untold stories

So what does a writer do when everything around her is breaking apart, but the stories aren’t hers to tell?

This year I returned from a magazine writing assignment to South America to discover that my uncle’s cancer had returned, and this time it wasn’t going away. Mum’s brother Stewart didn’t have any children, so he treasured his role as surrogate dad to us – and we absolutely adored him.

He’d recently moved back to the North West to be near us all, so Mum managed her house move from Buckingham to Southport whilst nursing him, my aunt came over from Australia for three months, and we made our way through it. There’s a lot of waiting with cancer. Lots of laughter. And tears, lots of tears. But even at the very end, more laughter because that’s what keeps our family going.

And (whilst this is happening, and I’m writing my next book, and publicising Coming Up Roses) in the midst of this some more stuff happens. My sister discovers she has a degenerative illness and our little family is spun around again.

I’ve always processed my thoughts in words, but where usually I’d have rambled away on Twitter or on my Facebook page instead I stared into space a lot. I walked our new puppy and sat on benches watching the world go by. I completed my reiki training – I’m now a Master Teacher – and read nothing but non fiction. I treasured time with my family.

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So what have I learned? That – taking a leaf from my sister, who remains resolutely anti-social (media, not people) – a quiet life is a good one. That Instagram is a lovely way to keep in touch but without the whirl and combat of twitter. That nothing happens if you don’t know how your book is doing in the charts.

That – and I know it’s a cliche, but I speak as someone who has lost two of my closest friends, my father, my uncle and my grandmother in the last nine years – this life is precious and to be treasured.

That human connection is important – that the laptop can stay closed for weeks on end and nothing happens.

That I have more space for writing and thinking if I let myself be in silence. And that the responsibility for finding that balance in a world where we’re expected to be on all the time lies with me.

So there we are. That’s where I’ve been and that’s what’s been happening. I’m making my way back now, but bit quieter than before – you’ll probably find me on instagram sharing photographs more than anything else. Hopefully I’ll see you there. x

a trip to NT Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire

We decided to celebrate our new National Trust membership with a trip out to Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire, which isn’t far from us.

rufford old hall lancashire

It’s a gorgeous place to go if you’re looking for a day out in the North West – there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a lover of history (the most amazing 16th century Old Hall complete with woodwork) or gardening (there’s 14 acres of garden which is beautifully maintained – I could have wandered around there all day) or cake. In typical National Trust fashion there is the most AMAZING cafe. The cakes are so good that a woman there told me they quite often pop over just for a treat (I’ve wondered before if National Trust membership is worth it as much for the cakes as for the culture…)

courtyard rufford old hall
The 18th century cobbled courtyard has stables, an old piggery and a water pump (as well as the cafe, a shop and some plants for sale from the garden, too)
rufford hall lancashire
The Tudor patterned Hall was built in 1530 – you can’t take photos inside, so you’ll have to imagine how gorgeous it is (or visit) but it’s all intricately carved wood, complete with angels carved into the hammer beams. There’s a seven foot wide movable screen made of oak which weighs three tons. Back in 1580, William Shakespeare was reputed to have stayed there for six months.
rufford old hall gardens rufford old hall hydrangeas
foxgloves rufford old hall lancashire National Trust
The gardens are gorgeous. There’s a lovely nature trail for children, and in the woods there’s space for den building and heaps of wood and branches – we’ll definitely be back with the children soon.
hydrangea head rufford old hall NT english garden bunting rufford old hall lancashire NT english house garden bunting rufford old hall lancs apple trees rufford old hall english fern

If you’re thinking of a trip to Rufford Old Hall the opening times and directions are here. I went on a whim after a weekend which was busy and full of London and chaos and noise and people and it was just what I needed. More on that weekend in another post – suffice to say every time I speak at a conference I end up escaping to the green quiet of a garden, somewhere, very soon afterwards. It soothes my soul.

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but how does it FEEL? (the writer roller coaster)

I went on Facebook just now and saw this.

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And I started to write.

What’s on my mind Facebook

Is that I’ve been up since 5am. I’ve had a million and one tweets of congratulation from blogging friends and famous writers and people I’ve met along the way.

I’ve featured in newspapers and online interviews and in blog posts.

At lunchtime Amazon had already sold out of their stocks of the paperback of Sealed with a Kiss and they’ve ordered in more.

I’ve jumped 176,200 places in their paperback chart since yesterday and that’s amazing.

I had a long thinking sort of shower and the characters for my NEXT book, the one that isn’t even due until next year, were talking in my head because they’re desperate to get out.

I went to the bookshop and they looked at me blankly and didn’t have any copies ordered.

I felt a bit deflated and we went for coffee and to do the school run (because all that stuff still goes on)

Then I saw this photo my mum had sent – from Waterstones in Milton Keynes

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And that’s MY BOOK on a bookshelf. And I felt amazing.

And then I read a text from my mum which told me she was proud of me, and that my dad would be too. And I cried, in the school car park, in the rain.

And then lovely Waterstones at the Trafford Centre told us on Twitter that they’ve got copies and they’d love me to sign some and I felt like A Real Writer for a moment.

And people keep asking how does it feel. And the answer is it feels amazing and terrifying and scary and wonderful and exhausting.

And tomorrow I’ll get up and go and sign some books, and then I’ll get on with writing my book.

And that, Facebook, is what’s on my mind. A bit much for a status update, really, but it’s been a bit of a day.

You can order Sealed with a Kiss here and have it delivered to your local indie bookshop.
You can buy Sealed with a Kiss here for Kindle or in paperback
You can click and collect Sealed with a Kiss at Waterstones here
I don’t mind how you do it really – but I hope you like it.

Weeping Angels – a Doctor Who day out

Living in a Victorian seaside resort has benefits for Doctor Who fans. We sneaked off to the huge Victorian cemetery to take some photographs of weeping angels. (We didn’t blink.)

weeping angels doctor who

It was gorgeous sunshine when we took the pictures but that doesn’t stop them being eerie. We’re all massive Doctor Who geeks in this house, so having a collection of angels here in town is a bit unnerving.

weeping angel

victorian graveyard angels

weeping angels doctor who

weeping angel victorian

victorian graveyard

weeping angel on grass

 

I don’t know which of the last two Weeping Angels we found the spookiest. All I know is we won’t be watching Doctor Who again for a while until our imaginations have calmed down a bit. And don’t even think of creeping up behind me while I’m sitting here in this chair…

Sealed with a Kiss, my romantic comedy set on a Scottish island is released by Pan Macmillan on May 8th. Keep up to date with my writing, get extracts from my next books and be first to hear about signings, free book giveaways and more – ย Just sign up for my newsletter here

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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.

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