Bridgerton – A Glorious Escape from Reality and Why Not?

Right from the first joyous, rippling opening notes of Bridgerton, I am completely hooked. I adore the confiding gossipy tone of the latest society news from the whip smart pen of Lady Whistledown. Set in a time without Covid, war or the frantic technological pace of modern life, Bridgerton is simply a breath of fresh air. It’s an idealistic world of chivalry and romance, where the handsome hero smoulders longingly at the heroine and who doesn’t love a good old fashioned dose of unfulfilled desire and passion? That and the vibrant blue skies, the lavish flowers and ornate decorations, the satisfyingly pristine uniforms of the servants, the flamboyant houses, stunning rich brocades. The colours are so bright and uplifting, they are reminiscent of the glorious technicolour of 1940s Hollywood. We all need a bit of glamour and opulence as we face rapidly spiralling prices and exorbitant electricity bills. At a time when it’s still difficult to travel and in my case with four teenage daughters, two of whom have health conditions and a frail recently widowed Mum of eighty nine to worry about, it’s practically impossible. Bridgerton therefore like all good fiction, as Mason Cooley once wrote, ‘gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.’

And Shonda Rhimes’ production certainly provides that. It’s a heady eclectic mix of old and new with the Regency balls from Series Two featuring hits such as ‘Material Girl’ and ‘Dancing on my Own’ culminating in protagonists Lord Bridgerton and Miss Sharma dancing to a classical rendition of ‘Wrecking Ball.’ This decision is a progressive nod to the fact the show is not traditionalist. It stretches ideas. Yes, Regency romance is a hugely popular theme but the very diversity of Bridgerton is refreshing, inclusive and far from the reach of other traditional productions. In addition, matriarchal power is wielded throughout, by Queen Charlotte who rules in place of her husband due to his illness and she in her turn is controlled by the pen of Lady Whistledown. Both the Dowager Lady Brigerton and Lady Danbury are independent women, as they are widows of estates with large fortunes. The men by contrast are more emotional, less together, a refreshing portrayal indeed, especially within a genre which has long been criticized for being too obvious, for lacking in suspense or subtlety, as the reader or viewer always knows what is going to happen.

But that’s the whole point. After a truly traumatic start to this year, having witnessed my beloved Dad’s death from Covid, I welcome a fictional world where whatever happens; I know all will end well. Of course we are aware right from the beginning of Series Two that Lord Bridgerton and Miss Sharma will ultimately marry and live happily ever after. But dear Reader, it’s not the what, but the how that matters. We want to see how their story plays out, how they get together, who else that involves and how that affects them. In a society where everything is available instantly at the click of a button, the excitement of the slow burn is all the more satisfying. In any case, most fiction follows some kind of formula, in crime novels, you know that someone will be killed and the detective or whoever else will have to solve the murder. In Agatha Christie, there is a whole tradition of all the suspects gathering together in a room with Hercule Poirot, or Miss Marple to reveal the murderer. Besides romance can have unexpected elements, there are other subplots, which can yield all sorts of surprises. Yet romantic fiction is still tarnished with the quite frankly insulting label of being trashy or easy reading, predictable, not worthy of other literary genres!

I feel it is time we truly celebrate the power of this feel good fiction and affiliated television productions and that we acknowledge the overwhelming need for them. For those who are housebound, have long term conditions, for carers, caregivers, or for those who for whatever reason are struggling with or simply want refuge for a while from the difficulties of modern life, Bridgerton is a wonderful escape. What better testimony do we need than figures of over one hundred and ninety three million viewing hours for the second season already?

I first discovered Julia Quinn’s books over twenty years ago when I was a new Mum. This continued when I was parenting three little ones under four and during very hard times such as when my eldest was diagnosed with serious kidney disease. Often I would fall asleep reading in bed, as I was too busy and too tired to pick up a book at any other time. The exploits of the Bridgertons were always comfortingly reassuring. I love all the different characters of the various children and their stories. They almost feel like a second family.

And then there’s the sparkling witty repartee. I fell in love with Regency romance as an impressionable teenager, immersing myself in the wonderful works of Georgette Heyer. The cut and thrust of verbal swordplay between the hero and heroine. The comedic romp and complicated situations which arise from misunderstandings, eventually happily solved, never threatening or serious. The totally restrictive social backdrop that makes the slightest touch of a hand incredibly exciting. Where else are we to find such perfect romance? Certainly not from real life, with husbands who are exhausted with the daily drudge of work and family life and expect a standing ovation for emptying the dishwasher. Of course we do appreciate their help really. But much as we love our partners and children, we all deserve a little respite from reality, especially when things for so many have been so tough. Modern times can sometimes feel just a little lacking can’t they?

A bit of Bridgerton, with it’s stunning colour and sheer joyous distance from our own situation, is the prefect antidote to reality. And I for one applaud it. Maybe we should ask for it to be prescribed on the NHS?

 

 

 

So Christmas and New Year weren’t perfect, but were they ever meant to be?

fireworks

 

For the first time ever this year, I was kind of ready for Christmas. In spite of having the usual and it has to be said, particularly nasty winter bugs in the few weeks before, necessitating PCR tests as we were feeling pretty rotten. Fortunately they were negative.

So I headed into Christmas a little washed out, but nevertheless with an air of unmitigated excitement. My youngest daughter is now twelve and having eeked out the magic as long as possible, she is now aware of the reality of parental involvement in the whole Father Christmas charade. Sad in a way and the end of an era in this house, after twenty years of my playing the role with dedication and relish. Staying up until 3am on Christmas morning, frantically wrapping toys, stealth like under the cover of softly played Christmas carols and hidden gift wrap adorned with the girls’ favourite things; unicorns, dogs, cute snowmen. Yet in another way, I felt relief that I could finally wrap presents in advance, be a little organised. After all, the magic was still there, hand decorated gift lists and stockings hung over the fire on Christmas Eve. And in any case, the best laid plans and all that – somehow I still managed to be wrapping until 1 am.

We usually spend Christmas day just the six of us as a family. It’s more relaxed somehow. Classic FM on the radio, all of us helping with the veg prep. Later on, gorging ourselves silly, a walk, then the Queen’s Speech and Christmas pudding. This time, we reminisced over last year. How odd it had seemed. Traditionally we always have my wider family around on Boxing Day. It’s hard work, as there are a lot of us, twenty in fact, but it’s one of the rare occasions we all get together these days. Last year, due to the bubble system, we were unable to do it and we had all felt strangely bereft on Boxing Day 2020 – no one coming round to eat the cold cuts of meat, no creating a buffet of tasty morsels and left over Brandy sauce and trifle.

But this year, it wasn’t going to be that way. Boxing Day was back on. The food was prepared and ready in the fridge. Miraculously the extended family presents were already wrapped and labelled under the tree, thanks to extra help from my sixteen year old. The tree looked particularly spectacular, taller than our usual one, with baubles and the angel on top sparkling, radiating joy and Christmas spirit. The house looked more Christmassy than it ever has. For once everything was Christmas perfect. Except…

The evening of Christmas day, my husband started coughing. I have to confess; I did peer at him a little suspiciously at first. We have been married long enough for me to know that the invasion of my family en masse can be a little trying for him. But as the evening went on, the cough worsened and it was soon apparent we had a problem. Lateral flow was negative, but my ninety year old Dad is currently unwell with renal disease and therefore vulnerable. His illness came on suddenly last March when he went from being quite amazingly fit and healthy (in spite of having cancer five times since his late fifties), walking the dog twice a day, picking up shopping in his car, moving heavy concrete bricks in the garden and digging the veg patch, to exhausted and barely able to do anything. He is now immunosuppressed due to his last pioneering treatment to prevent the deterioration of his condition. Even a cold can make him really unwell – he was hospitalised in the Autumn with pneumonia.

With a heavy heart I messaged everyone and cancelled Boxing Day festivities at the last minute. At least I could drop food to my sisters who kindly took over the celebrations at her house. But I confess I had a lump in my throat when talking to my Dad through the doorway, all dressed up and spruce in his best Christmas jumper. I so badly wanted to spend that time with both him and my Mum. We have already lost so many occasions, they’ve missed so much with the girls the past couple of years due to the constant necessity to shield them both.

So once more, Boxing Day was quiet. It felt all the more poignant because I knew we might not get the next opportunity to celebrate later in the week as planned. With my Dad’s health as it is, such occasions are precious, rare, to be treasured like gold dust.

My fears were realised, the following Wednesday, Dad was admitted to hospital on my parent’s wedding anniversary. He’s been in a ward with no visitors, over an hour away.

Now, since the New Year, my Dad has contracted Covid at the hospital and his kidney is beginning to fail fast. On top of this, my daughter’s mental health issues have seriously worsened. I had hoped like any other New Year, this would be a fresh start. A time for new beginnings, as though somehow magically, this year would be better than the last two. Unrealistic I know, but that’s part of our wonderful human condition, we live in hope.

However, I was lucky enough to speak to Dad on the phone yesterday and was blown away by his sheer strength of spirit and the fact he told me to look after myself following the covid booster (feeling rough with it) even though he is struggling with the illness itself. And I know it sounds trite, but I was incredibly thankful to be able to speak to him at all. My twelve year old, played the piano to a phone held aloft and finally last night, my Mum was able to come round for dinner and see our lovely decorations.

Perhaps this last couple of years has readjusted our expectations, put things in perspective. Somehow it’s peeled back the exterior, the tough outer decorative skin of the toot and things that simply aren’t relevant and allowed us to focus on what seriously matters inside.

Life, love, friends and family are precious.

For many reasons this has been, as we saw empasised so beautifully on Princess Kate’s glorious celebratory ‘Together at Christmas Service,’ an incredibly difficult time, impossible for so many. The Duchess described the event as, ‘a celebration of life in our communities and illustrates how acts of kindness, empathy and love can nurture and reconnect us.’

This was the theme of my pandemic romance, ‘Love in Lockdown.’

‘In lockdown nothing was definite, nothing was certain except the strength and resilience of love and community…the reality is that when everything else stops, love is all that’s left.’

This year the Queen spent her first Christmas as a widow at Windsor with only direct family members. How poignant was the song in Princess Kate’s service, ‘For those who can’t be here.’ There were so many who once again couldn’t celebrate Christmas with those they love.

But Christmas was never designed to be perfect. According to the original story of Jesus’ birth, Mary arrived at Bethlehem, hugely pregnant, riding on a donkey and due to the decree ordained by Caesar Augustus, for all to return to their home town, all the guest rooms were full. This must have been a complete nightmare. In the end as the story goes, Mary gave birth to her son amongst the animals in the stable. Yet this miracle of the baby Jesus, laid in a manger, surrounded by oxen, presents an iconic and beautiful scene. It simply wouldn’t have been the same if he had been born in a typical house of that time, in a bed. Sometimes out of difficulty, miracles are born.

We put so much pressure on both Christmas and New Year being perfect. The presents have to be just right, the baubles need to match, the fireworks must be amazing, the alcohol flowing, the party the best. Yet all that really matters when all is said and done is love.

If this pandemic has taught us nothing else, over the past two years, we have learnt that even if we couldn’t all be together in person once again this Christmas and New Year that we were and are all united in love and community. And whilst love, like Christmas may not be perfect, it is pretty special and something worth celebrating.







Top tips for looking after your mental health during lockdown!

woman celebrating sunshine

I don’t know about you, but at times, this Lockdown feels as though it is going on forever. I think it’s because the weather isn’t great, the evenings are still dark and we’re just about fed up with the whole situation.

The truth is however, Spring is on it’s way and with the vaccination programme, the end is in sight. So we just need to keep that in view. But sometimes it can still feel hard each day to just keep going with the humdrum day to day slog of it all.

To help with this and maybe to help you to change things up a bit, I’ve devised a list of top twelve tips to help keep your pecker up during this lockdown.

                     

    1. Read. Anything and everything that takes you away from this situation. Sometimes when I’ve had tough times in the past I’ve turned to children’s books; Kenneth Grahame, Enid Blyton – The Adventure Series, anything to remind me of safer and more secure times. My other favourite when my daughter’s health conditions flare up or things are really tough is Pride and Prejudice. Once when I was in hospital with my eldest after renal surgery, really struggling to sleep on a busy ward, I drifted away to the familiar audio-recording of Jane Austen’s famous words. They are so comforting and brought the familiar to the scarily unfamiliar.
      You can either read whenever you want and just escape generally whenever you feel the need, or set a time to look forward to reading, especially if like me you have work and children to be helping with homeschooling, dinner to cook etc. The past couple of weeks, every evening after dinner, I treated myself to reading JoJo Moyes wonderful book, The Giver of Stars. It was a wonderful escape. I was no longer sitting there on the sofa in my lounge in the dingy winter light, I was riding the stony hillsides, with those brave women in 1930’s America, delivering books to the poor and isolated, as part of the first mobile library. Pure joy!
    2.  Watch escapist television. When I was super anxious after having my fourth baby and my eldest daughter was ill at the same time, I remember a wise GP saying, ‘do anything you need to in order to feel happy. Watch Mamma Mia several times over if necessary.’ I’ve never forgotten this advice. Try to get into a series, or rewatch Jane Austen movies (I never need an excuse to do that) no one is counting how many times you’ve seen them. The main thing is it can make you feel happier. The other week, was really tough, as my eldest daughter had been going through another mental health crisis, with some serious results and having done what I could (she lives in residential care) I tucked myself in bed and binge watched Bridgerton whilst eating bowls of Coco Pops. I can thoroughly recommend it, it didn’t solve the problem, but gave me a break so I could return to the situation with a refreshed mind.


    3. Get outside and walk. I try to vary my walks depending on my mood. Some days I go if I can where there aren’t many people, difficult I know at the moment, but there are some quieter paths in the forest. It’s nice to try to forget about things  and watch nature around us getting on with it. There’s a comfort in that.  The fact Spring is coming and the bulbs and catkins are appearing. Within a few weeks the fresh green shoots with be budding on the trees and next month the clocks go forward. All things to look forward to. Other times, if I miss human company or if I don’t have time to go far, I walk the local streets, smiling and saying hello to familiar faces. It’s nice to just try to reconnect even at a distance. Within the lockdown rules of course. Some days it’s tough to do because the weather is horrible and it’s cold, but then you’ve got the reward of coming back in the warm and having a nice hot drink and a snuggle in front of the fire, or heater, or even under a blanket. The air does you good and walking is great for mental health. If you have a dog, it’s even better as walking is compulsory and so enjoyable as you can often meet fellow dog walkers at a safe distance of course.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
    4. Routine. It’s good to have some kind of routine, even if it’s only the basic things such as trying to get up at the same sort of time each day at least in the week and then maybe a bit of a lie in at the weekend. Whatever we may think, we are all creatures of habit and a routine can help us feel more secure. It doesn’t have to be rigid at all, but planning meals/snacks to look forward to or a certain programme each day at a particular time can help us feel in control and have something to look forward to. In the first lockdown last March, we all sat together each lunchtime during our break from work and school and watched Four in a Bed. It became a bit of a thing to look forward to. At the moment in the evening we all watch Merlin or Lupin on Netflix, whilst eating our tea. We found quite quickly with these little things, we soon look forward to finding out what happens next.
    5. Keep busy. Projects, art, sewing, tidying out your cupboards (only do so, if you’re feeling very strong, if you’re anything like me, I hate tidying and they’re a real mess!) Along with the above point, it’s good if you can to find some things you like doing, especially if it’s creative, maybe some paint by numbers or colouring. Or write that poem or article. You might be completely tied up in work and home school, so keeping busy isn’t an issue, but it’s still important to keep a tiny slot of time for yourself, to do something that’s of interest to you and changes things up a bit.
    6. Make plans. If you’re worried about planning things that might not happen, make those things small and possible, not reliant on outside factors. It’s good to think of something you can plan for the next month or so. Gardening is a great one. If you have a garden, now is a great time to pick which seeds you want to grow and get them ordered, ready to plant next month. If you have a small space, you can grow seeds in recycled pots or cups in a window sill. I’ve often grown sweet peas like this, they’re easy to grow and smell lovely. In the spring, they can be transferred to pots on a balcony or outside space. Or on a small level, you can grow cress seeds, there’s something really cheerful about the miracle of watching tiny green shoots sprouting out of the soil or a simple dish. Kids love making sandwiches with the cress and mashed boiled eggs.
    7. Try to help others. It’s often difficult, especially when we all have busy lives, to manage our own needs let alone those of other people, but it really can help to think what might make things easier for someone you care about. It can take our mind off our own troubles, even if it’s for a moment. Just adding a few items on your own shopping list for those who need help, or can’t go out at all. Or seeing if they need help with the computer remotely, or by lending someone a good book. You can always phone them to discuss it after.
    8. Reach out – stay connected. Sometimes when you’re really struggling, it almost feels too much effort to speak to someone. I also secretly worry that however sociable we may be, we are all getting more and more used to not mixing. Picking up the phone even if it’s occasional and speaking to a neighbour or old friend can just help us to reconnect. It doesn’t matter if it’s to have a moan about how we’re feeling, or to listen to what they’ve been up to. Make an effort to smile under your mask and wave, or say hi to people on your walk. (It always makes me laugh as I try to smile with my eyes, I probably look in reality as though I’m squinting, but at least I’m trying!) We’re all in this together and at the moment it’s easy to forget that.Sometimes from horrible situations, unexpected treats can arise – one of the most wonderful things that has happened this year was something I really didn’t expect. My old room mate at Uni reached out to all of us and suggested a Zoom reunion. It was an amazing experience, to chat to my old friends, who I haven’t spoken to in over twenty years. Really moving, to see how in some ways we’ve changed but in others, not at all. It was a beautiful, uplifting and cheering experience and helped me reconnect to my old pre-children self. We were all reunited on a screen from all over the world, Texas, Kuala Lumpur, New Zealand – all over the place. Whoever thought it would take a lockdown to achieve that?
         
    9. Exercise – if you can, exercise is a great mood booster. Whatever floats your boat, do it. I love my Zoom Zumba classes a few times a week. It’s not quite the same as meeting all my friends at the sports hall, but at least we can still dance together and wave on screen, or laugh in the same way, when it all goes wrong. If you don’t like dance, there’s keep fit classes a la Joe Wicks, kicking a football round the garden if you have one, going out on a bike orYouTube has great Yoga to do each day – although don’t hurt yourself – I did manage to crick my neck trying to do one of the moves the other day! If nothing else, put on some music and dance round the room. It doesn’t matter, there’s no one watching – I love Dua Lipa and just the sound of her music makes me want to bop around. If you aren’t so mobile or are simply too tired, I find waving my arms around sitting at my desk is quite stress relieving. Just find your jam and do your thing. The kids love it too!
    10. Mindfulness – this is a big one. It’s tough to make time for, but if you can, it is so helpful to try to get that feeling of being in the moment. I like Headspace, it’s free to download the basic package for a month so you can give it a go. My kids don’t like the man’s voice who does the mindfulness exercises, but I quite like it. Also you can change him to someone else if you find him annoying (shame that doesn’t work for some real people – lol!) I’ve done quite a lot on the Action for Happiness Website – I really can’t recommend these guys enough; there are excellent seminars on ‘Coping with Stress’ and various other self help techniques and monthly planners to help you get through the winter months. They can be found on https://www.actionforhappiness.org/ There’s also Calm, an App which does sleep stories, but if you don’t like any of these, you can just put on some relaxing music and shut the world out for a few minutes. Try not to fight the thoughts which will come through your mind, I’m a frequent overthinker about what’s for tea, or next on my to do list. But merely pretend you are lying on your back looking at the clouds in a summer blue sky. Observe them, note them, then return to letting your mind idly drift. It won’t happen straight away, but after a few days, I promise it does really help to give you just a short break from all the background noise.
    11.  Take some time for yourself. If you’re having a tough time, or even if you aren’t, practice some self-care, take an evening for a pamper and bubble bath session. Or do something you really want to do and haven’t had a chance, like painting or writing a letter to a friend. You can include others in your plans, plan a stay at home date night with your partner or a movie night with your family with popcorn and icecream. So often it’s the little things that count.
    12.  Give yourself a break. It’s okay not to feel okay and we all get off days. If you’re having a particularly bad day, be extra kind to yourself, watch something nice, plan a special snack or dinner, something you enjoy and accept this is how you feel for now. It doesn’t mean you will still be feeling that way tomorrow or at the weekend, or next week. Acceptance is particularly important, okay this is the situation, it’s pretty rubbish, but it will get better. But if you really feel you can’t cope, which happens to all of us at times, reach out to someone, to anyone – family, friends if you have them. You might find they are struggling too and are happy to talk about it. Or if you’d rather talk to someone you don’t know, somebody impartial, of if you have no one to discuss with, the NHS is still accessible for mental health support, call your GP without delay. Or the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day
      https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-having-difficult-time/
      My daughter who has autism and really struggles to communicate her difficulties, says Shout is really helpful. It is a texting service with a great response time and is there for anyone, whatever your worry. There is always someone there to talk to about your problem.  https://giveusashout.org/

Remember we are all in this together, I know it may not feel like it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve done most of the hard bit and we can do this. I really hope these tips help and if you have any further ideas, do please add them in the comments section below.

Lots of love and virtual hugs,

Fiona/Chloe xxx

Shortlisted for RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2020

Romantic Novelists Award Shortlist 2020

I am super excited to announce that I have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award 2020. The Romantic Novelists’ Association is a wonderful organisation to be a part of with its New Writer’s Scheme, which offers each writer the opportunity to receive a critique of their book, with constructive criticism and comments.

I am thrilled to be amongst some amazing books and authors in this shortlist. Huge congratulations to all the other contenders!

Exclusive Bonus Scene Edited from The Jane Austen Dating Agency

Jane Austen quote

 

This scene is set in the beauty salon which Sophie visits in preparation for her night out to meet the delectable Darcy Drummond, but it all goes horribly wrong!

 

The exterior of the salon is quite unassuming but when I get inside I am dazzled by the pure whiteness of everything and I mean everything is brilliant white, including the flowers, the chairs, the walls, the furniture and the staff uniforms. I guess whoever designed this space figured that white is alluring. Personally I find it pretty clinical and a bit hospital like, although admittedly it smells better.

 

‘You must be Sophie Johnson?’ a girl at the gleaming white crescent shaped desk smiles in a welcoming manner. She is just stunning, amazing skin, long perfect straight blonde hair swept from her face in an immaculate ponytail. Her makeup is flawless and she looks as though she lives on a diet of early morning dew and fresh fruit and nothing else. She is certainly a great advert for the salon so I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking somehow that if I magically look even a tiny bit like this for the awards this evening, it will be a miracle.

 

‘Yes,’ I smile at her, maybe this will be ok after all.

 

‘Great,’ the girl replies revealing perfect dazzling white teeth, ‘Shannon will be looking after you today so if you would like to take a seat, she’ll get the room ready for you.’

 

As she speaks, a young girl appears from the adjoining room, also dressed in white but she is completely different from the goddess at the desk. It isn’t that she is unattractive as such, she could be quite pretty but her hair is dyed a rather strange shade of purple and scraped into a stringy ponytail. More worrying still, I’m not really sure what sort of look she is going for with her makeup. It is as though she felt she needed to put the entire dark colour palette on her face and even an amateur like me isn’t sure the colours, she has chosen are working. To be fair she looks a bit like a goth.

 

‘Fab,’ I say in a faux cheery voice.

‘Right,’ says the girl at the desk. ‘You’re booked in for a back massage, mani-pedi, leg wax and an after dark evening makeover.’

‘OMG!’ grins Shannon, simultaneously revealing not one but two tongue piercings and an old much chewed piece of gum, ‘the full works, love it. Ya goin somewhere special?’

‘Erm, yes, an awards ceremony,’ I reply half heartedly whilst wondering if I can say I’ve changed my mind, or if I could text Mel surreptitiously asking her to phone me about a sudden and unavoidable crisis at home. Instead, I find myself being ushered into a small airless room with no windows, painted white of course and a bench and chair with a bowl of water placed next to it.

‘I’ll do ya feet first, then hands, although what time is me next client Maria?’ asks Shannon.

‘I’ll just check,’ replies Maria, tapping on the computer keyboard. ‘Oh God, it’s Marika Mitzpova and she’s due in at 4.’

Shannon turns pale under her heavy makeup, ‘Oh crap, what we gonna do? We can’t double book Marika, remember last time?’

‘It’s ok,’ I interrupt trying not to sound too eager although in a weird way, I am kind of interested in what did happen last time. ‘I can just leave it, it’s no problem.’ I start edging towards the door, my feet feeling for my flats, which I have removed in readiness for the bubbly bowl of water.

‘No, no,’ exclaims Shannon, grabbing my arm and propelling me back into the room, ‘we can’t have you going to an awards ceremony looking like this, we can squeeze both in can’t we Maria?’ I feel a bit offended actually, looking like what? I don’t look that bad do I?

“I guess we can juggle some stuff around, and Jen, can paint your fingernails whilst Shannon does your wax to save time. And if you don’t mind missing the massage?’

 

The two girls usher me back into the room before I can protest or think of an excuse to leave.

 

To be honest, I’m sorry about the massage though, that had been the bit I was looking forward to most and I could do with something relaxing as I am pretty anxious about the prospect of meeting the delectable Mr Drummond. The words ‘award ceremony’ still have a bit of a negative connotation for me since the time I was collecting my A Level results and my shoe fell off as I ran up the steps having received my certificates. I had to walk back down four steps with one shoe on and one shoe off to collect my rogue slip on, my face beetroot red with total and utter embarrassment. The theatre packed with an audience of a thousand people had roared with laughter and I had instantly found fame as ‘the shoe girl’ forever more. In fact I think it is still mentioned in the yearbook.

 

I plonk my feet into the water, which is quite nice actually, whilst Shannon appears with several plastic nails painted in vibrant shades. “Which colour are we goin for today then?’ she asks in a voice that makes me feel about six.

 

‘I think I might have the red please.’ I say after a minute’s consideration.

‘Oh ok,’ Shannon’s face makes me feel as though I have made the wrong choice. ‘What about this one?’ she splays her long black spiky fingernails out in front of her, ‘very fashionable this look at the moment you know.’

‘Erm yes, very nice, but I was thinking of something a little brighter for this evening. Looks very pretty on you though.’ I add hastily not wanting to hurt her feelings.

‘What about this one then?’ asks Shannon, producing a bright neon pink plastic nail with shiny sparkles on the edges.

‘I was thinking the red one really,’ I persist, pointing to the deep red nail sample for clarification.

‘If ya really think so,’ drawled Shannon, making it clear she didn’t agree with my choice at all but taking out her frustration by removing my feet from the water with an angry splosh, dabbing them briefly with a towel and setting to with a large nail file on my big toe. After a few minutes of Shannon’s scrubbing viciously, I begin to wonder if I have misunderstood the purpose of a visit to the salon. I thought it is meant to be relaxing and that it might help me mentally prepare for the evening, not be some kind of foot torture session.

‘Bit ticklish?’ asks Shannon.

‘A little bit, just rather sore there,’ I answer politely, thinking please stop bloody hurting my foot.

‘Oh,’ she continues to scrub hard, unabashed, this girl has the skin of a rhinoceros. ‘So what’s this party tonight then?’

 

I explain to her briefly about the GQ Best Groomed Men Awards. She is suitably impressed; ‘Isn’t that on tele and in all the mags? Are you famous or something?’

‘No,’ I laugh, ‘not exactly, I’m going along with a friend.’

‘Oh,’ Shannon is obviously pretty disappointed with this answer. ‘So what ya gonna wear, long designer dress or something?’

‘Well the dress is long and black with a gorgeous pair of sparkly sandals from Next.’

Shannon looks crestfallen, ‘Oh, I thought everyone wears designer to awards evenings and premiers and stuff,’ she leans towards me in a conspiratorial manner, ‘You realise there’s gonna be some hot, rich guys there?’

 

I smile in what I hope is a nonchalant manner, trying not to look as disgusted as I feel by the whiff of garlic breath that hits me as Shannon talks. I do think there should be a rule about eating garlic when you’re working where you’ll be in close proximity to other people’s noses.

‘My dress is Versace, it’s quite cool actually, with a piece cut out of the side and a long slit up the leg.’ Hah, that would shut her up, I didn’t need to tell her it was reduced to a hundred pounds in TK Max in my hometown.

It seems to work as Shannon finishes drying the Shellac on my toes without further comment. She then starts schlepping what I assume to be wax all over my legs.

‘Does it hurt?’ I ask nervously.

 

I am not a waxing sort of person, being totally OCD about body hair. This means I hack off any offending hairs with my razor as soon as they appear every day whilst in the shower. I was totally horrified when I found out I needed to let my hairs grow for a while before waxing but had managed to force myself to cultivate a few days stubble in readiness for the process.

 

‘Not much,’ Shannon answers briskly continuing to paint wax all over my legs and thighs. ‘You just have to get used to it.’

 

Meanwhile a young girl also dressed in white appears with a set of manicure tools. I assume this is Jen, she seems quite sweet and friendly. She starts buffing my fingernails whilst Shannon puts moisturiser on my finished toenails, waiting for the wax on my legs to dry. It’s quite nice actually, I could get used to this, definitely much more like it. I breathe in deeply, closing my eyes and…….

 

‘Aaaggghhhh my God!’ It feels like someone has poured boiling water on my leg, it’s as though it is on fire. And it isn’t just me yelling, the young girl is screaming and there is a crash as utensils and hot wax goes flying through the air. ‘What the hell did you just do?’ I demand, shocked.

‘More like what’ve you done love?’ asks Shannon, scrabbling on the floor to pick up bits which have been strewn everywhere like confetti. ‘No harm done really tho,’ she says, ‘that is once we’ve got the nail varnish off Jen and hope the wax hasn’t set in her hair.’

I look bemusedly at Jen who to my horror appears to have been daubed across her entire face with bright red shellac polish, oh God and it’s in her hair and oh, good grief, it’s up the wall as well. Though I actually think it is kind of artistic, it sort of breaks up the white. In the Tate gallery it would probably win a prize for symbolising chaos or something.

Worse still, there is a huge blob of hair removal wax nestling at the top of Jen’s blonde ponytail. I try to apologise but she leaves the room sobbing, led out by Maria, who has I noticed managed to get red on her immaculate white coat whilst trying to mop guaranteed long lasting 30 day non chip shellac varnish off Jen’s face.

Oh, God how embarrassing. ‘I’m so sorry, I hadn’t meant to jump like that – it just really hurt.’ I protest, ’I didn’t realise you were going to do the wax then. I guess this happens all the time?’

‘Not really,’ scowls Shannon, trying unsuccessfully to remove the bright red arc of shellac from the wall with a handful of small nail polish remover pads. ‘Simon’s gonna go nuts about this.’

Oh God, this is just so embarrassing, I make a serious mental note to never ever come to this salon again, not that they would let me in next time.

 

‘Right, now I’m gonna remove the rest of the wax, ok?’ Shannon speaks slowly and clearly as though I am really stupid.

She rips off the first part of the strip with meaning, ‘Ouch!’ I yell, ‘Don’t do any more.’

‘Well it has to come off somehow,’ states Shannon, quite reasonably to be fair.

‘Not like that,’ I exclaim, reaching forward and picking the strip off in one corner like a kid trying to gently remove a plaster from their cut knee.

‘You’ll never get it off like that,’ states Shannon pessimistically.

 

A couple of hours later, the wall is scrubbed to quite an attractive shade of rose pink, although it still looks a little odd. I on the other hand, have beautifully painted red nails and toenails. My makeup is……..well pretty good actually though it does look rather heavier than I am used to but I figure I appear more glamorous than my usual self. Admittedly I have one hair free leg and the other is a bit stubbly but I figure I can always quickly shave the other leg when I get home. I have apologised profusely to the staff as I kind of felt bad about the whole episode. Jen has gone home early due to feeling unwell, but as she was wearing a hat, I guess they haven’t managed to remove the hair wax from her head without taking off a load of hair. I feel awful about it but I presume it will grow back eventually.

 

My hair on the other hand has been professionally washed and styled on big curlers without mishap, and when revealed at the end is majorly BIG hair. I kind of like it as it gives me a sort of pampered, well groomed look, which is a total novelty. I don’t look anything like my usual self, which is definitely a good thing.

 

Upon arriving back at the flat, Mel is impressed, ‘Wow!’ she exclaims, ‘someone’s swapped my roomie for a supermodel.’

 

‘Shut up!’ I return, knowing she is exaggerating, but inside I am secretly quite flattered. I’m ready…..move over Lizzie….Darcy Drummond here I come…..

 

 

 

 

Chick Lit and Mental Health: Writing My Happy Place!

lady reading

 

Since I was a small child, I remember being entranced by the fact that wherever you go and whatever you have to do, if you have a book with you, you have ownership of a portal to another world. A book is a compact magical door, which enables the reader to escape from reality and voyage far, far away to other lands, cultures and destinations. A book allows you to travel when there is nowhere else to go.

When things go wrong in your own life, which they do quite frequently in mine anyway, a book enables us to run away, to become involved, albeit temporarily in someone else’s story. I guess this is why so many readers get that feeling of desolation when they finish reading a particularly good book. There is that sensation of loss, the ‘oh,’ that bump back to reality. But then there’s always the joy of knowing another book is waiting, a fresh new world ready for exploration.

This is especially true at the moment with the uncertainty of Brexit, political conflict, pandemics and global warming. Through all these somewhat scary world events, there is always the comfort of being able to escape back into the reassuring world of fiction. This is why as a writer, I sometimes become frustrated when there is criticism and an attitude of snobbery towards chicklit or uplit or whatever you want to call it. This genre of women’s writing is incredibly important. It is ironic that chick-lit is often dismissed as inconsequential when in reality it plays such a vital part in mental health.

This was even the case in Jane Austen’s time when there were wars, difficulties with the Regency, the loss of her father and potential homelessness. Did Jane write about any of this? Not exactly, although most keen readers can spot the true depth of feeling and personal sadness beneath the comedy.

Soldiers in World War I, or the Janeites, named by Rudyard Kipling in his famous poem, secretly found solace losing themselves in the far off, quintessentially English landscape of regency romance. Austen must have provided a truly wistful read for these brave men, mentally trying to escape from the horrors of the battlefield. On a different level, my family has had it’s own struggles and difficulties, especially with two of my daughter’s having major health conditions, the eldest of whom is also autistic and was without diagnosis for many years, resulting in an eating disorder. Yet when things have got really tough, I have taken refuge in Jane Austen and the work of other writers ,who have provided a happy haven for me to hide in for a while.

This is what inspired me to write The Jane Austen Dating Agency in the first place. We are all suckers for a happy romance and why not? Who on earth wants to live in the real world? Whilst writing this novel, instead of worrying at every moment about my own problems, I spent plenty of time trying to help Sophie figure out hers. They were much more entertaining than my own!

I very much hope that in The Jane Austen Dating Agency, I have provided readers with their own escape route into another happier, somewhat comic, but nevertheless reassuring world of romance and storytelling.

 

 

Writing as an Escape

young lady writing

On the theme of writing as an escape, I sometimes wonder to myself if Jane Austen used writing to withdraw from the unsatisfying reality of her own life. We are told that her Mother tended to the garden and her sister, Cassandra managed the house whilst she scribbled away, creating her wonderful novels. It sounds like a perfect arrangement and one which worked for them as a family.

In the last few years of motherhood to my four daughters, during which I have graduated from laughing at Mrs Bennet to empathising with her, I have often contemplated what would have happened if Jane Austen had married Harris Bigg-Wither. He was a wealthy suitor who proposed to Jane whilst she and her sister were staying on his estate. Jane accepted him that evening but obviously spent a sleepless night regretting her decision as she then told poor old Harris she had changed her mind the next morning, leaving his house immediately. Most awkward, but as I occasionally tell my husband and children in my very rare frustrated moments (because I love them all really), I very much doubt if Austen would have written such wonderful novels if she had been running a home and looking after her children. Well, in the case of Jane Austen, we will never know.

As for me, well, my Mum and sister have other things to do rather than run my house, or garden, so I will just have to rely on the wonderful modern conveniences of the washing machine, the microwave and the occasional babysitter…..

The Secret of Editing Your Work

woman reading book

So I am part way through the second draft of my novel. A bit daunting to put it mildly, but exciting too.

I was very well behaved and left it nearly a month from finishing the first draft before reading the whole thing fresh.

This helped to give a little more distance and has made it easier to spot several things that need changing straight away. As for the rest, I’m wading on through…watch this space

 

 

October 2017

I have finally completed my debut novel. Several drafts later and having written, rewritten and edited until my eyes were on stalks, my manuscript is complete. It has been the most rewarding and yet extremely daunting project but I have loved nearly every minute of it.

Now the even harder process begins of trying to find a home for my manuscript with an agent or publisher …and of course whilst I am doing that, I have started writing book 2…