Hobnobbing Harper Collins Stylee

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Well. I am not a frequenter of fabulous, oyster-lavished* parties, let me tell you, but wowsers… what a truly fabbo do the Harper Collins lot put on last week!

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Last Tuesday was something of a surreal experience for me. Having spoken to several fellow authors that evening, I had the distinct impression that most of them were having a delightfully surreal experience too. Phew. I thought I might be the only one wandering around the V&A in my best frock, mouth slightly agape, bubbly in hand, thinking Whoa, this place is way-HAY bigger than the Blue Banana…

Never mind bigger. The V&A is stunning. The John Madejski Garden provided a slightly more impressive backdrop than the garden parties I’ve thrown at my place, you don’t have to wait so long to get a refill at the V&A either.

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It was perfect. The weather was perfect. The Alexander McQueen exhibit was perfect. Everything was pretty darned perfect. Fair enough, as someone who spends most of her life in jeans and flip flops darting from one health-hazard to the next while my 11 month old son tests my reflexes, I was already pretty excited about the whole affair, the invitation landing on my hall floor had kicked that whimageeel into motion a few weeks before.

After months slogging it out on my third novel, the prospect of a full scrub-up and an evening schmoozing with the likes of David Walliams** was nothing short of giddying. However, it wasn’t until I’d slurped a couple of cocktails with my editor at the Mandarin Oriental and flip-flopped my way down to the venue (heels were in handbag, obvs) that I realised how lucky I was to be there.     

By all accounts, the annual Harper Collins Summer Party is a pretty exclusive bash. Authors published by them (or indeed like myself, published by Harlequin – now part of the HC group) must have a book due for release during the same year to get a toe in the door, I’m told. I only hope they’ll have me, and my toes, back again next year… the chances of which are probably not helped by the fact that I accidentally managed to tip a glass of bubbly over the beautiful black silk dress of one of my colleagues. Groan.

Oh, and I also said something to the MD of Harlequin about feeling like I’d gotten my ‘big girl pants’… in the authory sense, of course, but still. Double groan.

Social ineptitude aside, I had the BEST time. One of the first people I spoke to was an enviably-attractive blonde called Rosie who I’d practically pounced on because she was sporting a lovely little baby bump which obviously bonded us in some exclusive way, I tried to explain, simply because I’ve recently added another sprog to our own clan, plus I’m always a little awed by women who manage to look anything other than the bloated sweaty mess I had when my pregnancy met the summer months.

I probably bored her senseless but she was very lovely and polite and didn’t at all show it if I had. Trust me, this was something I gave a lot of thought to later on having learned that Rosie is the editor of Hello magazine. Agh. At least I didn’t utter I carried a watermelon… I don’t think?! No offence to my colleague but thank goodness it wasn’t the editor of Hello‘s dress I lobbed my champers at. Shudder.

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Amid the fun and frolics though, despite my excitability, I did find myself having a brief moment of calm clarity. Not so long ago, while idly pondering how people ever actually got a chance at being ‘proper’ published writers, I felt as if I was stuck on one side of a very high wall, without the faintest clue how to bust through it and become one of the privileged minority I imagined on the other side, writing their novels, mingling with other equally privileged beings at delightful gatherings in London. It’s not all like that, as any author will say. Writing is mostly about late nights (not the fun kind), baggy clothes and baggier eyelids.

But last Tuesday night, for a few wonderful hours, there was no question about it. I was on the other side of that wall.

So keep writing, writers. Because you never know what may come x

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Think I was the only one who looked like a snap-happy tourist. Again, groan.

*I’m a bit of a philistine. I didn’t brave an oyster. My best friend warned me ‘it’s like licking phlegm off a turtle’. She’s a nurse. I trust her about this stuff.

**I didn’t schmooze with David Walliams, I didn’t even realise he was there until the next morning – doh.

Muffin-Top Wars – the first sweaty gyration.

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That’s it. I’m all out of excuses.

Jesse Boy is ten months old, he’s not interested in mum’s moloko any more so I no longer need to eat with him in mind, book 3 is finished and in the last couple of weeks, my mum has retired.

So I can diet. I can leave the baby for an hour and go to the gym. See? My excuses are like the contents of our biscuit tin. Ain’t nuttin left.

That said, I can’t have my mother running over to our place every day and seeing as I love scoffing food almost as much as I love my kids (some days it’s close… real close), I’m going to have to put in a regular effort if these thighs are ever gonna see the inside of my favourite slacks again.

Much as I’ve enjoyed developing them, and much as they hang so attractively out of the top of my maternity jeans (yes, I’m still wearing them), I need to shift these muffin tops.

I need something quick and simple I can do at home a couple of times a day without anyone watching me wiggle. So I’m having another blast with a Hula Hoop, which is fairly fitting given how many packets of Salt & Vinegar I snaffled during the last months finishing off my manuscript.

I’ve tried this before, when they were first in fash, and it bloody killed. After knocking the kettle off the kitchen worktop with the hoop from hell (the thing was stupid-huge, you needed a helipad for safe clearance) and persevering because it was ‘working wonders’ for the bloody celebs, my weak, commoner ribs felt like they’d been kicked by a horse. I actually cried privately after wincing my way through a second bash with that awful contraption. It now resides in the shed… nicely webbed up and covered in slug trails… right next to my fitness trampette.

But I’ve got myself a new bad boy. A new, padded-so-I-don’t-hurt-meself jobby. So I’m gonna give it a proper good whirl this time, twice a day away from small kitchen appliances, and see how the old muffin-tops fare. If I’m organised, I might even manage to keep some kinda Hula Hoop diary goin. This could get messy…

Knighty’s muffin-tops. A brief history…

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Briefly muffin-less

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Belly nicely stretching out/disguising muffin situation

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Momentary motivation fuelled by imminent swim-suit season

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Weapon of choice/small snack to keep me goin

Long Lost Family

I caught a few minutes of the lovely Davina McCall on ITV yesterday afternoon talking about the new series of Long Lost Family returned tonight to ITV.

I really like Davina. I love her way with people. Whether she’s enthusiastically encouraging kids before they go on the Got To Dance stage or carefully managing the intricacies of a mother and child’s long-awaited reunion, she seems to pick up very quickly on the emotional needs of the people around her, handling them with a deft and gentle hand. I met a journalist last year who knows Davina well and I was thrilled to hear that she’s just as ace off screen as she is on. Which makes me glad, because Long Lost Family is one of those shows that really plays on my mind.

It’s more than Emotion Porn as I once heard it referred to. That phrase would go on to have a hefty impact on a friend of mine, but I’ll come to him in a sec.

Long Lost Family might well be emotion porn to some… a quick fix with a box of tissues followed by a brew and a biccy and a fleeting sense of relief that – thank goodness – we don’t all have such achingly difficult family histories to bear. I get it. I’ve just sat glued to the telly too, utterly absorbed in the stories unfolding of parents, children and siblings. Separated. Affected. Uncertain. But whilst we viewers are getting our fix in an hour or so of TV, these moments we’re seeing are the culmination of years… decades… lifetimes in many cases, of heartache for these people. And yes, I guzzle it down too but like the majority of viewers, for an hour I do nothing but hope that these perfect strangers I’ll never know will finally find some relief from the situations that have blighted them for so long. And this program helps them to do that.

The thing that bothers me though, is that Long Lost Family is providing a service many people are struggling to access away from the television screen.

I have a close friend who applied to be on Long Lost Family a few years ago. He’d tried all the usual avenues first. He’d put his name on the Adoption Contact Register in hopes that his adopted sibling might do the same so they could be matched; he’d trawled online ‘people-finding’ databases thinking that his brother’s name might be buried in one of them just waiting to be found. And with the arrival of the mighty social networks it had never seemed more promising for my pal to finally have a decent chance at finding the big brother he’d never known.

Emails were sent, letters written, phone calls made. But nothing. It would go on the back-burner while life trundled on, then he’d have another shot, see if it had gotten any more likely since his last efforts.

Maybe he doesn’t want to be found, I said to him once. Finding a sibling after nearly forty years could open up all sorts of cans of worms, how could anyone second-guess the effects it could have, not just on my friend and his family but on the person who was adopted too?

But I already knew the answer. He’s my brother. How can I not look for him?

So how does a person go about finding a sibling who probably doesn’t even know they weren’t an only child? Whose name changed shortly after birth and whose adoptive family’s details remain locked away in some establishment archive somewhere, rightly out of the reach of anyone who might, for whatever reason, come poking around?

Apparently there aren’t many places you can turn. There were organisations offering tracing/intermediary services, but with uncapped fees it’s not something everyone can throw themselves into.

So a couple of years ago, he applied to Long Lost Family, assuming he’d get swallowed up in all the other applications they must surely have. But then they showed interest. A few phonecalls ensued and he was told they’d be in touch over the following months, only, they called back within days. They wanted photos of him, which he emailed off, then the producers were keen to set up a Skype interview with him and find out more about his story. He was all set, with everything crossed, he was going to go for it. They were going to find his brother, or at the very least, exhaust all options on his behalf.

And that’s when he pulled out. When he looked up previous Long Lost Family success stories and stumbled across a throwaway comment about emotion porn.

He couldn’t do it. To his mother, to his father. Going out quietly looking by himself was one thing, but he couldn’t bring himself to risk causing untold pain to the people around him. So he withdrew his application instead and went back to the frustrating routine of trying to prise answers from local authorities who consistently don’t bother to follow up their own offers of assistance.

Nearly twenty years have gone by since my friend first found out that he had an older brother and as he says, life is still skipping by without his brother in it. Will they be old men before they finally meet? The people on Long Lost Family are so often into their senior years by the time they first get a chance to simply say hello. It seems terribly sad to me that the likelihood of my friend’s children ever meeting and sharing something of their own childhoods with any young cousins they may have is becoming slimmer and slimmer with every passing year.

He reasons now that there was never any certainty that the show would’ve found his brother, and he’s right. There wasn’t. But there was a sliver of hope. That he might finally find answers to the questions he’s carried around with him.

What is his brother like? Is he ok? Is he happy? Is he healthy? Did he have a nurtured and loving childhood?

Is he still alive?

Those used to be the biggest questions, my friend said. But he’s heading for forty now, his kids are growing up, his parents getting old. With such limited support for birth siblings who played no part in the circumstances around such separations and who understandably have little or no rights to access information afterwards, the biggest question my friend has now is not what he might find out, but will he ever find out.

So well done to Davina, Nicky and ITV. I’ll be watching every episode. No doubt my friend will watching too.

Well hello again, world!

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Hola, amigos! So, my best intentions to keep an up-to-date blog have erm… well, the less said about that the better I reckon. What’s a few long months between friends, right? In my defence, I have been a very busy gal. I think I might hactually be a bloody caterpillar in fact, given that I disappeared into my bedroom some time around September and have only just emerged again, dazed and blinking (and not at all butterfly-like, I should mention) with plenty of empty chocolate wrappers, very hairy legs and, wait for it… ONLY A FINISHED BLEEDIN’ MANUSCRIPT!

WAHOOOO!

It’s done. My new novel. My new bloody novel! I’ve just written my 3rd book set to hit the shelves this September, what kind of craziness is this?!

Did I mention I had a baby in August? As in, gave birth to a whopper and have spent nearly every second since within nuzzling distance of him? How’s that for giving yourself a writing challenge? I tell you now, for someone who can’t jog for more than a minute without suffering that coppery-taste-in-the-mouth thing while violently rasping for air, I am pretty darned impressed with my new SAS-like endurance skillz. I kid you not, a girl feels pretty hardcore after writing till 2am, doing the 4am breastfeeding zombie thing and then crawling out of bed again to get the bigger kids to school.

WARNING

Don’t try this at home, folks.

But we’re through it, thank goodness. Normal life, whatever brand of chaos that is, is steadily creeping back down the garden path of Casa Knight. Jesse Boy is now nine months into a fairly awesome life thus far, I’ve caught up with my other two marvellous sons (and Game of Thrones, obviously… that yearning was nearly killing me), I’ve pinned the husband down and snogged his face off a few times and after taking the last fortnight off doing anything even remotely authory, I am relieved to announce that this mama is now fully-coloured, trimmed of split-ends, well-rested and smooth-legged once more. For now anyway.

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And I’m not the only one getting a good sprucing. Letting You Go is pretty much going through the same treatment over at the publisher’s. Basically I give them a hairy-legged, wobbly-bummed manuscript with a hair do like a bird’s nest, and they gently suggest which bits to prune, tighten and gloss.

Which means… oh yes, we’re neearly there! Nearly at the bit I dig the most! The part of the process where I can sit back and catch my breath and almost – almost – feel ready to laugh off all the endless nights I utterly loathed my plot ideas and pulled them apart and hated everything all that fretful, teary effort amounted to before somehow working out (with the help of a few editorial rescue missions) how to pull it all back together again.

Jeez, it’s ace to be out of that stage, I can tell ya. It’s exhausting enough just thinking about it.

But!

Boy oh boy, is it worth it.

After a few fallings out, I love my characters again. I love their story too and, dare I say it, I miss writing/reading about them. It all feels a bit weird without them featuring in my day to day, it feels a bit like we’ve had demanding house-guests for the last few months, eating our food, getting under our skin, stealing our family time. I’ve been desperate for them to bugger off and leave us alone only now I’ve recharged my batteries I quite fancy a few glasses of wine with them again. I hope I still feel that way when the author copies rock up in the post, I guess I’ll find out soon enough when I have a brand new spangly copy of my brand new spangly book clasped in these arthritic, nail-bitten hands of mine. I think it’ll be okay. I hope other people will think so too. And I don’t think it will be long after those advance copies arrive on my doorstep before I’m cracking on with Book 4, because holding your own book with your own name on the front is a pretty cool reminder of why the hard slog is totally worth it.

But it’s also bloody great being back in the real world for a while!

Anouska :)

A Part Of Me – Playlist

 

If music be the food of…

Er…

Late late nights?

Fervent finger-tapping?

Tears of frustration at those chapters that JUST. WON’T. COME. TOGETHER?

Well play on anyway, I say!

In celebration of today’s release date of A Part Of Me, thought I’d share the choonage that kept me company, and sane, while I thrashed it out writing this second book of mine. When the creative flow was more of a trickle, these babies helped smooth things along. I’ve even ordered them so they kind of suit the tempo of Amy’s journey through the book. Howzat for thinking? Sometimes, I astound myself.

Books aside, I for one dig a soundtrack. School days, that first romance, the album your kid used to sing along to in the back of the car before they were even talking properly… those days all have their own soundtrack.

Ocean Colour Scene transport me straight back to the college common room, David Bowie likes to kick up fond memories of Glasto and Morcheeba take me straight back to the sounds of Summer ’99 and that dubious pilgrimage to a campsite somewhere north of the border.

So here’s the playlist for my time writing over the last six months. Today will be the last day I listen to it, because I need to find a new playlist to take me onward to the next few chapters of my year. A third book, and third child… it’s gonna be a good soundtrack :¬) x

Pre-publication jitters… ROUND 2!

APartofMe_FrontIt’s a year on, no-one’s shot me yet for crimes against literature, and through a perfect storm of luck, guidance from my publishers and severe writer’s finger-crampage, I’ve made it back to the edge of that jittery precipice… Publication Eve!

As of tomorrow, June 20th, I will officially be a debut author no more. My mother will be lighter in the pocket for ordering at least two copies of this second novel of mine for every blighter she can can think of, and I will have graduated to my big-girl writer’s pants.

I’m pleased to report, the jitterations aren’t so bad this time around. Call it being a year older, or preggers, or just bleedin grateful for these opportunities, but I am super excited about tomorrow’s release of A Part Of Me. 

Eighteen months ago, all this ‘author’ mischief would’ve been off the chart as far as idle day-dreams went. So for anyone else with similar reveries I’ve just gotta say – aim high, kids… anything can happen x