Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Don't Look - it's the Bride!

Bride-to-be (R) exhibiting early signs of shyness!

'I’m worried,’ says my lovely Rose, ‘because people might look at me.’

Ever since she was a little dot, my younger daughter has had a horror of being in the spotlight. At nursery school, she wouldn’t sit for a photo unless she had a cuddly toy to face the camera with her and we all remember her first day at university when we had to drive round the block until she could pluck up the courage to enter the halls of residence. It’s a worry I understand; a fear of flying too close to the sun, of jinxing the moment, of crashing and burning. But, as I remind her gently, there’s no hiding place next weekend – she’ll be the one in the long, white dress!

After months of anticipation, the big day is rapidly approaching. Lily and I have arranged to have to have our hair cut and coloured, but as we walk into the salon it’s been taken over by a large bridal party with young women in rollers all drinking Buck’s Fizz and generally having a good time.

‘That’s our hair screwed,’ mutters Lily when we’re asked to take ourselves off for a while. When we return, the atmosphere is one of fierce concentration as rollers are removed, elaborate hairstyles concocted and make up applied. I find myself looking at the reflection of the bride-to-be. The pale blue velour hoodie she’s currently wearing over skinny jeans is at odds with the intricate blonde curls being arranged across one shoulder. It’s fair to say there isn’t a lot of spare money in this part of rural west Wales and although prices reflect that, someone will have had to dig deep to pay today’s hair-dressing bill. While I’m musing on this, I happen to look again and catch the moment when the hairdresser carefully rests a glittering tiara in the bride’s hair – and my eyes mist up with tears, because I so hope that there’ll be a moment in every day from now on when the girl in the mirror feels like a princess.

And so, my darling Rose, people will look at you on your wedding day, but try not to worry, take a deep breath and smile if you can because it’s only because they wish the best for you, as I do too.

Rose and Si, here’s wishing you every happiness and a bit of fairy dust, not just on Saturday but every day thereafter!


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Milestones


At a quick glance at Home Thoughts this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking life’s been one big celebration after another. Of course, for every milestone reached, a lot of ground has to be covered and Tom’s put in a huge amount of work to achieve his MA with Distinction. It was, therefore, a very proud moment for me, Tom’s parents, my younger stepson and Ma to be able to attend Tom’s Degree Ceremony at the Barbican Hall recently.  

‘Why are you at the front?’ asks MiL, looking at the order of play. ‘Because I’m officially Very Clever,’ Tom replies.  I feel we’ve all done Very Well to get this far. Getting across London in a group that includes three octogenarians means being particularly vigilant about gaps at stations, busy trains and crowded escalators. Ma, especially, needs an extra dollop of tlc because of her bad back and injured shoulder. However, once again, I’m truly touched by the kindness of strangers who leap, unprompted, to offer up seats. Thank you, so much, whoever you were.

I’m so Very Proud of Tom; I shed a few tears and applaud like crazy. The only problem with him being one of the first to collect his degree is that I feel there’s a certain level of appreciation to maintain – especially for those whose families can’t be with them. By the time I’ve applauded what seems like hundreds of graduates, I feel as if my hands are on fire! But, how lovely to be part of such a happy occasion.

We’re looking forwards to another happy occasion when Rose and Si marry on Easter Saturday. But first, because they’re coming to spend a weekend with us, Tom and I decide to rack up the pressure a bit more by re-decorating our living room. No sooner have we waved the happy couple goodbye when I notice the typeset copy of ‘Follow A Star’ has arrived in my in-box for careful checking. We knuckle down for two days of proofreading – separately and together – with only a few altercations about spelling, grammar and where the Mary Rose was constructed. I would love to be able to claim that we’ve nailed it, but, as regular readers of this blog will know, I’m the worst person for checking my own work – I only ever see what’s in my head!

Something else that arrives is a fundraising pack from Pancreatic Cancer UK, with a brilliant running vest. I’ve decided to take a big step (the responsibility!) and run (Piriformis willing) the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 5th this year to try to raise awareness and funds for the charity which is striving to raise survival rates for this cruel disease. Another milestone ahead – and many miles to run!



Thursday, 20 March 2014

Celebrations

The Birthday Girl and her daughters
Friday 14 March
We’re back in the south east for another whirlwind weekend. First stop: one precious laughter-filled hour with my ace gang, the amazing Thursday Girls. Four out of five of us anyway, which is pretty good considering how far-flung we are these days.

Next stop: accompanying Ma to her post-op consultant appointment. The news couldn’t be better; nothing sinister to report and no further treatment required. Ma even manages to get a big hug from the consultant before she goes!

Saturday 15 March
Romantic Novelists’ Association Committee meeting. At the station I discover all trains to Waterloo are cancelled which makes me a bit wobbly as I’m rubbish at finding my way round London. Fortunately I soon learn that trains to Victoria work just as well too. Who’d have thought it, eh?

Sunday 16 March
Tom and I do a few chores for Ma while we’re here which keep me busy enough not to accidently blurt out the secret we’ve been keeping. Ma knows that we’re going to celebrate her 80th birthday with my sister and her family, but she doesn’t know what’s happening. We drive through Surrey to the fabulously picturesque Langshott Manor Hotel 



where, I tell Ma, we’re having afternoon tea. As we drive into the car park, there’s a flash of material I recognise as someone hastily scampers behind a bush. 

Ma’s too busy taking everything else in to notice, but her face, when the rest of our party leap out from their hiding places, is an absolute picture. Hurray! We’ve pulled it off! 


There are twelve of us in all – my younger stepson, who took the most superb photos of the day, observes later that he has an interesting time trying to explain how he is related to the rest of the group, but that’s blended families, I guess. In the end what really counts is not what we are to each other, but what we mean to each other – and there’s a lot of love in the room. My huge thanks to the staff at Langshott Manor Hotel for looking after us so well and providing such a delicious afternoon tea. It was a truly lovely occasion.

Monday 17 March 
The Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel of the Year Awards
Once again I manage to make a simple journey complicated and wander round the Strand and in and out of Charing Cross station before finally realising I’ve overshot One Whitehall Place and retrace my footsteps. Being a bit nervous doesn’t help – this is the culmination of my work as RoNa Rose Organiser and I’m ever so slightly apprehensive about the evening. Once the winner is announced – many congratulations to Kate Hardy for ‘Bound by a Baby’ – I can relax and enjoy seeing the rest of the winners receive their awards. Lovely Darcey Bussell CBE is there to present the awards and she looks even more gorgeous than she does on the TV. Choc Lit’s own Christina Courtney wins the Historical Category RoNa, Helen Fielding has the room in gales of laughter when she accepts her Outstanding Achievement Award and Veronica Henry wins the accolade of The Romantic Novel of the Year for ‘A Night on the Orient Express’.

Tuesday 18 March
My head and heart are full of memories of the weekend which has seen so many celebrations, but as the busy roads give way to country lanes and the landscape unfolds, there’s only one place I want to be. It’s so good to be home.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Results

The final push...
It’s just before 9am on a cold, grey, drizzly Sunday morning and I’m queuing up outside Llanelli’s Parc y Scarlets with some 1400 or so other runners waiting to start my fifth half marathon. ‘Enjoy it,’ says Tom and strangely, I’m very happy to be here, especially after eye problems which ruled me out of running for a couple of years and then the dreaded piriformis syndrome which nearly got the better of me this time.

The course is lovely – out and back along the beautiful coastline. Tom’s right to tell me the views will be great… except, of course, most of the time I’m too busy concentrating on the rhythm of my running to be aware of very much beyond that! The only changes I notice are turning and running back into the increasing wind and then, at about mile eight, getting absolutely drenched in a massive shower. I’m soaked through and rivulets of water are pouring in my eyes and down my face – and I feel ridiculously, stupidly happy.

Towards the finish line...
By mile eleven, my happiness levels start dropping and at mile twelve, when a friendly marshal encourages me with a cheery shout of ‘only another mile to go!’ I want to lie down and weep… but I don’t. Somehow, I dig in. I think of all the training I’ve put in; running early in the morning, running up hills, running in the cold and wet. I visualise the final stretch of my familiar training run and tell myself I can do this. And suddenly the finish line is within reach and I feel utterly euphoric! I’ve done it – and achieved a personal best of 2hrs 10minutes 18 seconds. Even better, Tom’s there to congratulate me, sharing my joy. What a moment!

Feeling a bit pleased with my gong!

My heartfelt thanks to the organisers of the Llanelli Waterside Half Marathon, Human Being Active, the volunteers and everyone involved for making it such a great, well-organised race.

I often see the parallels between writing and running since both involve long hours of solitary hard work – like now with a second round of edits upon me. However, it’s a great feeling when the hard work results in something tangible and I’m delighted and honoured that Honno Welsh Women’s Press have chosen one of my poems as Poem of the Month for March. You can read it here.

And after all that excitement – it’s head down and back to the edits!


Sunday, 23 February 2014

News Round

It’s been a while – but, here’s why…
Writing
Some ideas refuse to go away. Elements for a story still haunt long after you’ve given up on them. So it was for me with a tale involving an Edwardian house with a Gothic tower, a greyhound called Gracie, and a girl who’s learned to stay away from nasty pricks. At long last, I’ve worked them into a novella and it’s a quite a relief not to have them in my head any more… what happens to them next is up to Choc Lit.

I’ve also been working on the edits for Follow A Star; pruning sub-plots, smoothing jumpy scene transitions and generally doing whatever it takes to make this the book I want it to be. I get emotionally involved with all my characters and really live their lives, but it’s been especially true for this novel so it’s been a surprisingly intense and exhausting few weeks.  I now have a short pause to get my breath back before the next round.

Family
Tom, on his first recovery ride after his Big Bike Ride, frightened the life out of both of us by coming off his bike on a corner at speed almost getting run over in the process. Nothing was broken – although he sustained some truly impressive baddies. One positive outcome, after years of nagging from me, is that he now wears a cycle helmet (thank you, Jill!).

I spent a few days with Ma who had to undergo some unpleasant examinations, but very fortunately, the consultant was able to let her know immediately that there was no cause for concern, however Tom’s mum’s slightly in the wars so we’re currently keeping an eye on her. 

In happier news, Tom received his MA certificate this week and we’re looking forwards to his graduation ceremony next month. We’ve also had some interesting days out visiting different universities while Tom pursues his PhD application. (I have to say one day was almost a bit too interesting; thanks to the extreme weather conditions we arrived at the venue with only minutes to spare before Tom’s interview, leaving me to find a parking space in a very scary car park. I ended up miles away, then realised how badly I needed a wee so you can imagine how I felt walking back to the main campus in the pouring rain, trying to hunt down a loo!) 

And, hurray, it’s less than 10 weeks to Rose and Si’s wedding… and I’ve sorted out my Mother of Bride outfit without a Mobzilla moment!

Romantic Novelists Association
I’ve served on the RNA committee this year, as organiser of the RoNA Rose Award, the award which recognises authors of works of shorter fiction that focus on developing a love affair between the hero and heroine in category/series and magazine serials. I’ve had lots of parcels to send off to readers and quite a few sleepless nights, but the shortlist was finally announced to the world this month, phew! You can see all the worthy shortlisters together with their books here. The RNA awards, including the RoNA Rose Award, will be announced and presented by Darcey Bussell on 17 March.

Running
Five years ago, I took part in the Llanelli Waterside Half Marathon – it was wild, wet, windy and cold… and I enjoyed it so much, I’ve decided to mark my return to running (albeit with a bit of trouble from that pesky piriformis muscle) by doing it all over again this year, Sunday 2 March. Right now, I feel nervous just thinking about it, but I’m determined to just go out there and make the most of it… we’ll see what happens!
Llanelli 2009

Friday, 31 January 2014

Why I Did the #CanCan4PanCan

Early in December - strangely, around what would have been my dad's birthday -  after responding to a direct message on Twitter, I had an email from Pancreatic Cancer UK. ‘How would you feel,’ I was asked, ‘about getting your CanCan on for pancreatic cancer awareness?’ Pretty silly, I guess, was my initial reaction, but pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of all UK cancer deaths and survival rates have not improved in forty years - and I had a personal reason to get involved.

Pancreatic cancer is known as the ‘silent’ killer because many of its symptoms reflect less serious illnesses meaning that by the time diagnosis is confirmed it’s often too late – which is what happened to my dad. Dad was troubled by the kind of vague back pain and general malaise most people dismiss as a virus and Dad – who once performed an eye-watering operation on himself with a Stanley knife - certainly wouldn’t have consulted a doctor about a ‘bug’.


The day came, however, when Dad was faced with symptoms he couldn’t ignore; jaundice so severe that even the whites of his eyes were yellow, itching, stomach problems and so on. Soon we knew the worst. And by this stage, despite the very best efforts of the consultants and surgeons at the Royal Marsden, the disease was too far advanced to save him.

One of Dad’s most endearing qualities was that he smiled readily and could see the humour in the bleakest situation. This, and his amazing capacity to endure physical pain, were characteristics which bore him through his final illness. He never complained or felt sorry for himself. In sickness and in health he was genuinely amazed and grateful for any kindness and help given to him. And we miss him every day.



So, I decided, if a few minutes squirming with embarrassment doing the cancan on the beach – to the amazement of several dogwalkers – could help at all in Pancreatic Cancer UK’s campaign to raise awareness of this disease and improve survival rates, I’d willingly take part. All the cancan clips were stitched together to make one brilliant campaign video. To view it and also find out more about how you can keep the conversation about pancreatic cancer going, please click #CanCan4PanCan

You can spot me, if you don't blink, at about 41 seconds!  (And this is what I had to do first on a public beach!)

video




Sunday, 12 January 2014

Tom's Big Bike Ride


Last December, we celebrated an important anniversary. It’s twenty-six years since Tom was diagnosed with testicular cancer, twenty-five years, really, after the surgery and follow-ups, of coming out the other side. Despite a glitch a few years ago, when the removal of what turned out to be an entirely harmless lump led to him being very seriously ill with an MRSA infection, Tom’s been well. To celebrate his survival and to commemorate the lives of family and friends who've been lost to cancer along the way, Tom decided to raise money for Cancer Research UK by cycling 50 miles from St David’s in Pembrokeshire and back along the coast here, to Sarnau, – a pretty, but punishing ride with some stunning views and horrendous hills. This is the story of his big bike ride.

A perfect day at St David's
The view from the support vehicle (aka The Biscuit Tin)
9.50 a.m. And he's off!
First stop Goodwick, Fishguard
Where The Support Driver sits in the sun
Bang on time, Tom arrives and refuels with coffee and cake before the next punishing hill

After five hours, fifty miles and £200 raised, Tom's home and celebrating

To see just how tough it was, you can trace Tom's ride here and see his fundraising page here