I spend a lot of the year in my make believe village of Dunleith and it is as familiar to me as my home town. I like to travel and visit other countries and bustling cities but it’s always a pleasure to revisit Dunleith and see what’s going on or what could go on if I stayed there a while.
Dunleith first appeared in my debut novel, ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’. Lots of the action in my second novel, ‘It Only Takes a Minute, Girl’, is set there, as well as in Newcastle and London’s theatre land. While novel two is being critiqued by its first reader, I’m taking a short break from the village but I am looking forward to getting back shortly because there is enough trouble brewing in one household to start novel three.
So where is Dunleith? I have the only map and can see it sitting in the Northumbrian borders; a tranquil beauty spot near to rivers, hills and dales as well as golden beaches. It is a perfect place to bring up children or visit for a countryside break. Most of its younger inhabitants can’t wait to move away to the bright city lights of Newcastle or Edinburgh or further afield but they make their way home to relax and recharge or to lick their wounds and to see familiar faces and places.
An overnight stay here would have to include a bracing walk, because there is always a breeze, followed by a few drinks at the Bridge Inn. The pub is full of locals who will be happy to include you in their craic. Elsie would expect you to call in at The Singin’ Hinnie at some point for a plate of her scones singing fresh from the griddle and smothered in butter served with a pot of tea. She has a jar of instant but her coffee making skills have never improved so tea is the safer bet.
If you’re pushing the boat out, Whych Elm Hall has a spa and fabulous rooms but there are plenty of farmhouse B and Bs in the area. Whych Elm is well worth a visit for Saturday dinner or Sunday lunch but you will have to book well ahead because the French and Geordie chef partnership has made this a popular eatery for the city folk. There are fresh Geordie stotties and mufflers alongside pain baguette and pain brioche and there will be pease pudding and clooty dumplings featured as often as chateaubriand and casoulet.
Sunday morning at Weddell’s shop in the square is where all the local news is shared along with buying the Sunday papers. The shop is a treasure trove and, if you get lucky with the weather, Dot Weddell sells Doddington Dairy ice cream. Their local flavours, once tried, are never forgotten. Sit in the square with your ices and watch Sunday unfold until it’s time to head back to your real world.
Haven’t the time? Haven’t the money for a break in the borders? I can transport you to Dunleith for £2.99 on Amazon
So you’re not a super juggler? Relax, I’ve found out that you can still have it all- just not at the same time so don’t beat yourself up about dropping something every now and then. Better still, relax with your drink of choice -tea or a chilled wine for me – and escape into a book or take time out to dream up the life you’re after.
Just what does your ideal life story look like? Do you ever let yourself dream about it? I pictured being at the top of a successful career, in a happy marriage, with a child, money to travel, time to exercise, time with family and friends and time to write a novel or two. I’d be so content with some of that life.
I couldn’t do it all at once and I didn’t try. There just aren’t enough hours in the day and I find that, if ever I take on too much, I enjoy none of it. My head can’t be several places at once and my juggling becomes clumsy. I’ve experienced that a few times and I’m sure you have too so let’s be kinder to ourselves and remember it’s a LIFE story. Some parts of it will take time.
That’s not to say we should forget our long-held dreams. That almost happened to me until I got a very loud wake up call.
In my late twenties and thirties, I juggled my career with being a single parent and all ideas of finding my ideal man or travelling and writing had to be put on hold. My energy was used up with the school run, a challenging job, after school activities and then more work so even exercise was put on the back burner for a while. Luckily, I loved my job and loved my daughter so I was tired but happy and fulfilled. The childhood years are precious and we can’t grab them back even though we sometimes think the summer holidays are neverending!
The man that I loved enough to marry came along by surprise a few years later and, after years of being a singleton, having a partner was a wonderful change. My days were full and life sped along at an alarming rate. Holidays already? Another birthday? It can’t be Christmas! You’ll know the feeling. I visited some amazing places with my husband, my daughter was independent and I still had time to catch up with exercise and writing in the years to come.
A challenge from my sister meant that I took up running. I wasn’t good at it or anywhere near as speedy as I’d like to be but I enjoyed it and managed 5 K, then 10k and then a half marathon. While I was running, I’d sort out life’s niggles or make up stories. I still didn’t get round to writing them down. The Great North Run gave me such a buzz. I felt like life had treated me well and I almost had it all. I promised myself I’d even start writing that book one day soon. In the pic below I’m running with my sister for Bliss, premature babies charity.
If you’re waiting , thinking something must come along to take the wind right out of my sails, you’re right. It was a bloody great storm in my G cup. I felt healthy and happy but, although I was surprised when I found out I had an aggressive breast cancer, I didn’t ever think ‘why me?’ Why not when it happens to 1 in 8 of us women? I felt numb as I prepared for the treatments and prepared for the worst scenario. Would my time be far shorter than I’d ever imagined?
As I went through a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and baldness, then daily sessions of radiotherapy, I began feeling much older than my years. I set about writing a bucket list. I’m good at writing lists but not so great at carrying them out. This was the most important list I’d written.
I thought about writing and the pleasure it gave me so that went on the list. I thought I would quite like to do a lot of things but nothing compared to writing. My real regret was not ever getting down to writing those novels in my head so my bucket list was short. Write a bloody novel!
As soon as my ‘chemo fog’ lifted, I got to work on an idea I had been playing around with for far too long. Had I been afraid I wasn’t up to the task? I could write better than I could run and I’d managed a half marathon so what was there to fear? I didn’t care if my novel was published or not as long as I finished it. That was my promise to myself.
It took almost three years, I was still juggling family, holidays and treatments remember, but at last I typedTHE END and that was a wonderful day. Soon afterwards, I went off to France with my husband and our dog for a month and felt on top of the world.
I came to earth with a bump when we got home and a letter lay in wait asking me to go to the breast cancer clinic. This time, I have to admit I did think why me a second time? I was angry that my breasts had let me down again, especially as I was taking tablets meant to keep stray cancer cells at bay that gave me chronic joint pain. I thought long and hard about treatments and opted for a double mastectomy. I wanted to try my best to live and do all I could to prevent hearing that news a third time.
As I was recovering from my mastectomy and reconstruction, I took solace in the fact that I’d finished one novel and started another. I was now a writer so I decided to put myself out there and get my first novel published. Would it be any good? My daughter and sisters thought so, my husband believed in me, but they weren’t the big wide world.
I sent my manuscript to the Romantic Novelists’ Association because I’d become a member and they critique new writer’s novels. My professional reader liked it and read most of it in one sitting. That was enough to encourage me to send it out to several agents. Agents do get a lot of manuscripts and they are notoriously slow in getting back to writers but it was so hard waiting and then being told that the novel was well written but not quite right for their lists.
What should a woman who wants it all do? After two months, I decided to find a publisher myself. I didn’t have the time to wait around and see whether my first novel would fit an agent’s list. I believe that we help to make our own dreams come true. My book, A JARFUL of MOONDREAMS is out there now and proof of that. Yes, I found a publisher and that’s why I can say that I think you CAN have it all.
Knowing what I’ve gone through before having the courage to finish and publish a novel, you’ll understand my pleasure when I received the Elizabeth Goudge writing award for 2016 at this year’s Romantic Novelists’ conference. What a surprise and boost to my writing confidence. I look at the silver trophy and think, I’m a writer.
I couldn’t have it all at the same time but, if I have any tip to pass on, it is this –
Don’t try to juggle everything at once but don’t procrastinate and take TOO long either. Remember, I was almost too late!
Going after your dreams is about pacing yourself and enjoying each of life’s events enough to keep you going when the bad times happen. I’m in great health, for now, and I don’t ever take that for granted. I’ve changed the day job to writing. It doesn’t bring in a load of money but it’s fun and I’m writing my second novel.
My debut novel, ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ follows three characters- a mother as she approaches her fiftieth birthday, her career obsessed daughter who is in her thirties and her younger teenage daughter. The story takes the Moon family through a turbulent summer when they are all chasing their dreams and colliding into love. The sisters don’t get along at all and we find out why when they are thrown together for the summer. Their mother decides to go travelling and holds onto the hope that they will bond while she is away. Family secrets spill out that change all of their lives and make it a summer to remember. If, like me, you love a good plot that involves modern women and their relationships and has an element of romance, this could be just the novel for you.
Writing ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ has been my escape from troubling times so, although it tells the story of an eventful summer, it has to have an upbeat ending. Reading is all about escaping for a little while isn’t it? If you want to read about another family’s dreams and find out how they captured them and you think this might interest you, here is the link.
I was delighted to be an award winner with my short story ‘Such Small Moments’ at the Romantic Novelists’ Association dinner this month. The photograph below shows me being presented with the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy by the chairman, Eileen Ramsay. This totally unexpected honour made the gala dinner an extra-special one that I’ll always remember.
I am over the moon because my debut novel, A JARFUL OF MOONDREAMS, is out in print and e-book on the 22nd and I have some pre-ordered copies. it is a great feeling to hold your completed novel and flick through the pages.
Here is one of my beta readers who ploughed through my draft copy with her brand new paperback. She is checking the changes since her last reading and there were a few!
Can a certain song take you back to a time or place or bring back being with a special person? Music does that for me. That’s why I am pleased to be part of a music blog event organised by Elaina James. You can read about her journey into song writing on www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames and on www.elainajames.co.uk.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll listen to music in different ways.
Way 1 -Listening to music using head phones to block out all other distractions, the instrumentals sound fantastic and the lyrics are so clear that it’s like being transported to another world. I love to do this under the shade of a beach umbrella and, if there is no beach, lying on my bed comes a close second.
Way 2-Going to concerts and sharing the music with friends and other fans is a different experience. Who doesn’t get carried away by the atmosphere of a concert and a live performance? I remember most concerts quite vividly because of the thrill of getting the tickets and the anticipation of going as well as enjoying the event. Two of my favourite gigs have been David Bowie and Dolly Parton so I have eclectic taste.
Way 3- When I’m active, I like music to spur me on. I have a few favourite running tracks and they can keep my spirits up when the weather is bad or the legs feel leaden. If I have to face the gym, there has to be music to distract me and I prefer a Zumba class to the treadmill.
I use music to ease me into the writing zone too. I tend to play a few tracks when I’m using social media or sorting out my mail and before I start to write or at the very beginning of a writing session and then turn down when the writing gets going.
Jean Paul Richter, the romantic writer, said, ‘Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.’ I like the idea of music acting as moonlight and, when I was writing the first draft of A JARFUL OF MOONDREAMS, I created a playlist around the moon motif within the novel. Both melody and lyrics are important to me and each song is a glimpse of how someone relates to the moon. I wonder which of my tracks you will recognise?
My playlist starts with a 50s ballad and the unique voice of Sinatra singing ‘Blue moon,You knew just what I was there for,You heard me saying a prayer for,Someone I really could care for’. My novel takes place over five moon months and, yes there was that special blue moon in the July of 2015.
Van Morrison’s Moondance comes next, ‘Well, it’s a marvellous night for a Moondance,with the stars up above in your eyes, a fantabulous night to make romance,’Neath the cover of October skies.’ I love this song it is so uplifting and to maintain the upbeat mood, I have Cat Stevens singing, ‘I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow’
The timeline of A JARFUL of MOONDREAMS takes us through the pink moon of May, a mead moon, a thunder moon a blue moon through to a September harvest moon. What no cherry moon? Prince’s rendering of Cherry moon had to be on my playlist. ‘How can I stand 2 stay where I am, Poor butterfly who don’t understand, Why can’t I fly away in a special sky, If I don’t find my destiny soon, I’ll die in your arms under the cherry moon.’ Sad news this month, won’t we all miss his extraordinary talent?
The Waterboys follow on with ‘ I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.’ Bruno Mars completes the list with my most modern track. ‘I sit by myself talking to the moon, trying to get to you, in hopes you’re on the other side, talking to me to.’
So there you have the songs that lead me into my book. I think that writing and music go together but aren’t all aspects of life enhanced by music?
‘Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one.’ Unknown
My 2016 new year plans for publishing ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ have changed. It’s usual for me to let my resolutions slow to a crawl or fall by the wayside (What dry January? Who said diet?). I’ve surprised myself by increasing the challenge and moving forward on this year’s resolution much more quickly than I intended.
Those of you who read January’s blog may recall that I was going to send submissions to agents for several months and wait to see if someone would represent me before turning, as my last resort, to self publishing. A good plan, I thought.
Sending off three or four submissions per month was taking up a day or two of writing time and then there was the waiting for an answer, or no answer to deal with. It took up more thinking space than I thought it would and each month it was hard to settle into writing book two.
In January, submitting was a new task. In February it was a chore that had to be done if I wanted to be published. By March, the rejections started coming in; I received three very thoughtful rejection emails. ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ wasn’t for these agents but they wished me luck.
I had been prepared for rejection but the ‘not hearing’ from agents is hard even though I know they’re really busy people. So, with my March submissions being even more of a grind, I decided to give the submissions a rest for a month or so and just get on with book two. I didn’t want to call a halt to getting my book out there but I had submitted to eight agents and, if they didn’t want it, who would?
I enjoyed becoming immersed in writing my new novel but, without looking for the topic, I kept reading about self publishing in news articles, on twitter and on Facebook.
This has happened to me before and I recognise that it’s a sign that I want to do something even though the rational part of my brain is not so sure. It’s a bit like seeing pregnant women everywhere when you’re feeling broody. My understanding of this is that it is the reticular activating system filtering and focussing on the thing your subconscious knows you want. ( A Lou Tice course during a previous career taught me this and showed how it could be used to come up with solutions to your goals.)
A couple of my own previous examples are – I kept seeing people with terrier pups when I was in a position to have a dog at last and it had been a long awaited goal. I kept reading about authors who were in the RNA new writers’ scheme when I felt like I wanted writing support but wasn’t sure where to find it. Once I had my pup and once I was on the RNA new writers’ scheme, those pups and writers were still about but they didn’t register in my RAS with as noisy a ‘ding’ every day because I had achieved those things.
I decided that, if my RAS was flagging up self publishing and I was less enthusiastic about sending submissions, I had the answer to rethinking my plan.
It was an article by Rachel Abbott- don’t you love her thrillers?- about her route to self publishing that first got me thinking. Rachel’s novels are best sellers but she couldn’t find an agent. Her success has been phenomenal and she got her agent. Lizzy Kremer represents Rachel now but she still self publishes .
A Facebook friend sang the praises of Matador, part of Troubadour publishing, who supported her self publishing journey. Accent press advertised their new venture in the self publishing market. Well established publishers are collaborating with authors who want to self publish. Why not give it a try?
I had to discuss financing this plan with the other half of the team and, straight away, he said, ‘Yes, do it.’ Readers, if you’re out there, (I had already married him) I did it. Gulp, big decision made.
I sent my novel to the two reputable publishers that I’d heard of and both gave me a good choice of levels of publishing and marketing. I decided to go with Octavo ( part of Accent press) who were offering a discount to RNA members and, now the decision is made, I’m delighted to be starting on this exhilarating journey.
My book, ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’, will definitely be available worldwide as an ebook and as a paperback this year. How exciting is that?
Was my decision too hasty or would you have done the same as me? Has your RAS ever gone into overdrive about a goal? I’d love to hear your views.
I have a duvet day marked in my diary for today. On a typical Dday I’ll get up, make breakfast and take it back to my duvet along with the papers, my iPad and my laptop. Duvet days can be very productive. Look at today, I’m writing my blog at 9.30.
It is Sunday so I have already had scrambled eggs, browsed the headlines and made a start on my blog in the first hour of duvet habitation. Soon, I’ll need a nap.
I only have this sort of day if I am ‘slightly’ ill or recovering from something. Few and far between means that Ddays are appreciated. Why on a Sunday when everyone relaxes anyway? Because tomorrow I have a minor hospital procedure and I need to prepare.
OK, if you’re curious, it’s a colonoscopy. I have one every couple of years and it means that I need to have a clear colon so, after breakfast, no food for the rest of the day and at lunchtime a drink that ensures my colon is squeaky clean. Although I need to rest and be near the loo, today will be very productive!
I’ll write a few pages of book two. My WIP is going along really well so I may write more pages than a few but I’ll make sure that I stop in time to watch a film, not chosen yet, and to finish off ‘We are all made of Stars’, my current read, by Rowan Coleman.
I may even have some company in the afternoon but I won’t be the one getting out the cake and coffee because it’s too tempting. Mr CB will be host and will also be catering for himself today. He has volunteered to dog walk this afternoon too.
So, excuse me, it’s time for a hot drink and a flick through the Sunday supplements. I must read Liz Jones’ diary to find out if she is a happy bunny this week. I live in hope that one day she allows herself to enjoy life.
Tonight, I might just go through my own diary and mark in a new Dday that I can look forward to.
‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’
I first heard this in John Lennon’s song, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and John’s fate is my reminder to appreciate each day as it comes whether your plans work out or not.
We do thrive on plans that take us forward though, and I’m happy that my writing plans for 2016 are forging ahead.
I’ve completed my final draft of ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ and , each month, I’m sending it off to two agents and a publisher. I figured that this means I’ll always have one of two people considering my work and won’t have all my rejections back at once.
Talking of rejections, I’ve just had my first. It was a nicely worded rejection and I’ve been told so often that I’ll get lots on my journey to publication that it was a sort of right of passage. Opened it, read it, over it.
As well as looking for representation, I’m looking into self-publishing. My plan is to be published one way or another and, while I would be delighted to be taken on by an agent who loves my work, I’m prepared to go it alone.
I’ve sent ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ out into the world to be read by my nearest and dearest. That, I feel, is harder than giving it to strangers. ”Love It!” ‘Hated Neil” “perfect summer holiday read” ‘Ha! I can’t believe ….(spoiler)” ” I loved that man” It is lovely to hear that people couldn’t wait to find out what happened to my characters. I even got “Is there a sequel? I want to know more about….”
I’ve loved writing for the past couple of years but now I’m learning how satisfying it is for my novel to have readers. I know I’m going to have great fun when I’m taking it out into a wider field and promoting it.
While the first born is getting out there, novel 2 has not got a title. There are several that I like but I don’t want to pin it down yet.
With number 2, it’s easier to make writing time, to allow the characters to develop as they come to life on the page and to allow the odd new twist to appear in the story. There’s a welsh terrier who wants to make an appearance. He’s a lovely character like my welshie , Oscar, but older and wiser. I’m enjoying drafting this story because I’m getting rid of the ‘this is rubbish’ voice that used to crop up when I first started writing. If it whispers that it’s rubbish, I say that I can always go back and change it. I’ve written right up to THE END once so I can do it again because I’m a writer.
I’ve enjoyed reading the furore about parents in pyjamas taking their children to school. What a range of opinions!
“The head is quite right and it shouldn’t be allowed” at one extreme to “What does it matter as long as the children are taken to school?” at the other. Added to this, I’ve heard several debates on morning dress code. Is there one?
I know that Cleo Moon, the deputy head in ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’, would not want to antagonise the parents of her pupils by dictating what to wear in the morning but she might be given the job of speaking to one or two culprits by her boss, Teflon ( nothing sticks to him) Telford.
I was head of an inner city school and know how hard it is to get the children into school and how absence is often due to parents who can’t organise their life well enough to send their offspring out of the door in the morning. I’d have been happy to have the pupils arriving in school clothes and would not have felt responsible for the parents garb.
How can a headteacher decide when to draw the line? Isn’t it acceptable to expect a dress code for your pupils in school but sheer bossiness to extend it to parents? To send an open letter to all parents is sledgehammer to a nut tactics. If it was a handful of parents, a quiet friendly word would either do the trick or put you in your place by telling you to mind your school’s business and not theirs. Is the head going to ban parents from showing body art, piercings and unusual hair colours next?
I was interested to discover that the wearing of pyjamas during the day became fashionable in Juan-les-Pins when Coco Channel started the trend in the 1920s. This present trend is not new. I’d prefer Coco pyjamas to a onesie any day but if other adults want to dress like big toddlers it doesn’t concern me.
In an interview about entertaining, Nigella, of the great-tasting food, admitted that she often served her guests in her nightwear. I do hope they’re of the Coco Chanel elegant but comfortable style and not fleecy onesie style but, whatever they are I wouldn’t refuse a Nigella dinner.
It’s all down to personal choice. I feel sluggish if I’m in my nightwear until lunch time. I wouldn’t eat dinner in a dressing gown either because these garments signal bedtime to me. There are other comfy loungewear clothes with the same cut and comfort of pyjamas that I would wear so I’m sure it’s all in the name.
Who remembers the shell suit? Worse than a onesie or not?
One bonus of wearing pyjamas morning until evening is that it would save that walk of shame when you have to leave somewhere early in the morning in a party dress and killer heels. That’s a look that won’t go down well at the school gates either.
‘A Jarful of Moondreams‘ is about romance and family relationships. Cleo and Alex are sisters and it’s complicated. They infuriate one another but they both want what’s best for Teri, their mother. Can they fall in with Teri’s plans and survive a whole summer together!
Somebody liked my writing. I don’t know my ROMANTIC NOVELIST’S ASSOCIATION reader but I’m very thankful for their support and advice.
This arrived in December and I’m taking the advice on board and then getting my novel out to people.
Here is my plan for 2016.
I’m going to look for a brilliant agent and a two book publishing deal.
Whether I get an agent or not , I’ m going to publish ‘ A Jarful of Moondreams’ and ensure that lots of people find out about it and want to read it. I will self publish if I don’t find my agent or publisher
I’m going to finish book number two in the Dunbridge series and send it out to publishers and agents.
When I’ve got book one published, I’m going to take it to local libraries and radio stations and talk about it and read parts of it and encourage more readers to try my writing.
I’m continuing my RNA New Writers’ Scheme membership and going to the RNA conference in Summer. There is always lots to learn
It’s now three months since I had my op and I’m really happy with the decision. The night before the operation was when I had second,third and fourth thoughts about what I’d decided to do but, by morning, I was sure that my decision was the right one for me. Since then,I haven’t looked back.
I have been unable to be as active as normal but that is a small price to pay for peace of mind. My reconstruction is excellent and I don’t miss the G cup undies one bit.
I’ve got one less thing to worry about in 2016 and I just know that it is going to be a great year!