Tag Archives: humour

Happy Birthday, Dear Spike

This morning I realised that one of my comedy heroes, Spike Milligan, would have been a hundred years old today. There was nothing else for it but to write my own tribute to the man who, from beyond the grave, gave me permission to ‘Never lose the silly side of myself’.

This is a direct quote from my second novel, I HATE THAT YOU BLOODY LEFT ME, and was written into the blurb for the book after I had been reading a lot of things about, and written by, Spike. The line was a doff of the hat to my comedy hero, whose genius helped me when I was down. The reason was that while working on this book, I was undergoing a period of doubt about my comedy writing ability – a crisis of confidence, if you will. I had previously unleashed my first novel, THE NEW MRS D, upon the world and had stumbled ill-advisedly into reading a few of my poorer reviews. One particular Goodreads reviewer, who simply wrote, ‘zzzzz’ stuck in my mind for far longer than it should have done.  I did manage to stamp out this demon once and for all in a unique and funny way, by reading it aloud in a series of videos on the Mean Reviews for the Compulsive Readers website. You can see one of them here:

While I was in the throes of the inability to let my comedy mojo loose, I was able to reason with myself that comedy is a subjective thing. Reading some of the impassive responses to Spike’s hysterical letters only served to confirm this further. What an individual finds funny can depend on a lot of things, including our background, personality and sometimes even our ability to laugh at ourselves. There are those who will nod their heads in acknowledgment while giggling hysterically at an anecdote, and those who will frown and ask, ‘What does this mean?’ My biggest critic is my beloved husband, someone with an entirely different sense of humour to mine, who has been known to tell people, ‘My wife writes comedy. Apparently, she’s very funny.’

And so it was that I turned to Spike Milligan in my hour of need, who has always been a favourite of mine. To quote Michael Palin in the Radio Times this week, ‘The Goon Show made me aware that it was all right to laugh myself silly.’ This is exactly what reading some of his work over again gave to me at the time – Spike made it okay to be silly, and right at that point in my life, I needed permission to be. I read PUCKOON, where in what I feel is a stroke of genius, he would have conversations between himself and the characters, such as:

‘Author? Author? Did you write these legs?’
‘Yes.’
‘Well I don’t like dem. I don’t like dem at all. I could ha’ writted better legs meself.’

I bought MAN OF LETTERS and howled at some of the many correspondences he was legendary for having had with famous celebrities and businesses over the years. The one here was sent to the Marketing Director of Tetley Teabags.

Whilst being one of the funniest, most original talents on earth, it is widely reported that Spike was also dogged by uncertainty. He had mental breakdowns and was in a constant battle with his inner demons. I have been lucky to have not fallen prey to the extremes of depression, but the uncertainty, I get. I really get it. To quote Laurence Marks in his 2011 article for The Telegraph on the difficulty in writing comedy:

 ‘On the very first day of our lives as professional comedy writers, my partner Maurice Gran came to work, had a cup of tea, looked at his watch, and said to me, “It’s half past nine. I suppose we’d better go upstairs and make 15 million people laugh.’

That is pressure.

For a long while I’ve had a theory that the world of publishing shies away from comedy fiction novels like mine, with no romance element, when they aren’t written by already successful comedians and actors. It’s largely unchartered territory area, as far as I can see, (and please do feel free to correct me with some examples in the comments because I’d love to find some). But I think that may have a little to do with the subjectivity of humour. Publishers already know when an actor and/or comedian has been successful in appealing to a wider audience and, as such, they can be sure of a good return on a comedy novel from them. It leaves the relatively unknown comedy writers out of the running and you can find yourself stuck in a rut of uncertainty, unless you seek out inspiration from the masters. It lets you know that staying true to yourself can get you there, as others have done. You can find the confidence to keep your originality through observing the work of those that have, or had it in spades.

‘Dare to never lose the silly side of yourself.’

Even though the book is now over six years old, I still get appreciative emails from readers about THE NEW MRS D, many of whom might be surprised to learn that I suffered from extreme bouts of self-doubt whilst working on the comedy element of my second novel. I had a majority of readers begging me for another book, and a minority of people leaving reviews that questioned my ability to write a book at all. Guess which ones shouted the loudest to me?

Spike Milligan’s brilliance genuinely drove me on. He was a genius who could make anything funny, while calling out those that ‘Didn’t get it’. The note scrawled on top of the entirely professional response letter from K Pringle at Tetley (below) sums everything up. In the pursuit of attempting to cheer the world up, you win some, you really, really lose others.20180416_115606-e1523879803656.jpg

As the dear, wonderful and sadly missed Spike advised us, ‘The best cure for sea sickness is to sit under a tree.’ With his inimitable spirit in mind, I’m off to cure my combined addiction to – and fear of – comedy writing by never attempting to work on another book or blog again, just in case one person doesn’t get the joke. Until later this afternoon.

Thank you Spike, and Happy Birthday. I’d have loved to have read your reply to that telegram from the Queen.  X

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Exercise, Ovaries and the Meaning of Life

The late, great Victoria Wood is one of my all-time comedy heroes. With lines like, ‘Take my knickers off and my ovaries will ‘ave fell out or something,’ I challenge you to watch this genius step aerobics scene without splitting your sides. God, I miss her.

I read an article in Reuters this morning, entitled, When Heart Disease Runs in the Family, Exercise Tied to Lower Risk. I sat on this thought for a little while, wondering whether my youngest daughter would mind being buckled to me while I used the step machine. Concluding that she really, really would, I scrubbed that idea. Yet the truth hit me harder than she did when I suggested it. Heart disease does run in my family. It runs harder then we all have, judging by the look of things.

I’ve been thinking about my own morbidity a lot, which has driven me to exercise. It started, as I’ve written about previously, as I entered perimenopause and began thinking every cough or earache I have means I’m going to die. The solution to the problem has to be to take more exercise, yet I’ve had to alter my approach somewhat. All of a sudden, working out on a step machine while listening to Alicia Keys and belting out, ‘This girl is on fire!’ has become less of an empowering chant and more of a literal experience. So instead of _Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant!giving in to this overwhelming fear of death, which is definitely connected to the fact that when my dad was my age he only had seven years left to live, I’ve begun to try and turn all my new anxieties into something positive. I’ve come to realise there is (sometimes) much to learn from those we’ve lost while figuring out the way to make our own lives fuller and longer.

My father died when he was just fifty four. The ultimate cause was the last in a series of strokes that began as early as when he was in his thirties. A late life onset diabetic, he had to have his leg amputated due to complications and spent his last years in a wheelchair. This after being a young, fit corporal in the Royal Engineers and later, a damn fine architect forced to quit very early in his career due to ill health. Because, as it turned out, my dad was not such a damn fine architect of was his own health and longevity. He smoked like a chimney, was addicted to sugar (he liked to take carnation milk and syrup in his coffee) and was morbidly obese. It still hurts my heart to recall the times I eagerly ran errands to the shop for him each day after my step-mother left for work, because I would get to keep the change. I was sent to fetch what I wasn’t to know were prohibited chocolate bars and sweets for him, things that had been banned from the house and that he was no longer able to get out to collect for himself. Not a big drinker, my dad’s drug of choice was sugar and it, along with the cigarettes, took him from my life when I was fifteen.

My mother was a chain-smoker and died more recently. She was seventy-four and suffered from, among many other things, chronic obstructive airways disease. Something that will stay with me forever is the fact that during her last days in hospital, terrified from her experience in an induced coma in ITU and unaware she was dying, she told my sister and I that she would never touch another cigarette for as long as she lived. She was quite correct. Mum was a diabetic too, and had a lifelong battle with her weight. When my sister and I went to clear out her home after she’d died, we found boxes of Slimfast shakes everywhere. I cried, remembering that mum had been ecstatic at waking from a coma to find she’d lost around forty pounds – a feat that had alluded her, despite her best efforts, for all of her adult life.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! My parents have taught me more very valuable lessons than they could ever know. It is how they lived that has influenced the way I have. It was their addictions to tobacco and sugar, the resulting chronic illnesses and the realisation that both of them would have had so much more time had they known what I know today. Both of my parents had heart disease too, hence my interest in the Reuters article. I’ve never smoked, and have read everything on insulin resistance, fasting and type 2 diabetes reversal going, my favourite books on the subject being Dr Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code and The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet by Dr Michael Mosley.  The latter resulted in my easily losing a staggering twenty-seven pounds in two months! My eating habits are far healthier – and more informed – these days than it ever was in my twenties and thirties. I fast three times a week and feel all the better for it. I will never be a slave to sugar again, unless Gerard Butler coats himself in chocolate and gives me a call.

Yet I can’t find, nor understand, the will to engage in punishing exercise. In my younger years I did try hard to join those I considered to be the elite fitness folk, i.e. everyone with a gym membership card that gets used every week, and not just for scraping ice off car windscreens or to remind them of that loan they defaulted on after going for four months then giving up. I went to the gym once, and it resulted in a cardiovascular accident of a different kind: my public humiliation by treadmill, which I wrote about in my article, Who’s Laughing Now. Now news items like the one I read today, coupled with my advancing years, are making me worry all over again about whether I’m doing enough to avoid an early demise.

I confess, I don’t go to the gym anymore and it’s because I’m older. I’ve developed a more laid back perspective on life in general, and that includes anything connected to exercise. From years of listening to people brag about lifting fifty, I find myself pushing fifty and wondering what it was all for. Do I want to run for hours on a treadmill where the scenery never changes? Isn’t breathing in the fresh air of outdoors preferable to the CO2 and sweat of forty other people? Do my personal health objectives have to include letting a fit twenty-two year old monitor my vital statistics? Why did I even ask that last question? (Scrub that and file under life goals – Ed).

The fact is exercise, whilst important, shouldn’t feel like a chore. It’s like everything else _Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! in life. Time is precious. I want to spend it engaging in what I love, never what I feel forced to endure.

I have two, regular workouts of choice: walking my dogs and freestyle dancing in a sporran.

The first began as something I had to do, but developed along with my deep love of the countryside. Where I live now, out in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, this exercise routine has frequently and unexpectedly launched me closer to Sportswoman of the Year than I ever thought I’d get. I’ve broken the four minute mile while been chased by Galloway cows; I’ve invented and competed in the world’s first solitary version of Tough Mudder in Socks by trudging up boggy hills without realising I’ve left my boots stuck in the mud at the bottom, and I hold the current record for most falls on my backside. I’m less of a fell runner and more of a ‘fell running’ kind of person.

dancing in a sporran
An OAP dancing in a sporran

And never let it be said that I don’t take the advice I write into my own stories. Dancing in a sporran was an activity I invented for a character in my book, I Hate That You Bloody Left Me. Elderly widow, Fleur Brookes, would put her mobile phone inside her husband’s sporran, plug in her earphones and dance away to rap music. Being married to a Scotsman myself, this has been my favoured method of keeping fit ever since. The beauty of it is being able to harp back to the days where I liked to dance about my bedroom, behind closed doors, pretending I was Suzy Quattro. I’ve been down to Devil Gate Drive a lot in secret recently, and no one knew until today. I do this mostly in the afternoons as I started walking first thing in the morning, after reading that working out early could mean you get more sunlight, a key to setting your body’s circadian rhythm. It’s been reported that people who bask in early sunlight tend to be thinner. This could be true. I live in Scotland, where basking in early sunlight results in your double chin being eaten by ten thousand midges.
Anyhow, I’m still alive and so are you as you’re here reading this. So between us we must be doing something right. My work in progress has a leading character who works out by letting a neighbour’s dog chase her up the street. There’s an idea I won’t be adopting in the near future, given that my nearest neighbour breeds and sells Boerboels, which aren’t Christmas tree decorations, as I first thought.
Have a lovely, healthful week.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant!

Why Didn’t You Tell Me I was Getting Old?

I’ve started to worry about a lot of things lately. Even worse, I’m waking up in a panic at night without fully knowing why. But I found out that Google does:

“The hormones oestrogen and progesterone work together to regulate mood. The declining levels of these hormones during the menopause mean that a woman at this stage of life is more susceptible to anxiety and other menopausal symptoms.”

It’s the M word again. Everything I go to the doctor about these days seems to turn out to be because of it.

Feeling a weird skipping in your chest so you’ve downloaded an app to get a smartphone-captured ECG that’s definite evidence of your impending death? Calm yourself, it’s just the M word.

Waking up with both cheeks burning, finding out your face is red too, and then wondering how on earth you managed to embarrass yourself so badly while you were asleep? Hot flashes, caused by the M word.

Experiencing a sudden, unexpected sense of impending doom, even though you threw your weighing scales in the dustbin some time last year? The M word.$RQGSMYM

Forgot the name of your neighbour? Heather, you live away out in the Scottish hills and miles from anybody – it’s called a sheep. Brain fog is a common symptom of, oh, what was that thing called?

I’ve been lucky to have been quite a cheery soul for most of my life to date, yet now stress has begun to affect everything, from my ability to concentrate on my writing to how well I can (or can’t) hold in a pee. My heart’s in my mouth every time someone makes me do star jumps. Or it could be my right boob. Billy Connolly did an hilarious stand-up about incontinence knickers back in the eighties, and even though I now live this thing, it never fails to amuse me. I still laugh, but not as hard – and my reasons are two-fold.

There are things that keep me awake at night now, like worrying about whether Kenny Loggins is having any trouble getting into his computer. And, if I do the GAPS diet will my teeth fall out? How do you get hands-free earphones in your ears? Did Cameo ever find out what the word up was? But however daft, random or unreasonable the angst, my heart’s always hammering like my daughter’s due in from school and I haven’t finished my family-sized Dairy Milk chocolate bar yet. And every time I experience chest pain I start thinking about getting a funeral plan. Then, after I’ve burped, I tell myself it’s about time the kids paid for something. What is sadder still, I’m no longer empowered reading Eleanor Roosevelt quotes like, ‘Do one thing everyday that scares you’, because now I’m scared I might accidentally do two.

_Totally bonkers... and totally brilliant! (5)I have to say, because it would be depressing not too mention it, that it isn’t all doom and gloom as I reach what I can only hope will be the middle of my life. Age has brought with it some new-found joys. Like not caring what people think of me as I share the fact that I really do wet myself laughing and I no longer want or need to fight anybody who accuses me of being a less than capable mother. I’ve worked hard all my life, raised five kids on a shoestring without any of them falling off and none of them ever resorted to calling Childline; they all knew I never paid the phone bill. Now all but one have left and they haven’t raced back home because they weren’t taught to cope independently out in the real world. At least, I don’t think so. I might have to put the batteries back in the doorbell to let you know for next time.  And now I’ve blinked and I’m a grandmother of two.

Then there’s the relationship high that came with my advancing years. The fact that after a series of false starts and highly unsuitable partnerships, I’ve finally met the love of my life and we’ve been together for ten years this week. It’s Bunnahabhain scotch to be honest, but my husband Stephen is coming in a close second as well.

After being on earth for forty-seven years I’ve collected some knowledge: I now know six answers during episodes of Mastermind, and not just when the contestant’s chosen specialist subject is puddings.

I’ve become closer to my sisters than ever before, a necessary transition, as we now have a firm pact in place to race cross-country to give the other’s chin a shave if one of us ever ends up in a coma in hospital.

But it’s all part of the circle of life; a new phase to keep us all guessing. Youth is, as they say, wasted on the young. Or is it that the young are wasted and the rest of us are running around looking for our youth? Anyway, I’m off to try some of that HR tea they’re all talking about. It’s got to be better than that green stuff.

Hot Tub Springtime Machine

spring in the garden
Me as a snowdrop

The first day of Spring has sprung, and again we have the promise of new beginnings, plus a lot of dead leaves to pick up. The hardy little snowdrop has appeared again in my garden, having endured the harshest of winters in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Which leads nicely into my telling you about the month I’ve been having.

Yes, we had some fun in the extreme winter weather. Yes, there were occasions when I was up to my thighs in snow and travelling home in the car was like flying through space on the Starship Enterprise. However, we also had a lot of fun being snowed in. I made warming bowls of soup, fresh bread and churned up some butter – aren’t I the saintly/homely one? – while Mr H went to face the extremes, digging out the car and chopping loads of fire wood. We were like the proper country folk of yore, with a Vauxhall Astra and a bread maker. Okay, so I cheated a little bit.

FATLE4XHLZRSWMK.LARGE
Me as a Weeping Angel

Yet like the snowdrop bulb waiting under the frozen ground to bloom, we did suffer real hardships. We bought tonnes of candles for the anticipated power cuts that never happened for more than a few seconds at a time. There are no street lights where we live, so walking through a very dark cottage with the lights flickering on and off did mean I could freak out my fourteen year-old daughter. All it takes, in case you want to have a go, is appearing to be approaching in a series of quick, statue-still moves like a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who.

Then, of course, the private spring supply of water we love so much froze up on a Saturday night while we had visitors round for dinner and (one or two) drinks. Being twelve miles from the nearest village, our visitors tend to stay the night and-it’s-nothing-to-do-with-alcohol. This was fun without a supply of water. I was melting snow on the wood-burning stove to fill the toilet cistern half the night, because as we know, alcohol inhibits secretion of the anti-diuretic hormone (Fancy! I learned that in nursing college). The ‘do not flush when it’s only a pee’ policy seems to stop working when you’re a little bit three sheets to the wind. It was flush and be damned! Which is exactly what having no water feels like, incidentally.

Invited by our farmer/landlord, we raced round to take twenty bottles of water from the

galloway-stand
Not me as a Galloway coo and her calfs.  And three of her babies too =)

tap in his cow shed. Being up close to his Galloway cows, who have chased me through the hills in the past, was enough to give me more chills than I already had. Stealing their water right in front of them no doubt puts my face on their ‘GET HER NEXT TIME’ list. Galloway cows don’t see a soul but the farmer for months out in these hills, so they aren’t known for being the friendliest of creatures, as I found out when two of them decided to chase me one summer. I’ve hiked all over Scotland and never been afraid of cattle until I met the Galloway coo. With apologies to vegetarians, I have enjoyed many a steak dinner, but I never thought I’d become one.

So at the end of all this we headed down to Dawlish in Devon to visit my son, who works

violet_beauregarde_blueberry_ball_by_girard1020-db1ckkv
Me in the Hot Tub

on a holiday park down there and booked us a gorgeous, luxury cabin with a hot tub for the weekend. They had running water too, which was nice. Now, I have to confess I had never before been in a hot tub, and hadn’t intended to try it, particularly on that rainy night when my son and his girlfriend invited us in. It was raining for Pete’s sake, I could get wet! However, they coaxed me in eventually, and there I was, bringing sexy back in my purple t-shirt which kept filling with air from the bubbles, making me roll around in the water like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And the truth is I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. It was a ridiculous amount of giggly fun. Everyone should try the drinking in the hot tub at night experience at least once.

That weekend I had treated myself to a little spring-is-approaching, time to get my arms

20180323_084506 (1)
Actual me with my fake tan face (Don’t look at the camera or you’ll look cross-eyed, don’t look at the camera or you’ll look cross-eyed… dammit!)

 

out fake tan. It was a new one I hadn’t tried before. First impressions? The quilt cover, my dressing gown and a couple of white towels. That holiday park won’t be having us back anytime soon. Apparently you aren’t supposed to go in with fake tab on, which I wasn’t to know. Interesting to note though, if you’ve seen the very funny film, Hot Tub Time Machine, and fancy a visit to Dawlish. This hot tub really was one. I got in then came out an hour later as me before I put my tan on. Two hours of soaking later, I was me at eighty years-old.  Three hours later, crawling out after copious glasses of gin, I was a toddler again. Amazing.

So that’s my March-going-into-spring written out for you. It’s been fun. Now I really must get back to my work in progress, a new book called ‘The Ballad of Jeanie Burrows,’ which is a comedy about a middle-aged woman who meets the ghost of Scotland’s Favourite Son. More news on that soon!

PS If you liked what you read I’m always grateful for a book download, which you can do by clicking the novel of your choice below. The proceeds go towards keeping me writing, so thank you for every, single one. Much love and gratitude, Heather xx

 

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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?’

Chick Lit Books – An Open Letter To Real Book Lovers

george wade

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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Standing On My Tiptoes

Today is another day on the emotional roller-coaster known as ‘trying to succeed as a writer,’ because this arrived:

In truth, I had a little cry, thought of my long passed father and looked up to the heavens to say, ‘I did it dad.’

I didn’t sell a million copies, win a book deal or become a famous author; I just made a book I could hold in my hand at last, after a long time of thinking I might never see it in print. And the first thing I wanted to do was tell my dad. The message might well have missed him, because I’m not sure he is flying about up in the sky to be honest, but he’ll understand the sentiment.

So here it is and I’m sad I had to do it myself, but I wrote a book and I got it printed. Now I don’t have to go through life wondering, ‘what if I’d tried?’

At five foot nothing, I have spent many hours standing in crowds on my tiptoes to be able to see and have people see me. To me, self publication feels like that. So, in some ways, I’m experienced.

The New Mrs D is available as an eBook on Amazon and will be available on paperback this week. I hope you will look up to see little me.

Many, many times I have said this but I shall take this opportunity to say it again:

If to see your own work in print feels like something that’s only in your dreams, all you have to do is open your eyes and get to work. You may only sell one copy (to your sister) or a hundred copies (to yourself) and then have to store them in the garage. But you will never again have to wonder, ‘what if I’d tried?’

Do it X

From the brilliant, indie published poet Erin Hansen
From the brilliant, indie published poet Erin Hansen

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?’

Dear God, I Think I’m Too Short For The Man Booker Longlist

From one of my favourite films of all time.

The Man Booker Prize long list has today been announced, and, I know what you’re thinking but, no… I’m not on it. Maybe it’s because I am, in fact, short. Or maybe it’s because I’m more Rita Walters than Hillary Mantel 😉

However, with The New Mrs D shockingly overlooked – despite its obvious brilliance – in the spirit of getting into the starting blocks for 2015, I’m now working on book two.

‘So she thought she would write great works of fiction; stroking clean pages with her literary eloquence. She’ll bleed over her words lest she might carry her reader to deepest, darkest Peru (it’s not that dark) (okay, it’s night-time in the story, shhh!), filling their noses with the sweet aroma of long journeys; of heat; of airplane turbulence; of the blood of innocents; of a brisk, early morning swim through clear, cool Mediterranean waters.

She’ll seek to lead them to sadness, anger or elation with long, graphite-busting paragraphs of original, erudite prose. She’ll pass on feelings, experiences, haunting images and tastes to book-hungry minds.

And she will win prizes. Studious types will debate over the symbolism in her writings; academics will quote passages in her name. She is scholarly; she is art in its purest form. She can be called, ‘writer’.’ She might even get a Wiki page…

She takes her pencil out and stares at another blank page. What great, opening line can her readers look forward to in book two? And in a flash it pours forth – the legend:

‘Sometimes, I’m so lonely and so frustrated that I buy sexy vegetables.’ Cathy Spires, widow, aged 68.

And so begins book two. Working title: ‘I Can’t Believe You Bloody Left Me’.’

Here’s to (WO)Man Booker 2015…

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

Matt