A Style of my Own

Oh don't worry, I'll just wear a bin bag

Oh don’t worry, I’ll just wear a bin bag

As part of a publicity drive for The School Gate Survival Guide when it comes out at the end of summer, there’s a wonderful PR agency working their socks off to make sure that it’s not just my Great Aunt Edna reading it. Sometimes they send through requests for my participation in magazines. The latest one was a feature on super-stylish women who wore something a little unusual to get married. I ticked a bit of that box, but clearly not the whole box.

No one, ever, could accuse me of being super-stylish. I still break out into a sweat when I think about the jogger who had the misfortune to encounter me at 5.30am on the hill outside my house, walking the dog in my leopard skin dressing gown, stripy pyjamas where I obviously clicked on the escaped convict style when ordering online, all topped off with furry purple moon boots. Obviously, I don’t usually wander off into public places in my night clothes but it was early on a Sunday morning in November, the dog was a puppy and had yet to be trained out of chasing bikes, kites and toddlers. I thought if I just popped out with her, she might stop barking and we’d all be able to get some sleep. Unfortunately, she decided to chase the jogger, which instead of allowing me to melt away quietly into my garden led to me charging across the hill, boobs flinging about all over the place, hair like a gonk and abject horror on the face of the poor insomniac runner.

I really would like to be more groomed. The sort of woman who could bump into an ex-boyfriend at any time and have the satisfaction of seeing him crumple to his knees at the prize not won. As it is, I think those who got away are more likely to form a little celebration club to skip across the hill outside my house Morecambe and Wise-style, with Ken Dodd’s Happiness as their signature tune.

I think the problem is two-fold. Often enough, the crumb of morning time available for the brushing of hair or the slicking on of lipstick is spirited away by needing to clear up the yoghurt and blueberries helpfully tipped onto the floor by the cholesterol conscious dog. Or a drama involving the shoddy buying of cereals *containing raisins*. Or forgetting to print off the history homework after promising the night before. Yet I see other women at the school gates who have more children than me, with lovely lips and shiny coiffed hair, and no doubt they puffed their pillows and squared their duvets before leaving home rather than tearing out the house, yelling ‘Where’s the dog?’ before shouting, ‘Sausage! Sausage!’ to the amusement of the early morning walkers on the hill.

(Never mind writing The School Gate Survival Guide, maybe I need to read a non-fictional version of the damn thing.)

Anyway…the upside of not being a paragon of sartorial elegance is that I never care when other people’s dogs jump up at me with their muddy paws, I couldn’t give a hoot if I get caught in the rain, and best of all, when I do dress up, the contrast is so stunning that even the husband notices.

Blog Hop…

So…my turn to join the blog hop…many thanks to the lovely Cathy Powell, Australian by birth and a committed Italophile.  See her blog hop post here.

Here come the four questions about my writing process…

What am I working on?

I’m working on the edits for my first traditionally published novel, The School Gate Survival Guide (published by Avon on 3 July), as well as writing my third novel, where I deal with my fascination about family secrets. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that families start off with small inconvenient things that no one is allowed to talk about and then the secret gathers moss down the generations until it’s huge and far more distressing when it’s finally revealed. This one is actually the fourth novel I’ve written but only the third likely to meet a reader. My first, the snappily titled Wives and Cows from Your Own Country was less a novel than a series of characters wandering from a restaurant to a beach and back again in search of a story to star in. As they would say on Twitter: ‪#drivelIMG_2054

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s always tempting to start disappearing where the daylight doesn’t shine when you start to talk about genre, influences and your own selling points. In order to retain a few rays of sun on my face, I’ll keep it brief: I write commercial women’s fiction but if I had to pick out something, I’d say that I am brutal about portraying honest ‘real’ emotions. When people read my first drafts, they often find my characters are a bit harsh because I never back away from unattractive feelings that people don’t want to admit to experiencing.

Mainly though, I’m not so bothered about being different, more hoping not to be laughed at.

Why do I write what I do?

I love writing about ordinary people. Human beings are so funny because they never see themselves as other people see them. Do arrogant bores regret monopolising the conversation while their audience slowly slump to the ground, eyes rolling back into their heads, desperate for a stray fork to jab into a buttock to shock themselves awake? No. They simply puzzle over why there was an inexplicable rush to the bar to drink more of that dreadful wine when they were just getting to the crux of the solution to the Eurozone crisis, the reform of the benefits system, the superiority of the latest Range Rover.

Since I started writing, no excruciating social occasion is ever wasted.

How does your writing process work?

I may have to use the term ‘work’ rather loosely. I start off with an idea for a character, usually a woman trapped in a situation she doesn’t want to be in, either by her emotions or her environment. I know how the novel starts and I know how it ends and I have few scenes in my head to get me from A to B. I’ve tried to plan, but I find that I can’t write the damn book until the characters start to evolve, and for me, they can only do that once I start putting them in situations. Inevitably this means I get to the halfway point with a plot wobbling like a tray of fine stemmed glasses and I’m not sure whether I’m going to trip and smash the lot or manage to make it to the safety of the table. When I start running round the kitchen in my slippers shouting, ‘We’re doomed’, I usually send the whole lot to my writing buddy, author Jenny Ashcroft for an honest appraisal to get me back on the right track.

Next week, there is a huge treat in store – next on the blog hop are:

Claire Dyer, literary author extraordinaire

Claire Dyer’s novels, The Moment and The Perfect Affair are published by Quercus, as is her short story, Falling For Gatsby. Her poetry collection, Eleven Rooms, is published by Two Rivers Press. She is undertaking an MA in Poetry at Royal Holloway, University of London and lives just outside Reading. You can find her blog at her website: www.clairedyer.com

And Puffin Diaries Sarah, fabulous adoption blogger

Sarah is the adoptive mum of two boys behind The Puffin Diaries. Her blog is full of the highs and lows of her family life, writing about adoption, living with depression, her love of cooking and all things creative, plus lots of photography. Sarah is also co-founder of The Adoption Social, a site that promotes and supports the adoption on-line community.

Sarah can be contacted on twitter as @PuffinDiaries, through her Facebook page The Puffin Diaries and by email at thepuffindiaires@gmail.com


Lessons learnt in Edinburgh

After my 11-year-old daughter wrote ‘Manchester is the capital of Scotland’, I decided a little geography lesson was in order. Just the two of us, for full-on north of the border, half-term fun. I thought she might learn something – not least that the capital of Scotland begins with ‘E’, not ‘M’. But here’s what I learnt:

  • 'Can someone get me out of here?' Image courtesy of tratong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    ‘Can someone get me out of here?’
    Image courtesy of tratong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    No matter how much we pay, how hard we try, we can’t make children enjoy themselves. This was epitomised by the woman I saw at the zoo dragging three wailing children away from the playground, bellowing: ‘I’ve paid all this bleeding money to see the animals, not to play on a fecking swing.’ Or in my case, it was ‘OK, the pandas aren’t as giant as we thought they’d be, but they’re still quite interesting, aren’t they? What? You don’t want to see it doing a sloppy poo on the floor. Well, look away then.’

  • I’m never going back to a zoo again. The sight of those wallabies in the rain, the monkeys huddled in a heap and the lion with its ‘Why me? Why did they take me? I should be chasing gazelles’ face have officially finished me off. I know there’s a conservation element but I don’t want to witness koalas clinging to spindly eucalyptus in drizzly Scotland when they are supposed to be sleeping in New South Wales sunshine.
  • I pretend not to be a pushy mother, then find myself pointing out dreary facts in an excited voice at museums in the hope that the daughter might retain something. She, of course, is more interested in when we can stop for a flapjack. I feel irrationally irritated that she doesn’t care how a dragonfly sees the world, who invented the telephone and how a lighthouse works. But if I look deep into my soul, I’m not sure I give much of a hoot either.
  • Bus tours, galleries and old men playing the bagpipes are no competition for Primark, H&M and Candy Crush on the iPad.
  • The boys will revert to type for as long as I’m away. Their cooking went something like this: Chinese takeaway, Indian takeaway, steak house.
  • Only I can buy milk and bread.
  • My role in life is not to be welcomed home by flowers, but by an ‘Oh my god, I’ve just remembered I’ve got an RS exam tomorrow’ scream.
  • For all those five star hotels that think they can charge £6 for a bottle of water and look slightly irritated when I dare to interrupt their chat at reception, I have two words for you. No, not those two. PREMIER INN. Brilliant.



Quote of the month: January

The characters are terrific. I loved warm-hearted Clover with her strange dress sense and love of horses. But my favourite character was Maia because she kept on going in the face of many petty and not so petty humiliations.
A great read.

Cassie Havisham

My rules, the dog rules

If my dog were a child, I would be judged a particularly poor parent. Before the words ‘dog training’ form on your lips, I would just like to say, in terms of man hours, if not academic ability, I could have trained as both a doctor and a lawyer in the time I have spent in dog training classes and squealing like the most interesting person that you JUST have to run back to on the hill.

When the kids were young, I probably qualified as one of the strictest parents on the block. Wasn’t quite in the organic apricots rather than Smarties in the party bag camp but definitely in the ‘fizzy drinks are the devil’s spawn’ fun monitor brigade. Of course, I wouldn’t have bothered beating myself up with carrot sticks if I’d have known that all attempts at healthy eating would go to hell in a handcart when they were teenagers. The mums who were thrusting bags of Dunkin’ Donuts at their kids while I proffered oatcakes would clap their hands with glee if they could see me now: wading ankle deep in sweet wrappers and crisp packets stuffed behind the sofa.

But somehow, the discipline that I managed for the kids, resolutely refusing to budge with my ‘Stop asking the same question and hoping for a different answer’ mantra, seemed to have been eroded by the time the dog arrived.

Me? I haven't been anywhere near the flour.

Me? I haven’t been anywhere near the flour.

'I don't know anything about muddy footprints on the bed'

‘I don’t know anything about muddy footprints on the bed’

Here’s where it’s all gone wrong:

  • Unlike the kids who would be packed off to bed at 7.30, the dog feels that it is her canine right to be part of every social event, weeding out the person who most hates dogs and making them jump with a judiciously placed snout (or sopping wet Schnauzer beard) at various intervals. The equivalent of me letting the children wander in and out of a dinner party with a pop gun.
  • If we try to shut the dog in a different room, she barks and barks until all conversation centres around the dog’s terrible behaviour. I feel totally inadequate like I used to when mums gave me advice on how to make my son read (rather than hang upside down off the sofa fanning himself with Biff and Chip) or how to cure my daughter’s fussy eating (Ha! They didn’t know everything. She still hates sausages and gags on pear.)
  • I never had a problem with the children eating poo. The dog hoovers up horse manure nuggets like a box of Thorntons.
  • I did manage to teach the children not to wander off with strangers. Poppy, on the other hand, will happily trot home with you for the sniff of a sausage roll.
  • The son eventually grew out of snatching Power Rangers, Hot Wheels and Scalextric cars. I have this warning for all dogwalkers on Reigate Hill…do not throw a ball with a squeak in it anywhere near us. We could single-handedly revive Candid Camera.
  • There’s a fifty per cent chance of the kids leaving alone anything I’ve designated as a ‘Do not eat that’ zone. The dog can sit out a whole birthday lunch snoring in her basket, then waits till I go outside to wave people off, rattles into life and sucks back the leftover smoked salmon and cantuccini biscuits. Just glad the dexterity of her paws doesn’t yet lend itself to the wire on the champagne bottle.
  • She doesn’t accept that ‘when I’ve finished this’ is a valid option. As she hasn’t yet learnt to scribble on walls in protest, she’s adopted the ‘hunt the shoe and slipper in the wet, muddy garden’ revenge tactic.
  • She’s far better at hide ‘n’ seek than the children ever were. The sheer audacity of her hiding places – the white sofa, the furry throw on my bed – plus her ability not to giggle wildly when I’m calling her name and the stealth with which she creeps off when I’ve blinked makes her an Olympic H&S champion.


Here’s where it’s gone right:

She’s such a character, I couldn’t imagine life without her.