Monday, 29 June 2009

Heroics

It's always rather shocking when real life suddenly spins off its ordinary route and takes a more dramatic turn, isn't it? Shakes you up a bit. Makes you think about the what-if and the what-could-have-been in a surreal, did-that-actually-just-HAPPEN? kind of way.

We were coming back from a weekend in Brighton last night on the M4 when all of a sudden a tyre blew on a van about 100 metres ahead of us. The van skidded and swerved and then just flipped right up into the air and overturned, crashing down to land upside down across two lanes. I was still in absolute oh-my-GOD shock but my husband was amazing. He pulled over, stopped the car and got out. "Call an ambulance!" he yelled and sprinted up the motorway to help.

That was his instinct - run and help - while I was in this sort of stupor, stunned, fumbling to get my phone, dialling 999 and still trying to process what had just happened. There's something horrible about calling the emergency services - I've only had to do it a few times and it's one of those highly charged, intense experiences that feels like a dream. I just kept thinking, I bet the driver has died. Surely they can't have survived, the way that van slammed down like that. Is it going to burst into flames? Oh my God, I'm going to see a dead body. I don't want the kids to see a dead body... - and all the while trying to be coherent, saying that the accident had happend just before junction 7 on the M4, no, I couldn't see any smoke coming from the van, I'm running up there now to have a look...

My husband and another guy had managed to get the driver out through the (smashed) window of his door and incredibly, he wasn't hurt at all, just shaken up (understandably). Fire engines and paramedics arrived and dealt with everything brilliantly and after half an hour or so, we were on our way again, all a bit twitchy about what we'd just seen.

I couldn't get over the way my husband reacted though - just running over to help without a second thought like that. I don't want to gush or be melodramatic, but I do find that truly heroic and brave - and just so good. My instinct was far more cautious - I was worried about the van blowing up and I didn't have that same strong urge to spring into action, to run. But he did and even though he shrugged it off a bit later, saying it wouldn't have been so heroic if the van had burst into flames and he'd been injured, the fact was that he didn't consider himself while he was sprinting up the motorway, his basic urge was just to get to the driver. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. I'm dead proud of him.

Funnily enough, I wrote the opening scene of a possible new novel the other day which concerns the business of heroism. It's good dramatic stuff, isn't it, someone saving a complete stranger's life, but somehow it's much easier to write about than go through...

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Missed the boat

Remember in my last post I was whinging about turning 40 next year and wondering how I could pack some exciting things into my last thirty-something year? Well. WELL! Turns out I am behind the times. Way behind. There are already masses of blogs out there, it seems, all dedicated to people with great lists of impressive, adrenalin-pumping things to complete before they're 40. One woman with such a blog appeared only to be thirty-two, I was stunned to see. Thirty-TWO! Why is she worrying about turning 40 now, for goodness' sake? Can't she just be grateful that she's only thirty-flipping-two and get on with it??

Anyway, it seems I've missed the boat with my turning-forty musings. Clearly I should have been setting myself exciting challenges for oh, at least the last five years instead of shambling along through my thirty-something decade and wasting all this time on unimportant stuff like motherhood and work and wondering who's going to win Britain's Next Top Model (please not Sophie). Giving myself one paltry year to cram in the proper stuff is just no good.

So... moving on... time to get organised and plan all those crucial things I ought to do before I'm 50, then...

1. Stop caring about stupid lists
2. Grow a beard
3. Call someone 'young lady' - oh, wait, I already do that frequently to my own daughters
4. Give up on dieting and allow myself to become disgracefully fat
5. Learn to walk in high heels
6. Embarrass my teenage children at all times.

...and those are just the start of it. I'm sure there are many more exciting treats in store for me. I'm actually quite looking forward to the next eleven years now. Lots of fun in store. Bring on the forties!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Parties

Went up to London last week for the Usborne party, celebrating their 'five years of fantastic fiction'. I've done (or nearly done) two twelve-book series with them now, so have worked long and hard with various editors there over the years. It was ace to catch up with the editors and marketing people I know there, but also meet some of the designers and other members of the crew too, as well as - best of all - my illustrators for the two series, Jan McCafferty and Maria Pearson. I was really looking forward to meeting them as they are both so talented, and it's been soooo exciting seeing my characters really come to life with their fabulous artwork. And I'd never actually met them before then, only exchanged the occasional email about PLR etc. So did I manage to restrain myself from gushing about how brilliant I think they both are? No, of course not. Never mind...

It was a really good night but oh my God I was in agony by the time I got home - all that standing around in stupid uncomfortable high heels to blame. Had to take them off once I got out of the party and walked to the tube station in my tights, oh I'm just such a lady, you know! (Seriously though, how do other women do it? I am amazed that anyone's pain threshold can be so high.)

Went to a friend's 40th on Saturday which was an equally glam affair - lovely people all in their finery (flatter shoes for me this time though), a seemingly endless stream of bubbly and clinking glasses, gorgeous canapes and birthday cake, the birthday girl herself looking utterly fab in her minxy black dress and new birthday shoes... the sort of party I could never manage to throw myself, basically (but lovely to soak up someone else's goddessery).

Actually it's got me thinking... it's my birthday next week too and I'm going to be thirty-(whisper it)-nine. Gulp. Just one year left of being in my thirties! I need to make myself a list of things to do before I turn forty, things that only a reckless, fun-loving thirty-something can get away with... I need to exit my thirties all guns blazing and slip into the big 4-0 with the satisfaction that yes, I rocked the thirty-something decade to the max.
So, if you've got any ideas or suggestions, leave them in the comments box!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Reading Delights

Is it really two weeks since I last blogged? How did that happen? I have been too busy enjoying myself in the post-first-draft cocoon of bliss, clearly. (Don't hate me for it, the angst and moaning will return when I come to edit the thing next month, no doubt.)

I have been having a rather lovely time anyway, floating about feeling stress-free and cheerful, now that Novel 4 is done (well, awaiting some work, but you know. Done, for the time being.) I've started thinking about future novels - I've got a couple of ideas in mind - and even though I had planned not to do anything about it until September, this morning I found myself writing the first few paragraphs of something new. I just couldn't help it - I thought of a great opening line while I was going to sleep last night, and just wanted to start the scene before I forgot. Felt quite excited about it...

Lovely Milla (hello lovely Milla) asked in the last set of comments how I go about 'growing' ideas for a new novel - and at this stage, it's as if I (oh God, this is going to sound dead pretentious, I apologise) - as if I am 'listening' out for them, as if my ears are pricked up for juicy storylines and characters. It feels like my mind is totally receptive and I'm letting myself tune into various elements of a story - for instance, particular scenes that would be good, themes, a character who comes to me. So at the moment, I'm just scribbling down fragments as they pop into my head, and hope that by the time I come to start writing, proper, I can assemble a coherent narrative of them.
Does that make any sense at all? I'm not sure it does to me either, but there you go. It's hard to explain.

Had a lovely treat this morning anyway as I used my Reading Spa voucher at the fabulous Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, one of the independent book shops in town. It was ace. First, a consultation - well, good old chat, really - with the manager Nic about the kind of books I like and don't like (over a cuppa and some absolutely delicious cake), plus I had a list of authors I had never tried but felt I should and didn't know where to start - ie PG Wodehouse and Iris Murdoch (no, never read anything by either - shame on me etc.) Then he went off and after a bit of discussion with the other members of staff, came back with a huge pile of books they thought I might like. I got to sit in this big comfy armchair in the 'Bibliotherapy Room' browsing through and making my selection. Talk about my idea of bliss. This is what I chose, if you're interested:

PG Wodehouse - The Code of the Woosters
Iris Murdoch - The Sea, The Sea
Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Maladies
Anita Shreve - Bodysurfing

What do you think of my list? Have you read any? I could have spent a fortune in there, and there were definitely a few I'd go back for another day. Joy!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

HUZZAH!

I have just typed those wonderful words 'The End'... as I've finished the first draft of Novel 4! Woo-hoo!

I am so so happy and so so pleased, you know... it totally needs an edit but that's cool, I've got plenty of time for all that red-pen malarkey. The main thing is the story's all there in black and white, word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page after page...

It's a great feeling. I'm definitely having a drink tonight. Cheers!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Fifteen books

I was tagged by the lovely Jessica Ruston on Facebook recently to post a list of fifteen memorable books. And being lazy - I mean, extremely smart - I thought, hey, there's a blogpost in this. Here's my list and the intro:

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes...

Okay so here goes with mine, in no particular order:

1. Catcher in the Rye
2. To Kill A Mockingbird
3. The Bell Jar
4. Trainspotting
5. Lord of the Flies
6. Danny the Champion of the World
7. The Wasp Factory
8. Our Mutual Friend
9. The Magus
10. What A Carve-Up
11. The Colour of Memory
12. Rebecca
13. For Whom The Bell Tolls
14. The Edible Woman
15. Claudine At St Clare's

I felt a bit stressed trying to pick THE ultimate fifteen - I'm sure I've missed out loads I should have put in, but hey. That's what 'Edit Post' is for, right?!

Try it yourself - let me know what your fifteen are!