Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Letter To My Sixteen-Year-Old-Self.

West Yorkshire
November 2010

Dear Charlotte

Right now, you are terrified. You’ve just started at a new boarding school, the boys are bullies and the girl you suspect you’d like to be friends with is being horrible to you. Ignore the bullies (although I do have a bit of bad news – Tim Payne will end up playing rugby for England. Yeah I know, he’s really fat – go figure.) The girl you’d like to be friends with will end up being a great friend – you’ll even see her when you’re thirty.

Look kid, I’m going to be straight with you. Despite your appalling grades, you know that you’re really rather smart. You’re quietly confident that you’re pretty and you’re damn sure that you will be a success. This is not going to happen if you don’t put some work in. You may have coasted through life so far, but things are going to take a dramatic downhill turn if you don’t start doing some work. Nobody is magically going to make you rich. Steven Spielburg isn’t going to ring, begging you to be a leading lady. Prince William is not suddenly going to ask to marry you (though he will ask a very similar girl 15 years later.) In short, you get out of life what you put in – and right now, you’re putting in eff all.

Try to keep in touch with old friends. A number of mates from your old school are writing to you and you’re too wrapped up in the ‘now’ to bother writing back to them. Bad move. In a few years they will invent something called ‘Facebook’ and you will spend countless miserable hours flicking through photos of people you have lost your connection with; sharing their lives, their children and their husbands with each other. Look after friends. They are hard to make and easy to lose.

Acting might not be for you. You don’t take criticism well enough. Have you thought about writing? I know your mum does it and it seems boring, but you are actually rather good and you could save a lot of time by giving it a bash now, rather than in over a decade’s time.

Alcohol is not your friend. You’ve already got yourself in a lot of trouble and embarrassment with it and that could be set to continue. Keep away from it before it’s too late. You might want to give up smoking now as well. Oh sod it. A girl can’t be too squeaky – keep the tabs if you must.

Be nice to your mum. She gave a lot up for you. You’ll get it when you have your own children.

Stop obsessing about your weight. You’d be amazed how slim you are. For God’s sake don’t go sticking your finger down your throat. You’ll ruin your metabolism and your face will go puffy. Stop eating mayonnaise and learn to avoid cheese. That should do.

Learn to trust your instincts. You're usually bang-on. If you think somebody is no good, 99% of the time, they are no good.

Try to put up with your grandfather. He may be a bit of a bastard, but if he dies refusing to speak to you and never meets your children, you’ll regret it. Trust me on that one.

If you move down to London, do not go out with a bloke called Andy. You hated him when you met him and needing somewhere to live is not a great reason for having a relationship with someone. He’ll mess you up badly. Go home. London isn’t for you.

Stop eating cold curry for breakfast. I know it hasn’t made you ill yet, but it will in around ten years and you’d be better learning that lesson now, rather than losing those three days on the bathroom floor.

Do not go out on the 21st April 2002. Stay in. Read a book.

Realise how ridiculously lucky you are. Most school children do not get to go skiing, riding, scuba-diving etc. Stop turning down opportunities and do every activity you are offered. Playing pool and drinking pink grapefruit ‘Woody’s’ in The Globe with Ellie and Nicky does not constitute an ‘activity’.

Tidy your room. You’ll find it easier to find stuff.

Finally, do not be so upset when the headmaster and his cronies snub you when an external judge/poet awards you the public-speaking cup. Yes, it was mean and it was unjust and they should have congratulated you but don’t let such a stupid thing make you give up on trying. They are merely a handful of wankers in a world full of tossers. Stop being bitter. The only person it will affect is you.

You're quite brilliant in many ways - but not THAT brilliant. Put some work in darling. Believe in yourself a bit more. Stop gambling on fairy tale endings. They don't exist.

Love, Me.

(PS: The winner of The Grand National in 2010 is ‘Don’t Push It’, followed by ‘Black Apalachi’ and then ‘Big Fella Thanks’. You might want to look up what an accumulator bet is.)

(Inspired by 'Dear Me', a compilation of letters edited by Joseph Galliano, available on Amazon.)

Board games or Bored games.

As the nights draw in, my electricity bill goes up, Victoria Wood starts threatening another Christmas special and for some reason my thoughts begin to linger on long family walks followed by cosy afternoon teas - Monopoly board out, a pot of Earl Grey, cucumber sandwiches, a bit of battenbug and a little friendly family banter...

Yuh-huh. Back on Planet Castle I'm sweating away in the kitchen, cooking the Sunday roast and Simon's slumped on the sofa drinking Stella Artois and watching Bond films. Arabella is painting; using every piece of craft equipment she owns - on the dining table that I will shortly need - and my 1 year old son is trying to find a plug socket to stick his wet finger in. Happy days.

Not every Sunday is like this. I did manage to get Simon to go for a walk once. I promised there was a pub at the end. He sulked the entire way and then insisted on getting a taxi back.

It wasn't, therefore, with enormous optimism that I accepted a brand new 'Boggle Flash' game to review recently. Sure, I'd probably enjoy playing it but then I'm easily pleased. You can sit me down with a bag of marbles and as long as there's a competitive element, I'll be - er, in my element. (Note to self. Arabella is five. Beating her at Scrabble is not an achievement.)

Back to Boggle. You will probably remember the original of this. Back in the day, when the only computer game was Donkey Kong, children didn't rule the roost and Simon Cowell had yet to sell his soul to the devil, you might have had one. It had a big perspex dome that you pressed and as it popped up, it agitated all the little lettered dice in it. You then turned over your egg timer and had 30 seconds to make as many words as you could out of the letters you had been given.

Clearly the bods at Boggle have cottoned onto the fact that today’s children will sneer at anything that doesn’t beep, bong, move on its own, or interact with their friends in another room. Bits of paper and an egg timer just ain’t gonna cut it with today’s tech-dependant youth. And so the Boggle Flash was born… and by golly, it’s clever.

You get 5 separate little digital cubes. Each can read the other, and so you arrange the cubes to make the words out of the letters they give you. It will both time you and beep when you make a correct word. There are three games – you can either play alone or with others.

I was most impressed with the quality of the box they come in. It fits easily in a handbag and would be great for going on holiday. Fun for a dinner party too, I think.

The gadget aspect of it entertained my husband. Arabella enjoyed using her alphabet to make words, and I – well I was just happy everyone was sitting down together. Toddler Alex, resolutely suicidal, kept us on our toes by trying to get the coals off the fire. The cat, who is mildly psychopathic, watched in the hope that he would manage. All in all, a pleasant afternoon.

I did think it rather unfair that Simon, by now enjoying himself, managed to score the best word of the day with ‘WALKS’.

The mind boggles.

The Boggle Flash is available from all good toy retailers, starting from around £14.99.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

From the Office of Father Christmas....

From the Office of Father Christmas
18th November 2010

Dear Arabella

Thank you for your lengthy and comprehensive letter to Santa Claus, which we received last night. We have noted your requests, amongst many other things, for a Nintendo DS, a new bike, an ice-cream maker and a pony.

As you are only five-years old, you will be unfamiliar with the terms ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’. Suffice to say, even Lapland are currently feeling the pinch. It is therefore with great regret that I write to tell you that not all items on your list will be available this year. (Or any other bloody year for that matter.)

1. In accordance with conversations we believe you have had with your mother on a daily basis since you were four, you are not to have a Nintendo DS until you are both able and desirous of picking up a book for mere pleasure. Books may not bleep, play music or interact with you, but in them you will find some of the most enjoyable moments of your life. When you can read Winnie the Pooh for yourself, then we will re-open discussions on the delivery of a Yuletide Nintendo DS.

2. Your mother informs us that she already owns an ice-cream maker. No, it doesn’t have a picture of fairies on it, but it really does make ice-cream.

3. You live in a small three-bed semi, around which your father has built The Only Patio Visible From Space. Seriously, there’s no room for a pony.

4. We are delighted to announce that we have shiny new bikes (without stabilizers, as specified) in stock and that one will be delivered, by sleigh, sometime on Christmas Eve. Please ensure that you are asleep from 9pm until 8pm as we will be unable to deliver to awake children. Also, your parents wouldn’t mind a bit of ‘them time’.

In addition to the above, as a good will gesture, we will be delivering an assortment of board-games, arts and crafts materials, books and other expensive play items. We hope these will go someway to recompensing you for your disappointment in not getting a bloody Nintendo DS and a pony.

I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of Santa Claus and all of us here at The Office of Father Christmas, to wish you a Merry Christmas and to thank you for your continued belief in us.

Yours sincerely

The Chief Elf.

PS: Could you kindly let your mother know that with regards to her letter of the 13th November, it will not be possible to arrange for her to win the lottery and that Father Christmas does not dispense Valium.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Trick or Treat or Stand and Deliver?

Oh, crap. It’s Halloween again.

Living on an estate of three-bed semi’s (my God, when did my life become such a cliché?) we don’t just get a handful of trick or treaters. Oh no. Last year I counted over fifty of the little blighters. And each and every one of them requires a small packet of sweets or a miniature chocolate bar.

This doesn’t come cheap. Totting up the potential damage in Tesco’s yesterday, I estimated that I would have to spend a minimum of £10 to ensure I have enough tooth rotting fodder to meet my blackmailers demands – for what else is ‘Trick or Treat’ but an apparently socially accepted command to feed Other People’s Children sweets, or spend the next fortnight washing eggs off your car?

They don’t even bother waiting for the 31st October either. Last year we had two fat kids in plastic masks ring the doorbell the day before. “Trick or Treat?” They grunted.

“Erm, it’s not Halloween yet.” I said, wishing to get the lardy lads off my doorstep as quick as possible so that I could return to Eastenders.

“Yeah, but we’re going to a party tomorrow, so we won’t be able to come round.”

I should have sent them away with a flea in their ear and a lecture on the perils of being overweight, but to my eternal shame I trotted dutifully into my kitchen and ferreted around until I found them a couple of ancient Penguins. (That’s a type of chocolate biscuit by the way - lest my American friends be wondering why I happened to have two very old, aquatic flightless birds living in my larder cupboard.)

You see I take the ‘trick’ threat quite seriously. Up until recently I had a rather nice car on the drive and I didn’t fancy replacing its windscreen wipers.

The parents that escort the droves of children around (and by the way, the costumes get more rubbish by the year too. If you all buy the same things from Tesco, it all becomes a bit pointless. Use some imagination and make something) stand at the entrance to the drive with vapid grins whilst their children order me to hand over goodies or they’ll damage my property. “Say thank you, Kai!” They chirrup, giving me a conspiratorial wink.

“Thank you and f**k off” I mutter.

“What?” A vampire who looks rather too old to be doing this kind of thing gives me a sharp look.

“Er, I said that’s a nasty cough.”

“Oh” He trudges off, plastic pumpkin bucket groaning with junk.

I don’t think people give much thought to the elderly, either. For an eighty-six year old, heaving yourself off the sofa every five minutes to hand over sweets to an unsmiling monosyllabic oik in a skeleton suit can’t be much fun. I’m sure as hell not laughing and I don’t have arthritis.

As much as I would like to blame the Americans for this tawdry yearly horror, the practice does actually have its foundations in a British tradition. ‘Souling’ in England and ‘Guising’ in Scotland and Ireland appear to be the precursors, with poor children being allowed for one night only to embark upon ritual begging for food and cash. This custom was transferred to the States by the 19th Century immigrants and by 1930 had become the ghastly institution that we know now.

Of course, the key word in that paragraph was ‘poor’. Nowadays any child of any background is sent off to pester grown-ups for food they most certainly do not need. And is taking food from strangers really such a good idea? I do not understand why parents, who have spent the other 364 days of the year warning their children not to take sweets from strangers, suddenly find this idea acceptable. It can only be a matter of time before some nutter hands out Mars Bars with hypodermic needles shoved into them.

And yes. I will be saying ‘I told you so.’

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Other People's Children. Or in which I lose all my friends.

I have a confession to make. I don’t think it’s going to make me enormously popular but then I don’t think it’s going to come as much of a shock either.

I categorically and unequivocally, cannot abide Other People’s Children.

There. I said it. Wow. I feel like a mule that’s shed it’s load. I’m out of the child-hating closet and I can shout it from the roof tops. “I don’t like Other People’s Children! I only smile and nod because I believe it’s the socially acceptable thing to do! To be honest, I only put up with my own kids because someone’s going to have to help me do the shopping when I’m old and decrepit, why would I like yours?”

Phew. I feel like a new woman. Before you all stalk off to strike me from your Christmas card list (this might be a good moment to say I don’t enjoy smug round-robin Christmas newsletters either. I don’t want to know that little William has just been accepted as the youngest ever lead violin in the National Youth Orchestra – presented with a fiddle my child would simply try to eat it) let me explain a bit.

1. That noise that she has been making repeatedly and loudly for the last half an hour. Not cute. And I seriously doubt that it’s proof that she’s gifted. No, really. I don’t think Mensa are going to be calling anytime soon.
2. Please take that spoon off little Jimmy. If he bashes my antique chest with it one more time I am going to use it to stab him with.
3. It’s Twinkle Twinkle Little bloody Star. Teach her O Mio Babinno Caro and I might be impressed.
4. You appear to be no longer interested in drinking copious amounts of wine. I’m holding your brat entirely responsible for this alarming development in your personality. No, I’m not making more coffee. It’s 2pm and it’s wine time.
5. There. Is. Something. Coming. Out. Of. It’s. Nose. Make. It. Stop.
6. I don’t like wiping other children’s backsides. I don’t liking wiping my own children’s backsides. Truth be told, I find wiping my own something of a chore. Just because I’ve had children does not mean that I, like you, seem to have become immune to the horrors of other people’s excrement. Please ensure you are on hand AT ALL TIMES in case bottom-wiping duties are required. I can’t cope.
7. If your child or children happen to be more intelligent than mine, please keep it to yourself. Otherwise you will rapidly find that I no longer answer my phone and that emails go unanswered.
8. They know I don’t like them. That’s why they scream every time you walk out of the room. They’re like cats. They always recognise the non-cat person. It is not because ‘they don’t know me yet’ and it has nothing to do with ‘not having seen me for a while’. It is because inside their highly tuned, psychic little toddler-skulls they are being alerted to the fact that I not only loathe them but that I will have absolutely no idea what to do should there be a crisis whilst you go to the loo. Take it with you. It’ll be safer.
9. I am utterly and sociapathically unmoved by crying. I can’t help it. There has to be copious amounts of blood for me to switch from mildly irritated to somewhat sympathetic. I wasn’t hugged much as a child.
10. There. Is. Still. Something. Coming. Out. Of. It’s. Nose. And. It’s. Running. Down. His. Lip. Ergh. Ergh. Ergh. ERGH.

It’s nothing personal. If our relationship can tiptoe through the child raising era, I have no doubt that when your child is say, thirty, we’ll get on great; but for the time being please understand, I’m terrified of children and they are terrified of me.

I should probably mention that as a fair woman, I realise that my own children are probably anathema to you. They often are for me. For instance this morning when my son sneezed porridge all over my new… anyway, I digress. You might not like my children. Though I can’t possibly imagine why not. Apart from the bodily function problems they’re pretty much perfect.

Let’s just agree to get a babysitter and go out on the town eh?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

'Coping' without Child Benefit. A guide for the 'middle classes'...

There has been much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing from Middle England this week, as news of George Osbourne's Child Benefit reforms hit the headlines.

The decision from the coalition government to stop paying £20.30 per week* to those earning an income of £44,000 or more per annum caused well-heeled Brits up and down the land to spontaneously spit out their organic fairtrade coffee and fling their Guardians down in disgust.

A number of commentators on the Daily Mail website wrote that they 'would not be able to cope' without this cash injection from the state coffers. Well no. I can see how they feel. I mean £20.30... that's Jemima's riding lesson paid for, isn't it?

Having fed and clothed my own family of four for around £20,000 per annum for some years now, I feel the charitable thing to do is to share a few tips with these soon to be poverty stricken souls. With my help, you should manage to make ends meet on £44,000 per year. Should there be much call for my budgeting brilliance, I might write a book.

Guide to 'Coping' on £44,000 per annum.

1. You must resist the urge to buy Cravendale milk. I know it's triple-filtered but I couldn't care less if it was octuple-filtered by virgin maidens in wild-flower meadows on the side of a Swiss hillside - it's milk. Just milk. Buy normal stuff like intelligent people do.

2. I realise you may need a support group for this one, but I'm going to have to ask you to be brave. Repeat after me: "I do not need to buy yoghurts with germs in." That's right my thrifty little friend, Yakult is not a necessity. People have lived long and healthy lives without adding to their good bacterias. Furthermore, given that stomach acid is stronger than car battery acid (fact) not many of the little critters survive the journey into your immaculate tummy anyway. No more Lactobacillus casei. I promise you, life will continue as normal without them.

3. Fabric conditioners that purport to smell of Black Diamonds no longer have a place on your shopping list. Buy the supermarket one that smells of synthetic lilacs. You may not realise this (and I realise it's going to be a shock) but diamonds don't actually smell of anything. Not even black ones. You've been had.

4. Your bottom will cope without quilted loo roll.

5. Mash your own potatoes. It's good exercise.

6. Chop your own carrots. They actually taste better.

7. Five tv channels is enough. You can even have around eighty channels of mind-numbing boredom for the price of a free-view box. You don't need Sky in your life. If there's nothing on... read a book.

Any others I've forgotten? Feel free to add your own below.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The small matter of my impending death.

I appear to have contracted Man Flu.

Not only do I ache all over, I have an overwhelming need to tell everyone about it. Given my compulsion to groan theatrically every time I move, I’m pretty sure that it’s the same illness my husband had last week. Not as bad of course (I’d never be stupid enough to go into competitive illness with a man – nope, theirs is always worse) but I’m still feeling very frail.

I have only managed to crawl from my sick-bed to the computer as Simon is at work and the baby has to be watched. If I break off suddenly mid-blog-post, you know what’s happened. For the record, I should like my gravestone to read “I Told You I Was Ill”. Like Spike Milligan.

As I may well be dying, this seems the perfect moment to mention another little thing that is bothering me. My novel, Simon’s Choice, has sold approximately – oh yes, that’s right – bugger all. Despite the reviews being gold plated, I’m just not shifting books.

Clearly my death is going to be very hard on my children and there will be funeral expenses. New Orleans jazz funeral bands are expensive to fly over from the States and the hire of six prancing black carriage horses with black plumes does not come cheap. Furthermore, I hear Elton John charges quite a lot for singing that song about candles and wind and stuff.

Therefore, I’d be much appreciative if all you lovely people could toddle over to Amazon.com and buy my book. I don’t suggest you get it from Amazon.co.uk, who have lost the plot and are charging £22.50 for it – which is far too much. Instead, should you be in the UK and fancy it, send me an email and I will attempt to sign one and have it posted to you, all for the bargain cost of £12. (Postage included.) The handwriting may be a little shaky but on the other hand, if I die, you should double your money when the book’s value rockets.

I am going to expend my last whisper of energy by putting links below. Should you for any moment have doubts about buying the novel critics have called ‘unputdownable’. ‘the next Jodie Picoult’ and ‘the best book I have ever read’ (yes, seriously. I was snorting into my coffee too) then picture the forlorn little faces of my children as they stand in rags by my graveside, wondering where their next meal will come from and whether the cat will fit in the slow-cooker.

Forgive me, dear reader. My strength is failing me. I must shuffle back to the sofa and watch Desperate Housewife reruns. Remember that I loved you all. Or I loved the ones that bought my book, anyhow.



Or EMAIL – mrscharlottecastle (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

Saturday, 11 September 2010

In which your heroine turns 30 and has a terrible row with her mother....

Let us deal quickly with the birthday.

I enjoyed it.

I remember some of it.

I swear it took me longer to recover from it.

I'm pretty sure that I didn't take any of my clothes off in public - though considering my husband's insistance that I passed out in our hotel bedroom "way before he came up" I'm impressed that I still managed to wake up with my knickers hanging off the dainty and tasteful chandelier in our bedroom. Perhaps I treated myself to a striptease of myself? No wonder I passed out... probably in horror.

I should probably mention, as per recommendations from my lawyers, that I have never met that goat, either previously or during my bithday party celebrations.

So - here I am. A bit older, my liver a bit more scarred, much fatter, possibly a bit wiser (do not, for instance, drink Sambuca after three double Courvoisiers) somewhat wrinklier and, well... a bit more at peace with myself, actually.

Yeah - I know. You're not here to listen to me having a good time. You want misery. A little angst. And I'm just the girl to give it.

Yet... here I am, poised to tell you of the dreadful row I've had with my mum and suddenly... I seem unable to bother. I keep rolling my eyes and shrugging my shoulders. My fingers refuse to dart across the keyboard in excited irritation.

Do you know what?

Perhaps I really did grow up.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Chicken Nugget Diaries

I've just given in and allowed Child A to have a packet of Maltesers for breakfast. Before you start Googling the number for Social Services, let me explain a bit.

If I had my way, she'd be eating organic oats rolled between the thighs of virgin Disney Princesses, slathered in pro-biotic yoghurt laced with Omega-3 and scattered with 14 different types of fruit. Sadly, I've as much chance of becoming Paris-She-Can't-Actually-Be-That-Stupid-Can-She-Hilton's 'BFF' than getting her to eat anything remotely healthy.

When I was pregnant I routinely imagined my happy little family-life (cue sepia lens) around a huge pine table. Oh, how my little darlings would coo with pleasure as I pulled wonderful organic dishes out of my Aga! Oh, how delightful they would look, covered in flour as they helped me kneed the dough for my homemade bread to accompany my delicious carrot soup! Hark their beaming faces as they polish off my sausage and lentil bake and ask for more spinach please, mummy... (Horrible screeching sound as dream sequence squeals to a halt.)

Yeah. Right.

The only vegetables Arabella will eat are baked beans, and the occasional cucumber stick when under duress (ie when I threaten to remove treats. Or limbs.) I think she did eat an apple once, but I starved her for three days first. Well not quite, but I was pretty hardball.

It was, therefore, with a healthy dose of cynicism that I agreed to trial Sun Valley's new product 'Nature, with a hint of...'

You'll know Sun Valley as the people that sell raisins and prunes. Your children probably have those healthy little raisin snack-packs in their lunch boxes, allowing you to smirk at the chavs who provide Dairylea Lunchables for their little Asbos, er offspring. Well this new line from Sun Valley is raisins with knobs on. Tasty treats for the unutterably smug.

Unsurprisingly, I couldn't even get Arabella to try them. "But they have dragon fruit in, Arabella!" I gushed. "And you know what they say... you are what you eat."

Arabella gave me a withering look. "I'm five."

"Er, yes. Sorry. So you won't even try the one with chocolate covered raisins in?"

"No. They're like rabbit droppings." (She has a point)

"The delicious yoghurt covered pineapple ones?"

She raised an eyebrow in contempt.

"Pumpkin seeds? Blueberries? Cranberries? Cape Gooseberries? Pistachios?" I trailed off miserably.

Luckily my friend and Uber-Parent turned up at this point and I managed to off-load all four bags of different mixed fruit, nuts and seeds onto his delightfully well mannered and nutritionally saint-like daughter. The verdict, I discovered this morning is that they love them but wish they were available in multi-packs. They thought the 89p per pack price tag was a bit high for every day. My husband had a try of the dragon fruit pack and raved about it. You can find more info on them here. My verdict? Great for office workers and ladies who eat healthily and probably great for most children - except mine.

"Mummy, I'm hungry." (I think this is Arabella's catchphrase.)

"Well I've just given away all those lovely snacks" I snarled, "So you'd better wait for tea."

Arabella eyed me with suspicion. "What's for tea."

"Homemade roast-butternut squash and sage risotto?"

I received Withering Look Number Two.

"Right" I grunted, unwilling to enter into battle for the millionth time that day. "Chicken nuggets?"

Monday, 16 August 2010

My five-year old teenager.

"I think you should wear the little checked sundress, Arabella." I said this morning, flicking through the ranks of beautiful dresses in my daughter's wardrobe.
Arabella bit her lip thoughtfully. "No, I don't think so. Hannah Montana wouldn't wear that."

Hannah Bloody Montana. Along with Dr Who, Hannah is my daughter's latest craze, which, if she was say - ten - wouldn't be a problem. But my daughter is five.

I know. Hannah is meant to be wholesome. She doesn't smoke, she's polite to her elders and she's not in Soho House every night, hoofing up cocaine and partying with footballers. It's not like Arabella has suddenly decided that Lindsay Lohan is her idol. Or Katie-makes-my-blood-boil-Price. Or Paris-she-can't-actually-be-that-stupid-can-she-Hilton (can she?) But still. A pop-star?

When I was five I was reading The Wind in the Willows. I was enjoying Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh and Beatrix Potter. I was inspecting the bottom of the garden for fairies and taking my teddy bears on picnics.

I don't remember being even faintly interested in pop stars until I was at least 7 - the first boyband I was into was for instance... oh hang on. Maybe I shouldn't admit this. Oh sod it - Big Fun. Yup. I know. Link for those who have successfully erased the shining talent that was Big Fun from their minds. Yes, yes. You may laugh. You'd be peeing yourself if I put up a link to my other idol...ahem, Sonia.

I suppose I should count myself lucky that she hasn't discovered Jedward yet. For those of you fortunate enough not to have come across these two buffoons, they were losers on a talent show. The British love an under-dog, the less talent the better, so the contract was signed before Simon Cowell could say "I'll make a bit of cash out of these two donkeys".

Anyway. It could be worse. She could be into Big Fun.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Parental Slave - or How Kids Are Ruling the World.

Joan Collins (who is on my list of People-I'd-Like-to-Be-When-I-Grow-Up, right next to Sue, the sociapathic cheerleading coach on Glee) wrote an article in The Mail on Sunday colour supplement last week, commenting on how spoilt her grandchildren seemed. You can find it here

The magnificent Joan says "The quiet of my rural idyll in the hills of the South of France is punctuated by the sound of children’s voices raised high above the entreating voices of their parents, who follow them around the pool and garden with a suppliant air."

Yes. I've noticed it too, Joan. The hills of West Yorkshire are also reverberant with the squeals of indignant four-year olds and the exhausted platitudes of their weary parents.

When did children pull off this coup and manage to swing the balance of power so firmly in their favour? Once upon a time, when I was a child and Starburst were still called Opal Fruits and Maggie Thatcher was snatching milk, children took a secondary role in life to their parents. Mummy and Daddy did what they wanted to do and the kids fitted in with them.

It wasn't quite as draconian as Victorian Britain, but there was still an element of children being 'seen, not heard'. Complaints of boredom were quickly counteracted with 'only the boring get bored', bedtimes were early - as early as the parents could get away with - and grown-ups could rely on the fact that their children would entertain themselves at least for a few hours.

I spent a considerable amount of my childhood waiting for a gap in grown-up conversation. As interrupting was absolutely banned, one would have to poise oneself with an increasingly anguished countenance, desperately trying to get a word in at a break in conversation before the adult chat veered off in another direction. From time to time some kind person might notice my despairing face and ask me what it was that I wanted, but this was rare. It was a grown-up world. When I was an adult I would get my turn, but until then, I had to lump it. Grown-ups ruled the roost.

Well what the bloody hell happened to my turn then? Somewhere between shoulder pads being fashionable and shoulder pads coming back into fashion, the rules got changed. It is no longer considered acceptable to make a child wait until the conversation has stopped. One is considered cruel and un-parental for telling one's offspring that a bumped knee really is just a bumped knee and not a opportunity for prolonged caterwauling.

Children are deified. They are lauded and pampered, cossetted and idolized. Their needs must be dealt with immediately and without complaint. Never must there be a moment when they are left to their own devices - to get, God forbid, bored. Every whim must be met, every minor injury treated with desperate concern. Telling a child to stop blubbing is tantamount to Child Abuse. Muttering that children might actually be a bit of a pain in the bum is practically blasphemous. When did this apotheosis take place? When did parents become mere servants in their own households?

Well not this parent. I hold no truck with this servile parent thing and caring very little what people think of me, I make no apologies either.

There is a reason why my daughter is considered such a brave, cheerful little person. She has been taught from a very young age that crying is not a default reaction to anything that does not make her happy. Sometimes we bump our knees. The pain goes quite quickly and then we are able to continue bouncing/running/scootering or whatever activity we were doing. Sometimes we do not get to do what we want. This is irritating and sometimes unfair, but so is life. Often we will have to wait to get something we want. This is also irritating but will also happen a lot in life. Best get used to it now.

And I brave the curled lips of the 'super-mums' and the mutters behind my back because I know that Arabella and Alexander are being shaped into conscientious, polite little people who know the value of patience and understand that in life not everything goes our way. There will be no great disappointments, no terrible shocks when they reach adulthood. They will not have slaves when they are older and they most certainly don't have one now.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Domestic Godlet.

Alright, Nigella. That's it. You and me. Electric hand-whisks at the ready. My curves may be in all the wrong places but when it comes to a victoria sponge, you're going down, bitch.

I can't believe that in the interests of blogging entertainment, I've just called Nigella Lawson a bitch. I'll get hate mail. I take it back.

Actually, I really do take it back. I like Nigella enormously. One always suspects she'd be a fantastic person to have a boozy, girly lunch with. Not only would she wholeheartedly agree with getting another bottle, she'd eat all her pudding. And the little chocolate you get with coffee. A dining partner that doesn't induce guilt as she picks prettily at her salad and smiles at you with kindly concern when you order the Greek Mezzo Sharing Platter for Four. Er - I haven't done that. Well sort of. It was a long time ago. Anyway...

I have today, if you haven't already guessed, been baking with Offspring One, whilst Offspring Two slobbered over everything in his playpen. (Teething.) Whilst I'm generally a very good cook, I'm usually a rubbish baker. Could be because I don't have a sweet tooth and therefore my heart isn't in it, or could be that I'm not very good at following rules - and that includes recipes. Generally my efforts are flat, wonky and taste slightly of chlorine.

For some reason today however, my victoria sandwich is plump, proud and perfect. My lemon drizzle cake couldn't be used as a housebrick and even the little cupcakes don't look like they were made by a five-year old - though in fact, they were.

I wish I could take some picture for you, but the battery has gone on the camera and I've lost my mobile. So you will just have to believe me. Anyway, Nigella, if you're reading (stop sniggering, you never know) be afraid. I've even been practicing licking the spoon in a seductive manner and I've been pouting at the microwave. I could have your job.

Other news. I tried the Atkins diet this week. I stuck to it religiously and then passed out in Tesco's on day three. Highly embarassing incident involving little old ladies, an avalanche of organic cucumbers and a number of well-meaning Tesco's 'First Aiders'. Gave up and went to the pub with husband. Three hundred and twenty four vodka and cokes later, I had decided that I might just have to be a jolly fat lady. I was certainly jolly.

And anyway. Somebody has to help eat all these lovely cakes....

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

This month Charlotte doesn't hate....

I decided whilst in the bath - sometime before my daughter dropped her chocolate milkshake in it, but after she added a number of decapitated Barbies to 'keep me company' - that I am too miserable. Or rather, I decided that you might think me too miserable and that I should probably balance things out a bit.

Therefore (thought I, whilst batting floating Barbie heads out of the way) I am going to start a monthly 'Things Charlotte Likes'. Then, after the milkshake incident, I decided that might be a bit ambitious, so I'm going with 'This Month Charlotte Doesn't Hate'. After all, the only things I truly like are country hotels that don't allow children, Valium and Stolichnoya.

There is also a chance (she hopes) that this monthly love-in will remind those nice PR people out there, that like my blogging buddies English Mum and Jane Alexander, I too am open to receiving Free Stuff. Perhaps it is my acerbic tone that has put you off sending me Free Stuff? Perhaps you feel that I don't have enough followers for Free Stuff? I can assure you that I actually have thousands of dedicated and loving readers hanging off my every word - it's just that the ones you see here are the only ones who could be bothered who had the time to hit 'follow'.

Please do feel free to get in touch should you want - for instance - my children to test your new yogurt flavours. Or perhaps would like me to trial your new Stop-Your-Husband-Snoring-Before-You-Kill-Him product? You might like me to give my thoughts on the new Range Rover.(Ahem.)Don't be shy.

Alright - on with this month's Things Charlotte Doesn't Hate.

1. The BBC's subtle, tender yet laugh out loud funny 'Rev'. This is the comfort food of TV viewing. I have fallen head over heels in love with Adam, the pocket sized and pint drinking man of the cloth, who talks to God whilst sitting on the loo or washing up and is struggling - just like the rest of us - to be a good man and figure out his place on this earth. His relationship with his solicitor wife is delicious - real, (if rather adoring - so perhaps not that perfect) and the assorted minor characters, including the violently (literally) loyal parishioner and the wide eyed crack addict who turns up each episode asking for money, are well rounded and believable.

I feel quietly comforted by the end of each episode.

2. Rimmel's SunShimmer fake tan. It's cheap (always a plus) and it has warmed up my previously glow-in-the-dark pallor. If I could just remember to wash my hands after using it, I might look almost presentable.

3. Finally, and I'm throwing caution to the wind and saying that I LOVE this - my editor Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn's news that she has signed a two book deal with an imprint of Penguin for her brilliant novel 'Under the Same Sky' plus a future companion book. Hopefully I will get to say that the lady who patiently trawled through my gerunds and pleonasms (yeah, I had to look it up too) is famous. Go Genevieve.

See. I can do upbeat. Just don't expect it too often.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

My husband has 2 days before his life's in danger.

There is an ominous pain in my womb. A griping, tightening, snarling and insistent pain.

I'm rather bad at keeping to a calendar, but I suspect this means my husband has around 2 days to find cover before my PMT hits. And boy, since I gave birth to Alexander 7 months ago, does my PMT hit.

I've tried to remind myself in more rational moments that my deep and unshakable hatred for my husband, one week a month, is purely hormonal.

I have no doubt that his myriad of irritating habits and irresponsibility have much to do with it (you see, I'm already in the grip of it - I'm starting to sound like that harpy Liz Jones - a clear indicator of insanity) but as I can usually deal with his leaving his pants on the bathroom floor, not paying any bills and flicking fag butts on my doorstep (Okay, okay - forget the last one. I never forgive the last one) I'm beginning to realise that the Wicked Week in Which I Wish to Wrangle his Wotsits may in fact not be truly justified.

Despite this, I know this is my last chance to discuss my monthly phenomena. In a few hours, I'll start to shed my humane skin and become the were-woman of horror films. Trust me, I'm not a sparkly vampire.

This is it, ladies and gentlemen. The transformation into rabid, snapping she-devil starts here.

We'll reconvene in a week, when I've begun the painful, guilt ridden reformation into normal, understanding homemaker, mother and wife. But for now, watch it.

I bite.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

In which I promise to thee my children....

To my dear children.

Here we are at the summer holidays. For you, this is good. For me, not so.
Below are a few ground rules that I feel if we all stick to, may get us through this diff special time.

1. When I promise you that if you do something I will ‘take you to the park tomorrow’, I really will take you to the park tomorrow. Even if it is raining. Though I might have a go at talking you out of it. But if you really blood still want to go, I’ll take you. I’ll even be cheerful.

2. There will be food in the fridge.

4. I will only spend an hour or two on the computer. The other 10 hours a day that I put into writing my new novel and publicising Simon’s Choice will be done late at night when you go to bed. I will not snarl when you ask why I have bags under my eyes and when you mention that I have begun to develop grey hair. It is Not Your Fault. I will remember often that you are five years old and seven months old and most things are Not Your Fault.

5. Leaving wet Weetabix all over my 150 year old pine chest Is Your Fault. Please recognise this to facilitate easier relations.

6. I will somehow find the money to buy Arabella a new bike. You look like you are riding a tonka toy. I’m sorry I’m so poor. I shall try to rectify this embarrassing social situation. You deserve a bigger and better bike.

7. I will not resort to wine or vodka before 5pm. After 5pm in certain circumstances I may find refuge in a small drink. As long as point 5 has not been abused, then I should make it to 7pm.

8. I will not resort to the answer ‘Because’. Your questions will be given due thought and a proper answer will be given. Even when you when you ask me why it is Sunday tomorrow and not Tuesday. Please do not ask me the same question repeatedly. The answer will remain the same.

9. No means no.

10. Seriously, the answer is still no.

11. Whilst I rather enjoy some privacy during my morning ablutions, I will not scream at you through the door when you demand (repeatedly) that I change the TV channel to CBeebies. In return you will respect that when the bathroom door is shut and the shower is not running that I am otherwise engaged.

12. On gaining entry to the bathroom, you will not run off to tell Daddy how much it ‘stinks’.

13. You will never, ever say the following: “Mummy, why haven’t you tidied my bedroom yet?” This comment is likely to incur violence. When you are a mummy, you will understand.

14. I will never say “When you are a mummy, you will understand.”

15. I will try not to feed you chicken nuggets for every meal, but please do attempt to try some of my lovely home cooking. It would be appreciated if you didn’t declare everything I cook (apart from chicken nuggets) as ‘yucky’. Mummies get hurt too.

16. It is not necessary to wear five outfits a day. Wake up, pick one (preferably not an organza and wild silk, hand embroidered frock) and keep to it. The more washing I do, the less money I have for sweets. Yes, seriously.

17. I am still keeping to my ice-cream only on a Friday rule. I know the ice-cream van comes every day exactly fifteen minutes before tea. I am still sticking to my ice-cream only on Friday rule. This is not negotiable. Asking me more than once on consecutive occasions may lead to points 7 and 14 being rescinded.

18. Please don’t invite all your friends to things without asking me. I do not appreciate it when I say that we are ready to go out for dinner and there are six scrubbed and anticipatory faces beaming back at me from the drive. I don’t have much money. The entire neighbourhood do not need to be invited to everything.

19. I love you. I’m rather bad at showing it. I’m not sure why this is and sometimes I fill with a fury best described as religious – but I do love you. You’re great kids – you deserve a better mummy.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Good news. I'm around $28,000,000 richer.

Dear Mr Ubuko, Ms Deo, Mr Akika, Mr Tete, Mr Kones, Ms Kaki and Mr Hassan.

Forgive me for sending this group email – I appreciate that your emails all requested confidentiality but I feel that as you are all in such similar difficulties you will respect each other’s situation. You may, after all, take a little comfort from knowing that you are not alone in your plight.

I really have to tell you that I’m quite overwhelmed that all of you have decided to contact me this morning and that you have each chosen me to help you move $7 million dollars out of Burkino Faso.

I have wracked my brains to try and work out how you came to put your faith in me over the many other gullible good people of this country and can only surmise that you have seen my internet blog and feel that my philanthropic support of the school fayre is testament to my charitable character.

What providence brings us together, for I am indeed such a person!

I must admit concern over the appalling frequency with which people of standing in the African nations fall victim to plane crashes. Do you know that in Europe, airplane crashes are very rare? Yet here we are today and each and everyone of you has lost either parents or husbands in air disasters. Really, I think that if the Western world knew more of the worrying statistics in African air-safety, they would do something to help. Is there an ombudsman for air travel in Burkino Faso? If so I highly recommend that you put in an official complaint.

Furthermore, given that all but one of you are based in Burkino Faso, It breaks my heart to see that so many good and wealthy men have been killed in such a short period of time. Burkino Faso must feel cursed to have lost so many fine men all in such identical circumstances.

With regards to helping you reclaim your funds, I am of course delighted to be of assistance. Simply let me know what you require from me and I will help. Would it be useful to give you my bank account details and address? Just let me know.

In your case Mr Akika, I think it is important we move fast before the ‘wicked stepmother’ you spoke of carries out her evil plan to murder you. Perhaps you would like to stay here until the money comes through? If I was to send you the money for your flight then you could sleep on the sofa until the $7million dollars come through.

Ms Deo – I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. And the fact that you wish to use your 60% of the money to build orphanages and care for your disabled son is so touching. Really, your generosity and humanity brought a tear to my eye.

Unfortunately, I feel nervous about giving financial information over email – there are so many unscrupulous people around! Perhaps you would each be so kind as to give me a postal address where I can send you any information that you require to facilitate the movement of monies into this country.

I have concerns that each of these cases will have high administrative costs and that the accounts that you wish to transfer will not be accessible for sometime. Could you each therefore provide me with a bank account name and account numbers in order for me to wire say, £5000 to each. This should help you in the first instance – though of course I will wish to be reimbursed for this once you receive your share of the money.

What a strange coincidence that each of these accounts have around $7million in them! (With the exception of yours Mr Ukika, which has over $30million dollars in! I admit to some excitement at my forthcoming wealth. God was clearly smiling on me this morning when I chanced to check my ‘Spam’ folder. Thank the Lord I did not delete them!

May I thank you each for choosing me to help you in your respective quandaries. I feel sure that we will each have coming to us what we deserve.

Kindest regards


Thursday, 15 July 2010

My first review... its rather good.

My first review for Simon's Choice is in - thanks very much to Tiffany, whom I promise does not know me and received no bribes from me. That said, do take a look at her blog: http://tiffanysbookshelf.blogspot.com/2010/07/simons-choice-by-charlotte-castle.html

Simon's Choice, by Charlotte Castle
Posted by Tiffany Harkleroad at 5:27 PM

Dr. Simon Bailey, his wife Melissa, and their daughter Sarah are so close a family unit, they call themselves "Team Bailey". Nothing can stop them not even when little Sarah gets diagnosed with leukemia. The family fights through, and Sarah goes into remission. However, when the leukemia returns full force, Team Bailey is no match, and it becomes clear that Sarah will not make it. Suddenly, everything falls apart, because Sarah is the glue holding it all together; when she weakens, so does that bond. Before you know it, Simon and Melissa have a strained relationship, he is admitting to drinking far too much, and now, he is faced with making the decision no father should ever have to make, about a promise he makes to Sarah.

Very rarely do I have the opportunity to review a book before all the rest of the world is raving about it. Once in a while I get lucky, but never so much as when I found Charlotte Castle. This book is a rare find, a pure treasure, and when it inevitably becomes a best seller, I can say I knew it all along.

As soon as I started reading, I was immediately hooked. The characters of Simon, Sarah, and Melissa pull you in from the very first page of the book, and you end up thinking of them as real people. You love them, at times you hate them, you smile with them, you weep for them. These are not mere characters to Charlotte Castle, you can tell she really loves them; it shows in the writing.

As the story unfolds, you are totally invested as a reader. I literally heard the dialogue in my head, which was fun because I got to hear it in a lovely British accent. And I swear at times, I could feel Porridge, the dog, snuggling at my feet. The story wraps around you like a blanket on a rainy day.

Stories about illness, particularly in children, can be difficult, but not once was the story maudlin. I love the paradox of the doctor unable to heal his own child, struggling with his faith all the while. I think the grieving process is so accurately captured, but in such a touching, beautiful way. We do not know, until the end, if Simon will decide to keep his promise, and I absolutely love the beauty in the closing scene. I read it through a wash of tears.

I think that anyone who has children, or has a special child in their life, would love this book and relate to it. Similarly, anyone who has lost a loved one to the ravages of terminal illness will find comfort and realism in the story. Womens literature fans would love it, medical literature fans would love it. And if you like Jodi Picoult, you will love Charlotte Castle.

...Good huh?

Bugs and Bloggers

Husband now has sick bug and baby has diarreah/diorrea/diorrya/diarriah - sloppy poos. The place is a veritable germ-fest and I'm beginning to feel slightly guilty that it may be because I've done very little housework this week. Oh, alright. Bugger all housework. I do have a book to promote you know.

I'm going to finish this post and arm myself with every anti-bacterial trigger-spray known to Tesco and go into battle against the bug. Door handles and light switches will not be spared. Any lurgies in this house have only minutes left.

Of course it will all be competely pointless. Arabella will pick it up at school if she doesn't get it here and I can expect another Exorcist/Victoria Falls extravaganza in the middle of the night when she power pukes from the top of her cabin bed, all down its ladder and across most of her room.

Lucky me.

In other news:

Simon's Choice is currently doing the rounds of book bloggers and so far is bringing in excellent (dare I even say 'rave'?) reviews.

I am however trying to contact 'mummy bloggers' as this book deals with issues surrounding parenthood and I feel that it could be of interest to their readers. Whilst book bloggers seem to be great at getting back to you, sadly mummy bloggers not so. Perhaps as they, like me, are up to their armpits in nappies and school projects - but if any of you happen to have a blog and a spare moment - please do drop me a line. (mrscharlottecastle (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk

Right. Germ warfare....

Monday, 12 July 2010

In which I snarl about husbands and bin men.

I have bravely risen from my death-bed, following 24 hours of either food poisoning or the world's most vicious tummy-bug. Whichever it was, I can highly recommend it. I'm at least half a stone lighter.

Having made my way downstairs this morning, weak and gaunt (oh alright, maybe gaunt's pushing it a bit. Thinner. Less fat. Possibly with one less chin.) I was less than delighted (though not very surprised) to discover that nobody in this house has seen fit to pick up a single thing in the day and night I've been out of action. It's taken an hour to rediscover the sitting room rug.

Honestly. I realise that my husband took the kids to the park yesterday. I know they all went to the pub. I understand he had to go to the shop a couple of times and I sympathise that he had to feed the baby. But would it really, REALLY have been so hard to pick a few toys up? Or put things back in the fridge? (There is a reason, Simon, why your coffee tasted queer this morning. Milk is best kept COLD.)

Plus, the Refuse Refusal service (or bin men as they used to be called) have refused, yet again, to take my refuse. This time it was because I own two wheelie bins. Despite the fact that the council actually provided (and apparently have 'registered' the second bin) I was considered greedy and under-hand and they have left my stinking receptacle to rot for another two weeks until I have this row with them again. Decomposing nappies and mussel shells, do not make a pleasant odour. We shall see what Captain Refuse Refusal, with his bright yellow bib and clipboard has to say next week.

I suspect that Extremely Peculiar Neighbour Number One has something to do with it - I'm sure I saw a yellowing net curtain twitch whilst I dragged the stinking full bin back into the garden, but that may just be paranoia.

For now, I'm off to tackle the kitchen and remind myself what colour the washing up bowl is.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Never agree to run the sweet stall.

I have just spent the most ghastly three hours of my life, running the sweet stall at my daughter's school fayre.

Never again.

Why the hell do I volunteer for these things? Not only is it generally noted by pretty much everyone that I can't stand kids, I also loathe maths. So the last one hundred and eighty minutes have been spent dealing with repellant little brats who want 7 penny sweets, a 35 pence carton of drink, 4 strawberry laces, two Wham bars, 3 five penny sweets, six cola bottles, a giant snake and a white chocolate partridge in an effing pear tree.

I think I was just making prices up in the end. It's certainly interesting how much more expensive the bill turned out for the kids who failed to say please or thank you. Ah well. All in a good cause. Perhaps the PTA could fund a Learn Some Bloody Manners course for the little bast...erm, darlings.

My irritability was slightly softened by the news that I had yet again won the raffle (seriously, people are going to start thinking it's fixed.) My good humour was cruelly dashed however, when I discovered that I had not won £100 like last year, but a family ticket to see any Bradford Bulls home game.

Talk about pouring salt on a wound.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Blog Block and the non-writers attitude to authors.

I have blog block. Yes, I know, I only just started this a week or so ago. I am completely written out having been tappety tapping my life away on the laptop all week to publicize 'Simon's Choice' (did I mention I've written a little novel?).

Having always scoffed at the concept of writers block, this recent creative constipation has given me cause to think about my dear old mum.

Ma (who would kill me for calling her that but as she is only just working out how to hit 'send' on an email, I think I'm safe) was an author in the nineties. Still is, but hasn't written anything for a while.

When she fell on hard times, people often used to say to me, or directly to her - "Well, dear. Can't she/you just write another book?"

I'm quite amazed she restrained from punching them actually. It's as if once you've had one or two books out, people imagine you are a limitless pot of plots. A bottomless pit of wit. A - okay. I've run out of rhymes.

I always wanted to respond "Kerrrrist! What a brilliant idea! If only she had thought of that! Write another 360 page novel! Thank god we had this conversation. Our money woes are over."

Perhaps I should only 'blog' when I'm in a good mood....

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

My mate Jodi Picoult.

Actually, I promised Jodi that I wouldn’t stalk her, so I hope that comment doesn’t trickle back to her and have her placing a restraining order on me.

However, she did email me the other day. Yes, really. And yes, it was her, not her agent. She's emailed before as well. Also, Nathan Bransford - the renowned literary agent – dropped me a line today.

The purpose of telling you this is not to show off, but to reiterate my point that you need to have guts to get on in this game. I emailed Jodi because I hoped that she would provide a quote for the back page blurb for ‘Simon’s Choice’. She declined but bothered to come back to me quickly and with great charm. Jodi is a lady.

Nathan emailed as I had brazenly contacted him to inform him that I now had a blog. No, I’m not kidding. What was the worst that could happen? He might have sniggered into his Starbucks frappe and hit delete, or he might have taken a look. As it happens he sent me an email promising to check it out.

Nathan has one of the most successful blogs in publishing. If he takes a look at a blog and mentions it in his blog, you’re potentially looking at thousands of hits on the back of his recommendation. It was worth a shot. Whether he actually likes this blog is another matter – the point is, I thought it was worth a go and guess what? He doesn’t bite.

I’d just like to add at this point that I absolutely, expressly, definitely, did not contact him because I fancy him. Nuh huh.

Er, I digress.

The point is, it’s always worth asking. The very worst that can happen is that you are snubbed – and then you can spend the next few months dreaming of the day you snub ‘em right back when you’re a big shot.

It strikes me that it’s the people with guts that get on in this life. We’ve all heard of the guy who lucked out when he stuck his novel through Richard and Judy’s postbox. (For our friends across the pond, think Oprah). Barbara Taylor Bradford sat on the doorstep of her future publisher’s offices for hours until they’d agree to see her. These authors didn't give up and didn't let a little word ('no' for those who don't keep up) get in the way of their dreams.

So let’s hear your war cry. Tenacity! Audacity! Persistance! Guts! Want Stephen King to read your book? Write to him. You never know, he just might.

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Beast of Mons - competition entry.

Delighted to discover that I won the wonderful Suzannah Burke's 'DudesDownUnder' blog writing competition. The brief was to write a short story with the theme 'Hell Found Me'.

For anyone remotely interested, the story in full is below.

The Beast of Mons

Teddy drew deeply on his woodbine, the end glowing momentarily in the darkness. Coughing, he spat a stream of dark mucus into the eddy of filth that puddled beneath the duckboards. Above the gunfire had quietened, the whistle of approaching shells now only intermittent. The splutter of machine gunfire half hearted.

“It’s just a story, Billy.” He grimaced and hacked up more phlegm as he flicked his cig into the quagmire beneath. “They’re just trying to scare us.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, it’s true. Throats ripped right out. Teeth marks. Teeth marks. I seen one. Every one of them bodies that ‘ave been brought back down the warren have been bitten. Weren’t no ‘un that did that. It’s an ‘ound alright. Roamin’ No Man’s Land, rippin’ apart poor souls what of gone over. Straight from ‘ell they say it is.” Billy gestured at Teddy’s discarded fag. “Dintcha want that mate? I’d ‘ave ‘addit, I would.”

Teddy blew on his hands in an effort to get warm. “Already in hell, aren’t we? So it’s not had far to come.”

“I’m tellin’ ya, there’s an ‘ell ‘ound out there. The German’s ‘ound. Probably black magic malarkey ain’t it? I’m not the only one that’s seen the bodies. You ask that Owen chappy. That one that’s always scribblin’ in that book of ‘is. E’ll tell ya. ‘E saw ‘em.”

Teddy and two others nearby groaned, one of them threw an empty ammunition cartridge at Billy. “Give it a break, Billy. There’s no fuckin’ Hell Hound. Like Teddy Bear ‘ere says. We’re already in Hell. There’s nowt anything can do to us that isn’t going to happen when we get sent through that wire.”

There was a mumble of agreement, followed by silence.

“Corpses with their lips bitten clear off…”

“Shut up, Billy!” A chorus of derision and a flurry of missiles sailed in Billy’s direction. Teddy chuckled. “Get some sleep, Bill.” If we’re over the top tomorrow, you’ll need your sleep. Need your wits about you. You boys alright up there? Kenny? You still alive?”

Kenny hissed back from above him. “Course I fuckin’ am. I wish youse’d keep the fuckin’ noise down though. It’s my bastard head that’s sticking out over the top of this fuckin’ trench. Get some fuckin’ sleep ya bastards. You’ve got an hour and then I’m ‘avin forty winks.”

Teddy hunkered down - the rotten wood of the duckboards his bed. His great coat was damp and his chest ached. Had done since the mustard gas attack a few weeks ago. He hoped Billy would pack it in. He was trying to look out for the kid but he could tell the boy was annoying the other men. He could understand their impatience but Billy was only fourteen for God’s sake. Fourteen. Signed himself up. Stupid little bastard.


“Wakey wakey, hands off snakey.” Second Lieutenant Ross’ Scottish burr ripped Teddy from sleep.

Ross chuckled at his own joke. “Right boys. I’ve got some news for you.”

Teddy blinked up at the sky above. Twilight. Already the sound of shellfire was thundering above - the dawn chorus of Hades. Around him men groaned and shifted as they too were plunged back into their hideous reality.

“There’s no easy way to say this, men. Today’s the day. We’re to proceed down Trench 782 to where the last lot left off. Its not going to be nice, boys. I won’t lie to you. But keep your training in mind and you’ve got a chance.”

Teddy groped in his coat for a woodbine. He said nothing. Nobody did. There was nothing to say. Next to him, Billy stirred and sat up.

“But the Beast, Sir. We’ll get got by the Beast, Sir.” Billy’s voice got higher a tremolo creeping into it.

Teddy chucked him a cig’ quickly. “Don’t worry about no Beast, Billy. You’ll be alright – we’ll be alright. Stick with me, kid. We’ll get ourselves captured by the Germans and live the rest of the war in a nice cosy camp with beds and running water. Don’t you go worrying about no big dogs.”

Billy sniffed and accepted the cigarette. His voice, when he spoke, was a whisper. “You sure, Ted? A nice camp?”

“Yeah, Billy Boy. I’m sure. This time tomorrow we’ll be sitting in a nice dry Kraut wagon on our ways to a cushty camp and a nice dry bed.”

Billy lit his cigarette and took a long drag. “Alright, Ted. If you say.”

“Good lad.”


Over the following hours, the thought of attempting to cut through metres of barbed wire whilst enemy fire rained down upon them was eclipsed by the horrors within the trench, that brutal corridor of death. As Teddy, Billy and seventeen other men picked their way across the rotting boards, ever closer to the place where they were to go up and over, the fatal failures of those that had proceeded them littered the abandoned section of trench.

Rotting bodies blocked the way and the men found it necessary to climb over the putrid remains, the stench causing them to vomit, the vomit merely adding to the miasma of misery.

Teddy stopped and pulled his flask from his coat and took a sip of his remaining water. He watched as a rat, glossy and healthy if not quite plump, nibbled on something. Like a squirrel with a nut, though Teddy. Only it was not a nut. It was a man’s eyeball.

“Ted. Ted. I told you. Look.” Billy hissed at him.

“Come on, Billy Boy. Don’t start that again. Don’t look at them. Don’t upset yourself lad, it’s not… well I’ll be…” Teddy stared at the corpse the shaking young boy was pointing at. He walked towards it slowly, repulsed but intrigued all the same.

The body, lay on its back, it’s coat wide open as if its front had been deliberately exposed. The intestines lay in a black and shimmering pile nearby, almost neatly, like a butchers display of sausages. It was the face though, that concerned Teddy the most. The lips had been torn from the face – probably by shellfire, thought Teddy, but the neck and cheeks had distinct markings, they looked like bite marks.


It was dusk when Second Lieutenant Ross finally called them to a halt. “This is it, boys. You’ve done well.” His kindly voice sounded apologetic. He was a popular CO and the boys liked to please him. “We’ll take a break – get yourself some sleep, if you can. Orders are to start cutting the wire at 8.00 hours. “Alright, lads?”

“Yeah, fucking brilliant.”

“Never better, Scotty.”

“Can’t wait, Sir.”


They didn’t sleep. How could they? Teddy watched as Billy sat, ashen faced, folding and refolding a letter from his mother. Others whistled tunes. One or two wept. Nobody stopped them, nobody jeered. They understood.

“It’s time.” Second Lieutenant Ross stood up. He looked apologetic once again. “Be brave, men.”


Twelve of the nineteen were lost as they cut through the six metres of deep-coiled barbed wire. Teddy of course, did not know this. Oh there were many – he knew that. They fell like rag dolls, draped across the wire whilst bullets whipped past him. Somehow they got through, dodging and darting, their aim the German trench.

“Here, Billy, here – follow me, keep ducking, Billy, zigzag. There’s a crater, quick.”

Teddy flung himself into the shell crater, a home from home after the trauma of the trenches. Billy tumbled into the hole behind him. “We’re safe here, Bill. We’ll be
alright for a bit.”

Billy said nothing.

“Bill, you alright kid? Billy?”

Billy said nothing. He was shaking violently, Teddy noted. Shock.

“We’ll hunker down here for a bit, kid. Okay, Billy?

Still Billy remained mute, wracked with violent spasms.

“Can’t get shot in here, Bill. We’ll stay here till it quietens down.”

“No!” Billy shouted suddenly. “We can’t! I’ve seen the Beast. I looked back; I looked back, at the wire. I saw the Beast. I know the Beast!” Billy started trying to scramble up the walls of the crater. Teddy leapt up, pulling him back down.

“Don’t be daft, Bill. You’re in shock. You’re okay. We’re okay. We made it this far, we’ll get back to the trench tonight.” Billy started to fight again, Teddy added hastily “Or we’ll get ourselves captured. We’ll be in that camp tomorrow morning, Bill. We’ll just stay here and get a little shut-eye. Okay?”

But Billy just whimpered and curling into a ball, began to sob.


Teddy couldn’t believe he’d fallen asleep. But then how long had it been since they’d last slept? Two days? Maybe longer. He lay still for a little while. He called out to Billy without bothering to look up. “Bill, you okay, mate? You alright, kid?”

A strange noise from over where Billy had been sleeping made him turn. “Billy?” Teddy sat up and looked over to Billy.

The mound on the ground, which in the dark seemed bigger than it should, stirred. “Billy? Look at us, eh? Over the top and still breathing. Told you, didn’t I. No silly Beast’s around here. Just guns and Huns… oh shit.”

What Teddy had thought to be Billy stood up, turning slowly, leaving the mutilated and partially eaten remains of the fourteen-year old soldier behind. Rising up onto two legs it stepped towards Teddy, blood dripping from its mouth and dribbling down it’s chin, the eyes sparkling with insanity.

Teddy turned for his bayonet, but it was no longer there.

“Like I said, soldier. Be brave.”

Wiping some of Billy’s blood from his mouth with the sleeve of his greatcoat, Second Lieutenant Ross grinned manically as he stalked towards the helpless Teddy.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Timing - Getting heard or getting binned

After a long week, you're finally ready to start querying/sending press releases/emailing requests for reviews. You spend the weekend pouring over your carefully worded submission and finally, with a flourish, you hit send.

Whoa! Back-track tiger. You can have that glass of wine but keep your itchy finger off that button.

Let's think about this. Most authors who are just establishing themselves still work. So it's fair to say that most writers attempting to contact agents (der de, der de, der de der de der, fin comes into view) publishers or media are going to send their beautifully crafted correspondance at the weekend. Result? BIG inbox for the recipients of our labour.

As you probably work, you can imagine the scenario. Monday morning. Ergh. Turn on office computer, log into mail, ERGH. Delete, delete, cast bored hungover eye over, no, no, no, NO.... Bacon sandwich, bit better, ergh, more, no, no, no... coffee - meeting.

Sending your 'stuff' at the weekend is not a good idea. Write it, save it and hold onto it. Now I've not done any market research on this, but having worked as a pretty pissed off PA for a major international film studio, I'd suggest aiming for an early afternoon time, mid-week. Say, 2pm. Your recipient will have settled into the day, shrugged off any hangover (hopefully, though mine go on for days) and be feeling a little more able to cope with emails from people they don't know.

Equally, be careful about sending correspondence to those you have been told are on holiday. It's Monday morning times 50 for them. Last time I worked for somebody (I imagine they hope as fervently as I do that this unhappy state of affairs will never happen again) I would come back to an 'inbox' of 100 or more emails. Unless I really had to respond to you, you were immediately resigned to the Fuck Off folder. When the receptionist at The Frogspawn and Toad Fancier Gazette tells you that the editor is away until the 12th, mark your diary to email the on the 21st (as long as it isn't a Monday).

And when that guy rings to sell you double glazing at 9am this Monday morning? Pity him. He doesn't get to evaluate and structure his pitch-list... but you do.

Friday, 2 July 2010

THE HOOK - How to get that media coverage.

If you’ve recently been bored enough to read my posts below, you will have heard me banging on about the ‘hook’.

No, not Abu Hamza, but the most important thing that is going to get you in the papers or on the radio. The trick that is going to give those with power over the column inches a reason to shout about you and your book.

Because let’s face it, the fact that you’ve written a book is not big news. Certainly, it is to you and your mum and the nice old lady who lives next door, but The Daily Telegraph are not massively interested that Barry Boothroyd of Hebden Bridge has just written a novel. Sorry, Barry.

So we need to find a ‘hook’. A reason for the the journalists or broadcasters to expose their punters to your news. This could be as simple as the content – The Button Collectors Weekly will probably be quite excited if your novel revolves around the murder of a man who collects buttons. Sadly, this won’t be quite enough to get Cosmopolitan Magazine giving up a feature page.

Firstly, you need to make your all-important list of those who you intend targeting. Some of these will be local press. Generally, unless you live in Manhattan or similar, then your local papers will be thrilled to give a local lass or lad a bit of a boost. So your hook to them is merely geographical. Play on it – tell them where you went to school, any local positions you hold (School Governor etc), how far back your family tree goes in the area etc. If the novel is set in the region, all the better.

Now we start to look at the bigger papers. Let us use Barry and his meisterwerk The Button Bludgeoner as an example.

Barry is forty-three and is on the dole. His wife left him a few years back, leaving him in sole custody of their four-year old twins, Betty and Bonny. Barry has been a busy boy and has managed to write, edit and sell his novel to a small publisher.

His readership will be mainly male, in their 30’s – 50’s, though as a thriller it holds interest for women as well. His work is best described as a cross between Dan Brown and James Patterson. Or at least, he’d like to think so.

Right. We’ve already covered the special interest periodicals. The Button Collectors Weekly are thrilled and have given up a full page. The Zips and Fastenings Times are equally on board.

Local press have taken him up and due to guts and persistence, he’s won himself a slot on the local radio station.

We now need to get him into the nationals. The hook? For me, it’s an obvious one. “Jilted man writes his way to a better life for his kids…”

Alright – Barry’s not going to be too pleased about that one, but sob stories sell. It’s a potential rags to riches tale and it will interest the masses. Furthermore – it’s useable in both the lads mags (Boy done good) and the female journals (Aww… twin girls, single daddy).

You might not have such a direct personal story to sell, but try to stand back from your situation, look at who you are and why others might be interested in you.

Some suggested angles to look at: your educational background, any specialist settings, careers or vocations covered in the book, your history (are you an ex-nun that’s just written a bodice ripper? Great! We can sell that!) Your family’s history (Dad was a miner and you’ve written a book set in the mining industry?) Personal experience (ex-gambling addict writes about Vegas) – you would be surprised how many little details can be polished and preened and made into newsworthy stories.

206,000 books were published in the UK in 2005. (That was the most up to date figure I could find.) What makes your publishing news different?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

10 Do's and Don'ts of Selling Yourself and Your Book.

1. DO prepare. Preparation is key. Make lists of every possible publication, programme and retail outlet that you feel could be interested. Think big! Don’t limit yourself to local press – and remember trade presses and special interest media. Your protagonist breeds horses? Call Horse and Hound. Find out if there is a programme for the Burghley Horse Trials, see if your local equestrian centre will take some copies… all ways think out of the box. Every sale counts.
2. DO telephone first in every possible instance. Remember, it’s easy to fire off an email. But whilst your new book may be huge news to you and your family, it’s just another option for filling their publication or show. In other words, your email will become just another bit of Spam if you don’t ring first. Get the right person to send it to. Touch base with them in person. You can then call a week later to gently remind them that you sent them an email.
3. DO always follow through. Didn’t get anything back from The Daily Telegraph? Don’t dismiss it. Your press pack may be sitting at the bottom of a great big pile (yup, think slush) and the journalist has forgotten about it. Be polite and cheerful and you’ll often find that the email magically reappears and gets forwarded onto the right person. Be persistent!
4. DO network and offer reciprocal favours. Can’t create a website but know how to write press releases? Swap with fellow authors along the way. It’s all about karma baby.
5. DO write thank you letters. Got that big feature or a slot on a radio show? Send them a brief thank you afterwards. That way the people who can be helpful to you are far more likely to remember you – and to be willing to give you that little bit of extra airtime/column inches when you next have a product to sell. Make friends.

1. DON’T send vague emails with no recipient or clear idea of what would interest a journalist’s/broadcaster’s readers/listeners. They’re in business just like you. If you want to place an advert, you’ll have to pay. If you want free exposure, you’ll have to think of something that will interest. Wrote your novel whilst recovering from a car-crash? That’s a hook. Took 38 years to write your novella and it’s finally been published? That’s a hook.
2. DON’T be rude or snotty or unkind. EVER. Particularly on the internet. You know that guy you can’t stand on that forum who in your opinion just wrote the worst book ever? Yeah, well he might end up being Stephen King. Think along the lines of the elderly Duchess who said “I’m never rude to unmarried girls… you never know who they may become.” Furthermore, what you say on the Internet sticks around. You are now formulating a public persona. Watch your P’s & Q’s.
3. DON’T forget to attach ALL relevant information in emails. By which I mean your name, contact details, name of your book, blurb, excerpt, information on publishing and buying details (will it be on Amazon, Neilson etc). Sounds obvious but you have one shot to get someone’s attention. If you fail to give them the necessary information they may not bother to get back to you. Do not make people work – you must make sure it’s done for them.
4. DON’T be late for interviews. Should go without saying… but seriously, DON’T. Also, it helps if you bring any other material you think might be of interest. Cover art, copy of the book. Again, help the people do their job and they’ll be far more helpful. Also, if you don’t like having your picture taken (as I don’t) make sure that you are prepared with some headshots that you HAVE approved and that are in an easy e-mail friendly format.
5. DON’T give up. Your novel is a product. You wouldn’t spend a year inventing the world’s most incredible gadget just to get it manufactured and skip off thinking about your next gadget…would you? You are a sales person now. A PR person, a celebrity, a genius and a bloody good multi-tasker. Now pick up all those hats and go get ‘em.




An Author Prepares...Getting ready to make PR & sales calls

So, you’ve written the book, you’ve edited, deleted, cut, paste, cried, given-up, started again and you’re finally there. The book is going to be printed – either by a publisher or by the self-publishing route.

Now we have to sell it.

As I mentioned in my ‘10 Do’s and Don’ts of Selling Yourself and Your Book’, it is imperative to plan not only who you are going to pester – er, contact, but also what you are going to say.

Certainly you should always, where possible, telephone in the first instance when contacting anybody regarding giving you exposure. Emails get over looked, they are forgettable – they are ignorable. A polite phone call is not. Futhermore, you can ascertain the exact person to whom you should direct your query, so as not to waste time sending an email to a generic address that never gets checked.

Now some people find making a call daunting. Certainly, there are a few people out there who can be less than polite, but you would be surprised how much more seriously people will take you if you are confident. Confidence comes with preparation. As my army father never bores of telling me (which is a shame, as we all got bored of it twenty years ago) ‘Perfect Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.’ Indeed, dad.

First off, you need to make yourself a list and stick to it.

It helps if you make this list double spaced, as you are going to be adding a lot of notes to it. This is imperative. You may think that you will remember that the nice man at the Telegraph & Argus was in Mauritius and will be back on the 24th – but you won’t. One of the keys to a successful call is garnering as much information as you can. You should note the name of the person you speak to (always make friends with receptionists – they are the gatekeepers. Didn’t get on with Maudlin Marsha from The Middle Wallop Mail? Say goodbye to getting through to the Editor then. Sucking up to receptionists is par for the course) the date you made the call, what the outcome was and the name of the person whom you should speak to next time. Each time you call keep meticulous records of what you did, what you said you would do and what they said they would do.

In order to keep yourself cool and calm when making calls, you may want to make yourself a crib sheet. I’d stay away from writing scripts – we’ve all had those calls from Bangalore with a chipper young man sticking determinedly to his script whilst you ask questions, creating a Stoppard-worthy non-sequitorial conversation about fibre-optic broadband.

“Mrs Castle?”
“What lovely weather you are having there today!”
“Really?” Looks through window at sheet rain.
“You will be so very glad I am calling today.”
“Ya think?”
“And I know that Coronation Street is on so I will be quick.”
“I don’t watch Coronation Street.”
“Here at Bing Bang Broadband we have far faster speeds than your current provider.”
“Okay. Do you have a website?”
“Er…you are currently only getting 50% of your maximum speed!”
“Right. Great. Can I sign up on your website?”
“Ah…furthermore, we are far cheaper…”

You get the picture.

If you make a crib sheet, you can write down the key words you need to get across and maybe one or two particularly articulate phrases that you feel you might stumble over. So I might put on a card:

Features Desk
Send press pack?
Correct person
Story about a ‘novel’ way to beat the credit crunch.

The last comment refers to the fact that I wrote the novel at a financially difficult time – I’m using it as a hook. They might like to use the story with reference to the Credit Crunch. I’ll talk more about hooks another day.

Once you have the correct person (if your ringing a bookstore that would be the manager or in the case of a publication it might be the Features Editor) then you need to make friends. Be friendly, polite, professional but relaxed. Remember, they are not agents (cue Jaws music) and are usually more open to receiving calls from authors. Don’t forget though that they are very busy people and they are running a business. The key thing they want to hear is what have you got that is going to help them sell papers/make book sales?

In the first instance I’d give a quick breakdown of who you are, that you’ve written a book, your HOOK, and ask whether you can send them a press pack. Get the email address and then write them a very charming cover note. If you get on with the person very well, then there is no harm in asking what angle they feel might be of interest to them. You can then market your press release and cover letter specifically to that angle, giving you a better chance of coverage.

Once you have sent the press-release/press pack, leave it a WEEK. Don’t pester them again before a week. You will irritate them.When you ring back, just say that you are checking whether they received your email and whether they require any further information. This usually gets it jogged back up to the top of their ‘Deal with One Day’ pile. If you are too pushy, trust me, it will be immediately filed under B1N.

I would aim for around four calls a day. If you really hate doing calls it is better to give yourself a target – otherwise the washing up will suddenly appear a very attractive way of spending time and clearing out under your teenage sons bed (gah – socks, mouldy mugs and tissues….) will seem almost appealing.

Remember, you have a product to sell. Brace yourself, put a smile on your face and pick up the phone. After all – the worst that can happen is that they say no… and Hell, if you’ve come this far, chances are you’ve heard that word a lot.