I do not get why she likes the s-word as I loathe the stuff, but her books almost tempt me to like it)
Apparently, this is the earliest heavy snowfall for 17 years. We were warned about it. So did the council go and grit the roads last night? Especially the ones going DOWN the hill that lead to the roundabout? (Ignore Coward. He was talking from a position of snobbery and ignorance. There most definitely ARE hills around here!)
That was a rhetorical question. Nope, the road was a skidpan. Add in people who park selfishly (er, guys, does it occur to you that when the roads are icy, people need a little bit more room to pass you? And that the yellow lines outside a school are there so it’s clear and safe for the kids and THAT is why you're not supposed to park there?), and let’s just say I’m glad to be home.
Cancelled guitar lesson because the snow was falling heavily on the way home and the idea of having to negotiate the hill after two hours of solid snow… nope. (I’m wussy, with good reason – I’ve had problems on that hill before.) I really hope Dad keeps holding his own until all the snow’s gone, because the home is down a single-track, twisting back road. (No change. Home says to take it day by day.) DH has promised to pick the kids up tonight if it snows any more and drive me to my hospital appointment on Saturday, so I guess it’s a matter of ignoring the snow and just getting on with it.
And so to work. (Armed with coffee…)
Wait - almost forgot! (Because I'm English, so the day isn't celebrated here - so hopefully you can forgive the rudeness.) Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends :0)
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Listening to: Chopin
Reading: Confessions of a Duchess (enjoying very, very much)
I haven’t talked much about this, but some people may have noticed that over the summer (and particularly in late Sept/early Oct) I really, really lost my mojo. There are various reasons for this (and I’m not quite ready to talk about it openly yet), but one thing I did promise myself was that I would get the joy of writing back. So. How to do this, when you have lots of deadlines and pressure and barely enough time to breathe?
I went back to basics. For the gelati book, I had a week where I couldn’t write at all, just think. (Sadly, I can’t afford to disappear off to Paris before every book. But Paris was wonderful, because I just enjoyed myself and took a few location notes for research purposes and let the book bubble in the back of my head.) And then I just went for it.
I knew I had revisions on the way, so I asked my editor (via my agent) to hold off for a couple of weeks so I could make serious inroads into the new book. And I ended up writing the whole thing very, very quickly BUT without the pressure I’ve been feeling all year. I’m probably going to pay for that with several rewrites and an ‘OMG, have you gone completely mad?’ from my editor, but the enjoyment in writing was back.
The biggest thing for me, though, was staying off the net until I’d done my daily quota. It’s amazing how much more productive I am when I don’t allow myself to get distracted.
I did however allow myself to get wildly distracted yesterday. There’s been a lightbulb flashing at the back of my head ever since July. And yesterday I decided I’d do a little playing with this particular lightbulb. (The plan was to spend half an hour playing, i.e. giving myself a little creative wriggle room, then work on the revisions. Given that I, um, didn’t stick to that, I might have to do that the other way round in future, i.e. earn my playtime.) It’s like nothing I’ve written before. I usually write in third person (dual viewpoint) and in past tense. This isn't anything like that. As I’m taking a sabbatical from the nonfic, I need something to play with to keep me balanced. I’m not sure where I’m going with it, and it might end up being something purely to amuse me and stop my writing feeling stale. But, for now, my mojo’s back. And I’m very grateful for it.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Listening to: Dire Straits
Reading: The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney (finished and enjoyed though I would’ve liked a different ending); Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain (fascinating and would recommend to anyone with an Aspie in their life); Nicola Cornick, Confessions of a Duchess (Nicola NEVER disappoints – enjoying this hugely).
The picture below is the framed portrait of my daughter from Montmartre. Norwich Frame Workshop did a fantastic job (they always do, which is why I always go back to them – Lee’s utterly lovely and has a great eye for just the right frame and mount).
Other than that, the revisions are in (fairly big, but doable – very pleased that my ed has given me bullet points and headings, because that works SO well for me), so that’s what I’ll be working on this week. My ed also has big reservations about my next book (not the one I delivered last week – the one I’ll be starting next), but when I suggested it I did think I might be pushing it. Mainly as there’s a secondary character that had the potential to take over the entire book, and she knows me well enough to think ‘do NOT let her loose on that one’. (Remember the reindeer? This is definitely a reindeer-like situation.) So I’ve given her an alternative, which is rather blooming in my head at the moment (thank you, lovely Heidi Rice, for the initial lightbulb); and I have plans to do something with my not-a-reindeer.
I’ve also tidied my office (almost – only thing to be done now is my chair, and I need to get Christmas wrapping paper before I can do that).
And – well, there is some sticky stuff. Dad’s very poorly at the moment. It’s a matter of taking things day by day. He was as ill as this back in January, when he had pneumonia, but this time it’s not a specific illness or virus. The GP says ‘general deterioration’, so we’ll just have to take it day by day.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Listening to: Daughtry
Reading: The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney (enjoying so far – good portrayal of Victorian society)
The gelati book went off to my editor and agent this morning. Fingers crossed they like it.
Normally I take a bit longer than this over a book, but this particular story really wanted to be told. And writing fast suits me better – it means I’m writing from my heart rather than from my head (aka trying to second-guess my ed and avoid enormous revisions, and it’s been an epic fail on that front this year).
The biggest thing about writing is to know your own process and be comfortable with it. One thing I’ve learned in 20+ years of being a published writer is not to compare my process to that of others, because what works for them might not work for me (and vice versa – which is why Kate Walker dubbed me ‘Scary Kate’, even though I maintain that I’m too short, too round and too good at making cookies to be scary). There’s no absolute right way in creativity: it’s a matter of trying different things and finding out what works best for you. Use that, and leave what doesn’t work without beating yourself up about it. If something doesn’t work for you, all it means is simply that it doesn’t suit your way of working, not that you’re rubbish. I'm much more of a plotter than a pantster (though I like to leave myself some wiggle room) and 'writing into the mist' freezes me solid; pantsters would be bored to tears by the way I do things. It doesn't mean either way is wrong: it just means they're different.
So, now the book’s done… what next? I could start thinking about my next book. However, I’m also expecting revisions on my Capri medical (lovely ed held off, at my request, so I could finish this one – it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed my job this much, and I wanted to write this book without having to break off, tackle revisions, then lift myself off the ground again and get back to creating a book). And in the meantime my office definitely needs a tidy. I haven’t done it for months – I’ve been on deadline, or in the middle of revisions, or in a rush on something or other. I could do that today, but instead I’m skiving off. I’m going to meet my friend Kate for a celebratory lunch (she’s just sold her first novel) and do a bit of Christmas shopping :o)
First things first: update my todo/project list. And then I’ll take it from there.
Have a nice weekend!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Listening to: Corelli (because it's gentle)
Reading: Mistletoe and the Lost Stiletto, Liz Fielding (this was meant to be my carrot for finishing the book, but I felt so rough last night that I needed a Liz Fielding book to make me feel better. Early night, one book, and a blissful hour or so’s read – thank you, Liz, for making me feel much better. Lovely hero, sparky heroine, and I especially loved the snow scene – highly recommended)
I have to admit that the lurgy really had me by the throat yesterday – literally. I’d almost completely lost my voice by the time I saw the GP. The good news is that it hasn’t moved to a chest infection (I get a bad one every year either about this time or in February, so I was half expecting it); the not so good news was that it's a virus making me feel so rough, so I just have to sit it out. However, she did give me codeine, which sorted the headache and knocked me out beautifully last night (after I’d read Liz’s lovely book) and I had a reasonable sleep… well, until we had a small power cut at 1am and our smoke alarm started beeping (i.e. a little beep every 30 seconds until the main power comes back on). Arrgh.
Anyway, I feel tons better than yesterday. Am not going to overdo it and will email ed/agent to explain that they can’t have the book until Friday – as they’ve both had the lurgy, I think they’ll understand.
I also had a lovely review from RT (thanks to my mate Heidi Rice for giving me the heads-up).
With his career in dire straits, perfumer Guy Lefevre has no desire to engage in a relationship, especially with party planner Amber Wynne, who reminds him of his shallow ex-wife. But with their smoldering attraction, it isn’t long before they surrender to an intimate relationship. But if Guy isn’t willing to trust Amber with his life-altering secret, can they have a future together? Sexy dialogue and a hero with a unique personal challenge make for an appealing read.
I’m pleased. And I must say, I’m smiling about the dialogue. Considering how outrageous I’ve been in this one, cough, it’s given me a little bit of confidence back.
Righty. Back to work for me – I have a heroine who needs rescuing. (I decided to go with the external conflict, because I’m going to tie it up VERY tightly with the internal conflict.)
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Listening to: Corelli (because it's gentle)
Reading: next on TBR
Really pretty school run this morning, with a sharp frost everywhere and the faintest traces of mist hanging in the air by the river. (No pics as the roads are too narrow to pull off, and I'm not selfish enough to block traffic.) Minus 2 degrees C, so the grass was really crunchy in the front garden and daughter spotted various spider webs frozen in time.
Cannot shift the headache (neither paracetamol nor ibuprofen will do it), cannot keep my temperature stable (am either too hot or too cold), and I'm getting tired of massive coughing fits at 3.30am (read: tired of the green stuff - this feels like a chest infection), so I'm off to see the doctor this afternoon. Pouts. This is what I get for planning big workathon to finish the book...
Monday, November 15, 2010
I caught daughter's lurgy last week.
Not sure which is more distracting, the cotton-wool-like head or the coughing. So I haven't finished the book. And I've not done much for the last couple of days except cough all night and nap all day. (Not productive. Well, the cough is, but that's TMI *g*) But I guess it has given me thinking time to work out how to get my hero and heroine past the Black Moment. The one I did have (internal conflict) wasn't strong enough and didn't convince me. My hero is SO stubborn that it's going to take something fairly drastic to make him wake up to himself. At the moment, it feels too much like a plot device. But if I don't do it, that leaves a loose end not tied up properly. Solution: time for more paracetamol and hot lemon, and then another nap, methinks...
Oh, sorry, you wanted the secret of how to write a book very, very fast? This is how it works for me (but remember that I am a plotter).
- once you've got the idea mapped out, go and do something else for a week and DO NOT WRITE - let the book brew in your head and get to know your characters and their motivations. Thinking time is really important.
- when you're ready to start, work out how much you need to do per day to hit your (self-imposed) deadline. (Originally I was going to NaNo it - 1667 words a day. That's doable for me.)
- most important bit: do NOT touch the internet or email until you've written your daily quota (you may well find you write more - I was shocked at how much I could write. Back to the good old days - i.e. before I had broadband and could let myself get badly distracted).
- have one cup of proper coffee per day, 20 minutes before you start work (in my case, this is the minute I get home from the school run - next 20 minutes is spent tidying (ish) the house, putting the laundry in the washing machine, making a fuss of the dog)
That's how it works for me, anyway :o) On days, I should add, when I'm not coughing and haven't slept properly and just want to curl up on the sofa with my doggie and a fleecy blanket and either have a nap or read. (Jenny Crusie's "Fast Women" for me, over the weekend - which was great fun, and I particularly liked Marlene the dachshund. Still think Springers rule, though. Woof.)
Friday, November 12, 2010
Then back to London, dinner at the station, and a longish journey home (problems due to a failure by an earlier train).
Good to be home, of course – but I absolutely adored Paris. If I lived in London, I would do day trips over, I really would – it’s a beautiful city with lovely people.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
There is a flame burning on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which I think is a lovely idea.
Then we went through a narrow passage and climbed 284 spiral steps to the top.
Just before the top, there’s a small exhibition room.
And then you come out and see Paris lit up by night from 50m up. Stunning. Gerry was fascinated by the traffic.
Here, roughly in the middle of the skyline, you can see the Sacre-Coeur.
The obvious sight is the Eiffel Tower.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Chloe and I couldn’t resist a crepe (the cinnamon one was lovely – and half the fun is watching them being made), while Chris chose a muffin and Gerry a baguette.
We took the funicular up to the Sacre-Coeur (which was built 1875-1914 in atonement for the 58,000 people killed in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the 20,000 Communards massacred by government troops).
Gorgeous mosaic inside (poor pic as no flash).
Then we wandered through the streets to the Place du Tertre where Django Reinhardt used to play (via a gelaterie) – full of eateries and artists, and we spotted one man juggling while balancing a glass jar on his head!
We headed down the stairs next to the funicular
The shop opposite our hotel is La Maison du Chocolat – we bought some gianduja and Parisien macaroons (very rich – this shot of the macaroons is actually from La Durée, further down the Champs Elysées).
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Took the Metro to Les Invalides – then we misread the map and ended up walking past the Assemblée Nationale (French parliament).
Quick reverse, and we turned the corner… and how could we have missed that golden dome when we came out of the Metro?
It was originally built by the Sun King (Louis XIV) in 1670 to house invalid soldiers and part of the building continues to do so today; much of it is now the military museum.
We were blown away by l’église du Dôme (i.e. the building crowned by the golden dome we’d noticed from so many high points in the city).
The roof of the cupola is beautiful.
In 1840, Louis-Philippe ordered Napoleon’s remains to be brought to Paris from St Helena and arranged for a tomb to be built; the tomb was finally completed in 1861.
There are 12 statues surrounding the tomb, each symbolising one of his campaigns. I was quite moved by the inscription: I wish my remains to lie near the bank of the Seine, in the middle of the French people whom I love very much (rough translation).
In one of the niches outside the circle of statues, there’s a statue of the emperor himself.
There’s also a memorial tablet to the last survivor of the French First World War troops, who died in 2008, and a lovely monument to Marshall Foch.
From there, we saw a film about Charles de Gaulle (and I was really shocked to discover that French women couldn’t vote until after the Second World War) and went through a superb multimedia area. We also saw Napoleon’s horse Vizir (complete with brand).