My column’s out now: Should we take more pride in our country?

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is all about this weekend’s Diamond Jubilee and whether we should take more pride in our country. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

Let me know what you think. Should the UK be more like the USA and get flags out with pride? Or are flags a symbol of nationalist, far-right views and should be avoided?

**Look out for tomorrow’s  post, “Friday Fact or Fiction”. This week I’ll be posting the second part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn.’**

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Diary of a hopeful author: OMG! I’m up for a new writing job…

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

As the kids would say: OMG! This week I had a big meeting, and, much like treating verrucas or the amount I spend on hair care, it is something I’ve accidentally deliberately been avoiding. ‘Are you all set?’ asks my hubbie the night before the meeting. I shove a square of chocolate into my mouth. ‘No,’ I mumble, ‘but I will be. Can we talk it through?’ He nods. ‘Yup, right after Police, Camera, Action.’ I grab another square of chocolate, hesitate and grab the packet. I think I am going to need it.

The truth is this meeting is a really big deal to me. It’s one that’s been on the burner for the past month or so, the date having been moved due to busy diaries and, basically a busy year. But I am really nervous, if I’m honest. I can’t say too much about what the job is yet, but, without getting all CIA on you, it’s safe to say it’s a writing one and if I get it I’ll be chuffed to bits. That night, I go through my blog and, with the help of my hubbie, print off all the relevant writing pieces to show at the, shall we call it, interview. ‘Blimey,’ says hubbie, grabbing a handful of paper as it slips from the printer, ‘I didn’t realise it would be so much.’ I tear out one of my columns from the newspaper I write for. ‘I can waffle. You know that.’ He rolls his eyes and tuts. I smile. ’15 years you have known me. 15 years of my funny little waffles! Luck, lucky you!’ He sighs and squints at the column I have in my hand. ‘Don’t take that one,’ he says. I look at it. It’s the column about the libraries. ‘What? Why?’ He reloads the printer. ‘Just not right. Do you want me to go through them for you?’ I crawl over to him and plop the newspaper pile in his lap. ‘Yes, please!’ And with that – and more chocolate – the preparation for the meeting continues.

The next day, my lovely hubbie gets out the sat nav and prepares to describe to me where it is I need to go. ‘Right,’ he says, setting the thing down on the breakfast table, ‘I’ve loaded Jessica up.’ (Sorry – Jessica is our family pet name for the sat nav. She sounds like Jessica Rabbit when she speaks. It keeps us happy for hours.) I look at Jessica, sorry, the sat nav. ‘Okay, thanks, honey,’ I say. ‘And,’ he continues, ‘I’ve drawn you a map of where you can park and how to walk to the building from there.’ He pushes a well-drawn piece of paper to me. ‘You can’t go wrong. There’s only one way to go. Go to the right, by the café. To your right. It’s fool-proof.’ At this point our two girls laugh into their breakfast bowls. ‘Hey!’ I say, ‘have faith in mum. I can find my way around!’  They nod, solemn. ‘Yes, mum,’ says the eldest, grinning, ‘of course you can.’ ‘Thank you,’ I say, turning to give my hubbie a hug. He checks his watch. ‘What time are you leaving?’ I think. ‘9.30?’ He stretches his arms and yawns. ‘That should give you plenty of time.’ Yes, we all agree, plenty of time for mum.

The A38 is closed for road works. Palms sweating, windows open but no air, I find myself down some country lane, Jessica having re-routed me, cars stuck to the side of the road like moths to light. After a nail biting 25 minutes extra on my journey, I eventually find my way to my destination, my back sticky with sweat, my mouth cursing me for not having air con. Stepping out into the heat, my hair springing to an unwanted frizz, I squint at the map and frown. Huh? It makes no sense. I turn the map. I turn myself. Nothing. I call my hubbie on the mobile. He picks up and laughs immediately. ‘You’re lost, aren’t you.’ I frown. ‘The car park is in front, not behind. I don’t get it.’ I can practically hear his eyes rolling. ‘Find the café. Can you see it? Good. Now, remember I said go to the right?’ The penny drops. ‘Aaaah,’ I say. ‘Good luck!’ he says. I tut at myself. ‘Bye. Thank you, honey.’ ‘You’re welcome, you muppet.’

Once I apply my lippy and find the building, the meeting itself goes really well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I really enjoy it. We talk through lots of ideas, and once I get going, being a fully paid-up member of the blarney-stone-kissing-club, I am off, chatting, shooting out thoughts, thinking on the spot.  Which is all just as well because while outwardly I am calm, much like a swan, take one peek beneath the water and my legs are kicking like crazy. ‘I think we can get you on board,’ says my jolly nice interviewer (as I shall call him for now!). I try not to grin like the Grinch – not a good look – so instead I opt to squeak, ‘Thank you!’ and with that, I have the job.

Chuffed to bits, when I get outside, after I’ve breathed into a bag (only joking!..It was a cup), I call my hubbie and tell him the good news.  Next, I get on to twitter because there are some lovely folk on there I have to thank, without whom, before the meeting started, I would have got far too panicky. (They the very wise: Beth Williams, PR guru, @bw58; Steve Marchand, writing wonder, @CitiOfVilleJoie; and Sue Ryan, marketing master, @SueKelsoRyan). That night at home, with the kids in bed, me and the hubbie have a cold glass of bubbly to celebrate. Just as we take a sip, my best buddy phones up and I regale to her the events of the day. ‘Oh sweet Jesus!’ is her reaction, followed by, ‘Jesus! JESUS!’ I think she is chuffed for me.  Once we’ve had a good old natter peppered by more expletives, I cuddle up to my hubbie and think about what I have to do the next day. ‘I’ve got to put a couple of short story entries in and edit another one,’ I say, inspecting the bubbles in my glass. ‘I’m on the radio on Wednesday,’ he says. ‘Great! Things are coming together,’ I say. We sit and watch the evening sun, quiet, happy. Then, my husband starts sniffing the air. ‘Is something burning?’ he says. ‘Flip!’ I say, ripping over to the cooker. ‘The dinner!’ OMG! O.M.G.

I’ll be taking a little break shortly (hurrah!), so the next Wednesday Wafflings post will be out the following, you know, Wednesday. Take care.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee…**

Media Monday: If you’re a self-published author look away now…

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

You might want to look away now. Or, go get yourself a drink. Especially if you’re an author looking to self-publish. Go on, well done…What’s that?A Pina Colada?  I roll my eyes. Right, now down it in one because the latest news for all you aspiring writers out there is that authors publishing their work DIY style online earn an average of $10,000 (£6,375) – and, wait for it, less than half make $500. I know. What? Another Pina Colada? Oh, go on then.

Yep, the latest news published in an article by The Guardian last week revealed that a survey of writers concluded that only the smallest percentage of authors were raking in more that $100,000 in 2011. In this less than 10% were earning approximately 75% of this revenue and, that’s right the rest – that’s more than half of all those exhausted writers surveyed – scraped in just enough to cover the service of their car. If they have one.

Once I pick myself up from the floor, along with my broken laptop and spilled pens, I have to admit that this news comes as no surprise. Like with any industry that has headline success stories, such as music, art, banking – oh wait, no, the lasts one’s a disaster story, sorry – for every high-fiving, cash-generating sensation, you’ll find thousands of bleary-eyed, overdraft-inducing wannabees. And, as I peer at my sorry bank balance and peel open my eyes, I speak from experience here. But hey! We are writers! We are a hardy bunch, single-minded in the pursuit of our craft, nothing but nothing can stop us from plowing forth! So, I shall whisper then that the survey found that  yes, you’d do well if you were female, with a college degree and in your early 40s. Never, ever so much before have I wanted to be older than right now. On top of this, it turns out our paper-published cousins are muscling in on the act, with big names such as Jackie Collins announcing that she is to bypass the traditional paperback route and put her novel The Bitch (sorry, bad language…) as a self-published piece. Have we nothing left for ourselves, I hear you cry? Even if it does earn us peanuts?

Well now look, let’s not get hysterical. No one said this was going to be easy. We must wish good luck to everyone! And the good news is that there is something we can do. The survey also revealed that the high-earners it identified dedicated more of their time to writing, banging out an average of 2,047 words a day compared to 1,557 from those lower down the pay scale. So come on! Write! Also, making your book sound professional is another earmarked area by the survey, with it highlighting the need for writers to perhaps get their work professionally edited and proofread – this alone can help you earn 13% more than average (and, I for one shall be doing this…). Yes, that’s right, readers have been waiting our new writing voices, but, understandably, not one full of spelling errors.

Of course, as the Jessie J song goes, it’s not all about the money. What counts for success in one writer’s eyes, may not in another’s. For some, simply finishing the first draft of a novel is achievement enough, for others, the stars, my dear, the stars! Whether you pick yourself up from the floor or the ceiling, the trick is knowing what your goal is and then doing everything you can to get there. And in that, I wish you all the luck in the world. But perhaps first, just step away from the Pina Coladas, hmmm?

What are your experiences as a self-published author? Do you want to make money from your writing? Or are you content with the art of writing itself? Let me know.

 **Look out on  for Wednesday: Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

Friday Fiction post: New short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fiction’, with the first part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn’…

 

The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn – Part One

When Megan Quinn was born, nobody made a fuss.

Her mother, glistening with barley water and after birth took one look at her and promptly fainted. As the midwife -her belly a dough of Welsh cakes and dripping- breathed and bossed, the father and his sister smoked and sweated, their concerns not yet with the baby but with the mother, the children and the washing half hanging in the mangle, now forgotten following the first furious contraction. Once the cord was cut, Megan, fresh to the world, a brand new button, was briefly left to blink in the basket used for gathering potatoes from the allotment, her small pink body swathed in a brushed cotton bed sheet, her forehead still sticky with mucus, faeces and placenta. As afternoon swayed into evening and the sun set on the Snowdonia mountains beyond, Megan had been dressed by her mother in a towelling nappy and vest, her face mopped and her tuft of blonde hair smoothed. A pot of tea made and six biscuits set, Megan, swaddled in her potato basket, was tucked in by the fire hearth, the day’s mangled washing drip-drying above her head as she gently drifted to sleep. Life in the Quinn household returned to normal.

By the time Megan reached the age of seven, the Welsh town of Mold, which her family had called home for five generations, had become like a friend to her. Their house, a modest, terraced affair, sat perched on an outcrop of oaks and factories that circled the edge of the town like the moat of a castle. To the West were the peaks of Snowdonia, majestic and unfettered at the challenges Mother Nature and man hurled at them; to the East, the distant chimneys of industrial Liverpool stood pumping out great plumes of smoke, soot and smells. Flanked by these giants as Mold was, Megan often found it strangely comforting to think that the mountains and chimneys stood like soldiers on guard protecting her and her beloved town. ‘Mold,’ she would say to no one in particular while she turned the mangle in the stone yard, for Monday was always a wash day, even if there was talk of another war looming, ‘you may sometimes find yourself tired with all these immoveable mountains and giant chimneys each as high as Jack’s beanstalk. But, my dearest Mold,’ she said, ‘you must instead think of it as this: you, my sweet town, are a row of books, important books, sat on a shelf. Therefore, you must regard the mountains to one side, the chimneys to the other your bookends. For without them, you may well collapse in to a heap. Do you hear me?’ And, with that, Megan would squeeze the last of the water and suds from her father’s overalls and consider her beloved Mold well and truly told.

As the days rolled into weeks that tumbled into years, Megan Quinn began to quietly grow. Her siblings, all older by some good ten years, grew too, most marrying into the local community, and each emerging from the family cocoon as adults in various stages of happiness, pregnancy or apprenticeship. By the time Megan was 11, the only sibling without a wedding ring was Dorothy, Megan’s second eldest sister and some 12 years older than Megan. Megan would always watch Dorothy with the furrowed brow of the curious. Dorothy, it seemed to Megan, appeared to be unaffected by the rampant fever that would strike other girls Dorothy’s age or younger – and that was the fever of love. Each morning, Dorothy would rise at 5 a.m. when the cockerel in the Jones’s yard two doors down would trumpet his horn. It was a time when the low morning mist from the Irish Sea to the North would float its way along the shores to the towns and the villages, and the soft shadows of the night would slowly receed to reveal the haze of the day. Dorothy would tiptoe to the yard at this hour, use the wooden lavatory and then, nightgown billowing in the breeze, return, door creaking, feet padding on the stone kitchen floor to the basin, where she would promptly splash her face with the mountain cold water poured by Mother the night before, always inhaling a sharp breath as she did. It was a routine familiar to Megan, for Megan had taken, in recent months, to rising straight after Dorothy, quietly and immediately, the bed they shared top-to-tail still warm with her sister’s sleep. Once up, Megan would tiptoe down the stairs upon where she would place herself at the bottom rung, pull her nightdress over her feet and, resting her chin on her palms, sit and watch her Dorothy’s daily rituals unnoticed.

 

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Part 2 of The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn will be out on next Friday’s Fact or Fiction post.  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

My column’s out now: The Gloucestershire drought may be over, but should you reach for the hosepipe?

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is all about the official end to the drought status in Gloucestershire and if we should reach for the hosepipes just yet. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

Let me know what you think. Do drought statuses count in developed countries? Should we be allowed to use what water we like? Or should we treat it as a precious commodity we are lucky to have?

**Look out for tomorrow’s  post, “Friday Fact or Fiction”. This week I’ll be posting the first part of my new short story, ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn.’**

Diary of a hopeful author: A teenage sulk makes me realise what I’ve got…

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

What a difference a week makes. If I’m honest, and I don’t know whether you picked up on this, but, like a helium balloon in the hot sunshine, last week I was feeling a tad deflated. ‘What’s the matter?’ my husband asks as he simultaneously carries an iPad, coffee, rucksack and his dinner to the sofa. I shake my head and, reaching for the coffee pot, shrug. ‘Dunno,’ I say, hearing my voice. I tense my shoulders and prepare my self for the inevitable retort, which, like ageing or my family’s bad flatulence, say, I am powerless to fight . ‘You sound like a teenager!’ he laughs. I relax my muscles, grateful it wasn’t too bad. ‘I know, I’m sorry,’ I say, grabbing a mug, ‘I don’t know what’s to do, to be honest.’ He spears a piece of soggy broccoli with his fork whilst checking the football scores on his iPad and scratching his thigh – who said men can’t multi task! ‘Why don’t you take some time out for a bit?’ he says. ‘Read maybe? Have a nice bath?’ I sip my coffee. ‘Hmmm,’ I say, ‘maybe you’re right.’ I know he has a load of work to do that evening, so kissing him on the forehead, I wish him luck and leave him to it while I go upstairs and run a bath.

Waiting for my bath to run, I flop on to the bed, and opening my iPad, log on to my WordPress account to check for any messages. Since I began this blog, like an old friend or good supportive underwear, it has become very important to me. Sometimes I sit here and type and I almost forget that whatever I publish will actually be read (which explains a lot, really, for which I sincerely apologise…). Thing is, of course, the reason I began the blog was because I have published a book, The Boy Who Played Guitar. ‘Start a blog!’ read all the advice. ‘Comment like crazy!’ said the forums. ‘Eat a truck load of chocolate!’ said the…actually, I said that. Anyway, being someone who, when they don’t have a clue themselves, takes advice and follows it until they find their feet, I set up this blog.

Now, I have to admit that in the early days – and this, if you’ve read any of my very first entries, will have you nodding and going , ‘Ah, yep, thought as much’ – I didn’t have the foggiest what I was doing with this blogging thingymajig. I didn’t know what WordPress was; I didn’t know how technically a blog functioned (still don’t to a certain degree, but I digress…); and most crucially, I didn’t know what on earth I was going to write, never mind if anyone would read it. But no matter what doubts I had, like a voter at a polling station, I went into it anyway, and the rest, as they say, is history, or at the very least, today. Bath over, I flip open my iPad and catch up with my diary. Every morning for as long as I can now remember, I have been rising at 5a.m to bash out novel number two, and, to my surprise, when I go through my outline, I realise that I have only 3 and a half chapters of the novel left to write. Three and a half chapters! Whoohoo! Quickly logging onto the manuscript I clock the word count and slap my hand to my mouth – I have written just over 80,000 words. I knew I could waffle, but 80k words? Where did the time go? Probably into my coffee cup.

Smiling, I skip to my WordPress account and notice that there are some comments flashing. At this point I have to say that I love getting comments on my blog, not necessarily because it means people are reading what I write – although that is nice – but because you get to chat to really jolly lovely people. Oh, and I LOVE a chat. Peering at the screen, I see that the comment in question is from a nice chap from Canada called Steve Marchand whose writing blog goes under the name Citizen of Ville Joie. From what I can tell, the comment is in response to last week’s Wednesday Waffle diary post in which I, basically, worry. ‘I think of you as someone who has already made it,’ says Steve’s comment. I sit back, and, feeling a bit floored by it, think. Viewing myself in that way – as someone who has made it – has never actually occurred to me, and, a bit like driving along a scenic coastal road with a blindfold on, I never really see what’s actually around me. Have I made it? Hmmm, if I think back to what I’ve done writing wise even since this January, I guess I haven”t done so bad.

Needing a second opinion, I nip downstairs to find my lovely husband pretty much knee-deep in paper work. Making him a drink, I ask him how things are going and plonk myself down beside him. ‘Can I ask you a question, honey?’ I say. He glances up. ‘You’ll have to be quick, I’ve got a lot on.’  I go to open my mouth then change my mind. ‘It’s okay,’ I say, standing. ‘It’ll wait.’ And, as I leave the room, he returns to his work and I am not 100% sure if he really clocked I was there.

That night before bed, I go through my messages, catch up with tweets and do some quick research ready to write my column. As the week unfolds, whether its down to comments on my blog or my busy husband – or simply the sunshine – I begin to see things in a way I don’t think I always have. I notice how happy our girls are when we are all together; I notice how hard my husband works and how little he complains about it; I notice how much I write now and how many different styles I am getting used to trying; I notice my lovely friends, where we live, even the trees on my run I notice, trees that I normally miss because I have my iPod earplugs rammed into my ears in my constant attempt to DO EVERYTHING FASTER. 

One evening, having tucked up the kids and given my hubbie a big hug just because, I click on to my Kindle and decide to read a little of the Tina Fey autobiography, Bossypants, before I do any writing. Sat in the longe, my hubbie sits by my side with his feet on my lap. ‘I read your Monday Media blog post,’ he says, streching. I chuckle. ‘Why are you laughing?’ he frowns. I chuckle again, my eyes on my iPad. Then, I burst out laughing. My husband rolls his eyes. ‘Oh God,’ he groans, ‘you’ve started that Tina Fey book, haven’t you?’ I glance up. ‘How did you know I’d got it?’ I say. He shrugs and pulls a little pout, ‘Dunno.’ I narrow my eyes and return to my reading. He flips open his iPad and taps on to the football news. I smile; at least it’s nice to know I’m not the only teenager in the house.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about saving water…**

Media Monday: Has Waterstones sold its soul to Amazon?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

Isn’t it funny how things change? This morning, I was all set to write this post about the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron’s new biography reveals how he likes to ‘chillax’ (his words, not mine) by singing some karaoke, calling his tennis machine the “Clegger” (I kid you not) and kicking back to watch a DVD box set. After I’d sewed my sides back up from laughing, making yet another mental note to ALWAYS WORK HARDER, I was greeted with the bizarre news via The Guardian that the UK bookstore chain, Waterstones, is hooking up with its arch nemesis Amazon to sell Kindles in all its Waterstones stores.

Now, look, call me a fool here, but isn’t Waterstones flogging Amazon gear a bit like Tesco selling Sainsbury’s own brand? Or, to put it in book terms, like Harry Potter asking Voldemort to give him a foot rub whilst reading a copy of The Worst Witch? Either way, aside from looking strange, it’s just not going to work. At this juncture, I have to point out that I am not normally one for the negative,Waterstones Logo and like Obama himself, I like to think, ‘Yes we can! ‘when approaching most issues (for example, ‘Can we eat this chocolate? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we finish this novel? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we ignore the icky feeling we get when David Cameron says Chillax? Yes we…Actually, no, we can’t.’)  I can see what Waterstones are trying to do by linking with Amazon, hoping, as I am sure they are, that it will help sales and drive footfall. But the thing is, climb into bed with a lion and, sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten.

If Waterstones was looking at this with more rational, unfettered minds (have you seen the slump in paper book sales lately?) they would admit that they were late  to react to the emergence of the e-reader and were similarly uninspired to proactively adapt and develop as the market rapidly changed. But wait, I hear some say. The Kindle is popular, speedy! Won’t that help poor old Waterstones? Well, to be honest, I don’t think it will. You see, one of the great advantages about a Kindle is that you can have instant access to books, where ever you are, what ever the time and what ever your attire (shops don’t like you turning up in your PJs. So I hear.) And so, if you do chose to make a specific trip to Waterstones, surely that negates the need for a Kindle, because you are in a shop! Ready to buy! Wearing clothes! A book, you think, I just want a paper book! I want to browse, feel the page, soak up the atmosphere. That’s what you are there for. If you wanted an e-book, you’d get one from your sofa with your feet up and the TV on.

To be honest, I think what Waterstones have done here is fail to recognise that consumers – us readers out here – like paper and digital book formats, but, just as you might like your boss and your betrothed, say,  that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to hang out with both of them at the same time. Yes, book stores need to adapt. Yes, it means the likes of Waterstones having to change their business models to survive. But that’s just the thing: we want them to survive and be themselves. By letting Amazon in through the front door and selling Amazon’s merchandise for them, haven’t Waterstones just banged the first nail in their own coffin? I hope not.  Or perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of Amazon’s entrance into their own-brand high street bricks and mortar store? Who knows what’s going to happen next. But either way, I’m just going to have to make like David Cameron and jolly well chillax about it…

 **Look out on  for Wednesday: Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

Friday Fact or Fiction: My short-listed Guardian travel article

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with an article I wrote for The Guardian newspaper which was short-listed for their travel writing competition…

 

It’s all sick bags and champagne on the road to Disneyland, Paris…

Holiday checklist: 4-year old throwing up in a plastic bag whilst sat-navigating the M25? Yup.  4am start? Check. High School Musical soundtrack on loop? Affirmative.  We were off – two shattered parents, two non-shattered 6 and 4 year olds- to France chez Eurocamp and a static caravan, a fortnight’s hols stretching ahead of us like a string of garlic. Our destination: 90km from Paris; close enough to Disneyland for the kids, and to the Champagne houses for the grown-ups; far enough away from work (no Blackberry), bad weather (please, no) and, hold your breath, the telly.

There is something quite alien about living in what is essentially an oversized tin can for two weeks. Dishwasher? Nope. Microwave? Ditto. Luxurious bath? Dream on. But with 4 pools to hand, pedalos, lake, kids crèche and, hurrah, babysitting, things began to feel more familiar. Relaxing though was another matter. ‘Are you chilled out yet?’ my husband would ask on our morning meander to the on-site bakery (oh the smell!) for our ‘see-how-much-we-can-eat-this-time’ run to pick up croissants, fresh baguettes, pain au chocolats. ‘I feel sick now.’ Me. ‘Mum’s letting us have chocolate for breakfast!’ Kids. ‘I just can’t relax.’ Husband. And so that night, using the girls’ felt tips, we drew up a timetable – chilling out time included.

After a day’s blissful me-time at the onsite spa (a massage, heaven!), first up on the chart was Paris. We booked a round-trip coach, thus avoiding hubbie driving around the Arc du Triumph swearing at French car-owners. Perfect. Actually, not quite. Because, Paris is, well, quite grown up. ‘It’s all very fancy,’ declared our six-year old, ‘but it’s boring for kids.’ Cue deep breaths. We thought trips on undergrounds would bag it for them, counting steps up the Eifel Tower ditto, but no.  Hallelujah that Disneyland Paris was a better hit, the plan to stick to one park and get there early meaning minimum queuing. Phew. The eldest cried on the Small World boats: ‘I’m so happy,’ she sighed, and the Buzz Light Year ride was a family favourite. ‘Shoot Zurg!’ yelled husband. The night parade was stunning, fireworks too. The verdict? Worth it.  But, the surprise holiday hit was a tour of the Champagne region. Mummy, as the non-driver, was happy. ‘Moi? Five glasses?’ I protested. ‘You had mine,’ came the reply.  Ah. Good point. The kids were wowed by the panoramic grapevine fields; the electric train ride in the Mercier cellars was fun;  and – as we’d arrived lunch hour (oops)-  in the time we had to wait we found a good, full-of-locals restaurant that served food other than ‘frites’. The only problem? My husband selecting calf’s tongue thinking it might be veal. ‘Oh my god,’ he said half retching. ‘It feels rough!’ I glanced up. He’d gone white.

Mercifully, despite nightmares of bloated tongue, we came back relaxed, void of sickness or M25 traffic jams.  Would we go back? Yup. Already booked.  Now, where are those felt tips?

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  In next Friday’s ‘Fact or Fiction’ it’s the first part of my new short-story ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn.’  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**