Thursday, February 24, 2011

So another one ticked off my list

So I had my tattoo.
Which was a big one.

And tonight I ticked something else off my "things to do before I turn 35" list.
I joined a choir.
I know.
Me! Who can't sing.

Well, actually... let me tell you a story about that.
For as long as I can remember I have been surrounded by music and by singers. My parents love to sing and can hold a quare tune. My sister has a voice that could charm the birds from the trees and my other siblings are also musically inclined.
Me? I have tended to come from the "what she lacks in talent, she makes up for in enthusiasm" school of thought.
When I was little I loved to sing. I sang all the time. It was as natural as breathing in our house. So when, in around Primary 4 our class was asked by the music teacher who wanted to sing in the local Feis I duly put my hand up very enthusiastically and shouted "Me! Me! Me!"

So, along with the other wannabe singers in my class I stood up and sang my song for the teacher and proudly smiled at her when I was done expecting to her to tell me (in the much the same way my mammy and granny always did) that I was a lovely singer and wouldn't I just sweep the boards at Derry's Guildhall with my angelic voice.

She didn't say that.
She smiled sweetly mind and said "You've a lovely voice..... for a choir".

Now my 7 year old self knew this meant that frankly the only place I was good for singing was surrounded by other people who would more than likely drown me out. I did indeed join the primary school choir after that but over the years her words chipped away at me until I didn't sing.. ever.
It became almost a phobia.

When I had children I of course had to battle that phobia and cam give a pretty mean rendition of Twinkle Twinkle. I also liked to sing in the shower or the car. But if I had an inkling that anyone (other than my children) would be listening I would shut up. When my children reached that delightful age where they would say "No, mammy, no" when I started to sing I was quieter still.

I can laugh about it, but the line most said at a family gathering in our house was "Claire doesn't sing".  I even refused to sing on a recording the rest of the family made for my father.
It has been one of those which has long since annoyed me.

Over the years I've toyed with the idea of pushing myself - finding my voice, singing again. Singing, while not my comfort zone, gives me a great sense of release.

So sometime last year (probably around the time Glee came on our screens) I decided I wanted to join a choir. But I never thought I really would.  I never thought that I could sit in a room full of other people and actually open my mouth to sing.

I did it tonight. I sat and I sang (and it was a bit rubbish as I have a cold). And I'll go back next week and sing again. And even thought I may be the quiet, not always in tune, voice at the back I'll go back and go back and sing and reclaim that confidence of that wee girl who had her Feis hopes dashed.

Yes. Mrs Joyce. Maybe you were right. I DO have a lovely voice for a choir.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The best is yet to come

I had the most delicious day with Miss Boodles yesterday.

Dressed in her own creation of wellies (on the wrong feet), vest with poppers open, slightly sagging nappy, her safety reigns, a pink plastic necklace and her apron she asked me to lift her "Mup" - which of course means "up" - while I was starting to prepare their dinner.

I was having one of my very rare Annabell Karmel Super Mammy Moments and has decided to make the children mini pizzas (slice a muffin in half, coat with pizza sauce, let the children do their own toppings... voila!). Joseph who has turned into a tiny teenager (ie: sits, watches football, plays football, talks about football, dreams about football and grumbles about football) didn't want to get involved. He was too busy watching football... but the baby she shouted "Mup" at the top of her lungs. So I lifted her "Mup" and pointed out what I was doing.

"Cara help" she said (she actually says her own name like Kyra, which is very cute). I figured as she is only three seconds old (am in denial about approaching second birthday next week) there was no way she could help but decided, in a moment of madness, to try it anyway.

Standing on a chair she carefully ladled pizza sauce onto the muffin bases before sprinkling cheese almost methodically and then eating most of sprinkling ham on top again.

When done she was delighted to see the pizzas go into the "big burny" to cook before running to tell her daddy she helped.

It was such a precious, lovely mammy/daughter moment. To see her exert her own personality, her own determination to do just what the big kids do was so heartwarming. I got a glimpse of what's to come and for the first time maybe I didn't feel sad that time is flying by so fast and she is no longer a teeny tiny baby - I got excited about what is to come.

Oh we are going to have so much fun.

Next week I'll train her how to use the hoover.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

And today feels stranger still...

I was, as we say in Derry, "all lurred" with myself yesterday. I did eventually have a productive day., started book 6, tidied up book 5 a little bit more.
I went home in my lunchbreak and in the 45 minutes I was in my house I cleaned the bathroom, polished the gil's bedroom, hung out the washing, did the dishes, had a general tidy and emptied all the bins.
After work I sat down to read/ listen/ watch a pile of the stuff I needed to read/ listen to/ watch for my turn on BBC Arts Extra next Wednesday night.
I felt pretty good. I even had a glass or two of wine and as I drifted off the name of book six jumped into my head 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?' which I was very, very pleased with indeed.
And then when my brother sent me this video of Neil Hannon (who I normally find exceptionally annoying) dueting with Duke Special on it... well my mind was set. Book Six. will be fecking called 'What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?'.

So this morning I skipped (okay walked) into work in a marginally less grumpy fashion and emailed my agent avec the synopsis and name of the book.

The good news? She loves the name.
The bad news? Someone else already wrote a book about a broken hearted woman working in a bridal shop.


So we are coming up with other ideas and yet, Kitty, my main character in WBOTBH (see I'm already shortening it) is shouting at me "But I own a bridal shop! I'm a hopeless romantic! Don't take that away from me too".

And while it is kind of scary that I can see and hear her (blonde, corkscrew unmanageable hair, blue eyes, wee but fiesty) and I can hear her (nice lilting and soothing tones except when she is angry) is it also very cool that a character is coming to life so strongly in my head.

This is the good bit about writing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The first line of the next book

I envy those people who think with their heads and not their hearts. Those people who are able to make calculated and considered decisions based on rational thought. Not like me. I shoot from the heart. A hopeless romantic to the core - that's me. I believe in the inherent good in people - in ever lasting, heart stopping, knee trembling love.
I thought Jack believed in all that too. And in a way he did. It's just a fecking crying shame he believed in it with someone else.
And now, now all I have left is, as the song says, a band of gold. (Well, to be more precise, a band of platinum studded with diamonds). It's going to be a bastard to take it off.

Something's happening

I can't fully explain how I feel today - a little floaty and out of sorts. As if something is going to happen.

I don't know what that something is, but there is something there in the air which is stealing my concentration and making me very unproductive.

Yesterday I had one of those busy but very fulfilling days at work - where I got to speak to and meet very inspirational women who really have reminded me just how strong we ladies can be. All the ladies I spoke to have had, or have, breast cancer and yet I spoke to them for several different stories.

Their stories have been floating around in my head and I can't shake them. They're awfully sad stories, but ultimately very hopeful and inspiring.

Perhaps that is how I feel at the moment? Inspired in many ways. Inspired to make some changes and claim some of me back. I don't think I've had this fire in my belly for a long time - not since I wrote Rainy Days and Tuesdays anyway.

I feel as if I'm gearing up to take things to the next level. I just don't know what that next level is. There is no clear defined goal - not like writing a book. I'm putting the losing weight on the back burner - not that I'm not going to try but I think I was trying too hard and battering myself stupid when it wasn't happening. I want to stop pausing my life for "when I lose weight" but I want to get healthy. Healthy for me means mind as well as body and with a history of depression at the moment I need to concentrate on the mind side of things.

But for the moment I'm floating between every kind of mood, sadness, hope, excitement, joy, overwhelming love and gratefulness, worry and anxiety.

It's going to be an interesting day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The first line is the hardest

So I'm not really thinking about starting book 6 - not really. Not until I get the edits done on book 5, but still I've been mulling over a few ideas.
Do I start it sexy and vibrant?
Do I start it dramatic and foreboding?
Do I write first person (my preferred choice) or third (a bit harder in my experience)?
Do I have one MC or two? The story could lend itself to two ala Feels Like Maybe...

I am essentially committing myself to spending the next year of my life with these people. I have to atleast like them. I have to want to tell their stories and make sure they have stories to tell. (No point in them starting off full of promise and quickly turning into the boring friend who sits in the corner talking about what happened in Coronation Street last night).

To set the tone the first line has to be amazing...

No pressure there then!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The skinny jeans were not the only impulsive thing I did this week...

So I had been talking about a tattoo. And during the week I kind of decided I really, really wanted one to mark getting a little older, finishing my latest book, having two kids, being bone crushingly sensible etc etc

So I got one. Today. With no magic numbing cream to take the pain away.

I woke up and just decided to go for it. Even though I have no pain threshold at all.
 I arrived in the tattoo parlour and only once felt a bit faint at the sounds of the buzzing of the needle.
And it was over really quick.

The words I have inked on me are This Too Shall Pass ... to remind me that everything is fleeting and I need to stop and appreciate things as they happen instead of always looking to the future.
The two stars represent my two brightest stars, Joseph and Cara.

And I'm very, very proud of myself.

NB: (and for Keris) The tattoo is on the back of my neck, just below my hairline. It is not near any other hairy part of my body... honest.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Don't sweat the small stuff....enjoy it!

I packed up some of the baby’s things this weekend. Her high chair is awaiting a new home. She has outgrown some of her toys and when I dressed her on Friday I realise she has taken another one of those growth spurt yokes which means that a wardrobe filled with 18-24 month clothes will soon be passed on to my baby niece.
Of course there are upsides to this all. My kitchen will seem bigger without the highchair in it. The toys she has outgrown will be removed from the clutter of our playroom and maybe she’ll actually be able to reach the toys she wants to play with. And for the clothes... well I’ll always welcome a wander through the girls’ section in Next.

All that said I do have pinch myself that she’s now very fast approaching two years of age and quickly moving away from baby and toddler territory into proper wee girl mode. On Sunday we tidied the garden together, just the two of us. (The boy and his daddy were watching Liverpool beat Chelsea and cheering like mad things). We wandered around and tidied the toys, brushed the paving stones and cleared away the plants the snow and frost had annilihated. With her mini watering can she copied my moves and we chatted for an hour as we went about our business like two old friends having a gossip.

When we went inside, I helped her put on her apron and we set about making the dinner together. After her bath later that evening she handed me a bottle of nail polish, waggled her fingers at me and said: “Some mammy, some” so I painted her nails, then my own and we sat there very proud of ourselves indeed.

It dawned on me then that no matter how hard I may have tried to deny it, she is growing up and there is nothing I can do about it except try to embrace it as much as possible.

Now this time of year is always a bit wobbly for me. The boy had his birthday last week and turned seven - going on 17. And it is a mere three weeks til madam’s second birthday celebrations. I tend to think back and remember being pregnant, or longing for their arrival, or dreading labour or cradling my newborn at this time of year.

In those days I wished so much of it away. I hated being pregnant. It may well be a perfectly natural state but it is one which violently disagreed with me both times. Instead of blooming and glowing, I inflated and boked. I had horrendous heatburn and waddled in a most ungainly manner from pretty early on. I also became an hormonal monster. Seriously? If you wanted an a stereotypical hormonal over-reacting woman you only had to look in my direction. (Although by the end no one would look me directly in the eye for fear of being turning into stone).

Labour was nothing something I looked forward. To protect my mental health I have blocked out most of the details of first time around. Second time was better, if louder and more sweary. On both occasions I got through the experience by telling myself that it would be over soon and there was much to look forward to.

Of course when it was over I found myself stuck in that strange twilight of existence that comes with having a newborn - where you don’t know if it is night or day, winter or spring or even - on occasion - what your own name is.

And I got through that by wishing away the very early weeks - praying for a routine and half decent sleep and the chance to have a shower.

Then, of course, I longed for the first smile, the first tooth, the first word, the first step. With the boy I seemed to be constantly looking forward to his milestones. I’ve been more relaxed with his sister - perhaps because I know how too fleeting it is. I’ve wanted to keep her a baby for longer - something she has herself been keen to shake off almost as soon as she was born. More independent than her brother she has resisted any babying her sad old mammy has tried to foist upon her.

But if she still has a fondness for a dummy, I’ve not overly discouraged it. (Although surgical removal may be an option we have to look at the coming months.) If she still longs for her ‘bo bo’ at bedtime, I’m only too happy to heat the milk for her. If she wants to climb into her pram rather than walk (which isn’t very often) I’ll let her and of course I never turn down a cuddle - and sometimes in a bad mammy move even grapple her into a bear hug to allow me to cuddle her.

As my children grow, and I get older, I find myself in a sort of mid 30s crisis. I’m resisting the turning of the years for myself as much as I am for them.

In an act of rebellion against it all I’m thinking of getting a tattoo (which yes, I know is hilarious given my pathological fear of tattoos) but I’m seriously considering having the words ‘This too, shall pass’ etched on my person.

Just as the bad things pass, so do the good things and time moves very fast indeed. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that and cherish the small things - like tidying the garden, cooking the dinner and painting your nails with an exceptionally cute baby girl.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The saga of the jeans...

It had been a long day and  I have been thinking alot about my whole new "work it baby" mentality.
All this of course ties in with my mid 30s impending crisis.

So on top of my weekend dying my hair Cheryl Cole red, today I went a few steps further.

 I spoke to my lovely photographer friend Stephen Latimer about doing some new author photos for me.
And I told my sister I wanted a tattoo.
And then it went completely mad.

I went to Next and bought...

wait for it....


Yes, me in all my plus size glory bought skinny jeans with a few to wearing them at my photoshoot.
Okay so I bought a long top so they aren't totally offensive but still... SKINNY JEANS... yay me!
And I'm booking to get waxed and preened and make upped to within an inch of my lives.

Am I over using the capital letters too much?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Work it a little...

Dear all,
It has been brought to my attention of late that I'm not a very confident person when it comes to self promotion.
You see when I was at school Mr Flood told me pride was a sin and ever since then I've kind of reserved my pride for other people thinking pride by proxy was a lesser sin
But now, I'm told I have to sell - be bold, blow my own trumpet, shout from the rooftops, kick some PR ass, be confident in who I am and what I do and what I have to offer not only on the writing front but on the general "aren't I just fecking class?" front too.

I'm scared.

I'm not a very highly self promotional person. Book signings give me the jeebies. And yet I DO have a lot to offer. I'm highly educated, funny, smart and I have a variety of opinions on a variety of things.
I am not JUST the girl who "writes that column" or "writes those books". Oh yes, I'm proud of those things (sorry, Mr Flood) but there is more to me.
I can talk. I can teach. I can't sing, but I can hum in tune. My books are BESTSELLERS - I mean.. seriously... BESTSELLERS (for those who have seen Alvin and the Chipmunks I ask you now to say the word 'bestsellers' every time you see in the way Alvin says "major rockstars" - which is a little something like this...

Because writing FOUR BESTSELLERS (did you say it, did you?) is a big deal. And they've had good reviews and really I know that reviewers don't have to be nice - not one bit - so when they are, they generally mean in.

So as of today, when I put on my writer's hat I'm going to walk with a bit of swagger and look my writing colleagues square in the face. I'm good. I deserve to be there with you all. I deserve my BESTSELLERS and I'm going to have more. So there.

Dear Mr Flood, please don't say this means I'm going to hell.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The End

The strangest, best, most emotional feeling in the world.
I have written five books.


Friday, February 04, 2011

My best friend's mammy

Mandi’s mammy died on Sunday. On a brisk winter’s evening, as the sun faded over the Hospice she slipped away surrounded by her loved ones - her battle over.

You might not know who Mandi’s mammy was, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t tell you about her now.

Chances are if you didn’t know her, you know someone like her - a matriarch with a wicked sense of humour, a fierce tongue when she wanted, a fondness for the odd wee Bacardi and Coke and a love for the soaps. A proud Derry woman who continued to cluck over her children long after they flew the nest, she was one of the good ones.

She was my best friend’s mammy, and I’d known her for 22 years. In many ways I grew up her in house - squirrelled away in Mandi’s bedroom talking about boys, school, music and what we hoped for the future or sitting in the living room listening to music and laughing at her record collection (Conway Twitty was a very funny name to a 14 year-old).

When we reached our late teens and early 20s we’d even sit and have a wee drink with her (only a wee one mind) in her living room and share all our gossip.

Mandi’s mammy kept us in line. Yes, we could sit and chat to her about a vast variety of subjects but you never misbehaved around her. She could be scary when she wanted to be. And sometimes when she didn’t want to be, as Mandi said lovingly.

When I was 15 she took me along with her family to Mosney for a week and I’m sure we gave her more than a few grey hairs when we climbed out in the window during the night to escape on some adventure or other. But we never crossed the line.

We were bona fide nerds and the furthest we got was the Coca Cola vending machine on the other side of the car park where we happened to know the dishiest security guard on site was stationed. (Not that we had the nerve to speak to him. We probably just giggled like eejits and ran back to our chalet to face the music).

I vividly remember the pair of us being ‘scunnered’ when we were made to go to Mass that week. We were on holiday, we figured God wouldn’t mind us taking a break either - but Mandi’s mammy had an unshakable faith, which never faltered, not even at the end.

You went to Mass, even when you were on holiday and there were hunky security guards to make gacks of yourself in front of.

Widowed at a young age, Mandi’s mammy had raised her seven children surrounded by love. Each of them was at her side when she slipped away on Sunday while waiting in the wings were her hordes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, brothers, sisters and friends.

Mandi told me herself that she hoped we could all be surrounded by so much when our time comes, but it was never going to be any other way for her mammy. You get back what you give out - and she gave out love and support in bucket loads.

She was just one of those people who hasn’t a bad bone in their body. The kind of person who would sit reminiscing about the days we drove her mad with our loud music while talking about the future.

She could never quite believe that we, Mandi’s friends, were all settling down ourselves to marriage and parenthood.

I remember her telling me how she cried at my wedding - moved at the passing of time and how we were all growing up and becoming (allegedly) sensible. Just a few months later she danced the night away at Mandi’s very own wedding - giving us all a rendition of ‘Simply the Best’ we weren’t likely to forget in a hurry.

There are many things about Mandi’s mammy I’m unlikely to forget. Her world famous Donegal Chicken, her apple sponge, a wee sip of Bacardi and Coke, her laugh. The way she called her daughter Catherine down the stairs. The day she gave out to us for using her phone. The many, many evenings sat in her house growing up and learning about life and having the craic.

That’s just the way it was. When Mandi wasn’t in our house, we (me and my sister) were most likely to be found in hers. When our parents weren’t there to keep us in line, Mandi’s mammy would step into the breach.

There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child - well to raise a teenager it just takes a couple of quality Derry people - my own parents and Mandi’s mammy.

We used to say she was like our second mammy. We could never call her by her actual name. To call her Ann seemed disrespectful and to call her Mrs Dorrity seem too formal.

She would hit me a slap across the back of the head if she knew I was writing about her in the ‘Journal’ - but secretly she would (I hope) be very proud to be in the paper.

She was laid to rest on Wednesday and we can all imagine her now, clinking the ice in her glass up above and letting us know she is still keeping an eye on everyone.

The weeks and months ahead will be particularly difficult for her children and grandchildren but there will also be many, many people who will think of her often, because she touched a lot of lives.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The boy

Dear Joseph,
Well I'm not quite sure how we got here, but here we are and you are 7. Seven! For the love of  God - that's like proper big boy and not at all like a baby any more at all.
This past year has probably seen you grow more and transform more in front of my eyes than any other. Your face has changed - thinned out, lost the babyish look and adopted the look of who I can see you are going to be as you get older. Your teeth started to fall out - those wee precious baby pearls I scanned your mouth for on an almost daily basis when you were teeny and all gummy smiled. I love the gappy toothed smile you give me now, but don't go wobbling the rest of them all too much. I'm not ready for the tooth fairy to stop visiting just yet.
This year has also been the year of football - forget Bob the Builder and Star Wars toys and Imaginext - it's all about Liverpool FC and as many "interesting" facts as you can remember. I find it comforting that occasionally I see your eye stray to Cbeebies when Cara is watching and Postman Pat is making his rounds. You're wee yet. Don't forget it.
You've started to assert your independence more - choosing your own clothes, dressing yourself, asking for football kits and goalie gloves. You've started to help out around the house, putting out your own breakfast, setting the table, tidying away your washing. Now if only we could get your daddy to do the same, we would be flying.
Joseph, you still make me laugh - every day. You infuriate the hell out of me at times, but you are still the affectionate funny wee boy you always have been.
I love you very, very much funny boy. You are and always will be the light of my life.
Lots of love,
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