Monday, December 28, 2009

Ex-Pat Christmas


Monday 21st - Granny arrives from Ireland with decent teabags
Tuesday 22nd - Carols at the British Embassy; Ambassador's bull dog has tinsel round neck
Wednesday 23rd - Christmas Dinner at Brit Club where the waiters wear white gloves
Thursday 24th - Carol Service at St. Christopher's Cathedral; collection for orphanage in Belize
Friday 25th - Champagne and a Ulster Fry, National Velvet on television, Trivial Pursuit causes fist fights, Butterball turkey and Brussel sprouts, Rex spends 8 hours building Lego
Saturday 26th - Two drinks parties overlapping; one is a Texan oil man, his house is the size of Southfork.
Sunday 27th - It's Ashoora so the shops are shut
Monday 28th - Granny goes home with a pink plastic alarm clock that plays the call to prayer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Present


Im very proud to announce that The Revenge of Lady Muck is on the front page of popular fiction website Chick-lit Club and has been mentioned in dispatches on Trashionista. You can't pay for this sort of publicity.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Santa Boden


Johnny Boden is better than Santa Claus! His sale started last weekend, I shopped on-line, it's 12 pound sterling flat rate fee to post the Middle East and the clothes arrived this morning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Truth or Fiction


TRUTH OR FICTION
Jennifer Johnston
Truth or Fiction reads like a play from the 1930s, like a Noel Coward comedy of manners. I should like to see it performed, but who shall I cast as Desmond?
Desmond Fitzmaurice, our anti hero, was a playwright, a literary giant and a correspondent during World War 2, but he’s been out of circulation for so long most people think he has died. Until Caroline, a London based journalist, is sent by her newspaper’s editor to Dublin to interview him and write a feature about his life and his work.
The editor’s brief: “Nothing too serious, darling, a spot of gossip won’t come amiss. I will not run the red pencil through a spot of gossip...”
Desmond is thrilled by the interest - he promises Caroline a life story brimming over with ‘lots of sex and some violence’. Cynical Caroline finds this hard to believe. Desmond is, after all, a very old man; ‘she could hear his teeth clicking as he chewed’.
Age has not wearied Desmond; he gads about town in a taxi driven by ‘Phaeton’ whom he insists was his driver during the War. He claims Phaeton was with him when he shot dead a Nazi. But wouldn’t that make Phaeton at least ninety years old, yet still in possession of a driver’s licence?
Already Caroline is not convinced Desmond’s reminiscences are entirely truthful.
The rest of the supporting cast in the drama of Desmond’s life are females who adore him. There is dazzling sharp witted Pamela, his first wife, who gushes about his genius but asks: “You said you wanted me to tell her the truth. What I want to know is, your truth or my truth?”
And sour Anna, his second wife, she is territorial and possessive, she waits on Desmond hand and foot – ‘he was her be-all and end-all, like he had been Mother’s be- all and end-all’. Desmond treats her like dirt; when she falls and must go to hospital, he sends her alone in an ambulance. Callously he says, “If you want to know the truth... I don’t care if she lives or dies.”
While they wait for news from the hospital he tells Caroline about “the woman I really should have married” and how his inattention caused her to pine away and to die of a broken heart. He boasts: “Of course I know I didn’t kill her intentionally. Just my inattention.”
By now Caroline has ceased to believe anything Desmond tells her. She’s convinced he is a fantasist. She thinks he cannot distinguish between the truth and a fairytale. She is exhausted by his unreliable narrative and longs to return to London, back to her normality. She exits, stage left, with a mouthful of exasperated expletives, damning all ‘eccentric Irish people’...
Jennifer Johnston was born in Dublin but has lived in Derry for years. Her father was the writer Denis Johnston who was famous in the 1930s. Her mother was an actress. She started to write at the age of thirty five after waking up one morning and thinking: ‘I must do something with my life.’ Very much a wise decision since her first novel The Captains and the Kings won the Authors Club First Novel Award and subsequent novels have won The Whitbread Book Award and been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
VERDICT: They always say ‘write about something you know. It will make your story convincing’. Well, I am utterly convinced by Truth or Fiction, and charmed by dreadful old Desmond. I hope to be just as shameless a rascal when I am ninety years old.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fly Etihad!

For the first time in fifteen years, since I moved to live overseas, my mum is coming to visit at Christmas. Or she was until the big strike.
We always fly Etihad in and out of Dublin because it's very professional; the crew and ground staff are lovely; Customer Services are brilliant and Abu Dhabi airport has an excellent duty free.
Mummy, however, decided to fly the world's favourite airline.
So we still don't know if she's coming or not. Or if she gets here, will she get home? I feel really cross with BA for inflicting this ridiculous stress on my mother who hardly ever flies anywhere, and who planned and paid for her trip months ago, and who was looking forward to spending her first Christmas ever with her four little grandchildren who hardly ever see her.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Darren Shan



HELL’S HEROES - Darren Shan
CIRQUE DU FREAK – Darren Shan
This Christmas, what are you going to buy the young men in your life? Another astonishing computer game? Another expensive electrical gadget?
And what about the young ladies? Let me guess… Sparkly make-up, a pink cellphone?
I’m thinking ‘a book’ is not the first thing that leaps to mind. And certainly not a horror story with a scary picture on the front cover. When I picked up Hell’s Heroes in the book shop my first thought was – “Was sort of sick person reads this sort of novel?”
“But Darren Shan is a genius!” insisted my friend the teacher. “Boys and girls who are not readers, read Darren Shan. And once they read Darren Shan, they read Anthony Horowitz and then they’re hooked on reading for life…”
I was not easily persuaded. After twenty pages I said, “But Hell’s Heroes reads like a computer game. It’s one action sequence after another. Our narrator isn’t even human: he’s a ‘slime-covered, hairy, mutated, wolfen beast’. Nor is he humane: he has torn out the eyes of his closest ally and he isn’t sorry for doing it. And Planet Earth is being invaded by grotesque demons that can only be killed by magic. And the only person who can help the wolfen beast and the blind boy to save the world has gone over to the dark side and joined forces with the demon master. This is a story about the apocalypse! It even says ‘Game Over’ on the back cover!”
My friend the teacher said “You’re starting at the wrong end of Darren Shan. Hell’s Heroes is the very last book in a series of ten books called the Demonata. You need to start at the beginning…”
So I went to the library and got a copy of Cirque du Freak, Darren Shan’s first children’s horror novel, first published ten years ago. I sat down with Rex who is 9
“Read,” I said.
“But Mum, I’d rather kick a football.”
“Read,” I insisted.
He started to read. By the end of the first sentence – “I was in the toilet at school, sitting down, humming a song” – he was hooked. It was the most painless fifteen minutes of reading together we’ve ever done. He even said, “Let’s read on. I want to find out what happens next…”
(This is music to the ears of any mother of a child who is not a reader!)
What happens is that two normal boys Darren and Steve get tickets to go to a ‘freak show’ to watch a performing spider owned and controlled by a vampire. Darren steals the spider; the spider bites Steve, who stiffens into a coma; it seems Steve will die. Only the vampire can save him; he has an antidote to the poison. But the only way the vampire will save Steve is if Darren agrees to fake his own death, and become a half- vampire, and work as his assistant. I did not enjoy reading about the faking of Darren’s death, it made me feel queasy inside but Rex is made of sterner stuff. He said, “Chin up Mum, it’s only a story.”
Darren Shan is the pen name of Irishman Darren O'Shaughnessy. When he wrote Cirque du Freak in 1999 he had trouble getting it published. Now his books are for sale on every continent, in 39 countries, in 31 languages, and have been children’s bestsellers in America, Britain and Ireland. His books have sold somewhere close to 15 million copies worldwide!
VERDICT: Do you want to be the most admired kid on the block this Christmas? Ask Santa for a Darren Shan novel.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Road Rage

I was sitting at traffic lights this morning, waiting to turn left down a slip road onto the highway. The light went green, and the driver at the front of the queue inched his Big Car forward, he wasn't in a hurry, he had all the time in the world, he may have been chatting into his cell phone.
Small Car behind him was in a hurry, the driver toot tooted with impatience. Big Car ignored him. Small car tried to pass - there was just enough room on the slip road, but Big Car was a joker, he kept swerving so Small Car couldn't pass. Driver of Small Car lost his temper, sank his foot and with a surprising burst of acceleration almost passed Big Car. Who then speeded up and got faster and faster, till the two cars were almost flat out, neck and neck, Small Car and Big Car. They swung off the slip road onto the motorway and Big Car went out of control, crashed into the central reservation, and flipped over a couple of times. The driver wasn't wearing a seatbelt, he was thrown around like a rag doll.
Small Car roared off into the horizon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Road Not Taken


A letter has come home from school inviting Florence to swim at the 2010 Muscat International Invitational Age Group Swim Meet. What a momentous event. For me, not for Florence. For today, after years of avoiding it, I have reached the path that forks in the life of every mother.
To be or not to be - an alpha mum.
We all want our daughters to do well in life. To be confident, kind, socially competent, well mannered, happy. If they can be pretty and clever and sporty as well, that's even better for them.
But I've always made an point of not weighing down my children with parental expectations.
"But I want to swim in Muscat!" says Florence.
I've always believed if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it, without the help or interference of 'mother'
"Can you help me with my racing dive, Mum? You're really good at racing dives."
I mean, I'm really pleased Florence is a good swimmer - one day it might save her life, should she trip and fall into a swimming pool, or get washed out to sea....
"I'll have to swim every day until the competition. Will you take me swimming every day, Mum?"
God help me, I don't even like to swim, yet if I become an alpha mum I am the one who is going to be racing her up and down the pool. My hair is going to be ruined.
"I'll lend you my swim hat, Mum."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Revenge of Lady Muck


Due for international release on St. Patrick's Day 2010 - are those shamrocks I see on the cover?

Friday, November 27, 2009

I Smell Christmas!


I'm not Christmas person. Apart from the visit to church. The rest of Festive Season - the turkey, the tinsel, the Christmas music, the Santa shopping - I can cheerfully live without. I suppose I'm a bit of a humbug.
But today there is the most delicious smell wafting through our house. I'm cooking a lamb tagine with dates, almonds and pistachios; it's simmering away and one of the spices in it is cinnamon.
I'm firmly convinced that cinnamon is the smell of Christmas. It's like a subliminal message. In the past hour I've dug out the Christmas tree decorations from the cupboard under the stairs. I've paused to smile at the four 'letters to Santa' pinned up on tartlets' notice board. Five if you count the one Maud wrote on behalf of our dog, Millie - 'Please send me a boy dog to play with'.
And I've started to read The Seven Secrets of Happiness, by my favourite author Sharon Owens. Now isn't that a Christmas present bookcover if you ever saw one? And the story is a Christmas story - it starts on a snowy Christmas Eve evening, with beautiful Ruby O'Neill sat in front of her Christmas tree waiting for her much adored husband to come home from work and ravish her...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Most Lamentable Comedy


A MOST LAMENTABLE COMEDY
Janet Mullany
It was the proudest day of my literary career when I discovered my novel The Pineapple Tart on a list on Amazon entitled ‘pure escapism’; rubbing shoulders with Nancy Mitford, Winifred Watson, EF Benson and Georgette Heyer. I had already read Nancy, Winifred and Fred, but I’d never read any Georgette; unfairly I’d dismissed her Regency romances as a bit too saccharine for my taste.
How mistaken I was! For the woman is a genius! She cannot write a boring sentence. She’s as witty, sly and ironic as the reigning queen of romance, Jane Austen, and just like Jane her stories are set among the wealthy upper classes during the Regency period, when ‘a large income is the best recipe for happiness I have ever heard of’ (Mansfield Park, 1814).
A Most Lamentable Comedy follows in the romantic traditions of Georgette Heyer and also of Jane Austen. It’s set in Regency times and is full of exquisite, meticulously researched details about the fashions, the food, the forms of address and the acceptable codes of behaviour of that era.
But, and here’s the interesting part, because A Most Lamentable Comedy is a contemporary novel, Janet Mullany has added her own 21st Century spin to the story.
It’s 1822. Artful Lady Caroline Elmsworth is having a run of bad luck. She’s only twenty three and already widowed twice. Her good reputation is in shreds; she is pursued by her creditors. She’s hiding out at a big house in the country, taking part in farcical amateur dramatics; hoping to soon ensnare another rich stupid husband. Instead she meets and is immediately attracted to gorgeous Nicholas Cosgreavance, recently returned from the Continent. Cosgreavance is also down on his luck; he’s seeking a rich silly widow to exploit. Very soon the pair are furiously flirting. This is how Nicholas tells it –
I prepare to brush my lips against hers in moderately chaste fashion...
She is the first to disengage. “Do you usually kiss ladies for a quarter-hour at a time?” she asks.
“Do you usually time such activities?” I respond.
And from here we relax into a delicious, high spirited romance as roguish Caroline and black sheep Nicholas fall hopelessly in love with each other. It’s hopeless because they’re both penniless and in Regency times there were no government handouts or youth training schemes, or student loans to assist with third level education. There was only the debtor’s prison for Caroline and the unsavory job of male gigolo for Nicholas. Fortunately for the young lovers, Nicholas is the estranged half brother of a Duke and the Duke is thoroughly decent chap...
So in the best traditions of romantic literature - everyone lives happily ever after.
Janet Mullany is originally from England but now lives in America. She has worked as an archaeologist, a performing arts administrator, classical music radio announcer and editor for a small press. Her inspiration for A Most Lamentable Comedy came when she was rereading Our Mutual Friend by Dickens, which has two minor characters, Alfred and Sophronia Lammle, who marry and then find out neither has any money.
*
VERDICT: Georgette Heyer once said: “I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense... But it’s unquestionably good escapist literature and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter or recovering from flu.”
Well, touch wood, I’m rarely ill, and I’ve never sat in an air-raid shelter but I’ve spent many hours trapped in Economy class, flying longhaul, and I can vouch for ability of a witty, well written Regency romance to transport the reader far away from the discomforts of modern reality.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chase Me Charlie

This is the first sentence of my new novel -
It was just another gymkhana. There was clear round jumping the main arena and fornication in the horse boxes parked up in military rows in the big front field at Kinelvin.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Moon


I've just seen the trailer for New Moon - sequel to Twilight - and it's amazing! Not only is there Edward Cullen's slender pale six pack to admire but we ladies now have added beefcake in the shape of a pack of werewolves.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pride and Prejudice


This adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is my favourite movie. I harbour a special affection for the tender romance between Bingley and Jane; both shy and both easily influenced by the unscrupulous opinions of others..
What I did not realise until today, while casually flicking through the novel, is most of the dialogue in the movie is Jane Austen's - how witty and wise she was - I especially like the words of worldly Charlotte:
"...there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a woman had better shew more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Alpha Kids

I'm very proud of my three alpha daughters. It was the school swimming gala to day and all three brought home medals. I am very proud of them because I am so not an alpha mum - I never push them to do anything, except homework...
The girls picked what races they wanted to swim in, and filled in their own application forms. They even set my alarm clock so I could drive them to the pool this morning. And Maud packed a lunch for me to eat, and Bea carried a cushion for me to sit on, and Flor had my novel in her swimming bag so I wouldn't be bored when they weren't in the pool.
But I wasn't bored a bit. I was too busy listening to and watching alpha parents coaxing and encouraging their children - "Push, Push, Push, can you feel the pain?" -I actually heard somebody say that!
My little girls felt no pain - they swam like fish through the water - I was dazzelled by their brilliance. So dazzelled I bought them a Mc Donalds each afterwards.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Playing Dead


PLAYING DEAD
Rory McCormac
I’m a shameless celebrity sycophant, so when I spotted Playing Dead with a glowing endorsement on its front cover by Tony McCoy, the Ulster jump jockey – ‘A fantastic read. Odds on to be a winner’ I was persuaded to buy it.
And anyway, vets and horses, and horsey vets have a dazzling effect on me, similar to the effect a man in uniform has on most normal women. I’ve read every Dick Francis ever written – (these are horse racing novels), and all of James Herriot too (he’s the veterinary bit).
Frank Samson is a young, hunky vet. He is also independently minded and having briefly worked in a large hierarchical practice, he now prefers to go it alone – he works as a locum vet.
He’s offered a two month posting in Connemara in the West of Ireland while the regular vet is in America. The regular vet has a regular practice, but for one famous customer – Catamaran, a stallion who is standing at stud in the catchment area of the veterinary practice. Catamaran, who was never beaten, is owned by a wealthy syndicate and is worth twenty five million pounds. Frank’s not a racing man, but he’s a shameless celebrity sycophant (just like myself) – and the second day on the job he swings past the stud farm to take some photos of the horse, to show off and boast about at horsey dinner parties…
Later that day, while he’s out on his rounds, he receives a distress call from the owner of the Stud – there has been a terrible accident, Catamaran has escaped from his loose box and bolted over the edge of a cliff. Frank rushes to the scene –the horse is alive, but only just; two legs are broken; he’s in ugly shock. The only thing Frank can do is put him out of his misery, by shooting him between the eyes with the owner’s shot gun.
Not the most auspicious start to Frank’s two months in Connemara!
After Catamaran’s unfortunate death things start to hot up for Frank. First his house is broken into then he’s lured on a bogus call in the middle of the night to an isolated location where he’s beaten up, kidnapped and held hostage.
The kidnapper is nervous and non violent. He’s wearing dark glasses and a balaclava to disguise his identity. He says all he wants are the photographs Frank took of Catamaran, the morning of the day he died. Frank is immediately suspicious as to why such innocent photographs could possibly be of such value and he does not offer them up even though they’re in his Landrover. Instead he determines to escape from the farmhouse and discover for himself what is so special about them…
While Frank is investigating the mystery of the photographs I learnt loads about bloodstock and horse racing. I especially learnt that horses can be identified by their whorls – these are hair swirls on the forehead and other parts of the body. Two horses can look identical, in size and shape and colour, but just like fingerprints in humans they will never have the same whorls.
Who says learning cannot be fun?
Rory McCormac is the nom de plume of real life vet, Maurice O’Scanaill who lives with his wife in Connemara. Maurice has had a varied career, in Ireland, Malta and Oman where he was Head Veterinarian at the Stud (Breeding) section of The Royal Stables, and Veterinary Advisor to various wildlife programs initiated by Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos ibn Said.
So if there was ever a man fit to write convincingly about being a vet, this is the man to do it.
VERDICT: Well done to Hawk Hill Publishing for resurrecting such a likeable hero and such fast paced, enjoyable thriller.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thought for the Day

If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems. And that's a big mistake. Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Middle Eastern Riding Lesson

I've lived in the Middle East for a long time. First I worked as airstewardess, then I taught English as a Foreign language. A lot has changed in fifteen years, but some things stay the same -
Tonight I had a riding lesson, it took up half the arena. In the other half was a family - mum, dad and son were having a group lesson together. The family lesson finished and mum carefully rode her horse round the perimeter of the arena to get to the gate. Dad and his son rode their horses straight through my jumping lesson, I had to abort take off twice, the first time because they were in front of the jump, the second time because they were on my landing pad.
My (male) instructor did not ask them to move away. I continued to canter round and round my half of the arena until they were gone. Then I was able to jump.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Quiet American


This curious review of Graham Greene's brilliant novel The Quiet American appeared today in the Irish Sunday Independent
I wonder - did the reviewer actually read the book, or did he copy his review from a set of study notes? For, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the story of The Quiet American a story of passionate sexual jealousy? Set in 1952 Vietnam, an older man is in love with beautiful girl but cannot marry her because his Catholic wife refuses to divorce him. A young American also loves the girl and offers her marriage and security. The older man is so jealous he arranges for his friend to be callously murdered. The older man and the beautiful girl live happily ever after.
And if you're not much of a reader, the DVD with Michael Caine as the older man, and Brendan Fraser as the quiet American is not only a brilliant movie, but a faithful adaptation of the novel.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Time Keeping

When I was growing up I was told it was rude to be on time. Always be ten minutes late I was told, it's the Irish way of doing things.
This morning I was invited to a 'Come and Meet the Mums in Year 3A' coffee morning - the invitation said 0830. Year 3A has children of all nationalities, with different cultural norms, but even so I didn't arrive until ten minutes after the appointed hour.
As I drove up I was joined by a French mum and two English mums - they'd also been trained from birth to be ten minutes late to a party.
Except the party was being hosted by an American mum and from the strained expression on her face when we all barged in ten minutes late I have come to conclusion that in America, one must be on time. Or one will never be invited again.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Postscript

I rescued Maud from certain death on the back of a half mad horse. At home Nick and Rex were throwing a basketball. Nick throws the ball at Maud. "Catch that," he said.
And in the catching she bent back her finger so badly it's broken.

Tiger


You'd think having four children would dilute their preciousness, wouldn't you? Well, it's not the case this house - I'm such an over protective Mummy I've been banned from Rex's rugby matches - banned by Rex, I might add - he's afraid I'll run onto the pitch and scold anyone who tackles him.
Tonight Maud had a riding lesson. Now, even I can see, through my rose tinted lenses that Maud rides well for a little girl of ten - she has an excellent seat and beautiful hands. But just because she's a good rider is no reason to throw her up on a half mad, just out of the desert, huge horse of muscle and fire - the instructor had been lungeing it before we arrived and it still wouldn't walk forward nicely. It was a horse even I would hesitate to mount and I, in general, will ride anything.
"She's not riding that!" I said. "Where are the ponies? Where are the school horses?"
All being ridden by lesser riders.
And that's a good enough reason to give my precious daughter a fecking mad horse?
Please excuse the casual swearing but I was so incensed I was apoplectic. The only thing that happens when you ride a bad horse is you get frightened. It does not make you a better rider, I know, I was that soldier.
The lesson did not go ahead. As I told the instructor when we were leaving, "I may consider allowing Maud to have a lesson on this horse after I've watched your ten year old daughter riding him."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Spoonful of Sugar...


Oh, golly my editor at Little Black Dress is a princess! She has sent me her list of line edits for The Revenge of Lady Muck - and in addition to the changes she wants, she has highlighted the things she especially likes - eg
Page 74: I love this first paragraph
Page 112: I love the way this chapter ends
It's so pleasant to get the odd thumbs up in the middle of all the question marks!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jumping In Puddles


JUMPING IN PUDDLES
Claire Allan
It’s not so very long ago that I was a single mum. Nick was working in England and I was in South Derry, in a farmhouse with no running drinking water, and four children under the age of four. It was a most depressing time in our marriage, especially during the dark winter evenings when the children were pinned down and sleeping. My own father often offered to babysit, so I could get out of the house, to go to the gym or to visit my sisters. But I was too worn out to do normal things and to face ‘normal people’. My world revolved round the needs of four children, and the relentless, endless grind of mothering them.
What I needed was a support group - people who understood how lonely it is to be alone, in the middle of the night, when a child is calling and there’s only you to answer. Who understood how desperate you feel when a child is sick and there’s only you to do the nursing. Who understood how stressful it is to have to explain over and over, that Daddy isn’t going to be home for the birthday party, the school play, the swimming gala…
Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan is the story of such a support group which brings together four lone parents in a small rural village in County Donegal.
There’s rich widow Niamh whose perfect life has come crashing down round her ears. Her perfect husband has got himself killed in a road traffic accident and since his death her perfect friend Caitlin is no longer returning her calls. Niamh’s grief has turned in on itself – she’s furious, angry, out of control...
There’s downtrodden, kind hearted Ruth. She was married to James until he ran off with a younger woman, leaving her penniless with three children, and the teenager daughter is poisonous. Ruth is ready for a new lease of life for James was a control freak and she’s better off without him.
Liam is the cuckolded husband whose wife has run off with James. Of course he didn’t want to join a Looney Lone Parent’s support group – he’s a builder, he’s a man, he doesn’t talk about his feelings – but his mother has bullied him into it.
And finally there’s a teenage mum, Ciara. Ciara is finding it difficult to reveal the name of her baby’s father because the boy in question has made it clear he’s not going to accept responsibility for his actions and has instead been spreading unkind and untrue rumours that Ciara sleeps around.
These four have very little in common and their first few meetings are stiff. Until they go on a charmingly described Halloween excursion to Derry city, to see the fireworks together. Everyone dresses up, the festival atmosphere fizzes off the page. By the end of trip the ice is broken and they begin to make friends. And to offer genuine support when Niamh discovers her perfect friend was having an affair with her perfect husband. And to provide practical assistance when Ruth’s ex-husband returns to intimidate her and to hit her again.
Claire Allan is from Derry. She works as a journalist, is a mother of two, and writes novels when she gets time in the evenings. Claire has a real talent for successfully tackling difficult, challenging subjects such as domestic abuse with warmth and gentle humour.
VERDICT: I really loved the Lone Looney Parents. I wanted to invite them over to my house for tea and buns and a chat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pass!

This sweet little email came floating through at half past eight last night:
Hello Anne,
I’ve now read and hugely enjoyed THE REVENGE OF LADY MUCK. I had hoped to get my notes to you today and I’d nearly finished them, but I’ve just heard that, very frustratingly, they’re closing down our computer network for the weekend in about 5 minutes (!) so I’m afraid it’s going to be Monday morning now.
I am sorry about that, but I’m pretty positive you’ll have them at the beginning of next week. Have a lovely weekend, etc
Yes, indeed I will have a lovely weekend, now I know the editor has passed my novel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Revenge of Lady Muck

So today I'm a bag of nerves because my editor at Little Black Dress is marking my novel. It's worse than waiting for exam results. I'm wondering how long it will take her to read 77,500 frivilous light hearted words, composed into sentences and chapters - a great deal less time than it took to write them! Will she like sensible Sarah the sexually repressed school mistress? Will she fancy Lord Rupert Glass, the presenter of Good Evening Ireland? (I fancied the pants off him, but that's not the point - the reader must also fancy him.)
And most important of all - will she believe they can be together?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pain

I spoke too soon. After yesterday's pilates I claimed to feel no pain. Well, I woke up this morning aching all over, there was pain in my back, my front and my sides. There was even pain in my bat wings! In fact the only part of my body which is not currently paining is my abdomen. Navel to spine feels just fine. Could I possibly have been doing the pilates all wrong?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pilates


I went to Pilates this morning, the first time in maybe five years. In Ireland the class was in the Parish Hall, it was run by the Rector's wife and a wood burning stove was lit to take the frostbite out of the air.
Today I stretched my stuff at World Beat Fitness Centre, with some very grand ladies of leisure. The carpark was full of clean Range Rovers so I parked outside on the road. The instructor was a fabulous advertisement for Pilates - slim, tight, elegant and supple. I felt like a lump beside her - the wall to wall mirroring didn't help!
But once we started to stretch it all came back in a rush - what the Rector's wife had taught me about breathing, and concentration; the zen like calm of the graceful movements. I never broke sweat and I felt no pain, but now I'm utterly exhausted.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Half-wit?




What's that quotation - something about a prophet never being welcome in her own country? In one of today's Irish newspapers, in the book review section, I came across this line-
the current vogue in Irish fiction for (either) gormless chick-lit from semi- literate half-wits.
Is this Irish newspaper really slagging off the commercial success of its countrywomen? Irish writers Marian Keyes, Cecilia Ahern, Cathy Kelly, Patricia Scanlan, Sarah Webb and Shiela O'Flanagan have sold hundreds of thousands of novels each. They are published all over the world, and translated into countless languages. They are rich and respected beyond my wildest dreams. They are the elite of a cut throat business.
What is half- witted about that?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heaven

I got this email last night from my publishers:
Hi, Anne,
Would you be interested in contributing to the Question of the Week for HQ Magazine, the Herald's Thursday lifestyle magazine?
The question is; "Do you believe in heaven, and can you describe it?"
Answers can be 20 words maximum, and as always the deadline is ASAP - she will need your answer by tomorrow morning - Irish time.
Thanks
Heaven is just like earth only better. It's kinder and cleaner; no-one is sick. People say 'good morning' and mean it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Surrender

I cannot do it. I cannot think creatively while home schooling four children. Today I'm trying to juggle a project on Blackbeard the pirate, an Amazonian Rainforest diary, a poster of the ancient Egyptians, the two times tables, Key Stage Two spellings, and a rewrite of Chapter 3.
This morning I actually said, "Stop breathing children, you're breathing too loud."
They're having a little break now - hopefully not breaking each other - while I'm quickly chopping up vegetables to make cauliflower soup for lunch, and a chicken korma for tea.
In the afternoon I will take them to the pool, and in a relay each child will do fifteen minutes reading with me while the other children are swimming. I will then try to snatch five minutes when they're changing to read the end of Claire Allan's book Jumping in Puddles, which I'm reviewing for the Belfast Telegraph.
Through the ringing in my ears I can hear a small voice of reason. It says -
Why don't you leave your reading and writing until they go to bed? Why can't you devote your day to your off-spring?
Because I'm so tired at the end of a day of undiluted parenting, I go to bed too.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Family Life


FAMILY LIFE
Paul Charles
I’d like to begin this book review with a scene from Gone With The Wind. Katie Scarlett’s upset because Ashley is going to marry Miss Melly. In an attempt to cheer her up her Irish father tells her he’s going to leave her Tara, his big cotton plantation in Georgia. Scarlett is only a slip of girl; she’s not impressed or grateful. She says, “Plantations don’t mean anything to me.”
And Gerald O’Hara says, “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
“Oh Pa, you speak like an Irishman!”
Cue a panoramic sunset, and a crescendo of emotive music.
Family Life by Paul Charles is set in rural Ireland. The story opens at a birthday dinner for Liam Sweeney, a prosperous farmer. His grown-up children have travelled with their families to Donegal to join in the celebrations. They are gathered in the farmhouse dining room, impatiently waiting for Joe, the youngest son, who still lives at home.
Inspector Starrett the local policeman arrives with very bad news. Joe’s body has been found near the docks in Ramelton and he has been murdered.
Joe is a good and decent man; he has no known enemies and has never been in trouble so Starrett is forced to focus his investigation on Joe’s family. He finds it hard to believe Joe’s parents could ever have killed him so this leaves only his siblings. And they seem to have plenty of motivation, for on the death of their father it was Joe who was going to inherit the farm. And the land is worth a pure fortune. It’s in a development zone and Joe’s sister-in-law Mona knows a developer desperate to buy it; he’s offering 12 million euro. Mona, a clever solicitor, has been stirring trouble within the family; there have been heated discussions and rows as to why the farm cannot be broken up into four pieces and each sibling get a share. Mona has pride of place at the top of the prime suspect’s list until Liam Sweeney, the grieving father, makes a shocking and spontaneous confession – he says he killed Joe. Incontrovertible evidence is found at the scene which appears to incriminate Liam. But the Inspector is not convinced of his guilt. He has known Liam all his life and cannot believe he could kill his own son. He digs deeper in his efforts to discover the identity of the real murderer...
The success of a detective story often hinges on the winsomeness of the detective. My personal favourite is Lord Peter Wimsey, the eccentric, aristocratic amateur, but I think Inspector Starrett deserves a generous mention. He’s a gentle, ruminative soul. As a young man he tried for the priesthood and failed; he likes tea and buns; he struggles to give up smoking. He’s not a show-off and he does not have issues with strong drink, hard women or fast food. I imagine him very charming and softly spoken and his Donegal accent would be music to my ears...
Paul Charles is from Magherafelt and writing novels is not his only career. For the past thirty years he’s been an agent and music promoter for a wide range of brilliant singers, among them Christy Moore and Tanita Tikaram. This would probably be enough for most people but Paul Charles is also a prolific writer: Family Life is his eleventh novel, his second featuring Inspector Starrett. Before that he wrote nine Inspector Christie Kennedy mysteries, set in Camden Town, London, and several books about music.
*
VERDICT: A well paced story with a thoroughly convincing character line-up and a very believable plot. And I would know - I’m from the country!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

News Flash!

Enchanting Alice is at Number 12 on the Irish bestseller list! Fingers crossed it goes higher next week. I'd love it to get in to the Top Ten.

Cheap Plug


Just to say Enchanting Alice has gone on sale in paperback. It's in bookshops only in Ireland, you can also buy it on Amazon.
Farming, babies, sex, eccentricity: Jane was seventeen when Michael whisked her away to the wetlands of rural Ireland to share a farmhouse and their marriage with his mother who sleepwalks, his father who snores and an unmarried sister who hates her. It was never going to work. Jane pulls on her wellies and keeps walking till she reaches street lighting, pavements and independence. She moves into Stove Pipe Town. Michael stays and continues to farm his cows will always come first. Their children are born and Jane stops missing him. Then she goes to a rock concert. Dressed to kill in her black halter-neck frock, Jane catches the eye of the lead singer who smoulders from every poster on every lamppost in Ireland. He invites her up on the stage to dance ...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Disillusion

Bet you can't guess what these two blokes have in common - apart from aristocratic good looks. First I fancied both of them rotten when I was young and innocent. And second...

I've just watched Gone With the Wind - the first time in 20 years. And I'm sorry but Ashley Wilkes played Scarlett for a fool. Instead of doing the decent thing and telling her plainly he loved his wife Melanie, he allowed her to think she was in with a chance.




And as for Denys Finch Hatton - even more gorgeous and aristocratic and even harder to catch and pin down. He didn't have a devoted wife, just a series of lovers, the most famous of whom was Baroness Blixen - he offered her nothing but a bit of excitement and she was thrilled everytime he flew by her farm...

I've started to show my age badly, that I can't fancy a man anymore, unless he's a safe bet.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thought For The Day

Warning!
When I am an old woman,
I shall wear purple - -
With a red hat which doesn't go,
and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension
on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandles,
And say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
and gobble up samples in shops
and press alarm bells
and run with my stick along public railings,
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit!
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at ago,
or only bread and pickles for a week,
and hoard pens and pencils
and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
and pay our rent
and not swear in the street,
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner
and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised
when suddenly I am old,
And start to wear purple!
--Jenny Joseph

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Un Jardin Sur Le Nil


I was killing time this morning in an air conditioned perfume shop, picking up and setting down pretty bottles, but not even bothering to sniff, for I'm not a perfume person and floral fragrances make me sneeze.
My eye was caught by this bottle of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil and I squirted some on to my arm, out of curiosity. The top notes made my eyes water - they were vicious, like poison gas. However, five minutes later, I was wearing the most elegant scent - sexy, subtle, unforgettable. I couldn't stop sniffing my arm.
I've always heard it said you can't judge a book by its cover - I would like to add you most certainly can't judge a perfume by its topnotes.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Home Schooling

Why? Why do you do it, home schooling mums?
I've had home schooling forced upon me, for the foreseeable future, while swine flu fever grips Bahrain. The tartlets have each been provided with bumper packs of school work. I've been assured they will able to do this work unsupervised.
No advice has been offered on how to catch them and pin them down and persuade them to open their packs and get started.
Also I'm the first to admit teaching is not my thing. I'm a control freak and a perfectionist where homework is concerned - pencils must be freshly sharp, rubbing out must be thorough. If you can't spell a word, look it up in the dictionary. Sums and spellings cannot be nearly right...
It's quite extraordinary how quickly we've become fed up with each other. We have nothing to talk about anymore - except the necessity of capital letters and full stops in every sentence, Maud! And can you please stop humming when you're trying to concentrate Rex? And why do you have to try to wriggle out of your reading every single day Flor? And, OMG, is it really possible that you can't count to 10 on your fingers, Bea?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Khloe Kardashian


I think I'm out of touch, living in the Middle East - I thought Hollywood starlets were all a Size 0, with bony wee breasts and lollipop heads...
Yet when Khloe Kardashian married Lamar Odom in Beverly Hills on Sunday night there wasn't a skinny woman in sight. I saw photos of Paula Jai, and Brittny Gastineau, and Jillian Barberie Reynolds and Adrienne Bailon and the first word I thought to describe them was 'delicious'...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cautionary Tale


Do you see the scar on my face, running from nostril to lip? That's a cancer scar, from when I had a Basal Cell Carcinoma cut out of my face. It's not that I ever sunbathed - I'm far too scared of wrinkles, but I didn't use sunblock either, not even a moisturiser with an SPF.
Five years ago I grew a pimple on the side of my nose. It looked like a little Rice Krispie, I thought it was a wart. I only went to the doctor to get it removed for cosmetic reasons. Once the biopsy results were confirmed I was taken to theatre and a big hole was cut out of the side of my face to cut away the spreading cancer. They told me I was lucky, the cancer was spreading down my face. Unlucky would be if was spreading up my nose and into my brain...
I learnt to live with the scar until I went for a mesotherapy facial. To quote: The MesoGlow treatment infuses the dermis layer under the skin with anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and aminoacids to nourish and rejuvenate. This will promote production of collagen and elastin and will stimulate the metabolism.I thought it very effective after only one session - the age lines on my face were most decidedly 'plumped out'. Unfortunately the scar did not plump. In fact it's the only time I ever really noticed it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Modern Blockbusters



THE 19th WIFE – David Ebershoff
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS – Khalid Hosseini
Do you remember the fashion for blockbuster novels during the 1980s – each novel was two inches thick and told the story of a scary superwoman who wore designer clothes, travelled to designer locations, ate designer food and had (hair-raisingly detailed) sexual dalliances with designer men?
“All cash and no class,” said my mother, when one famous lady ‘bonkbuster’ novelist admitted to ‘typewriter turn-on’ as she described yet another champagne soaked orgy in the pages of her new work in progress…
I’m quite sure had that lady author been informed of my mother’s low opinion of her she’d have cried all the way to the bank. And anyway, mum was only mad that I couldn’t leave the book down long enough to wash the dishes. She couldn’t quite understand or accept the whole point of a blockbuster is its addictive quality.
Anyway, I’m happy to announce the blockbuster is back, but this time it’s dressed in different clothes, and now the genre is dominated by male authors. And instead of a story about a scary superwoman the new themes are religious fanaticism and polygamy.
At first I thought A Thousand Splendid Suns was simply the very sad story of two Afghani women, living in Kabul, married to a pig of a husband. Then I realised the novel was coming everywhere with me – I was reading it at red traffic lights, and in the queue at the supermarket. I slept beside it in bed. I propped it up behind the taps when I was doing the washing up.
“Surely you’re still not reading that book?” asked Nick at 2 in the morning.
I told him, “It’s utterly fascinating the terrible way the husband is treating them. And they’ve nobody to turn to because the law is on his side. He’s allowed to beat them up, bully them and repress them and the young pretty wife has a secret boyfriend, whose leg was blown off by a landmine at the time the Mujahedeen were heroes because they were trying to clear Afghanistan from Soviet occupation. When the husband finds out about the affair he’s going to kill her and they way the law is, they’ll probably give him a medal...”
It’s a temporary madness, this addictive reading. I was exhausted for a week after I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns. Then my sister leant me The 19th Wife and the addiction started all over again. Again I didn’t fully realise I was reading another blockbuster. This is a story about a religious cult called the First Latter Day Saints who still practise polygamy in the 21st Century, though the established Mormon Church gave up the practise in the 1890s. Dad is blown to bits with a Big Boy while chatting up the ladies on an internet site in his den in the basement of his polygamous house. His 19th wife is accused of the killing. Her excommunicated son tries to solve the mystery of his father’s murder – he knows his mother isn’t the killer, he knows she has always been content to follow the prophet’s teachings about polygamous marriage and submission to one’s husband - it seems that God told Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons, that agreeing to a ‘celestial marriage’ was the only way a woman could get into heaven. And lots of women chose to believe it.
“Handy for the men,” I told Nick.
“What a nightmare,” said Nick. “I think one wife is enough for anybody.”
VERDICT: Do you have a long flight ahead of you? Or perhaps a hospital appointment? Take a modern blockbuster with you. You won’t notice the time passing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home Again

I was away from the tartlets for a week, the first time in ten years, and at the start I kept searching for them: "Where are they? Oh yes, I forgot, 5000 miles away, in the Middle East, with their father..."
My parents in Ireland said, "Stay with us! You'll be lonely in that old farmhouse by yourself..." But I wasn't lonely, not a bit. The silence was seductive. The first proper silence since Maud was born. No children's voices calling "Mummy Mummy." No air conditioning - it makes such a racket. No television, or wireless. I love the silence. I could get used to it.
I didn't realise I was missing the children until the descent into Bahrain. I thought I wasn't thinking about them. Then I pictured them standing with Nick in Arrivals and I suddenly burst into tears. Because I was going to see them again - noisy, attention seeking, opinionated little beasts that they are.
The man sitting beside me gave me his hanky. He thought I was crying because my holiday was over. He was right. I was crying because my holiday was over. But they were tears of joy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's Over!


Look how nervous I am in this photograph! This is me before I went to give my amusing and motivational speech at my old grammar school Prize Day. It was very formal and solemn. The teaching staff wore robes. I was on spotlit stage with an audience of 500 in front of me, and a big screen to one side showing a close up of my (heavily made-up, terrified) face. I was introduced as "Miss Dunlop, the author."
When I got up to speak the chairman of the board of governors whispered, "Just remember, you're among friends."
I think it's the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me.
My voice stopped shaking after the first couple of minutes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Speech day

I spent yesterday in Belfast preparing for tonight's amusing and motivation speech. I did this by having a makeover at the MAC Counter in Debenhams. I said to the lovely woman painting my face: "What on earth am I going to talk about? None of my career choices have ever been academic and the grammar school I went to is very academic..."
And she said, "What you have to remember is that not everybody wants to be a doctor or a lawyer when they grow up. I have a degree in fine art, but I happen to like painting people's faces. A good education is easily carried and nobody can take it away from you."
Thank you MAC! You have given me the closing paragraph of my speech.
"I have a degree in Agricultural Science (!) but I happen to like writing popular fiction - and they say it's not work if you love it..."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Humidity


Finally, after a fortnight of Swine Flu hysteria, the tartlets are going back to school. Hurrah! But why is this photograph hazy? Because the humidity was so ghastly this morning the lens of the camera misted over the second we stepped outside. As did my sunglasses. And I had to use windscreen wipers.
If you look closely you'll see the girls in ankle socks and leather shoes, in 50 degrees - it's school rules. Also, if you could see me behind the camera, I was wearing long sleeves and long trousers because it's Ramadam.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Birthday Party


10 year old girls are still children - I'm very happy to report.
I was expecting pre-teen posturing, and a disdainful refusal to play 'baby' party games...
Instead they wore party hats and played Musical Statues. They had an egg and spoon race, and an egg and spoon race in (my) high heels and an egg and spoon race while balancing a book on their heads. And Pass the Parcel, and Musical Chairs and a Treasure Hunt and every one joined in, even sophisticated Emma who prefers Amy Winehouse to Hannah Montana.
They ate popcorn and crisps and ice-cream and jelly and birthday cake.
Before they went home they said, "Thank you very much for having me. I had a lovely time."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Last Train From Liguria


LAST TRAIN FROM LIGURIA
Christine Dwyer Hickey
I’ve been waiting all summer to read this because I didn’t want to have to hide in the outside toilet with the door bolted; it’s the only place I can get any peace when the kids are off school. Now, hurrah, the holidays are over, and I was able to lie at my length on the sofa, with a pot of tea and a packet of biscuits, and gobble up Last Train from Liguria.
In the gripping opening scene, Edward, a violent drunk, wakes up from a stupor to find his sister lying dead in a pool of blood. “The sight of her blood. That so much could be contained in one body. Even a body as big as Louise’s.”
Without doubt, Edward has killed her yet he feels no remorse. His only thought is for himself - how can he save his neck? So he runs for his life to Italy, where he finds work as a music teacher to Alec Lami – the nervy, shy little son of a wealthy Italian aristocrat and his beautiful Jewish wife. Edward can safely hide behind the high walls of Villa Lami. If he stays sober and diligent and keeps out of trouble he knows he’ll never be caught. It’s not much of a life, but it’s better than being dead.
Meanwhile, reserved, repressed spinster Bella lives with her widowed father in London. Bella’s father is ready to remarry; he wants Bella out of the house. Without her consent he finds her a job in Italy, as governess to Alec Lami. When she protests he tells her: “Oh Bella, I’m so seldom home, you know – between the hospital and my other commitments – well, let’s be honest my dear. It’s you. You who are always alone.”
Villa Lami is in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera - lucky Bella has landed on her feet! She soon settles into the household, and makes friends with Alec and Edward. And even better, Alec’s control freak mother is never around; in true aristocratic style she provides for her son financially, but virtually ignores him. So for six years Bella and Edward act as his surrogate parents without ever becoming romantically involved with each other. (I was a bit sceptical about that to be honest – a lonely young couple cooped up in a house for six years together and no sex?)
These are turbulent times. Mussolini is in charge of Italy and gradually, like an insidious rot, he introduces anti-Jewish laws. Before long the domestics are afraid to work in Villa Lami; a polite letter states that Alec is no longer welcome to study at his posh, private school. As Europe creeps closer and closer to war, Alec’s (Jewish) mother disappears; suddenly it becomes terribly important to get Alec and his new baby sister smuggled out of Italy.
Except that Edward can’t leave Italy for risk of being caught and hanged for murder...
The strength of this marvellous novel is that Christine Dwyer Hickey does not allow us to get bogged down in shock factor details about the awful treatment of Jewish people in Europe in the 1930s. Fascist Italy and Hitler’s Germany simmer menacingly in the background but this is a story about ordinary people – good, bad, ugly, warts and all – forced to make courageous decisions. I was so proud of Edward when he got on that last train out of Liguria, to help Bella escape with the children.
Christine Dwyer Hickey is from Dublin. Her last novel Tatty was heaped with critical acclaim and shortlisted for loads of literary awards. I liked Tatty well enough, but I think Last Train from Liguria is a far more enjoyable read. It brims with colour and texture; it bounces along at a furious pace, and the writing is only gorgeous.
*
VERDICT: A bold and brilliant novel – compassionate but never sentimental.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9l11


Just like when Kennedy was shot, I remember exactly what I was doing when New York was attacked eight years ago. I was living in Botswana. I had two very small children. There was one children's television programme every day - Teletubbies at 3pm. My friend Jenny was visiting with Angus. We were drinking tea, and the children were lined up in a row on the sofa watching Teletubbies.
The programme was interrupted to show amateur video footage of an aircraft flying into one of the twin towers. The voice over was in some language I didn't understand and at first I thought it was an accident. And I was rather peeved that Teletubbies had been interrupted.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cheap Thrill


You know those deep breathing exercises they teach at ante-natal classes: breath in through you nose and out through your mouth, slowly slowly, to help with labour contractions?
I thought I'd forgotten how to do it until this morning when I went riding on a highly strung Arabian horse.
Arabians are not like other horses, it's like sitting on a hair trigger, one wrong move and the bomb will explode.
The only way to ride them is with a zen-like calm. And how to achieve a zen-like calm? Breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth, slowly slowly...
Then their high head carriage relaxes, the stride gets longer and smoother, and soon it feels like the horse is floating over the top of the ground.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ideal Weight


Back to School! Here's a mathematical formula (courtesy of Dine Out and Lose Weight - The French Guide to Healthy Eating) to help you calculate your ideal weight (height in cm, weight in Kg).
For the ladies: Weight = (Height - 100) - 1/2(Height - 150)
And for the men: Weight = (Height - 100) - 1/4(Height - 150)
If only losing weight was as simple as calculating it!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Maud


My oldest tartlet is 10 to-day. This is the doll's house she wanted. And a watch. And a book about Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. Because she has diabetes and must eat a very restricted diet, she asked for pizza and chips as a treat for her birthday tea

Friday, September 4, 2009

Charles II


I got this BBC drama out of the video shop. I'm watching it with the tartlets - I want them to learn that "Learning is Fun". They watched Charles I's beheading with interest and later, after the death of Cromwell, they watched Charles II take revenge on those who signed his father's execution papers.
"Is this too blood thirsty?" I ask them.
"Not at all, Mummy," they say.
Then Charles II marries Catherine de Braganza, and on the wedding night she climbs into the bed and solemnly pulls up her layers of nightclothes.
Out of a curious silence Flor says: "Why she's doing that?"
And Maud tells her : "I think she's too hot in her big heavy nightdress..."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Shopping

One of the (many) lovely things about living in the Middle East is the designer clothes clearance sales - even I can afford designer shoes when they're discounted by 90%! There are no changing rooms, just a mirror, so I always go dressed in a camisole top and a long loose skirt - anything can be tried on for size over a cami top, and pulled up under a skirt! Today I bought a black satin cocktail dress from Simona Barbieri, a tapestry jacket from Catherine Malandrino, and an Edwardian style lace blouse from Robert Rodriguez. I've never heard of any of these designers before, but their clothes are lovely, and each piece was reduced to less than a tenner.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please Tell Me This Isn't True

This was filed under 'international news' in our local paper. I have three daughters. Please tell me this isn't true.
UK Girls Abused By Boyfriends
LONDON: A third of teenage British girls say they have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their boyfriends, according to a report by a children's charity yesterday. A survey of more than 1,350 teenagers found that nine out of 10 girls aged 13 to 17 have been in an intimate relationship, with one in six of these saying they had been forced to have sex and one in 16 saying they had been raped. A quarter of girls had suffered physical violence such as being slapped or punched.

Speech Day

School Speech Day is now less than a fortnight away. This morning I started to write my 'amusing and motivational' speech.
This is how it begins:
When I was a little girl I read allot of Enid Blyton. My favourite stories were about a wishing chair which flew to exotic and magical lands. I even remember announcing that when I grew up I wanted to fly the wishing chair. To which my mother announced: “You can do anything you want, once you get your degree.”
I calculate that takes about 30 seconds to say, if I speak slowly and clearly.
So, I've just another 14 minutes, 30 seconds to fill...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Boys


Rex was blow drying my hair and he says: "Do you know the difference between boys and girls, Mummy?"
"Tell me, Rex," I said.
This is the Gospel According to Rex:
1. Girls have long hair and boys don't.
2. Boys have big ears and girls don't.
3. Boys can jump over the sofa and girls can't.
4. Boys are more sensitive than girls.
I ask him if he'd mind using the curling brush to smooth back my hair while he's blow-drying.
He says: "I can't do two things at once."
Another universal truth about differences between boys and girls

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Eggs


I put on a pretty apron this morning and just like Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie I cooked everyone eggs for breakfast. Nick wanted fried eggs with bacon. Maud wanted an egg white omelette with thinly sliced tomatoes and a tiny scraping of cheese. Rex and Flor had hard boiled eggs mashed up with butter and Bea had a soft boiled egg with toast soldiers.
What sort of eggs did you have, Ma?
Well, I was so exhausted by the time I'd cooked everyone else's eggs I preferred to go back to bed with a cup of tea.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Love and Summer


LOVE AND SUMMER
William Trevor
I was sitting in the beauty parlour, with my nose in Love and Summer and the Indian lady who was scrubbing my feet said: “What’s that book about, that you’re reading?” I told her it was a love story, set in rural Ireland in the 1950s. “That sounds interesting,” she said. Then I told her the author is an eighty-one year old man. Suddenly she was very indignant. She said, “That’s disgusting. A man that age shouldn’t be writing about love. He should be praying and waiting for death.”
Well, all I can say is thank goodness William Trevor doesn’t have pedicures at my beauty parlour. For his novel Love and Summer is so exquisite I had to pace myself reading it, so it wouldn’t end too soon.
Rural Ireland in the 1950s was a deadly boring place. Nothing ever happened. And nothing happened the next day either. Little wonder some of the jaded inhabitants of small town Rathmoye are driven to taking an unnatural interest in the activities of their neighbours. It’s either that or going stark staring mad.
This is the story of Ellie, a foundling reared by nuns. She’s sent to work as a servant for a farmer whose young wife and child were tragically killed in a tractor accident. The farmer is still in love with his dead wife, but proposes marriage to Ellie. Their marriage is silent and respectful. He puts the meat on the table and she cooks it.
The story is also about Florian, a diffident, wealthy young man, who dabbles in photography. Florian’s parents are dead, his love for his cousin is unrequited; he has decided to emigrate out of Ireland. All summer he’s killing time, reading and smoking, seeking distraction, until his inheritance is sold.
There’s a funeral in Rathmoye and Florian cycles down to photograph it. Here he meets Ellie, and here he is first observed by Miss Connulty the spinster daughter of the dead woman. In her youth Miss Connulty fell victim to the oily charms of a travelling salesman. The romance ended badly and since then she has not trusted the intentions of any glamorous stranger appearing in Rathmoye. When she sees Florian talking to Ellie, she immediately jumps to the conclusion that he intends to seduce her. Miss Connulty – we don’t know her name – is determined this should not happen.
“Aloud, and firmly, she stated again that she intended to protect Ellie Dillahan in whatever way should be necessary.”
Miss Connulty cautions Ellie that Florian is bad news. She advises that love is a madness. But her wise words of experience go unheeded. Ellie rushes headlong into a love affair; she secretly meets with Florian at a tumbledown gate lodge where no-one can see them. And as the date for his leaving approaches, she knows she’s fallen in love with him...
William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown, County Cork. His parents worked for a bank and the family moved often, from one small rural Irish town to another. He started his career as a sculptor but is best known as a short story writer, who writes about “loneliness, alienation, middle class marriage, the plight of the elderly, the eccentric, the pathetic; the unloved.” He has won many literary prizes, all of them richly deserved.
*
VERDICT: My father in law is eighty- one, and always says he feels exactly the same as when he was twenty. The only thing that has changed is a stiffness in his joints. Bearing this in mind, I hope William Trevor never considers himself too old to write about love.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's a Writing Thing

This is a writing tag from Claire
What word do you use too much in your writing?
'that' - it's the way (that) we Irish speak - I delete an unnecessary 'that' from nearly every sentence I write.
Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
'years of age'. Why? Why? Why? 'Anne is 41' tells you everything you need to know (perhaps more than you need to know!)
What's your favourite piece of writing (written by you)?
I wrote 'How I Met my Husband' for a Valentine's Day newspaper feature. On the days when I could wring Nick's neck I read it over and remember: 'It was immediate and amazing. A thunderbolt. It was friendship and passion rolled into one. It was easily recognised from the very first moment. And even though in the past fifteen years we've often been apart with his work and mine, I've never doubted it.
Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?
No, I express myself much better in writing than I could ever do face to face.
How has your writing made a difference?
I lost a lot of friends at the start, or maybe they were never friends.
Favourite words
"Daddy's home!"
Least favourite words
(Your novels) 'would be a hard sell to a mainstream UK publisher.'
Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
Nancy Mitford - I read The Pursuit of Love when I was 21 and decided I too could write a witty novel about an eccentric family. I started The Pineapple Tart the next day.
Writing Ambition?
To write a novel which is not a hard sell to a mainstream UK publisher.
Plug:
Enchanting Alice comes out in paperback, with a different cover at the end of September 2009.

Now I'm going to ask the following writers / bloggers to answer the same questions:
Deborah Riccio
Kate Carey
Alison Irving

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

sisters of misery


This is the prettiest book cover I've ever seen in my life. If I saw this book in a book shop I'd rush in and buy it immediately. But I'm not going to read it, oh no, because the title sounds a bit sad, and I don't 'do' misery lit.
I think I might frame it instead.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Child's Play


It's too hot to send them outdoors - so the tartlets have been trashing the villa with their 'imaginative play'. First they ran a massage parlour, and took it in turns to karate chop each other. Then the girls dressed up in tutus and performed 'modern dance' to classical music, while Rex used the sofa as a trampoline. I suggested they sit down quietly and watch a bit of TV, but they preferred to change into fairytale frocks and smear their faces with make-up; Rex took photos of them posing. I notice in this photo Maud is wearing my wedding shoes, and Flor has pushed out the lenses of a pair of children's sunglasses, and that's my pashmina Bea has screwed up in a ball over her shoulder ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gym


There's no music at gym, because of Ramadan. Actually, there's nobody at the gym, except me, for everybody else is fasting. So I took my husband's ipod and went for a run to Nirvana who are not my usual cup of tea, I'm more of a James Blunt girlie. Except I can run forever to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Come As You Are, and Lithium... Soon I had five miles run and I was bursting with energy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gestation

The Revenge of Lady Muck will be my seventh published novel. And I'm just as excited about it as I was with the birth of the first. Perhaps even more excited for Amazon preorder didn't exist when The Pineapple Tart was a baby. Lady Muck is due (out) on 29 April 2010.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Good Old Days

I've just received another 'funny' email about how life was better for children in the 1970s - because we ate simple home cooked food every day, then ran outside to play...
The truth of the matter is that I was made put on my wellies and I was sent outside every morning, straight after my breakfast porridge. I hid in the hay barn, reading Enid Blyton, waiting to be called for a dinner of mince and potatoes. Then back outside again I was hunted, to ride a fat pony bareback through wet fields, cold and bored, waiting to be called for a high tea of bread and eggs.
I don't recall anything 'funny' about it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fatty


Nick and I went out for dinner because we're expecting Ramadan to be called tomorrow and, once called, all the restaurants will shut for a month. We went to Cico's which has been here since prawns and avocado were fashionable. I asked for the mushroom risotto starter as a main course.
Nick said: "Please remember we're walking home and the humidity is 85% and the temperature is 40 degrees. You'll have that tiny starter sweated off in ten minutes."
He ordered spaghetti carbonara, then a steak, then tiramisu.
He said: "There's no way I can stay two stones overweight unless I keep eating."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moustache

The foot scrubbing lady from the previous post persuaded me to have my eyebrows threaded. Then she said, "I will remove your moustache."
What moustache?
"Madam has a moustache."
I'm a Celtic red head. There's hardly a hair on my body, and what's there is fine and fair - the waxing woman charges me less than everybody else. If I have hair above my upper lip (I cannot write 'a moustache') it is also fine and fair.
"No thanks."
She's insistent. "Madam has a moustache."
Of course doubt begins to seep in. Maybe there is a moustache and I haven't noticed it - is that possible? Maybe it's only a few stray blond hairs...
"All right, then, thread the moustache," I say.
The tartlets wake me this morning and the oldest one says "What's wrong with your face, Mummy?"
I dash to the mirror to discover, to my horror, a rash on my upper lip, where my 'moustache' was wrenched out by the threading lady.
Now I really do have a moustache.
And the added worry that when the hair starts to grow back it will be a bristle.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Love and Summer


So I'm sitting in the beauty parlour with my nose in Love and Summer, that I'm going to review for the Belfast Telegraph, and the Indian lady who's scrubbing my feet says: "What's that book about, that you're reading?"
I tell her: "It's a love story. Set in rural Ireland in the 1950s."
"That sounds nice," she says.
Then I tell her that the author is eighty-one.
She's very indignant. She says "That's disgusting! A man that age shouldn't be writing about love. He should be praying and waiting for death."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Twelve


THE TWELVE
Stuart Neville
Gerry Fegan is an assassin. His tally of kills is impressive. At point blank range he has shot dead twelve people. These include a teenager who told tales, and a policeman collecting his son from school. A bomb he planted in a butcher's shop killed a mother with her baby.
It's not much to boast about -"I'm hard enough to kill you." Little wonder Gerry has no friends and his mother disowned him before she died. Even among the gangsters he runs with, his reputation precedes him; there's such a thin line between fear and respect; he has become a pariah. Only the desperate with nothing to lose will confront him. The grieving mother of the dead teenager demands to know where her son's body lies.
How can Gerry live with himself?
The simple answer is that he can't. Everywhere he turns he's surrounded by the ghosts of the twelve. They haunt his waking hours and sabotage his sleep. Even after too much whiskey he can hear them screaming in his dreams.
The sort of man he is, Gerry decides the only way to stop the screaming in his head is to kill those who asked him to kill: the godfathers who controlled him, the hard men who kept their hands clean, and the weak men who betrayed their friends for money or from fear.
As Jesus said in the Bible: "...for all they that take the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matt 26:52)
It's clear from the story that Gerry was always good at his job. Even now in the horrors from drink he can still kill cleanly and quickly. And cover his tracks with stealth. His first revenge killing is Michael McKenna, an unscrupulous business man who years before ordered him to shoot the teenage boy.
At McKenna's wake Gerry meets beautiful Marie McKenna. With her Uncle Michael dead, Marie is at the mercy of the head honcho godfather, Paul McGinty, who may or may not be the father of her little daughter Ellen. McGinty's now an important politician, he has his reputation to consider, he wants Marie out of the way. But Marie refuses to let him run her out of town. When things get nasty Gerry helps her escape with Ellen to a safe house in the country.
I suspect had he made some different life choices early in his career Gerry Fegan might have become a glamorous James Bond character for Marie obviously fancies him and he's not so cold blooded he can't befriend the fatherless Ellen. Even now, if only the voices in his head would leave him alone, there might be a happy ever after for Gerry and Marie and Ellen.
It's not to be. Gerry resumes his vengeful vendetta. He shoots dead a double crossing policeman who sold information about his fellow officers, he stabs a priest who turned his back on dying men, he batters to death with a brick a bully boy who was happy to pull out a man's teeth with pliers but left Gerry to finish him off with a bullet.
Soon the ghetto's in uproar. Gerry is opening a can of worms that everyone wants to keep closed. Next on his hit list is McGinty who ordered him to plant the bomb which killed the woman and her baby in the butcher's shop. But if McGinty is killed, the fragile peace process, thirty years coming, is in jeopardy.
Gerry Fegan must be stopped.
Double agent Davy Campbell, a man of remorseless callousness, is unleashed by his government handlers and pointed in the direction of Gerry, with one instruction: "Stop him."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nerves

I went to a very grand grammar school. It was academic and sporting and perhaps a wee bit elitist. So I was very flattered to be asked to give out the prizes on Speech Day this year and my major decision was: "What am I going to wear?"
Something effortlessly elegant, I decided, something that shouts: "Yummy Mummy".
Now I've discovered I'm also expected to give an "amusing and motivational" speech.
Oh no!
Oh yes, and just to make me really nervous, last year's guest star was a rugby playing nuclear physicist who works for NASA - he gave such amusing and motivational speech everyone is still talking about it.
It has always been my motto - If you can't dazzle with brilliance, then just concentrate on dazzling...
So there's been a quick change of plan on the outfit. Bye Bye yummy mummy, I'm now going to wear one of the minuscule frocks I flaunted myself in when I was 25. Thank goodness they still fit and I look OK provided I cover my sagging knees with black fishnets.
The plan is that the audience will be so busy trying to see up my skirt they won't listen to a word I'm saying.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Showing My Age


My fifteen year old niece lent me Twilight and I devoured it, no pun intended. Last night we sat in her darkened bedroom, watching the movie version, while the grown-ups made small talk down stairs. Hannah is madly love with the vampires but I have an embarrassing confession. I thought Chief Swan - the heroine's dad - was the most attractive man in the movie...