Mums who write: Melanie Golding

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I’m very excited to be featuring a debut author in my ‘mums who write’ series this month! Melanie Golding’s novel Little Darlings was released on May 2nd, and there’s been a real buzz around it, both here and in America, with the film rights already optioned. It’s a haunting, addictive tale of new motherhood gone wrong (is it any wonder it appeals to me so much?!). Melanie is also a mum of two - and spent her career up until recently working with children, so I was really interested to hear how she has found juggling the bizarre career of author with the all-consuming challenge of being a mum…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in Gloucestershire with my husband and two kids aged 7 and 9.

What’s your writing routine like?

I write full time, and work part time as a musician with an early years story and music group. The full-time writing is only a recent thing, since September 2018: for 9 years I was a full-time childcare provider from my home, together with my husband.

Where do you write from?

When writing my first book I would often just go out to the car and sit in the passenger seat with my laptop to get away from everyone. Nap time was ‘head down for quick burst of writing time’. Also, for a couple of years I would get up before the baby at 5am (I know, they slept late!) and write for an hour or so.

These days I do have an actual desk, but I’m afraid it’s covered in piles of books, paper, bills etc. I usually write at the kitchen table, but right now I’m at my son’s desk, because that’s where I found my laptop, along with a spare half hour.

When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator
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On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Before I had children, I used to wait for inspiration; I only wrote when I felt like it. I had all the time in the world. When I got pregnant I suddenly realised I didn’t have, and likely wouldn’t ever again have time for leisurely dreaming any more. It was a real motivator. Towards the end of both pregnancies I wrote in a kind of frenzy, because ‘my time’ was nearly up. I don’t think I would have finished my first full length MS if I hadn’t had a baby. Or I would, but it would have taken ten years. That saying ‘if you want something doing, give it to a busy person’ applied directly to me. I gave myself the task of writing a novel at exactly the time in my life when I had the least time to spare.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

Both. I write for a living now, so there is no longer a lack of motivation or a fear that it won’t be read. In fact, there is a pressure to get the words out and deliver the product. This is both surprising and interesting to me. I am now part of an industry, which I didn’t fully anticipate when creating work as an unpublished writer. But as a mother, my children need me to pay them attention, for hours at a time, during which no writing or thinkwork can be achieved. This makes the process of creating a novel artificially disjointed, and throws up extra challenges when returning to the world of the novel. You have to stitch it together so the seams don’t show. It’s possible that the work suffers, but it’s also true that if one can’t tear oneself fully away from the work, that the children do too.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?  

Time constraints. Now that I have the knack of working anywhere, I feel the need more and more to become deeply immersed. Every day it seems I finally sink fully into it only to be forced out by the kids coming home, needing me to cook the dinner, all of that. Evenings are a washout; there’s no brain energy left.  

Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

My son said to me ‘we hardly see you now that you’re an author.’ I felt this was unfair, but it illustrates that all things are relative, and he can only judge by his own experience. I think I’d been to London a couple of times that week, but generally, I’m always here. If I was still teaching full-time, or if I had a nine-to-five with a commute, I wouldn’t have any time with my own children during term time at all apart from the weekends. Most ‘normal’ jobs take away your family time. I’m lucky that I can afford to be at home when my kids come home from school most days. I expect that one day they will appreciate it too, but I’m not holding my breath.

How does your partner support you in your writing?

He’s great! I couldn’t ask for more really. He does most of the school runs, all of the supermarket shopping, the lion’s share of the endless ferrying to clubs etc. If I need to get on with something I always can, and everything would be so much harder if he wasn’t there to help me escape into the work.

If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I have no complaints along these lines, but I realise I’m in a very privileged position right now as my advance is paying the bills. This situation is extremely rare for authors, who often need to work other jobs to keep afloat. For a long time, I wrote and worked a full-time job and had small children, but it’s unsustainable. If I hadn’t been offered the publishing contract when I was, I’m not sure how long I could have kept on writing, and working, and parenting all at the same time.

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Writing for me was an irrepressible impulse over which I had little control. I felt if I didn’t write I would go mad, or die. The only advice is to write, to keep writing, and then to write some more. 

Please tell us a little bit about your novel.

In Little Darlings, Lauren becomes terrified that someone will do something terrible to her new baby twins, but her fears are dismissed as a product of her birth trauma and sleep deprivation. Later, when the twins are taken from her side while she’s in the park, the police are called. Everyone is relieved when the babies are found within the hour, apparently safe and well. Lauren, however, is convinced that they are no longer her children.

She will do anything to get her real babies back, even the unthinkable. Is she mad, or does she know something we don’t?

Quickfire Questions 

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin

Thing about being a mum: Hugs; Sunday morning pancakes; Simpson’s Time

Thing about being a writer: Solitude; creating something from nothing; being your own boss

Way to relax: First Dates and a load of snacks

Little Darlings is out on May 2nd in the UK, April 30th in US and Canada in ebook, hardback and audiobook. You can follow Melanie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

You can order my debut, The Rival, hereUnfollow Me will be published in June.

5 books I'm taking on holiday

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So we’re off for our annual holiday next week (potential burglars, please don’t bother, we have someone staying to look after our needy, emotionally fragile cat) and as always I’ve been daydreaming about what books to take for weeks. In the old days (ie before I had a child) the definition of a holiday for me was basically just ‘reading in warmer climates’. I mean, I think the entire purpose of my holidays up until I had Daph was to read as many books as possible. I usually read at least one a day - and I’m a really slow reader (on that note, I’m going to write a new blog about how much of an issue this becomes when you’re an author! I can’t keep up with my peers at all, it’s so upsetting).

But anyway, on holidays in the old days I’d buy a ton of different books and chomp my way through them while lying on a beach and not really getting tanned because I hate feeling too hot and I hate the sun being on my face. It was bliss. I am ever hopeful that one day I will be able to experience that very simple nirvana again, but for the time being - with a three-year-old who needs constant entertaining - I suspect it is a little ambitious.

Thus for my ten day holiday I have only chosen to take five books. And I’m depressingly pessimistic about the likelihood of me getting through even these. I’m so bloody knackered by the time that Daphne is asleep that I can barely make it through a page, let alone a chapter, without falling asleep. But last year, she did have a two-hour nap every day on the beach, so fingers and toes firmly crossed the sea air wears her out once again…

Anyway I thought it would be nice to share the books that I’m taking with you, and the reasons I’m taking them. In case there were any you hadn’t heard of, or fancied checking out yourself.

These are in no particular order by the way. Here we go…

DEGREES OF GUILT BY HS CHANDLER

I’m starting with a bit of a cheeky one, because this isn’t actually out yet (author’s perks). It’s being released in ebook on 16 May, but the author and I share an agent, so I was lucky to get an advance copy. Here’s the blurb:

When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.

Maria is on trial for attempted murder.

She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.

Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.

She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.

You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.

You will be wrong.

I’m really into legal thrillers at the moment - I think I’m just so in awe of anyone who can negotiate all the research and complexity (it does help, perhaps, that the author herself is a lawyer! Even so…). Anyway I love that it’s the woman on trial for killing her husband, rather than the other way round. I’m excited for this one and getting under the skins of the two female protagonists.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG

This one was recommended to me by a friend (the fab Caroline Hulse - read her book if you haven’t already!). Here’s the blurb:

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

I’ve never read any of Celeste Ng’s books but I have heard lots and lots of praise, and I love the premise of this - I think it’s exactly the kind of book the old me would have devoured on holiday. It’ll also be nice to read something a bit more literary - I tend to read loads of psychological thrillers so it will be good to have a break and try something a bit different (although the premise sounds very page-turny too which is GOOD for my woefully poor attention span).

HOW TO FAIL BY ELIZABETH DAY

I am totally obsessed with Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail, so I was very excited to hear that she had brought out a book too! Here’s what her publisher says about it:

This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.

If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.

Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It's a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid.

I find her podcast so inspiring - if you haven’t listened to it yet, then get on it, you’re in for such a massive treat. So I’m really, really looking forward to reading this. I’ve become quite the Elizabeth Day fangirl (and I hate that word!). I read quite a lot of non-fiction - I’d say at least half the books I read are non-fiction, and I absolutely adore memoirs, so I think this will be right up my street.

WATCHING YOU BY LISA JEWELL

And now for a ‘safe’ read (ie, one I know will be good!). Here’s the premise:

You’re back home after four years working abroad, new husband in tow.

You’re keen to find a place of your own. But for now you’re crashing in your big brother’s spare room.

That’s when you meet the man next door.

He’s the head teacher at the local school. Twice your age. Extraordinarily attractive. You find yourself watching him.

All the time.

But you never dreamed that your innocent crush might become a deadly obsession.

Or that someone is watching you.

I love Lisa Jewell’s books, and I find her such an inspiration as a writer, so I feel very confident that this won’t let me down. It’s always a pleasure to read books by ‘masters (mistresses?)’ of the craft. I also love that it has a stalking theme, which is kind of similar to my second book Unfollow Me.

THE BOOK YOU WISH YOUR PARENTS HAD READ BY PHILIPPA PERRY

Last but not least… I actually bought this in hardcover a while ago but it’s been sitting on the dining room table guilting me ever since. Here’s a bit more about it:

Every parent wants their child to be happy and every parent wants to avoid screwing them up. But how do you achieve that?

In this absorbing, clever and funny book, renowned psychotherapist Philippa Perry tells us what really matters and what behaviour it is important to avoid - the vital dos and don'ts of parenting.

Instead of mapping out the 'perfect' plan, Perry offers a big-picture look at the elements that lead to good parent-child relationships. This refreshing, judgement-free book will help you to:

· Understand how your own upbringing may affect your parenting
· Accept that you will make mistakes and learn what you can do about them
· Break negative cycles and patterns 
· Handle your own and your child's feelings
· Understand what different behaviours communicate

Full of sage and sane advice, this is the book that every parent will want to read and every child will wish their parents had.

I’ve heard loads of rave reviews for it (especially from friends) so I’m hoping, basically, that it’s going to transform me as a parent and provide all the answers to the questions that continually drown me (such as how on earth do you get a three year old to get dressed in the morning when they want to do everything BUT?). However, because parenting is definitely not just a mother’s job, I’m keen that Oli reads this too. I was telling a friend the other day that when we first went on holiday together we used to read to each other in bed - I was really embarrassed to admit it but she said she thought it was cute, so… now I’m telling the whole world on my blog. Ha. Anyway, my plan is that we read each other this every evening once Daph’s asleep (and then leave Greece as shiny happy new parents).

So that’s it! I also have a friend’s unpublished manuscript which I’m really looking forward to as I love her writing. I will let you know how I get on with these on social media! You can follow me on Twitter, Insta and Facebook if you’re not already. I really hope I manage to read all five - wish me luck!

My debut, THE RIVAL, is out now. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How I deal with professional jealousy as a writer

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

THERE’S ENOUGH CAKE FOR ALL! HONEST

I just want to put something out there, in the full knowledge that it might make me seem like a spoilt brat. But being a writer is hard. Really. It is.

Let's take away the never-ending financial insecurity (which most people would find incredibly stressful), the loneliness, the fact that so much of your success is completely out of your control, the long hours, the late nights, the backache, the lack of exercise and consumption of too many snacks. And let's focus on the hardest thing of all: professional jealousy.

I've always thought that I was quite lucky, as I seem to be missing the jealousy gene. As a general rule, I don't get jealous of other people. Or their success. I suspect that the reason for this is that I am far too self-absorbed to really care what other people are doing (this is probably not a good thing!). I'm too focused on my own life, my own success, my own happiness. I don't really notice what other people are up to in anything more than a perfunctory way, and I usually just think 'good for them' and move on.

no matter how well you write, how well your book ‘performs’ in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a ‘bigger’ book

However, when it comes to writing, I think even the most self-absorbed person struggles just a little bit with professional jealousy. Because no matter how well you write, how well your book 'performs' in the marketplace, there will always be someone else out there with a 'bigger' book. A 'better' book. And you will sit back and wonder why it isn't you. And you will be pleased for them, but then you'll also start to panic that your book is going to get lost, because surely there's only so much room for big books out there, and what if yours isn't one of them? What does that make you? Who wants to be second rate? Who wants to 'nearly make it'? Who wants to be the one that people look at and think 'Oh dear, guess it didn't work out for her then'?

The reason I write this post is because recently I've had to remind myself of the most useful tool you have for defeating this green-eyed disease: abundance mentality. I have noticed my bouts of professional jealousy come and go in waves. Usually, it's when things are quiet, when I'm just sat at home doing the part of writing that people ignore when they see it as a 'dream' career: the actual bloody writing. Sat at home alone day after day, struggling with my characters and the ever-present imposter syndrome that seems to be just an inevitable part of this job, and I start to look at other writers with 300 five star Amazon reviews and tons of praise on social media and I think, why am I doing this again? The world doesn't need my books. I’ll never be as successful as them. What do they have that I don’t? Why are they so brilliant/lucky/talented?

I read about abundance mentality a few years ago in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it’s probably one of the most helpful concepts I’ve ever come across. I'm not usually one for self-help books, but this particular concept really struck a chord with me. Put simply, people who believe in abundance - that there is enough happiness, success, love and joy for all of us, are much happier than those who believe in scarcity - that if you're eating the cake then I can't eat it too.

I'm no philosopher, and I am terrible at explaining things like this so here’s a diagram that really neatly sums up this way of thinking:

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just because a reader likes someone else’s book, that doesn’t mean they won’t like your book too!

If you see success as something scarce, that can't be shared, all you do is make yourself miserable. Because the truth is there IS enough space for everyone. To be specific about writing, just because a reader likes someone else's book, that doesn't mean they won't like your book too! Just because an agent has sold someone else’s book for six figures, doesn’t mean they can’t do the same for the next book you write. There's no limit to the amount of books or writers that readers can admire and enjoy. 

putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you’re feeling negative

It's easy to write this down as a theory - something that's nice on paper, but it's more difficult to change your mindset. So on the days when I'm really struggling with self-esteem and find myself slipping into a scarcity mindset, I have one trick that really works for me. Fake it til you feel it. And the best way to do this is to support others. On the days I'm feeling really down about myself and my writing, I make sure I praise other writers, share their posts on social media, am supportive and helpful to them in any way that I can. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it, sometimes I really just feel like locking myself away and eating a whole packet of Maryland cookies and simmering with envy, but I always feel better afterwards. I really believe that putting a bit of positivity into the world is the best thing you can do when you're feeling negative. It's the ultimate mood lifter.

I also try to go back to the writing and remember what I love about it - because for me, it really is the best bit about being a writer. When I’m writing and it’s going well, I find I don’t care at all about how successful or not the book might be. Instead, I’m completely focused and absorbed in my own little created world.

Of course, you can also choose to avoid social media, and lots of people I know do that, but it’s quite hard to do that completely (especially if you have your own book to promote). It’s also tough if lots of people you know are writers too, as you’ll inevitably hear about their success one way or another. So really, I think supporting them as best you can is the healthiest thing to do. Because they will, of course, have felt the same way you are feeling at some point in their writing career - it’s par for the course. Are you even a writer at all if you haven’t felt like a massive failure at some point?!

I hope this doesn't sound super preachy. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live their life - everyone has their own ways of coping with things. But I thought it was worth a blog post, because it is something that helps me, and if there's any chance it might help you too when the green-eyed monster comes to call, then that's gotta be good, right?

And if you have any other tips for coping with professional jealousy, please do share them in a comment below!

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Mums who write: Lizzie Page

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I had such an incredible response to my first ever ‘mums who write’ post with Laura Pearson, so I’m really excited to be posting another one today. This time, I chat to historical fiction novelist Lizzie Page about her writing life, which she admirably juggles alongside the needs of three children one of whom is a bonafide teenager (I am exhausted just thinking about it). Her latest novel, When I Was Yours, is released on 16 April. Read on to find out more about how she makes writing and motherhood work for her…

Where do you live and with who?

I live by the sea-side in Essex with husband Steve, my three children and dog, Lenny. They are 18, 11 and 9.  (I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe.)

What’s your writing routine like?

My writing is haphazard. ‘Routine’ is not a great word for it. 😊 Some days, I’ll do the school run and then get writing for the remaining six hours. Other days, I’ll find anything to avoid writing until it’s time to pick the kids up again. (Not housework though, never housework. I’m not a writer who likes to clean).

I write full-time but we’re not just living off my writing. That would, so far, be impossible.  

I have written on grubby envelopes and receipts found in my bag – I seem never to have a notebook at the right time

Where do you write from?

I write at a desk in my living room. Next to me, my middle-son is playing Fortnite. It’s not ideal but hey ho. I have written on grubby envelopes and receipts found in my bag – I seem never to have a notebook at the right time, and I can’t seem to be creative on the phone – I’ve written while ignoring the kids at soft play, swimming lessons, hockey and football matches. I have perfected the art of responding to ‘Did you see that goal?’ with a ‘Darling…you were awesome!’

I appreciate non-parents have massive demands on them too

What impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

It’s both a blessing and a burden. :)  I think I write better mother characters and better children characters than I did before, but of course there are authors who do that brilliantly anyway – (not me).  

Time constraints are the biggest one, but again, I appreciate non-parents have massive demands on them too.

Generally, though, having these three extra people in my life, who I know pretty damn intimately, has been hugely illuminating and entertaining and I hope I carry that understanding of ‘the human condition’ into my work.

I have a sense of urgency, a sense of wanting to leave something behind, ambition maybe, that I never had before

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

I’ve had to learn to squeeze my writing in when I can. I’ve had to accept that there will never be a long stretch of uninterrupted time – but that’s OK, I can work around that. I think I have a sense of urgency, a sense of wanting to leave something behind, ambition maybe, that I never had before – so in that sense its easier.  

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

I think it’s pretty great generally. I get to daydream constantly, I get to go to all the kids’ school stuff (ha! a downside). I get to be very hands on with their lives, while having an amazing interior life of my own.

I don’t think it’s hard being a mother who writes: I think it must be much harder to have a mother who writes (sorry kids!).

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

Hmmm, people expect my children will be great book-lovers. That’s not quite the case. 😊

I think being rejected, rejected, rejected and then published was fantastic for them to see. I hope that will show them the importance of perseverance. I also read my reviews out to them and I hope together we’ve learnt ‘you can’t please all the people all the time’ – which I think is a good life lesson.

How does your partner support you in your writing? 

He regularly asks me the Amazon rankings and says, ‘why aren’t they higher?’. He regularly comes up with outlandish plot ideas. He tells his (disinterested) colleagues about my work. He doesn’t help edit or even read my books (!) but financially, he’s enabled this whole shebang so I don’t mind too much.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums? If not, what could they do better? 

Hmm, interesting question. I think there is a lack of diversity in the industry as a whole, but I wouldn’t have said a lack of support for writing mums is an area that needs working on. I would very much like the industry to look at enabling more working class voices to the fore, especially working class women, mothers and minorities.  

I have no complaints about Bookouture my publishers. They’re very responsive and understanding of family obligations.  

It can feel wrong to carve out time for yourself to write. But carve out time for yourself you must. Mothers have lives too!

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?  

Writing can feel like a self-indulgence. Women are socialised to put others first. It can feel wrong to carve out time for yourself to write. But carve out time for yourself you must. Mothers have lives too!  

Please tell us a little bit about your latest novel.

When I Was Yours is a story about Vivienne who serves as a volunteer nurse in World War One and then as a host-mother to Pearl, an evacuee child from London in World War Two.  

As Pearl and Vivienne learn to live together, they discover a connection that runs more deeply than anyone could have guessed – from before Pearl was born and deep into Vivienne’s war-time past. It is her relationship with Pearl that forces Vivienne to confront what happened in her marriage and to her long-lost sister who she loved so dearly. When I Was Yours looks at the choices we make, the awfulness of war, British anti-Semitism and love – romantic and maternal.   

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: I’m going to cheat and mention two that I’ve read recently:

The first is Francesca Jakobi’s Bitter. I thought this was a wonderful exploration of motherhood when it’s difficult. How or why it goes wrong and how painful that can be.

The second is Emma Robinson’s The Undercover Mother. This is completely different, a light-hearted look at a pregnant woman preparing for motherhood and struggling or resisting some of the changes that are taking place (I remember that well).   

Thing about being a mum: Oof. Well, it’s not the responsibility or the washing. It must be the gorgeousness of my kids. I find them fascinating. You should hear me and my husband going on about them (no, you shouldn’t).  

Thing about being a writer: I just love it. Creating new worlds, putting together all the words, shaping them, editing them, hating them, then liking them again. It’s fabulous to hold the final product – the story - in your hands and I like the way it’s both very solitary – at the beginning – but then very much a team effort later on. It’s really the best of both worlds. Plus doing stuff like this interview is a huge privilege. Every day I thank my lucky stars.

Lizzie’s latest book, When I Was Yours, is released on 16 April. You can also keep up to date with Lizzie’s news by following her on Twitter.

You can order my debut, THE RIVAL, hereUNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Our tiny 70s bathroom makeover

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Ohhh this feels like a real trip down memory lane - to be blogging about interiors again! I thought it was a time to switch it up from the endless chat about writing/parenting, so here we are: the first in what I hope will be a series of posts all about our house renovation.

Now, nearly three years ago, when we first moved into our 70s house in suburbia, I did a little house tour post. You can see it here. I ended it by saying I was definitely going to do some posts on what we did to the house soon. Sorry! But better late than never huh?

Anyway, if you follow my Instagram you might know that last year we did a massive building project. We moved out to my parents’ for ten weeks and basically gutted nearly the entire house, adding a small extension on the back. It was one of those ‘we should build an extension’ jobs that just grew and grew, until the next thing we knew we were rewiring, replumbing and had two new bathrooms and a new kitchen and a brand new patio that might just be my favourite thing ever.

I really want to get the house professionally photographed, but I’ll be honest - I can’t see myself getting around to it anytime soon. So, before I forget everything we did, I thought I’d do a little series of posts on each of the rooms we had redone. And for no particular reason, I thought I’d start with the bathroom. I apologise in advance for the bad photos - my sister (professional photographer) will be disgusted I’m sure. It’s really hard to photograph white rooms without the light levels going mental, so bear with me please!

Now, I know 70s houses aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but we are massive fans. We love the huge amount of light you get in every room, the generous proportions, internal windows, decent-sized hallways and the fact that they generally flow really well. But there’s one thing about 70s houses I don’t like - and that’s the tiny bathrooms. I say bathrooms, but we only have one bathroom upstairs, and that’s also a bit of a downside, as we have four bedrooms. We discussed trying to squeeze an ensuite in somewhere, but I actually hate ensuites (who wants to listen to your partner on the bog while you’re lying next door in bed?) and in the end the hassle just didn’t seem to be worth it. Every house has a compromise right? And the small family bathroom definitely is it in ours. Because I love everything else to bits!

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This is the only ‘before’ picture I have of the bathroom, and it’s one of the estate agent pictures from when we bought the house. There was nothing wrong with the bathroom, per se (it was euphemistically described as a ‘luxury’ bathroom in the sales details). But it was so utterly boring and lacking in any kind of character. I don’t know why people don’t have a bit more fun with their bathrooms. They don’t have to be completely dull you know! I hated the shower pump being exposed too - it was a nightmare to keep clean.

Anyway, one of the good things about this room is the huge window above the basin (you can’t really see it in the photo above). We have an unusually shaped roof (and no loft) so the ceilings in the upstairs rooms go right up to the roof. The trouble with this high window is that you can’t reach it unless you’re 7ft tall, so the lady who owned the place before us had fashioned this rope pulley system in order to open and close it, which hung down in front of the basin most of the time. It was my number one priority to get rid of this damn rope, so after much research we discovered what we needed was an electric actuator, the type usually used in greenhouses (!). It doesn’t look too pretty, but at least we can now open and shut the bathroom window using a simple electric toggle switch.

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Other than that, our biggest priority was storage. There was hardly any in the bathroom as it was - just that poxy cupboard under the basin. So we decided to hide all the plumbing by building a false wall and above that, creating a mirrored cabinet the entire width of the wall, providing loads of storage. We also removed the old water tank when we had the house replumbed (we fitted a new combi boiler) which meant we gained a huge storage cupboard on the top left of the bathroom - this is basically our only loft space, and now houses all our luggage!

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I knew I wanted lots of plywood in this room. I also knew I wanted grid tiles with black grout. It took a lot of persuading on my part to convince the builder (and Oli) that I wanted black grout - and I’m so glad I put my foot down. ‘Graph paper chic’ was what I said I wanted, and I think we got that. With some nice plywood details and a shelf above the mirrored cabinet for my plants, as well as open shelving to the left.

We picked the biggest showerhead we could, and it’s absolutely brilliant. We also have a hand-held shower attachment so we can clean the bath without too much trouble. Sanitaryware wise, we wanted a wider bath (as it’s a shower bath too), and a back-to-wall WC that was as compact as possible. As I said, this room is so tiny. Once we’d squeezed all that in, finding a basin that fitted the space was really hard - in the end we had to go for a largeish cloakroom basin. My dad thinks it’s ridiculous, but sadly a wider one would have made the room feel even smaller.

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It’s not ideal, and bathtimes with Daph can get a bit stressful as I feel like there’s just nowhere to move sometimes. But I love how light, bright and simple the overall feel of the room is, and the fact that it’s sympathetic to the era of the house, without being too much of a pastiche. We were going to choose cork tiles for the floor, but the style we liked wasn’t recommended for use in bathrooms, so in the end we went for a simple rubber floor. It’s pleasingly clean and neutral but it’s also far too light - in hindsight I would have picked a darker shade, as water splashes show up really badly so it always looks dirty!

Finally, I wanted the biggest towel rail possible, and this is hidden behind the door. It holds all our towels, so we always have something cosy to wrap ourselves in after getting out of the bath or shower. I think my favourite feature of the room is the plywood bath panel - it’s so beautifully finished and I just love the colour of the wood.

Anyway, here’s the great long list of where everything was from, just in case you’re interested. Any questions, leave me a comment! And I promise not to wait another three years before posting any more interiors blogs :)

Basin - Aston Matthews. Taps and shower fittings - Crosswater. Toilet - VitrA. Bath - no idea sorry, builder supplied. Shower screen - Novellini Aurora. Flooring - The Colour Flooring Company. Towel rail - Victoria Plum. Bath panel and cabinet - bespoke. Tiles - British Ceramic Tile. Grout - BAL Adhesive Micromax 2 in Anthracite. Window actuator - Venset. Loft cupboard handles - Chocolate Creative.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How losing my job while pregnant inspired my debut novel

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t really talked about the inspiration behind my debut, The Rival, on my blog. So, I thought it’d be good to remedy that! Let me start by saying The Rival is a work of fiction. However, the seed of the idea came from my own experience of new motherhood. One of my friends once told me that giving birth was like being in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It stuck with me before I gave birth, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate.

I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point

I was 33 when I got pregnant, and although my daughter was very much longed for, I was shockingly naïve and had no idea what to expect. I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point – I was a successful journalist and PR consultant and knew nothing about babies, or how to care for them. Once the first few months as a new mum were behind me, I was amazed not to be able to find any novels on this subject, given all the women I knew who were also struggling to forge a new identity as a mum after so long in the world of work. And so I decided to write about them – a story for women who have struggled with this transition, in the face of a working world that is still so stacked against us.

I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression but like many women, my sleep deprivation in those early days reached the point where I started hallucinating at night, imagining the baby was in bed with me when she was actually asleep in her cot, and my moods swung from euphoric to desperate with exhausting frequency.

To add to my stress, I unexpectedly found myself on maternity leave without a job to return to. Sadly, this is an all-too-common situation. It was utterly terrifying: this open-ended new ‘life’ that was completely alien to everything I had ever known, and that I was woefully underprepared for. And when I did secure some freelance work when my baby was only four months old, I was averaging three hours’ sleep a night, none of my ‘work’ clothes fitted me, and I felt exactly as Helena does in the book: a misplaced lump between two stools. Not yet confident as a mother, no longer a career woman.  

... despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become.

It was the strangest time of my life. I had been the old me for 34 years by then, but a mother for only a handful of months, and despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become. I’d never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and independence.

Not working was very strange, and in the middle of the night I’d panic that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. I read on someone’s blog that when you have a baby, it’s OK for you just to be looking after the baby. You don’t have to be trying to hold down a part-time job too, or finishing a long-neglected novel (!), or doing charity work, or whatever it is that you think is necessary to justify your existence as a stay-at-home-mum. That helped, a little. But it was still hard to give myself permission to do ‘nothing’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I feel like I really lost myself in those early months. In fact, I would say it took a year for my confidence to return. Thankfully, Oli is super supportive and, thanks to the nature of his career, is around a lot more than most fathers. I genuinely believe my situation might have been very different were it not for the fact that I had him by my side every day during those life-changing early months.

Because this is what it boils down to, in my opinion. Support. New mothers need support. They deserve support. It can make a crucial difference - can truly determine whether they sink or swim.

Since The Rival was released last September, it’s been fascinating seeing how readers have responded to it. Many mothers have written to tell me that the feelings Helena experiences in the story echo those they experienced too. Many more people have said it made them cry. Other people have complained that it’s not a thriller, and despite my frustration that no one ever said it was (!), it actually just makes me sad that my message was completely lost on them.

I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world

It’s strange, your debut novel. You pour everything into it - it feels intensely personal, in a way that your second and third novels don’t. I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world, even if it was through a character who isn’t me (I promise!). Those feelings seem so far away now - my whole personality has changed over the past three and a half years, as my daughter has grown, and I’m more than happy in my own skin these days. In many ways then, I’m grateful that I managed to capture those feelings - the raw emotion, the little kernel of truth that was so painful to admit to at the time.

The Rival will always be a special book to me, a marking of time that reminds me how far I’ve come.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Mums who write: Laura Pearson

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There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall
— Cyril Connolly

I’m so excited to post this - my first in a series of interviews with mums who write! You might know that I wrote my debut, The Rival, when on maternity leave. I had sold my PR business while pregnant and had no idea what my work future held. I’d written novels in the past and had an agent, but hadn’t managed to get a publishing deal. The freedom - and pressure - of having no job to return to really focused my mind, and despite being sleep-deprived (my daughter was a terrible sleeper up until about 18 months) I managed to write the first draft of my novel in just ten weeks. Ever since, I’ve met mums and heard stories of mothers who found having their first child really motivated them career-wise. Being a mum also makes you so much more efficient. So IMHO… two fingers up at Cyril Connolly and his pram in the hall nonsense! I wanted to chat to some published mothers to find out how they disproved his theory, and how motherhood affected their writing journey.

So, first up, is my interview with Laura Pearson. Her debut Missing Pieces came out last year and did exceptionally well both here and in the US. Her second novel, Nobody’s Wife, is out next week. I finished it last night, having read it in just over a day. It’s a beautifully written, quiet, and devastating novel about one of the worst betrayals you can imagine - I highly recommend you pre-order! Here, Laura chats about her writing routine, running her amazing Facebook book group, the Motherload Book Club and how her husband supports her career…

Where do you live and with who?

I live in a village in Leicestershire with my husband and our two children. My son, Joseph, is five and my daughter, Elodie, is two.

What’s your writing routine like?

I have my daughter at home one day a week, and I pick my son up from school every day, so I basically have four school-length days to write. However, I try to fit a lot of other stuff into that time, like running The Motherload Book Club and doing a thousand loads of washing. I’m quite a fast writer when I actually get sat down and stop looking at Twitter, but I need to be strict with myself.

Where do you write from?

I write at home, mostly at the dining room table but sometimes just in an armchair in the lounge. I’m not really one for writing on the go, because I don’t hand-write anything and I don’t lug my laptop around. I do sometimes make notes in my phone if I’m not at my computer. My phone notes are full of shopping lists, to-do lists, and mad ideas for stories.

I think I feel things more deeply since having my kids

On both a creative and a practical level, what impact do you think being a mother has had on your writing?

Time is short when you have young children. Your weekends are no longer your own and a big chunk of your evening is taken up with bathing and putting them to bed. As a result, you have to learn to be focused when you do have some time. I’m not great at that. On the plus side, I think I feel things more deeply since having my kids, and that’s got to help when you’re writing about emotions and the human condition. Also, I’m motivated by a strong desire to show my children, particularly my daughter, that I’ve done something pretty great in between all the nappy changes and walks to and from school and nursery.

Do you find it easier to write now you are a mother, or more difficult?

I’m not sure I find it easier or harder, in general. However, my first novel, Missing Pieces, was about a family in the aftermath of the loss of their three-year-old daughter. I wrote it before I had my children, and it was a tough read afterwards. I’m not sure whether I would have written it in the same way (or maybe at all) after having the kids.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a mother who writes?

The hardest thing about being a mother who writes is the hardest thing about being a mother who works full stop: the guilt. When you’re not with your children, you feel like you should be. And when you’re not writing, you feel like you should be. There’s no way to win, and it’s exhausting, so I try to ignore it, and talk to friends who feel it too.

How do you think your love of writing has impacted your children?

My daughter is still very little but my son loves making up stories and being read to. It’s impossible to know whether that’s just part of his personality or whether seeing me read and write so much has affected it. He wants to make up a story every day on the walk to school, and we’re planning to write a choose-your-own-adventure, but I think that might be a project for the summer holiday.

How does your partner support you in your writing?

In every way possible. Financially and emotionally. We’re so lucky that we can live on my husband’s income while I find my feet in this world. He’s also great at listening to me ramble on about new ideas and troubleshooting with me. He’s not so good at suggesting titles, although he thinks he is.

Do you think the publishing industry is supportive of writing mums?

I can only speak of my own experience, and my publishers understand that I write around my children, and they’re great about that. Our hours don’t always tally up well, as they often work late and I’m packing up at 2.30pm to do the school run, but mostly I’m working alone so it doesn’t matter. My son only started school this academic year, so I’m still finding my way with covering school holidays and that sort of thing, but I feel supported.

Don’t use the children as an excuse not to write

What are your top tips for other mothers who’d like to write?

Don’t use the children as an excuse not to do it. Try to learn to write in short bursts and with distractions – like when they’re watching Paw Patrol. If you’re new to writing, try starting with flash fiction as it doesn’t take up a huge amount of time and the community is really friendly and welcoming. Plus it’s great for teaching you to weigh every word.

Please tell us a little bit about your latest novel.

Nobody’s Wife is the story of two sisters, Emily and Josephine, and the tangled relationships they have with their partners. It’s about betrayal and secrets and the lengths people will go to for love.

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite…

Novel about motherhood: I don’t know about favourite of all time but I recently read The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood and it blew me away. It’s a hard read, but a wonderful one.

Thing about being a mum: I get to laugh every day, without fail. My children are always surprising me.

Thing about being a writer: Just making up stories, and having this voice in a noisy world. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do (although you wouldn’t know that when I’m avoiding my work in progress like the plague).

Way to relax: Reading. I bet every writer says that. I’m such a cliché.

Laura’s latest novel, Nobody’s Wife, will be released on 28 March.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Things about publishing that make me cry (and things that don’t)

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Before I got my book deal, I was sure that hearing those magic words from my agent – ‘we’ve got an offer’ – would make me burst into tears, or make my heart explode with euphoria, or fill my gaping chasm of self-doubt with confidence and validation and turn me into a New, Shiny, Better Author Person.

So it was a bit disconcerting, really, when it did none of these things.

I remember feeling a little rush of excitement, but my overwhelming feeling was relief. I just thought – thank GOD. I’m not a deluded idiot – I can actually write after all! Also, I was worried about money at the time, and being told I was going to get some actual cash for my six months’ of risky work was a huge weight off my mind.

But I didn’t cry. The whole thing – and this feels like a terrible confession but I like to be honest because if we’re not honest about these things then really, we’re just cheating the world – felt a tiny bit anticlimactic.

I didn’t run around the garden screaming, or sob down the phone to my agent or call my friends and relations and declare that I’d made it, finally, or… do anything really. I was very calm and businesslike about it all. It made me wonder if I was, in fact, dead inside. I was disappointed with myself. In comparison with the weeks when my book was on submission, and I was going crazy with nerves and anxiety, it was all rather… flat. 

What was wrong with me? Did I not really want to be an author? Had I been fooling myself all along?

After the dust had settled a bit and the deal was done, I remember feeling a little worried that I hadn’t had one of those ‘OHMYGOD MY LIFE’S AMBITION HAS COME TRUE’ moments. What was wrong with me? Did I not really want to be an author? Had I been fooling myself all along?

I tried to tell myself it was fine. I’m a pretty chilled person anyway, usually on a relatively even keel (unless I haven’t had enough sleep, or my book is on submission, and then I go a bit insane).

But months later something strange happened. I received my contract in the post, and I had to sign two copies and return them. As I read it over (understanding about 13% of it, but that’s what agents are for), I found myself welling up. And suddenly I was sobbing. Maybe it was the fact it was finally official. But there you are. It hit me in the end, months later, when I was home alone trying to decipher legal jargon and nobody knew what I was doing. 

I’ve come to accept over the past year and a half that my writer-joy-tears will come when I least expect them. It’s completely unpredictable. When I first saw the cover for The Rival, my eyes filled up, and my whole body was covered in goosebumps. But I weirdly didn’t cry when my proof copies arrived, or even when my finished hardback of The Rival arrived. I was pleased to see them, and it was wonderful to hold a proper book in my hand, but I didn’t burst into tears as I opened the box. (More than anything I remember thinking, argh all those bloody words, thank god I don’t have to read them ever again…).

Anyway the point of this embarrassingly verbose post is to share with you the fact that the writer-joy-tears did visit me again recently. They popped back up when my proof pages for Unfollow Me arrived earlier this week.  

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Proof pages aren’t that exciting to look at – just a massive pile of A4 sheets that need to be read carefully one last time – but there’s something about seeing my words so beautifully typeset that moistened the old eyeballs yet again. I suppose it’s similar to the contract – it’s the moment when it suddenly feels official, as though it’s a baby that’s grown up and got a degree all on its own. That’s a shit metaphor, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.

So yes, it was nice to feel the writer-joy-tears again. I wonder when they’ll next visit? Perhaps half the fun is in not knowing.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.


How I make a living as a writer

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Well, this is a scary post to write. I want to write it though, because people in creative industries never talk about money. There seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that you just… don’t. And I don’t think this helps the problem of creative work not being valued enough financially. My partner is a professional singer – he’s constantly being asked to sing at people’s parties or weddings for free, as though this would be ‘fun’ or ‘nice’ for him. People don’t seem to understand that no, this is his job, it is how he earns a living. It’s no more ‘fun’ for him to sing at your wedding than it is for a teacher to give a lesson for free, or a lawyer to look over a contract for you for free, or a writer to give your first draft a read for free. 

So yes. Money. We all need it. Let’s talk more about it. Or, more specifically since this is my blog, let’s talk about how I make a living from writing.

It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

It still astonishes me that some people might think that writing books is an easy way to make money, but apparently the myth persists. I'm not going to go all doom and gloom on you, but it really, really isn't. There are a handful of people who make a lot of money from writing, but they work really hard to do so, and there are thousands more who do not, and they also work really hard. It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

So, first of all, I have been freelance for nearly ten years. That's ten years of unreliable income, so I am pretty used to it now. I am also very fearsome to anyone who pays me late, and I don't hesitate to issue a late payment demand and/or solicitor's letter to any company that hasn't met my invoice terms. I think this is essential. It's too easy to get caught up in 'wanting to be nice' or feeling grateful to have the gig (I read recently someone saying that in media you always feel you should be grateful for 'being in the room' and it makes me furious - you are talented, they wouldn't give you the work otherwise, they're not doing you a favour, they NEED you - stick these mantras up above your computer if you are ever in any doubt). The most important thing, I think, is not to continue working for people who have proved themselves to be unreliable payers. The situation will not magically get any better. Don't throw good time and money after bad. (To bastardise a metaphor). Move on, spend your energies getting work elsewhere. 

Rant over…

I’m a trained journalist and my freelance work used to be mainly from sub-editing shifts in-house at design magazines, but then I started to get more writing and digital work, and then I moved across to doing work for interiors brands rather than media outlets (this pays much better!). Mostly editorial work - writing blogs and articles, but also consulting on brands’ marketing, their PR, helping them with their brand identity, identifying their audience etc. I've done social media too (although I don't enjoy it as much and think I'm slightly too old to be as naturally good at it as people who grew up with the internet). I've done proofreading and even some web design. I like the variety. I currently work two days a week on a freelance basis doing content marketing for a software company - which is very out of my original remit of interiors and design, but pays a lot better and is the stuff of freelance dreams. A regular, part-time gig which affords some level of security. I take on other freelance work as and when it comes in. 

I also have a flat I rent out, and this gives me an additional monthly income too (although it's pretty unreliable as maintenance issues and fees eat into my rent a lot). I'd like to caveat this by saying I know how very, very fortunate I am to be in this position. I owned my flat separately before I met my partner. We deliberately decided to keep it as a rental property when we bought our current home, rather than sell it and buy a more expensive family home, because we are both self-employed and neither of us have pensions. So, we live in a smaller house than we might do if we both had ‘normal’ jobs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about being a private landlord for several reasons but I have made peace with this by trying to be the best landlord I can! I’ve just spent £10k having the loft boarded and the whole place redecorated for my new tenants and I always fix maintenance issues immediately and without question. It would be a struggle for me to be able to write two days a week if it wasn’t for my rental income, so I am very grateful to have it.

But now we come to the books. As you may or may not know, if you receive a traditional publishing deal with a big publisher, you will usually be offered an 'advance'. Which is exactly what it says it is - an advance on the money that the publisher hopes your book will make. However, if your book doesn't make a penny, you don't have to pay the advance back - so the publishers take all the risk. Advances vary massively, but the six-figure splashy deals that many people associate with getting published are so rare (I did not get a six-figure splashy deal). And advances are split over several payments - usually three, or four, correlating with the dates you sign your contract, submit your completed manuscript, and the day it's finally published. This can often mean money is stretched out across a couple of years. In my case, the advance payments for my debut will stretch out over three tax years! Also, if you have an agent, they will take 15% of this. Plus then, of course, there’s tax.

So, if you get a £10k advance (which would be considered a really decent deal for a debut author) it’s not like you’re just given ten grand to go off and spend. It’s more like £8,500 split into three payments over at least a year, of which you need to reserve at least 20% for tax. 

Yes, that’s £8,500 before tax for a book that probably took a year to write.  

This is why most writers are poor.

Only once your book has 'paid back' your advance (sold enough copies to make this money back for the publisher) do you start to receive royalties. Most books don't earn out their advances. And the percentage an author receives for each book sold is so tiny it’s almost painful to write about (plus maths makes my brain ache, so if you want to know the specifics, there’s loads more info on this just a Google away). The upshot of all this is that for most writers with a trad deal, your advance is the only income you will receive for that book. For a long time, at least.

For me, the advances I have received for my books do not make up my core income. Instead, they are 'bonuses' that I put towards various things – savings, stuff for the house etc. I hope one day that the majority of my core income will come from writing novels, but at the moment my living wage comes from my freelance work, and a little from my rental property too. 

To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

I know very few debut writers who write full-time and have given up their day jobs. Many work part time, but most do something else as well as write. For one thing, unless your book is an instant bestseller there is the constant uncertainty of not getting another publishing deal. To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

Plus writing full time is quite lonely – but that’s a post for another day. As for me, I have the epitome of a ‘portfolio’ career. I’m also a mum of course, and Oli and I split the childcare between us and nursery. I work a lot in the evenings. Oli takes Daphne out on Sunday mornings for a couple of hours so I work on my novels then too. It’s tricky juggling being a mum, writing novels, and freelance work but I think I have a good balance at the moment, and I know I’m really lucky. I wrote my first three novels years ago while working full time in-house, and that was definitely more tiring (although I didn’t have a child then so…!).

Though authors often bemoan their lot (there was a lot of talk recently of author-incomes being at an all-time low), I do understand that publishing is a business and publishers have to make money, and publishing an unknown author is a risky and expensive business. For me, getting published has given me the validation that I really, really wanted, and has allowed me to take my creative writing seriously. I feel incredibly grateful to be doing something I love, and I intend to work really hard at it so that one day, my income from writing exceeds my other revenue streams.

Fingers crossed!

On the subject of money, THE RIVAL is currently in the Kindle Spring Sale for the bargainous price of 99p! So if you want to send some pennies my way, now would be a good time to do so. Thank you :) UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

Why every writer should have a dolls house*

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*Or a dog. Or a kitchen garden. Or an obsession with knitting. Or jigsaw puzzles. Or any hobby that doesn’t involve computers

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter might have noticed that I have lately become completely obsessed with a dolls house. I have to apologise in advance here – because this post, is going to be about the dolls house. Now, I have had mostly good reactions to my social media #dollshousediaries pictures, with lots of DMs from people saying they’re loving it but I am also slightly terrified there are an equal number of people watching my Insta stories rolling their eyes going ‘shut up about the bloody dolls house woman’.

So sorry. If you hate dolls houses then… well, for a start I think you’re a bit weird because how could you possibly not love them, perfect miniature things of joy… but also, sorry, cos this post is about my dolls house.

My Dad in his workshop

My Dad in his workshop

My dad made me my dolls house from scratch when I was 9 or 10. My dad is a bit of a modelling geek. He’s a frustrated engineer who ended up working in software and his way of relaxing has always been to make things with his hands. He’s built model aircraft, model ships and a full-size car and a working, full-size German WW1 biplane in his garage (yes really). He told me that he wished he’d been a carpenter, but he followed the money and ended up working in IT instead, which makes me a bit sad but not too sad as he is always going on nice holidays and has a good pension.

Anyway, this post is not about my dad. It’s about my dolls house. So, as a young teenager I collected bits and pieces for my dolls house, and I loved it, but of course I then discovered boys and the dolls house fell out of favour. Then when I was about 21, my parents moved house and it ended up being put in their garage, boxed in by tons of other Garage Stuff. 

But last year I begged him to unearth it, and he did (reluctantly and a little complainingly). And it is now squeezed into my tiny home office and it is my Favourite Thing (after my partner and my daughter. And the cat, although that’s a close call. Sorry Percy).  

I am potentially renovating it more painstakingly than I did our actual house last year.

I am slowly renovating it. I am potentially renovating it more painstakingly than I did our actual house last year. It’s quite a big (for a dolls house) Georgian house, and while it was in storage unfortunately some mice took up residence in it, and so some bits of it are a little nibbled and worse for wear. Like any house that’s lain empty for over a decade, it has a few issues. The wallpaper is peeling in some rooms, the carpets are stained. I’m slowly redoing each room, one by one. I’ve started with the dining room, and next up I’m going to do the music room. Each room needs a different amount of work – some rooms need re-wallpapering and new flooring, others just need more furniture and accessories. And this is the best bit – the stuff.

The stuff! There are so many amazing miniature craftsmen out there, making teeny tiny and amazing things. I went to a dolls house fair recently (median age of attendees: 65) and spent £47 on a tiny porcelain vase. I spent the same on a chair that had been hand-carved. I love both pieces equally, they bring me great joy, but they also serve as a reminder that this dolls house is going to bankrupt me.

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One of the things my father never got around to doing when he first built it was put lighting in. So I have also been gradually adding lights to the rooms – and oh, my – the effect is amazing. But let’s be honest, with this kind of thing, it’s all about the pictures isn’t it? SO here are a few more…

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I have become so obsessed, that I also ordered some tiny kit furniture from Germany, and with my own hands made a new sideboard for the dining room, plus a dining table, side table and grandfather clock. I sanded and stained and varnished and glued them together. It’s the most crafty thing I have ever done. I am also currently working on a mini Georgian sampler, meticulously cross-stitching teeny tiny stitches on the smallest canvas known to womankind (and swearing about it a lot). 

I was telling one of my oldest friends about the dolls house (let’s be honest, I’m telling anyone and everyone) and she said she thought the reason I loved it so much was because I was in complete control of it. Because as a writer, she said, I had so little control. Of course, writers have control over their output, but whether or not the book will be published, whether or not it will sell more than a handful of copies, whether or not it will be well received… all these things are completely out of our hands. Whereas in my teeny tiny perfect miniature world, I am God, and what I say goes.

the thing I have loved so much is making things with my hands. And – most importantly of all – being away from a screen.

She may be right. I am sure there’s an element of that in it. But also, for me, the thing I have loved so much is making things with my hands. And – most importantly of all – being away from a screen. I have spent my working life staring at a computer screen, and it’s horrible – the most unhealthy, lonely, lethargic way to spend your time. But at 7pm each night, once Daphne is in bed, I sit down at the dining room table (much to Oli’s consternation – he objected a LOT to the smell of wood stain in the kitchen) and I fiddle with my teeny bits of wood, and I (sometimes) drink a gin and tonic and I forget everything else. And it’s pure heaven.

You can find out more about THE RIVAL here, and order here if you want to make my day. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.