Friday, 28 December 2007

Old leaves and new shoots

I like the lull between Christmas and New Year - these days of curling up on the sofa to read books and eat Roses, assembling new Lego sets and finding 900 batteries for all the new Christmas games, settling down in front of corny films, and catching up with friends for mulled wine and mince pies. The quietness and stillness is comforting after the shrieks and excitement of the Big Day.

Yesterday, my son and I ventured out to the back garden to rake up all the leaves that were piling up in the flowerbeds. Never had to do that in the old place as the garden was so titchy there, we only had room for one small rowan tree, a few flowers and a scrap of lawn. The new garden isn't what you'd call big either, but we've got a couple of gorgeous cotinuses, a cherry tree and ahem some other large bushy thing so have had loads of lovely leaves to pick up. It was great discovering previously hidden new green shoots that were poking up in the flowerbeds - I'm excited about what secrets this garden will reveal in spring. I've spotted some snowdrops coming through but the others are still a mystery.

It's been quite a year, 2007. Any Way You Want Me published in April, moving house and city in July, and a marriage proposal in August. I'm looking forward to seeing what other green shoots come up in 2008...

PS I nearly forgot to add this brilliant news... Any Way You Want Me has been picked as one of Keris's Top Ten of 2007 over at Trashionista! How fab is that?!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Difficult question

I blame The Polar Express.
I rented it as a Christmassy end-of-term treat and we all five snuggled on the sofa to watch it under a duvet last night. Bloody rubbish it was. Total mish-mash of ideas, weird bunch of characters, and worst of all, it dared to suggest to kids the possibility that not everyone believes in Father Christmas (why do kids' films DO this?)

This morning at breakfast, I was literally just thinking how relieved I was that my three (aged 7, 5 and 3) still believed in FC and the wretched film hadn't been one huge spoiler, when my eldest daughter said, "Sometime I think it's really the parents who put presents in children's stockings and not Father Christmas at all."

Nooooooo!
Nooooooooooo!
Don't think that! Luckily I was making a coffee and had my back to her so she couldn't see the aaarrgggh face I pulled. I turned round and her eyes were upon me, questioning. Shit. I was really stuck for what to say. I didn't want to tell a whopping great lie but at the same time, I didn't want to bludgeon her with the truth, especially as son was listening in.

"Oh, you've got to believe," I said, "otherwise you'll have to go on the Polar Express."
Her eyes brightened. "Oh cool!" she said. "I really want to go on the Polar Express!"

I made an escape with the coffee before we had to talk about it any more. (It was a crap answer, though, wasn't it? What should I have said??)

Ahhh well. Apart from this little blip, life is good, school's finished for Christmas and we are all feeling festive. And on that note, I'm going to sign off for a few days with a big fat Merry Christmas to blog readers everywhere. CHEERS!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Paranoid

Author paranoia is a dreadful thing. I have been waiting for the last few weeks to hear my agent's thoughts on the first half of my new novel. Of course, during that time, I have convinced myself that

1) The new novel is absolute crap
2) Agent can't bring himself to tell me the new novel is absolute crap and is hoping I'll forget about sending it
3) Lucy Diamond is soon to be a washed-up has-been author
4) Who was I trying to kid? My career is over and I might as well give up

etc etc. Soul-destroying, or what?

BUT it turns out that due to missed emails and a malfunctioning Blackberry, my agent never received the ms in the first place, and then, when he finally read it and sent his response, his email never reached me! Bloody technology!!! It has almost driven me to a nervous breakdown of angst and misery. From now on, it's paper and a quill pen and the good old Royal Mail all the way from me. Except when I need to blog things, of course. Ahem.

Anyway, I did get his feedback last night. And...deep breath...he really likes the ms, and said all sorts of fab things about it that I'm far too modest to type up here.
So I think it's going to be a happy Christmas after all. Lucy Diamond lives to write another day!!!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

What's in a name?

What with Christmas parties and treats and all the rest of it, there seems to be a high sugar content in the kids' diets at the moment (oh all right, and mine as well) so I have become a bit of a nazi about tooth-brushing.

"But WHY do we need to brush our teeth?" grumbled my three-year-old this morning.

"Because if you don't, they'll go rotten and drop out," I told her.

"Will YOURS drop out?"

"I hope not. Maybe when I'm an old old grandma or something," I said vaguely.

She looked appalled at the thought. "When are YOU going to be a grandma?"

I gave her a hug. "Don't worry, I'll always be your mummy. But when you're all grown-up, if you have a baby one day, that will make me a grandma as well."

She thought about it. "I WILL have a baby," she decided. "And I will call her Anna-Rose."

"Ahh," I said. "That's a lovely name."

She thought about it some more. "No, not Anna-Rose," she said. "I will call her Little Lord Jesus."

Well, there's something to look forward to.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas treats

It's been a strange old week. But it's ended on a high note at least. Went to Birmingham yesterday to meet my mum and dad for a Christmas-treat trip to see Peter Pan at the Rep Theatre. I've got a soft spot for Birmingham. We went there a lot as a child, partly because 1) my mum is a Brummie, 2) my Granny (Birmingham Granny as she was known) lived there and 3) my dad was (still is) a Villa season ticket holder, so quite often he and my brother would go and see a match, while my mum took the girls shopping. (Sometimes I would go and see the match instead of my brother but apparently I would spend most of the first half asking when I was going to get some crisps. And Villa always lost or some important player got crocked whenever I went so in the end my brother decided I was a CURSE who should never darken the gates of Villa Park again. Luckily I knew my place - the shops.)

Anyway, we all had a great day out. Birmingham is so fab, everyone we spoke to there was just so friendly and lovely, and there was a brilliant atmosphere wherever we went. (I am definitely a city girl. Could never do that living in the middle of nowhere thing.) There was a huge German Christmas market with lots of fairy-light-covered stalls offering steaming mulled wine and wooden toys. There was a big helter-skelter and carousel in town, all lit up, and an ice rink near Symphony Hall, ohhhh it just all felt so lovely and Christmassy. Just what we needed, a bit of sparkle.

And Peter Pan was fab, especially all the flying around bits. "How do they DO that?" my son marvelled in the interval. "Are they all magicians?"
"No," said Eldest Daughter wisely. "They've got ropes round their necks or something. Invisible ropes. But why is Peter Pan wearing a SKIRT? That's what I want to know."
I actually found myself getting a bit sniffly at the very end, where the music rose to a crescendo and Peter soared up into the air for one last time, twirling around in mid-air in a very balletic sort of way. There's something about the Not Wanting to Grow Up theme that resonates with me even now. I guess Christmas is the one time of year when you can indulge yourself by feeling like a child again.

Something incredible has happened this morning. I actually managed to read in bed for a whole HOUR. And even then nobody came in crying saying, Mum he hit me!, or Mum I need a drink!, or Mum she opened the advent calendar and it's MY turn. Spooky. The kids have been playing a game where they're scientists on a boat for hours. Meanwhile, I'm still in my dressing gown having just got out of bed, having read hundreds of pages. Now that's what I call a Christmas treat!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Tess

We got her from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in January 2000. “She’ll probably be scared when you first get home with her,” they said as they put her in a cat-carrier. She wasn’t. We opened the box in our living room, and out she jumped. Then she lay on her side to have her tummy stroked. No scaredy-cat, our Tess.

She was the stripiest tabby you’ve ever seen, small and daft, extremely friendly and cheeky. She’d do this cute begging thing where she sat up on her back legs and rubbed her front paws together, as if she was praying. “You could get her in a cat-food advert, doing that,” people said when they saw her.

She was there at the births of all the children, just keeping me company in that instinctive animal way. She knew something special was happening.

Everyone knew her, in our old road in Brighton. She’d be in and out all of their houses, begging for titbits, doing her cute party trick. “She’s too fat,” the vet complained and we had to put a note on her collar: Do Not Feed Me – Greedy, Not Hungry.

I think she liked living here. She liked lying on the sunny patio outside the kitchen, exploring the alley at the back of the house, sleeping under my son’s bed. She liked catching the rats from our next door neighbour’s compost heap and dragging them into our house. (I wasn’t quite so keen on that bit.)

But she went missing on Saturday night. We have been up and down the alley, calling her name, round the neighbouring streets too. Youngest daughter has been especially worried – she sees Tess as her sibling, the only person in the family she gets to boss around.

Today we called the Cats and Dogs Home and the vet to see if she’d been found. She had. She’d been hit by a car and killed.

H-t-b has just buried her in the garden. And I’m sitting here having a bit of a cry. And wondering how we’re going to break it to the kids. They are going to be so upset, I know. I can't bear it.
Goodbye Tess. You were such a sweetheart.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Roots part 2

So, we went on the house-hunt today. It was really exciting, striding off to find actual houses built by an actual ancestor hundreds of years ago! It felt like a really wonderful treasure hunt.
As I said (pay attention), my great-etc grandpa William Osmund built two houses in Bath, not far from the Royal Crescent (la-di-dah!) so off we went to seek them out, A-Z in hand. It was so exciting, thinking about family members walking along those very same pavements, horses and carriages trundling along the cobbles, back when the city was coming to life.

We went to find the house where William and Jennie had lived first, with their four children. We'd looked at the map and wondered if it might be a little mews, it was such a small road. As we turned the corner though, it didn't feel right. There was a school there. A modern doctor's surgery. No lovely old houses.

"They've gone and knocked it down!" my dad said. We felt outraged on behalf of William. Cheated. We'd never got to see it!

We all stood and glared at the surgery, really disappointed. It was all very well being there, on the actual spot, but I'd really hoped to see the Osmunds' front door, look up at their windows and imagine them peering out at us. (And what am I going to write in my blog?, I thought. I've gone and told them all now, what a let-down if the search comes to nothing!)

We went to find the second house anyway. It had probably been turned into a burger bar, we joked as we walked. The second house was close to where the first had been built. They had probably backed on to one another, we guessed, looking at the map. We rounded the corner and counted off the house numbers...and there it was. Beautiful.

Built around 1800 my dad reckoned, in the mellow honey-gold Bath stone, with a gorgeous curving doorway and old sash windows. It stood (stands!) on a steep hill, fab views over the city. There must have been a lot of land around the street when it was built, fields or woodland, farmland perhaps. It must have looked even better in its day, no cars, no buses.

We stood there and imagined the Osmunds, William and Jennie (and their son Johnny who went on to run the paper shop nearby according to this old letter my dad had) going about their lives, right there, where we stood. It was fantastic. I could almost smell the old wood smoke lingering in the crisp December air, hear the horses' hooves, see the grand ladies and gentlemen taking the air.

A connection. Roots. It's a good feeling.

Roots

When we moved to Bath a few months ago, I felt very much that it was my h-t-b's neck of the woods. His family all live in Somerset and he grew up not very far from here, whereas I grew up in Nottingham and I have no connection with the West Country. Not My Patch - or so I thought.

My parents are here at the moment and my dad's brought with him a folder containing an old letter and some family trees. It turns out that my family have LOADS of connections with Bath! The letter is from my great-grandma's cousin Lily, who lived here and gives lots of the family history. All sorts of people on my great-grandma's side of the family lived here and were married here back in the 18th and 19th century. And my great-great-great-great-great grandpa (I think it's five greats perhaps four) was a builder and actually built two houses here in Bath in 1790-ish. He lived in one of them with his four kids for years!

My mum and dad are currently watching my eldest two kids perform in the school Christmas show (I had to go yesterday with youngest daughter for the dress rehearsal). And when my parents come back, we are going to walk down the road and see the houses built by a Mr William Osmond, our relative, over 200 years ago. I'm getting shivers down my spine whenever I think about all that history, all those family stories, all the connections. Suddenly I feel like I DO belong here after all.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Jingle bells

I was woken this morning by the sound of singing from the room next door (shared by son and youngest daughter). How sweet, I thought. Bless them!, I thought. What lovely little children I've got.
Then I went in to their room and heard:

Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin flew away
Uncle Billy lost his willy on the motorway...

..with accompanying guffaws of laughter.
Youngest daughter is delighted. Her first rude song! It has been sung ad infinitum ever since. At breakfast, on the way to school, and all through this morning's playgroup session apparently. Like poor old Uncle Billy, I'm now starting to lose the will to live.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

We interrupt this blog to bring you a brief moan

Now, you know me. Sentimental old fool. Lover of Christmas, parties, booze, mince pies and any excuse to buy a huge tin of Roses etc (of course burned off by kitchen jogging shenanigans immediately afterwards ahem). BUT this year, for the first time, I am actually hearing myself say "Roll on January" and even "bloody Christmas!"

This is not usual. I don't like saying these things and being a grump. But I am just really sick of requests every single day for the past month or so for raffle prize donations, tombola donations, home-made cake donations (are they mad?) etc for school and playgroup Crimbo fairs. Christmas show costumes to provide! Christmas dinner money to provide! Forms to sign and cut and hand in saying that yes, son and daughter are allowed to walk down the road with teachers for Christmas carol concert. School-produced Christmas cards to order and pay for! Signing up to guilt rotas saying that yes, I will help set up wretched Crimbo fair and blah-di-blah-di-blah.

Make it STOP!!!!!

I haven't even had time to buy my sodding prezzies yet, with all this palaver to deal with.
BAH HUMBUG!
Roll on January. Bloody Christmas!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Feeling the burn

Okay, so I've started my pre-wedding dress fitness regime. This consists of:

1) running on the spot while I wait for the kettle to boil.
2) running right past the biscuit tin without opening it.

Er...that's it so far.
Paula Radcliffe better watch out!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Cry-y-y-ing

I don't know if you've seen the new Picador blog yet but there was a good feature on it the other week about books that make you cry. I didn't leave a comment because I could only think of two books that have ever made me actually sob in an unattractive tears-streaming-down-face snivelling kind of a way - those being Something Might Happen by Julie Myerson and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. BUT we got out the kids' Christmas books the other day ( saved up in a box for the rest of the year) and I remembered another one - The Little Reindeer by Michael Foreman. I don't know what it is about this book - it's a happy ending, for goodness' sake! - but the last page - oh, every time I read it aloud, I am welling up by that point. It just gets me every time, I really don't know why. There's another children's book too, now that I think of it - Come Back Grandma by Sue Limb - oh, again, I just can't read the last page aloud without blubbing. Funny, isn't it, how a clutch of words on a page can trigger such intense responses. For the Myerson, Faulks, and Grandma books, it's the subject matter that got me. But The Little Reindeer...I am baffled. Maybe there is some faulty wiring in my brain. Maybe I was a flying reindeer in a former life. I dunno.

Anyway. Enough sadness and tears. I have posted off the copy-edit of Over You this morning and feel MUCH better about it. I think I could have gone on tweaking and fiddling for ever, but have drawn a line under it and off it's gone. The copy-editor had actually left a note saying she thought it was "great fun and moved me to tears too" (we like that copy-editor) and now I can't help feeling curious about which bit made her cry. It's not a big weeper of a novel by any means, not like The Little Reindeer, for example, but there you go...

Sunday, 2 December 2007

More slashing and burning (and I don't mean cystitis)

Phew. I am getting there on Over You. I have gone through it twice with the red pen and hacked out loads of stuff that I felt was slowing it down, and I think the story is much better for it. It's been quite helpful, coming back to the manuscript fresh having written it so long ago, it's meant I could be quite dispassionate and objective about the whole thing, chopping out pages and paragraphs quite ruthlessly. Will go through it once more tonight/tomorrow night and then hopefully I can put the red pen away for a while and send the ms back to Mission Control.

Meanwhile, had a boost from lovely friend who read the first chunk of Novel 3 and gave some great feedback (if you are reading this, thank you so much, I have emailed you back (twice) to say your comments were fab and much appreciated - but I don't know if hotmail is still resisting my advances!) So that made me feel a lot better about the world. See - am being much more positive, am not even THINKING about tomorrow...