Thursday, 11 August 2011

Why I Want To Go Back

They say – don’t go back. It never works. It’s the wrong thing to do. It’ll be a mistake. But what if … 

I was compelled to watch the news unfold over the last few days. My heart was breaking as I watched London on fire, people distraught, losing all they and their families had built up. I saw police officers useless in trying to combat gangs and thugs with mindless acts of violence. Mindless because I am sure many of them didn’t think about what they were doing when they were destroying property, other people’s belongings, livelihoods and hurting fellow mankind. Or maybe they did think and did it regardless but I am sure there will be many that regret it today. I hope so. 
I watched places I had lived and worked become enveloped in riot situations that were beyond control. I remembered the communities, the housing estates, the shops, the cultural, cosmopolitan city that I had policed some years ago. And I cried for the family heritage that belongs to my husband and my children, as he was born and brought up there until I took him to the north east of England in 1997. My eldest two children were born in East London and are proud to say that. And as I watched these terrible events unfold, not just in London, but across the country, I felt powerless and felt I had to do something. 

I believe the same things today as I did when I joined the Metropolitan Police on 22nd July 1985. I was nineteen, naïve and wanted to help people.
‘But you cry whenever you see a tramp!’ my best friend, Jo, said to me.
She was right, I did. Shrugging, I said, ‘I know ... but perhaps I can make a difference.’
She scoffed. ‘You’ll be taking them all home with you.’
I knew what she meant. I also knew this was different. It went deeper than that. There was part of me that wanted to make a difference, even if it was to just one person’s life.
‘You’ll get too involved, take on everyone’s problems as your own. You can’t solve the world’s issues you know!’
I think she was angry with me. ‘I do know,’ I smiled, trying to defend myself. ‘That’s for the politicians.’
‘Does it really concern you though, all these things going on in everyone else’s lives?’
‘It won’t be everyone’s. It’s just one small borough of London, a little pocket teeming with people.’ I cupped my hands to show her.
‘There you go again, getting all poetic.’
She didn’t get it. I don’t think I could explain it, then or now. It wasn’t anything romantic like a need or a calling, nothing like that. It was just something I felt I had to do, something I felt I could do, something that would ultimately make me feel better; about others. And about myself.
I haven’t yet told her that I plan to go back … I don’t wonder what she’ll say.

After my twenty weeks at Hendon training school, I worked in Limehouse and Bow (HH) from 1985 – 1989. I then transferred to Vine Street (CV) and worked in uniform and plain clothes, and as a TI (temporary investigator – something the Met invented for a time as an apprenticeship into CID). In 1994 I transferred to Chingford where I worked with vulnerable people, domestic violence and was introduced to the world of child protection.
In 1997, when my son was 19 days old, we packed up and transferred to another force in the North East of England. I went back into uniform for two years and we worked opposite shifts with two babies. It was tough, but I loved my job. Then in 1999 after the birth of my youngest, I became a fully fledged detective and worked in child protection. There were many paedophiles, child abusers, child deaths and neglect. I thrived. I was good. I was better than good. I was bloody brilliant and I have the documents to prove it. And then, in October 2005, I left.
A senior officer said he expected me to be a success and to do well in whatever I chose to do next. I said nothing but I didn’t intend to prove him wrong.
We now have Footprints nursery, an award winning business that with a lot of hard work, we have turned around and made into a success. We have Gold Investors in People, two local business awards and have just been shortlisted for the prestigious Nursery World Awards – down to three from all the nurseries in the UK. Some achievement.
But I still miss ‘my job’. When I heard the call for ex officers, I rang my husband and asked him if he fancied it. I knew what he would say and I wasn’t wrong. ‘You go. I’ll stay home and look after the kids.’ He knows me as much as I know him.
I rang. They took my details. They rang me again today and took some more. It’ll be a process of four stages. They may not want me. I might be too old, not enough recent experience, too much history …
But if they want me, I’ll be there. I couldn’t not go. Twenty years experience and knowledge and hard work shouldn’t be wasted at a time like this. I can take statements, collate information, do enquiries, video interview vulnerable people and children who have been victims/witnesses.
Whatever the causes of the terrible events of the last few days, and there are many, it’s a job that needs doing. And I can do it. If they'll have me.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

One Big Social Faux-Pas

I will be forty six this year. Forty six! How did I get to be so old? I’m twenty eight, or sometimes thirty seven, deep inside my head. I liked those ages. I was temporarily happy with myself then. I was slim-ish, confident, happy with my life and the way it was all going. Then I hit forty and my world turned upside down and I was lost, bereft. It was more than a mid-life crisis, everything I believed in and had worked so hard for disappeared. I also hated the thought of being forty. It was not a joyful time, back then and I entered a darkness from which I am just emerging. I see the light ahead. But it’s dim.  

I think back over the years and I was never blessed with confidence and much self-esteem. I was a thin, scrawny child who never spoke and was crippled with shyness. But I got over that. Now I just babble. A lot. Especially in social occasions. I am apt to making a fool of myself and leaving people staring at me in wonder – who is this woman? I feel like a character from a sitcom. Miranda perhaps. Or Frank Spencer. You see, I also have a coordination problem, one not brought about by drink but linked to my condition of Ehlers-Danlos. It’s the clumsy gene, the thing now called Dyspraxia, once termed Sharonitis by people in my life. The real name for this particular problem is Proprioception. It’s a kinesthetic thing, the sense that deals with sensations of body position, posture, balance, and motion. Mine is out of kilter. It doesn’t help with my confidence. I’m a large clumsy oaf. 

I know I have achieved. I know I am a capable and able woman. I can be strong. I worked hard at a career I loved and I was good at it. And when it went, I started a business in 2005 without any prior experience or knowledge of the field. This month my business won two prestigious awards. We have a Gold Investors in People, because I believe in my staff and working with others for all benefits. I collected my First Class honours degree from the Open University at the weekend after eight years of long study. Yesterday I found out I had won first place in a writing competition, my third big competition win this year, with many more stories shortlisted and published, not just this year but over the last five. I know I can do many things with a lot of graft and hard work. I’ve had lots of things published now. I have a successful business. I’ve battled the demons of being forty. Nothing has ever come easy but I value the rewards all the more for it. 

So why am I still crippled with self-doubt and poor self-image and hatred. Yes. Hatred. It’s a big word. For a big woman. I’m a large lady. Really large. I was five foot nine and a half once. Now I’m barely five foot eight. But I’ve always liked being tall, even at school when I worked hard and kept my head down. I think it saved me from the bullies. That, or they just ignored me, didn’t see me. I’ve often felt invisible and often wanted to be invisible when I wasn’t, but you can’t hide someone like me very easily, even if you can ignore them. 

I’ve never been pretty, but then, I’m not sure I ever wanted to be ‘pretty’. Attractive would do. Perhaps it stems from childhood – Freud says so. Perhaps it comes from that abusive boyfriend I had for four years in my teens who told me I was a big fat lump and I was ugly and nobody would want me so I should be grateful he was with me. The irony was, he was a big lump and I was slim in those days. Perhaps it comes from a lifetime insecurity that’s part nature and part nurture. Whatever. It doesn’t help me much today to figure out where it came from. The fact is - this is me. A huge fat bleb who wants so much to do well and be accepted and to achieve but I’m wracked with how I look. I have nice hair though. 

I need to lose five stone. At least. I can’t look at the photographs from my graduation ceremony last weekend. I am a house-end. I don’t want to be seen in public. How can anyone respect someone who looks like me? I can’t even respect myself. And I can’t see how anyone can possibly like me. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world of image, where a good image is promoted and a bad one ridiculed. Heck, even Cheryl Cole has been told to lose weight and has been sacked for her accent. It’s not so dissimilar to mine.

It’s easy to say ‘lose weight’. Very easy to say. Very hard to do. I know. I’ve done it all my life. I’ve been a very thin ten stone which was far too thin for me and my frame. I looked ill. I’ve weighed much much more than that. I have clothes from a size twelve to twenty four in my wardrobe. I hate it. Clothes shopping. I have big feet too – size nines, sometimes a ten. But that’s all right. You can’t make your feet smaller so that’s not my fault. Like my height. 

I’ve dieted my life away since I was twenty one. I’ve toyed with bulimia, couldn’t face anorexia. I’ve used diet pills. I like them. They worked for me. But it never kept the weight off. And now I’m stuck in this body that I hate. Not only is it defective because of Ehlers-Danlos but it’s gross because I’m fat. There, I’ve said it. I’m fat. I also have an intestinal problem due to EDS but I can’t use that as an excuse as I’m still fat. I don’t scoff or cram food. You hear stories of women who eat ten packets of biscuits in a morning and then three packs of bacon with five eggs. They tell stories of how much of this and that they would eat. That’s not me. I rarely snack between meals. I don’t eat chocolate. I once had an addiction to it – I did scoff many bars a day but I successfully did the Paul McKenna hypnosis thing eight years ago and I rarely touch it now. Shame I can’t get it to work for food in general. I like good food, rich with flavour. My husband cooks and he’s brilliant at it. Of course, I have to eat it. I like to. Maybe I should just eat less of it. That’s probably the key. If only it was that easy. 

I’m supposed to be going to an event tonight. Ian Rankin and Sara Sheridan will be there, two people who inspire me and who I look up to. It’s a book swap in Edinburgh. There will be other people I know from twitter. Some I’ve met before, others I haven’t. I’ve got this huge pain in my very large gut. I can’t go. I can’t face these people. I will babble. I will make a fool of myself. I will be clumsy and trip over and spill my drink, like I did at a works Christmas do when I fell over the Chief Inspector’s table, pouring gin and tonic over his guests. I will be, and look, a fool. Or worse. If I don’t go I won’t have to see the look in their eyes as they speak to me, or avoid me. I won’t have to suffer the humiliation of them looking at me and knowing what they think, that I’m a big fat middle-aged woman who wants to be a somebody but never will. Not whilst she looks like that. Nice hair though. 

I’m just one big social faux-pas. I know I am able and capable. I can study at home in my own world. I can chat and make friends over the internet without anyone having to see me. I can pretend I am normal, that I am okay really. I can cheat and post pictures of me in my better years when I was almost passable. They don’t have to see the real me, the me that repulses me so therefore must repulse them too. 

Perhaps one shouldn’t meet one’s icons. I am only setting myself up for failure. We all want to be liked. I can’t even like myself.

Monday, 23 May 2011

So Much Has Happened and #thisiswhataromanticnovelistlookslike

Since I was last here, so much has happened. I have so much to blog about. It's good, right, that I've been so busy? Yes?

Since I was last here I've been to Turkey to sort some final things in respect of my mother and to England, twice. I've had a number of stories published (for pay and otherwise) and my nursery has won TWO!! Business Awards in the Hartlepool Business Awards ceremony last Thursday.

I'm tempted to say 'I'm happy!' but I know every time I utter those words, my world has a habit of tumbling down ...

Anyway, what has prompted this blog tonight is the tripe and rubbish that I have read about the Romantic Novelists Association Summer Party. It was written and published in the Daily Mail recently.

I have many friends who are published authors in the romantic fiction genre and the twin-set and pearls ideology just doesn't cut it. Some might adorn such attire, but I don't know of them. No problem with that if they do but to categorise them all in such a stereotypical and cliched way is disgraceful. If you've read the article, you'll understand the furore.

So - as a writer who has had romantic fiction and erotica short stories published FOR MONEY I stand up to be counted with them, even though I cannot claim to have a novel published in this genre.

What does a writer of romantic fiction look like?

#thisiswhataromanticnovelistlookslike  I post this in defence of them all and if I can be considered as such, this is me when I first started out -

How far removed from twin-set and pearls is this?

In support of all writers of romantic fiction everywhere and in spite of the Daily Mail and their ethics. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A Bit of a Lull

I’ve sort of neglected the blog of late. It’s not that I didn’t have much to say, I just didn’t feel comfortable sharing it. Too many thoughts, too many late nights, too many drinks, too much to say and never enough time.
I’ve also had one of those lulls. Those things that all writers go through, from the wannabe, the nearly there, the made it but not famous, and those everyone has heard of. All claim to have been there so as much as I was unhappy, I also knew it was part of the apprenticeship. And to be honest, I didn’t really have too much to be in a lull about. Part of it was caused by lack of time. I have been very busy this year and the snatches of time I’ve had hasn’t really been down time. It’s the time I cram in writing, like I’m pinching something that doesn’t belong to me in the first place. And although the kids in Scotland go back to school next week, it’s still going to be busy with hospital appointments and visitors and then a trip to Turkey to sort out some things over there re mam.

But back to that lull. It wasn’t really. I’ve had things published constantly this year so far, six publications and it’s only April. But these were hits from last year or early in 2011. I’ve felt I have been treading water on the writing front, partly because I haven’t written much new material apart from dire poetry every week for six weeks for the Stirred Poet competition (one of which has been published). 

Then last Saturday, I returned home after a very busy week at work, full on with appraisals for staff and sorting out various business things, and Easter Fare the morning of the day I travelled home. 

But I brought good news.  Footprints Nursery has been shortlisted for TWO business awards, one for the business sector and one for training. We find out at the award ceremony on 19th May so of course, I’ll be going back for that ball. 

And then in my pile of letters I received a cheque for £100 for winning a writing competition with the Write Place. You can find out what the judge says about my story here -

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I made Sally Quilford cry but I won, so I’m happy! 

I’ve written three new stories this week and hope to send them out soon. I’ve had some crits returned too, and advice on three of them is that they would make longer pieces of work, novel or novella. Not too sure on that myself but one I would quite like to prolong. However, I still have a crime novel to finish and another story in the wings waiting. 

What was that about a lull? 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

World Book Night

5th March 2011

When Nicola Morgan suggested an alternative idea for World Book Night,( I thought it was a fantastic idea. She suggested that we buy a book, preferably from an independent book shop, and give it to somebody, anybody, a relative, a friend or even a stranger. I particularly liked the stranger idea. I vowed to gift a book on the said day, which fell on a Saturday. On that day I would be travelling from Hartlepool to my home in Scotland. With an hour to wait at Newcastle station for my connection, I thought it would be perfect for this giving to take place then. I  pledged my contribution on Twitter and Facebook.

On the day itself, I went to WHSmith in Hartlepool to buy a book. There are no independent bookshops in the town and this store is under threat of closure so I thought I would do my bit to help keep it in business.
Confronted by scores of bookshelves, I found it difficult to make a choice. What sort of book should I pick? What sort of person would I give a particular book to? What would I like? It was hard! I ended up buying four books.

I’ve been hearing a lot about Jackson Brodie lately and twitter is full of talk of Kate Atkinson. So are various writing places where I hang out on the internet. I picked up two copies of Started Early, Took my Dog, Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, and an earlier Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn. 

Now all I had to do was gift the books. 

I sat and had a coffee and wrote on the dedication page the statement Nicola suggested ‘Given in the spirit of World Book Night, March 5th 2011, and bought from WHSmith, Hartlepool. Please enjoy and tell people about it. 

So who would be the first victim? And it was then that I discovered the psychology of book-giving. What sort of person would like one of these books? Would they read it? Would they accept it? Would they think I was mad? I temporarily wavered. 

After browsing the tables, not finding a suitable person, I finished my coffee and set off through the town centre. 




I discarded various people, one by one, selective picking. How terrible. 

Oh – she would do! But she walked on past me and was lost in the crowd. 

Then I saw them. Two ladies in animated chat. Older than me, but probably not as old as my mum was. I imagined myself and my friend, in ten or more years time, engrossed in conversation about grandkids maybe, moaning about our men or lack thereof, the price of clothes ...

‘Excuse me,’ I thrust the book, Two Caravans in one of their hands, ‘in the spirit of world book day, please accept this book. I’ve written inside ... something ...’

They beamed, said, ‘Oh! Thank you.’ And seemed pleased. 

I smiled in return and walked off in a hurry, lest they should come after me and give it back. Then I relaxed and as I entered the car park, I felt quite emotional. Good. It was a good thing to do. I looked forward to Newcastle and the next one.

I duly took my connecting train and perused Twitter on my journey. I saw other people talking about giving books. Lucy Coats said she was on a train and four people had refused her offer of a book. I was surprised, a bit hurt, I didn’t understand. I asked if she was going to be on my train. She said she was on the way to Edinburgh. 

My train stopped there on my journey.

A few tweets later, we found out that we would be in the same carriage, in the same direction.  On the same train! Hurrah! 

Slump. Not hurrah. Hers was the train ten minutes before mine and it terminated at Edinburgh and I was travelling further so I couldn’t even jump aboard. 

Then I had an idea. If she poked her head out of the door, I could give her my book – would she like it? 

Oh yes please! came the reply. 

Fantastic! It truly was. We planned the exchange and soon her train was pulling in. She jumped off. I grabbed my case, my laptop, my handbag and screeched at a woman who I thought fitted the description she gave. I was so glad it was her! For a fleeting moment I thought she might not be...

We hugged, we smiled, I gave her the book, and we took pictures. She had to climb back aboard and off she chugged in a genie puff of smoke ... not quite but that’s the fantasy. As she describes here  – it was a brief encounter and it made my day. 

I took my own train ten minutes later and nobody perused my carriage giving books. I was a tad disappointed but I was still smiling, giggling to myself, and reading Lucy’s blog when she posted it up on twitter. People had been following our exchanges, will they/won’t they. I almost wish I’d been an observing. But it was much better taking part. 

My husband and youngest daughter collected me from Pitlochry train station and we called in to see some friends at the Inn in Grandtully. I gave my third book away, the one I wanted myself. It was to my friend who listened, ears pinned to the wall, whilst I regaled her with the tale of when I met Lucy Coats today, on World Book Night. She told me of the time when she worked in a once-known book chain and mistook Ian Rankin for Iain Banks - an unforgivable mistake, she said, shaking her head. So I gave her the third book. To forgive her, though I wasn't the one to forgive, for understanding her embarrassment for I had things to be embarrassed about, for being human because we all are. And that's all we can do. To understand. And to give what we can, when we can.

She said she'd let me read it when she'd finished. That's good enough for me.

I enjoyed World Book Night and I promise to do it again next year. And every year thereafter. But this one will take some beating.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


This morning at 4.30am the phone rang. I panicked. I felt my hair stand on end, every muscle tense and my throat constrict. I stretched out a hand but the bedside phone wasn’t there. It had been left downstairs by someone who hadn’t brought it back up again. A regular occurrence. It kept ringing as I ran up and out of bed and along the hall to the windowsill. 

I snatched up the phone and shouted ‘hello’. Then I cursed. It was one of those text messages where the robotic woman can’t say the words correctly. I could have cried. My heart settled down to a less hectic rhythm.  The bristles on my back fell flat. An empty feeling hit the pit of my stomach. And I cursed again. 

Then I became a little bit frightened. And I didn’t sleep again for hours. 

Any other day it might not have mattered so much. But you see, it’s a year today that my mum died. My Mam. She was always called Mam, we never said mum. But since she died, I can only think of her as mum. 

I found out from an early morning phone call. Not 4.30am but 7.30am. Or it might have been 8. 

I hate it when the phone rings early. Or late. It means death. Or bad news.  

It’s a year today. My mother.

When I tumbled out of bed, late, I had to investigate. I needed to know. 

Turned out the text message was from someone I knew after all. She’d had a good night out and had accidently texted my house phone rather than the person she had intended. It was o-k-a-y after all. 

And then, I looked at my three children. The eldest was still sleeping and I was happy to leave her there. They are now 15, 14 and 11 and I remember with clarity the times when they were 5, 4, and nearly 2. It was easy then. Ten years later, it’s harder than it ever was. They have a voice. They have opinions. They have their own lives. 

And when they scream at me, like my eldest daughter did yesterday, and the day before, and they tell me I’m old, I’m past it, I’m a has-been and that I don’t understand, as much as it might hurt inside, I can only smile. And realise. It is they that don’t understand. Not yet. And probably not until I die.

And the answer is simple. I can only love them. 


Oh. And write a story and call it Hag-Lit ; )