more than just a dog

Dear Polly,

When we said to someone at the rescue centre that we were looking for a family-friendly golden retriever, they laughed in our faces. They’re like gold dust, they said. And then a few days later they called.

You were like gold dust. You came into my life when I was juggling four small children, a failing marriage, and I’d lost my beloved dad to a heart attack.

me and polly

You’d never seen roads before, or cars. We had to teach you all about the outside world, and I took you to training classes where it was pretty clear after a couple of sessions that you weren’t ever going to do quite what you ought to, but that you and I were so closely bonded that the instructor said as long as I was around, you’d never go far. And so you stuck beside me for the last seven years, wisdom in those beautiful long lashed eyes, an expression that said you’d seen it all before.

j and polly

Everyone said you should never trust a rescue dog, but they’d never met a dog like you.

polly dinner

You had a personality like no other dog. The expression on your face when dinner wasn’t up to scratch, and the lie down protests over biscuits.

polly at halloween

You did your share of dressing up. Witch hats, cloaks, scarves and hats were borne with your usual patience and grace.

polly

You even wore a fez, because fezzes are cool.

polly leg

Last summer when I was stuck with a broken leg you were by my side the whole time, keeping an eye on me. And as long as there was noise, and fun, and children, you were there by my side, quietly watching, tail half wagging, nosing me if I stopped stroking your head.

polly garden

I don’t think there’s such a thing as just a dog, Polly, and you were so much more than that to all of us. We’re going to miss you enormously. Run free, my beautiful girl.

Rest in Peace.

Author Interview – Elle Field, self published no1 bestseller!

Self published author shares her secrets

Self published author, Elle Field, has hit the no1 spot this week in the much-desired Amazon US Kindle bestseller list – pretty impressive. Look out America, the British are coming…

bestselling self published Elle Field author photo

from Elle herself –
I would have scoffed in disbelief if you had told me 11 months ago at the start of my self publishing career that I would be #1 in the Amazon.com free Best Sellers chart. That’s the position I found myself in though, just a few days ago, and I’m utterly thrilled that so many people have downloaded my debut novel Kept. It really is a dream come true.

Elle Field Amazon.com self published best seller Kept

Being a self published author is something I love, but it can be exhausting. You’re not just a writer; sometimes it can seem that writing the book is actually the easiest part of the job! You also need to edit it, organise the book cover and promotional side of things, as well as dealing with tax issues and so much more.
The only person setting you a deadline as a self-published author is you. Whilst it’s important to be strict with yourself if you are doing everything yourself – probably alongside a day job, not to mention you want some kind of social life – it’s OK to give yourself a break every now and then. Life happens, and sometimes that’s just dandy.

Kept, for example, was published in late April last year. I received the final copy edit back from my editor at the start of February, and I had every intention of turning around her remarks in just two weeks so I could publish Kept at the end of February. What I didn’t count on was coming down with crippling flu, semi-recovering, only to come down with crippling flu again. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches!

When I did hit publish, I hadn’t thought about my marketing with everything else that was going on. Shameful! For my next book though, Geli Voyante’s Hot or Not, I had a set in stone publishing date of October and I started working on the marketing in July. One thing I’ve found is that you definitely learn as you go along, and also as you start to network with other self-published authors. Life is definitely a little easier with a friendly helping hand, or two, along the way.

I suppose that’s the one thing that I value the most, the support of the self-published community. I’ve connected with some brilliant authors and bloggers – their support is invaluable to me – there’s a real community out there. Being a part of it is both inspiring and motivating.
It might take you six months to self-publish your novel or it might take you six years. If you give up though, it never will – you just need to stick at it, even if there are days where you feel like you’re juggling sixty things in the air. Believe me, we are all having those days!

Good luck to all those aspiring self-published authors, and I can’t wait to see you out there on Amazon, on Kobo and so on – there’s plenty of room for all of us. 🙂

self published bestseller Kept by Elle Field

Kept

Elle Field’s fab and quirky debut novel Kept, self published last April, made it to #1 in the Amazon.com Best Sellers (free) chart this week, as well as #1 in the Literature & Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Romance and Humorous Fiction categories . It also reached #5 in the Canadian Best Sellers chart and #13 in Australia.
This was the last time Kept will ever be free on Amazon but, to celebrate the huge demand, Kept will now be available for the next five days at the bargain price of 99p/99 cents for all those who didn’t get their free download. With an average rating of 4.5/5 on Amazon.co.uk,
you need to read this book!
As a thank you to all those who help to spread the word about this, make sure you enter yourself into Elle’s giveaway for your chance to win one of six Amazon vouchers or a signed copy of one of Elle’s books.
Kept’s sequel – Lost – will be out in summer 2014, but if you fancy reading another fabulous novel by Elle Field before then, Geli Voyante’s Hot or Not is available worldwide on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Kept
‘Did she really just say that? I am fifteen again, except the reality is I am experiencing full parental horror, aged twenty-five. I want to die.’

Life hasn’t quite worked out how Arielle Lockley imagined it would. Becoming the next Coco Chanel was always her childhood dream, but she’s spent the past four years living a dizzying whirl of glitzy parties, luxurious holidays and daily shopping sprees – all paid for by boyfriend Piers – and not doing anything to make her Coco dreams happen.

When the recession hits, it’s not just the economy that takes a tumble and Arielle finds herself living back with her parents, on bad terms with Piers, and having a CV that’s as welcome as a pair of knock-off Jimmy Choos. And maybe it’s the location, but she’s also finding unwelcome thoughts of her childhood sweetheart are popping into her head…

What’s a girl to do? Can Arielle figure out what it is she now wants to do with her life and move on, or will she be doomed to spend the rest of her life dwelling over her worst mistakes, stuck listening to her parents’ embarrassing dinner table talk each night?

About Elle
Elle Field is a twenty-something chick lit author who lives in London with her boyfriend. She enjoys exploring and photographing Blighty’s capital, seeing far too many musicals, and eating her way around London’s culinary delights.

Her first self published novel Kept was released in April 2013; Geli Voyante’s Hot or Not followed in October 2013. Look out for Kept’s sequel, Lost, in Summer 2014

Read her blog at ElleField.co.uk, follow her on Twitter: @ellefie and find her on Facebook: ElleFieldAuthor

Buy it here: Amazon UK
Amazon.com

Book review – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I realised this week when reading the amazing Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, that the thing that makes a book work is identifying with the characters. You need to finish the book bereft at the ending, no matter how perfect it might be (and the ending, incidentally, is catch-in-the-throat perfect). Fangirl is a breathtaking, brittle, funny, touching, clever book. Rainbow Rowell has created a protagonist in the spiky, private, anxiety ridden Cath who is almost too painful to read to begin with. I found, reading the first few chapters, that she reminded me so much of my late teenage self that it was quite uncomfortable reading – I wanted to swoop in and mother her, tell her it’ll all be okay in the end.

fangirl by rainbow rowell

I keep starting sentences then realising if I do, I’ll spoil the story. But the plots, the subplots – they’re so beautifully woven together that I lost track of time reading this book on the train and almost missed my station. Rainbow Rowell’s descriptions of the physical sensations of falling in love, the minute details of skin and breath on hair are just so real that you half expect to turn around and feel the characters have come to life, that you’re Cath and you’ve been consumed with passion and fear of the unknown.

There’s humour, too – in the beautifully drawn relationship between the twin sisters, in Cath’s roommate Reagan – who is sharp and funny, but so much more than the cardboard cutout you might imagine she could be. Rowell’s characterisation is so beautifully drawn that there isn’t one character who doesn’t feel ready to walk straight off the page. This is a read-again book. I can’t stop recommending it to everyone.

the a to z of me

A – The Archers. I once tweeted something during a particularly exciting episode and it ended up in The Guardian, alongside Stephen Fry (it was Nigel’s death, for those of you who like that sort of thing).

B – Bo’ness. I went to school in a little mining town on the Firth of Forth, not far from Edinburgh. When I was eleven, inspired by my utterly wonderful teacher Miss O’Donnell (“Hello class, I’m Catriona O’Donnell, and I come from Tennessee” – it was miraculous, to a class of small town children from Scotland) I wrote a story called Why Bo’ness Was Built on a Hill and it made the front page of the local paper. She was the first teacher to believe in my writing, and I would love to find her and say thank you.

C – Cats. We have two and a half. Bella is typically Bengal in nature and will help herself to food, even if it means tearing open the bag with her teeth. She never shuts up, and she likes to perch on the side of the bath whilst I’m in there. Ciara Nightly came to us as an adult. She likes to sleep all day and patrol the children’s bedrooms by night. Her brother Paddy moved in with us last year, stayed a few weeks, then decided he liked the house three doors down far better. When we meet in the street now we have a very British exchange, whereby he greets us with affection and a slight look of embarrassment.

D – Doctor Who. Huge, ridiculous, complete obsession. It started in childhood when I was utterly in love with Peter Davidson’s Doctor, a love which had begun with my raging crush on Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. It carried on, nerdy, and then when the new series began with Christopher Eccleston as nine, I was in heaven.

E – Edith Wharton, one of my favourite authors. Her characterisation is so quietly beautiful, especially in Ethan Frome and Summer.

F – I swear. A lot. It’s being Scottish.

G – Ghosts. I’ve seen more than one.

H – Horses. I was born mad about horses – my mum has no idea where the obsession came from. Favourite pony stories are the Jinny of Finmory books by Patricia Leitch.

I – I can’t think of an I thing. Except igloos and iguanas. I don’t like ice cream.

J – I went through a huge Joni Mitchell phase as a late teenager. Just writing that has made me want to disappear off and find some on Spotify and have a listen.

K – I resisted buying a Kindle until very recently. Whilst I discovered they are amazing for holidays (I read almost 20 books on our child free trip to Turkey) I have found that I don’t recall the stories afterwards. There’s something about a proper book that can’t be replaced.

L – Libraries. They are so, so important. We have the fabulous Atkinson only five minutes from our house and it makes me so happy to see my children disappearing off with their library cards and coming home with their arms full of books.

M – Meditation. I’m almost finished my meditation teacher training and I love it. Even in the midst of all the chaos, I’m finding that there’s still a reserve of peace within me which is hugely comforting. I think I’m addicted.

N – Notes. Constantly scribbled on my hand, in biro. Not very sophisticated but it’s the only way I remember to do everything.

O – Online. It’s a bit addictive, the internet, for a nosey person like me. I spend an awful lot of time looking at stuff and not doing what I’m meant to do, which has led me to

P – Procrastination. Or rather anti-procrastination techniques. I find almost anything becomes enthralling when the alternative is writing. I love writing, but the actual getting-started process is really difficult for me. I end up cleaning the whole house, decluttering cupboards, and finding urgent shopping missions. Then I get started and find it really hard to stop. There’s a balance, somewhere. I hope I’ll find it eventually.

Q – Quite tricky to think of a thing that starts with Q, isn’t it? I can’t stand Queen. There you are.

R – Roller derby. I hadn’t skated for 25 years when I joined the Liverpool Roller Birds at the beginning of this year. It came back to me almost straight away and I loved it with a mad passion. Then I fell over (I wasn’t even skating, I just turned around and lost my footing) and badly broke my ankle. Now I am a massive supporter of my team, but I’m staying off skates for now…

S – Scotland. Home. My family come from Orkney, and from the Highlands. I went to school in quite a few places, but as soon as I arrive back in Inverness, I’m home.

T – Twitter. I love it for answers, advice, inspiration, gossip, news – everything, really. You can find me here, probably either grumbling about the children getting up too early, or ranting about politics whilst listening to Radio 4, or chatting whilst I lie in the bath.

U – Underwater. I am part-dolphin, I swear. I spend far too long in the bath, love swimming, and when I go on holiday I spend most of my time in the sea, floating on my back and watching the sky.

V – We live in a gorgeous, rambling, semi-detached Victorian house in a seaside town. I always dreamed of living in a Victorian house, and this one (complete with friendly little girl ghost) is perfect for our family.

W – Winter is my favourite season (in winter). Actually, I love them all. I love living in a country where we have defined seasons. Much as the sunshine of California would be nice, I’d miss the rain and the snow and the wind.

X – I am NOT a game player. We have an Xbox (see what I did there?) but I genuinely don’t have a gaming bone in me. Lucky, really, because the rest of the house seems to be obsessed with Minecraft and Skyrim.

Y – Yoga. I’m hypermobile. This means I can do lots of bendy yoga stuff without having worked hard at it, which is a bit cheaty. And I can touch my nose with my tongue (but they never asked us to do that in yoga class, mind you).

Z – Zoe. My sister, my best friend.

Immune Boosting Chicken Soup Recipe

 

I’m writing this chicken soup recipe from bed. Earlier this week I was clobbered on the head with what-I-thought-was-a-cold but which I’m realising, as I reach the third day of feeling like death, is possibly The F Word.

Apparently the secret to boosting your immune system is chicken soup (it’s not just a myth). So, I made up a recipe full of things that are supposed to make your immune system better. It’s super-easy (because I made it whilst feeling utterly dreadful) and the ingredients need hardly any preparation (see above).

The amazing immune boosting chicken soup recipe…

You’ll need the following:

(and a big soup pot)

One free range chicken
Two onions (roughly chopped)
A bulb of garlic (the whole thing, peeled)
Five stalks of celery (chopped)
Four large leeks (sliced)
Six big carrots (peeled and sliced)
Four parsnips (peeled and sliced)
A couple of big handfuls of Charlotte potatoes (chop these in half, leave skin on)
A lemon*
A red chilli (careful with your eyes, no rubbing)
A handful of fresh parsley
Marigold vegetable bouillon (other stock is available, but it’s what I always use)

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Plonk the whole chicken in the stock pot with a good sprinkling of salt and black pepper, 3 tsp of the Marigold stock, and then cover with water. Being it to the boil and fast boil it for ten minutes. Meanwhile, squeeze the *lemon and drink it with some honey and hot water. Listen to Radio 4 and mope a bit. Bring the chicken down to a simmer and skim off any foam that has formed and bin it.

Add the garlic (all of it) and the lemon skins, a couple of the celery sticks (just broken in half will do and you can add the frondy bits, too, to add more flavour) and a decent sized chunk or two of the chilli (all the above are immune boosters and help fight off horrible colds and things) and a big handful of parsley, stalks and all. Simmer the chicken for an hour and a half or so until it’s cooked. Meanwhile, prepare the other veg.

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With everything chopped and ready, you’ve done the hard bit.

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Hoick out the chicken, giving it a second to drip or there’ll be mess everywhere and when you’re feeling grim, that’s the last thing you need.

Skin off (the chicken, not you) and remove all the meat. Put the bones back into the stock and simmer for another two hours, or more. Once the chicken meat is cool, stick it in the fridge for later. Try not to eat it all (it’s gorgeously plump and yum, mind you).

Once you’ve let it simmer, strain the stock through a colander and into another big pot with the veg. Purists would say you need to sweat them off in butter first, but I didn’t and it still tastes lovely. Cook on a medium heat for as long as it takes for the veg to be tender – 20/25 minutes should do it. Add the cooked chicken pieces after ten minutes. Sprinkle with some more chopped fresh parsley (it’s really good for the immune system) and serve with a warm blanket and something comforting on the radio.

If you’ve got fussy children who don’t like lumps of stuff in their soup, you can whizz this and even my fussiest child loves it with crusty bread and butter.

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And there you are. Immune boosting chicken soup which should work like magic, and if it doesn’t, at least it tastes lovely.

(Photos taken with phone whilst feeling tragic, so apologies if they’re a bit rubbish. You get the idea.)

Link up your recipe of the week

The one where I sign a book deal

When I was eleven I wrote a pony book.

I wrote it in lined jotters, then typed it up, double spaced and splodged with Tippex, and sent it to Pan books, who published all my favourite pony stories. I got a very kind rejection back, asking me to keep on writing.

Life got in the way for a while, but in 2010 I started writing a story about a girl who moved to a Scottish island, and I filled it with dogs and horses and hot chocolate and wine in the bath and all the things I liked.

And this time, Caroline Hogg at Pan Macmillan liked it, so yesterday I went with my lovely agent Amanda Preston and signed a deal to write three more books. Sealed with a Kiss will be in the shops in May 2014, with a Christmas e-novella sequel to follow, and then another two full length books to come.

(yippee!)

Tintagel Old Post Office

We visited Tintagel a couple of times whilst we were in Cornwall. The first time has passed into family legend as ‘the day Mummy made us eat outside to admire Tintagel Castle and it was so windy that Archie’s chips blew off his plate’.

Cliffs, wild wind and small children aren’t a great combination if you’re hopeless with heights (which I am). Anyway, it’s been added to the collection of family tales, alongside other gems like ‘the time we went on the London Eye and Mummy was so terrified she had to cling, weeping, to the chair in the middle of the viewing pod whilst the children patted her in a soothing manner’.

We visited Tintagel Old Post Office because I like taking my grumpy teenager and three rampageous boys into small, delicate spaces full of incredibly precious antiques and hissing “DON’T TOUCH” and “Get OFF” in an increasingly frantic manner.

If you can look at these photographs and admire their beauty, that would be nice. Try not to imagine the stress I was under at the time, and we can all pretend that it was a relaxing visit to a house which was quite utterly beautiful.

tintagel old post office

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tintagel old post office

post office tintagel

a chat with bestselling author Jane Green

To kick off my brand new blog I’ve got something rather lovely for you all…

An interview with none other than the astoundingly successful and very lovely Jane Green. She has a blended family of six children, just like me – but she’s a New York Times bestselling author with an astounding back catalogue of fantastically funny, clever, touching novels and I’m not (yet!). As the summer holidays begin and I try and work out how to finish book 2, which is currently sitting crossly on my MacBook waiting for some attention, I grabbed some time to comparing notes with Jane on writing through the chaos of family life. Her new deal with Pan Mac is fab news for Jane Green fans – two books a year! – but it’s a pretty big commitment, time wise. Jane lets us in on how she does it below…

jane green

Me: You’ve just signed with Pan Mac in a deal which will see two books a year from you – great news for us as readers, but an awe-inspiring workload for you. Will you have to change your regular work-in-the-morning routine, or are you able to carry on being around in mom-mode at the end of the school day?

Jane: I’m definitely able to carry on being mom from around 2pm onwards, but I do write differently now. I used to write in two-week spurts, then have a couple of weeks off which often…stretched. Now I write every day, rain or shine, and I also go off to a self-imposed writing retreat a couple of times a year. I stay at little inns, or at a friends house in New Hampshire, and spend five days immersing myself completely in my writing. I am thinking of buying a little cabin somewhere next year that I can rent out in the summer, and use the rest of the year as my own retreat.

Me: As a fellow mother of four, stepmother of two in a blended family, I find it really hard sometimes to get myself back into the real world if I’m writing. Do you find it hard to make the switch out of your writing head, particularly if you’re wrestling with a difficult chapter, or have you learned to switch focus?

Jane: I have become the queen of compartmentalizing. Once I shut the computer, it’s done, although the characters and storylines creep back when I’m driving, or lying in bed at night.

Me: You’re friends with Martha Stewart, who is a real favourite of lots of my blog readers – I love her drive and her sense of humour. She has a very specific approach to Twitter – a few minutes a day, no getting caught up in replies – which I would dearly love to emulate but I am a raging procrastinator. How do you balance your online time, as a fellow blogger? When you’re out of writing mode, do you stay offline?

Jane: Sadly my addiction to the web is the worst kind of addiction for a writer. I was hugely caught up in twitter and facebook, but do less and less these days. I try and update a few times a week, but there are limits to what I am physically able to do: write two books a year, go on book tour, be a wife, mother, run a household, and live enough of a life in order to have something to write about!

Me: You don’t get much time to switch off in a family of eight. What’s your sanity-saving relaxation? I tend to hide in the bath with a large glass of wine.

Jane: I hide in bed with a book, or take the dog to the beach, or run to a friends house for a big cup of tea!

Me: And finally… have you ever considered doing a JK Rowling and writing something entirely different under a pseudonym?

Jane: Yes, but I’d be terrified no-one would buy it – publishing is becoming harder and harder, and the market, particularly with self-publishing, is flooded. How a new writer gets attention these days is beyond me – I would be absolutely terrified!

Thanks to Jane for taking the time – in the summer holidays, with children rampaging – to have a quick chat. There’ll be more five minute author chats coming up soon – if you have any you’d like me to interview, or if you’d like to be features, give me a shout!


“Emma Lee Potter: “Reminded me a bit of Jilly Cooper’s brilliant first novel, Emily… and in my book you can’t get higher praise than that.”
Sealed with a Kiss is “the perfect summer read” for your Kindle – available now! Buy here from Amazon UK or buy here from Amazon.com. Join over 130,000 readers!