‘Who’d Have Thought It?’

My posts normally have less ambiguous titles, but today’s contribution is from my fellow author and journalist Christine Webber whose forthcoming novel is called exactly that, and, as you’ll see, the name is just right. Over to Christine.

After 30 years of being conventionally published, Who’d Have Thought It? is my first independent venture. The novel sees my return to fiction after 29 years (doesn’t time fly!) of penning self-help books.
A lot of the knowledge I’ve acquired as a health writer, and as a psychotherapist, has crept into these pages. I’ve had tremendous fun fictionalising situations that I see all around me.
But my main reason for writing this book is that I find mid-life much busier and more unsettled than I had anticipated. Most people I speak to – who are also of ‘a certain age’ – say the same thing.  That sentiment underpins the story of Who’d Have Thought It?  
Here’s a brief extract from a chapter well into the novel, when my main character, Annie, has been persuaded by her best friend Janey to try internet dating.

FreeImages.com/Doru Lupeanu

She pushed open the door of the all-day bar and saw him immediately. As he had promised, he was sitting near the mock fire in the middle of the room. He had highly-polished shoes, a blazer and a cravat. A cravat! Dear God, she thought, I didn’t know you could still buy those.  

His eyes lit up when he saw her. He jumped up and lurched forwards, apparently eager to plant a kiss on her cheek. Quickly, she held out a hand to be shaken.

‘I think,’ he said. ‘Not that I’m used to this kind thing, but the form is that, on a first meeting, each participant gets his or her own refreshment.’

‘Fine by me,’ she smiled.

As she waited for the noisy coffee machine to steam her milk to a high enough temperature, Annie was able to view Roger in a mirror above the bar. He was about sixty. Dapper. A little tubby. Not overly tall. Perfectly respectable-looking – but her heart was not in this outing, and she wondered how soon she might decently leave without seeming rude.

‘Ah, not a drinker, then,’ he said with evident disappointment as she returned, carrying her cappuccino.

‘Bit early for me,’ she murmured. 

FreeImages.com/Carien van Hest

He raised his eyebrows. ‘Ah well, once you retire, there seems no reason not to drink whenever you want to. And the excellent thing here is that mid-afternoon, you get a deal – steak and kidney pie and a pint. Had my grub earlier. Very fine!’

She stirred her coffee, stifling an urge to giggle.

‘And they do two-for-one meals on Monday, which is really top value. You couldn’t get a better meal anywhere. And, if I say so myself, I do travel a lot, so I know what I’m talking about.’ He paused to take a deep gulp of his ale.

‘Last month, for example, I accompanied a young lady to the continent for a long weekend. Very luckily, I got a cut-price deal on the overnight ferry crossing. And if you make sure you’re one of the first on board, you can get good reclining seats so you don’t need a cabin. Of course, with the ferries taking care of two nights, you only need to shell out for one night in a hotel. And I found a pretty decent B and B …’

‘And are you still seeing that “young lady”?’ Annie asked innocently.

He took a swig of beer. ‘No! She rang me after we returned to say she’d gone back to her husband. I was bloody annoyed because I had rather pushed the boat out on her account.’

‘That would be the ferry boat, would it?’ Annie murmured, gazing at her rapidly disappearing coffee. ‘Yes, I suppose some women can be awfully ungrateful.’

‘You can say that again,’ he remarked before he launched into a story about another young lady who had let him down.

Surreptitiously, she glanced at her watch. Janey had said she might ring to see if she was coping. 

Fortunately, a couple of minutes later, her friend obliged.

 ‘So sorry,’ she explained to Roger, ‘I have to get this…’ Then ignoring Janey’s whispered question about how things were going, she spoke loudly into the phone: ‘Darling … Oh no! No, of course. I’ll come right away…’

‘Trouble?’ Roger’s brown eyes – which had, up until now, twinkled with a benign expression – gazed somewhat angrily at her.

‘I’m afraid so. My daughter’s having a crisis at the moment. And I have to go. That’s what mums are for.’ She stood up. ‘I would thank you for the coffee, but since I bought my own I won’t bother. Good bye.’

He harrumphed: ‘Well, I must say … Still, maybe another time.’

She was halfway to the door. ‘Probably not,’ she said over her shoulder.

Who'd Have Thought It?

Who’d Have Thought It? is out on June 10 in paperback and as an ebook.

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“Single Mother of Four Seeks Man with Pulse”

“I was going to specify GSOH and plump wallet. Among other things,” says Rose, her wine glass poised in the air as she gives a meaningful look. “But then I thought: you can’t be too picky.”

“You are so NOT going to compose a lonely hearts ad for me.” Karen crosses her arms for emphasis.

Karen is a newly single mother of four from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. And Rose, as you can guess, is a well-meaning friend who’s sitting in her kitchen dispensing advice.

kitchen

“Well, how are you going to meet anyone?” asks Rose.

Good question. Certainly not at the Tupperware club. That’s what the local mums call the evenings they spend together moaning about the price of school blazers or discussing how to get grass stains out of their kids ’ gym kit. There is no Tupperware, but there is plenty to drink.

red wine

Not at her children’s school, either. As it is, the one male teacher has to fend off the attentions of every single mother, especially when he’s in PE shorts.

“I don’t suppose there was any talent at the tyre place last week?” Rose’s eyes light up briefly.

Karen shakes her head. “One spotty youth in a beanie, and that roly-poly one who can barely squeeze himself under a car.”

Since when has Karen’s world become so divided along gender lines?  Since the children, that’s when. It has got worse with every one of her four kids.  Now it is as if feminism never existed.

She tries to explain this, but Rose doesn’t get it at all. “You’re not going all Mary Portas on us now, are you? Not that there’s anything wrong with being a late-flowering lesbian, I suppose. Got any more Merlot?”

Karen is giving this search her best shot. She never leaves the house without lipstick, when she remembers.  Even for shopping she wears her best clothes, which are her latest finds from Oxfam and the Red Cross shop.

shopping trolley

From previous experience, she reckons Sainsbury’s is hardly a great place to pull, except maybe a shopping trolley. But you never know, do you?

Yesterday she made Mr Jellicoe’s heart beat a little faster in the supermarket carpark.  

old persons crossingThere he was, looking like the man in the Elderly People Crossing sign, with a humungous carrier bag that clanked as he shuffled along. He still had his Lambrini habit then. He recognized Karen and got so close she could see his dentures moving. So she said she had to run. Which she did, like the wind.

Rose drains her glass. “You know what?”

Karen says nothing. ‘You know what?’ usually presages a really, really bad idea.

“I’ve got my cousin coming to stay next month. He’s a widower, and he’s not short of a few bob either. I don’t know why I didn’t think of him before.”

“What does he look like?” asks Karen, mostly to show interest.

“Actually, he’s not bad. I think you’ll really like him.”

Karen refills her glass. Yes, another really, really bad idea. But what’s there to lose? 

A Mini Blog Tour for Spring

The best thing about blogging? Connecting with other people. I’ve said that since I started, but this is the first time I’ve been asked along to a blog hop.

Yes, it’s the Writers’ Blog Tour, in which writers talk about what they write and how they do it. Sara Rose Salih invited me. Sara’s blog is a treasure trove of all things teen fiction, and no wonder. She’s the author of a new juvenile fiction series, Life As We Note It (check out the first book, Tales of a Sevie).

The tour has a lot in common with a chain letter, because you pass the same four questions about writing on to three new writer-bloggers, as I’ll do at the end of this post. So here goes.

1. What am I working on?

I’m writing a sequel to my novel One Night at the Jacaranda, which is about dating. Readers tell me they love the characters, so I’m taking some of my favourite flawed people (and theirs) into new adventures. Like the first book, it will be a racy read.

Tower Bridge

Yep, the location is London. You might also notice that this is taken north of the Thames. People from north London rarely venture south of the river unless they really have to, but let’s see what happens as the story unfolds.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

My genre is chick-lit (‘commercial women’s fiction’ if you’re la-di-dah). But One Night at the Jacaranda has more than one protagonist and is written from multiple points of view (memo to la-di-dah types: it’s an ‘ensemble novel’).   Crucially, many of the voices are male, so it appeals to male readers too.

Another contrast with most chick-lit is that there’s very little physical description of the characters, other than the fact that Dan is bald, Simon has a comb-over, and Karen’s body is a bit saggy (after four kids, who’ve had thought, eh?).

What they do have is dark secrets, so there are some serious issues, but the overall tone is still upbeat, in keeping with the genre.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’m an established journalist and non-fiction writer, but I’ve always yearned to write a novel. Why I wrote this particular story, I really don’t know. The idea came to me on a Continental Airlines flight after my father died, as I’ve described elsewhere in my blog.

And now that I have developed such memorable characters, I’m going to help them live as long as possible. Well, I am a doctor!

4. How does my writing process work?

I write best on the sofa with pencil and paper. And cat.

cat on a sofa

To get me started I might need music and a coffee.   Uh-oh. The pencil’s a bit blunt.

sharp pencils in 60s mug

May as well sharpen all of them, right?

Once I have installed myself again (and the cat), I may spend as long as 10 minutes writing before the phone rings with something urgent for me to do.

Out of this highly productive routine I end up with reams and reams of material, most of which has to be re-written several times before I pass it on my husband and some writer friends for their opinion. I might also float some of it on this blog to see what you think.  And that’s how I do it.

Time to pass the baton on to three talented bloggers.

L.K. Watts writes an eclectic range of books. Her first two stem from her worldly adventures in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. These fresh and funky books reflect L.K.’s personality perfectly. She’s travelled the Trans-Siberian Express in Russia and Mongolia and has done a ten-week stint of conservation volunteering in Ireland.  Author LK Watts

When she isn’t out making the most of life and living it to the max, she writes women’s fiction. Her debut chick-lit novel is her third book to be released.

But do not be fooled. L.K. is currently writing something that will make the most unshockable person gasp.

At the moment L.K. lives in the U.K with her partner and two adorable dogs. Her blog is LK Watts Confessions.

Anne Wainscott comes from a family of story-tellers. She’s an author and blogger at The Writing Well as well as a storyteller-for-hire right here. Author Anne Wainscott

Her 2004 mother-daughter memoir A Breath Away came after losing her mother to smoking.

She’s currently finishing her first historical novel, Torrential, a re-imagining of a flood that destroyed her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, a century ago.

You can also find her on Twitter.

Michael La Ronn is a fantasy author who writes Decision Select Novels, which are a modern reimagining of the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks. He also writes traditional novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction.Author Michael La Ronn

He is a former musician and loves jazz and other obscure genres that no one’s ever heard of. His upcoming book, Festival of Shadows, will be released in June.

Michael lives with his wife in Des Moines, Iowa.

You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

Why not go look for them?

How to Mend a Broken Heart

This week I’m delighted to feature a guest post from psychotherapist and author Christine Webber.  If you have angina, talk to your doctor, but if your heart’s broken, you need Christine’s wisdom.

Chris WebberIs there a worse pain in the world than heart-break? I don’t think so.

It can happen if you’re made redundant. Or if a parent or partner dies. But most of us associate it with being dumped. And that is one of life’s truly devastating losses.

You lose your partner. Your investment in the past and future. Your certainty about who you spend Sundays with. And – most distressing of all – you can feel that you’ve lost your judgement too.

As one heartbroken client of mine said: ‘I picked him. Then I put up with all sorts of awful things when we were together – but soldiered on because of our children. Now I wonder what on earth I was thinking when I got together with him in the first place.’

So what can you do to get over your broken heart?

First of all, don’t make things worse than they already are by assuming that life is going to be hateful for ever.

Often, when people are heart-broken they say: ‘I feel rejected, and miserable and low …’ This is entirely logical, and understandable.

But then they compound their distress by saying something illogical like: ‘And no one else will ever love me again, and life will be total hell from now on.’

However, without a crystal ball, they can’t possibly know  that!

broken heart

So, no matter how hurt you are, try to confine your focus to what’s happening now, rather than making painful assumptions about your future.

Secondly, accept that the relationship is totally over. It’s agony acknowledging that your partner has really gone for good – but it’s easier in the long run than living in hope that he or she will have a change of heart.

Another thing you need to accept is that you may never understand why you’ve been dumped. Often people insist that they can’t move on till they know for sure what went wrong. This is a waste of time and energy. Vast numbers of individuals never feel satisfied with the reasons their ex gives them for wanting out. So the sooner you give up on getting a plausible explanation the better.

Next – no matter what the temptation – don’t try to be pals with your former partner. He or she may try to persuade you to stay friends, in an attempt to lessen their own guilt. But this is unlikely to benefit you. You’ve got friends. You wanted your partner to fulfil a totally different role. In time, perhaps you will be able to restore some sort of friendship – especially if you share children – but not now.

Above all, NEVER HAVE SEX WITH YOUR EX. Afterwards, you’ll feel more lonely and wretched than ever.

Of course your ex-partner may hint that he or she has made a terrible mistake. If that happens, you should talk together, have dinner, talk some more …  But don’t let this person join you in bed unless the relationship is fully back on track.

Finally, write a list of things about your ex that you don’t miss. This is very therapeutic. Carry it with you at all times and add to it every time you think of another negative aspect of this person who has hurt you so much.

One day, like the characters in One Night at the Jacaranda, you’ll realise that you’re ready to start dating again, and that you’ve got a whole lot of living to do yet. I can’t promise you when that will be, but it will happen.

Christine Webber is a psychotherapist who specialises in sex and relationship problems, and the author of How To Mend A Broken Heart.

Finding a Man: the Sure-Fire 5-Point Plan (part two)

“Get yourself out there” says Rose. “I’ll babysit.”

So far, Karen’s sure-fire dating plan has failed to produce a suitable man (or, as her friend Rose points out, any man at all).

Just to explain, Karen is a mum of four who normally lives between the pages of my novel.  Any mother who’s newly single knows her predicament: lack of time, money, and a decent man.

“You’ve got to leave your comfort zone.  Open some doors.  Go where the fellas are.” Rose hands out wisdom along with a cup of tea.open doorway

Karen hopes that won’t mean betting shops or football matches.  Car maintenance classes might work, especially given the state of her Toyota, but she isn’t sure how attractive she’d be wearing overalls and Castrol GTX.

The gym, of course!  Then she thinks of her shapeless boobs, wobbly thighs, and a bladder that might not stand up to 5 minutes on the cross-trainer.   She’s after male interest, not abject pity. 

“I heard about this mingle” says Rose.   It’s at a large London library, apparently.  Karen likes books though she’s not sure how many she’s finished since her kids arrived.

On the night, she puts on a Primark dress and tucks a paperback into her bag.  You’re meant to take a book to swap at the mingle.  The Women’s Room will do nicely. Karen doesn’t need reminding that shit and string beans take over your mind.

When she arrives, there seem to be about 60 people there already.  She’d have got there earlier, only four-year old Edward decided to pull his big sister’s phone to pieces to see how it worked.

Karen puts her Marilyn French on a table.  It joins Sartre, Sebastian Faulks, CJ Sansom, Stephen Hawking and Dickens.

Everyone is offered a piece of paper out of a hat. library hat

Seems there’s a different hat for men.   Karen unfolds her paper. Lady Hamilton.  There’s no guarantee she’ll get it on with Lord Nelson, but a free glass of wine is on offer for those who find their missing half.

That’s why people are circulating, talking books, music, folding bicycles and other singleton stuff.

“I got cheap tickets.  Great production.”

“Goes right past the dome of St Paul’s.”

“Yeah, but you feel miles better next day.”

Nobody seems to be fretting about their offspring.    A white-haired man bumps into Karen.  “Are you Heloise?”

She’s not, so off he goes.  She watches him as he weaves his way through the crowd, his desperation increasing as woman after woman shakes her head.

An incredibly tall man bends down double and starts talking to her.   He’s Tristan, not Lord Nelson.  He spends two minutes asking Karen about her job (none at the moment) then wanders off to track down Isolde.

Sometimes it’s tough to be optimistic without wine.   Karen buys a large glass of red but it doesn’t make her feel any better.

Romeo and Juliet have already found each other..  Now they’re comparing notes on their daily commutes.

The white-haired man comes back to check she’s not Heloise.   He looks crestfallen when Karen says she’s Lady Hamilton.   There’s no sign of Lord Nelson.   Posh is deep in conversation with Becks.   Fred is with Wilma, and Napoleon, who’s an Aussie, is describing his fitness regime to Josephine.

Nobody has talked to Karen since Abelard.  It’s all very well leaving your comfort zone, but intense discomfort is counter-productive.

She finishes her drink and leaves early, grabbing a book from the Swap Table on her way out.  What’s so wrong with The Women’s Room anyway?

***

‘When your body has to deal all day with shit and string beans, your mind does too’, said Marilyn French in her debut novel The Women’s Room.  See Valli’s Book Den http://srivallip.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-women-room-by-marilyn-french.html

Finding a Man: the Sure-Fire 5-Point Plan

You’ve got to be organized, especially when you’re a single mum with four kids.  Karen’s good at lists.  Most of them look like this.

RSPCA memo pad

Karen is a character from my forthcoming novel, but if you have kids you probably know her. Her latest list is a plan.  A sure-fire 5-point plan to find herself a man.  Here goes:

1.  Be optimistic

2.  Look great at all times

3.  Network

4.  Go where the men are

5.  Leave comfort zone

OK, so she hasn’t met anyone since Tom moved out six months, but it shouldn’t be rocket science. After all, she used to be in HR.  She’ll get her man.

Point 1:  easy.  Karen’s always upbeat.  Her motto is ‘It’ll be fine’.  It’s simple, easy, and versatile.  It can be shouted when your 8-year old’s team is 7-0 down, as was the case last Sunday. Which sort of worked, because Damon didn’t let in any more goals after that.

All may not be fine, Karen admits, unless she implements 2 Look great at all times.  She learnt that lesson trying to flirt at the recycling centre when she looked like one of the totters.  Now she brushes her hair, applies lippy, and wears matching shoes even if she’s only doing the school run.  The other morning Charlotte watched critically from the doorway (she’s 10. Critical’s what she does).

“Mummy, why do you need mascara and blusher just to go to the bank?”

“You never know, sweetheart.  Suppose I run into Harry Potter in the high street?”

Karen has a new get-up too.  It’s for everyday wear, instead of the joggers that are only suitable for the garden, ideally on the compost heap.  She hadn’t been looking for new clothes, but she was in Sainsbury’s walking down the wrong aisle, which had a lot in common with her wedding.  Unlike her ex-husband, it was 25% off and came with double Nectar points.  

Sainsbury's signThe top isn’t quite the right size, but Karen fixes that in no time.  If she doesn’t raise her arms, nobody will even notice the staples.

On to point 3: Network.  Not so much using LinkedIn as mining existing contacts.  Surely somewhere there’s a friend of a friend who knows a single guy who isn’t an axe-murderer.  Karen doesn’t have the nerve to ask every mum at the school gates if they have a brother or a discarded husband/lover/toyboy, but she drops a few hints.

The outcome is the dinner party from hell, with single bachelordom represented by a monosyllabic quantity surveyor with personal hygiene issues.  Her hosts aren’t speaking to each other, which makes the evening as fun as a conference of Trappist monks.  The dinner is a roast and the meat wasn’t local.  Karen chews in dutiful silence, trying not to think of live lambs trapped for hours in an overcrowded container lorry.

Karen describes the evening to her best friend Rose.

“That’s no use” says Rose.  “You’ve got to go where the real men are.”

Karen recalls a teenage pastime.  “What, like hanging around the barracks and hoping to pick up a squaddie?”

“No, silly.   You’ve got a car.  And you like books, don’t you?”  Rose has a couple of suggestions.bookshelf

Coming soon: what happened when Karen left her comfort zone.

Meanwhile here’s one of dating blogs Karen has been reading http://www.nerve.com/advice

If her kids are still up, she looks at this site instead http://www.nectar.com

Where on earth can you meet someone?

When you’re 30-something, it’s tough to meet people.  I know a couple who met on an allotment, but, when I tried growing vegetables, all I pulled was a bunch of deformed carrots.

Laura has a similar problem.  At uni, men were young, plentiful and persistent.  Now it’s a different story.

She dreams she’ll randomly meet a hot guy while out shopping.  He’ll have eyes like molten chocolate and a French name like Yves.  They’ll swap phone numbers and then – well, the rest will be in soft-focus.   shoppingIn point of fact, the only time she spotted anyone attractive in a shop, she up-ended her handbag in the aisle.  Instead of helping her collect coins and tampons off the floor while begging for her number, the guy turned away and carried on studying tea-bag prices.

Back to dating websites then.  Where she’s 34, called Emma, pretends she’s not a lawyer, and gives a fake phone number.  It’s a pay-as-you-go mobile she can easily discard.  All those phoney layers will have to come off if (or when?) when she meets someone nice.  She’ll cross that bridge when she gets to it.

Geoff is another character out of my forthcoming novel.  He’s a newly divorced doctor, and the nice pay packet no longer makes up for sky-rocketing patient demand and new government diktats every other day.  During his years working in hospitals, women threw themselves at him, and academic awards came equally fast and thick.  stethoscopeBut he’s been a GP for over 10 years now, and the sea is remarkably empty of fish.  GMC guidelines forbid relationships with patients, and he doesn’t fancy the new receptionist, even if the patients adore her.   Plus there’s a new problem now.  He can’t perform as he once did.

Geoff returns the call to the nursing home.  Bad news: 94-year old Mrs Montgomery fell out of bed again so he’ll have to visit.  She seems fine, they say, but as always the staff want to ‘cover’ themselves.

Get yourselves a duvet, thinks Geoff as he gets into his car.

Karen, now.  Men haven’t exactly been beating a path to her dilapidated front door.  No, her best friend tells her, the meter reader doesn’t count.

Newly single, Karen has 4 children and no job.  She’s still confident she’ll meet someone eventually, even if all the evidence so far is against it.

After a clear-out, today she’s headed for the recycling centre.  It’s on her way to the hairdresser’s for a much overdue appointment, via the shoe repairers and the bank.  Why spend more on petrol than you have to?  Karen doesn’t obsess about her appearance, especially when she’s busy cramming her clapped-out Toyota with bags of garden refuse, broken toys, mouldy trainers, 994-piece puzzles, and clothes that her kids have worn to death.recyclingParking her car in front of the containers, she notices a man in a green T-shirt unloading a wardrobe from the back of his estate car.  Nice buns.

He turns to face her.  It’s a Nike T-shirt, and more to the point he has a great smile.  She makes eye contact and returns the smile with a Hi, ready to talk about the wardrobe, or anything really.

He clocks her, but his smile promptly fades.  In fact he hot-foots it back to his car, driving off a lot faster than the 5 mph limit.

When she gets to the hairdresser’s, Karen is ashamed to see in the mirror just how bad her roots have got, how much garden rubbish she has on her sweatshirt and, in short, how bad she looks.

Michael knows exactly where to meet women.  After all, he’s an accountant, so he’s got it planned down to the last detail.  That’s how he does everything, even watching porn.

More to come in my novel on dating. Meanwhile why not take a moment to share your experience of meeting people? I’d love to hear your tips too.