I’ve had a miserable month of aches and niggles and feeling under the weather. Chemo sessions and a flu jab are to blame. You might think that it’s a perfect time to settle in with my laptop and finish writing that novel. I thought that too, but no – I’ve written everything but the bloody novel!

The fact is, I just can’t face my novel. I can’t make my characters suffer like they need to! It’s as if I know I’m not ready, not tough enough to write it properly.

So what have I done instead? I’ve written and edited another edition of that famous international old school newspaper, ‘The Edwardian’ – circulation 200 – (see ‘Readers all over the World’) and I’ve managed a few scribbles in a notebook. Oh, and A fair few tweets!

One lovely piece of news. I wrote an article about the writing festival at York and it’s going to be included in a Festival of Writing 2012 book.

So….. Nothing moving with my novel, but two published pieces this month. Hmmm, I wonder if the Festival book has a bigger circulation than the old Ed’s newspaper? My readership may grow!

Festival of Writing 2012 -York

Well I made it and FoW2012 was even better than I imagined.

It was a sunny weekend and York campus is a pretty place with water and ducks and lovely open air spaces to relax in after being indoors for long sessions. I met writers whose books I loved, twitter friends- it was great to see them in person and I attended some really interesting workshops.

It took a bit of courage to travel and meet people with my new addition, the wig. I took the short one as it feels ‘safer’ and I was going to be in it ALL the time. I compared wig shopping to shoe shopping last blog and I’ve discovered that wig wearing is like shoe wearing too. Wig goes on and feels comfy; I could wear it all day. Half way through the day wig feels hot and less comfy, a bit scratchy but OK.  Back to room and the chance to slip it off, oh the bliss of removing hot, scratchy stupid wig. The advantage is no hair washing, blow-drying or bed-head. Give it a shake and it’s back on and feels quite comfy again.

It was a wonderful relief to be with a whole group of people who didn’t know I’d been ill and didn’t ask how I was. I love my friends and family but they never let me forget I need to take it easy etc. No one stared at my head either so I think wig passed the test or people were polite.

Time to show? Here is my short look:

Anyway back to writing. My Friday evening workshop was on e-publishing. A great introduction to this by the lovely, talented Talli Roland, I have all her novels on my kindle, and a very knowledgeable e-published author, David Gaughran.  I will add links to their websites.

Talli mentioned two things about blogs that had me biting my nails. The first thing was to stick to your name because you’re easier to find. Should I be changing New Hen on the Blog to Chrissie Bradshaw’s blog? I wonder what others think. She has a point, but now I’ve started as this, should I stay with it a while? Let me know if you have a view on the naming of blogs.

Her second warning has led me to believe that it might be a good idea to keep my current blog name for a while. She talked about your author persona and keeping it true, but in keeping with your novels – a brand, if you like. My blog is writing, hen friends and me and is intended to be upbeat but my trials of illness have crept in because it is a big part of me right now. I hope my overcoming the adversity of wig-wearing etc. is coming across as the peculiar things we face in life and doesn’t sound like bleating. Please post to me if it does!

Perhaps I’ll keep Chrissie Bradshaw’s blog for when she is healthy, published and has her own flowing locks again ….long wait!

Other festival highlights were JoJo Moyes keynote speech about her journey as a writer. Going with your gut, writing your best story and how disasters can be turned around were all messages that struck home. She didn’t gloss over failure, her three unpublished novels in a drawer stage, and that was encouraging. I just have to write two more for the drawer then I’m on my way!

I’m not a thriller writer but I enjoy them and I made a written confession explaining why I murdered Mary in Claire McGowan’s  session.  I created a fiesty character in an interesting new way who could feature for a future novel , in Julie Cohen’s workshop. There was more writing while I was ‘Breaking the Rules’ with the fascinating Sam Mills: I owned up to being the needle that sent Sleeping Beauty to sleep.

 It was a weekend of learning the ropes, meeting agents and publishers and, best of all, writing fun that  ended all too soon. I slept very well Sunday night.

New Shopping Experiences – September

Oscar has settled in with us and has opened me up to the world of doggy shopping. He has needed more than my darling daughter needed as a baby.Travel crate, home crate, puppy gate, pet insurance, basket, collars ( several as they were all too big) dog gate,microchip, toys, food and the list goes on; Luckily I love to shop!

He is cute and energetic and a real ankle snapper at the moment. Please allow me to show you our new addition:

Oscar This is Oscar just about to go home with us. Now we can’t imagine being without him. There will be an Oscar pup in a story one day.

My other new shopping experience has been to venture into the wig shop. It can only be compared to shoe shopping. All colours, all styles, lots unsuitable, lots don’t fit but great fun to try on. In fact it is too much like shoe shopping, who ever just bought one pair? Not me, so I left with two; one for everyday and a ‘best’ that was long and more like my own.

The hair had fallen out you see, very rapidly over two days in long strands and I was left with a fine, blonde downy coating like baby hair. My shock was that it hurt! I felt like I had left my hair in a too-tight ponytail for a month and that my head was sunburnt. It was a relief it all went so quickly and I didn’t have aching follicles anymore. My pleasant surprise was that I have a nicely-shaped skull that I didn’t know about and the baby hair is definitely blonde not grey, for now.  I’d been eyeing up bald men and seeing some frightening skull shapes. What if I had one of those fat rolls at the back of my neck? I’ve spent ages admiring my neck and skull and sighing with relief.

As you can see, I was feeling  rather OK that my new head wasn’t the nightmare I’d imagined and asked OH whether he thought it was similar to  Sinead O’Connor or more Annie Lenox. He looked at me and with a genuine smile said, ‘I think it is more Jo Brand.’  Jo Brand! I like Jo brand, I really do, but she isn’t bald and that wasn’t the look I was going for! A hasty trip to the wig shop was planned.

 OH really did think he was giving me a complement, but then he often likens me to Alison Steadman who he dotes on and who I admire  as an actress but can’t see any resemblance. Funnily enough, he never mentions my resemblance to his other ‘female fancy’ Elle – the body – McPherson. I wonder about that!  I also learned long ago never to ask the ‘does my bum?’ question to OH.

I’m going to try to go to a long awaited Festival of Writing next week. I need to have chemo 2 and see if I’m OK and to test try my wig out and about to see if I have the confidence to venture alone into the company of strangers, but I booked so long ago and need a writing boost.

I am writing lots, but I’ve stalled with self-editing my WIP. I just can’t face the novel. This novel was started over a year ago and one of my favourite main characters is facing terminal cancer. Now, while editing, I have a less dramatic cancer, but I still can’t put my character through the mill. I’ll have to leave it and get back to it later or I’ll have to give her a better prognosis. It is far too close to home. What would other writers do? I’d love any opinions on this.

A full on August -and new hat on the blog

August has been a month of many experiences; all good for the writing but very exhausting.

It started with a fun female day at the races, but that was really the last weekend of July so we started early. My daughter celebrated her the ending of her ‘single status’ on ladies’ day at Newcastle, with friends aunts and cousins. It wasn’t a ‘hen do’ because she didn’t want that but it was as near as damn it and we had a wonderful time with flowing bubbly and sunny weather.

My first chemo session loomed after this and, due to the fanatastic staff and modern medicine, it was fine. I had that wedding ten days later and looked anxiously in the mirror at my hair day after day. My consolation was that I had already chosen a real ‘mother of the bride hat’ She is my only daughter and I love a hat!

A happy day

The hat!
As you can see, my hair was good enough to stay with me  for the wedding and I was grateful to it for that. It isn’t a major thing in the scheme of things, but having baldness thrust upon you is something that takes a bit of getting used to.

The other August happening was planned, but didn’t seem the greatest of planning by the time it happened. Months ago, we decided to have a puppy. We wanted a pup after our holiday and while we could take it out over the summer and we found a Welsh terrier having pups that would be ready in August. The timing seemed fine but then I got breast cancer and our summer got busier!

After much thinking and discussion, those bottles of wine in France and the lovely dogs our hosts had helped soften OH, we decided to go ahead. What better reason to get up and get out, if’ you are feeling under the weather, than an energetic pup?

On the weekend before our anniversary we set off to a lovely hotel (it turned out to have its own Basil Fawlty!)  and collected Oscar – my best anniversary present by far. Returning home, on our actual anniversary, I had chemo 1. Luckily I’d had the champagne at the weekend 🙂

So August has ended. The wedding went without a hitch; except for the groom forgetting the rings, doing a mad dash home for them and giving the guests a disquietingly long wait before he arrived just before his bride. When there was a reqest for the groom’s mobile number, some whispering started up until he rushed in.

Lots of relatives stayed and two days later I was kept in emergency care for four days with an infection – white blood cells down and all the kissing and hugging that we Brits do nowadays. However, I lay back  and thought it was all worth it, August 2012 has been one to remember.

Reading,writing,relaxing in France-end of July

Yes we got here! The cottage is picturesque on the outside and modern inside and the grounds are big enought to explore but not big enough to get lost in (only once- I went for a gentle jog without the deatailed map that the owners had kindly given us and passed the same crossroads several times so the 20 minute jog was rather longer and I did have to walk some of it.)

It’s just what we needed; near to bustling Sarlat and a short drive to the Dordogne and all the beautiful castles in the region. The cottage  great retreat to return for a siexta – oops that was a slip, the s is too near the x,  it’s holiday time so I”ll leave it in!   We’ve had some delicious leisurely lunches so we’ve had lazy rustic suppers of French snacks, my favourite, or fired up the charcoal :-(,   OH’s favourite.

Evening after evening has been whiled away, whiling away time is such luxury these days and even sounds lovely on the tongue, scribbling in my holiday notebook,reading,  watching  box sets with some superb French wine  and talking late into the night. We are both recharging, getting tanned and eerm, plumping up!

This holiday is even sweeter than most because I know it is a brief reprieve. Next month I have to start chemotherapy and help organise my daughter’s wedding. Guess which I’m looking forward to.

I’m scribbling away about the scenery here, ideas for a new novel and every now and then adding to my ‘to do ‘ list for August – c’est formidable!


Bastille day was fun and we caught a flash of the Tour de France– well we have the Olympics next month. 

Life is never perfect – July

Last post ended with, ‘Life is never perfect … ‘in the meantime’ and enjoying what we can is the way forward.’ Since then, I have written my monthly blog but haven’t posted. Why? Because, until today, I wasn’t sure of what to leave in and what to keep out. My blog is about writing, my henfriends and me. There has been a lot going on with me and to leave it out of my blog feels like a big chunk of my life and how it affects my writing. It has take a while, but I’m going to admit to being ill. Feeling fit and fine but being bloody ill is annoying!

This month I had to have a lumpectomy for breast cancer. I found the lump last month, thought it would be nothing and got a shock – a massive shock! It has been action stations since then with a quick trip into hospital for the lumpectomy and a determined recovery so I can get to France at the end of the month.

Looking back, Lumpectomy day was more memorable than it should have been. The hospital is just 10 miles away and I was a day patient so it was meant to be a speedy trip in and out.  As I was in theatre the skies went black and the heavens opened and OH got the jitters – what sort of omen was this? -I was blissfully oblivious as the rains fell and we had the worst flash flooding of the year.

I left hospital at teatime and we set off for the half hour drive home. We would have been better with an ark! Every road we tried to take was closed through floods or gridlocked with diverted traffic. We were well and truly stuck and with plenty of water outside but no water inside to take my painkillers. We saw ambulances that were unable to move so, other than calling for a helicopter, (OH was frantically thinking of options!)we had to sit it out.

At 22.00, I was in need of the codeine I’d been given but my mouth was like sandpaper. Ever resourceful, I found a plastic lid and held it out of the window and then found a murray mint in the glove compartment. With a few drops of rainwater and the mint, I could swallow the 30 mg of bliss that left me in a peaceful snooze as OH finally found his way home by 5 minutes to midnight.

We got off lightly. Our house was flood free. The school uphill was flooded and closed for the rest of term, the houses downhill had carpet and furniture floating out of them but, by a lucky drainage quirk, we were totally dry!

After that, my recovery has been quick, I’ve done all of the exercises to pass physio and I have been given the green light to go to the cottage that we’ve rented in the beautiful countryside around Sarlat, France next month. Can’t wait – Life isn’t perfect but it’s good!

Enjoying a cuppa and unaware of the journey ahead.    The school at the top of our road

A cuppa then home        The school at the end of our street

Message to Student Self

Wine and sunshine

Last week I met up with one of my oldest friends. She had travelled from Texas for a wedding and we managed an overnight stay in Edinburgh to catch up with one another and enjoy a night on the town. As students together in Manchester, we shared lots of wild, happy times and quite a few miserable ones too. We now live thousands of miles apart, but the friends from my teens are the ones who still know me best.

Viv came from Belfast and I was a Geordie girl; we became friends when another student showed herself to be a bully. She should never have tried to take the two of us on!

Viv was discussing how our student selves would marvel that we could now stay in a luxury hotel, take taxis, eat whatever we wanted and drink good wine without counting our small change. Back in student days we were always broke but we were always out and about, somehow!

So would our student selves have listened if we could have told them -Yes, you ARE both thin!  Chrissie, you will always have a larger top half than bottom half but others would love to have your ‘curvy’ look. Viv, your hair will always have a natural curl and you will never get much past five foot but petite is attractive too. The two of you are intelligent and will have great careers. You’ll both marry and have wonderful children. You’re husbands will be OK too. You will both meet up in years to come and wonder what you saw in some of the ‘true loves’ that you lost sleep over.

Well we couldn’t know all this and wouldn’t have believed it then, but we do appreciate life now and so we enjoyed spending our cash, having a few drinks, wearing comfy shoes and collapsing into fresh linen BEFORE midnight. Scottish breakfast was good too!

Life is never perfect.We both have problems and sadness in our lives right now and we are still supporting each other and sharing tears, but we do know that living ‘in the meantime’ and enjoying what we can is the way forward.

Here’s to our lasting friendship!

Where was May?

Jarvis enjoys his holiday

What happened to May? What happened to the weather? My Grandma used to tell me ‘never cast a clout till May is out’ and this has been one of those years of wellies,woollies and brollies one day and sun loungers in the garden the next.

What happened to Maytime? Work, family, writing and the newly discovered tweeting has devoured it and I feel like I haven’t had a moment to breathe or blog! There has been fun, though!

We had a lucky day over the Jubilee weekend when the sun blazed down in the North East for the whole of an afternoon and others in the South seemed to get very wet. I sat in my red, white and blue in a friend’s garden where the champagne flowed and the sausages burned and we sang a catchy new song ‘stolen’ from a primary school celebration. ‘Here’s to the queen,the second longest reigning monarch the world has ever seen” seemed to have a couple of syllables too many! Was ‘second’ an afterthought? It will roll off the tongue much more easily when the queen becomes ‘the longest reigning’ so here’s to that happy event. It was a bit too catchy – the words have been in my head ever since!

We had a puppy as a house guest while my sister and family visited Iceland. It was the country  not the shop so they stayed a week and we got Jarvis the cocker spaniel. Sixteen weeks of energy and entertainment. He gave our two cats a new lease of life as they stalked and spied on his every move. Their interest and our sadness to see him go has brought us to the decision that a dog would be a lovely addition to the household and we are ‘looking’ Yay!

I’m definitely going to have a cocker spaniel in one of my novels. My current WIP features a delightful old cat.

Now what sort of dog should we go for and who can come up with a good name for the pup?

Readers all over the world!

Readers all over the world! Well, one in Canada, a couple elsewhere and the rest in the UK, but it’s a start.

I have had a busy week of writing and keeping to a deadline. This meant that the WIP had to take a back seat. Over the course of the week, I have been a news reporter, editor, publisher and subscriber. How? The job of producing a newsletter for an old pupils’ association  landed onto my laptop when I was late for an ‘ Old Eds’ meeting and couldn’t wriggle out of the task. This is the second time I’ve arrived a few minutes late to find out that I have been lucky enough to be ‘honoured’  with a role.

The first time I arrived  late, I was greeted with a round of applause and informed that I had been made vice-chair. This was painless because the vice chair didn’t have to do anything except show up. Showing up late has dangers but, earlier in the year, I was delayed yet again and walked in to a ripple of applause and ‘Oh, she’s here – our new editor!’  I found that, on this occasion,  my writing skills had been well exaggerated by old friends who remembered my eagerness to make contributions to the school magazine, ‘Avancez.’  On this fragile basis, the committee was totally confident that the continuity of the quarterly newsletter would be safe in my hands.

Is it just me who finds that, when I am late for something, I am more likely to agree to decisions made in my absence?  Now that I’m Vice Chair and Newsletter Editor for the association, I will never be late again; I don’t have time to take on another role! Guilty confession – when one of my closest friends was unable to attend, a few of us ‘volunteered’ her to be guest speaker at the next dinner. Maybe I got off lightly.

I did nothing about my new role for a couple of months and, with publishing day a week away, I had no contributions. Panic! A quick search of the internet and the local paper archives and a frantic ring around of old school friends brought in plenty of raw material and a rush to shape something up.  The week has been filled with writing all of the articles and deciding on the layout. I even had to do the back page full of sports news – not my forte. I have to admit that, yes, playing at newspapers has been fun, but I’ll be delegating sections in plenty of time for the next edition!  It took over four days to finish so I hope it is well read before it becomes a fire lighter or chip wrapping.

A few hundred copies have been posted all over the UK and abroad. I have readers! Now to transfer that skill to my fiction and get on with the WIP.

Does writing improve with sunshine?

The rock blaster stopped for the weekend. I walked across to chat to Bosszilla, the powerful woman in the yellow jacket with the stop and go road sign. She had been there every day directing the men at work and looked fierce. She turned out to be an absolutely charming lady and explained that they’’d pack up for the weekend and just needed a few hours on Monday to finish off. She was as true as her word and it took a while to get
used to silence this week.

I’ve had several sessions on the WIP. Yes, Really! In between sun, dips in the pool, some great and not so great books, wine and delicious tapas I have got to grips with it. I’ve worked on self-editing and some rewriting. I completed a self-editing course last month and it has   been invaluable in pointing me in the right direction at this stage of writing.

If you look at my links, you’ll see my blog wizard,Jamie Evans, is there and  the Writer’s Workshop is listed. They have been a real support over the last year and I signed up for their six week self-editing course. The two tutors really knew how to engage with the group and teach the skills needed at several levels. They gave invaluable individual feedback each week and this was shared within the group. 

The group, a dozen new authors at the editing stage, are a talented and supportive bunch who are great at bouncing ideas back and forth. We are going to continue sharing and critiquing one another’s work. I feel that I’ve gained a great group of writing friends from this experience.

The tutors, Debi and Emma, have their own sites with a wealth of resources. I’ve added them to my favourite links, if you care to take a look.

I think that my novel is changing for the better,but I hope it’s not like the wine I’ve brought home in the past! The times I have carried a bottle of fantastic local plonk home to find that it tastes different in cloudy, rainy Newcastle. That doesn’t happen to writing does it?
Hope not!