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.


The Power of Persistence

The lovely Romaniacs were kind enough to invite me onto their blog today – where I rambled on about the necessity of just keeping going in the face of rejection. Here’s what I had to say:


From Narrow Mind to Open Mind

One of the characters in my next book says ‘Over time my open mind had become a narrow passageway through which I forced the occasional independent thought.’
As I wrote that, I started thinking how true that is. When I was nineteen, I made a loose arrangement to meet a bunch of mates in Turkey. Not Bournemouth, not Tunbridge Wells, but Turkey. We announced our arrival in Istanbul by leaving a note on a pinboard in a pre-agreed café with an understanding that we’d come back at four o’clock every day until we all found each other. Miraculously, we did.
In the same year, I had a friend studying in Padova, Italy. Faced with a week with nothing to do during the holidays, thought I’d pop over and see her…a mere 24-hour journey on ferries and overnight trains. We didn’t have mobile phones back then and it was unthinkable to shell out for a telegram so I turned up on spec at her Catholic College only to discover that she’d gone off hitching on the Ligurian coast. Again, I left a note under her door, parked myself in a local youth hostel and ate ice cream until she turned up.

'You didn't mean THIS Saturday, did you? Try October, darling!' Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘You didn’t mean THIS Saturday, did you? Try October, darling!’
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At no time do I recall being bothered about the ‘What ifs?’ that seem to plague me now just dealing with some trivial, every week occurrence that doesn’t involve running the gauntlet of weirdos on overnight trains, sleeping with my passport stuffed down my shirt and half my travellers’ cheques in my bra.
Let’s take the son’s rugby match. Cue an almighty kerfuffle. Will there be traffic on the motorway? Let me just double check the letter/website/son for starting time…forget son, he doesn’t know, why doesn’t he know? Didn’t the teacher say what time you needed to be there? We don’t want to be the ones holding up the bus. I wish he didn’t play prop…I hope he doesn’t injure his neck…and fifty thousand other things that could go wrong in the space of three hours on a Saturday in Surrey. Instead, all those years ago, I had a firm belief that all would turn out as it should be. How can I get that back? Or do you have to not have children to retain that insouciance of yesteryear?
Forget the spontaneity of trotting off to Turkey via Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, staying with random people we met on buses and in the street on the way (please don’t let my children EVER want to travel, please let them stay safe at home, reading books in the kitchen where I can see them). Somewhere between twenty and forty, I lost the ability to pop round to people’s houses unannounced. I cannot remember the last time I turned up at someone’s home for a cup of tea, because I wasjust passing. No coffee or chocolate HobNob goes unplanned these days. (How about a week on Saturday? Could you fit it in after boot camp, before Olivia’s violin/mandarin lesson, after the girls come back from athletics but before the netball match, in between your facial and the taking back of the wrong-sized FitFlops?) Trying to gather a posse of mates for a last-minute barbecue on the one sunny Saturday in July seems to engender the same amount of flurry and panic as suggesting we all go trekking in the Himalayas with a pair of Jesus sandals and a can of Coke.
So, in an effort to stretch the mind to a stage where a spontaneous thought might be able to squeeze through without the aid of an ice pick and miner’s helmet, I’m thinking of auditioning for a local theatre production. The narrow-mindedness of the son (who screamed when I told him) and the husband (who said, ‘You can’t put that on the internet!’) prevents me from saying what I’ll be auditioning for, but know, dear reader, that my mind, hitherto demonstrating all the restricted thought room of a straw is about to become a huge gaping wind tunnel through which all manner of wide-reaching, extreme and random notions might blow…

An Alien in a Four-wheeled World

Of all the ways to make me snap my fingers and shout, ‘I know who you mean,’ telling me what car anyone drives is probably the least effective. I can recognise a Fiesta circa 1988, a BMW because it has that handy little round badge thing, and a Panda because I drive one. I simply cannot give a hoot about cars. When the husband starts pontificating about this one or that one, I mainly think ‘Get the smallest one possible,’ given that the man has many talents but would still find it a challenge to squeeze a Smart car into a space meant for a bus. Frankly, let’s just get a tiny one so I don’t have to shrink into the footwell every time he’s trying to park in Morrisons.

'The boot's at the other end, love' Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

‘The boot’s at the other end, love’
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I don’t need a car to open itself when I stand within five yards of it, blow hot air on the daughter and cold air on the son (where would that leave my ‘JUST GET ON WITH IT’ parenting philosophy?) or anything that tells me I’m getting no miles per hour to my litre of petrol because I’m sitting stationary on the M25. I don’t need speakers that talk at me from different angles, making me think someone has climbed in the boot when I wasn’t watching. I don’t need a boot that could fit a pony in as per the car advert on Magic FM. On the other hand, a car that screams when the husband overtakes to save me the trouble or shouts, ‘Have you seen that motorbike?’ at every T-junction would be a welcome addition.

The son, who adores Jeremy Clarkson (believe me, if you had my parents’ evenings, you would understand why that doesn’t trouble me) is completely frustrated by my lack of interest. He brings up websites, pointing out this, that and the other four-wheeled thing in red, blue and black. I’d rather discuss pensions. Help out with the building of the Globe Theatre with matchsticks, elastic bands and homemade glue project. Descale the steam mop. Sit through a recorder concert. Be a passenger when the husband’s trying to park in the high street, causing a tailback to the traffic lights.

Well, perhaps not that.

*slinks down in seat and puts dog blanket over head*

A Write Old Miracle

Just for this one blog, I’m going to write about writing rather than the myriad of other interesting aspects of my life such as how I will padlock the loo so my family have to go in the compost heap if I EVER walk in and find a single sheet of paper clinging onto the cardboard roll again.

The time is right because it’s nearly a year since I self-published The Class Ceiling and that’s affected my life in so many ways. There are many opinions on self-publishing vs. traditional and I’m not going to join the drum banging for either. I will say, though, that I didn’t set out wanting to self-publish. I wanted the recognition of a publisher being prepared to pay for the words I wrote. I’m not sure how many rejections from agents The Class Ceiling received but suffice to say, it was the spotty teenager breakdancing in the hand-knitted cardie at the disco.

The husband was keen for me to self-publish on the grounds that it’s such a subjective industry and ‘all’ I needed to do was believe in myself. In his mind, overnight success was just a couple of Amazon clicks away. I, on the other hand, was paddling away aboard a raft of insecurities big enough to cross the Atlantic – ‘Who will buy it and how will they know about it?’ I dismissed the husband’s suggestion so often, he tried to persuade me to apply for a job with the National Trust as a shepherd. The pressure to swap the laptop for stumbling about the Surrey Hills gathering up my flock when I can barely get my kids to school on time seemed to galvanise me.


Hopefully my mum will buy it…

I found a designer for the cover, proofread until my eyeballs bled (note to everyone: if you possibly can, PAY for this step) and hit the publish button just before Christmas. In the first five months, I sold a few hundred books. Slowly, I started to get reviews from people who didn’t share my DNA or my dinner parties. People from Devon, Edinburgh, California – people I didn’t know – who loved the book. Who said things like, ‘I was told off for reading this on the ski lift’, ‘I’ve ignored the husband, the kids and the dog for a whole weekend’ or as one American put it, ‘So good I just about pee’d my pants’. Eventually, I stopped doing that ‘screwed up, about to eat a kangaroo penis’ face each time I saw a new review on Amazon.

Then it got really interesting. I went to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s summer party where I chatted to Helen Bolton, editor at Avon, HarperCollins. We talked about one of her authors, Mhairi McFarlane, who wrote You Had Me At Hello. Not a word about my writing. Just a brief human chat about a book we both loved.

Afterwards, I kept thinking that Helen would like The Class Ceiling. I also knew that publishers didn’t accept unagented manuscripts. But the thought kept niggling away until the first five chapters wriggled their way into an envelope and yet another set of wasted stamps winged their way to rejection.

Except this time, I received an email directly from Helen saying ‘Send the rest’. Then, ‘Send your next book’. Then ‘Come and meet me’. Me, little old me, on the steps at HarperCollins HQ! The excitement was clearly too much for me, so minutes before Helen glided elegantly down to greet me, I had the nose bleed to end all nose bleeds and sat through the whole meeting wondering whether I had crusty red rings round my nostrils.

I left HarperCollins HQ thinking Helen would be someone I would absolutely love to work with.  I also knew that it was one thing for her to like the book, but quite another to translate that over the many hurdles into a publishing deal. So, no dancing, no chicken counting, just a determination not to squander the opportunity and a little rush of fear and hope every time I looked at my emails.

In the meantime, The Class Ceiling sales really started to pick up as though the whole wheel of fortune had turned in my favour. With Avon interested, I thought I might be able to entice agents into reading The Class Ceiling. I researched a few who would be a good fit for my writing (in the tiny minority who hadn’t rejected me before!). Discreetly, I asked their authors what they were like to work with and received some very generous responses. Then I sent out some submissions. It was an odd time of year as it was holiday season but Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson came back to me very promptly and I went to London to meet her.

I don’t do corporate, smart or schmoozy very well so I was delighted to see that the agency had the cosy, eclectic feel of a place where people love books and dogs come to work. My meeting with Clare felt ‘right’ – professional, detailed, honest, warm, with a clear plan of what the next step would be if Avon didn’t buy The Class Ceiling.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could I just think about that for half a second?
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I left with an offer of representation. My immediate reaction was to accept straightaway because I knew I could work with Clare. There hadn’t been any point in our meeting when I’d thought, ‘Hmm. Not sure about that,’ or worse, ‘I’m going to be terrified of you’. But I also knew that it was crucial to make the right decision, so I asked for some time to think about it without backflipping and cartwheeling clouding my judgment.

In the event, I had about four hours. That evening, Helen Bolton’s name popped up in my inbox. I guessed it was dream over. End of my little fantasy, of approaching agents with a confident ‘the Avon imprint of HarperCollins is currently considering The Class Ceiling’. I fed the dog. The email was still there. I clicked, waiting for the heart sink that had greeted me so many times before. A two book deal was snuggling in there, waving its little wand, glittering and gorgeous. Heart hop!

I phoned Clare the next morning – feeling rather silly because I’d made such a hoo-ha about wanting to time to consider – but she set to work straightawahttp://www.kerryfisherauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/school-gate-resized-130jpeg.jpegy, sorting out my contracts with Avon. I know I made the right decision because I feel that we could resolve anything, however awkward. She’s already sold The Class Ceiling – soon to become The School Gate Survival Guide – at auction in Germany. Can’t help wondering what the Germans will make of cutting the nose off the Brie…

I’ve probably made that sound a bit easy. It wasn’t – took me five years from writing a novel to getting published – but I think if I go into any more detail, everyone will be going, ‘Crikey, we don’t actually need to know the colour of your bra.’

If anyone has read to the end, I’d be delighted to answer any writing questions on Twitter – https://twitter.com/KerryFSwayne or at http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com

school gate resized 130jpeg

The School Gate Survival Guide will be published as an ebook on 3 July and a paperback on 11 September



Quote of the Month – November 2013

‘I’m a man whose last reading experience was brought to him by Andy McNab. I’m also a man who finds it fun to tease his wife for reading “soppy women’s books”. And here I am, wondering what happens next as Amaia drops her kids off at Stirling Hall! Your writing style and use of humour is great. Like a good soap opera, each chapter left me wanting to know how the next would pan out.
Now, either your books are written for both men and women, or I’ve a newfound guilty secret! I was considering buying my wife a Kindle for Christmas so I’ll add The Class Ceiling to the order. Obviously I won’t be telling her that I’m interested in the story…..I’m a man, after all.’