Attempting to make it as a writer

Archive for September, 2011

Teething Expense

It was never going to be a smooth day, I’d overslept and had too much to squeeze in to too little time.

Middle son had been referred to the orthodontist for corrective braces on his teeth.  Our sleepy little country town does not have a resident orthodontist so we drove the 23 miles stuck behind a tractor, 2 lorries, numerous buses on the school run who stopped at each bus stop to load hoards of noisy teenagers.   Finally reaching our destination as tomtom pointed out, with 10 minutes to spare.

What tomtom failed to mention was where I could park and where the actual building was.  On the third time round the one way system, I did the weak womanly thing, wound down the window and asked some unsuspecting passerby the way.  A local; he hadn’t heard of this clinic, by the way the megastore next door has changed its name; we had passed it.

Round again, we found the correctly named megastore, but still no sign of the clinic.  The news came on the radio, we were late. Back on to double yellow lines, I called to explain we were lost.

A helpful voice told me not to worry, asked where I was, then directed me to the supermarket car park which I could see.  Walk towards town to Waterloo Road; follow it to the bottom where I would find the clinic.  I put the car into first and glanced up to check it was clear and spotted the road sign next to me: Waterloo Road.

The clinic was not what I expected.   An old converted building but completely modernised and purpose rebuilt inside.  Oodles of youngsters in uniforms with mums fussing over them, purple clad nurses rushing out of the many doors and through other doors, all manner of names being called and disappearing with surgeon dressed dentists.  It occurred to me that our lateness was not an issue we were on a conveyer belt and took our turn.

Following an x-ray Middle Son was called into the consulting room.   She asked him to bite, to open, to close, she had a look at his x-ray and started again all the time dictating to the nurse behind her who was tapping it all into the computer.

Yes he did need braces look, he had too many teeth and they were beginning to overlap.  Unfortunately it all came down to measurements and he is a millimetre too straight, therefore they could offer us nothing on the NHS.   My brain processed what she was saying and I felt for the chair behind before I swooned in womanly fashion.  She kindly told me they would do everything in their power to make it easier for me.  They ran their own payment scheme which I could set up and continue even if the treatment finished

Then very sweetly, thankfully I was sitting down, she actually mentioned the figure: £2100.

The next half an hour sort of blurred a bit….   another dentist, this one in an expensive well fitted suit came in to give a second opinion.  There was no doubt Middle Son needed braces. Fortunately we were in one of the few counties that really invest in their dentistry, unfortunately the NHS in this county has just been told they need to save £18 million so borderline cases such as Middle Son could not qualify.   They did have a great interest free scheme for 12 months if we would like that.   Steve the treatment co-ordinator came in to explain how the finances would work and to book us in as soon as possible.

I was not prepared to sign on the dotted line and agree to pay anything without talking to Sexy Sporty Dad who after all will have to bear the brunt of all this as I don’t earn that much a month.   I would ring and let them know if I wanted an appointment.  No I needed to book everything then so we would not be put back on the list.   They were pretty full up anyway.   A little pat on the arm as they told me Middle Son could choose his appointment times; they kept special late afternoons and Saturdays for paying clients, not patients.  He would send a complete quote with explanation in the post; they have my details.

Reeling from the shock, we left the clinic and popped into the supermarket to grab some food for tea, also a large latte.   Before leaving we dashed into the garage and filled my close to empty car with petrol.  You know how it is, queueing for ages to get to a pump then the one I got to only had two out of the three nozzles working and would not let me “pay at pump”.

Figures tossing around my head, could I sell my body, as if I would have the nerve and who would pay for it anyway?  There was the holiday fund which was empty at the moment but would have nearly enough in 12 months; we couldn’t go away again next year.  I checked the pump nearly £50 it will stop soon, wow the price of a litre is really lower here.  It clicked and stopped as it registered full, a tiny extra squeeze before the second click.

It was as I went to put the nozzle back into the pump that I became aware, very slowly from the pit of my stomach meandering up through my senses.  Green, why was I holding the green pump?

Everything hit me at once: my car uses diesel.  Diesel, comes in black. I am holding green. I have just put an entire month’s worth of petrol in my diesel engine.  Panic! What shall I do?  Instinctively I returned the petrol cap and went to drive away in horror.  I saw my phone on the dashboard: Sexy Sporty Dad will know what to do.  I dialled his number; before he answered, I realised I was on the garage forecourt.  Leaving a bewildered teenager in the car I went into the kiosk to join the queue to pay.  Seeing two attendants outside, I caught up with them.

Excuse me, then with my third womanly trait of the day I burst into tears.

They pushed the car to a corner of the forecourt and told me to ring the AA; for which I will be eternally grateful to be a member.  Over a terrible line we managed to establish what I had done and how they could help.  It would however cost me £280, but, as a member I have discount, only £175 and this did include £12 of free diesel.  The next available slot was 3pm and they would call when he was 20 minutes away.  I did sign on the dotted line and gave all my details over the phone in that crowded kiosk: privacy was not top of my list of concerns.

I locked the car and left my keys with the attendant.  As I retreated, he quietly pulled me over and reminded me that I still needed to pay for the petrol that I had put in the car even though I was not going to use it.  Acutely embarrassed I handed him my card.

We spent a long day window shopping and wishing, Middle Son and I.  Dejected and fed up because I would not buy anything Middle Son wanted to return to the car.  I relented slightly and bought lunch.

We returned to the car to find the AA man had collected the keys and already half emptied my tank.    Once empty he added my free £12 of diesel with special cleaning agents.

Then he dropped another bomb shell.

The cleaning agent was very strong and would need diluting.  I had to refill the tank to full with diesel this time and when it goes down to half full to fill it up again.  Other than that I was good to go.

As I again handed my card back to the attended he said “hope the day gets better”.  Oh so do I!

I managed to get home in one piece and as I sat down with a large cup of tea, I realised I felt physically sick, but worse than that I was actually shaking from head to toe.

Two good things happened today; I finished my anti-biotics which means a large glass of wine finally has my name on it tonight.  Middle Son is made up at the fact we never managed to get him back in time to attend any of his lessons at school today.   I am just glad we didn’t run into a truant officer as we strolled round town, for his sake as well as mine.  I did get £12 of free diesel!

After all that, I still need to find £2100




I am good at my job; normally within the limited scope I am permitted, I am good at prioritising.

Stress Balls

I have come from a highly charged and pressurised career where I had to deliver accurate and timely financial data onto live systems for immediate dispersal around the world all before 8am in the morning.  I have run my own property management company from home where the discipline of dividing home life and work was paramount to success.   So why now do I find it so difficult to prioritise my writing?

I describe myself in my CV as methodical, organised and accurate, which on the whole I would stand by.  Sexy Sporty Dad might dispute some of these, as he can never find anything on my desk.   I, on the other hand, know exactly which pile to look in to find things, if people would just not move anything around.   I can actually lay my hands immediately on all our passports, medical cards, car insurance with MOT Certificates.  A few weeks ago we were challenged about the extent of our property boundary; I was sadly able to pull out the copy of the deeds to prove the point in question.

An untidy desk is not a mark of an untidy mind.

I confess, although I would never consider myself OCD at anything, I do compartmentalise my time.   I allot time slots for certain jobs, inevitably running over and throwing my time frames awry.  My working hours at the school are easier to adhere to; although it is not in my nature to walk away leaving things unfinished and impossible to leave a crying child.  I have fallen into my own routine and mornings are my special time; no-one in the house is up and probably few people in the town are stirring.   Alone with the early morning Dawn Chorus emanating gently from the surrounding trees, I have gained one, self centred hour every morning for writing.

It doesn’t matter too much what I write but I must write.  E-mails and facebook status updates do not count as writing.   So, yesterday morning, I clambered reluctantly from my large, warm and peaceful bed to stumble downstairs to a cold, miserable morning and lonely desk to spend an hour and a half on Rugby.

I could justify permitting myself to do this;  I was due to finish work at noon and would spend the whole afternoon catching up with myself and my writing,  what a pleasure to look forward to.   I left work late at 1.15 and came home to a stack of more rugby orientated emails which needed immediate attention.   All afternoon I spent scrummaging through fixtures, throwing challenges to the opposition and trying to appease our teams.  Even during the evening whilst I was at a meeting, at guess where, the Rugby Club, Sexy Sporty Dad forwarded a message confirming No 1 Son’s team has a game this weekend.

My novel, it sounds good doesn’t it?  My novel, Memories, lies still unopened with the third draft only partly complete. NANOWRIMO – write a novel in a month (November) is looming hesitantly on the horizon.    I have no short stories to send off to the copious magazines I buy for research or the competitions I dream of entering if not winning.  To cap it all, at the moment, even Middle Son’s under 15’s team still have no game this weekend.  So what was it all for?

Is it just that I can’t say no; does it go deeper into the psyche than a simple word.

My history is littered with extra-curricular clubs and societies; early on it was the socialisation and charitable need that drew my attention.  Latterly, school based committees and now the rugby club are not as much for my benefit as that of my boys.

One Sunday morning a few years ago, I looked round at the family dynamics to realise I had lost my three boys and my husband for good.    Three rugby players and a rugby coach left me deserted every weekend, with nothing in common.  I had a choice: let them go or join them.    Playing rugby was not an option, even watching it as a mother, was a heart rendering pastime I found too difficult.  What was left?  The one thing I was good at: volunteering!    Every organisation can find room for a volunteer and so did the rugby club, the more I did the more I became involved.

Now a few years down the road, only No 1 Son is really playing the game.  I am unable to break the spider’s web of commitment I have invested into his club.  Not while he is still dependent on our support, both financial and parental, can I cut the threads.  He himself is carving a name for himself at the club.  While out injured last season we pushed him to take up refereeing which he is developing as another strand to his rugby career.  A rising star, full of determination to succeed and already being congratulated on his ability and fairness, he has local RFU referees watching and mentoring him.

Of course there are benefits to being involved, free RFU stress balls and with the world cup coming to this country in four years time I am hopeful that my involvement with the club will help me gain a ticket to watch No 1 Son as he plans to play for England at that time.   Although I am not sure I will have overcome my horror at the game or the carnage left behind.  I suspect, No 1 Son will not want his mother screaming at the opposition “get off my son”, instead he will have some gorgeous model hanging round the hospitality suite on my ticket, to soothe his battered and bruised brow.

So just maybe I now know where my priorities lie.  My needs, in my mind, come below that of my children!

The meeting last night did however introduce me to a press officer who gave me tips on match reporting and how to develop a human interest story.   It also left me with a tiny germination of a seed for a story this weekend.

My personal preference is writing and clearly the boys’ priority is fun sports; “never the twain shall meet” or maybe they just did.


Broken Ripples

My friend and colleague Jenny announced or rather stumbled through the desperately sad news that her husband was leaving her.    Gathered in the staff room, she told us, in painstakingly slow sob infused words asking us for help to get her through this heartbreaking time.   She was honest, and it was the raw emotion of bewilderment, guilt and fear as two giants of passion; love and hate clashed deep within her, openly evident to all.

Tears flowed freely around the room; hugs came free with the tea, as we all reeled with the shock of Jenny’s news and the force of her grief. We gathered round her; in a united tirade about the fickleness of men, how he would regret his decision and how could he do that to her.

“He has taken away my security and my future and that of our child. How could I have been such a failure?” She sobbed.

It is easy for us to be pragmatic. We are not suffering the conflict of love against hatred inside us.  We know she will pull through this; she is strong and clever, inspirational and definitely not a failure. She doesn’t know this; she cannot at the moment, find a way to get over the hurt that is ripping through her.

Her eyes have gone past the red rimmed stage of crying and have lost their huge playful sparkle.  Still wide; they are haunted and touched with an inner grief which is heart rendering to those who watch.  My response was to hug and hold her; but what I would love to be able to do, is gather her up and cocoon her, in beautifully soft clean white clouds until all her pain has subsided.

Of course the irony of the interwoven fabric we call life was; one other person in that staffroom had news to tell.    She kept very quiet and did not join in with the diatribe of hatred that poured around the room against Jenny’s husband.   She, I guess has already spent time and emotion on this situation.

Although it has not been announced, in an ironic twist; Hetty has become engaged over the summer holiday.  Her beau to be; with an unexpected act of romanticism, whisked her away to a hotter sunnier climate to propose to her.   A most wonderful moment in their lives except; her beau and Jenny’s husband not only work together, they are best friends.

So what happens now to the outer circle of friends which include Jenny and Hetty?  Most of the staff are very much anti Jenny’s husband.  Is the same scene being played out in her husband’s staff room with his colleagues all standing by him in solidarity understanding why he had to leave the wife and fall for someone else.

If by some wonderful prophetic turn of events he realises how foolish he is being, how much he will be losing and begs to come back to Jenny; the crowd of friends and colleagues will open up their welcoming arms to take him back into the close knit inner weave of friendship.  This little episode would be forgotten until some tiny misdemeanour in the future. For now though, friends will be wary of their comments, husbands and wives will take opposing views as to who was right and who was wrong, things will be said in the heat of a moment or in support; that in the future will take a lot of bridge building before being able to reach that previous status quo.

It is inevitable that I will come across Jenny’s husband, but the friendly jokey banter we shared in the past has gone.  Jenny will, I hope, remain in my circle of friends but I will feel disloyal and uneasy next time I meet her husband, just as he will avoid any friendly repartee we would have otherwise had.   I will be looking over my shoulder checking no-one can see me talking to “him” and reporting back to Jenny, that I was colluding with the other side!

Whatever the tragic reason he felt he had, to leave his marriage, his child; I doubt he ever realised quite how large the ripples of his actions would be, particularly in a small provincial town like ours.

What is the recipe for a happy marriage?

I read only this week how second marriages are failing at a higher rate than first.  Are we, as a society becoming too self-centred and unable to commit to the ups and downs of relationships?   Marriage vows still say for “better or worse” not “when things go my way or else I’ll walk”.  In life there will be “better”; times will be good, happy and financially stable.   As we all know there will also be “worse” times; sad times and difficult times, financial difficulties and children issues.  Are these not the times when couples need to stand together against the complications of the outside world and fight together rather than packing a bag and saying “I’m off”?

Is monogamy the answer?  History has a colourful view of marriage and expectation.    Henry VIII and his Tudor courtiers all believed in the sanctity of the actual marriage until someone else came along.  The king and high placed courtiers were expected to have beneficial arranged marriages, often when they were very young.  A blind eye would be turned on secret night time adulterous trysts; so secret that families battled to have their daughters be the latest mistress, bringing glory and untold riches to the family during her popularity.

Men in power and the spotlight have always had mistresses throughout the ages.  The primal male psyche still lives within other cultures. The animalistic pride-like custom of taking a wife and then another is still accepted in Arabic culture.   Even today, leaders such as Bin Laden and Gadaffi had multiple wives and children. Throughout history and religion, characters such as Jacob had many wives; the son of his favourite wife was his favourite son to whom he gave a multi-coloured coat; Joseph.   Hugh Hefner founded a financial empire by surrounding himself with glamorous young playthings.

Does this polygamous lifestyle really lead to harmony or happiness?  Joseph was hated by his brothers, who sold him into slavery.  In our liberal westernised culture, a report recently told of Lord Bath with his polyamorous lifestyle and the night time disputes resulting in one wifelet calling police following an altercation with a fellow wifelet.

It might work for the male ego, but Henry got bored and changed wives nearly as often as he changed mistresses.   Madam de Pompadour was the third but not last mistress of Louis XV of France.  Whilst J F Kennedy’s legendary conquests are well documented particularly Marilyn Munroe and Jayne Mansfield.  Men find it so difficult to commit to one person; why?

If Jenny, who puts 110% into everything she does, including her marriage can love one person so much then why; is it not enough?  Why do men need to stray?  What more do they want?

Jenny has her friends; her child and can hold her head high, knowing she gave her marriage everything.   It will take time, for her husband to realise quite what he has lost and then sadly it will be too late.



Putting off Procrastination

I have developed a serious case of writer’s block and am not sure how to get over this hopefully interim state of barren creativeness.

Always one to lack the confidence in my own ability to create and share, I think I have got out of my routine where I just wrote rather than thought about the outcomes.

How did it get so bad?

Once upon what seems a lifetime ago; I would wake up full of creativity and spend an hour allowing the pen to scrawl the old fashioned paper, before the rest of the world began to emerge from their slumbers.   A few stolen moments of my time allowing me to pen a few random (and they were random) thoughts nurtured into an entertaining piece of prose.

I then took on the biggest challenge of them all:  NANOWRIMO – to write a novel in a month:  Even when I realised; to achieve this mammoth task I needed to produce 2000 words a day for 30 days, I undaunted, agreed to attempt the challenge.  After all 2000 words were marginally over what I could produce in a morning anyway.

I took the challenge and although technically I failed; in my mind, I succeeded in producing a skeleton of a novel with 60,000 words.   The disputable issue is that it took me just over 2 months to produce; hence in the eyes of the organisers it was not finished.   I on the other hand was pleased with my effort and really believed my story had wings to fly.    I then took the tentative next step to edit and fluff out the bones of my skeletal tale.

Two rewrites later and my story has depth, characterisation, intuition and realism about it.  That of course is my opinion.  What the story lacks is decent punctuation, spelling errors of the most basic kind and the readiness to be sent away.    I know the story well, I know and identify with all the characters and I can spend wasted hours just trawling through adding a colon, correcting their to there and remembering my speech quotation marks.

I loaded it onto the “you write on” web site for other writers to critique the first 7000 words, and surprised myself at the favourable comments that have come back.   A lot of people have given negative feedback on the punctuation and grammar, which are not in the remit to comment on.  However the positive feedback on the storyline, characterisation, pace and  structure, narrative voice, settings and themes has been overwhelming in their encouragement and assurance that this is a story that should be finished and published.

I learnt quickly to review other people’s attempts with some catching my attention so much I can’t wait to read the finished product.  A few, thankfully not many, such dire attempts that I struggled to make it through the 7000 words but I still managed to find some good things to say.  After all, I was learning fast just how callous and soul destroying a negative review could be after the effort put in.

I read somewhere:  a writer needs a blog; an opportunity to allow your work to be read and commented on.  I began a blog; unsure of who was going to read the blog, after all who is going to randomly read someone else’s delusional musings. I link it to a facebook account as a conduit in order to direct some traffic and some comments.  Comments are rare and usually come from my children telling me “that is not what facebook is about”.   I try to write the blog once a week meaning my creative juices at least get a stirring; but it is not the same as the outpouring of weird and wonderful writing that I was producing only this time last year.

Time out during the summer holidays meant I did not get up at the usual time and join the dawn chorus, not only because birds are not as vocal at this time of year but with the pressures of school and work not on, naturally there would be more time in the day to write.  Who exactly was I kidding! Three boys take a lot of looking after even when they reach teenagedom.  Continual raids on my fridge and snack cupboard requires regular trips to a shop.  Gangs of 9 year olds traipsing through my kitchen requiring squash, is interruption enough either to prepare the squash or to clear the mess when they beat me to it. They say girls are fashion conscious and fastidious about their attire; then explain to me why boys require several changes of clothes per day and the bathroom floor is a constant extension of the washing basket.

The autumn term has now reached us with alarming alacrity, the boys are going back to school, Sporty Sexy Dad is already back at work and I return to the school office today.    Although New Year and the resolutions we all make is thankfully still a few months away.  In the school calendar the New Year starts here, so with it comes a resolution:  to return to the halcyon mornings when I wrote for the sake of writing.  I have a list of competition short stories with the dates they need to be sent in.  I do not flatter myself by thinking I stand a chance of actually winning, but if I could only put pen back to paper and create a flow I believe I can overcome this interim stumbling block.

A sense of duty – that will win me a holiday, but what could I write about.   Obligation, undertaking, what you have to do, all good descriptions of the word duty but how can you make them into a story.  The sense of duty I have is to write but about what?

Make ‘em laugh  –  that is a good one I can write about anything but it has to be funny,  telling a joke is too subjective and as my children are at pains to tell me; my humour and theirs is worlds apart, so maybe not this one.

Atrocious first line – this sounds better, they have even given me the first line “And then I woke up to find it was all a dream...”   Ooh gosh, feelings of déjà vu and Bobby Ewing in the shower, not a bad image, but maybe not for this.

There must be something I can write about.

Pen poised, paper at an angle…. no wrong angle, that’s better and………..   oops the troops are emerging, I have to rejoin the real world.

Well maybe tomorrow……….


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