My Imagination Vacation

And what a marvellous thing it is too. Except when you’ve sprinted out of the house, mid-scene, to collect your kids and now one of your lovely mummy friends is trying to engage you in light chitchat in the school playground. You stare at her blankly as you try to process simple terms such as ‘play dates’ and ‘cake sales’. They may as well be quoting the periodic table or speaking Urdu, neither of which make any sense to me. You see I embarked on an Imagination Vacation sometime around 2pm and now my headspace is all about whether my lead character will choose her lover’s private jet or yacht to whisk her away.

It’s tricky stuff being a writer but even worse trying to engage with one. When a burst of creativity hits it tends to fragment the simplest of conversations. Routine is ripped apart by its fuzzy-edged shrapnel. I overheard my kids chatting the other day, bemoaning the fact that the youngest was forced to ask me five times for a glass of water. ‘But mummy’s working…’ explained the eldest knowledgeably, as if such a thing held mystical princess powers and shot fireworks out of my eyeballs. At this rate they’ll be in therapy long before I see one of my books on the shelves of Sainsbury’s.

It’s not just us writers that spend our lives in a semi-permanent haze of otherworldliness either. It makes the day bearable so we’re all as guilty as charged.

There’s a brilliant scene in one of my favourite movies, ‘The Commitments’, when the lead character, Jimmy Rabbitte, is lying in a bubble bath, clutching the shower head like a microphone and conducting an imaginary interview with the late, great Terry Wogan. Hands up who’s ever had that moment? For me it was Parkinson though, circa 1996, with Tom Hanks on my left, chortling wickedly along to my witty asides.

But what about that other essential writer’s gizmo? The ‘Back to the Future’ plutonium-like fuel of this imagination stuff, better known as Inspiration. It’s true that much of what I write about has been influenced from my experiences in the film industry. Of course names and dates have been changed to protect the not so innocent… But it’s not easy sometimes to make that connection, from the no- milk-in-the-fridge-reality to when the words are flowing so fast that your fingers are tripping over themselves to hit the right notes on the keyboard.

For this I have no better inspiration than my children. How my eldest interacts with her toys is so genuine and all embracing. I’m mesmerised. When Rainbow Dash doesn’t win first prize in the beauty competition, that has taken over her bedroom, the landing and the upstairs bathroom, real tears are shed. Then again, she doesn’t have the lure of social media when the alliteration of Barbie’s victory speech proves somewhat problematic.

And finally a special thank you to everyone who buys one of my books. You give me the inspiration and the imagination to carry on a little bit longer with this writer’s dream of mine.

xx

My Name’s Catherine & I’m A Bookaholic

bookaholics

I saw a funny cartoon online yesterday. It depicted a bleary-eyed woman emerging from her crumpled bed sheets captioned, ‘The morning after the book before’. I actually laughed out loud, not least because I AM that woman who gets so addicted to a book that I can’t put it down. Because of this I have to ration my prose. And god help the family if I pick up a trilogy.

To me, that’s the pinnacle of success for writers. To think that someone, somewhere, might be a little bit infatuated with their characters. Yes, I know it’s a bit ‘look at me, how clever am I’ et al but what if, by some miracle, you’ve actually managed to emulate the EL James’ of this world and entertained Mrs Anonymous so much that she’s still up at 3am and hasn’t put the dogs out yet?

It’s the sort of dream that spurs me on when I’m suffocating with self-doubt and my latest plotline has gone the same way as the last two series of Downton Abbey i.e. down the shitter.

My sister-in-law has a table in her kitchen called ‘The Shackleton’, named after the famous divorce lawyer who took on Heather Mills. It’s because of the massive row-to-end-all-rows she had with my brother when out buying the thing. She loved it. He didn’t. She won of course but it’s forever marred as the perilous reminder of how unreasonable my brother can be. Like when I lose myself in a book and end up driving my poor, abandoned family to the brink…

So in the spirit of all potential deal-breakers here is my ‘Shackleton List’. Three books that have had me up at all hours like the literary equivalent of a child’s vomiting bug:

RIVALS. Jilly Cooper. 

So all-consuming and brilliant and SO influential that I’m positive this book is responsible for me embarking on a TV career in the first place. Never met a ‘Rupert’ but it’s surprising how many ‘Tony’s’ I encountered in the corridors of the BBC.


THE SMOKEJUMPER. Nicholas Evans.

I loved his earlier novel, The Horse Whisperer, but this is something else. It’s a great, sweeping epic of a story. I fell in love with the characters so much that when the husband stormed off to sleep downstairs and came back four hours later I’d barely noticed.


FORTUNES ROCK. Anita Shreve

This author’s prose is so unique. Writing a romance from a third person’s omniscience? It shouldn’t work, especially not for a romance, but by some magic-voodoo-devilry it succeeds with aplomb. I cried so much at the ending that my husband woke up and wondered who had died. Only a little part of myself, I whimpered forlornly, like so many of you out there who experience that same gut-churning despair when the end of a great book is upon us.

Go on… try them if you dare.  Just don’t come knocking for Shackleton’s number when your other half accuses you of neglect 🙂 🙂

xx

 

“I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.”

There are two things that unite all writers regardless of genre – crippling self-doubt and rejection. And it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are, you WILL be rejected by someone. Perhaps by agents and publishers, followed by critics and then the ones who really matter – the readers. But what if rejection starts before then?

Writing is hard. It takes courage, resolve and a bucket of determination. I find inspiration in the fact that JK Rowling (how great is her quote) and Stephen King were knocked back numerous times before success came bounding up to them like an excitable puppy, knocking them sideways into their multi-million pound mansions. In all honesty I wouldn’t want that kind of success. The money would be nice but the intrusion? The celebrity stuff? No thanks. I’ve been around enough A-Listers in my time to know how well that turns out (hint: not very).

Still, I’ve always loved writing stories. Started when I was five and developed from there. Then I had an awful English teacher in my early teens. She didn’t like me. I was too quiet, too ‘Wallflower’ for her liking. She couldn’t stop herself doling out the ‘As’ to me but she knocked my confidence in other ways. Like when she chose her teaching group for GCSE English. Naturally she chose the crème de la crème of our year, the ones guaranteed to give her a dazzling array of ‘A*s’. I wasn’t one of them and that stung. Still hurts now. In the aftermath I faltered. I lost confidence and I ended up with a ‘B’, proving her right all along.

As I grew older I learnt to absorb rejection more graciously. Relationships came and went, jobs too, but I always kept my imagination in check because that was the one area I couldn’t handle criticism. When I finally plucked up the courage to send my first book out into the harsh, harsh world of publishing my worst fears were realized. The rejections came thick and fast. All but two.

It gave me hope.

I knuckled down and learnt my craft. I edited and edited until my eyes blurred. I discovered how to compose the perfect covering letter and synopsis. I was short-listed for writing competitions and received lovely, encouraging feedback from publishing reader panels and freelance editors alike. If anything it serves as a lesson in perseverance and a middle finger salute to that horrible English teacher all those years ago.

And what happened to her? Oh she’s still out there. Probably undermining a whole new generation of writers. I know it’s silly and puerile but I have a secret fantasy of one day sending her one of my books with a note inscribed, ‘From the pupil you forgot.’

Then I remember that I’m thirty-eight and far too mature for such things.

Or am I…?

xx

(Header quote from JK Rowling.)

‘Mummy Porn’: Why I Push The Barriers Of ‘Happily Ever After’

I hate the term ‘Mummy Porn’… It belittles what I do. It somehow implies that I spend my days and evenings sweating over my laptop like some dirty old man and his stash of magazines. Nor am I a sex maniac who uses her writing as an outlay from some serious frustration (although I’m sure Matt would be delighted if I was.)

It feels funny venting about this on my parenting blog. It’s not often that my two worlds collide, more out of respect for my children than anything. I’d hate for them to be teased in the playground because of something I did for a living. Kids are cruel. Parents are judgmental.

But what I write isn’t porn… Not by a long shot. I’m just pushing the boundaries of ‘happily ever after.’ And it shouldn’t be denigrated as ‘mummy’ or ‘mumsy’ either. To me, that feels like another dismissive, misogynistic put-down. Oh look, there’s goes mummy with her naughty books again, a silly hobby to amuse her in between the washing and the ironing and cleaning up puke.

For god’s sake, what’s wrong with a bit of spice?? I tried writing the cutesie romances, the Little Cake Shop On The Riviera With Lots Of Hunky-But-Conflicted Men ones, but they didn’t do it for me. They certainly didn’t do it for the publishing world. I needed to write something harder (no pun intended) and, hey presto, the words flowed and the interest grew.

Whilst I LOVE what EL James did for our industry, I hate the derision that has followed us ‘contemporary erotic’ authors around ever since.

It might come as a revelation to some but us women like sex too…….

xx