Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dream a little Dream

WHEN YOU were wee, did you have a dream? Did you spend your days wishing you could be a princess or a popstar, a doctor or an astronaut?
Me? My childhood dreams were simple. I wanted to be Princess Leia from Star Wars and marry Luke Skywalker. (That was before I found out that Princess Leia was Luke Skywalker’s sister and before I realised that Han Solo in the form of Harrison Ford was a much more appealing option.)
If I couldn’t be Princess Leia, I would want to be her best friend and, if by some weird twist of fate that didn’t happen, well I’d settle for being a primary school teacher, or a writer of books. (I say writer but what I meant was someone who spent her days writing her own version of ‘Cinderella’ over and over again with accompanying illustrations in crayon.)
I’m not sure what age I was when I lost my overwhelming desire to be Princess Leia. I imagine it was directly linked to the whole Luke Skywalker being her brother situation. I was probably a little bit older when I decided I didn’t want to be her best friend either (I probably wanted to be Sindy’s best friend by that stage.)
I do remember I was about 15 when I decided that given my irrationally short fuse around children, it would be unwise for me to follow my teaching dream, but as regular readers of this column will know I never gave up on the writing dream.
Sure I put it on the back burner for a while (around the time I realised that my own childish version of ‘Cinderella’ was a direct rip off of the original and that publishers weren’t really interested in crayon pictures), but it was always there eating away at me until I couldn’t ignore it any more. And it has been amazing to actually go for my dream.
It was liberating, if scary, to decide I was going to give it my best shot and just see what happened. There was always the chance it could have gone horribly wrong because the big thing about dreams is that when you decide to fulfil them, you are generally opening yourself up to a world where people will comment on what you are doing in whatever terms they see fit.
I’ve been relatively lucky. The critics for the most part have been kind and the negative comments have been either just quite funny (I overuse the word “wee” apparantly, which I think is a very Derry thing) or constructive. Only one has been truly nasty and was in the form of an anonymous email, so it hasn’t given me too many sleepless nights.
Perhaps because of this I’ve been watching the last few weeks of the X-Factor with increased admiration for those singers who stand up in front of the scary panel of judges and sing their hearts out.I’m pretty sure that some of them must know they aren’t very good and that for a variety of reasons they don’t stand a chance of making it as the next Leona Lewis or Shane Ward.
It’s obvious some of them are just doing it for a bit of craic. (Surely some of them aren’t that deluded), but it still takes guts and courage to stand there and sing your heart out on national TV, whatever the outcome. I would never have the nerve to do what they have done, but I admire them for shooting for their stars and trying to achieve their dreams. You see I think we all need our dreams and our aspirations.
It could be that one day we will sing in a West End Musical (my older sister), or fly in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon (my daddy). It could be that we dream of being a fire-fighter/ builder/ basketball player (my son) or that we dream of inventing a calorie and fat free chocolate bar (Donna Pryce in the ‘Journal’ office) - but it is these dreams that get us through the day and we all need them.
Last week a survey conducted by “YouGov” revealed that my dream is the most popular among adults in the UK. Ten per cent of us want to be writers. That tops being a sports personality, a pilot or an astronaut and the coveted X-factor winning popstar role. From where I sit, it’s a pretty good dream to have and when it comes true it will exceed all your expectations. (Perhaps not in terms of money, there are few and far between writers in the league of JK Rowling) but, in terms of personal satisfaction it kind of rocks.
So I would say if you have a dream, then go for it. You can make it happen (well, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be Princess Leia or marry Luke Skywalker) but as the song says “if you try, try and try, you’ll get what you need”.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sign this petition

Recently an online friend mine of lost her darling baby to stillbirth.
Like many mothers who has experienced a still-birth, her son's death remain's unexplained.

Currently a petition is being put to parliament to ask for more research into stillbirths.
The petition has been arranged by the parents of baby Xanthe Pheby who was stillborn in April of this year.

Please sign the petition and help reduce the number of unnecessary deaths.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

RIP Dorothy the Serial Killing Goldfish

It's a very sad day in the Allan household.
Today our goldfish, Dorothy, went to the big goldfish bowl in the sky (or 'Fishy Heaben' as Joseph calls it).
We've had Dorothy for a year, having bought her and her friend Nemo last summer to live in my mum's house and be the children's pets.
We soon found out Dot had an evil streak, quickly disposing of three Nemos in quick succession until we decided to let her have free run of the goldfish bowl on her own.
Generally she hasn't done much bar swim around, poop alot and freak out when she was fed.
But lately she hasn't been well, and after watching her stick to the bottom of her bowl for a few days we self diagnosed a swim bladder problem and spent a small fortune on medicine, new food, new gravel for her bowl etc.
Yesterday, still unbalanced, she swam around for the first time in a week and we hoped she was getting better.
But today in a final flurry of gill wobbling, she gave up and passed on.
This is why I will never own a dog - a goldfish dying is hard enough to deal with. Now her wee bowl is lying there empty and we don't think we will be replacing her.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shoes, reviews and having the blues...

I got my first negative review on Amazon this week, or should I say I got my first three (and counting) bad reviews on Amazon this week.

There were several criticisms labelled at Rainy Days and Tuesdays and indeed at me as a writer.

The first is that I'm trying too hard to be like Marian Keyes. Now looking at the title of this post, you may see that I am in ways influenced by her style of writing but simply as when I first lifted an MK book I thought "Ah finally! Someone finally gets me!"
But I don't think I'm trying to be her. First of all when they made queen Mazza they broke the mould. She reinvented the genre and she did (and does) a damn good job of it.
I'm just trying to be me and people can like me, hate me, feeling "meh" about me, if they wish.
Another criticism said the book read like an autobiography. Well, as it absolutely is not an autobiography I actually take that as a compliment. It must mean that someone out there thinks it reads as a honest account of someone's life. It is a work of fiction but if even one person thinks it feels real then as a writer I'm doing my job properly.

Someone also said mum lit was on the way out.... I really, really don't think so!

But I would be lying if I didn't say the reviews smarted a little, but it is all part of this glorious business we call publishing. I knew when I wrote the book that some people would like it, and some people would hate it. Some people would toss it aside and some would read it time and time again. I believe in it as a book and in me as a writer.
(And as for the shoes part of the heading, I'm on the look out for new boots, so if anyone sees anything nice floating about let me know!)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The wonder that is Luisa Plaja... and other writer stuff

You may have seen my post about Luisa Plaja and Split by a Kiss, well looky here, you can pre-order it on Amazon.
And it's fab. In fact I've ordered a copy my own self even though I'm not a 16 year old girl because it is just like so cool and all. (See me, trying to be all cool and down with the lingo.)
So do yourself a favour... ORDER IT!

And while you are in an internet frenzy I also love Belinda Whitehead who has written the most amazingly atmospheric book "Kilifi" which publishers will no doubt be snapping up soon. Belinda was the first person to really welcome me to the Write Words writers' community and she has written a wonderful article for the the Guardian about her time volunteering in Africa, so read it and be impressed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Secrets for us all

From the inception of this blog I have linked to Post Secret, a website which invites people to send in their secrets.
I've always wondered which of my secrets I would send in and tonight I've decided that it would be
"Sometimes I'm happier than I look"

Friends Reunited

I read my fellow columnist Suzanne Rodger’s column in our Tuesday paper this week with great interest and with a wee tear in my eye.
Recalling how her own mother wrote her a 22 page letter on how to look after her son, now 22, when he was a newborn, Ms Rodger’s lamented the lost skill of letter writing.
We have, she said, become quite soulless creatures - opting for the quick thrill of a text message or the instant communication of an email but I think she underestimates the power of a quick hello.
I’m a text and email addict and I cannot for the life of me remember the last time I put pen to paper to write a letter to a friend. (Usually pen only goes to paper to write letters of complaint these days). It’s a far cry from my student days when, before the invention of Gmail, Bebo or Facebook, I used to spend hours in the university library penning long and drawn out epistles to my friends back in Derry. (It was kind of sad really, as I was only in Belfast and went home every weekend).
I would pile in all my news, thoughts and feelings to these letters and I would love it when return mail rattled through my letterbox. With life moving us in all directions I subsequently found myself writing to friends in the States and London and, in time, exchanging love letters with my then boyfriend (now husband) as he lived in Wales.
But much as I loved receiving letters there was something about this older style of communication that could leave me feeling very lonely. The post being what it was, I would get a wee thrill opening the envelope, absorbing its contents and writing my reply but then things would go quiet for a week or more while I waited for a response.
If things were particularly busy, the opportunity to reply to letters became almost impossible and the gaps between letters would grow longer. In many cases they fizzled out altogether as life moved on and got busier still.
That is where the world of instant communication has come to my rescue. Although much maligned, I love the power of text messages. I love that I can be busy but take ten seconds out to check someone is okay or tell them I’m thinking of them. When I’m busy, I may not always have the time for a phone call but that doesn’t mean I can’t let people know they are in my thoughts and I know many of my friends feel the same.
It may be a quick Happy Birthday message, a simple ‘how are you?’ or, as has happened on at least three occasions to me, the announcement that a dear friend has become a mummy or daddy.
And when it comes to renewing old friendships and keeping in the loop with what friends old and new are up to, you can’t beat the internet.
A few weeks ago a friend sent me an invite to Bebo. Now, as a 31-years-old mother of one I really shouldn’t be trying to get down with kids of today and going on such trendy sites, but I soon found out it was a perfect way to get back in touch with people I hadn’t spoken to in almost eight years.
Within a couple of weeks I found myself sat with two old and very dear schoolfriends in Timber Quay catching up and reliving all those mad days of our teenage years over a couple of glasses of wine.
We talked about our children, our work, our lives since we last all met up and we didn’t notice the time flying past. We found out all the gossip about each others’ families, what we had been doing all this time and reminiscised about our joint obsession with Bros.When the waiting staff started to look a little edgy we realised we were keeping everyone back and reluctantly said our goodbyes vowing that it wouldn’t be eight years ‘til we sat around a table together again.
In the days that followed, I heard from two other old friends. I was delighted to read that one friend is living the high life in London while another has just become a mummy to a beautiful little girl and now, of course, keeping in touch is a mere click of a mouse away.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to take much time. If life is really getting on top of us, it can just be the change of expression on a smiley face or a “what I’m doing now” update. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m lazy or don’t care and think my friends are only worth a few minutes of my time. It’s simply that I don’t have much time at all, so as with everything, I’m doing the very best I can with the limited resources I have.
Without the modern technilogical aids to my life I would most probably spend my life communicating to no-one but my work colleagues, my son and his host of imaginary personas. It’s good to talk, it’s nicer to write a letter but it just does fine to send a text!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Think of a name...

Well I've been asked to think for a new title for the book formerly known as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered".
So I've put the feelers out and as usual my friends have come up trumps.
I've submitted a list to Poolbeg and will get back with the full list of suggestions etc when I get the say so...
But big up to Keris for making me laugh out loud with her suggestion of 'Baby Got Back'.

Very proud of my writer friend!

If you have read 'Rainy Days and Tuesdays' chances are you may have cast your eye over the acknowledgements and in that case you may have seen mention of Luisa Plaja, who I met as part of an online writing community.
Luisa's first book 'Split By a Kiss' is due to be released by Random House next spring and having read extracts (and seen a rough sketch of what the cover might just look like!), teen fiction fans are in for a real treat.
Luisa is an exceptionally talented and funny writer who captures the feeling of being 16 perfectly. Her writing reminds of the very best of all those delicious Judy Blume books I read while growing up. (Only cooler and funnier).

AND on top of all this, her book has been longlisted in the Waterstones Book of the Year thingummy. So big up Luisa - you rock!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some utterly shameless romance...

I found this while scouting through You Tube last night.
I've long been a fan of Lea Salonga - falling utterly in love with her voice when she performed as Eponine in Les Miserables.
This is her real wedding, where she sings to her groom.
These pair are so in love it warms my heart.

And hear are the words for you to read...

In a while, in a word,
Every moment now returns.
For a while, seen or heard,
How each memory softly burns.
Facing you who brings me new tomorrows,
I thank God for yesterdays,
How they led me to this very hour,
How they led me to this place...
Every touch, every smile,
You have given me in care.
Keep in heart, always I'll,
Now be treasuring everywhere.
And if life should come to just one question,
Do I hold this moment true?
No trace of sadness,
Always with gladness...
'I DO...'
Now a song that speaks of now and ever,
Beckons me to someone new,
Unexpected, unexplored, unseen,
Filled with promise coming through.
In a while, in a word,
You and I forever change,
Love so clear, never blurred,
Has me feeling wondrous, strange,
And if life should come to just one question,
Do I face each moment true?
No trace of sadness, always with gladness,
'I DO...'

(And in case you wondered where you knew that voice from, Lea Salonga is the voice of Pocahontas, Mulan and Princess Jasmine in the Disney films.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Feel good telly...

Following (once again) by a post from Keris, I got to thinking about TV and my particular tastes. Apart from the obvious House and Dermot Murnaghan obsession, I am often berated for my taste in TV because the truth is, the cheesier the better in my book.
Give me 'Doctors' on a weekday afternoon, or 'Seventh Heaven' on a Sunday night. By far though one of my favourite cheese fest feel good fabulous programmes is The Gilmore Girls which I used to watch on Sunday nights on RTE. I missed quite a bit of it, and I don't think RTE showed all seven series, but it was just pure lovely escapism.
I wanted to live in their house in their gorgeous vilage and work at the hotel.
Stuff like this really should come on prescription.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


My really good friend Amanda brought this to my attention and then the fabulous Keris also blogged about and it's so good, I have to share...

A blogger called Wendi Aarons wrote the following fabulous letter to the head of Always - you know who make feminine hygiene products telling you to 'Have a Happy Period' and well it is work of genius and this is my favourite section

What I mean is, does any part of your tiny middle-manager brain really think happiness—actual smiling, laughing happiness—is possible during a menstrual period? Did anything mentioned above sound the least bit pleasurable? Well, did it, James? FYI, unless you're some kind of sick S&M freak girl, there will never be anything "happy" about a day in which you have to jack yourself up on Motrin and KahlĂșa and lock yourself in your house just so you don't march down to the local Walgreens armed with a hunting rifle and a sketchy plan to end your life in a blaze of glory


Friday, August 03, 2007

Look at you now

I remember only too well when Joseph was about six months old and I was in Tesco stocking up on a variety of baby products.
That week we needed formula, baby food, nappies, wipes, Sudocrem, dummies and probably socks, because we were always losing his socks.
As I stocked my trolley, my weekly shopping budget blown before I’d left the baby aisle, I wondered would this endless expense ever end?
At the same time I wondered would I ever get a decent night’s sleep or survive a day without my nostrils being assaulted by the smell of an over ripe nappy?
It seems I spent a lot of those early days wishing it all away. I couldn’t wait for him to crawl (he bum-shuffled instead). I couldn’t wait for him to walk, and chat and give up his bottles.
When he took his time taking to his feet, I would look at my friend’s daughter running about and feel secretly jealous. When he still insisted on a night time bottle of milk until he was two and half, I wondered was I babying him too much.
I looked forward to every development with relish - delighted to see a wee man with a big personality emerging.
And yet this week I feel a little sad - because this week the last vestige of babyhood finally went with Joseph’s announcement on Monday night that : “Mummy, I don’t wear nappies any more. I’m not a baby, you know.”
Having been relatively late to the world of toilet training I had not expected or planned on dropping my bill for night-time nappies any time soon. We had long mastered the day time business, but night was a whole other kettle of fish and, if I’m being pathetically honest, I admit I got a certain warm feeling when he put his nappy on before bed and cuddled into me.
For those few minutes before he went to sleep he felt very much like my baby and not the big, grown up boy he has become.
So I feel slightly bereft to now live in a nappy-less household and when I did my weekend shopping and by-passed the baby aisle altogether I forced myself to stop for a moment and think of just how far we’ve come.
It seems like no time at all since I had a small wriggling baby dressed in blue wanting every ounce of my attention and now I’m at the stage where the buggy is long gone, and he walks along proudly beside me chattering nine to the dozen having proper conversations about holidays and fire engines and his favourite songs. There is little left, bar the heaps of photographs, to remind me that he was once a teeny tiny baby.
While it is nice to have money to spend on things other than baby essentials (like milk and bread), I do feel sad that I no longer can legitimately coo over the wee dummies, or examine the ingredients on the baby dinners. It made me feel kind of special to fill my trolley with baby things - not because I think being a parent makes me better than anyone else - but more that being a parent of Joseph, and the independent person he has become, makes me feel uniquely proud.
With every packet of nappies I bought, every bib and and wee vest with poppers I felt as if subconsciously I was telling the world (or the check-out girl at least) that I was the proud mammy of a very special little boy.
I would see friends start to plan their families, get pregnant and become parents and smile at what was waiting for them. (Given my well documented rocky start with Joseph, there were of course at times when I would thank the Lord above it wasn’t me dealing with a colicky newborn who refused to sleep.) It felt like we were all part of a nice club and you knew that if you stood in the baby aisle in Tesco you would find yourself sharing smiles or grimaces (depending on what stage your baby was at) with other parents.
These days things are very different. My son is a very funny, intelligent and sensitive child and we have a great laugh together. It’s nice that he can tell me what is going on in his mind rather than me having to guess while wanting to tear my hair out - but there are times I wish that I had appreciated the last three years a bit more and stored more memories away in my head because it is true what they say, childhood really does pass in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

You know that feeling...

... when you are reading a great book by your ultimate heroine Marian Keyes and you think "I never want this to end", well after reading Ms Keyes' July newsletter my wish may just have been granted.
Her next novel, due out in March next year hopefully, is currently standing at 210,000 thousand words long.
Now a quick calculation in my authorish head would lead me to believe that is approximately 700 double spaced A four pages, which translates, in real publisher terms to in excess of 700 book pages.
That's a lot of reading... but please Mazza, stop writing now and get the thing out. Us fans are starved of your one liners and pearls of wisdom and I need a Mazza fix!
I've written two books in the time it has taken you to write 'This Charming Man' (admittedly the word count of the two of them together doesn't match the word count of your book)... but please, don't keep us in suspenders any longer!

Completely unrelated, I went to see a youth production of Les Miserables tonight at the Millennium Forum in Derry. I love the show more than perhaps I love my bed but I wasn't convinced a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds could do it justice, but you know what... for the most part they did.

Rainy Days and Tuesdays continues to sit at number 12 in the original fiction chart, which makes me deliriously happy. And I've started writing book three and making serious inroads into the plot... not 210,000 words but still, not bad.
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