Tag Archives: women in comedy

The Day I Tried to Murder a Spider With My Boobs

Mercifully, this post will have no photographs. And now the highest bounce rate of any blog I’ve ever posted before – perhaps for two reasons. 😉

Firstly, I’d like to assure all the animal loving people, of which I would include myself, that no actual spiders were harmed in the story you are about to read. Said spider went on to live a glorious life, probably under my sofa, where it will be allowed to live out the rest of its days undisturbed – such is my commitment to houseworky-type tasks. There was a moment where I may have unthinkingly caused death by squashing, but all I can say in my defense is that I panicked.

That said, I’ll move on.

This morning, having just returned from a two week holiday in Fuerteventura, Linda decided to call her kid sister, a skint writer-type who hasn’t had a holiday abroad in five years, to tell her all about what a great time she’d had. The conversation went something like this:

Me: ‘Hello, this will need to be quick because you’ve caught me when I’m dying to go to the loo.’
Linda: ‘Helloooo! How’s you?’
Me: ‘All good here thanks. How was your… wait… ARGHHHHHHH!’
Linda: ‘Hello? Heather? Are you alright?’

Okay, I’m guessing she asked after my welfare at this point. What followed, I suspect, were some strangled wails and furtive rustling sounds on the line – if that’s the noise a person makes while doing the David Brent Dance in the conservatory with your top over your head.

In a flash (literally), I was back on the phone, having probably just given my next door neighbour a bigger heart attack than I was having.

Me: ‘Oh my God, a spider just crawled across my chest! I’ve flicked it away but I’m not sure if it went down my top!’

And that’s when my big sister delivered the strangest, I-never-want-to-hear-this-again advice ever:

Linda: ‘Quick, squash your boobs together!’

So begins the tale of the day I tried to murder a spider with my breasts. It is also the day when somebody, who shall remain nameless, attempted the German Clap Dance with her boobs. Round of applause please? No, not with those…

We never properly finished the call, namely due to the fact that we were both in a tearful state of hysterics. Neither of us could speak, but this isn’t such an unusual event when it comes to telephone conversations with my sister. O2 must love us, given all the money they have pocketed for what must equate to around three hours of hysterical, we-can’t-speak laughter during our phone conversations over the period of a year. But let me tell you, today was one of the scariest of my life and I am now left wondering if I have any special, spidey powers. If my boobs start climbing any walls, you can be confident I’ll run back here to let you all know.

To think I  nearly missed all this fitful laughter by going to the loo and sending her a text instead of answering. Which leads me to the real killer  – that moment when your sister reminds you she has known you better and for longer than anyone else.

Linda: ‘Your standing with your legs crossed so you don’t pee yourself now, aren’t you?’

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Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

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Lucy Kelson: George, I think you are the most selfish human being on the planet.
George Wade: Well that’s just silly. Have you met everybody on the planet?
– ‘Two Weeks Notice’.

This weekend I had my very first book signing event at the Waterstones store in East Kilbride, Scotland. It was a great and pime at my first signing... for a chick lit book?votal day for me, being a newly published author in the shop nearest my home, where I’ve spent many happy hours getting high on new book smell and about three purchases low on cash. And all with my big sister and various other members of my family watching and cheering me on.

The Waterstones staff were fantastic; so supportive and encouraging as well as taking care of my needs and sharing stories of other authors’ come-from-nothing successes to bolster my confidence. All in all, it was a fabulous day – a huge thanks to them for inviting me along.

But there was one moment that threatened to spoil it all at the very beginning. As I sat watching shoppers stroll by, all avoiding eye contact with me as though I had a clipboard and a ‘Market Researchers do it in the Street’ t-shirt on, the very first stranger to approach me smiled, picked up a copy of ‘The New Mrs D’ and glanced at the back cover for all of one second before placing it quickly back down with a scowl and taking off as fast as her legs could carry her.

Being perpetual jovial sorts, my sister and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘This is going well, don’t you think?’ I said, showcasing the books in front of me with a sweep of my arm like a model displaying prizes on ‘The Price is Right’ …and knocking my glass of water over them. (Oh yes I did).

Three down, twenty to go…

Don’t get me wrong, I do judge a book by its cover, but never without having read the entire blurb first. So what was it that made a person run away after having a glance at my cover and a read of the first two lines on the back?

I don’t know and I never will. But here’s my best guess. Dare I say, that brightly coloured, cartoon cover and the promise of a light-hearted, comedy novel that screams, ‘chick lit’?

The week before my first signing, I had responded to a comment left on a Facebook book club wall that asked something like, ‘does anyone else here hate chick lit?’ So I bit my lip and wrote what may have been a contender for longest Facebook comment in a thread ever. It went something like this:

‘As a writer of what has been called chick lit, I’d like to defend it if only because it depresses me that it gets such a bad rap, like it doesn’t deserve its place in literature. I read all kinds of genres and regularly have two or three very different books on the go at the same time but I never rule an entire genre out. I love to try something new, dipping in to different writer styles often. Chick lit has its place for light reading, for laughs, for comic escapism. I have had several men who professed to hating the chick lit genre read my book then come back and tell me they really enjoyed it. I was thrilled when science fiction writer Dylan Hearn, who took the plunge into something new for him, read my book then wrote a rave review and blog about it, admitting he had never picked up a chick lit book before.

I want to defend the genre because it is reading all of the dismissals of it that stops many women from writing what it is in their heart to write, for fear of being rejected by the ‘literary police’. Anything new, bold and original is exciting to find and nothing would ever be created if writers didn’t take the difficult step of bringing their stories out into the world. The fact is, we all have different tastes and to me, writing is not just a craft but an art. It should be a joy to bring that which you were meant to do out in to the world and, after all, art is about freedom of expression. It’s about capturing the imagination and taking it anywhere you wish it to go. An individual may hate the work of Van Gogh, but that doesn’t make him any less of the incredible & innovative artist that he was. It’s all a matter of personal taste. What sings to one person can screech like nails on a blackboard to another. And what’s wrong with that?

Perhaps you read one or two bad chick lit books. Perhaps, like me, you’re of an age where you’ve read countless books with will-they-won’t-they, she-hates-him-then-she-loves-him plot lines and think you can’t stand to read another. But then, if you are like me, you’ll remember that you loved these once and now you’re older, you’re perhaps looking for something different. It doesn’t make those kinds of stories any less relevant, they’re just not relevant to you.

I would ask anyone not to discount an entire genre based on some they’ve read or seen, as not all books in any genre are the same. The majority of chick lit writers are women and we should be encouraging more female writers to find their voice. The only thing I have to say that I don’t like about chick lit as a genre is the name. I’m 44 years old, I’m not now nor have I ever been a ‘chick’. I hope it changes to ‘contemporary fiction’ or something equally suitable. I’d like something that says I write commercial, comedy fiction for all genders.

And for the reader, let’s not be afraid that no one will ever take us seriously if we admit to liking a bit of easier reading and laughter – the best medicine there is. There is a lot to be said for so called ‘easy reads’ too. They encourage more people to read and that, we should all be able to agree if we’re true book lovers, is a fundamental and beautiful thing.’

Others have written on this very subject of course. In his article for Huffington Post, entitled, ‘Stop Being Literary Snobs and Embrace Chick-Lit’, Ben Mirza writes, ‘There’s a reason why these people hate chick-lit, and it’s nothing to do with declining standards. It is simply that these people hate escapism and frankly, hate a genre that focuses on the general lives of women.’

The hatred of escapist comedy reading is something I know many readers have and there is absolutely no wrong in this. To each his (or her) own. For me, one of the most interesting things about comedy is the fact that everyone loves to laugh, yet comedy books seem to be the target of the harshest critics, often accused of appealing to a readership of the lowest, common denominator.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a little bit tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t be reading. Overall, I want books that test my intelligence, scare me a little bit, make me think, make me question things, freak me out, make me cry and make me laugh – and I can get all of these things in a year filled with reading a little bit of something from every genre. There’s a special place for all of it in my brain.

Lucy-Anne Holmes sums it up nicely in her 2014 article for The Guardian:

‘I’m not going to apologise for enjoying books that focus on women’s careers, families and love lives, as romantic comedy often does. As a woman – as a person – discovering what I love to do, feeling empowered to do it and falling in love have been pretty seismic events in my life, ones I can identify with far more than discovering a murdered body in a disused car park.’

So let’s not profess to be specific genre haters; let’s continue to be book lovers with open, hungry minds requiring nourishment from a wide variety of sources . And to those who still say they hate chick lit, I say, ‘that’s just silly. Have you read every chick lit book on the planet?’

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To World Book Day, Waterstones and Being Delusional

For what seems like my entire life, the gift I have loved to receive far and above anything else has been a shiny, new, book-smelly, book. And none more so than a hardback – a pleasure I can’t often indulge myself in these days, given the additional cost factor.

For a long time, I did think this made me a bit different. None of my friends in school talked of a love of books; no one in my family was an avid reader except my dad, who hoarded them all over the house like scattered dust, but sadly, didn’t live long enough to tell me much about his love for them. All these years later, I do like to think my bookish mania was sent from his heart to mine.

The first books I remember being given as a gift has a special place in my memory though, and I was probably only about eight at the time. They were from my older sister, Linda, and they were two hardbacks: a beautifully illustrated copy of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame and ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams. I6a00d8341c84c753ef0168eb87d246970c-800wi remember loving them completely and breaking the first one open on Christmas morning, the way children nowadays might stuff in to the first of six chocolate filled selection boxes and the latest Xbox game.

My first love was books and I always felt this made me a little strange, having no bookish friends that I knew of. I have spent years taking off from the crowd to wander into grand bookshops like Waterstones by myself, not to be found again for several hours. While many of my school pals were licking the windows at boob-tube tops and Rah-Rah skirts in TopShop, I was stroking pretty book covers whilst being weirdly intoxicated by the delectable aroma of paper, ink and adhesive. I was no glue sniffer; I was a book sniffer and not yet proud of it. I told no one.

Then one day, as as slightly older fifteen-year-old, I rode my bike through town on the way to school and spied a gorgeous, white, boob-tube dress that took my fancy. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and every day – for about a month – I stared at it as I cycled by, wishing it could be mine but knowing it had a price tag my hard-up mother would balk at. I dreamed of that dress and it was a dream I could tell my friends about had I chosen to, because loving new fashions was cool, of course. But I didn’t.

I remember spending an extraordinary amount of time thinking about that dress. How the boy I was mad about at school would notice me at last if I wore it to the school youth club disco. How much I would feel like Madonna in it. I must have imagined myself in that dress, wearing the pair of white lace, finger-less gloves I did own, singing, ‘Like a Virgin,’ for weeks.

Then one night my mother came home screaming that she had had a huge win at the bingo. Hooray! We could buy new clothes instead of being gifted second hand ones from friends with older daughters. The very next day, I walked in to the shop that had almost made me fall off my bike countless times and bought my dream dress.

As a young girl, I told no one of what I thought was my extraordinary love of books or my ‘delusional’ dreams of myself in that dress and as an adult, I’ve told no one of the amount of times I have pictured my own books on the shelves of Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles. How many times I’ve mentally placed them between Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella in airport shops. No one knew just how delusional I was – until now.

Last month, I had word from my publisher, Fledgling Press, that my book launch event for the paperback of ‘The New Mrs D‘ would be in Waterstones in Glasgow. Because I pictured it so often? Or because it is written… so to speak? 😉 We shall _78300969_waterstones_tweetsee, because, my delusions include getting locked in one night like this lucky guy…

Happy World Book Day! And stay delusional.

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My book launch for the paperback of ‘The new Mrs D’ is at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on 30th April 2015 at 6.30pm. I’d be thrilled to see you there, if you happen to be in the vicinity. Please stop by 🙂

Buy My Book! Buy My Book! Buy My Book!

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This is The New Mrs D on the first page of the TOP TWENTY Amazon UK 100 Best Sellers for Women’s Fiction Humour chart as of five minutes ago. On the same page as Helen Fielding and Maria Semple, author of one of my favourite recent reads, ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette?’.

Maybe for one hour, maybe a day… or maybe it will have fallen off by the time you read this. But thankfully for me, I have captured forever the moment that I WAS there.

My ‘unmarketable’ and now self published comedy novel for women actually reached number 11 on this chart within 24 hours of its release for pre-order for about an hour, but guess who didn’t take a screen print because she couldn’t believe her eyes? Guess who genuinely believed someone had placed it there by accident or that it was some kind of fluke? Guess who made a mock up cut and paste shot of it sitting at number one? Ha! Just kidding on that last one!

Note to self: hide evidence. Other note to self: Don’t forget to delete this bit.

I’m thrilled and so very grateful for the wonderful messages I have received telling me how much people have enjoyed the book. Self publication is no easy feat; it is as I feared, like throwing a fish into the ocean. There are so many great books out there and when nobody knows who the hell this ‘Heather Hill’ is, it is a very difficult business to sell yourself. So, in the great tradition of giving oodles of my comedy writing away for free over these last few years, there’s a sneaky peek of a chapter of the book below for you.

The New Mrs D is currently on offer until 2nd September at just 99p. That’s less than a tube of  toothpaste from the Pound Shop. So why not have dirty teeth, support some exciting, new comedy writing and buy a copy?

PS you may have noticed subtle shades of self promotion in this post. Ignore (pink elephants) them, you are just (pink elephants) having hallucinations after that third (pink elephants) glass of wine last night.  images

Chapter Four

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beeeeeep! This isn’t an episode of The Osbournes… We’re renting mopeds!

At the age of 18, I passed my driving test and wrote-off my dad’s car on the way home. I lost all confidence and handed back my keys, deciding never to take to the wheel again.

I’d only taken my eyes off the road for a second – to throw my L-plates into the back – when a corner had caught in the brushed nylon roofing material and pinged back at my head. But that wasn’t when the crash occurred… the crash occurred when I stooped to pick them up for another go. ‘It could have happened to anybody,’ didn’t seem to convince my Dad as I handed him the now-detached steering wheel of his prized Sierra Cosworth.

From then on, I’d relied on others to drive me around. Following a barrage of ‘Are you stupid?’ type abuse from my furious mother when I got home, and my own realisation that I must be the most accident prone woman on the planet, all the confidence gained in 30 weeks of driving lessons was lost forever.

‘My darling Binnie, I’m going to teach you to drive if it’s the last thing I do!’

With David gone there wasn’t going to be anyone to drive me around or teach me to drive – I was on my own. My driving license was in my handbag ‘just in case’ David could talk me into hiring a moped – though I’d been convinced he’d never be able to do it. My choices were to stay round the hotel pool with a group of unadventurous, sunbathing couples, or to get out and explore the real splendour of the island alone. It was no contest. For the sake of doing everything on the adventure tour group itinerary, I was going to have to take to the open road alone. Never had I needed some freedom to explore as much as now.

The short walk from the hotel to the moped centre took me past shops where I was able to purchase supplies to aid my sickly stomach. Bye-bye sugar low – hello very large bag of mini chocolate croissants, two cartons of orange juice and a packet of mints to stop my breath vaporising the faces of all the new people I was about to meet at the painting class. I downed the first carton of orange juice greedily, but still my suffering, grief stricken belly wasn’t accepting any food callers.

‘Now, remembers Mrs Dando, you drive with bike on the right. It is not like in the English.’ The boy from the hire centre handed over the map he’d drawn to Chris’s villa and searched my face for a glimmer of understanding as I sat astride the moped. Peering through the visor of my oversized helmet at the controls that he’d just spent an age explaining, I nodded… and the world went black. Pushing the helmet around until I could see again, I took the map and his pencil before grabbing the handlebars. This didn’t look so hard; what had I been worried about? Front brake. Back brake. ‘Why would I want one half of me to stop and not the other?’Accelerator.

‘And this button is…?’

‘BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Oops! That’ll be the horn,’ I laughed, as several mystified faces appeared from nearby shops to see what the noise was. The boy, who looked about 12, failed to see the funny side. Judging by the look on his face in my rear view mirror, he was pretty worried.

‘How on earth do people manage with the island heat in this headgear?’ I asked, turning towards him but finding one-half of my view of his face missing, as the mahoosive helmet remained facing forwards. I adjusted it again, just in time to spy him rolling his eyes.

‘Don’t they make these things for people with normal sized heads?’ I muttered into the sweaty, foam lining.

‘Mrs Dando,’ the boy began, gravely, ‘do you understand? Do not forget. You drive on the…’

‘… right side of the road. I get it. Really, how hard can it be?’

‘Mrs Dando,’ the boy waved a hand in front of my face. ‘Are you going to be okay?’ he asked.

‘Fine,’ I said, a little more confidently than I felt. I turned the throttle on the bike. ‘Let’s do this!’

‘Okay. And Mrs Dando?’ he continued. ‘Can I have my pencil back?’

Except I didn’t have the chance to respond to that last bit because I was already revving off, giving an awkward ‘I’m okay’ wave to the lad. Which I wasn’t, because I hadn’t meant to move forwards at that moment. Where did he say the brakes were?

Even over the sound of the engine and through muffling headgear, I could hear shouts from behind and risked a swift peek over my shoulder. Seeing the boy waving at me, I waved again but struggled to keep control of the bike, which mounted the curb sending several stray cats scattering up trees to safety.

‘Aww, come on!’ I complained, revving the engine a second time. Looking back to the hire centre, I saw the boy had been joined by what looked like two huge Greek men, and all three were now running after me, gesticulating wildly. Shit, was I about to be arrested for pencil theft?

I turned the throttle to full and, as my head was almost torn off my shoulders with the force of sudden forward motion, I threw the pencil to the ground behind me with a shout of, ‘There’s your pencil!’ The moped charged onwards, bumping up a cobbled side street. It seemed there was no way to stop, even if I wanted to, without crashing into something.

‘Mrs Dando! MRS DANDO!’

Another rearwards glance showed that the sales boy had now jumped onto a rental moped with the beefy henchmen on another, all in pursuit. Oh god, this was it; I was about to be ambushed… maybe even killed! The island newspaper headlines of tomorrow flashed into my head:

BRITISH PENCIL THIEF RUBBED OUT BY LOCAL HITMEN

Would a stolen pencil really warrant such an elaborate daylight operation? Of course not, stupid woman. Maybe I was being mugged. Was it the stash of Euros in my purse I’d flashed while paying for the moped? Oh no, wait – they surely weren’t after my faux diamond emblazoned Primark flip-flops?

In a panic, I kicked one off into the path of an elderly couple as they strolled out from a hotel car park. The shoe shot straight into the old man’s portly, bare stomach with a sickening slap.

‘They have the diamonds!’ I called, mercilessly pointing them out to the gangsters before whizzing onwards to make my getaway.

But it was all for nothing; the roar of bikes continued behind me. I slowed to turn a corner into another side street and heard a shout.

‘Stop! Mrs Dando! You stop NOW!’

What on earth could they want? I reached down with one hand, trying to take the other flip-flop off to throw back as a ransom, but dropping it instead. As I cursed myself and looked up, an ancient Greek woman on a scooter was zipping round a bend straight at me, only swerving at the last second to avoid a collision.

‘What the…’

‘WAAAAHHHH!!!’ We screamed the last part in unison; ‘Waaaahhhh’, it transpired, being the international synonym for ‘OH SHIIIIIT!’ In an instant, her front wheel bounced off the kerb, sending both the old lady, and the basket of lemons balanced on her handlebars, flying, Frank Spencer style through the air towards a couple of teenage boys. Christ, I’m in a Carry On film.

‘Save the lemons!’ I called back, rattling onwards with no time to look behind again or wonder why my first manic thoughts were for Frank Spencer and the fruit – not the little old lady. Speeding away from the increasing chaos behind, I rounded a honking car pulling out from a driveway and yelled at its startled occupants, ‘CALL THE POLICE!’

Despite the throttle being fully open it seemed the tiny moped engine had no more to give and the roar from the biker gang got closer. Turning round once more, I could see the two bikes were still in hot pursuit, and for the first time I noticed the boy had a very fat man riding pillion. So there were four of them! And the fourth had mad lady-killer written all over him. Heart pounding with fear, I grabbed the nearest thing to a weapon from the moped basket and began hurling ammunition overhead at the assailants. However, taking my eyes off the road to lob miniature chocolate croissants was a last, fatal mistake.

Crunch!

The moped bumped straight up a kerb, sending my stomach boinging up to my lungs and my knicker tops rolling back down below my belly again, as the bike came to a near halt. This was it, the end. I waited for my life to flash in front of me… but a massive, spiny bush got there first. Without testing the moped’s brakes and fuelled by an extraordinary burst of adrenaline, I dived off, sending it ploughing, un-helmed, into the bush. This was where, in a moment of TV cop-esque brilliance, I rolled over-and-over onto a grass bank before springing back to my feet.

‘Whoa!’ For a split second, Mrs David Dando was Lara Croft; crime-fighting, tomb raiding stunt rider. That was until My Big Fat Greek Assassin got off his bike and made towards me and I remembered who I actually was. Bawling Binnie – with her knickers rolling down again.

‘Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me! I’m unarmed!’ I yelled, trying – and failing – to get my helmet off before throwing up my hands in surrender to the waiting gang.

‘Other side, Mrs Dando! Other side!’ yelled Zorba the Crook, taking a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe bits of chocolate and pastry from his fat sweaty face. Spying his accomplices coming up behind, I turned around and flung myself face down in the dirt with my hands behind my still helmeted head.

‘Okay, okay,’ I whimpered, ‘just, please don’t hurt me.’

There are moments that should flash through your mind when you think death is imminent; the faces of loved ones, lifelong friends, long-forgotten happy moments, childhood memories. This was my crucial moment – and I was going to die wondering if Greece had body bags big enough for me in this colossal monstrosity of a biking helmet.

The Fat Assassin flopped down beside me and prodded my shoulder. ‘Oh God,’ I thought.‘He’s really mad! Goodbye cruel world!’

Dear Facebook, today I was so hot. Oops, bloody mobile phone typos! I was s-h-o-t.

‘Mrs Dando…’

As I lay there with my eyes screwed shut waiting to feel a gun in my ribs, (please God let it be a gun in his pocket) hearing him huffing like a muddy, wet contestant on Total Wipeout, his voice took on a calmer, more sinister tone.

‘I not kill you. You kill yourself.’

I froze. Oh my God, he was going to make me shoot me.

I heard him take another deep breath and cough. ‘Mrs Dando,’ he said finally. ‘You drive with the moped on the other side!’

‘I didn’t mean… I wasn’t… oh!’ Ah. Right… I rolled back over to face him, but again, met with nothing but blackness. Bloody helmet! So, I wasn’t going to be bumped off for stealing the island’s only pencil. Or for assault with a supersized bag of mini croissants.

Twisting the monstrous headgear off and easing myself upright, I was met by four nonplussed faces caked in, well… cake.

‘Oh,’ I said, smoothing my hair in an attempt to recuperate some composure. ‘Well, er… why didn’t you just say so?’

Blog Tours – What To Wear

I was recently invited on a blog tour and my first honest-to-God thought was, ‘ooh, I don’t know if I can afford to travel.’

More seasoned writers will be smirking at this, but for anyone not familiar with the world of blogging, (hi there!) a blog tour is purely virtual. You don’t need a suitcase, new frock or train tickets.  All you need is the ability to write a blog post and share the link building, book marketing love online. I am lucky to have been invited to two for this month now; one with writer and marketing consultant for the arts, Anna Mansell and the other with ‘This Family Life’ author Jon Rance.

Blog tours are one of the things I’ve got to learn as I go along in the world of being a newly published author, along with:

‘Amazon sales rankings’

Me: ‘#11,000! Woop woop! I’ve sold eleven THOUSAND books!’
Learned person: ‘Erm, nope. That means there are 10,999 books selling better than yours…’

Using Twitter To Sell My Book

What? I never use Twitter to sell my book!

buy the book

Being Braced For Book Reviews

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Me drowning, with whisky, water, paracetamol and a machete. Pretty sure this is the title of a Morrisey song…

I’m fine, really I am!

No pacing. No rocking back and forth hugging mysel&%4$$$

Oops, knocked the laptop off my knee there… whilst rocking and hugging myself.

Having Realistic Expectations

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Basically, I’ve got it all figured out absolutely one hundred percent not at all…

Next week, I’m off to Sutherland for a week. Please let it be sunny and warm! And while I am away, please buy my book TheNewMrsD

Also.. I’m very grateful to have also had my first two author interviews this week. You will find them on the links below:

CHICKLIT UNCOVERED

JACQUELINE WARD’S BLOG

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The ‘Let’s Have a Break From The World Cup and Talk About Death’ Blog

First – NEWS! The New Mrs D is now available
to PRE-ORDER on Amazon! Hooray!(Follow the link)
Here it is again in case you missed it – LINK

And second…

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I have a confession. I’m drawn to graveyards. Which is just as well because there are no less than
two in the lane where I live and sometimes – just sometimes – I take a detour walk around one of them with the dogs.

I don’t know why, but they hold a certain morbid fascination for me. In particular, the very old gravestones. The inscriptions can tell so much about someone’s death, but also, they make me ponder how they lived.

The nearest one to me is where they bury people that have more recently passed. And by that I don’t mean just strolling by as Sally the lab cross and I do now and again, thankfully.

The other is Stonehouse Old Kirkyard, which is a fabbie – if spooky – place full of real historical significance. Here is where I really like to hang out, trying to decipher some seriously old headstones. My family will tell you I don’t often go out and visit the living, so they’d be amazed if they knew how much time I spend visiting the dead.

Stonehouse is in the heart of old Covenanter country, so the old Kirkyard is full of people that died in the name of religious freedom. (Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland). But even more interestingly, it has a witch’s stone. Yep, at the end of my road.

Witchcraft was (allegedly) rife here in Stonehouse between the 16th and 18th  centuries. Kirk 1In fact, at one  time people would only  dare travel through the village whilst carrying a  branch of Rowan, said to keep bad spirits away –  and a handy thing for swatting all the midges. The  Rowan  tree  remains ever present in some  of our  gardens to this day, swaying quietly in the breeze while keeping us safe. That  is, if  you  believe in all that mumbo jumbo, which I,  being of  sane mind and character of course, do not.
The witch’s stone, or ‘bloodstone’ is, to put it in my own words, ‘a stone that bites you when you prod it.’  It’s a table stone with a skull carved on, that has a hole below the mouth. It belongs to one James Thomson,  who died at the battle of Drumclog in 1679. And one day, a wise person, let us call him, ‘Thomas McThumb’, came  along, poked their finger in the hole and pulled it out to find blood on it. Gasp!

Now, thanks to Thomas running home to tell everyone about it, this eerie phenomenon brings visitors to the village, queuing to have a go at getting their own fingers bitten too. NB: This has nothing to do with the red ocre running through the stone – nothing I tell you! The witch’s stone is spooky and it maims you. Keep coming here, the local Coop needs your sticky plaster buying business.

What is the Covenanters’ grave to do with witches? Legend skul 2would have us believe that Stonehouse, being almost encircled by the river Avon, has its ancient witches trapped, due to their inability to cross running water; hence why they are still here biting folk in the Kirkyard.

Where am I leading you with my historical tales of witchcraft and bleeding fingers?

Well, the last time I was there, leaning in for a little look and wondering if the witch would bite me if I just, poked one little digit into…..

Garghhhhhhh! (That was me by the way).

There was a snuffling, scratching sound that made my heart stop.  Then a clod of earth hit my back. This was it; the Stonehouse witch had got me and I was going to die here, with my finger stuck under the mouth of this skull like a sort of gone wrong game of Operation.

BBBBBBBBUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!

‘You touched the sides! You touched the sides! Your cardboard patient with the boozer’s nose is DEAD.’

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Sally – with witch grave on her nose.

Without removing my finger, because you never know, it could have been plugging the way for a few more escaping ghosties, I turned round to see Sally enthusiastically kicking back earth, attempting to dig up the body of James Thomson.
I. Kid. You. Not. So, let me tell you, he may be mysterious and have a spooky witch sleeping on his head, but his bones smell delicious.

I snapped Sally back on her lead and we  ran home to hide… behind our Rowan tree.

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Our very own amulet against witchcraft.

Of Childbirth and Flatulence

Hello blogland!

HINT: This post is titled in such a way that you know EXACTLY where it is going…

At a family get together yesterday, my pregnant daughter and her partner asked my husband whether he wanted their baby to call him pappa, granddad or grandpa. He scratched his head for a second, said ‘okay, he can call me grandpa,’ looked at me… and we both burst out laughing.

Grandpa.

What was so funny about that?

Well it was because we looked at each other and saw, not Stephen and Heather, but granny and grandpa. How funny! Not that we’re not looking forward to meeting our new grandson when he decides to arrive sometime in February next year. It’s just that all of a sudden, it feels like someone stepped hard on the accelerator pedal marked ‘our old age’.  And they did it while we were still gliding round on ice with the ‘we’re ACDC fans; we’re still partying like it’s 1999; we counted our wrinkles yesterday and didn’t go into double figures’ handbrake on. It was both sobering and inexplicably hilarious.

We’re old. Old. Old. Old. Old. OLD. We’re out with the old and in with the old. We’re Darby and Joan; grannie and grandpa.

As I listened to my younger kids chatter excitedly with their sister about who would be the best aunt or uncle, I searched my hands for liver spots and wondered if it was time to buy a floral hat.

And while my husband was probably wondering why his midlife crisis was going to come after and not before his first Christmas pair of slippers, my mind wandered away to the day I went into labour with my eldest, now-pregnant daughter. When at the first burst of pain, I begged for a lower body anesthetising epidural quickly followed by ‘that full leg and Brazilian wax I’ve always wanted.’

When seventeen hours later I found myself peering into a hospital cradle that I remember referring to as ‘the fish tank’ at the new, wrinkly, pink face of a girl – now a woman who will soon be called ‘mum’ – and couldn’t believe she was mine.

When at twenty months of age the same girl stood up and walked across the room for the first time like she had been doing it forever, obscuring my view of This Morning with Richard and Judy.

When, within four months of her toddling about the house like a hurricane, she was making determined grabs at my blouse, hoisting herself up my front every five minutes like I was Mum Everest and screaming whenever I tried to put her in the playpen. When, as a last resort I finally gave in and got in it myself, letting her run riot around the lounge so I could read a book in peace.

I recalled ten years previously, when  a line  of midwives and doctors tried without success to break my waters in order for my youngest daughter to come into the world. It was like the scene in Aeroplane when people were queuing to slap the lady passenger who is having an attack of hysteria. By the time my very eminent consultant turned up to solve the problem, I’d had sixteen puffs of gas & air and was somewhere on the ceiling with all the flowers and happy people.  As she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, I told her,

‘I feel like a f*cking glove puppet!’

Note to self: warn pregnant daughter that excruciating pain makes you swear at posh people…

Finally, as the conversation turned to my son’s fifteenth birthday this Wednesday, I reflected on turning up at my mother’s house with him on the way, to find only her husband at home. In a panic he handed me Windeze tablets instead of the painkillers I’d begged for as he called the hospital and I subsequently spent several hours in the labour ward with a doctor and midwife battling to keep a straight face as I farted at the height of every contraction.

If my daughter asks me, ‘does your dignity leave you during childbirth?’ I shall tell her the truth:  Only when you tell everyone about it in your blog.

But what of the beautiful babies at the end of all this effort?

They end up asking you twenty-two years later, when you’re congratulating yourself for being in that ‘forties are the new thirties’ stage of your life, if you want to be called nan or grannie.

I want to be called ‘Cher’. Yeah, Cher’s cool. Cher would never fart in her consultant gynaecologist’s face.

And Cher NEVER gets old.

Eruptions, Erections and Other Items of Book Research

Now that Mrs David Dando is complete and doggy-paddling its way to the top of the UK literary agency slush pool, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my book research – whilst at the same time, explaining my Google search history to the authorities.

I needed to get some professional advice in order to create a series of plausible mishaps for my heroine, given that finding a cow in the back garden, falling into rivers, almost breaking your bum on the treadmill and being invited to work as an elf had been done already. By me, as it happens. 😀

There are a string of people to thank in my acknowledgments should (ED – WHEN) Mrs DD goes to print and even though my novel is, for the most part, tongue-in-cheek comedy escapism, the majority are serious scientists and professors – all of whom were only too happy to help me cause (theoretical), cataclysmic chaos on a tiny Greek Island. Worth a particular mention is a local chemistry professor, who, after consulting with various colleagues in the field, answered my request to check a cacophony of everyday food items for ‘explosion potential’ with, ‘do you mean to take out a house, street, country or just the oven?’ It’s scary what my husband’s friends know…

I have had three UK and one US volcanology professors helping me concoct a woman-made volcanic eruption, while my good friend Paul Johnson gave me a small lesson in the Greek language and a true anecdote, that may have me asking any potential publisher if it’s okay to write in my acknowledgments: ‘Dear Paul, thank you for gifting me c*ck.’ (You really are going to have to read the book to get that one).

Furthermore, I’ve had a ‘head’s up’ on spontaneous erections, took a local painting class which cost me nought but a bottle of gin (only in Glasgow :-D) and had a chat about porn and bondage with a top English lawyer who, during his evening and weekends, likes it rougher than poor John Cleese’s last divorce bill. And NO, I have not written anything along the lines of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Praise be also to my husband and family, who have had to cope with me nodding to ‘can we have dinner now?’ questions, at seven o’clock at night, when I’ve been stooped over a notebook and have forgotten to even start cooking. And did I mention the day I left my laptop on the couch mid first draft? When I left my laptop on the couch and my son  broke into the chapter I was working on – set at the top of a volcano on a remote island in Greece – to add a little ‘interlude’ of his own:-

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Tesco shooting on a mountain-top aside, I’ve been very fortunate. Only two people, in ten months of writing and research declined to help me. One was a top industry adviser who felt it would be ‘just professionally wrong’ to tell me how to get an accountant struck off and the boss of a multi-national company that makes Tens machines, who, after being initially keen to help, then took three weeks to answer my query with ‘why don’t you Google it?’ (Presumably after Googling me to find I am an unknown author, who may have to resort to assisting Santa in a toy store this Christmas wearing a green suit and pointy ears BECAUSE YOU WOULDN’T HELP ME ELECTROCUTE SOMEONE WITH YOUR PELVIC TONER THINGY). But I’m not bitter 😉

As well as the research thanks, there will be mentions for the wonderful, patient and kind Flo at Blueprint Editing and my manuscript beta readers Carol Bain, Laura Fenwick and Lorraine Dakers, who trudged through what I know was a scrappy first draft without once uttering the words ‘tripe’ and ‘are you kidding me?’ I am eternally grateful and have now deleted over twenty seven repetitions of the word ‘stunning.’

Incidentally, Lorraine Dakers is a tutor at the Universidad Europea de Madrid and kindly invited me to take a first shot at a radio interview last month. ‘Chip Butty’ is the station they have set up for students and all broadcasts are available as podcasts. If you have a spare few minutes now you’ve finished reading my waffle, pull up a chair, click HERE and listen to me do some more. I’m a nearly radio star. Honestly.

Internet search history explained – check. Thanks to everyone that helped me finish the novel – check. Tell them I was on the radio – check. What nationality was Dvořák? …..

Who’s Laughing Now?

So, I’ve been wondering what to write a blog about and then today, I went to the gym… and fell off the treadmill.

Not that I’m complaining about the gym. No. It isn’t their fault that I had loaded several Jessie J tunes to my phone for the kids amusement when travelling in the car, and they started playing in my headphones as I began my second workout in two years. Not that I don’t love the gorgeous Miss J, but my new workout playlist at this point was more ready for the tempo of a Jim Reeves classic.

‘Oh no, fast forward!’ I said – to the phone – which promptly decided now would be a good time to demonstrate to the whole place just how hard the treadmill was bouncing about with me jogging on it, by springing out of its pocket and clattering onto the floor.

It was then I learned the one thing they don’t teach you on your induction day. The emergency stop button on a treadmill doesn’t ’emergency-ly’ stop – you know, like your car does when a cat runs out and you face-plant the windscreen? What it actually does is think about it for a second:

‘Emergency stop? Are you sure? I’ll just wait a few seconds before slamming on my brakes… ooh, where have you gone?’ 

Do you remember that moment when you visited the fairground as a young, carefree slip of a lad/lass and thought what awesome fun it would be to try and navigate the moving floor in a fun house, full of Diamond White cider?  Just me then? Oh… well anyway, my accident went a bit like that…

My fellow gym members learned a new sound today:

‘Kerrrassshhhh.’

And I saw my life flash before me as my knees-met-my-face-met-rubber on a fast-moving conveyor belt in what can only be described as a horrible reconstruction of the BBC’s Generation Game. As my arse made it’s own way south to the machine behind mine, I was just waiting for the guy on it to shout, ‘cuddly toy!’

But, as it turned out, the guys around me weren’t going to be put off their workout for anybody.  They weren’t even missing the phonesex-esque huffing I’d most likely been doing – without being able to hear myself thanks to Jessie J – just seconds earlier as I started to accept death at just 5kmph.

After finally rescuing my phone (always my first priority in the face of potential disfigurement), I pulled myself up and looked around for evidence of sympathy – or filming  –  and found everybody had remained eyes front, in a fully fitness focused stance. Or just not wanting to meet my eyes in case they laughed, which is exactly what I would have been like in their gym shoes.

My saviour came in the form of a Virgin Health employee I only know as John, who not only raced over from his post way over the other side of the gym to help me, but then proceeded to spend five minutes telling me how many people he’d seen doing far worse auditions for You’ve Been Framed than I just had, to make me feel better. Which it did. When I told him I was likely to write about the whole episode, he requested that I mention he was a devastatingly handsome young fittie. About now he will be regretting that. 😀

For those that might be worried, I wasn’t hurt. Except for a grazed knee; which I may have got after whipping off my sports bra at high speed in the changing room afterwards and racing away red-faced. 😉

Ask me if I feel fitter after my workout today – go on, ask me! Or better still, ask me what song I was trying to fast forward before said catastrophic accident? I refer you to the video below…

Please note: no treadmills were broken during the creation of this particular day of my sitcom life.

Those Dog Days Are Begun

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This used to be MY office

For those of you that don’t know, I live in a country lane with few neighbours and my coach driver husband often goes away overnight. This is not a Craiglist personals ad, (well, it was meant to be but I started typing in the wrong window..)

No. This is the beginning of my excuse for giving in to years of family pressure. Three months ago, hiding under the duvet as some fox-hybrid-type creature howled outside my window while Mr was away overnight, I resigned to get a dog; for security you understand. My eldest three have now fled the nest and so I was beginning to feel quite vulnerable with only a teenager, a nine year old and two cats to throw out before me in a hostage situation. A dog, I thought, was just what I needed to feel safe at night.

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Hmph! This is boring

A trip to the local Dogs Trust, some owner training and a home visit later and we had our newest family member, Sally the Collie-lab. Sally has now lived with us for around three months and has turned my writing world upside down. If you have been a follower of my posts, you will know that everything I create begins on actual paper as I am a fan of working longhand. My ‘office space’ is propped on a cushion, in front of the fireplace which I now have to fight to only share on a daily basis. And you will have to see The Longhand of the Hill – Fifty Shades of Graphite to fully understand how much I loved the mechanical pencil I discovered chewed and broken when I started work this morning. Garrrggghh!

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How about I finish it for you?

As I write this line, longhand, she is here pressed by my side huffing like a petulant teenager because it’s not playtime yet. And so my dog days are begun, with me, the reluctant, once indifferent pet owner who went very quickly from referring to her as ‘the new pup’ to ‘Sally-Wally-Woo.’  And everyday, in every way, she tries to stop me from messing with that paper and rather tasty stick thing to come and play; even after my taking advantage of some nice weather to work in the landlord’s field behind my house. A couple of acres to play in didn’t stop her sabotage efforts as she tried to nick off with my ground sheet. Although, she did enjoy chasing twenty pages of blown away manuscript round the field with me as I sang the ‘oh f*ck, noooo!’ song.

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Right! I’m taking this…!

So, the Mrs David Dando rewrites continue regardless, with the usual family distractions plus some nudging, pressing and pencil stealing from Sally-Wally-Woo, whom I now – begrudgingly – love dearly in a completely over adjective using way. Even if she will only be protecting us at night by licking intruders very noisily to death, giving us precious minutes to escape.

Anyone thinking of getting a dog, beware; you may just fall in love. You may also fall over as they drag you across ice to the toilet corner in the garden at 5am. But it’s all worthwhile.

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And I’m taking this…!

I’m still scribbling away, working with the help of the fantastic proof-reading and editing assistance of Flora Napier, who is excellent and very reasonably priced for new, hard-up writers like my good self. I highly recommend her and am very confident and excited to know I’ll have this book out for submission very, very soon.

PS I am advised (from a source that I cannot reveal) to tell any potential burglars reading this post that they can take everything except my sons Xbox…

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Yawn.. it’s a boring book anyway!

Have a good week!