Saturday, 21 March 2015

Grandparents - this is for you!

It only seems like yesterday ... well, it was only a few years ago! ... that my other half and I paced the living-room floor in a mixture of excitement and terror, waiting for that phone call from our son-in-law to say everything was fine, that our first grandchild had arrived safely and our daughter had survived the experience. Since then, we've been through a similar situation five more times, giving us a total of six small grandkids with our three daughters. And it doesn't get any easier, or of course any less exciting.

In some ways, it's harder, isn't it - being the mother of the mother, knowing what your daughter's going through, having all those memories come flooding back, no less wonderful, no less painful, no less life-changing, for being over thirty years ago. And so it continues through the new-born period, remembering how it felt to be exhausted from lack of sleep, scared about how you're going to cope, and euphoric with love for this new little scrap of humanity, all at the same time. And then into the toddler phase, worrying about their tantrums, their fussy eating, all their little fears and fads and funny sayings that make up their developing personalities. And on to their first term at school and all the excitement and worries that can bring. Yes, the world might have moved on, technology might have altered everything, fashions change in child rearing just as in everything else - but basically, it's all still the same. And seeing it all over again through the eyes of a grandparent, when you're older, perhaps a little slower and creakier, with possibly more time to spare, a lot less energy but hopefully a bit more patience than first time around, is a joy and a blessing beyond words.

I was lucky in that I'd retired from the day-job before the first grandchild came along - and although I'm still, of course, working as a writer, it's the perfect home based job to fit around visits from the family, child minding dates and the occasional emergency. And the perfect way to use some of my experiences in a novel!

I'd noticed a while back that there don't seem to be many novels with grandparents as the main characters, and I can't see why not. Older people apparently buy the most books, and some of us, I think, would like to see stories that don't only depict senior members of the family as old fools sitting in the corner muttering to themselves and being ridiculed! Most of us give an active and (I hope) valuable contribution to our young families, and three-generational family life can be rich in pleasure and laughter, to say nothing of arguments, worries, and all the other emotions that make up relationship dramas.

This was the thinking behind my new book 'A GRAND THING', available now in paperback from Amazon here, and for pre-order as a Kindle ebook here.


It's the story of Kate, whose son and daughters drive her mad with their constant arguments, especially about whose children she looks after the most. The only time they agree on something is when they believe Kate's losing the plot after she gets involved with three other grandparents: Bob, who struggles with his arthritis as well as his secret feelings about Kate; Jackie, who has become a grandmother earlier than usual and isn't too sure she likes it; and annoying neighbour Pam who seems determined to be nasty and interfering. Kate doesn't think she's getting old and forgetful - she's just busy, but she loves all her family and wishes they'd get along together!
I hope I've managed to reassure my own three lovely daughters that nothing in this story is based on them, or their lives - and especially that they're a lot nicer, less argumentative, selfish and demanding, than Kate's offspring!
I also hope my fellow grandparents will enjoy this light-hearted story about family life - but of course, it isn't exclusively aimed at my generation, and I think mums, dads, aunts, uncles and anyone who understands the pleasures and pressures of the extended family will also find it an enjoyable read.
And if you agree that there aren't many novels with grandparents at their heart, please let me know. Perhaps in due course I'll write another one!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

How to live with an author (and not end up killing each other)

Not that we authors are difficult to live with, of course – but I’ve occasionally heard strange and unfounded suggestions that we might sometimes be snappy when the book’s going badly, and frustratingly unavailable when it’s going well. I’ve even heard it said that we frequently ignore our other halves completely and forget about mundane things like getting dressed, going to the day job, or buying food. To counter these absurd and malicious slurs on our characters, I’ve come up with ten basic rules for those fortunate enough to share a home with an author, and whose fault it must obviously be if such problems arise. I can only suggest the following points be taken on board, and if all else fails, just stop complaining and think yourselves lucky you live with a creative spirit.  ;)

I’ve referred to the author throughout as she, simply because he/she and his/her are so tedious. But with some obvious amendments, the rules and suggestions are applicable to every age and gender of author, so no excuses!

  • Continually checking her Amazon ranking, and/or her sales figures, hunting for reviews and Googling her own name to see if anyone has mentioned her, is of course not self-obsession, it’s part of the job. If she becomes famous or a bestseller, you’ll be doing it too, and basking in the glory, so don’t sneer.
  • There will be days when no writing happens. On these days, just be grateful for the fact that she might have time to cook meals, mow the lawn, play with the kids, walk the dog. Make the most of it and whatever you do, don’t comment. She may be having a thinking day, a planning day, or just a bloody awful day when the book’s going so badly wrong, she hates every word of it, can’t understand why she ever thought it was a good idea to write it, is close to deleting every version of it and giving up writing altogether. Trust me, unless you want to be hated and deleted yourself, don’t ask.
  • On a good writing day, when it’s flowing like magic and she finally believes she might actually get to The End with this one, (you’ll be able to tell by the look on her face), try not to stand behind her looking over her shoulder asking if she’s planning on sitting there all day, whether she’d like to go for a walk, watch you play golf, go shopping for screws or light bulbs, or make other similarly annoying suggestions. If you do, don’t expect answers, or certainly not polite ones.
  • If she’s excited or pleased about something that doesn’t seem too earth-shattering to you – perhaps a chapter has worked out just right, or she got a 5 star review, or had a great idea for the next book, try to sound as impressed as you would be if one of your mates scored for Man United. Pour her a glass of wine. Congratulate her. Whatever you do, don’t let your face say ‘is that all?’
  • If she’s crying over the middle part – or the ending, or the beginning – offer chocolate. There’s always a chance she’s crying with happiness, or because she’s writing a very emotional part of the plot. But the chocolate won’t hurt anyway.
  • Please don’t ever refer to her writing as her little hobby, even if at the beginning that’s all it appears to be. If you do, it will be remembered when she gets a bestseller and starts earning mega bucks, and you’ll wish you’d never opened your big mouth. (That's if she hasn't left you by then.)
  • Don’t offer plot lines unless she asks you to. And if asked, do try to bear in mind the type of book she’s writing. If you suggest a tribe of flesh-eating aliens wreaking havoc in the middle of her romantic comedy, don’t be surprised if she ignores you.
  • When introducing her to friends or colleagues, it really isn’t funny to make cracks about her writing the next 50 Shades of Grey, or claim that you give her all her ideas, or that she bases her sexy heroes on you. It’s particularly not funny the tenth time you do it.
  • Writing can be exhausting. The trouble is, it doesn’t look like hard work, because it’s only the brain that’s being strained. But if you don’t believe it is, try it for yourself. That’s a better strategy than snorting derisively about her hours of writing compared with the digging you’ve been doing in the garden.
  • It’s never been harder to succeed as a writer. So if she has any kind of success, whether it’s finding an agent, achieving publication, producing her own self-published book, or just actually finishing the damned thing – be proud of her, and let her know it. We authors need every confidence booster we can get. Be the one who gives her that self-belief, and you’ll get your reward in the ‘acknowledgements’. Or at the very least, you won’t have that horrible vague suspicion that the villain in the next book is based on you.
Any authors reading this are welcome to print out this list and leave it casually lying around where their other half can't fail to see it. I take no responsibility for any resultant arguments!