Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Oooh, gave birth to a baby girl. That was pretty amazing.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?
I didn't really make any but my goal was contentment and I'm not quite there - that's one to keep working on for 2010l.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Oh yes. In January Keris had Joe and Nora had baby Nora. Then Louise had Kieran (which I think was late February)  In March I had Cara. In November my sister gave me another beautiful niece Darcy and my lovely school friend Claire had her first baby Nihal. And my lovely cousin and his fiance had a baby boy Emmerson. Babies were us.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, but I was really very affected by the death of my niece's granny Lynne who was a lovely and brave woman who quite simply left us all too soon.

5. What countries did you visit?
A big fat nowhere but home.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A foreign rights deal.
A new deal with Poolbeg.
A top ten bestseller - in fact a number one would be tickety boo.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March 4 - the day my life was fulfilled with the birth of my baby girl.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Cara. And writing a whole book while being a new mammy.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Weight issues, weight issues, weight issues.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Hyperemesis at the start of the year, occasional madness throughout

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My new Clarins foundation. I no longer look as though I have been tangoed.

12. Where did most of your money go?
Pink clothes in Next

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Barack Obama becoming president.
Writing book 4.
Squishing my children - a lot.
The new Marian Keyes book.
The arrival of my niece Darcy.
Erm... the last series of Desperate Housewives.

14. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Although it is not a 2009 song, Rule the World will always be special. And I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?


b) thinner or fatter?
Same answer as Keris for this one... mildly thinner due to the none baby making issues

c) richer or poorer?

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Reading, snuggling, exercising

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

18. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Yes, entirely with my baby girl and all over again with my hubby.

19. What was your favorite TV program?
I don't think I watched TV all year - not consciously anyway but I quite enjoyed spooks.

20. What was the best book you read?
The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

21. What was your favorite film of this year?
Movies? I don't have time for movies

22. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 33 and like Keris I'm a saddo because I really don't know what I did

23. What kept you sane?
Wine, Twitter (many good nights over the XFactor), family and friends.

24. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I don't have the energy to fancy any one!

25. Who did you miss?
My bestest friend even though she visited three times this year. My granda as always.

26. Who was the best new person you met?
Boo Face.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Santa brought...

The most gorgeous charm bracelet in the entire world - complete with three charms (one from my sister, and one from each of my babies).
I have a charm which says 'Mama', and an initial for each of my children all on a gorgeous silver bracelet.

I am a very lucky lady indeed - and the lovely husband (who does exist)has ordered me several other charms which should arrive shortly.

I plan to add to the bracelet on momentous occasions - such as book publications, birthdays and some time just because (for example as soon as I get my advance cheque for book 4 I'll be buying a lovely set of angel wings).

But yes, Santa done good and I'm very happy indeed.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas blessings to all

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog, has bought or read (or bought and read) my books, who has commented, who has supported, who has laughed and who has cried.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas indeed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red Trucks and Chipmunks

The baby is still sick. The boy is kinda sick. The boy wanted to go to school. The baby wanted to be awake all night.
Thus starts my day. Putting sick soaked bedclothes into the washing machine at 6.30am and trying to calm a fractious baby who seemed to only want her daddy.
So we get up - the baby surprisingly awake despite only having slept for 15 seconds over the course of the last 48 hours. The boy was insisting he went in for the last day of term despite his barking cough and the logistics of getting him picked up at 12.15 with a really sick little lady and no childminder on hand being a nightmare.
We eventually agreed (which sounds awful because honestly we are the kind of parents who never allow him off school unless he is genuinely very, very ill) and he got  dressed while I flapped about trying to tidy up the destruction of yet another sleepless night - 14 medicine bottles, countless tissues, a basin of boke etc etc etc

The boy and I eventually make it to the car and this (through my own sleep deprived insanity) is where it got really interesting. Of course today - when I'm through myself with exhaustion and with my very own scratchy throat to boot - decide that it would be a cracking idea to let him listen to his new Alvin and the Chipmunks CD.

"Girl You've Really Got Me Going" sung at squeak level is not fun.
Nor for the record is 'Hot and Cold' by Katy Perry. Although I did quite enjoy the squeaky version of 'Single Ladies'.

So we are driving in heavy hail, with squeaky tunes blasting out when this feckwit in a red truck decides to swerve lanes, without indication, just as we are crossing lanes. I slam on my brakes but resist road ragey slamming on of the horn and we drive on as I watch stupid red truck man swerve in front of another car. We change lanes again and he swerves out at speed once again narrowly missing out car just to swerve back in seconds later once again narrowly missing our car.
The horn was hit. Twice.
And I have the proper rage. There was I, driving with my wee son on his way to school and there is some asshole driving like a dick (apologies for use of profanities but seriously what an arse) almost putting us off the road three times, for what? The roads were clear. We weren't holding anyone up. I was driving at the speed limit and the traffic was light.
How he didn't kill himself or anyone else I don't know but if you see a red pick up style truck, 4x4 style, beginning with the licence plate SUI then steer very clear. Someone obviously doesn't have a fecking notion how to drive.

Monday, December 21, 2009

There is a house in Derry City....

....It's called the House of the Plague...

You know it's Christmas when you spend a fair portion of your time mopping up sick and dosing the wains with Calpol.
Yes, the festive season has arrived with gusto Chez Allan. The boy was the first to fall - developing a really rather loud and annoying cough which persists through the night. Yes, I do feel sorry for him and am doing my very best to dose him with cough bottles and calpol and cuddle him as much as possible but that cough ... well, it is loud and annoying especially when a fit occurs just as I'm trying to enjoy a precious five minutes of sleep.
Because, you see, the baby is sick also. No cough - but she has the raging bokes. The more wee critter is so much pain with her tummy that it is distressing me because there is little I can do to soothe her bar rub her tummy, clean up her sick and once again get the magic calpol out to control her temperature.
My house has a vague aroma of puke about it - no matter how much I have burned the yankee candles or opened the window to the elements -  and my children are as white as two wee snowmen as they sit there in their jammies begging me with big blue eyes to make it all better.

I'm hoping that they will be right as rain by Friday so that we can enjoy ourselves properly.
And I'm hoping for some sleep!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The slush pile

So I'm sitting here reading all the entries to the 'Journal' short story competition in advance of Tuesday's judging.
They (being my colleague Erin) asked me to sit on the judging panel as a "local writer done good" and because she scares me I felt too terrified to say no I agreed with enthusiasm. After all surely it is my duty to share the writerly love with all the lovely people of the Derry Journal circulation area?

This has introduced me to the slush pile.
We received hundreds of entries - from the sublime to the ridiculous. (I so wish I could quote you some of the more ridiculous ones... but I'm told that would be unprofessional).
But as I'm sifting through them and reading the contributions it is dawning on me that I could never, ever be a literary agent. This is not only because I don't have the balls to say no to anyone (see my comment about Scary Erin) but also because my eyes actually start to bleed when faced with certain things.

64 word sentences would be one of those things.
If you want to pass off someone else's story as your own, try to write something a little more original than the nativity. It has been done before.
Try not to creep round either us or our sponsors. That is a little bit obvious.
A fiver stapled to your entry WILL help.
Be back later...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The annual "My wee Christmas Star" picture

From his cracking performance in the Nativity today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Books wot I did not write...

'Poppy Shakespeare' by Clare Allan.
I'm sure she is lovely and I'm sure the book is great.
But I didn't write it.
And it has come my attention some people think I did.
And the thing is, chances are if you are the kind of person who enjoys 'Poppy Shakespeare', you won't be the kind of person who enjoys what I write and vice versa.
I have heard tales of some people being bitterly disappointed when picking up that book and expecting some Irish chick lit charm. I imagine some people picking up my book expecting a searing insight into the mental health system would also be disappointed.
So, for the record, I didn't write it.
Thank you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ooooh, and the verdict is in

She (being the lovely publisher lady at Poolbeg) likes it!
So yay, she says yes and 'It's Got to be Perfect' will officially be my fourth novel, due for publication at an as unyet decided date in 2010.


Pink Stinks? Oh no, it doesn't.

I’m troubled, dear reader, deeply troubled. There is a new movement on t’interweb decrying all things pink.
It seems, according to those behind the PinkStinks campaign that if we choose to let our little ladies dress in pink clothes and play with pink toys we are condemning them to a life of unrealistic expectations and low level goals.
The plethora of pink toys now on sale in the Early Learning Centre (which has borne the brunt of the PinkStinks ladies’ anger) are sexist, demeaning and are breeding a generation of proper little princesses who wouldn’t know how to use their brains if their life depended on it.
Now there are several things about this which trouble me greatly. The first is that by hitting out at shops which sell toys aimed at say “imaginative home making play” the people behind PinkStinks are actually demeaning every woman who has made a legitimate life choice to be a home-maker.
It seems, if you read the campaigners’ website - listing as it does teams of appropriate role models for our daughters- that raising a family, keeping a house and doing other more traditional female roles is somehow letting down the entire gender.
The second, and related, thing which troubles me is the assumption that playing traditionally female orientated games as a child melts your brains and renders you incapable of ever making anything of any significance out of your life
I shall put it on the record that as a child I was a girly girl. I had Barbies and Sindys coming out of my ears. My favourite ever, ever Christmas present was a dolls’ house. My proudest childhood moment was adopting a Cabbage Patch Doll by the name of Lana who I would cart everywhere in a baby carrier and who I would beg my mammy to knit clothes for.
I dressed, whenever possible in pink - but my brain (for the most part) remained unmelted. I did well in school. I got a good job. I would consider myself to be a decent enough role model for my daughter or my nieces. I never felt pushed in a fluffy direction. I never felt I was being discouraged from achieving anything I may have wanted - be it being a home-maker or a brain surgeon. The sky was the limit.
Which leads me to my third point. The availability of pink toys, and tutus and princess slogan t-shirts does not a generation of wannabe bimbos make.
Young girls don’t form their attitiudes by the colour of the toys they play with, or the pink curtains in their bedrooms or the T-shirts which declare they are little princesses.
They form their attitudes from the people around them and the examples they are given. There is nothing wrong with buying your four year old a pink kitchen, as long as you don’t bat an eyelid when they ask Santa for a Fireman Sam fire engine. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with decking your wee one in all the pink finery of the day as long you don’t loss the head should they climb a tree and tear a hole in it.
The PinkStinks campaign to me smacks of yet another example in today’s world where things that women and girls enjoy are belittled and used against us to make us feel as if we are somehow intellectually inferior.
It’s the same old toot that is peddled out time and time again about the films we watch, the books we read, the shoes we wear and now the very toys we let our children play with.
Pink is simply a colour - and if we are going to get all girly - a pretty colour at that. It is not a definition of an attitude or an IQ level. It is not a colour used to keep women in their place. And if we women choose to wear pink or buy pink toys for our daughters we are not demeaning them in any way.
For the record, yes, since the arrival of my daughter in March my house has developed somewhat of an “explosion in a marshmallow” factory feel about it. But she isn’t being discouraged from anything. I’ll be the proud mammy cheering the loudest when she decides on her path in life - be it as mother herself, a journalist, an author or - if she wants - a plumber.
Restrictions on our children are not formed by colours. They are formed by narrow minded people who want to see problems where none exist. And that, dear reader, is what stinks.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good things come to those who wait... I hope

"The Book" (somehow I can't get myself into the frame of mind of referring to it with its actual name yet) has been in the hands of "The Publisher" (lovely lady at Poolbeg) for a week now.
Seven Days.
168 hours
10080 minutes
604800 seconds.
Not that I'm counting. At all.

You may or may not have realised over the course of our relationship that I am somewhat of a nervous Nelly. I don't do waiting well. I get myself all paranoid and crazy with big bug eyes and a constant tremor from the increased ingestion of caffeine.
Now I know, that reasonably speaking, the lovely lady at Poolbeg won't have read the book yet. She may not even have started it. It is five minutes before Christmas and she has three tiny children and a job, and a house and one those life things I read about so often. She also has other authors pawing for her attention and sending her books and begging her to read them and I'm just a girly in a queue.
But the paranoid bug eyed version of me has this internal dialogue stuck on a loop at the moment

I wonder has she read it. Oh my God, what if she started reading it and was so bored with it she couldn't finish it? What if she finished three days ago and is trying to find the right words to tell me it is shite. Oh God, surely if she loved it in an 'unputdownable' way she would have read by now and got back to me. Maybe she thinks it is 'Meh'. To be honest I'd rather she hated it that thought it was 'Meh'. Who am I kidding? I want her to love it. A lot. And if she doesn't love it, Meh will do in comparison to hate? Why hasn't she got back to me? Why? Why? Why?

(This the part of my brain that doesn't compute that even while I loved the new Marian Keyes it took me three weeks to read as I was busy)

Now the literary world does not work that fast. And it took me 14 months to write the fecker, how can I really expect someone to appreciate it in just a week? Especially when they have other things to be getting on with.

I fear, before this is all over, I'll be a nervous wreck. Glass of wine anyone?

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Yesterday was tree decorating day Chez Allan. I had been very much looking forward to it - being Baby's first Christmas and all that.
For various reasons the last few years have not made for the most joyous of festive seasons. In 2007 my father-in-law died six weeks before Christmas and hubby's then firm was hit by the impact of the credit crunch leaving us as a one income family by the time the big day rolled around.
Last year I was still in the throws of the vomiting bokes of hyperemis and the newspaper industry was being hit by the credit crunch with the prospect of seven job losses at the Journal.
These were not happy times.
So this year I want it to be different - and I am probably putting a lot of pressure on myself to make it so.
I even wanted the putting up of the Christmas tree to be just so. so the boy and I went to the wonder that is Matalan (or Mataland as Joseph calls it - as if it is some wondrous magical place) and bought some silver decorations.
We then called past the local garden centre - and I saw the trees.
I have never had a real tree. I think I was permanently traumatised by the John Denver classic 'Alfie the Christmas Tree' and didn't want any other trees ever to be cut down in the name of Christmas.
But then, I've also seen Friends where Phoebe says all trees have the right to fulfil their Christmas destiny.
And I saw the tree - and I wanted it. And I went home to hubby (who does exist) and we discussed it and we went with great jollity to buy a real tree. (I HATE our fake tree, for the record... it is a pain in the arse to put up and take down and one of these days I'm just going to burn it).
Coming home like happy lumberjacks we sat the tree in its stand and fetched the children to help with the decorating.
Cara wanted to eat the lights.
Joseph just wanted to choose which decorations would go on his 2ft tree that he has in his bedroom.
Cara started to scream, presumably because I wouldn't let her eat the lights.
The boy started to throw a blue fit because he hadn't remembered his 2ft tree was golden and "real trees aren't golden" (Yes, they are, I told him. They grow special gold trees in the gold fields of Christmas land...yes, I am ashamed of my lies).
I swore as the baubles fell off the tree while hubby urged me to give the tree time to rest (Why? Had it been running a marathon?)
Then the baby decided she wanted something more than lights to eat so while I was trying to sing Christmas carols with a still vaguely huffy Joseph, hubby brought in her dinner and PUT THE TELEVISION ON to (wait for it) watch a documentary about SEA LIFE!!!
Those of you who know me at all, know that I am an absolute and total phobia about sea life.
This was not going well.
Eventually, baby fed, boy ensconced in his room over decorating his magical tree from the Gold Fields of Christmas Land and husband taking refuge in his office I placed our star on top of our very first real tree. It wobbles at a precarious angle.
But it is still lovely.
And the baby, now fed with non-electrical goods looked entranced.
All in all - family rows, over fractious children and disturbing documentaries - yes, it is indeed beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The rest is still unwritten

This week I printed off 360 fresh white pages of a new manuscript, bundled it into a very large envelope, wrote in my very neatest writing on the front and then popped down to the Post Office to post it on its merry way to Dublin.

My fourth novel - marking 14 months of blood, sweat and tears (there were a LOT of tears) - is done and it is off on its way to my publishers - the lovely people at Poolbeg.
As you read this I will be sat, fingernails in tatters, nerves wrecked like never before awaiting their response. I can only hope and pray (there has been a LOT of praying) that they like it and just like the man from Del Monte, they say yes.
Because that is how it happens - you research and you write and you send it off and then you hope. They can still say no. There can still be a shake of a head and a strongly worded email and you have to run off and lick your wounds and start again. There is no fear like it.
Starting over again is scary - staring at the blank screen in front of you willing your fingers to start moving over the keyboard and battering something together which makes some ounce of sense. Actually it has to make more than an ounce of sense - it has to be those magical words - a potentional bestseller. Those, believe me, are strong enough words to strike enough fear into the heart of your average writer so as to induce a gut-wrenching dose of writer’s block.
It has been three years since I signed my four book deal with Poolbeg. I remember, quite vividly, laughing at the deal. Four books? Seriously? Me? Write four of the buggers? Sure the one I had just finished had almost killed me.
Still, if they had faith in me enough to think I could do it, who was I to argue? So I signed and set about on what seemed like an impossible task. Four books. Sweet Lord. That’s almost half a million words - at least 400,000 of them were not to be “feck”.
But they are done - and three of them are out there (in the shops, for the record, and delightful Christmas presents they would make, and all).
Each marks a different time in my life and a different set of experiences while writing them. Writing Rainy Days and Tuesdays was a leap into the unknown. Feels Like Maybe was the difficult second book - but a blast to write. Jumping in Puddles was my most challenging book to date while the new one was fun from beginning to end - just interspersed with morning sickness, hospital stays and nappy changes.
During the course of writing each one I’ve wanted to pack it all in. I’ve wanted to go back to a life of reading books without analysing them or worrying that the reading is taking away from precious writing time. (Or worse still worrying about the fact that your latest hard written book has some of the best lines from the book you have just read slap bang in the middle of it).
At other times I’ve been on a high living in my wee imaginary world, having random conversations with my imaginary friends and playing out different plot twists in my head. It is fair to say that it will do you no good whatsoever to try and talk to me during such times. I may look as though I am listening. I may even answer but you are not really talking to me. I’m off wondering how my characters would respond to your line of questioning or planning what they are going to wear in the next scene. (I have lost sleep over what they wear - it’s like having your very own dressing doll. You want to get it just right).
I never ever forget that I am in a very privileged position where someone took a chance on me. I don’t think I’m better than any of my writing colleagues (except perhaps those celeb wannabe authors. They really grate my carrot). I’ve just been lucky enough to achieve a certain level of success.
But now, well the jig is up. My four books are done. I’m hoping and praying (there is a LOT of praying) that this won’t mean the end of my writing career. Even though I never thought I would get this far in the first place I’ve grown to quite like it - and there are a few more books in me. Maybe not four, but we’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Are they serious?

At the minute I'm a bit ragey.
I think it might be down to the time of year - dark mornings and dark nights and running round in circles trying to catch up with myself but never quite getting there.
So I have latent rage issues which are probably meant to be aimed at myself and my own inability to get on with things (like cleaning the house before we put the Chirstmas tree up at the weekend. I would actually love NOT to put a tree up at all this year but is that a little Scroogey? Perhaps).
It's always nice, therefore, to find a focus for my rage and today it came from this story on the BBC website.

So a dirty old man, who abused a child for EIGHT years can get out of a prison sentence because he stuffed his fat face for the following 20 years and is too fat for jail?
Must remember that defence m'lud. Anything is excusable as long as you eat enough Big Macs afterward so as to make a stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure impossible for you.

This makes an absolute and complete mockery of the judicial system - and it belittles the pain of survivors of child sex abuse.

He should have been sent to prison, and if his fat ulcerated legs troubled him so then he should just take his damn oil and get on with it.

I have no sympathy for sex abusers, none at all, and it is disgusting that this man is a free man due to his own gluttony.

Shame on the Northern Ireland judicial system.

Random Conversations with the Boy

We were driving to school this morning. I should say the car is where the vast majority of these brilliant conversations take place. Joseph was telling me how Christmas was Jesus' birthday and so on.
There was a short pause and then he asked:
J: "Mammy, what do you think Jesus dressed up as for Halloween?"
M: "Don't know, Joseph. What do you think?"
J: (with a nod of the head) "He would definitely have dressed up as something scary. Like a Frankenstein or something..."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Random Conversations with the Boy - phonetics strike again

Pointing to his legs on the way to school...

J: "Is this where your keanies are?"
M: "Your what?"
J: "You're keanies. There are on your legs."
M: "Knees, Joseph. Knees."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Random conversations with the boy

"Mummy, why is your tummy so fat?"

That's me for Weight Watchers then.

She shoots - she scores!

Donegal lass Cara McCarthy has always been a tomboy type of girl, who wouldn’t care how to spell Versace, let alone have any desire to wear it.

On a career break in London, she lands a job as a cleaner which is right up her street just then. Her new boss is Sophia Brannigan – the fashionista girlfriend of gorgeous Fulton FC Premiership star, Dylan Summers, and her new place of work is their luxurious home, Summer Manor.
Cara is determined to stay in the background, but life has other plans. Before she can say ‘Manolo’, she finds herself plunged in at the deep end of high fashion and posh parties. With a friendly father figure in gardener Sam and a delightful new arrival called Lola, Cara’s new life is set to be both fun and challenging.
But as Sophia’s hunger for celebrity grows, so does Cara’s bond with Dylan Summers and soon everything she does at Summer Manor seems destined to land her deeper and deeper into trouble ...

I've just finished reading 'Playing the Field' by fellow Poolbeg author and all round glamour puss Emma Heatherington.
This is Emma's third book - her first 'Crazy for You' was published by Dodder in 2007, her second 'Beyond Sin' (under the pen name Emma Louise Jordan) was published by Poolbeg Crimson earlier this year. Yes, earlier this year. The woman is without a doubt one of the hardest working, fastest writing people I know. And she has three kids. She needs an award - seriously.
But with all her busy-ness (she runs her own PR company and is heavily involved in the local theatre scene as - you guessed it - a writer among other things) does the quality of her books suffer?
If Playing the Field is anything to go by - then absolutely and categorically no.
It is, from the very outset, a witty, fast paced, funny and aspirational read. Set in the impressive world of Wagdom - with all the luxury trimmings thrown in - it is a fun, lighthearted and impressive read which is, without a doubt, Emma's best book to date.
Her characters are warm, likeable and well drawn. Her settings give an absolute sense of place - so much so that I can truly imagine myself in the kitchen at Summer Manor or sitting on Priscilla Presley at Graceland (read the book to find out more).
I can't give too much away without ruining the book - but with a wonderful festive ending Playing the Field would be a real treat in anyone's stocking this Christmas.
Fun, flirty and absolutely fabulous.
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