Thursday, 28 October 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan has been released!

I'm pleased to say that '50 Stories for Pakistan' has now been released and is available to buy from the Blurb website.

Proceeds from sales of this book will go to the Red Cross Pakistan Floods Appeal.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Magic and sparkle at Build-A-Bear Workshop®

Eldest has been talking about Build-A-Bear since the spring of 2009, when a friend of hers had a party at Build-A-Bear and told her all about it. It's taken until now for me to give in and go, but I am so glad I did.

I'm not keen on shopping malls. If you ask me which stores are my favourites, the answer would end in 'dot com' but this trip was something else altogether. As we drove to Reading there was a great deal of excitement in our car.

As you enter a Build-A-Bear Workshop, you are greeted by friendly staff. What hit me straight away was that there are a lot of them, and by the time we left, they had all spoken to us. Julie was the first lady who we spoke to, and she handed us over to Sarah who showed us what to do. It took Eldest half a second to locate her bear, as she wanted one to match her friend's. It's a pink bear which she has named Candyfloss. Middley took a bit longer to decide but he got there in the end. We were then taken along to choose a sound for each toy. Eldest decided not to have a sound but Middley chose a bark, which I thought was unusual for a bear, but who am I to argue?

The next stop was picking out a heart, which they both did with great concentration. Sarah then took them through a little sequence of events, such as making a wish, kissing the star, spinning around. To be honest I can't remember all the details as I was too busy concentrating on not welling up *too* much. Watching their little faces was something quite magical.

Sarah took Middley's bear and started to fill him with stuffing. It was only when the bear was almost ready to be sewn up that Middley had another look at him and.... *Meltdown*  Yes, one of my worst fears on a shopping trip as he started wailing that he had wanted a dog and crying inconsolably. Sarah took this all in her stride (bless her heart) and said that it was ok as the bear was not sewn up yet, so she let him change it for a dog. Huge sigh of relief all round, and his face turned from despair to utter delight as the dog was then filled up.  Eldest was very calm and collected, waited patiently for her bear to be completed and then cuddled it with a big grin on her face.

After this, we went off to the fluffing station, where they brushed the bears under a jet of air. Very cute to watch, and this involved the addition of two brushes to our rapidly growing pile of merchandise. Next to outfits. Honestly, this shop is like a bear version of Mothercare, they have everything from adorable little underpants to suits to party outfits. And the shoes... simply gorgeous.

After each of them had selected an outfit we went to the computers and they filled in their details which resulted in a birth certificate being issued for each of the bears. These contain magical codes (which I think Eldest was almost as excited about as the bear itself) to enable them to play online at www.buildabearville.com.

I decided to get a small bear for Youngest as I felt guilty that was not with us. (He was busily having fun elsewhere, and non-the-wiser, but you know how it is...) I discovered the very adorable "Smallfry" toys and chose a monkey for him and also a gorgeous little outfit. These little guys are an even tinier, even cuter version of the big bears.

I can honestly say this was a wonderful shopping experience. The children were helped along each step of the way and they had such a wonderful time, and it was so sweet to watch them bringing their new toys to life. We have three new additions in our house tonight; Candyfloss, Sam and Eely-Banana (I think that's probably how it's spelt?!). I am sure you will agree they are adorable. I also know for a fact that we will never be able to get away with walking past a Build-A-Bear Workshop ever again!



Saturday, 23 October 2010

Becoming an Ether Books Author

I read and absorb the Bubblecow blog regularly. I spotted their piece about Ether Books on the day it was posted. Why then did it take me until Thursday to send off a story? Goodness only knows.  (Please excuse me while I grab my lack of confidence around the throat, shove it into a wooden box, and nail the lid shut.)

I suppose hearing about having another story accepted for an anthology on Wednesday gave me a boost. So on Thursday I filled in that form on the Bubblecow website.

I had an email back that very afternoon. It was a yes for the story. At this point I sat in front of my computer blinking. What started as a very uninspiring week bunged up with a cold was turning into the most successful week for my writing ever.

I have now signed a contract with Ether books and become one of their authors. They publish stories, poems and essays directly to iPhones via their app. From what I have read this may expand to other mobile platforms in the future. It's such an exciting thing to be part of. 

What a week!

Please check out the Ether Books website.
You can also follow them on Twitter and 'like' their page on Facebook.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Publication in 'Shambelurkling and other Stories'

On Wednesday I was looking at Trevor Belshaw's Facebook wall and I noticed a link. Some may say fate was playing a hand with this as the previous thing I had looked at was D.J. Kirkby's blog post 'Wannabe Farm Girl'. I enjoyed this blog post a lot and my brain was already getting creative when I found a link to The Pages Magazine about an anthology that is being put together to help children with Autism.

Reality took hold and off I went to do the school run and a grocery shop. All the way around the store, a voice was whispering in my head. As soon as I got home, I wrote a story called 'Poppy's Party' and sent it off. It's a story told from the point of view of an autistic 10 year old boy.

By the time I got back from the school collection, I had received an email saying that my story was going to be included in the anthology. I do not have words for how this made me feel. I am actually not sure it has sunk in yet.

Getting to know D.J.Kirkby has enabled this story to come together. As you may know, D.J. has Aspergers, and since we have become friends, I have read a lot about Autistic Spectrum Disorder in the hope of understanding what she, and others with Aspergers/Autism, have to cope with every day. I was actually quite terrified of sending 'Poppy's Party' to her but she told me once she had read it that it was exactly how she had felt as a child. This made me feel incredibly proud of this story.

I have since written another story called 'Fabulous Fairies' which is also going to be included in the anthology.

'Shambelurkling and other Stories' is an anthology aimed at 8-12 year olds. It is going to be published via Lulu on 28th November 2010. It will also be available on Amazon at a later date. It is a fund-raising anthology and all royalties will go to The National Autistic Society Early Birds Plus Programme. If you would like to read 'Poppy's Party' and 'Fabulous Fairies' you know what to do, as they are not available to view anywhere else at this time.

Thank you for your support of this project.

Monday, 18 October 2010

My Adventures at Cheltenham Literature Festival

My first ever Literature Festival experience began with locating my hotel and checking in, then walking into town for my first event. I have been a fan of Dawn French since ‘French and Saunders’ began, so I had high hopes for her talk and she did not disappoint. As well as being funny, she talked about her writing which I found fascinating. (She said that she has never touched a computer and writes everything on paper with a pencil.) She was exactly how I expected her to be; interesting and funny, and I am looking forward to reading 'A Tiny Bit of Marvellous' now. I enjoyed her memoir ‘Dear Fatty’ a lot when I read it so I have a feeling that her novel will be a good read when it is released.

During the afternoon, I went for a walk around Cheltenham. Before I left home I had been on the British Red Cross website and discovered that there was a shop there, so I found the correct road and walked up to find it. It was quite a way, but when I spoke to the manager about ‘50 Stories for Pakistan’ she was absolutely delighted and took a huge heap of my postcards to display in the shop. The shop had a huge selection of books and was full of customers, despite the ‘out of town’ location so it seemed like a very good place to be leaving the cards.

In the early evening, I met up with a friend and another friend of hers at a lovely restaurant called Namaste. Somehow my thoughts of having one glass of wine turned into the three of us sharing two bottles. The food was absolutely delicious. They went off to another event and I wobbled up the road hoping that I wasn’t going to feel rough on Sunday. (I am a very light drinker and even one glass can make me feel a bit hung-over. I know, I know.) I decided that the only way to avoid this was to re-hydrate so I went to the cinema and sat watching a random film with a large diet coke and popcorn which luckily did the trick. By the time I walked back to my hotel room I felt great, not least because the girl who sold me the munchies asked if I had a student card. Bless her.

On Sunday I went to see Harry Hill at noon. To be honest I didn’t have much expectation of this; I have enjoyed watching Harry Hill on TV but I imagined he would be sitting and talking with someone and that it could be disappointing. My worries were totally unfounded, as he took to the stage alone and was absolutely hilarious. The first half an hour he basically did a bit of stand up and it was a bit hyper but made me laugh a lot. He turned heckles and questions into funny stories effortlessly. I considered buying his book and getting it signed but the queue was so long that I would have missed my next event, so I settled for a browse around the book tent and a peer in the direction of the signing table. I then dashed off to grab a sandwich and was treated to being called ‘mademoiselle’ in a rather sexy French accent. The man obviously did a double-take as I was ‘madame’ after that but you know, for about five seconds, I did feel positively youthful.

One hour later, the event that I first signed up for began. ‘Writing Romantic Fiction,’ a three hour workshop, with Katie Fforde. We began by introducing ourselves. I said a bit about myself, but I failed to mention that I was keen to do the course as Katie has always been so lovely when I have spoken to her on Twitter. (There were only four people from Twitter in the room at the time and although the other three 'Tweeps' may have understood I thought perhaps the remaining twenty six people may have thought I was a bit mad.) Anyway, Katie Fforde can only be described as delightful and lovely. And I’m not just saying that because she started the session by passing round a big box of chocolates. She helped me to banish one of my demons from the room, as we all read out some of our work and I realised it was not as traumatic as I had been expecting. That felt good. It was lovely to be in a room with people with the same interest and we did a group exercise which I really enjoyed. I also finally met Lisa Bodenham-Mason who I have been talking with via Twitter and e-mail for a while. We have a huge amount in common and I have a feeling that we may have talked each other’s ears off if we had been together for much longer, so perhaps it was just as well that I had to dash off to another event after the workshop, but not before Katie signed my book. I am currently reading ‘A Perfect Proposal’ so as it was in my bag. Convenient, don’t you think?

Straight after that I walked rather quickly over to another venue to see, ‘Chavs, Snobs and the Afterlife,’ with Grace Dent and Tamsyn Murray. In this case I am happy to admit that I went because of my contact with Tamsyn on Twitter. However it was also because my first novel is for children and I am trying to load myself up with information on what may lie ahead for me in my future as a novelist. The highlight of this event was seeing Tamsyn read from ‘My So-Called Afterlife’ and Grace read from ‘Diary of a Snob: Poor Little Rich Girl’. I have to say they were both amazing readings, and it was fun to see the children in front of me reacting to what was being said. I would have bought both books on the strength of this if I didn’t already have them at home. As it was I bought another one of Grace’s books and she signed it for someone (I won’t say who in case they read this), and had a brief chat with Tamsyn. (I already have all of Tamsyn’s books at home, which she kindly signed the last time we met.) Both of these authors looked stunning and I was so desperate to ask Grace how she walked in her heels. They were impossibly high. Somehow though, the moment never arrived.

All in all it was a great weekend. My only regret is that I forgot to take my camera.

Friday, 15 October 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan: More Updates.

Today, thanks to the lovely people at my children's school and pre-school, quite a few people will be on the receiving end of my note in a newsletter and/or one of my postcards. If you found this post because of that, hello! I'm delighted that you stopped by to find out more about the book.

The tentative publication date for the book has been announced now. It's 28th October. There is also a photo of the full cover over on the Facebook page for the book. I think you will agree that it looks absolutely stunning.

The book is going to be sold for £5.95 plus P&P. For anyone that I see regularly though, I'm hoping to do a bulk order which could save you a bit on the P&P cost so let me know how many copies you want and I will put you on my list. (Obviously this only applies to people that I see in person fairly regularly.)

If you would like to help spread the word about the book, please do look at my competition and leave a comment beneath it to be included. The winner will not only receive a copy of the book but also some of my postcards and stickers.

I must away, I have a press release to write...

Thank you for your support of this project.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Short Story: The Giving

She gave and gave and gave until her children had grown, her husband had flown and she had only one thing left to give.

Leaving everything in order, she locked the door to her immaculate home and headed out through her manicured garden towards the woodland.

She looked straight ahead, without a backwards glance at what once was her reality. Bare feet crossed already dampening grass, the hem of her white robe skimming longer stems as she walked.

Faces turned towards her in the moonlight as she approached. Blank expressions evolved into barely-visible smiles.

She accepted that it was time. She would be leaving nothing and be missed by nobody, so she had no reason for doubt.

With the smallest hint of a final sigh, she made her final sacrifice.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Those little gestures that mean so much.

I have been very lucky recently to be at the receiving end of some wonderful kind gifts from companies.

Two weeks ago I was contacted on Twitter by Interflora offering to send me some flowers to brighten up my day. To begin with I wasn't sure if it was actually a joke, or if they were suggesting I buy some, but no; the following day the most beautiful bouquet arrived at my door. It lasted for two weeks and it has raised many a smile. The photo isn't the best, but you get the general idea of how gorgeous it was.

Then, since my story was accepted for '50 Stories for Pakistan', I have turned into a bit of a marketing obsessive. You may have noticed! I actually thought to myself 'well it's for charity' and paid a good chunk (enough to make me think twice) of money to Vistaprint for 500 (I know, I know) postcards to help me spread the word. I have used Vistaprint before several times and always been delighted with their products so it was a no brainer for me who to use.

After I placed the order I emailed Vistaprint and also called them the following day to discuss the possibility of a discount as this was a charity project. I was told that I already received a good offer on the order by the Customer Service lady on the phone. She was very polite and helpful, and I thanked her and told myself it had been worth the try. End of story... or so I thought.

Imagine my delight when I logged into my email this morning and discovered a refund of half of the product price that I paid!

I wouldn't often blog about big companies but these two definitely needed to be mentioned and thanked. Those gestures may be a tiny drop in the corporate ocean, but they make an enormous difference to individuals like myself.

Thank you.

Friday, 8 October 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan: Competition!

As I type, 50 Stories for Pakistan is less than a month away from publication. All very exciting and as much as it's going to be wonderful for me personally to see my story published in a book, the only way this project will raise a decent amount of money for the Red Cross Pakistan Floods Appeal is if people find out about it and buy it.

So, I'm going to buy an extra copy when it's published, and you can try and win it if you like. We need to spread the word as much as possible about this, so I will enter your name into the 'hat' as follows:

If you write a new blog post (from the time I post this onwards) about the book  - 5 times.
If you tweet about it - 1 time
If you add a status update about it on Facebook - 2 times.
If you invite your friends to join the Facebook group - 1 time for every 3 friends that click on 'like'

Don't forget to tell me (by commenting on this post) which of the above ways you have helped to spread the word. Once I have checked them out I will enter your name into the 'hat'. 

Thank you for your support of this project.

The winner will be selected at random on the day the book is published.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Short Story: A Listening Ear

This story includes words inappropriate for young children.

A Listening Ear

You think I’m a good listener don’t you? You come to see me often and while I’m getting on with my work you blurt it all out. Perhaps it’s because you visit me regularly and feel like you know me.

You think we’re on the verge of a fabulous friendship don’t you? Well in a few cases it has happened, but most of the time it’s just a job to me.

You walk in here with your, “Poppy did this at school,” and I smile as I sound enthusiastic. You tell me all about the award winning vegetables that your neighbour grew. Do I care? Hell, no. But I put on my soothing voice as I express an interest.

Then there was the time you visited for two hours. You said, “My husband’s away on business”. But your eyes said it all. You knew he wasn’t, didn’t you?
The following visit you spat “I can’t believe he went for the stereotype; his secretary for fuck’s sake!”
‘More like a fuck for the sake of it,’ I thought, but I offered you my listening ear.

I listen to you, and it’s not only you. Others visit through the day and they treat me like a counsellor. Affairs, illnesses, engagements, separations, deaths, and visits to the goddamned vet. I hear it all.

You think I’m a good listener. I am. I never forget a word.
And one day, I may surprise you.

National Poetry Day: View from the Shore

It's National Poetry Day today. I haven't written any poetry in a while so you're in for a treat (or a laugh) with this one. I wrote in on 15th November 1993. (This is exactly how I wrote it back then.)



View from the shore

The sun shines so brightly, the cool wind is light
The waves break around me, the gulls take to flight.
I stand and I stare out to sea for a while,
And strange, the sensation that turns to a smile.

I ponder the feelings that keep me subdued
I long for a time when my faith is renewed.
I feel all alone though there's crowds on the shore,
And turn my attention to nature once more.
 
A solitary tear marks a path down my cheek,
And deep in my dreamworld I hear someone speak.
As I look at the pebbles and shells on the sand,
I feel that there's someone who might understand.

I turn to ask questions, but see only space,
Once again watch the waves in this enchanted place;
Now I know I can't wish for what never can be,
And I finally feel happy; at one with the sea.

A friend I have found in the form of the sea,
The voice was a gift that was given to me
As I live for each day, but I know when I'm gone
That the sea in it's wisdom will still carry on.

When I came to the seashore it was to lament,
As I leave it I realise I feel so content.
I'm glad to discover I'm happy once more
As the waves wash my misery far from the shore.