Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Reading for pleasure

Eldest daughter (6) has had a bit of a downer on herself lately when it comes to reading. "I hate reading," she says. "I'm rubbish at it. And it's really BORING."

I can't help wondering how much this has to do with me writing children's books for a living (people say to her all the time, "Oh, you must love reading your mum's books!") and how much it's to do with the fact that son (4) has been reading since he was 3 years old and (sssshhh) is actually slightly a better reader than she is (not that I ever let slip that I think that, of course). He does this annoying thing of leaning over her shoulder while she's reading to me and correcting her when she slips up, which I think would piss anybody off, but the fact that he's younger must be a real stinger to her. Obviously I try to make time for her to read to me when he's not around but that's not always possible.

But this weekend she seems to have seen the light. I came back from London to find that she'd read three Rainbow Magic books on her own and since then is whipping through them at a rate of knots. In fact, she's feeling so much more confident, she was eyeing up our book collection last night. "I think these children's books are a bit babyish for me now," she said, dismissing the rest of her story books. She pulled out Return of the Native from the shelf above instead. "Do you think I'd like this one?"

"Well," I said, "I'm sure you will when you're older, but..."

She flipped it open to the introduction and started reading. "Thomas Hardy was born in... See? I can read it!"

"Well done," I said. "So you can."

I am so happy that she has decided she likes books. And I think she's happy too.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Back to life, back to reality...

"Oh, they're all so lovely," I said happily to partner on Sunday night once the kids were in bed. I was still suffused with been-away-from-home-for-two-nights happiness and everything about them seemed wonderful. Why had I ever wanted to get away in the first place?

SCREEEEEECH! went the music as the needle was knocked across the record at 3.30am Monday morning. "Mummy! Mummy!" from youngest's room.

I stumble blearily in there, tripping over small toys, stubbing my toe on the washing basket. "What? What's wrong?"

"Sing my a song!" she says cheerfully.

I slump against the wall. "Sing you a song? It's the middle of the night! Go back to sleep."

"Sing my a SONG!" she shouts. "Sing Goldilocks!"

I heave a sigh. My feet are getting cold. I give her one round of Goldilocks.
When Goldilocks went to the house of the bears, oh what did her blue eyes see?
A bowl that was huge, a bowl that was small
And a bowl that was tiny and that was all
She counted them one...two...three...
"There, I've sung Goldilocks, now let's both go back to sleep. Good night."

I climb back into bed, trying not to let the They're-all-so-lovely feelings seep away. Hopefully I'll be able to get straight back to sleep, job done. Five minutes later, though...

"Mummy! Mummy!"

Cursing and muttering, I'm back in there. "What now? What do you want?" I ask, hearing the irritation in my voice.

"Mummy, I done a poo."

I can't smell anything and she's got a Pull-up on anyway. "It's probably just a little wee wee," I tell her, desperate to get back into bed.

"Mummy, you change my little wee wee," she says.

I really don't want to have the light on, changing a nappy right now. I really really don't. We'll both be wide awake, it's cold, I'll probably never get back to sleep. She probably won't either and I'll be singing bloody Goldilocks all night.

"I'll sort it out in the morning," I say. "Now no more shouting. Mummy is very tired. Go back to sleep."

Five minutes later, she's off again. "Mummy! Mummy!"

WELCOME BACK TO YOUR REAL LIFE, a sign flashes in my head.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Nice one

I drank too much (gin, win, beer...).
I ate too much (two fat-cow breakfasts, cake, Turkish, Thai, hotel biscuits...).
I spent too much (hotel, two new tops, train fare, plus all of the afore-mentioned london-prices food and drink....ahhh, let's not go there, actually).
I had SUCH a good time.
Oh, it was just ace to be back in London with the girls shopping, boozing and having a laugh around old haunts and new. I haven't laughed so much in ages as I did last night reminiscing about all our awful exploits back when we were carefree twenty-somethings. They are so fab. We're already planning our next getaway - once our credit cards have recovered from this one's bashing.

Hotel was...interesting, plonked between Angel and Old Street, which had looked good on paper, but to get to Angel we had to walk through a particularly dog shit-tastic estate with lots of lurching blokes clutching cans of Special Brew roaming the streets. So that was niiiiice, reminded us of the old days when we shared a flat near King's Cross back when it was prostitute central. As for the hotel bar, it was a total Star Wars bar full of pissed meathead rugby fans, with The Weather Girls, Baccara and Jason Donovan playing on big screens (must confess, I did enjoy seeing Baccara - and come to think of it, that Weather Girls video with all the men in their flasher macs and red pants did really make me laugh last night).

Hooray for mates. And hooray for being appreciated. I've returned to "I Love Yow Mum" notes from son, kisses and arms-flung-round-the-neck hugs galore from the girls. Mind you, partner's buggered off out, leaving me to paint the front room (have managed one wall so far). It's good to be back.

Friday, 23 February 2007


I am really excited. Excited to the point where I can barely sit still and don't know how I'm going to do any work this morning.

Three words will tell the story: Girly. Weekend. Away.

Yes!! I am leaving my beloveds and getting out of here, up to London this afternoon to meet up with my two best mates for some gossip, booze and shopping. And eating. And swimming in the hotel pool. And lounging around not having to look after children. And not coming back until Sunday. Oh yes. It doesn't get much better than that.

We haven't all been together for well over a year due to geography getting in the way. The three of us flat-shared through our early twenties, then I went off travelling for a while, and K got married, and now H has moved up to Scotland (the Highlands! Can you get any further away from Brighton?!) and now K is in Cambridge, so we are scattered around, with seven children between us.

Funnily enough, last time we all met up for a night away, I thought, Hmmm, good premise for a novel, this - three old friends getting back together - and all these skeletons tumbling out of the closet. (Not that it happened like that with my friends, of course! No skeletons to speak of, not even a measly metatarsal.) But that's what Novel 2 is about, anyway, how you can be really close to certain people at one stage in your life and then, within just a few years, you feel you are living completely different lives with nothing in common. Oh yeah, and there's some major stabbing in the back, too. So you never know, I might get a big idea for Novel 4 while I'm away - there's this woman, right, and she's on the train to meet some friends and then, you'll never guess what, but...

Have just had a message from K actually - "If you get to the hotel before me, mine's a large vodka and tonic". That's the kind of weekend it's going to be, I think. Messy.


Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Not being Lucy Diamond today

I'm not being Lucy Diamond today, I'm being me, Sue Mongredien, children's author instead. I got to do a little book run this morning, which is up there as one of the nicest things about writing children's books. (That, and reading them to my own children, of course.) I've got quite a few books coming out this month and, as I get about twenty copies of each, I took a load into school to donate to the library and classrooms. I feel all warm and fuzzy now, thinking about my little stories being read and hopefully chuckled over by lots of REAL children, not just my three.

So, what do you reckon? Shall I do some shameless plugging while I'm at it? Oh, go on, then.

The first one that's out is called The Cloud Princess. It's part of a series called Little Princesses that Random House have published and they're all under the pseudonym Katie Chase. I've only written three of them, the wonderful Narinder Dharmi wrote a lot of the others, but they're a lovely series, just right for six-year-olds and over.

And coming out on Friday, there are two new Oliver Moons - Oliver Moon and the Nipperbat Nightmare and Oliver Moon's Summer Howliday, both published by Usborne, illustrated by the brilliant Jan McCafferty. These ones have got MY name on - hooray - and are funny, spooky stories about a boy wizard. PERFECT for six-plussers!

Last is my first picture book out next week, called Tigers Love to Say Goodnight, published by Orchard and illustrated by Sebastien Braun. For some reason Amazon haven't got a cover image up which is a shame, because the artwork is beautiful. It's hardback, though, so don't feel obliged to buy it - bit expensive!!

Phew. Sorry to do that to you. That's my lot on the plugging front now until Any Way You Want Me comes out in April!

Back in novel-writing land, I'm wrestling a bit with my plot. I'm not quite sure where it's all going which is a bit worrying, hence the slow, slow progress. I'll try and notch up a few more words before Friday's check-in, though (I nearly said 'weigh-in' then - it does seem like the same kind of process!)

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The secret of happiness

I have discovered the secret of happiness! All you need is:

one box of Miniature Heroes
one bottle of wine
one girly DVD (in my case, In Her Shoes)

I was feeling v mopey and miserable and can't-work-y yesterday and then in the evening, ta-dah! - problem solved. Only small fly in the ointment was Cameron Diaz being so gorgeous with her toned tanned legs scissoring back and forth across the did slightly reduce my enjoyment of the Miniature Heroes, I must confess. But it's a good film, isn't it? Didn't see right to the end because it was late and I was tired, so am saving the last bit for tonight. DON'T tell me what happens. I'm predicting Maggie goes on to bring about world peace and Rose goes clubbing and gets trolleyed, oh, and Shirley Maclaine's face actually I right? No?

I did a slightly rash thing on Friday, I TURNED DOWN some work. Quite a lot of work. A new four-book children's series with a new publisher. Two years ago I'd have jumped at the chance, snatched it out of the editor's hand before the ink was dry on the contract but this time, I took a deep breath and said no. The problem was, it was a 'young fiction' series based on this very popular character from a series of picture books they publish. And while the author of said picture books had okayed this series to be written by someone else, she still wanted her name on the front cover. Even though she wouldn't actually be writing a word of it. So while I can see that yes, this is her successful character that she's created, I didn't want to be a ghost-writer for her. I said I'd do it if my name could be on the front cover with hers. They said no. So I said no, too.
It feels a bit reckless to turn down work still, having gone through a few rocky years of we've-got-no-money, but I'm chancing my arm and hoping that I'll be offered a couple of different series instead. Tune in next month to read about me ringing the editor and begging for another chance, pleading poverty and cursing myself for being so bloody stupid, no doubt...

Saturday, 17 February 2007

A treat

Who said "not very romantic" then? Last night I was whisked away to Carluccios as a surprise treat, with babysitter, cab etc all sorted behind my back.

Ooh, he's good to me.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Say cheese!

If you're due to have your photo taken for a national newspaper, it's not a good idea to

1) Go to book group the evening before and drink wine

2) Forget to take off your make-up before going to bed

3) Have children bellowing at ungodly hours, disturbing your beauty sleep.

Damn. Next time I'll know.

It was the photo shoot this morning - arrgh, I hate having my photo taken. He was lovely, though, the photographer, came to my house and took some pictures of me reading Georgia the Guinea Pig Fairy to the kids in the garden as well as the usual author-at-desk style ones. There's something very unnatural about having to pose for photos - in fact, there's something very weird about being interviewed, too. I'm a bit freaked out at the thought of seeing the article in print, hope she's nice about our Daisy Meadows and doesn't try to stitch us up. I played it very straight (ie boring, not slagging anybody off, not bitching or moaning and trying not to destroy the D.M. "brand"). Hope it gets written up that way.

Am doing some work today, just sent off the revised revised REVISED proposal to Usborne and am about to do a second draft of Oliver Moon and the Olympics. Not a single word of the novel written this week, am just about to visit the coffee morning (oops, afternoon) and fess up. Next week should be a bit clearer, although I'm not quite sure what's going to happen next, plot-wise which may slow things up a bit.

We're having Valentines Day today - postponed it from Wednesday because we were due to be spending V. evening driving down the M40 and didn't think that was very romantic. Mind you, not going out tonight due to son being a bit virus-wobbly and youngest daughter being a bit cough-y. Not very romantic either, come to think of it.

PS Next book for book group is Suite Francaise. Can't wait to read it.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Muddled up

Sorry not to have blogged for a while - everything has gone a bit pear-shaped. Went to look around Cheltenham to see if we fancied moving there, thinking the answer was going to be yes, yes and YES - It was pouring with rain which didn't help but even so, it seemed a bit...quiet for my liking (especially after Brighton). And there were some gorgeous Regency bits of town but also rather a lot of horrible new-build estates and big roads carving up the centre, and it seemed almost as expensive as Brighton, house-wise, so no. Felt awful telling my parents and sister as we'd been so sure we'd love it and would be much nearer to them. But we're back to the drawing board instead.

I feel really muddled up about it all. We DO want to be nearer our families but at the same time what's the point of moving somewhere we're ambivalent about? If we leave Brighton (which we all love) it has to be for somewhere that feels just as good. So now we're wondering about Bath. Or Oxford. I don't know. Don't want to think about it any more. We drove off from my mum's yesterday and I just burst into tears, felt so disappointed with how it had all panned out.

I'm sitting up here waiting for the phone to ring now as I'm about to be interviewed by the Sunday Express. They're doing a piece on the Rainbow Fairies authors - yes, some recognition, excellent! - so I guess that means I don't have to be secretive about it any more. Phew. A photographer's coming round tomorrow and everything, eek. I'm a bit nervous about this interview, to be honest. What shall I say? I'm bound to blurt out the wrong thing. I'm bound to wreck the Daisy Meadows pure and wholesome image. I don't feel very sparkly or clever today. Aarrrgghh...

Friday, 9 February 2007

Twenty thousand words on the screen

I've reached 20,000 words in the new novel. Hooray! This feels like a bit of a milestone even if by the end of yesterday I wasn't giving it my all, just desperate to get the words on screen and chucking them out any old how. I am really stuck into the story now, characters all introduced and action underway. I am dead pleased with how it's going actually, 20,000 words feels like a lot in a short time. Twenty THOUSAND words!

End of school term today here which we're all relieved about. Son (aged 4) is hanging in there, absolutely knackered and a bit tearful with it. Down here, they let the youngest children start off just doing mornings for a term, so from Sept until Christmas he only went to school from 9 to 12, which was perfect for him. (He used to come home, strip off his school uniform at the front door and lounge around in his pants all afternoon.) But there's been no pants-lounging this term, as he's gone up to full-time and really needs a holiday, I think. Talking of which...

I'm going to have a break from blogging for a week or so as we're going to be away at my parents' house, making our big Life Change decision. Can't wait to go and have a look at some Cotswoldy villages. An estate agent actually came round yesterday to give us an early valuation - there's not much on the market here at the moment so she was really hassling us to SELL, SELL, SELL! "I'll put it on the market for you next week, if you like," she said, which sent me into a frenzy of panic. Nooooo! Next week? We're not ready for that! I was planning to get everything painted first (did the banister and spindles last night on the staircase - those spindles are total buggers to paint) but she scoffed and said, Oh, don't worry about that, you'll be able to sell really fast whatever state it's in.

It threw me for a while, but we've decided not to rush it, whatever she says. (Mind you, she also said, "Midlands? West Country? Isn't that the same place?" so it's not like she's this wise all-knowing guru we must obey).

Anyway, enough bimbling about that, I'm going to crack on with a new fairy story today. Happy half-term, everyone who's got the pleasure!

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Tonight, Matthew, I'm gonna be Chico...

This has got to be one of my fave celebrity 'spotted's of all time - from Latest Homes magazine, the local freebie.

Spotted! At the Theatre Royal, Brighton watching Aladdin was Hove resident Nick Cave with his kids. He sang along to Chico Time at the end of the show, seeming to know every word, and was repeatedly seen pointing his oversized foam finger in the air whenever a baddie came on stage.

They've printed it with a picture of him looking extremely dour and sullen. How I would have loved to have seen that!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Books and writing

I've been reading a lot of books lately. I think it was finally finishing the long slow haul of Our Mutual Friend that has made me devour a couple of shorter novels in a few gulps plus I've had train journeys and some long babysitting nights to fill, with nowt on t'telly. So far I've read The Adoption by Dave Hill which I really enjoyed - great characters who were all very real and well-observed, and a fraught family dynamic that kept me hooked. (And did I say, I've met him?!)

Next from the shelf was Beyond Black from Hilary Mantel for book group next week. From the cover, I expected this to be a Victorian ghost story - similar to that Sarah Waters one with the medium and prison scenes (sorry, too lazy to look it up on Amazon but hopefully you'll know what I mean. Affinity, was it called?) - but no, anyway, I was wrong, contemporary setting, well, ten or so years ago. She is SUCH a good writer, I think, brilliant use of words, really vivid descriptive passages. The subject matter was very disturbing, really got under my skin. And for all its darkness there were some fantastic comedic episodes that threw everything into relief. I liked it. Curious to know what the others think next week - and you, if you've read it?

I was going to launch straight into my Classic of the Month (which is Under the Greenwood Tree, still patiently waiting on my bedside table) but actually felt like something a bit lighter after all the ghosts and violence of Beyond Black so have started The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy by Polly Williams instead. I have to say, I've avoided this for ages because I loathe that whole 'yummy mummy' thing and I assumed it was going to be about braying Sloaney types with full-time nannies, doing the whole baby-as-accessory charade - which bears no resemblance whatsoever to my life or anybody else's I know. But then I read the first chapter of it on her website and realised that sure, there are a few of these characters in the book but they are held up for ridicule, and the main character, Amy, is actually hugely sympathetic and real. And it's absolutely hilarious, too, and very well-written. So I'm loving that one. Hurrah!

Work-wise, I am rocking at the moment. Sadly, not on the novel, that has come to a standstill while I tackle the 'day job' of writing children's books - but I'm storming along with those. Second draft of a new fairy book sent off, first draft of the fifth Jake book sent off, hopefully will dispatch the second draft of the final Velvet story today and start on my last fairy book in the current series (Saskia, if you're reading this, Jacqui!) AND had some good feedback from Usborne on my new proposal - just a few tiny tweaks they've asked for and then they're going to take it to their acquisitions meeting. It's (potentially) a new six-book series. I am VERY excited and already crossing all limbs and digits... Oh, I love my job. Love it, love it, love it. Did I mention that?

Monday, 5 February 2007

Wibble wobble

Great excitement in our house last night. Eldest daughter has her first wobbly tooth!! She has been desperate for it, as quite a few of her friends have lost teeth, and even resorted to asking one of her friends to whack her in the mouth while she was drinking from a water bottle in the hope of knocking one out (!) - not something your dentist would recommend, I'm sure. So it was phone calls to the grandmas last night, and everyone had to have a ceremonial wiggle, and then this morning, I was woken up by her face about two inches from mine and her saying, "Have you remembered something about me, Mum?"
"I've got a wobbly tooth!"

It's funny, isn't it, but losing a tooth seems to be one of those physical sensations that your body doesn't forget - I can remember so vividly what it felt like to twist around a loose tooth (ugh, gives me the willies to think about it now), that delicious feeling of wiggling it around with your tongue inside your mouth and then, once it had finally fallen out (or been wrenched out, more like), being able to poke your tongue through the new gap.

Must go and get some nice crunchy apples. She's dead keen to eat lots so must make the most of it!

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Bad news and good news

Outrageous goings-on in Brighton on Friday - basically the Labour councillors stitching up what was supposed to be a democratic process to decide new policy on schools admissions. Sod the children, we've got local elections to think about in May. And two fingers to the kids in Falmer whose parents might not be so vocal and middle-class as in other areas of the city, let's shaft them with a really crap, failing school. All a complete farce when, one hour before the committe were due to meet and vote about this new proposal on catchment areas, the only Labour councillor who isn't toeing the party line gets sacked and a stooge is put in her place to ensure the vote goes Labour's way. How depressing. I mean, we all know political corruption is there but this kind of blatant manouevring (sp?) is just sickening.

Luckily I was cheered up yesterday by a blogmeet. I met lots of lovely people, all fellow authors and bloggers, in London - it was so exciting! Bit strange going to chat with people you actually already know quite a bit about, yet haven't met before but all were fab and it was very enjoyable, comparing notes and gossip and putting faces to names. I felt a bit star struck actually, ooh, meeting famous people! Must rush out to some book shops now and walk around saying, "Oh yeah, I know her, yeah, I've met him..." in a showing off kind of way.

Better go, walls to paint, children to supervise, newspaper to read etc...

Friday, 2 February 2007

Mixing up the medicine

I have COMPLAINED to school this morning. It is their policy to administer medicine to children on school premises (I know some schools won't do this) so that children who are perfectly well but finishing a course of anti-biotics don't have to miss school.

So yesterday when eldest daughter came home, I asked, "Did they give you your medicine all right at school?"

"Yes," she said, "but it wasn't my medicine."

"What? You mean, they gave you the wrong medicine?"

"Yes - they gave me an orange one."

"And you didn't tell them it wasn't yours?"

"Well, no, I didn't want to..."

Can you believe it? I was really p'd off. They gave her another child's medicine! Not only have they messed up her course of antibiotics, but another child's course, too - and not to mention the fact that she might have been really allergic to whatever it was they gave her. It's not that difficult to check a name on a medicine bottle is it, to make sure you're actually giving this stuff to the right person? Jesus!

So I've had the head teacher on the phone this morning apologising profusely, after I kicked off at the office a bit at drop-off time. And it's big crunch day for us for something else which I'm not going to get into here. I feel a bit stressed, to be honest!

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Stop that at once!!

For the sake of ever getting any work done today, I hereby resolove to stop:

Googling nice houses and schools and ofsted reports

Doing calculations on bits of paper and agonising about not being able to afford nice houses

Agonising over good schools all being full and my children ending up being taught at home by me and us all going mad

Agonising over whether it is all worth it, or whether to stay put in lovely Brighton where we are all happy

Having arguments in my head with Competitive Mum 'friend' who keeps gloating about her perfect children and how they are infinitely better than mine (annoying cow, wait till I see her again, I'll.... Oops)

Checking emails every five minutes

Making cups of tea every five minutes

Reading people's blogs and trying to think of witty things to say and not being able to

Staring at the wall in front of me feeling a bit tired and miserable.

So there'll be none of that today, no. Eldest daughter has gone back to school this morning after being off the last three days with tonsillitis (her tonsils were the size of Maltesers, I'm amazed she could get any food past them). Youngest daughter has stopped coughing so hard the walls shook. Son off on his first school trip today (going all of two miles or so into town). Technically, all is well. But I've been sitting here for nearly an hour now and still haven't made a dent in the new Jake book I'm meant to be writing.

Sod it, I'll just check out some estate agents while I wait for inspiration to kick in...