You really should write a book (2)

Well, 18 months later, spurred on by the fact that reality seems set on stealing my plot lines, the long-awaited book has finally been released into the wild. You can get it, as an eBook or paperback, here:

In the UK:

In the US and Canada:

In Australia and NZ:

If you are typing Brightwater into the search bar, for some reason Amazon Australia separates it into two words and you have to select the all-one-word version.

You really should write a book…

…people kept telling me, and last year I finally did.

In December 2017, I completed the first draft of my first novel. By August of this year, I had a draft I was happy with and decided it was time to send my baby out into the world. I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the idea of getting an agent.  My knowledge of literary agents comes mostly from fiction, where they are invariably portrayed as boozy parasites.  My real life experience of agents is limited to estate agents, and that has been far from happy – a future volume will definitely feature a villain with the initials KFH!  Nevertheless, friends I trust insisted that one can’t find a publisher without first securing an agent, so I told Nick I would simply grit my teeth and fire the manuscript off to half a dozen agents, and then get on with painting the living room. Hah! Little did I know! It seems every agent has a different set of hoops one must jump through.  One doesn’t accept submissions when there’s an R in the month, another requires a 3000-word synopsis, another will accept only hard-copy submitted to the US by courier.

I was both amused and horrified by Jessie Burton’s account of twitter-stalking her chosen agent in order to craft a cover letter which would save her manuscript from the slush pile.  Burton, author of book club favourite The Miniaturist, was working as a receptionist in the City at the time, and I suspect that sitting, bored stiff, working for people she didn’t respect, contributed to her willingness to go to such lengths.  I, in contrast, am not on anyone’s payroll and have a living room to paint.

Writing Brightwater was a joy.  Editing it was tedious but satisfying. But this scrabbling about, trying to find an agent, seems so old-fashioned. Life’s too short to jump through so many pointless hoops. Then, one day, I was thinking about 6 degrees of separation, and it occurred to me that I undoubtedly already know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who’s simply desperate to publish interesting near-future speculative fiction…

So, if you’re interested, and especially if you are one of those people who said “You really should…”, click on FICTION above to read two alternative versions of the first four chapters of Brightwater: Major Ryan Returns.

Let me know in comments which one you like best.  And of course, tell your friends – one of them might know someone who knows someone!

Day 253

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Katie off to art again, so had a cruisy day home with Dash. Thumb now getting steadily more and more painful. Can’t type with left hand, so writing this via voice recognition (doesn’t seem to have improved much since I last used it in the 90s) and one-handed thumb typing on the iPhone. Collected the girls and took them, Dash and Sherlock for a run on the heath, making sure that someone else held the lead, and resisting all attempts by the children to get me to carry their artwork/backpacks/jackets/lunch boxes etc. The kids (including fur child!) had a great time, but I was grateful to get home, throw the girls some pasta, take some ibuprofen and ice my hand. Arina is a pleasure to have around – she and Katie played happily out in the garden until it was full dark. I have promised the girls a sleepover in the next few weeks.

Still not typing and, having failed to find a good alternative, will necessarily keep posts short.

Day 252

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Dash’s birthday, so last night I did the late night trail around the house creating a trail of red and blue string (Superman’s colours) to lead him to his presents. At 11am Katie’s friend Agnes and her mum Rhiannon arrived for a play date. I made Dash’s favourite gingerbread pancakes for brunch and accidentally added an extra egg by mistake. Best ones I’ve ever made! I’m definitely going for 2 eggs from now on. By coincidence, it was also Agnes’ birthday so it was good to have the garden for the kids to run off the treats in, and very good to re-connect with Rhiannon, who I haven’t seen for ages. Towards the end of the afternoon, Agnes decided to hose the dog – the dog wasn’t keen! – and managed to get most of the water on herself. She is a little bigger than Katie, so she eventually went home looking very cute, dressed in Dashi’s clothes.

By evening my left thumb was starting to hurt and look a bit swollen – I suspect it was wrenched yesterday, when I was holding the lead a bit awkwardly and Sherlock suddenly took off after a squirrel.

Day 251

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Up early to collect Katie from Elias’ house and get her off to her art class. Arriving at the Conservatoire, we discovered Arina already installed. Both girls showed their delight by doing that silent punching the air in triumph thing. Very cute. After dropping Katie off, I immediately texted Lena to offer to pick up both girls and take them to the Age Exchange for afternoon tea after the course. Lena responded ‘Yes, I knew it was a good idea to put Arina in this class.’

Dash and I had a cruisy day together, then headed back to pick the girls up. When I told Arina that she would be coming with us for afternoon tea, she turned to Katie and said ‘See, I told you, your mummy would be picking me up.’ I think maybe I might be getting a bit predictable!

After tea at the Age Exchange, Arina was keen for a run about on the heath but Lena and I both felt it was time to go to our respective homes. I hate being a spoilsport though, so after we got home I texted Lena and arranged to collect both girls from their class on Friday, take them for a run about on the heath and then home to mine for a playdate and dinner.

Day 250

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Katie has been desperate to use the new biscuit cutters she got for her birthday, so, last night after dinner, I made a double mixture of Nigel’s spice biscuits and we had great fun rolling them out. I had the idea that, instead of making thank you cards for Katie’s birthday guests, we could make ‘thank you’ biscuits instead! We also made some ‘happy birthday’ biscuits ready for Dash’s birthday on Thursday.20150217 Thank you biscuits

Up early this morning to get Dash off to his art class, we discovered that spring had come early – gorgeous sunshine turning everything to gold and pretty little clusters of snowdrops popping up everywhere. Just as we were about to leave the house, I got a text from Sinniqua, asking if I could have Elias for the day while she spent time with a very sick friend. I was happy to help as Elias is no trouble and I knew Katie would be delighted. I collected Elias on the way home from dropping Dashi at art and left him and Katie playing on her phone while I did chi kung. As soon as I was done, we put the dog on the lead and headed out to make the best of the wonderful weather.

20150217 SnowdropsAs a parent, it is really lovely, just occasionally, to see something you have done having a positive impact on your kids. I have always tried to draw the children’s attention to the beauty of the natural, and even the built, environment. Actually, I can remember trying to do the same thing with my mother but, like most depressives, she didn’t see much point in looking up at the clouds! Anyway, with Katie it really seems to have worked. Sometimes when we are apart, I will even get a call from Nick to say that there is a beautiful sunset and Katie has been nagging him to call and make sure I don’t miss it.   Today on the heath we spotted a large flock of small white birds. We couldn’t work out what they were, partly because their flight patterns were so different to anything we are used to seeing in the garden or on the heath. So that Sherlock wouldn’t scare them, I stayed back with the dog, while Katie got closer to the mystery birds and attempted to photograph them. Elias, looking a bit bemused, stayed with me. Watching her creep closer and closer, taking such care not to disturb the flock, I said ‘God, I love her.’. I hadn’t intended to speak out loud and Elias, looking slightly startled, said ‘Well of course you do!’ as if my outburst had been the last straw, confirming once and for all that grown ups are just plain irredeemably weird.

When Katie had finished, and we had to pass close to the flock (with Mr Holmes on a short leash) in order to carry on towards Greenwich, I saw that the mystery birds were in fact some type of gull – smaller and paler than the ones you see at Brighton, hence the impression from a distance that they were all white. Greenwich Park was gorgeous, and full of happy families enjoying half term and making the best of the sun. Such a relief after what has felt like a long and fairly relentless winter.

I loved the very twisty bark on this tree.
I loved the very twisty bark on this tree.

The famous oak tree in Greenwich Park
The famous oak tree in Greenwich Park







We picked Dash up at 3:30 and headed home, carrying a heavy, but rather wonderful, sculpture of a martial artist that Dash had made during the day. Once home, I fed everyone and then packed a change of clothes ready for Katie to have a sleepover at Elias’ house. Sinniqua picked Katie up about 6:30, and we had a strangely quiet evening with our little Katie-lion away!

Day 249

Level 2 Chi Kung.

The first day of half-term and Dash, Katie, Sherlock and I are all eager to get out and make the best of the relatively good weather. Unfortunately the new cleaner texted last night to ask if she could come at 11 to 11:30 instead of 10am, so we are stuck waiting in for her to arrive. 11:30 came and went and, when she still hadn’t arrived at noon, I texted to ask if she would prefer not to come today. No response. By 2pm we were losing the good weather and the kids and dog were desperate to get out of the house. I texted her: ‘It’s 2pm. We can’t wait in for you any longer. Kids and dog stir crazy.’ and off we went to the dog park. We had a good walk and Sherlock enjoyed being off the lead and playing in the mud with some new canine acquaintances. Once again I was very pleased with having chosen a dark brown dog as the mud doesn’t really show.

When we got home I decided that, if we were going to be out a lot during the week, it would be good to make something that generates lots of leftovers. I have been gradually amending Nigella’s rapid ragout to make it more healthy – easy once you no longer need it to be ‘rapid’. This was tonight’s version.

500g of lean mince (usually I use lamb but today we had beef mince in the fridge and it worked fine)
1/2 tsp of olive oil
6 onions
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
300g green lentils
200 mls of water
80 mls of Marsala
2 heads of garlic

Thinly slice the onions and fry slowly until soft and caramelised (if you have a good non-stick fry pan, you can do this with just 1/2 tsp of olive oil, if using a conventional fry pan, you might need a bit more)

While the onions are cooking, brown the mince in a large non-stick pot.

Core and halve enough ripe tomatoes to fill a large roasting dish (in a single layer). Tuck a couple of heads of garlic in amongst the tomatoes and roast at around 200 for 20 minutes or so until the tomatoes are squishy and slightly charred.

When the mince is browned, add the tin of tomatoes, the onions, the lentils, the water and the marsala. Bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally until the lentils are tender (this varies – mostly I would say 20 minutes but tonight it took 45 minutes, not sure why).

Once the roasted tomatoes and garlic are cool enough to handle, squish them into the mince and lentil mix, discarding the skins. If the lentils are already tender when you do this, simmer for a few more minutes just to mingle the flavours.

Without the pancetta, bought onion marmalade, and large quantities of olive oil, and with a much higher lentil to meat ratio, this is much healthier than the Nigella version, but I think it tastes just as good, and Nick agrees.

While I made the not-very-rapid ragout, I listened to part of a radio four item on social mobility. Experts were suggesting that, to achieve real social mobility in the UK, schools would have to stop giving kids homework as, otherwise, middle-class kids whose parents help them with their homework would have an advantage. Aside from the fact that I think they are missing the point a bit, it gave me some food for thought when, in the late afternoon, I finally got a response from the cleaner. Her text explained that she had had a bad day as, on her way to drop her kids off, she had left the car in 1st gear and it had rolled down the hill and hit a lamp post. Obviously I felt sorry for her but I couldn’t help pondering on the situation. Although she has only been working for us for a few weeks, she has been very clear that she values the job highly: we are close to where she lives, reducing travel overheads, we have a driveway so there are no parking hassles, we pay a bit more than her other clients, and we pay for plenty of time to get the job done properly. In a similar situation, three weeks into a job I valued, knowing my employer was waiting for me to arrive, for a day to be bad enough to stop me texting my employer to let them know what was going on, it would probably need to involve at least an intensive care unit, if not a persistent vegetative state! So I suspect that banning homework wouldn’t be enough – they would also have to find a way to stop parents saying to their kids: ‘if you say you are going to do something, then do it. If you can’t do it, at least have the courtesy to let the person know why you can’t do it.’.

Day 247

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Guitar in the morning, followed by a lovely afternoon with Barbara Edmonds​. We met at the Barbican and, discovering almost all the local restaurants closed, we repaired to Cote. Having described it to Barbara as ‘reliable’, I was very relieved that it did not disappoint: boudin noir, duck breast with dauphinoise potatoes, pan perdu. All a bit ‘coals to Newcastle’ for Barbara but good nonetheless and hearty for a cold and grey day, in a rather grey part of town. And best of all, the waitress who greeted us when we arrived was completely unfazed when I asked for ‘a quiet table for a long gossip’ and gave us just that. Our choice of neighbourhood was dictated by our plans to attend a members’ work in progress sharing of Macbeth at the Barbican at 4pm. It was interesting, and I was impressed with the evocation (through dance) of the battle that starts the 1st act. On the other hand, they made poor old Lady M way too mad, way too soon – there’s little sense of developing tragedy if she is a shrieking psycho from word one. I was intrigued, peering at the poor demented creature from near the back of the theatre, to recognise the unmistakable cheekbones of Tara Fitzgerald!

Making my way home, rather laden with wonderful birthday presents from Barbara, including a very beautiful (and very heavy!) copy of Larousse Gastronomique, I came up against a quirk of TFL. Having been directed to the Barbican via a very circuitous route, I was keen to find a simpler way home. In the course of my exploration, I discovered that TFL simply believes that Waterloo East resides somewhere completely other than it’s real location. If you force TFL to search for buses from Barbican to Waterloo Road, it will grudgingly admit that there is, in fact, a direct bus route with a frequent service, which pretty much takes you door to door. Go figure.


Day 246

Level 2 Chi Kung.

I made a key error last night. Katie was all ready to toddle peacefully off to bed, when I foolishly said ‘Yes, because the sooner you go to sleep the sooner you’ll wake up and it will be your birthday.’ Big mistake. She then became so excited that it was another couple of hours before she finally went off. So it was pretty late by the time it was safe for me to do the tiptoeing around, hiding presents and threading golden string all around the house. Finally, I tied the end of the string to her bed and attached the note: ‘Follow the golden string, to find five special things’. I have learnt from experience to put the number of presents on the note, as last year, when I didn’t do this, one of the gifts remained undiscovered (in the linen cupboard) for several days.

Katie was keen to get back to school as it is customary for children to give out small bags of sweets on their birthday. They are only allowed to do this if they bring enough for everyone, and this has gradually become such a thing that most supermarkets sell packs of 30 tiny bags of Haribo for a couple of pounds. Katie came home very upset last week, because it was Ethan’s birthday and, though he brought in 30 packets, he gave two packets to Stella, and Katie missed out. She had therefore decided to take in only 29 packets, and not give one to Ethan, but I persuaded her to take 30, on the grounds that her teacher, Mrs Lucas, wouldn’t let her give them out unless there were enough for everyone. I also suggested that Ethan might have done it by accident and she might feel differently about giving him sweets if, for example, he apologised or even looked sad at missing out. She thought this was unlikely! When I collected her in the afternoon, I was eager to hear how her day had gone.

J: Hello my love! Did you have a good day?
K: [subdued] Yes.
J: Did you give out the sweets?
K: [in tones of outrage] As soon as I opened the bag of sweets, Ethan ran up, snatched two bags of sweets and ran off. Then there weren’t enough and BOBBY [a poor wee boy who Katie likes and feels sorry for] missed out. Then it was ok because Bobby found a packet on the floor so he got them but they turned out to have fallen out of Taylor’s pocket, so Bobby and Taylor were fighting and it was horrible. I told Mrs Lucas what had happened and she called Ethan over and he admitted taking two but said he had taken an extra one for his sibling and it was too late because he had already put them in his school bag. So Mrs Lucas told Taylor and Bobby that they had to share.

I am now thinking that young Ethan might be a bit of a brat! And Mrs bloody Lucas wouldn’t recognise a teaching opportunity if it bit her on the ankle. If this had happened at Montessori, the whole class would have had a discussion about what happened and Ethan would have been encouraged to think about the consequences of his selfishness. Whereas what have the kids learned now – ‘get in early and snatch what you can’?

Katie and I discussed what we might be able to do to fix things a bit, focusing not on Ethan, but on the victims. In the end we decided that we would take in a chocolate egg each for Bobby and Taylor when school goes back next week.

Day 245

Level 2 Chi Kung.

Katie has had a persistent, and slowly worsening, cough all week. Leading up to the day of the party, I had some anxious moments wondering what the hell I would do if she was too ill to go to school on Wednesday, given that seven sets of parents were expecting me to pick their kids up from school. No matter how clear one is in the invitation about the need to RSVP by email or text, there are always one or two who just say ‘Oh yeah’ at the school gate, leaving you with no way to contact them. In the end, I think Katie stayed on top of it by sheer will but, after a long exciting party and then several hours tearing around the house with Elias (his mum’s flight was delayed), I wasn’t surprised when, having toddled off to bed quite happily, she reappeared an hour later to say that she felt dreadful, oh and by the way, ‘the family bathroom is COVERED in vomit’.

I took the latter with a grain of salt which, in hindsight, turned out to be a mistake. By the time I comforted Katie and got her back into bed, at least an hour must have passed before I investigated the bathroom. This turned out to be enough time for the ’emissions’, which had sprayed all over the door and the outside of the toilet bowl, to set like concrete. Oh joy. Nick, with the perfect timing shared by all members of his gender, came upstairs just as I finished cleaning up.

On account of the 24 hour rule, it was clear that Katie wouldn’t be going to school today, so I let her sleep in and then ran her a nice warm bath. Once she was ensconced in a onesie and warm robe, we decided to make the best of having a day together by trying out some of her presents. First up was a neat game where you have a few seconds to look at a card depicting a scene from a Roald Dahl story, then your opponent rolls a die to determine which question to ask you about the card. Very good for visual memory. We played that for a while, then Katie was keen to try out a painting kit based on Egyptian wall art, which looked like great fun. She seemed to be flagging a bit after that, so I snuggled her up on the sofa and we spent the rest of the afternoon making pom poms. A nice cosy day.